Tag: Pinot Noir

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%).

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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:

Five Fab Whites from the Ely Big Tasting

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!

Five Fab Reds from the Ely Big Tasting

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Another Brick In The Wall – Part 3

20170405_155146

Weingut Ziereisen is based in the German village of Efringen-Kirchen, on the eastern bank of the Rhine and only 15 kilometres from the Swiss city of Basel.  This puts it into the Baden wine region, Germany’s warmest, third biggest and longest wine region (Anbaugebiet), mirroring much of the Alsace wine region on the west bank of the Rhine.  In fact, Baden is so long that it is divided into nine different districts (Bereiche); Ziereisen are in Markgräflerland which is the second most southerly.

Their philosophy is based on minimal intervention, using natural yeasts and avoiding filtration (which they believe strips out flavours).

They make a wide range of wines.  Gutedel – also known in Switzerland as Fendant and in Alsace as Chasselas – is the local speciality white grape in Markgräflerland.  Believing it to be under-rated, they pick it at low yields, macerate the must on skins before fermentation, and mature the fermented wine on its lees.

Pinot Noir is the chief black grape here, known by its German name of Spätburgunder – literally “late [ripening] Burgundian [grape]” Different blocks are vinified and bottled separately, and are given different amounts of exposure to oak depending on the fruit.

Other grapes grown in their vineyards are Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.  They also source Riesling from Rheinhessen, Wurtemburg and the Mosel to flesh out their range.

Here are the Ziereisen wines which stood out for me at the Winemason tasting earlier this year:

Ziereisen Heugumber Gutedel 2015 (11.5%, RRP €17 at Green Man Wines & Mitchells)
Ziereisen Gutedel

The proof that makes the pudding – a delicious Chasselas!  (and no, Monty Python fans, not Château de Chasselas)  The (relatively) warmer climate of southern Baden helps to make this a fruity and approachable wine, though with a fine mineral streak through it.  Moderate alcohol makes this a perfect lunchtime tipple!

Ziereisen Baden Blauer Spätburgunder 2015 (13.0%, RRP €21 – stockists TBC)

Ziereisen Blauer

The different style of label compared to the other reds below is deliberate – it signals that this is an approachable wine and that it is made with bought-in fruit.  It’s still a mighty fine Pinot Noir, however – full of fresh red fruit and well balanced.  Maturation in old 3,500 litre barrels means there is no oak influence on the palate.

Ziereisen Talrain Baden Spätburgunder 2014 (12.5%, RRP €30 – stockists TBC)

ziereisen talrain

The Talrain vineyard has clay and iron over limestone, adding heft to the wines grown there.  With its red and black fruits it actually made me think of Black Forest Gâteau – though it also has a meaty, umami aspect – and somehow the two don’t clash!  This is a classy wine that deserves consideration alongside good Burgundy.

Ziereisen Rhini Baden Spätburgunder 2011 (12.5%, RRP €49 – stockists TBC)

Ziereisen Rhini

The Rhini Spätburgunder is the top of Ziereisen’s range, and it has more of everything – more time in oak, more tannin, more fruit, more earthiness and more meatiness.  It needs more time to settle and open up than its stablemates, so this 2011 is just starting to sing.  This is a serious wine which could be all things to all men (and women, and any other gender you choose!)  It’s far from cheap, but I think the quality in the bottle definitely justifies the price.

 

Another Brick in the Wall series:

And I’ll just leave you with a snap of Hanspeter Ziereisen’s T-Shirt:

20170405_160349

10 Top Reds from O’Briens

Ranging from €14 to €49, here are some of my favourite reds from the recent O’Briens Wine Fair:

Viña Chocálan Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (14.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)

Cab Sauv

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is usually pretty good, even when inexpensive, as Chile has enough sunshine to fully ripen the fruit but the temperatures aren’t so high that it becomes jammy and unbalanced.  This is full of juicy blackcurrant but also has a little bit of cedar wood and graphite which adds interest.

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza 2013 (14.0%, €17.95 down to €15.95 for May at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Rioja-Crianza

Particularly at Crianza level, Rioja is known for red fruit flavours (strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, red cherry) with a good helping of vanilla from American oak.  Sierra Cantabria doesn’t follow this plan at all – it’s all about black fruit and intensity of flavour, much more akin to a good Ribera del Duero than most Riojas.  Why not try it back to back with the Reserva?

Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, €23.95 at O’Briens)

Urlar-Pinot-Noir_1

At the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island is the Wairarapa wine region (not to be confused with Waipara near Christchurch).  The oldest part is probably Martinborough (not to be confused with Marlborough at the top of the South Island) but there are other notable areas within the Wairarapa such as Gladstone.  Urlar (from the Gaelic for “Earth”) is an organic and practicing biodynamic producer which makes fantastic Pinot Noir.  While full of fruit it has a savoury, umami edge, and will undoubtedly continue to develop complexity over the coming years.

