Tasting Events

Biodynamic Beauties from #Spit18

Spit Festival is an annual event showcasing some exceptional wines from four of Ireland’s key boutique wine importers.  Most of their wines are from small, family run wineries who practise organic, biodynamic or natural techniques.

Here are just of few of the biodynamic wines I loved from the 2018 event (# number refers to the trade tasting booklet):

#23 Domaine Turner Pageot Le Blanc 2017 (RRP ~€23 WineMason)

Turner Pageot Le Blanc

A previous vintage of this wine was a favourite of mine at the WineMason portfolio tasting and it’s great to see the 2017 is also showing very well.  A blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, the later undergo contact with their skins for around a month.  This gives lovely mouthfeel and a bit of grip – it’s not a full orange wine, but it gives you a good idea of what to expect from the full blown orange experience (aka “Les Choix”!)

#35 Champagne Leclerc Briant Brut Réserve NV (RRP ~ €62, Nomad Wine Importers)

Leclerc Briant

Leclerc Briant was the first organic and biodynamic producer in Champagne (Demeter certified in 2003) – no easy feat considering the marginal climatic conditions there.  They are based in the Vallée de la Marne so it’s no surprise to see that Pinot Meunier is a large component of the blend (40%) along with Pinot Noir (40%) and Chardonnay (20%).  The grapes come from a single harvest, despite no vintage being declared on the bottle, and lees ageing is well in excess of the 15 month minimum for an NV (in fact it’s around the minimum 36 months required for a vintage Champagne).  Dosage is very low at 4 g/L; it could be labelled as Extra Brut” if they so desired.

Thanks to the majority of black grapes, it’s red fruit that really comes to the fore on the nose and palate, with raspberry, redcurrant and even cranberry making an appearance.  There’s also a lovely brioche character from the time on the lees, and a crisp lemony finish from the Chardonnay.  Some fantastic elements, but taken together the whole package is even better!

#81 Bodegas Ponce Reto 2017 (RRP ~ €21.50, Vinostito)

Reto

Bodegas Ponce (probably sounds more dignified in Spanish) is based in Manchuela, a high altitude region east of Madrid, which also happens to be one of the main homes of the Albillo/Albilla grape.  It’s a highly aromatic grape, sometimes being added in to reds from Ribero del Duero for extra fragrance and elegance.  With the extended cool growing season in Manchuela it shows green apples and a touch of spice, with lots of texture – even being slightly waxy.  A brilliant match for shellfish, veal or pork.

#105 Monte dei Roari Custoza “Boscaroi” 2017 (RRP ~€18, GrapeCircus)

Monte Dei Roari

This Venetian beauty is a blend of four grapes:

  1. Trebbiano di Soave (famous for Soave, obviously!)
  2. Garganega (also Soave)
  3. Fernanda (aka Cortese – best known for Gavi)
  4. Trebbianello (another version of Trebbiano)

…all gently fermented in amphorae, and bottled without fining or filtering.  The result is dry, pale and interesting – more subtle than most, but beautiful nonetheless.  The nose is floral and there is an array of fresh, juicy fruits on the palate, particularly grapefruit and other citrus.  Would be amazing paired with a delicate white fish.

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Information, Opinion

brandinG wiNe

Celebrity wine is not a new thing and it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.  among the “celebs” with their name attached to a wine are people from sport (golfers Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Greg Norman…), the music business (Cliff Richard, Madonna, Sting…) and the film industry (Jolie-Pitt, Sam Neill, Francis Ford Coppola).

The degree of involvement varies significantly; some of them are simply adding their name to the label of a wine made entirely by someone else, whereas others such as Francis Ford Coppola come from a family with a tradition of winemaking and are directly involved.  Sam Neill’s Central Otago wines have been recognised for their intrinsic excellence and are aimed at serious wine aficionados with regards to their price, style and availability.

Flamboyant chat show host Graham Norton was approached by New Zealand newcomers Invivo in 2011 to see if he’d like to try their wines, and he liked them so much that he ended up producing his own varietal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with them from the 2014 vintage onwards.

To that were soon added a New Zealand Rosé (Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Marlborough (50%), Gisborne (30%), Hawke’s Bay (20%)) and a South Australian Shiraz.  Last year the Sauvignon and the Rosé accounted for 10% of all Kiwi wines sold in Ireland.  Norton isn’t involved in the vineyards but he does have the final call on the blend – even single varietal wines are usually a blend of different sources of fruit – so he does more than just add his name to the label.

