Make Mine A Double

Wine Review: Ricossa Gavi and Barolo

Here are two wines from the SuperValu Italian Wine Sale, and specifically a Piedmontese pair that caught my attention at a virtual press tasting.  These are both “Guest wines”, i.e. they are sourced via local suppliers rather than direct from the producer, giving the retailer more flexibility.

Before we get to the wines themselves, a quick look at the wine regions of Piedmont:

Piedmont

Piedmont, or Piemonte to the locals, is a major region in north west Italy that runs right into the Alps.  As well as being a major industrial centre it is also home to many of Italy’s most well-known wine regions, nearly all using indigenous varieties.

Wine Regions of Piedmont / Piemonte

Ricossa Antica Casa

The Ricossa family can trace their beverage production origins back to the end of the 19th century, but it was Piedmontese spirits that they made rather than wine back then.  Now they make fifteen wines from across the region, with Nebbiolo and Barbera featuring prominently.  Below we have two excellent examples.

Ricossa Gavi 2019

Ricossa Gavi

As you can see from the map above, Gavi is very close to Piedmont’ southern border with Liguria. From there it is only around 60 kilometres to the Ligurian Sea, part of the Mediterranean, so there is a distinct coastal influence.  The estate where Ricossa source their Cortese grapes for this wine was established in 2004 on steep, rocky terrain.

In the glass this Gavi is a pale lemon, so good so far, but it’s the nose where things start to get really interesting.  The nose kicks off with an intoxicating muskiness, lifted and exciting.  It’s an unusual aroma, hard to pin down, but really special.  This then gives way to a variety of citrus notes.  The palate manages to be fresh and zesty, yet smooth, mineral yet textured.  It’s very approachable but not dumbed down in any way.

I’ve had some other good Gavis in the last decade but none have been as good as this.

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €12.00 down from €13.99 from 20th May to 9th June 2021
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

Ricossa Barolo 2016

Ricossa Barolo

Many regard Barolo as the pinnacle of Italian wine, and most consider it to be at least in the top handful.  However, many Barolos not only improve with a good amount of cellaring but are almost undrinkable in their youth.  Nebbiolo’s fiery tannins and acids can make for a drinking experience which is more masochism than hedonism.  There are some bottles which are approachable on release, such as GD Vayra’s Bricco delle Viole, but a single bottle of that won’t leave you that much change from €100 (in Ireland) , so it remains out of reach for most.

Step up Ricossa!  The grapes for this wine are from vines on calcareous silty clay soils, good for structure and complexity.  Fermentation and maceration take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, then maturation is in French oak barrels for two years and a further year in bottle before release.

When poured this is ruby red but with brown tints hinting at a little bit of age.  The nose shows red fruits, liquorice, caramel and spices, including a hint of vanilla.  The palate is rich and very expressive, with notes of black and red liquorice, cherries and raspberries.  This is a generous, elegant wine.  It has plenty of tannin and acidity, but they are interwoven with the fruits and other elements of the wine rather than standing in stark relief.  

This Barolo straddles the line between traditional and modern wines.  It’s highly approachable and not austere, so shouldn’t scare off any tempted to try Barolo for the first time.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €20.00 down from €24.99 from 20th May to 9th June 2021
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

 


