Make Mine A Double

Make Mine A Double #03 – Contrasting Nebbiolo Wines from Piedmont

This series of articles each covers two wines that have something in common, and most likely some point of difference. Compare and contrast is the order of the day – so make mine a double!

Nebbiolo is something of an enigma; it’s hard to love and definitely something of an acquired taste, but those who do like it, almost canonise it.  At the suggestion of Anne from @liqueurplate, a recent gathering of Dublin bloggers set to on a short tasting exploration.

Map of Piedmont / Piemonte
Map of Piedmont / Piemonte (Credit: Guild of Sommeliers)

These two Nebbiolos (Nebbioli?) are two very different styles – at different price points – which most piqued my interest from the selection.  Both are from Piedmont, specifically the Langhe, which is probably the region most closely connected to the grape.  The “King and Queen” of the region are Barolo and Barbaresco respectively are the most prestigious names associated with the grape.  I highly recommend Kerin O’Keefe’s book on them.

Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo 2013 (€17.95, Mitchell & Son) 14.0%

Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo 2013
Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo 2013

This is probably the most fruit-forward style of Nebbiolo I’ve tried (though I don’t claim any expertise on the grape).  Although not austere, it does have the tannin and acidity that Nebbiolo is renowned for, along with roses on the nose.  But there’s also lots of juicy dark fruit which makes it very moreish.  A great introduction to Nebbiolo, and very good value for money.

Elio Grasso Barolo “Ginestra Casa Mate” 2006 (~€65, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin) 14.0%

Elio Grasso Barolo "Ginestra Casa Mate" 2006
Elio Grasso Barolo “Ginestra Casa Mate” 2006

Finian Sweeney of the eponymous Wine Merchants in Glasnevin imports this himself and recommended it to me as a serious, but accessible Barolo.  At nine years old it is now ready to drink, but still has some way to go until it hits its peak.

Elio Grasso is based in Monforte d’Alba, the most southerly major commune in the Barolo wine region.  They have just 18 hectares, mainly planted with local grapes Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera.  Elio Grasso makes three Barolos, which have been bottled separately since 1978 with an eye on constantly improving quality.

Elio Grasso vineyards

The estate produces an average of 14,000 bottles of this Ginestra Casa Maté per year from three hectares.

Vinification is modern – temperature controlled in stainless steel – before the wine is transferred to large 2,500 litre Slavonian (Croatian) oak casks for maturation.  Once bottled it is held back to mature further for another eight to ten months.

So given the much higher price tag, is this a much better wine than the first?  In my opinion probably not quite, at the moment.  I will qualify that by adding that, for most people the Elio Grasso isn’t that accessible right now, even though it’s lovely to drink.  However, with a few more years in bottle I think it could turn out to be much, much more than it’s showing now.  This is a wine to revisit towards the end of the decade!

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #2 – Château du Donjon AOC Minervois Blanc 2014

Minervois is one of the names I remember from when I first got into wine as an impecunious student living in France for a year. Back in 1993 the appellation was still less than ten years old, and the wines were a small step up from the Vin de Pay d’Oc bottles on nearby shelves, but they were noticeably different from Bordeaux, Chinon and the like.

I was recently given a sample of Minervois to taste by the folks at Molloy’s Liquour Stores (an Irish off licence chain) so I thought I’d do a quick recap on some facts the Minervois delineated area:

Minervois

  • One of the biggest wine areas within the Languedoc-Roussillon region with around 15,000 ha under vine.
  • Of this around 5,000 ha grow grapes for AOC wines, with the rest mainly Vin de Pays..
  • Historically, the region’s capital has been the village of Minerve
  • In addition to the main AOC Minervois there is also the longstanding AOC Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois (a vin doux naturel from the north east of the Minervois area) and the more recent AOC Minervois – La Livinière.
  • AOC Minervois covers 61 communes (villages, 16 in the Hérault and 45 in the Aude)
  • Maximum yields are 48 hl/ha
  • AOC regulations require the wine to be blended, so single varietals are necessarily Vin de Pays.
  • The vast majority of production is Red (84%) with some Rosé (13%) and a little White also made (3%)
  • The main grapes for red and rosé are Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre
  • The main grapes for white are Grenache, Bourboulenc, Maccabeu, Marsanne and Roussanne
Languedoc Wine Areas
Languedoc Wine Areas