How have the wines become so successful?  In my view there are a number of factors:

  • The wine categories themselves are well known and popular (there’s no Graham Norton Franciacorta, for example)
  • Each wine is made in a very approachable, drinkable style to appeal to a large number of people
  • There’s a good match between the populism of Norton’s TV programmes and the style of the wines – unpretentious and accessible

Invivo_web_Prosecco600x600px1_grande

The latest addition to the portfolio is “Graham Norton’s Own Prosecco DOC Extra Dry”.  It follows the same principles as the previous wines – Prosecco is the most popular type of sparkling wine in the UK and Ireland, and it’s made in a medium-dry style (confusingly labelled Extra Dry, but that won’t put many people off).

As the (much bigger) UK market is more of a target than Ireland, the decision to go for a fully sparkling Spumante style rather than Frizzante makes sense – the wire cage over cork closure projects more quality than the latter’s bit of string.  It does make the wine a little more expensive in Ireland than it needed to be due to the double duty attached to Spumante (as is the case for Champagne, Cava, Crémant etc) but the retail price of €17.99 at Tesco Ireland should still see it flying off the shelves!

What will come next?  My guess is either a Pinot Grigio or an Argentinian Malbec…

 

Tasting Events

A few treats from SuperValu (part 1)

The wine market in Irish supermarkets is a tough one to get right, balancing what consumers think they want, what they actually want, and trying to stock better and/or more different wines in a low margin, competitive environment.

One key trend – which is not unique to the Irish market – is the preference among many consumers for richer red wines.  At the lower end of the market, many of these wines contain significant amounts of residual sugar, but consumers think they only like dry wines – and what they don’t know can’t hurt them, I suppose.  It’s not for me to tell people their tastes are wrong, it’s just that I don’t share them.

Here are some of the delicious reds that I tasted recently at SuperValu’s Secret Garden Party:

 

Trisquel Family Collection Magnum 2013 (14.0%, RRP €49.99, currently €20, at SuperValu)

Aresti Family Collection

This is top of the bill for a very good reason – the special offer!  Unlike many wines with such significant reductions (Hardy’s Crest, I’m looking at you), this is actually worth the full price and isn’t a label that just exists to be discounted.  The wine is built on Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (20%) and Petit Verdot (8%), with a little Rhône included for interest in Syrah (12%) and Petite Sirah (10%).  The nose is just amazing, luscious black fruit, chocolate, coffee and exotic spice.  On the palate it is a little restrained, so it could play a good role with food as well as on its own.  I’m dropping a few hints to the family about a bottle for myself!

 

Albert Glas Pfalz Pinot Noir Black Label 2014 (13.5%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Riesling BL 2017

Like the equivalent Riesling (see part 2) the Black Label Pinot Noir from Albert Glas is made with  premium fruit and fermented in local oak barrels.  Thankfully, the oak isn’t overdone so there is only a little noticeable on the palate.  Instead, the oak adds textures and depth to the plush red fruit.  For my money this is nicer than most Burgundy at the same price.

 

Dona Ermelinda Reserve Palmela Red 2015 (14.5%, RRP €85 for 6 at SuperValu, will be on offer at €50 for 6 from 20th August)

dona ermelinda palmela

The Palmela region is close to Lisbon and best known for its reds.  Here local grape Castelão is the mainstay with 70% of the blend, and the international Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon make up the balance with 20% and 10% respectively.  This is a proper Portuguese red, with rich and powerful black fruit framed by tobacco notes and soft tannins.  An excellent wine for a barbecue!

 

Nugan Estate Langhorne Creek Single Vineyard Zinfandel 2015 (15.0%, RRP €16.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Single Vineyard Zinfandel - bottle shot 1

California’s Zinfandel is of course also known as Primitivo in Puglia and (the harder to say) Tribidrag and (the even harder to say) Crljenak Kaštelanski in Croatia.  All of these are warm climate areas, so why not also in South Australia?  It’s a big and bold wine, lots of fun and nicely straddling the red and black fruit border.  There’s a touch of sweetness on the finish but the tannin stops it becoming too jammy.

Information

Alsace Blends

Alsace is mainly known and loved for its stunning single varietal wines, but less widely known are its blends.  In fact, there are even more types of blend than many wine lovers know, so, in advance of Alsace Wine Week, here’s a quick rundown of the six types I have counted!

Edelzwicker

 

Edelzwicker

Edelzwicker is probably the most well known Alsace blend.  The word comes from the Alsace dialect for “noble blend” (it’s a Germanic dialect more closely linked to Swiss German than textbook German) although noble grapes aren’t a requirement nowadays. In fact, any of the officially permitted Alsace varieties can be blended in any proportion.

The grapes used are usually those from the less favoured sites and which aren’t required for varietal wines, and so the proportions change a little from year to year.  However, despite their modest origins, Edelzwickers can be a very nice everyday wine – more than the sum of their parts!