Other Wines in the SuperValu Italian Wine Event

  • Canto Novo Pinot Grigio: €7.00 down from €15.99
  • Canto Novo Rosé: €7.00 down from €15.99
  • Emotivo Pinot Grigio: €8.00 down from €10.00
  • Castellani Arbos Sangiovese: €8.00 down from €12.99
  • Intrigo Negroamaro: €9.00 down from €11.99
  • Intrigo Primitivo: €9.00 down from €11.99
  • Ragnatella Negramaro: €9.00 down from €12.99
  • Baffo Rosse Chianti: €9.00 down from €13.99
  • Sammicheli Chianti Reserva: €9.00 down from €19.99
  • Burdizzo Vermentino Toscana: €10.00 down from €12.99
  • Barone Montalto Passivento Rosso: €10.00 down from €13.99 
  • Cantina Tombacco Aglianico: €10.00 down from €12.99
  • Castellani Chianti: €10.00 down from €13.49
  • Il Capolavoro Appassimento: €10.00 down from €14.99
  • Zonin Montepulciano D’Abruzzo: €10.00 down from €12.99
  • Zonin Pinot Grigio: €10.00 down from €12.99
  • Governo All’Uso: €10.00 down from €15.99
  • Corte Alle Mone Vermentino: €10.00 down from €14.99
  • Orso D’Oro Red: €10.00 down from €14.99
  • Forte Ambrone Red: €10.00 down from €14.99
  • Castlemondo Ripasso €10.00 down from €18.00
  • Castellani Chianti Classico: €12.00 down from €15.49
  • Ill Capolavoro Primativo Di Manduria: €12.00 down from €15.99
  • Freixenet Pinot Grigio: €12.00 down from €14.99
  • Freixenet Chianti: €12.00 down from €14.99
  • Freixenet Rosé: €12.00 down from €14.99
  • Zonin Chianti: €12.00 down from €14.99
  • Masi Campofiorin: €15.00 down from €17.49
  • Corte Alle Mine Vina Nobile De Montepulciano €15.00 down from €19.99
  • Barone Montalto Ammasso: €15.00 from €18.99
  • Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano D’Abruzzo: €16.99 down from €18.99
  • Grifòn Prosecco Frizzante Magnum: €18.00 down from €24.00
  • Costa Mediana Amarone Della Valpolicella: €20.00 down from €25.00
  • Masi Campofiorin Magnum: €25.00 down from €40.00
  • Barone Montalto Passivento 3 litre Bag In Box: €28.00 down from €45.00
  • Masi Costasera Amarone: €35.00 down from €37.99

 

Opinion

Five Festive Flagons

As we roll on towards the festive season, despite the pandemic. many of us are starting to plan which wines we want to have in stock for drinking over the Christmas period (Christmas don’t care ’bout Covid!)  Here are five wines that you should consider this Yule:

Disclosure: bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own

Perelada Cava Reserva Brut

I reviewed this wine just over three years ago and the salient points of that article remain valid:

  • There’s a lot of very ordinary Cava out there, at very low prices (often €12 or less)
  • Small-scale, renowned producers such as Llopart and Raventos i Blanc are available from around €30 upwards in Ireland (and are usually better than any Champagnes down at that price)
  • That leaves a big gap in the market between the two price points which is neatly filled by Perelada

This Reserva Brut bottling is made from the traditional three Cava grapes: Macabeo (30%), Xarel·lo (45%) and Parellada (25%) with 15 months maturation on the lees – significantly more than the nine months minimum for Cava.  It’s highly aromatic, just a delight to sniff, but very attractive on the palate with apple, pear and citrus notes.  The finish is crisp, perhaps a little dry for some tastes (though not mine).

When to drink: This would be a great start to Xmas morning, good enough to sip on its own, with nibbles or even a smoked salmon starter.

  • ABV: 11.5%
  • RRP: €20
  • Stockists: The Drink Store, Stoneybatter D7 / Higgins Off Licence, Clonskeagh / Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Fine Wines O/L Group.

Fontanafredda Gavi di Gavi 2019

Amongst a group of my friends we have a running joke that one (Gosia) would often select Gavi di Gavi from a wine list when there were other, more interesting, options available.  This wine shows that joke to be hollow as it’s a cracking wine, full of flowers and spicy pear on the nose, sensual texture on the palate and soft stone fruit flavours.  There’s a racy acidity to the wine but it isn’t lean, just refreshing.

When to drink: With shellfish, white fish or even lighter poultry.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €20 – €21
  • Stockists: Redmonds of Ranelagh; Martins Off Licence, Fairview; D-SIX Wines, Harolds Cross

Trapiche Malbec Reserva Malbec 2019

Trapiche have several different quality levels within their line-up, including the excellent Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec which I reviewed here.  This Reserva is a more of an everyday wine, but is true to its variety with bold plum and blackberry fruits and a touch of vanilla.  It’s an easy-going red that doesn’t hit the heights but hits the spot with a steak.