Viña Chocálan Vitrum Blend 2013 (14.5%, €24.95 down to €22.95 for May at O’Briens)

Vitrium Blend

Sitting just below their icon wine Alexia, Vitrum is Chocalan’s premium range, so named as the owners Toro family have been in the glass bottle making business for over 80 years.  As stated it this wine is a blend, and the grapes aren’t named on the front label as there are so many of them! (for reference the 2013 is: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec, 4% Carmenère, 2% Petit Verdot).  All these different varieties make for an interesting wine – quite full bodied and with considerable structure, but balanced and drinkable.

Domaine Olivier Santenay Temps des C(e)rises 2014 (13.0%, €28.95 down to €23.16 for May at O’Briens)

Domaine-Olivier-Sant-Temps-des-Crises_1

If you don’t speak French then you’d be forgiven for missing the jeu de mot in the name of this wine: temps des crises is the time of crises and temps des cerises is the time of cherries – and also the name of a famous French revolutionary song.  Anyway, on to the wine itself: this is a mid weight Pinot Noir from Santenay in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune.  It has delightful red currant and red cherry with a touch of smokiness from barrel ageing.  It’s a food friendly wine which could also be drunk on its own.  While ready to drink now I would (try to!) keep this for a few more years before drinking.  Great Burgundy for the €€!

Château Fourcas Hosten Listrac-Médoc 2009 (13.0%, €29.95 down to €23.95 for May at O’Briens)

Ch_teau-Fourcas-Hosten-2009_1

Listrac is one of the two villages (with Moulis) in Bordeaux’s Médoc peninsula outside of the famous four that have their name on an appellation, but is rarely seen in Ireland. Château Fourcas Hosten was bought by the family behind the Hermès luxury goods group around a decade ago and they have invested significantly in quality since then.  As 2009 was an excellent vintage in Bordeaux this is a fairly ripe and accessible wine.

Unusually for a warm vintage it has quite a bias towards Merlot (65%) versus Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), even though they make up 45% each of the vineyard area (and Cabernet Franc being the final 10%).  This wine shows fresh and dried black fruit with some pencil shavings and tobacco – classy, accessible Bordeaux!

Cambria “Julia’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5%, €29.95 at O’Briens)

Cambria-Julias-Vineyard-P-Noir

The spotlight on US Pinot Noir mainly falls on Oregon and its Willamette Valley, but California shouldn’t be ignored – especially Santa Barbara County, which was of course the setting for Sideways.  The cool climate here, especially in Santa Mary Valley, helps Pinot Noir develop fully, keeping acidity and light to medium tannins to frame the fresh red fruit.   One of my favourite American Pinots!

Man O’War Waiheke Island Ironclad 2012 (14.5%, €34.45 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Ironclad-Bordeaux

I’m a big fan of Man O’War’s premium range, all nautically named and great examples of their type (I’m just gutted that demand for their Julia sparkling wine at their winery restaurant means that it won’t be exported anymore).  Ironclad is the Bordeaux blend; the blend changes from year to year depending on how each variety fared, with any fruit that doesn’t make the grade being declassified into the next tier down.

The current release is the 2012 which is 45% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon – only Carménère misses out from Bordeaux’s black grapes, and hardly anyone grows that in Bordeaux nowadays anyway. It’s full of ripe blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry fruit with some graphite.  It would pair well with red meat, but being a bit riper in style than most Bordeaux means it drinks well on its own.

Frank Phélan 2012 (13.0%, €34.95 down to €27.95 for May at O’Briens)

Frank-Phelan

Back to Bordeaux proper again with the second wine of Château Phélan Ségur, named after the son of the original Irish founder Bernard Phelan.  As a second wine it mainly uses younger fruit than the Grand Vin, a shorter time in barrel and a higher proportion of Merlot (this is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon).  All these lead to it being a more supple wine, and more approachable in its youth.  For me this was quite similar to the Fourcas Hosten – dark black fruit in particular – but younger and with a little more tannin and graphite notes.  Steak anyone?

Torbreck The Struie 2014 (14.5%, €49.00 down to €42 for May at O’Briens)

Torbreck-Struie

It’s fair to say that Barossa Shiraz is one of Australia’s most well-recognised wine styles, but there are actually significant differences within the Barossa.  The most notable difference is that there are actually two distinct valleys – the Barossa Valley itself and the Eden Valley which is at a higher altitude and hence has a cooler climate (there’s some great Riesling grown in the latter but very little in the former!)

The Struie is a blend of fruit from both valleys: 77% Barossa (for power and richness) and 23% Eden (for acidity and elegance), all aged in a mix of old and new French oak barrels.  There’s intense blackberry and plum fruit with a twist of spice.