Gentil

hugel gentil alsace

Gentil is the French word for “kind”, though quite why the term was awarded to this style of wine I do not know.  A Gentil is very similar to an Edelzwicker except that the four “noble grapes” of Alsace should be at least 50% of the blend:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Muscat
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling

Pinot Blanc

Paul Ginglinger Pinot Blanc

Yes, Pinot Blanc is a variety, and a wine so labelled could be a varietal, but the rules in Alsace permit four grapes to be used:

  • Pinot Blanc itself
  • Auxerrois
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir (vinified white, i.e. no contact with the skins)

Auxerois is a sibling of Chardonnay and is sometimes given its full name Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy but more often known as Pinot Auxerrois or Clevner/Klevner – though the latter is especially confusing as it is also the synonym for Pinot Blanc!  Interestingly, the amount of true Pinot Blanc in still wines has fallen over the decades as it is in such high demand for Crémant!

Muscat

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Muscat Alsace

There are three different members of the Muscat family allowed in Alsace wines:

  • Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (White Muscat with small berries)
  • Muscat Rose à Petits Grains (Pink Muscat with small berries)
  • Muscat Ottonel (thought to be a descendent of Pinot Noir Précose, Chasselas and an unknown other member of the Muscat family)

Blends of these different varieties are allowed in AOC Alsace; however, most of the AOC Alsace Grands Crus do not permit a mix and two (Zotzenberg and Kaefferkopf) do not allow any Muscat at all.

Crémant d’Alsace

dopff irion cremant d alsace brut

Alsace’s traditional method sparkler is the second most popular in France (after Champagne, of course).  It doesn’t have to be a blend, but usually is – with the exception of the rosé which has to be 100% Pinot Noir.  The permitted varieties are:

  • Pinot Blanc (usually the biggest component)
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Auxerrois
  • Chardonnay (although not permitted in still Alsace wines, an exception is made for Crémant )

Field Blends

BURG Domaine Marcel Deiss

The final category is also probably the rarest, but also actually the most traditional:  blends created from different varieties which are grown, picked and vinified together.  The original practice for Edelzwicker was to make it from field blends, but now separate vinification before blending is mandatory.  Instead, a few producers still make field blends the “old fashioned way”.  Most notable of these is Domaine Marcel Deiss who make a broad range of “Cru d’Alsace” wines named by their lieu-dit rather than varieties.  As an example, the Deiss Burg is nearly a full house as it contains:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Muscat
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Sylvaner
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling

On a smaller scale, Agathe Bursin’s “L’As de B” is also a field blend.  The name is actually short for “L’Assemblage de Bollenberg ” – which translates as “Bollenberg Blend” – and contains the same six grapes as Burg.

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2017

Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Syrah make up a good proportion of the reds I really enjoyed last year and will be looking to enjoy again soon:

10. Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, RRP €23.95)

Urlar-Pinot-Noir

When it comes to New Zealand Pinot Noir a lot of the bottles available in Ireland are from Marlborough.  Although some are very good, for me a lot of them are just a bit average.  One alternative is to head for Central Otago’s bigger, bolder Pinots – but they often come with a serious price tag.  Instead, why not head to one of the first Pinot producing areas in the country – Wairarapa at the bottom of the North Island.  Martinborough is the most famous sub-region (particularly as it’s easier for us to pronounce), but Gladstone is also worth checking out.  Urlar’s Pinot shows black fruit and spice but with savoury notes – none of the jam or cherry cola than can appear in Marlborough.  It’s quite a powerful wine but well balanced and equally at home with dinner or on its own.

9. Dominio de la Vega Paraje Tournel Utiel-Requena Bobal 2014 (14.0%, RRP €23.95)

paraje-tornel-bobal-2014

Neither the DO Utiel-Requena wine region nor the Bobal grape are particularly renowned, and the two are intertwined.  The DO is in the province of Valencia in the east of Spain and has traditionally been known for its bulk wine, three quarters of which was made from Bobal.  Some more quality conscious producers realised that careful viticulture, keeping yields low (the antithesis of bulk wine production!) and good treatment in the winery could allow Bobal’s hitherto hidden quality to shine through.  I haven’t tasted many examples of Bobal but this was fantastic – a nice change from the standard Tempranilli, Garnacha and Monastrell.  It’s aged for 12 months in new French oak barrels then 12 months in bottle before release.  This is darker and more full bodied than many Spanish reds, full of blackcurrant and blueberry with hints of vanilla.  The acidity keeps the fruit fresh and adds to the long finish.

8. Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 (13.0%, RRP €32.50)

Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage Rouge 2015

Unlike some, I’m often wary of buying Crozes-Hermitage.  Yes they can be good value, pleasant drinking, and often good with food, but rarely do they have the “wow factor” – so I’m more likely to trade up to a Saint-Joseph.  However, here is one that does have the wow factor, or more accurately, the WOW FACTOR – it’s easily the best Crozes I’ve ever tried.  It’s everything that Northern Rhone Syrah can be – intensely savoury, smoky and spicy, with juicy red and black fruits, black pepper and black olive.  It’s still young at the moment with lots of tannin, but this is a wine to buy a dozen or two of and drink them over the next decade.

7. Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004 (14.5%, RRP €35 for current releases)

Penfolds-Bin-28-Kalimna Shiraz

 

Unless you’re very familiar with the Penfolds range, it’s not that obvious where each particular wine fits in to the hierarchy.  Bin 28 just squeezes into the “Penfolds Collection”, the flagship range which goes all the way up to Grange, Bin 707 and Yattarna.  I had no idea of this when I bought a few bottles of the 2004 vintage several years ago for €20, but the current RRP of €35 and the sheer quality of the wine make me believe it deserves its status.  Intense black (and blue!) fruit are joined by black olive and liquorice notes.

6. Ziereisen Rhini Baden Spätburgunder 2011 (12.5%, RRP €49)

ziereisen-rhini

If you want to see how good German Pinot Noir can be, try this producer from the country’s warmest wine region, Baden.  Compared to many other Spätburgunders this has more of everything – more fruit, more oak, more tannin and more body.  That might not necessarily be a successful recipe but the quality of the fruit from the Rhini vineyard and gentle winemaking have resulted in a delicious, well-balanced wine.  It’s far from cheap, but better value than many Burgundies of the same quality (and yes, it deserves to be spoken of in the same sentence).

5. Mourchon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 (15.0%, RRP €50)

Mourchon Chateauneuf du pape

2017 was the year that I really rediscovered Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  For casual drinkers that might be something of a surprise, as it’s a very well-known wine.  However, negociants who buy the bottom of the barrel or the cheapest grapes in the appellation have done it a disservice – there’s lots of very average Châteauneuf out there which trades on the name.  A few over the past several years have restored my faith and then the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely in November 2017 there was an abundance of great CNDP.  This example from Mourchon impressed me without a stratospheric price.  The blend is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah which is a slight variation on the usual GSM order, but the extra Mourvèdre helps to add more backbone and darker fruit notes.

4. GD Vajra Bricco delle Viole Barolo 2013 (14.0%, RRP €83.99)

GD Vajra Barolo Bricco Delle Viole 2013

While many Barolos can be acidic, tannic and unapproachable in their youth, G.D. Vayra’s eschew that “playing hard to get” style.  The Bricco delle Viole vineyard is 4.79 ha in total area and runs from 380m – 470m; the altitude makes for a long growing season so complex flavours can develop while preserving freshness.  Although 14.0% abv this is not a heavy wine; it has body but is light enough to dance on the tongue.  It shows typical rose and tar notes on the nose with raspberry and blackberry on the palate.  Above all, it’s a smooth, complex but accessible wine.

3. Château-Gris Nuits-Saint-George 1er Cru “Château-Gris” Monopole 2015 (cask sample) (13.5%, RRP €73)

Chateau Gris

Château-Gris is part of the Albert Bichot portfolio and is a monopole appellation, i.e. a single producer owns the whole vineyard – and when the appellation is named after the producer that’s no surprise.  Depending on the vintage the wine is matured for 12 – 15 months in oak, of which 25% is new; the oak was quite prominent on this cask sample but didn’t overpower the sweet red and black fruit.  Some people cite red Burgundy as the holy grail of wine – this wine manages to be so good, powerful yet ethereal, that I’m starting to be a believer.

2. Ar.Pe.Pe. Valtellina Superiore Sassella Riserva “Rocce Rossa” 2007 (13.5%, RRP €76.95)

arpepe-sassella-rocce-rosse-2007

Valtellina in Lombardy is far less celebrated than Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco, yet its best producers can produce some very fine wines indeed.  And fine is actually a very apt descriptor as the wines are lighter and more ethereal than their counterparts to the west.  It’s not a case of which is better, but rather which one prefers or is in the mood for. This lovely Sassella from the Rocce Rossa vineyard was ten years old when tasted but was still in the earlier stages of development.  Cherry and herbs were the key notes in a fabulous wine.

1. D’Arenberg Coppermine Road McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (14.5%, RRP ~€50 for current releases)

darenberg-the-coppermine-road-cabernet-sauvignon-2002

D’Arenberg is an iconic producer in McLaren Vale and this is one of their three icon wines – the other two being the celebrated Dead Arm Shiraz and the less well known Ironstone Pressings GSM blend.  The 2002 was only the eighth release under this name, though d’Arenberg have been releasing fine Cabernet Sauvignon from their High Trellis vineyard for over four decades (winning the 1969 Jimmy Watson Trophy).  I opened this wine at my birthday meal out with my wife and a couple of good friends – and it was stupendously good!  Although somewhat mature at fifteen years old it was nowhere near over the hill.  Tannins were gentle and round and the big smack of cassis had been joined by cedar and graphite notes – just a perfectly balanced, à point, wonderful wine.