When to drink: With red meat or just with your feet up in front of the TV

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €13 – €15
  • Stockists: Dunnes Stores; Nolans Supermarket, Clontarf

Mommessin Domaine de la Presle Fleurie 2018

Fleurie is Ireland’s favourite Beaujolais Cru by some distance, perhaps helped by the easily pronounceable name.  It’s a relatively light Cru so sits as a happy medium in depth of colour.  The nose shows a variety of cherries, blueberries and red table grape skins.  On the palate we find freshly-made home-made jam from a variety of red and black fruits, a little garden thyme and pencil shavings.  On it’s own I thought it a good but not great wine, but when my wife tried it with extra mature cheddar she though it magnificent – the fruit of the wine counters the saltiness of the cheese and the cheese softens the acidity of the wine.  As a non-cheese eater I will take her word for it!

When to drink: With hard cheese, charcuterie, wild boar sausages, venison, duck, or nut roast

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €18 – €20
  • Stockists: Fine Wines Off Licence; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Nolans Supermarket, Clontarf; Kellers Carry Out, Nenagh.

Boutinot La Côte Sauvage Cairanne 2017

Cairanne only became a named village or Cru in its own right a few years ago, though 20% of the land was effectively demoted at the same time (1,088 hectares of the original 1,350 survived the increased standards).  Being in the Southern Rhône this is a GSM blend, consisting of Grenache Noir (60%), Syrah (20%), Mourvèdre (10%) and Carignan (10%).  The minor grapes add considerable colour as the wine is darker than many Grenache based wines.  Their influence is felt on the nose, too, which has rich black fruit and spice, something like blackberry crumble in a glass.  These notes continue through to the palate which is velvety and powerful.  This is heady stuff, perfect for Xmas or winter celebrations.

When to drink: With friends, family, or on your own.  Treat yourself!

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €23
  • Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Martins, Fairview; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Fine Wines O/L Group

 

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Italian White Duo from SuperValu [Make Mine a Double #43]

According to the Celtic calendar, summer starts on 1st May – which is earlier than when summer starts in many other European traditions. It does seem this year that the summer here in Ireland started and finished on the same day, which is quite unusual to say the least. Hopefully the sunshine will return and barbecues will be in action again soon. If you fancy a nice white wine to sip when the sun does return, you could do far worse than this pair from SuperValu, currently in their Italian Wine Sale:

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own

Ricossa Gavi 2016 (12.0%, RRP €13.99 down to €10.00 in the Italian Wine Sale starting 23rd May at SuperValu)

Ricossa Gavi

Ricossa have the words “Antica Casa” below their name on wine labels, which (I believe) translates literally as “Ancient House,” but perhaps would be better represented by “Historic House”. Ricossa are based close to the town of Asti in Piedmont (or Piemonte if you prefer) and make wines from the regions’s well known areas – Barbera d’Asti, Barolo and Barbaresco, plus a Barbera Appassimento which is very much en vogue at the moment (or should that be di moda? My Italian is very poor, I apologise!)

Cortese di Gavi is – funnily enough – the DOCG for wines from 100% Cortese made in eleven communes in and around Gavi. Usually just known as Gavi (or Gavi di Gavi if made in the actual commune of Gavi), the wines were granted DOC status in 1974 and then DOCG in 1998.

This is a nice tangy example, with both ripe peach and dry peach stone, flowers, a touch of citrus, and dry herbs. This would be fantastic with a dish using white fish baked with herbs.

Castellani Collesano Vermentino IGT Toscana 2017 (12.5%, RRP €16.99 down to €10.00 in the Italian Wine Sale starting 23rd May at SuperValu)

Castellani Collesano Vermentino

The Castellani family made the move from grape-growers to wine producers in 1903 and haven’t looked back since. They now have a stable of six estates across Tuscany, with Chianti and Chianti Classico being major strengths.

Away from the reds, Vermentino is one of the few white grapes that flourishes in Tuscany. In a broad swathe from Tuscany round to the Languedoc in France – taking in Sardinia on the way – it is well established but with a variety of local synonyms, including: Pigato (Liguria), Favorita (Piedmont) and Rolle (Provence).

This has a lovely nose of aromatic stone fruit, a pinch of spice and a hint of musk. It’s a pleasant easy drinking wine with nice mouthfeel; there’s juicy stone fruit in the mid-palate and a dry but mouth-watering finish.