This is a fairly monumental wine which actually deserves a bit more time before drinking, so buy a few and lay them down…but if you can’t wait, decant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life After Malbec

As most people know, Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina.  It’s become the classic match for steak and anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s one of the few red wines that casual wine-drinking blokes are prepared to pay a little more for.

But as so often is the case, when a signature grape becomes almost synonymous with a country, other varieties are unfairly overlooked.  Here are a few examples of Life After Malbec:

Callia “Alta” Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%, RRP 12.99 at Fresh Stores; McHuhes; D-Six Harolds Cross; DrinkStore.ie; Donnybrook Fair)

Pinot Grigio

Regular readers may be quite flabbergasted by the inclusion of a Pinot Grigio, and it’s true that I rarely like wines labelled as such, but for me this wine is leagues ahead of the cheap “chick water” that flows out of Italy.  Compared to Alsatian Pinot Gris it does exhibit some of the varietal characteristics such as stone fruit and spiciness (particularly ginger) and has decent acidity, but it isn’t at all oily (which I like but isn’t for everyone). Just so nice to drink!

Amalaya Torrontés / Riesling 2016 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Martin’s Off Licence; Red Island Wine Company; Red Nose Wine; World Wide Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s)
Amalaya

Apart from a few exceptions I rarely enjoy varietal Torrontés as I find it a bit too full on – too perfumed, too flowery, and in all honesty better suited as air freshener rather than wine.  The Hess Family have a solution with their Torrontés / Riesling blend – 85% of the former is freshened by 15% of the latter, and it really is more than the sum of its parts. This is one of my go-to Argentinian white wines.

Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay Grande Reserve 2014 (13.5%, RRP €23.99 at Searson’s)

Bousquet Chardonnay

The Bousquets are a southern French wine-making family, now into the fourth generation of vignerons.  They began looking into vineyard sites in Argentina in 1990 and took the plunge with a purchase in 1997.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay with eight to twelve months maturation in French oak, depending on the vintage.  I found the 2014 still a little young so would benefit from being decanted; when I tasted the 2011 in 2016 it was already well-integrated.  This level of quality costs much more in other countries!

Alta Vista Premium Bonarda 2012 (15.0%, €20.00 at Mitchell & Son)

Bonarda

Italian wine fans might be saying “Oh, Bonarda in Argentina? Makes sense with all the Italian migration to Argentina in the past”, and they’d be partially right – this isn’t the same grape as the Bonarda of Piedmont, but has been found to be the same as Deuce Noir which originated in the (formerly Italian, now French) region of Savoie.  This is a fairly big wine (15% abv!) with lots of red and black fruit but enough acidity to keep it fresh.

Bodegas Salentein Portillo Pinot Noir 2014 (14.3%, €12.99 at Wines On The Green; Baggot Street Wines; Clontarf Wines; Fresh, Stepaside; McCabes, Blackrock)

portillo-PinotNoir

Although widely planted in Chile, Pinot Noir is not that common in Argentina; it’s a finicky grape that needs fairly cool growing conditions and much of Argentina is just too warm.  Bodegas Salentein make several Pinots at different price points, and this is the entry level from their Portillo range.  Despite the low price tag this is proper Pinot Noir – it’s amazingly drinkable for the price.

Callia “Magna” Shiraz 2014 (14.5%, RRP €18.99 at Redmonds Ranelagh; Vintry Rathgar; World Wide Wines Waterford; Bradley’s Cork; Sweeney’s; McHughes)

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Callia’s “Magna” range sits above their “Alta” (see Pinot Grigio above) and “Selected” ranges.  All of Callia’s wines come from their home San Juan province, but for Magna wines the grapes come from specific sub-regions – in the case of the Shiraz (also labelled as Syrah in some markets) this is the Tulum Valley (don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either).  This Shiraz is round and full bodied with lots of delicious black fruit, but also some black olive / tapenade notes.

Top Selection of Reds [Make Mine a Double #29]

Here are a couple of fab reds from Top Selection, an interesting UK-based boutique wine merchant:

Habla de la Tierra Vino de la Tierra de Extremadura 2014 (13.5%, £14 from Top Selection)

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This is a modern Spanish wine made from a blend of Cab Franc and Tempranillo.

Unlike its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon (see here), Cabernet Franc is far less celebrated. In its home of the Loire Valley it can make some fantastic mid-weight reds, but as that region is often overlooked Cab Franc is rarely shouted about.  In Bordeaux it’s a useful blending grape on both banks, but very rarely makes up the majority of a cuvee. Perhaps its route to fame will be in Argentina where it has been the Next Big Thing for some time.

Extremadura is a Spanish province which has Andalucia to the south and Portugal to the west, with the Douro dipping into its northern reaches.  The only (exclusive*) Denominacion de Origen here is DO Ribera del Guadiana around the banks of the River Guardiana; the Vino de la Tierra Extremadura covers the whole province.