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Value Reds of 2017

Here are ten of the reds which impressed me in 2017 and represent fantastic value for money:

10. Bodegas Salentein Portillo Pinot Noir 2014 (14.2%, RRP €12.99)

portillo-pinotnoir

An unusual grape for Argentina, Pinot Noir is much more often seen on the western side of the Andes, but this is a remarkably drinkable example from Bodegas Salentein. Although it’s their entry level Pinot, it has plenty of upfront but elegant fruit, and is nicely balanced – quaffable without being either jammy or thin.  There’s more complexity further up the range but this is the ideal mid-week quaffer!

9. Loggia Della Luna Morellino di Scansano 2014 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)

 

Loggia Della Luna Morellino di Scansano

This Tuscan treat is predominantly Sangiovesi and comes from the Maremma region of coastal Tuscany.  Morellino is (yet another) synonym for Sangiovesi with differing stories over the origins of its name.  However, given the prominent cherry flavours and high acidity I think the story of it being named after the morello cherry is the most likely.  This isn’t a hugely complex wine but is more likeable than many lower priced Chiantis so it gets a firm thumbs up from me.  Would make a great party wine that you’re not afraid to drink yourself!

8. Viña Chocálan Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (14.5%, €13.95)

chocalan cab-sauv

Chilean Cab Sauv is something of a commodity nowadays, so it’s nice to find one that stands out from the crowd for its intensity of flavour and balance.  In addition to cassis so vibrant that you can almost feel the individual blackcurrants popping in your mouth, this wine also offers the cedarwood and pencil shaving that are more often associated with left bank Bordeaux.

7. Castaño “Hécula” Yecla Monastrell 2015 (14.0%, RRP €16.99)

 

Hecula

This was one of the standout value wines at Liberty’s 15th anniversary portfolio tasting.  Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre, aka Mataro) is a grape which needs plenty of heat – and gets it in south east Spain – but crucially this is grown at altitude so the vines get to rest at night and acidity is preserved.  This has some structure behind the big and bold fruit but can happily serve as a tipple on its own.

6. Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Rouge 2016 (12.5%, RRP €13.50)

petit gascoun rouge

Yes the label is cute, but the wine is pretty nice as well – an easy drinking Tannat-dominated blend which is surprisingly quaffable (or “smashable” in modern parlance).  The lighter alcohol also suggests that this would make a great picnic wine in the warmer months – it’s exactly the wine to have on hand in case of an impromptu barbecue.

5. Casa De La Ermita Lunatico 2015 (14.0%, RRP €18.99)

Lunatico

Another Spanish Monastrell shows that there is lots of good value wine being made from the grape – and Spain is one of the few European countries with a climate hot enough for it to fully ripen.  12 months ageing in French oak adds structure to blueberries and blackberries.

4. Pagos de Labarca AEX Rioja 2011 (14.5%, RRP €22.99)

Pagos-De-Labarca_Rioja

Rioja wines are generally easy to like, but, on reflection, not all of them are easy to admire – some have have too much wood at the expense of fruit, some have a big bang of strawberry fruit from Tempranillo but not much else, and some are just plain weird.  As with most European wines, the region is most talked about but the producer is key to what’s in the glass.  This is one of the most accomplished and well rounded Riojas I have tasted at any price – wonderfully rich red fruit with delightful vanilla in support.  As an aside, it was also given the stamp of approval from DNS Wineclub!

3. Fog Mountain California Merlot 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.95)

Fog Mtn Merlot NV-corkcap

It’s sometimes said that Sideways killed California Merlot (and gave a big boost to Pinot Noir).  There’s an element of truth in that statement as the trajectory of the grapes’ sales moved in opposite directions, but the reality is that it was the poorer Merlot wines which lost out, leaving the good stuff behind.  The name of this wine alludes to the cooler sites from which the grapes are sourced helping to preserve acidity and balance.  The presence of 14% Petit Sirah in the blend adds a touch of backbone and complexity.

2. Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge 2016 (11.5%, RRP €23)

montcy

The assemblage of this wine – 60% Pinot Noir, 35% Gamay and 5% Malbec – would rarely be found anywhere else but the Loire.  It’s made with minimal intervention from organic grapes, resulting in a light but fruity red which tastes more alive than almost any other wine.  It’s like having freshly squeezed orange juice after a glass of squash!