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Tasting Events

Free Pour – Part 1 (Italian whites)

Liberty Wines have a very varied portfolio – at a guess I’d say they cover over 40 countries – but Italy was one of their founding strengths and continues to be well represented in their range.  Here are brief notes on some of the Italian whites that impressed me this year:

Vigneti del Vulture “Pipoli” Greco / Fiano 2017 (12.5%, RRP €17.99)

Vigneti del Vulture Pipoli Bianco

The Vulture region of Basilicata in southern Italy is best known for its Aglianico, but here we have a blend of two white grapes which are also late-ripening and have Greek origins shrouded in time.  Produced by the well-respected cooperative, this Greco-Fiano blend has lovely fresh fruit and is far more interesting than I expected for a relatively inexpensive wine – a definite bargain.

Franz Haas Pinot Grigio 2017 (13.0%, RRP €22.99)

Picture 069

Regular readers might be perplexed by the inclusion of an Italian Pinot Grigio – after all I Don’t Like Pinot Grigio, I Love Pinot Gris.  To be honest the quality of this wine was quite unexpected – perhaps I just hadn’t been paying attention and should have known better – but it tasted nothing like a regular Italian Grigio.  It has LOTS of texture with lots of lovely pear and citrus flavour – a grown up, sophisticated wine.

Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2017 (14.0%, RRP €23.99)

Luigi Baudana Dragon

Wowser!  My wine of the tasting – elegant and clean but with some decent body and texture.  An unusual blend with both international and local grapes: 45% Chardonnay, 30% Nascetta, 20% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Riesling.  The Luigi Baudana estate is now owned and run by the Vajra family whose wines I have really enjoyed in the past.  This is quite herby, with plenty of acidity but a broad textured palate.

La Giustiniana “Lugarara” Gavi di Gavi 2017 (12.5%, RRP €23.99)

Lugarara 2017

When you come across the cheap as chips versions, just like Pinot Grigio, Gavi can be quite dilute and dull.  This has far more character than the stereotype of Gavi – more concentrated flavours and a balance between pip fruit and stone fruit.

Specogna Friulano 2017 (13.0%, RRP €23.99)

Specogna Friulano

There are rumours as to why Friulano was known as Tocai, but, just like Tokay d’Alsace, the name had to give way for Tokaji from Hungary after that country’s entry into the EU.  The other synonyms are Sauvignon Vert and Sauvignonasse which obviously lack the link to Friuli where this variety flourishes.  If you haven’t tried it before then this is a great example to start with.  It’s a good match for a wide range of food but would be pleasant on its own.

Cà dei Frati “I Frati” Lugana (13.5%, RRP €24.99)

I Frati Lugana.jpg

Gimme!  This beauty from Lugana in Lombardy is 100% Turbiana, a grape variety that I wasn’t familiar with until I found out that it is the same as Verdicchio grown in the Marche.  It’s a very fresh style so would partner very well with seafood, but to be honest it should be on every Italian restaurant’s wine list!

Vie de Romans Chardonnay 2016 (14.5%, RRP €43.99)

Vie di Romans Chardonnay

Italy has hundreds and hundreds of fantastic indigenous grapes, so why bother with foreign varieties?  If ever there’s a case for international grapes in Italy, this is it.  It’s very tangy and leesy but not particularly oaky – this is due to nine months maturation on the lees in barriques of which only 20% were new.  In my opinion it has just moved into its drinking window now but would benefit from being laid down for a few years (if you can resist!)

 

The Free Pour Series:

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Monsoon in the Sahara [Make Mine a Double #33]

The Muscat family of grapes is one of the oldest known extant grape families, and has made a home all the way round the Mediterranean and beyond.  Muscat wines come in a variety of styles, from bone dry through to very sweet, from light in alcohol to fortified, from subtle to all-guns-blazingly aromatic. n In the end, whatever their style, most are recognisable as the grapey grape, Muscat!

Here are two very different expression from Top Selection’s portfolio, one very dry (the “Sahara”) and the other quite opposite (the “monsoon”!)

Terra Tangra Thracian Mountain Wine Tamianka 2016 (12.5%, RRP £14.77 from Top Selection)

Tamianka

Tamianka is regarded as a Muscat-like indigenous variety in its home of Bulgaria, but a little digging through Wine Grapes (Robinson, Vouillamoz, Harding) reveals that Tamyanka (and various alternative spellings) is a synonym for Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, and so it truly is Muscat!

This is a rather aromatic wine, with lots of grape and floral notes on the nose.  The palate shows citrus – particularly grapefruit – and a distinct chalkiness.  It’s pithy, with only a little weight, but a lot of texture.  This is more of a food wine than a sipping wine.