Château du Donjon AOP Minervois Blanc 2014 (€12.95 Molloy’s)

Château du Donjon AOP Minervois Blanc 2014
Château du Donjon AOP Minervois Blanc 2014

So to the wine itself. And the first surprise for me, given my experience, was the colour – a rare Minervois Blanc! Before doing a bit of research I hadn’t even known about the whites, shame on me. The producer’s name translates as “Castle of the Keep” rather than directly relating to dungeons, but it’s pretty cool anyway.

Their Minervois Blanc is a blend of Vermentino and Roussane. Vermentino originally hails from Sardinia, though is also known as Rolle in the South of France, as Favorita in Piedmont.  Roussane is well known in the Rhône and the rest of Southern France.

This is a fairly straight forward wine with lots of citrus and stone fruit, plus pleasant herb notes. It has good acidity which make it refreshing on a summer’s day, and could partner well with seafood or salad. Perfect for a summer picnic!

Opinion

Valentines Wines (III) Dolcetto – the Little Sweet One

When most wine fans outside Italy think of Piedmont in the North West they immediately think of Barolo and Barbaresco – the pair that Kerin O’Keefe calls “The King And Queen Of Italian Wine”.  Some of these Nebbiolo-based wines are undoubtedly amazing, but they don’t represent the totality of Piedmont wines.

Gavi and Arneis are among the other white representatives, then Barbera and Dolcetto for the more approachable reds.  Locals drink far more of these than the “big Bs” – most of us are missing out!

Dolcetto is the Italian for “Little Sweet One” – and it certainly is sweeter than the tannic “Little Cloudy One” Nebbiolo.  And given the romantic time of year, quite an apt recommendation for Valentine’s Day.

Ciabot Berton Dolcetto d’Alba ‘Rutuin’ 2013

Ciabot Berton Dolcetto d’Alba ‘Rutuin' 2013
Ciabot Berton Dolcetto d’Alba ‘Rutuin’ 2013

According to their website, the Oberto family can claim to have early origins reaching as far back as 1200.  For many years, vines were grown as part of mixed-use agriculture on their property, with the grapes being sold to vintners rather than being made in wine on the property.

Fast forward to the end of the 1950s, and Luigi Oberto decided to produce his own wine. Initially, some was bottled under his own label and some was sold in bulk.  Over the following years, more and more was sold under the name Oberto and more of the family’s and was turned over to vines.

100% varietal Dolcetto, this wine was made in the family’s modern winery and matured in stainless steel to preserve fresh, fruity flavours.

Bright ruby red in the glass, this has a typical Italian nose of cherries and red berries. The cherries persist onto the palate, joined by cranberry – perhaps it’s the acidity which causes that to spring to mind.  Tannins are present but smooth and well integrated – you have to search for them to find them.  Would be amazing with some local cold meats!

Available from Le Caveau for a steal at €16.95, it currently has 10% off making it €15.25

At Le Caveau’s tasting last year I very much enjoyed Champagne Gobillard 1er Cru NV, and  I note that Gobillard’s Brut Rosé NV is also on promotion for Valentine’s – check it out!

The full list of 2015 Valentines Wines posts:

  • I – The Tasting Panel
  • II – Bloggers Of The World Unite (episode 1)
  • III – Dolcetto – the Little Sweet One
  • IV – Bloggers Of The World Unite (episode 2)
  • V – Romantic, Tacky or Kitsch?
  • VI – Bloggers Of The World Unite (episode 3)
  • VII – Bloggers Of The World Unite (episode 4)
Tasting Events

My Favourites from the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting (Part two)

Part one of my report covered some delicious sparkling and white wines.  Now it’s time to focus on the red wines that I really liked at the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting:

Vignobles Alain Maurel Château Ventenac La Réserve de Jeanne 2012 (€15.45)