1. Château Tayet Cuvée Prestige Bordeaux Supérieur 2010 (13.0%, RRP €23.00)

de-mour-bordeaux-2010-chateau-tayet-cuvee-prestige

I had sung the praises of the contrasting 2009 and 2011 vintages of this wine during the year (with my personal preference being for the 2009), but on tasting the 2010 at SPIT Festival I found that put those both in the shade.  It’s a rare thing that Bordeaux is classed as good value nowadays, but this bottling from the De Mour group is the most superior Supérieur around!

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #3 – Carol Smaul [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.

Carol Smaul is the talented lady behind Gin & Griddle, a food and drink blog which won Food Review Blog of the Year 2017 in the Irish Blog Awards. 


This Christmas we will be in California – LA, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs – before finishing in Seattle.  So there’s no doubt the wines we will be drinking and enjoying over Christmas and New Year will be from the US.  We both love Californian wines, the big Cabernet Sauvignons, bold and smoky Zinfandels, lighter Pinot Noirs and buttery Chardonnays, all typical of the region.

Cali Wines SB at CaliWineFair
Californian wines at the California Wine Fair in Dublin

As we’ll be in Southern California we hope to try homegrown wines from Santa Barbara wine country as much as possible. In Santa Barbara, we plan to do the Urban Wine Trail, sampling wines from local wineries in the town.  We’re excited to discover new wines from this region and will certainly be buying a few bottles to enjoy over the rest of our holiday.

Au Bon Climate Pinot NoirCalifornian wine can be a little more challenging to locate in Ireland than its European counterparts, but it is definitely possible, once you’re willing to pay a little more (excise and tax have not been kind to US wine in Ireland).  Places such as Searsons, Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellars and O’Briens have reasonable selections and always ask in your local off licence or wine shop, particularly if they import their wine.

One of our favourite wines from the Southern California region is from Au Bon Climat, Pinot Noir. It would be a great choice for Christmas, an intense yet light red, with lots of character, earthy and fruity; an ideal accompaniment to the Turkey & Ham.  The Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Pinot Noir is currently in stock in Baggot Street Wines, priced at €37 (abv 13.5%).

 

 

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Tasting Events

The Fifth Element – Part 4

A medley of reds from the Quintessential Wines tasting earlier this year:

 

Bodegas Mengoba Flor de Brezo by Gregory Perez Mencia 2015 (13.0%, RRP 23.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

 

Mengoba Flor de Brezo

Mencia is definitely a trendy grape at the moment, riding the light red zeitgeist.  It is usually unoaked, fairly moderate in alcohol and high in acidity.  But it isn’t for me – usually!  This is the wine that breaks that rule.  In addition to Mencia it has a good proportion (40%) of Garnacha Tintorera – better known as Alicante Bouschet, a rare teinturier grape with red flesh and juice.

Despite his Spanish sounding name, Gregory Perez is a Bordelais, but he has worked in Bierzo for around fifteen years.  He takes a natural, sustainable approach to his wine making with as little intervention as possible.  This bottle shows how good wines in the area can be.  It shows soft black (and some red) fruit, with a touch of smokiness adding interest.  It’s a supple and approachable wine, with fresh acidity and soft tannins.

 

Mas des Agrunelles Coteaux du Languedoc L’Indigène 2014 (13.0%, RRP €19.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

Mas Des Agrunelles L'Indigene

Made by the team of Stéphanie Ponsot & Frédéric Porro, this is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, the indigenous grapes of the Languedoc (hence the name!)  Interestingly, among the sites where grapes are selected for this cuvée the plots of Syrah face west and those of Grenache face east.  I would imagine (and I’m happy to be corrected) that this is to tame the Grenache slightly (morning sun tends to have a little less heat) while letting the Syrah ripen more fully with afternoon heat.

This is a powerful, savoury wine which makes you sit up and take note.  It’s fiery and smoky, with black pepper, black fruit and tapenade.

 

Vigne Medaglini Montecucco Sangiovesi L’Addobbo 2013 (14.0%, RRP €24.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

vegni-medaglini-l-addobbo-montecucco-sangiovese

Montecucco Sangiovesi is one of the lesser known DOCs in Tuscany – it’s not a variant of Chianti and neither is it a Super Tuscan.  Based in the hills around Mount Amiata in the province of Grosseto, it is a historic region for wine, but agriculture is mixed – olives and cereals are also grown.  Whereas Montecucco Rosso DOC has a minimum of 60% Sangiovesi, this DOC requires a minimum of 85% (in line with EU varietal labelling).

The Vigne Medaglini estate borders the Brunello di Montalcino which augers well.  This bottling is 100% Sangiovesi and has typical varietal notes of red and black cherry, tobacco and liquorice, but softened out by the 15 to 18 months spent in a mixture of barriques and (larger) tonneaux.