Top Selection recommend pairing it “with white meats with a bit of spice heat – for example, spicy marinated chicken served on a bed of black Thai rice and bok choi.”

 

Cereto Santo Stefano Moscato d’Asti 2015 (5.5%, RRP £13.92 (375ml) from Top Selection)

ceretto moscato dasti

There are three main ways to make sweet Muscat:

  1. Pick the grapes late, i.e. a late harvest style, so the grapes have more sugar when picked;
  2. Fortify the wine before fermentation has finished, thereby killing the yeast and leaving plenty of sugar unfermented (like the Vin Doux Naturel style);
  3. Stop fermentation early by chilling, without the addition of grape spirit, so the resulting wine is sweet and fairly low in alcohol.

Moscato d’Asti goes for the third route, with some bubbles for good measure!  “Moscato” is now a popular style in Australia and the US due to its eminent drinkability, but Italy still produces the best examples.  This example from Ceretto is sweet but not sickly, lithe, alert, aromatic, heady and refined….just bloody gorgeous!!

The folks at Top Selection recommend partnering Ceretto Moscato d’Asti with Ceretto’s own Panettone – or alternatively a fresh fruit-based dessert.

 

Click here for more “Make Mine A Double” Posts

 

 

 

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #11 – James Hubbard [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

James Hubbard is a sports mad family man who follows teams as diverse as the San Francisco 49ers and Preston North End.  Of course he’s a big fan of wine and is a regular on #ukwinehour


Elio Perrone 2Are you bored of Buck’s Fizz and trying to work out how early is too early for a Christmas morning tipple?  Then I just may have the answer.

This charming sparkling Moscato d’Asti is is from a single vineyard called Sourgal and is absolutely delightful.  Jam-packed with ripe fruits – apples, apricots and peaches abound – the micro bubbles caress the palate and gets it ready for those invariable midday Christmas canapés/nibbles – and, at just 5%, it’s virtually a guilt-free drop too!

With quite a high (almost dessert wine) level of sweetness one glass is enough to stimulate the senses. This could either serve 4-6 as a Buck’s Fizz alternative or, if there are fewer of you, save some (if you can!) and finish it up with the Christmas pudding later.

Elio Perrone Moscato d’Asti £8.25/bottle via The Wine Society.

 

 

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #7 – Jim Dunlop [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Jim Dunlop is a canny Scotsman who is seemly always on holiday somewhere – though that somewhere is usually a wine region whether in the Pfalz, northern Italy or the Canaries.


Antoniolo Gattinara 2006Many say Barolo or Barbaresco are the only wines that matter with regards to Nebbiolo but to the north of the Tanaro River and the Langhe, in Piemonte, there lies the Sesia River where both Gattinara and Ghemme are produced.  The wines here are more delicate and balanced than some of the forceful wine produced in the Langhe. This 2006 offering by Antoniolo is, for me, the top of the pile at Gattinara.  A classic red with a fantastic balance in the mouth, liquid velvet and so soothing – just right for a winter’s evening dinner.  This wine ages well, maybe for 10 to 15 years.

Antoniolo Gattinara DOCG 2006 (Piemonte, Italy): Purchased at Winery but similar offerings can be purchased from Tannico UK (Ave Price in UK: £20 to £30)


Riesling Rural trocken Weingut Heinrich Spindler PfalzFor me I always have a decision as to what is my favourite Riesling area, the top two being the Mosel or the Pfalz.  Recently my thinking is to prefer the more rounded style of the Pfalz compared with the austere style of the Mosel.  This offering from Spindler (based at Forst on the Weinstrasse near Deidesheim in the Pfalz) is just gob smacking amazing.  If anything, the 2015 harvest produced a better balance than the 2016.  Loads of Granny Smith on the front of the palate but huge soft fruit with balanced acidity at the rear of the palate and the finish goes on forever.

Heinrich Spindler Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2016 (12.0%): Purchased at the Weinhaus in Kallstadt, but similar offerings can be purchased from The Wine Society (Ave Price in UK: around £11)

 

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #1 – Sam Logan [Guest post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

First up is Sam Logan, Copywriter & Social Media Editor of Wines Direct, a family wine wholesale and retail business in Ireland.