Domaine Vententac La Reserve de Jeanne 2012
Château  Ventenac La Réserve de Jeanne 2012

An unusual (officially speaking) but traditional (entirely off the record) blend of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, this typically consists of Cabernet Franc (30%), Merlot (30%), Syrah (35%) and Grenache (5%), though the precise assemblage is vintage-dependent.  There is a long tradition of using robust and fruity wines from the Rhône to add a bit of oomph to Burgundy and fruitiness to Bordeaux.  In Australia the Shiraz-Cabernet blend is an established part of the winescape, but only recently have premium multi-region blends started to reappear in France.

Vignobles Alain Maurel is based near Carcasonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Domaine Ventenac is used for everyday-drinking varietal wines whereas Château Ventenac is for terroir-driven more complex wines under the Cabardes AOC.

Vinification is in large stainless stell tanks.  The grapes are cold soaked for five days then fermented at 28°C.  The juice is pumped over every day for the whole 35 days of the process.  10% of the blend spends 12 months in American oak barriques and 90% spends 12 months in slightly porous concrete  tanks.

Although in the south of France the aspect of the vineyards enables the wines to be kept fresh rather than jammy.  This wine exhibits lots of herb and spice characters, particularly liquorice, with acidity keeping it interesting.  An absolute steal at this price!

Societa  Agricola Piero Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2009 (€39.50) & Barbaresco San Stunet DOCG 2008 (€57.50)

Societa  Agricola Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2008
Societa Agricola Piero Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2008

I couldn’t decide which I preferred of this pair so I put them both in!  Produced in the “other” top wine area of Piedmont’s Langhe (the more famous being Barolo) this is a 100% Nebbiolo. If you are interested in the differences between the two areas then Kerin O’Keefe’s new book “Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine” is a great place to look further.

The winery was founded by Piero’s father in 1953 and is still a family affair – his wife Lucia, his daughter Emanuela and his son Pierguido are all intimately involved in the vineyard and the winery.  Fermentation is in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and then maturation is 18 months in large oak barrels with a further 6 months in bottle.

The biggest difference between the two wines was explained as the altitude of the respective vineyards; the Mondino is at 190 M whereas the San Stunet Stefanet M.  The obvious implication is that temperatures tend to be cooler at higher altitudes and the wines are “cooler” as a consequence.  On tasting, both wines showed power and tannin but finesse.  The Mondino was more feminine in character, and the San Studet Stefanetto was definitely masculine.  For Bordeaux lovers, Margaux v Pauillac is something of an illustration.

So which would I chose?  I’m not sure the San Studet Stefanetto is worth the price premium for my palate so I’d buy the Mondino – but if someone else was paying then definitely the former!

Cline Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012 (€18.45)

Cline Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012
Cline Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012

I was lucky enough to taste this wine when James Nicholson had a table at the Big Ely Tasting (keep your eyes peeled for the post(s)!) and liked it so much that I was very keen to try it again at JN Wine’s own tasting.

Based in California’s Sonoma County, Fred and Nancy Cline started out by restoring old vineyards planted with Rhône varieties, then adding Zinfandel and later Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.  They produce several different quality levels, from “California Classics” up to more premium “Single Vineyard” bottlings.

This is their excellent version of a “cool climate” Pinot Noir, though “cooler” would be more fitting as it still manages to hit 14.5% abv.  The alcohol level is not apparent when tasting as the wine is so well balanced.  It’s big and powerful, yes, and more Central Otago than Marlborough, but it’s savoury and smooth rather than jammy.

Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011 (€29.50)

Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011
Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011

Another fine Cline wine – and if you thought the Pinot sounded big, it’s but a baby brother to this Big Zin which boasts 16.0% abv!  It is a huge wine but it’s not monstrous, it’s well balanced and tasty.  Black fruit rules here, with stewed, dried and fresh plums, black cherry and blackberry, along with toasted notes from the oak, and framed by firm tannins.

It’s not a summer afternoon wine, but now winter is upon us it very much fits the bill of what I want in my glass.

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