 

Mahi Marlborough Pinot Noir 2015 (14.0%, RRP €28.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Mahi Marlborough Pinot Noir 2015

A cool climate makes Marlborough a good bet for Pinot Noir, but the first plantings didn’t work out that well as they were often inferior clones and not planted in the most appropriate places.  Lessons have been learned now and there is growing number of producers who are making excellent Pinot Noir.

The first word I wrote on tasting this Mahi Pinot was “woah!” (am I channelling The Drunken Cyclist?  It’s full of supple strawberries and fresh raspberries; despite the 14.0% abv it’s not at all jammy, though it does have considerable body and power behind it – something I tend to associate more with Martinborough and Central Otago than Marlborough.  Definitely one of the best Pinots from the region.

 

Ar.Pe.Pe. Valtellina Superiore Sassella Riserva “Rocce Rossa” 2007 (13.5%, RRP 76.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

ArPePe Sassella Rocce Rosse 2007

Ar.Pe.Pe. is one of the most famous producers in the Alpine region of Valtellina, the most northerly wine region of Lombardy.  Nebbiolo is the speciality here, known locally as Chiavennasca but with the higher altitude it is often lighter than the more famous Barolo and Barberesco from Piedmont.

This was the third of three Ar.Pr.Pe. wines shown by Quintessential, and definitely a step or three above the baby brothers (not that they are exactly cheap themselves).  In comparison it is lighter, more delicate, ethereal – just a finer wine altogether.  It still has Nebbiolo’s trademark tannin and acidity – and that’s ten years after vintage – but they are a pleasant framework for the bright red cherry fruit and herbsA stunning wine.

 

The Fifth Element Series:

Tasting Events

Five Fab Whites from the Ely Big Tasting

I’ve already picked my five favourite reds, now here are five of the whites which stood out for me at the Ely Big Tasting:

 

Bride Valley Brut Reserve 2014 (12.0%, RRP ~ €54, Liberty Wines)

Bride Valley

Bride Valley is a producer named after a place of the same name in Dorset on the south coast of England (it’s between Hampshire and Devon (I had to check as I’m a Northerner myself).  The estate is owned by Steven Spurrier and his wife Arabella; Steven is a former wine merchant, a wine educator and a wine writer, and is perhaps most famous for hosting the “Judgement of Paris” in 1976 (though he wasn’t too happy to be portrayed by a 60+ year old Alan Rickman in Bottle Shock!).  The soil is said to be similar to Champagne, though I think it’s probably more technically accurate to say that Champagne has similar soil to this part of Dorset as the village of Kimmeridge (whence Kimmeridgian) is close by!

The blend is “typically” 50% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, the three main Champagne grapes, though not seen in these proportions that often.  It’s not the most complex English sparkler I’ve tried, though that’s understandable as it’s a very young estate – but it’s simply a delicious wine, and dangerously quaffable!

 

O Luar do Sil Valdeorras Godello Sobre Lias 2015 (13.5%, RRP ~ €30, Mitchell & Son)

o luar do sil

The Rodero Villa family had been making fine Ribero del Duero wines at Pago de los Capellanes for two decades before they set up an outpost in Galicia, north west Spain.  Valdeorras is Godello country with a cool climate that encourages a long growing season and lots of aromatic compounds in the wines.  “O Luar do Sil” apparently means “The Reflection of the Moon on the river Sil” – though I presume this only applies at night…

Anyway, the wine itself is delicious – fresh, green fruit with creamy richness from six months on fine lees.  Wines like this reinforce my view that Godello can make wines equally as good as – if not better than – Galicia’s other prominent white grape Albariño.

 

Mahi Estate Boundary Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP ~ €26 Quintessential Wines)

Mahi Boundary Road

I’ve already written about this wine in 2017 but I make no excuses for repeating myself – it’s an excellent wine.  Don’t think that this is “just another Marlborough Sauvignon”, it’s far more than that: smoky, funky and citrusy all at the same time.  If anything I think this is tasting better than it did earlier in the year, but should keep on developing for several years.

 

Maison Ambroise Côtes de Nuits Villages Blanc 2013 (13.0%, RRP ~ €28, Le Caveau)

maison ambroise

Maison Ambroise are better known for their red wines (as is the Côtes de Nuits in general), with a history going back to the 18th century.  The vineyards were reinvigorated by Bertrand Ambroise in 1987 and the amount of land under vine increased to 21 hectares.  Organic certification came in 2013.

Oak is used sparingly to add complexity and mouthfeel – details weren’t immediately available but I suspect that any new oak was only a fraction of the total.  This is a superlative white – for a relatively modest outlay – so beware, it might just be the wine that gets you hooked on white Burgundy!