Bera Moscato d'Asti 2015When it comes to Christmas, I’m a bit of a Grinch.

I always feel coerced into taking part in the season. Somehow, I always emerge from the season of carols, crowds, and cards with no more than my normal quota of comfort and joy.

Bah Humbug!

However, something I really love about Christmas is that food and drink take centre stage, and normal standards of restraint and decency are temporarily suspended.

Our modern Christmas holidays have their origins in the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia. And the Romans didn’t mess about when it was time for a party. Saturnalia seems to have been a solid week of feasting, including all the fun of non-stop carnivals, gambling and an inversion of social norms.

I do my best to pay homage to the Romans, and my personal Saturnalia always starts with a special, late breakfast on Christmas morning. To classic scrambled eggs on toast, I add a layer of Alpine cheese (this year it’ll be Schnebelhorn or Neufenen) and top it all with Ed Hick’s Bacon Jam. Christmas comes but once a year after all.

Now, this is all very rich and savoury, so I’m going to enjoy it with a glass of Bera Moscato d’Asti 2015. Moscato d’Asti is a wonderful combination of sweetness and sparkles, with enough crisp acidity and blossom aromatics to keep it from becoming cloying. This Moscato d’Asti is a great example of the style with vibrant stone fruit, honey and citrus flavours. It’s delicate, effervescent and absolutely perfect with salty, savoury food. Conveniently, it’s also very low in alcohol at just 5% ABV.

With the spotlight on Dinner, Christmas Breakfast usually gets neglected. I like to start my festivities as I mean to continue and, for me, Bera Moscato d’Asti 2015 is the perfect start to Saturnalia.

Bera Moscato D’Asti 2015: €18.95 from Winesdirect.ie, Wines Direct Shops in Mullingar and Arnotts, Dublin 1


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

 

Opinion, Uncategorized

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet wines of 2016

As a wise man once said to me, don’t call them “dessert wines” as that implies they are only fit to drink with a dessert!  Categorising wines isn’t always an easy task, as even simple descriptors such as colour are open to interpretation (see this article).  Where do sweet wines fit in?  In the end, the label isn’t important, what’s in the glass is.

10. Tarin Pineau des Charentes Blanc Vieilli 3 Ans

2017-01-02-13-52-20

Pronounced the same as “Pinot”, this is the secret fortified drink of France’s west country. Made by adding eau de vie to grape must that has barely begun fermenting, it can only be produced in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments – also the home of Cognac. That’s no coincidence as the grape spirit used for Pineau is the same that is aged to eventually become Cognac.

This example has received 3 years of ageing which gives it a slight “rancio” character – enough to add interest but not so much that it dominates.  The only downside is that it is so moreish!

9. Sipp Mack Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2012

2016-04-21 19.28.00

This Gewurz isn’t intended to be a sweet wine as such, but given the grape’s natural flavour profile, low acidity and a bit of residual sugar it tastes far sweeter than other many wines of Alsace.  As a general rule I do like some sweetness in my Gewurz, and this Sipp Mack does deliver that, but with an incredible intensity of flavour thanks to its old vines. See here for the full review.

8. GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2015

2016-06-08-22-43-32

Moscato from Australia and elsewhere gained a lot of ground in recent years – fresh and fruity, sweet and easy to drink yet with very moderate alcohol, it became something of a party drink.  Hopefully this will shine a light back on Piedmont, the pioneering region of this style (though obviously not of the Muscat grape!)

Moscato d’Asti might also qualify as a party drink for some, but its true value is at the table, mainly with fruit based desserts where it excels.  The best – such as GD Vajra’s – have a mouthwatering balance of acidity and sweetness.  See here for the full review

7. Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese

2016-08-30 15.23.44

For many wine aficionados, Germany is the ultimate country for Riesling.  The sheer variety of styles is one of its key strengths, from bone-dry to intensely sweet, and just about every spot in between.  This Mosel Spätlese (late harvest) is just wonderful and was my narrow favourite of an all-Riesling tasting at DNS Wineclub.  See here for the full review

6. Zantho Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese 2012

zantho

Zantho is a joint venture between two famous names of Austrian wine, viticulturist Josef Umathum and winemaker Wolfgang Peck of Winzerkeller Andau.  As well as dry whites and reds they also make three dessert wines (pictured above) which are all glorious, with the TBA (for short) being my favourite.  Germanic grape Scheurebe works best as a sweet wine and excels in Zantho’s TBA from close to the border with Hungary.

5. Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV

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I’m a long standing fan of Nyetimber and I’ve been pleased to see them popping up here and there in Ireland.  When back in England in the summer I picked up a bottle of their Demi-Sec – which I haven’t yet seen here in Ireland – and took it to a DNS Wineclub tasting.  It was absolutely magnificent and reinforced my admiration for Brad Greatrix and Cherie Spriggs.

Not stated on the front label is that this is 100% Chardonnay, and therefore a Blanc-de-Blancs.  Dosage is 45g/L giving it perfect balance – typical English acidity is the counter to the sugar.  This was the first English Demi-Sec to be released but I would go further and state that it’s one of the top few Demi-Secs made anywhere in the world.

4. Domaine de Bois Mozé Coteaux de l’Aubance 2008

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The Loire Valley is probably France’s most underrated wine region and its Chenin based dessert wines probably the least well known – which is a total shame as they can be world class without a world class price.  Coteaux  de l’Aubance is even less well known than Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, but the best sites can yield beauties such as this. In my opinion these wines are the ultimate expression of Chenin Blanc – and this is still a youngster at nine years of age.

3. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2014

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The grape variety for this wine is known locally as Zibibbo, but further afield as Muscat of Alexandria – a very ancient grape.  “Local” here is the tiny island of Pantelleria which is between Sicily and Tunisia.  The grapes are dried after picking to concentrate the flavours and sugars, similar to “straw wines” elsewhere.  This is a wine of staggering complexity for such a young vintage, the biggest threat to ageing being its utter deliciousness!

2. Cascina Garitina Niades

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Many readers will be drawing a blank at the name of this wine which could have been in any (or all!) of my red, sparkling and sweet Top 10 lists.  Formerly carrying the DOCG of Brachetto d’Acqui, it could be thought of as the red equivalent of Moscato d’Asti – though even better, in this case.

When I tried it and tweeted about it, one wag did reply “can’t see the point” – and admittedly, before I tried it I can’t say it was missing from my life – but once tried this wine is never forgotten.  Fresh red fruit, acidity and sweetness combine to make wine heaven – it’s Eton Mess in a glass!

1. Léon Beyer Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 1998

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This was the unexpected runaway winner of the DNS Wineclub Alsace tasting, against some pretty stiff competition (including #2 in this Top 10).  Léon Beyer is based in the achingly beautiful village of Eguisheim and has Domaines Zinck and Bruno Sorg as neighbours.  “The house style is dry” said the lady at the counter, “apart from the sweet wines” – such as this rare Late Harvest Gewurz.  The Léon Beyer website give a drinking window of 10 to 20 years from vintage, but this tasted like it had another decade left at least.  If I had another bottle it would probably make my Top 10 sweet wines of 2026!

 

 

 

 

Restaurant Review, Tasting Events

G.D. Vajra Dinner at Ely Wine Bar

G.D. Vajra Dinner at Ely Wine Bar With Giuseppe Vaira

Last month my wife and I were invited to a wine dinner at Ely Wine Bar, my favourite venue in Dublin and one which I often mention on Frankly Wines and on Twitter.  It was jointly hosted with importers Liberty Wines and the wines were presented by third generation family member Giuseppe Vaira.

Magical food was prepared by Ryan Stringer and this team, with Ely Wine Director Ian Brosnan the man with the bottles.

Just to whet your appetite here is the menu:

Menu 2

 

Background to G.D. Vajra

The owner and winemaker is Aldo Vaira who established the firm in 1972, naming it after his father Giuseppe Domenico.  The family had been growing grapes since the 1920s but made the jump to producing wine.  Since then they have gradually expanded their holdings in the area around Barolo to 60 hectares.

Winemaking is traditional, in that the grapes are not left on the vine until very ripe and oak is used judiciously, but there is no overt woodiness and no faults, just fruit that speaks for itself and its birthplace.