 

Jean Thévenet Domaine de la Bongran Viré-Clessé 2010 (14.0%, RRP ~ €33, Wines Direct)

domaine_de_la_bongran.jpg

Viré-Clessé is in the Maconnais, the southernmost sub-region of Burgundy proper before Beaujolais, so the fruit is nearly always riper than Chablis at the other (northern) end of Burgundy.  Jean and Gautier Thevenet go even further with their Domaine de la Bongran grapes – they leave them on the vine for several weeks longer than all their neighbours, resulting in powerful wines.  The high sugar levels at harvest time combined with natural yeast means that fermentation can take months and months.  Such is the richness of the wine that you might think there’s oak used along the way, but not a bit of it.  This is an unusual style of Chardonnay that really needs to be tried!

Tasting Events

Five Fab Reds from the Ely Big Tasting

The twice yearly Ely Big Tastings are a highlight of the consumer wine tasting calendar. With so many fantastic wines on show it’s pretty much impossible to taste them all, but it’s fun to try.  Here are a mere handful of the reds which stood out for me:

 

Serradenari Barolo La Vetta 2011 (14.5%, RRP ~ €48, On The Grapevine)

barolovetta

Barolo is such an enigma, and can be made in such different styles that you really need to know the producer to know what you are getting.  This is one to add to the “thumbs up” list!  The vines are in the highest part of Barolo, giving a longer growing season and plenty of acidity and minerality, but above all plenty of fruit!  Yes there’s enough tannin to go round, but it frames rather than hides the fruit.  I’d imagine that this will improve over the next decade – and continue ageing gracefully after that – but it’s delicious right now.

 

Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Rouge 2016 (12.5%, RRP ~ €13.50, Febvre)

petit gascoun rouge

Like its white counterpart that I tried earlier in the year, this is an accessible, easy-drinking wine that is very well made for the money.  Le Rouge is a blend of 80% Tannat (better known as the backbone of the tannic Madiran) and 20% Cabernet Franc.  Seeing that blend on paper would have given me pause for thought, but it’s actually full of soft summer fruits and isn’t the tannin monster that some Madirans can be.  My friend Michelle who tasted it with me said she could imagine herself quaffing this in the back garden on a summer’s day.

 

Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge 2016 (11.5%, RRP ~ €23 Grapecircus)

Montcy

The French Appellation d’Origine Controllée system has a lot to answer for (a discussion for another time) but one of its upsides has been preserving traditional grapes and blends, especially in lesser known areas.  Cheverny is a small AOC in the Loire for reds, whites and rosés.  The reds are a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, sometimes with a little bit of Malbec (Côt to the locals) thrown in – and this bottle has all three of the Loire’s main black grapes: 60% Pinot Noir, 35% Gamay and 5% Malbec.  As you’d expect it’s a light wine, but it’s also one of the most alive and vital wines I’ve ever tasted.

 

Milan Nestarec Klasika Dornfelder 2015 (13.0%, RRP ~ €25, Vinostito)

milan nestarec klasika dornfelder

Dornfelder has an interesting family tree (see below) and is interesting as a grape because it is one of the small number of crossbred varieties that have been successful from both a viticultural and flavour perspective – too many experiments created grapes that could cope with frost or mildew (for example) but whose wines just weren’t that nice to drink.  Dornfelder is the second most planted black grape in Germany and has also been successful in other regions with similar climates – Switzerland, England and cooler parts of the USA.

Dornfelder_family_tree
Credit: Agne27

From the name you might have guessed that Milan Nestarec is not German – he is in fact Czech, though his vineyard lies only 14km from the border with Austria.  It’s a young winery, founded by Milan Nestarec Sr as recently as 2001.  Located in Southern Moravia, it is run organically.  This Dornfelder is from their middle Klasika range and has the variety’s typical deep colour, rich  mouthfeel, moderate tannins and perky acidity.

 

Niepoort Bioma Vinha Velha Vintage Port 2015 (21.0%, RRP ~ €120, Wine Mason)

Niepoort_2015_bioma_vinha_velha_vintage_port

Vintage port accounts for a very small proportion of total production and is only released by the Port houses in the best years when they “declare” a vintage.  Maceration and fermentation are done as quickly as possible so that the grape spirit can be added promptly. As an alternative, in years when a Port house doesn’t declare a vintage because they don’t have the required quality of grapes across their holdings, they may release a Colheita port.  This will be from a single year but will be a different style as it will have undergone far more ageing in barrel before bottling.

A third way is this wine, a single vineyard vintage port made from old vines where the wine has spent around three years in barrel before bottling.  In style it’s somewhat reminiscent of the older style where Port shippers transported large barrels (known as pipes) to London for bottling.  Whereas vintage port is highly tannic, sweet and intensely fruity in its youth, this is remarkably drinkable.  Yes it has the big fruit – blackberry, blueberry and blackcurrant – but they are accessible rather than being in your face.  Who knew young vintage port could be this accessible?