Aperitif: 

G.D. Vajra “Pétracine” Langhe Riesling 2012 (12.5%, 3.8 g/L RS)

Vajra Riesling

Italian Riesling?  Unexpected or downright unusual, but the proof of the pudding is on the palate. Lemon and lime with perhaps a touch of stone fruit on the nose.  Very zesty, with lemon and apple flavours.  It does fall off a little after the amazing attack, but then mellows out for a very long finish.  There’s a tiny touch of sweetness in there, but it definitely falls into the “dry” category.  Would compare well to many Alsace Rieslings (which is high praise from me!)

Crispy pig tail, black pudding, caramelised onion, carrot & pine shoot oil

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The pig tail was tasty but it was the combination of the black pudding, the caramelised onion and carrot which ruled the dish.  Beautifully presented  it was appealing to both the eye and the palate. It also worked well with the crisp wines accompanying it.

G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba DOCG 2015 (13.0% – available by the glass at Ely Place)

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Dolcetto is often looked down upon, especially by outsiders, but it’s what the locals often choose to drink themselves.  Although the name alludes to sweetness, it’s nearly always a dry red wine with some tannin and moderate acidity as a frame for red cherry and red berry fruit.  Fabulous aromas of violets mean you will be nosing the glass for an age before tasting – though once you have tasted you will want more!

G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC 2013 (13.5%)

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Unlike wines made under the Barbera d’Asti DOC regulations (which allow up to 15% of other local grapes, this Barbera d’Alba is a 100% varietal.  (Also see the new Nizza DOCG within Asti which is always 100% Barbera.)  This is a more powerful wine than the Dolcetto, blended from the fruit of six different vineyards.  The key notes for me were chocolate, berries and earthiness – a great match with the starter!

Organic Burren lamb belly, potato, samphire & lamb jus

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Occasionally ordering lamb belly can lead to a disappointingly greasy result. This dish offered anything but, with tender rolled pink lamb belly. The samphire (a first for us) added saltiness to both the potatoes and the lamb and really brought balance to the plate. The jus was sweeter than expected and would have been enjoyed more if there was a little more on the plate, because it was that good.

G.D. Vajra “Albe” Barolo DOCG 2011 (14.5% – available at Ely Place)

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The Albe is Vajra’s entry level Barolo with grapes sourced from several vineyards.  The nose is predominantly red fruit and floral, with pine resin / eucalyptus in the background – definitely fruits of the forest!  Although it spent several years in barrel before release, it’s not at all woody;  tannins are present but not overbearing.  For such a relatively young wine, this is a minor miracle (from my limited experience of quality Barolo!)

G.D. Vajra “Ravera” Barolo DOCG 2011 (14.5% – available at Ely CHQ)

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Ravera is a “Cru” or designated vineyard in the south west of Barolo, with a free-draining mix of clay and loose sand.  Although vines were first planted in 2001, the wines were labelled as Langhe Nebbiolo until 2008.  After 3 weeks of fermentation, the wine spent 42 months in Slavonian (Croatian) oak barrels.

The star of the show!  A full on black fruit experience on both the nose and palate – lovely juicy blueberries and blackberries, with a mineral edginess.  So well put together – rich yet delicate; poised…once the wine touches your lips you can’t wait for it to sate your taste buds.

Considering the young age of the wine and time spent in barrel this is a remarkably approachable wine already.  It seems Vajra have mastered the art of complex wines that don’t need a decade and a half to be ready!

Custard & rhubarb tart, poached rhubarb, lemon meringue
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The rhubarb and custard tart was smooth in texture and had plenty of zing.  The delicious, slightly chewy meringue added texture and the coulis of rhubarb cut through any over-sweetness.  Dessert offered texture and tang and was a winner.

G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2015 (5.5%, 143 g/L RS)

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Sometimes the icing on the cake can be a little bit too much – but not in this case!  Moscato d’Asti is naturally sparkling from the CO2 produced by the fermentation process.  This is stopped early – by bringing the temperature down to stop the yeast from functioning – so that only some of the sugar has turned to alcohol.  Sort of like the opposite to Holsten Pils, if you remember those Griff Rhys-Jones adverts.  The result is an avalanche of fruit – apricot, peach, mango, pear, passionfruit… it just goes on and on.  The dessert it accompanied was an inspired choice, as the acidity in the rhubarb and the Moscato were a match then the sweetness of the meringue was equalled by the residual sugar in the wine.

 

Thanks to my wife Jess who wrote the food sections above!

Great food, great wine, great company – this was an evening to remember!