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Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

*DO Cava can also be made in Extremadura, but production is very small.

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Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

So how does this unusual blend work?  Very well, actually!  It has the bright, fresh raspberry character of Cab Franc on the attack, with the supple roundness of Tempranillo on the finish – a thoroughly delicious wine!

Harwood Hall Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5% £19 from Top Selection)

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Most people know where New Zealand is but even seasoned NZ wine fans might not know where the different Kiwi wine regions are in the country.  Central Otago is the most southerly of NZ’s wine regions – and in fact the most southerly place where wine is produced on a commercial basis in any country.  It’s relatively dry, and semi-continental which gives it hot summer days but cool nights and cold winters.

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Credit: Wines Of New Zealand

All these factors give Central Otago wines a great intensity of flavour while preserving acidity and freshness.  Although relatively new as a wine region – even by NZ standards – it is among the top places to grow Pinot Noir in the country.

Harwood Hall is a joint venture between two New Zealanders who have worked in the industry for 20 years.  The simple instructions to accompany this wine should be: open, pour, lock the doors, enjoy the wine!  It’s super smooth, pure velvet in the glass.  There are red and black cherries and red berries with a touch of spice, a heavenly combination.

 

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

 

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

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2016

The turn of the year means a chance to look forward to some excellent tastings coming up, but also a chance to look back at some great wines tasted over the previous twelve months.  Here are ten of the many reds which caught my attention in 2016:

10. Cicero Alto Reben AOC Graubünden Pinot Noir 2012

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In Europe the country most well known for Pinot Noir is of course France, with examples from Burgundy still being among the most expensive wines in the world.  After that it’s probably Germany for Spätburgunder and then perhaps Italy for Pinot Nero, but don’t forget Switzerland – hillside vineyards can be perfect for Pinot, and although Swiss wines are never cheap they can offer good value for money.  See here for the full review.

9. Mas St Louis Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

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CNDP can often be a blockbuster wine with loads of mouthfeel and 15.0% or more alcohol. Wines which don’t measure up to this are often inferior lightweight versions not worthy of the appellation or the price tag – better to go for a Gigondas or Vacqueras instead.  But just occasionally you might come across a wine which is not typical of the area but transcends it – and this is the one.  A high proportion of Grenache and sandy soil are apparently the reason for its lightness – but you will have to try it yourself.

8. Paul Osicka Heathcote Shiraz 2004

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My favourite hotel in Ireland is The Twelve in Barna near Galway City, and luckily it’s also my wife’s favourite.  The rooms, the service and the food are all excellent – and so is the wine!  When last there some months ago for a weekend (kid-free) break I spied this mature Heathcote Shiraz on the wine list and had to give it a try with the côte de boeuf for two (and although I was tempted to have both to myself I did of course share them with my wife).  I will definitely look out for this wine again!

7. Atalon Napa Merlot 2004

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Quality Californian Merlot isn’t an oxymoron, though there is plenty mediocre Merlot made in the Central Valley.  When it’s good, it can be great, and this nicely mature 2004 is probably the best Merlot I’ve ever tasted from California, and definitely the best I’ve tasted from any region this year.  See here for the full review.

6. Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013

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“A wine that asks more questions than it answers” is a fair summary of this unusual Douro red – and perhaps that’s why it’s so interesting.  It’s not a wine for everyone, with higher than average acidity and body more akin to Burgundy than the Douro, but it brings the funk!  See here for the full review.

5. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014

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Time and time again, the 20 Barrels Pinot has impressed me with its silky smooth berrytastic goodness.  It’s possibly the closest thing to a red wine for all men (and women) – without being a lowest common denominator compromise.  Most notably it shone in an all-star Pinot Noir tasting arranged by importers Findlaters, beating off competition from Burgundy, California, Marlborough and elsewhere – in fact the only real competition was the big brother Cono Sur Ocio, though that is around twice the price.

4. Wolf Blass Black Label 1998

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Wolfgang Blass is something of a legend in Australian wine, and while his eponymous wines range down to everyday drinking level, his multi-award winning Black Label has been one of the top Aussie wines since its creation in 1973 – it won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for an amazing three consecutive years with the 73 – 74 – 75 vintages, and then an unprecedented fourth time with this 1998 release.  Tasting the 1998 was a real privilege!

3. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2011

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I’ve had some nice Barolos over the years but, to be honest, the tannin and acidity have often put me off – not to mention the price.  Many need a good decade to even start being drinkable, and, while I’m not advocating fruit bombs, Barolo can be somewhat lacking on the primary flavour side.   But, as Erasure said, it doesn’t have to be like that – this is a wonderful, complex, accessible Barolo.  See here for the full review.

2. Penfolds Grange 2010

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If Spinal Tap’s amps went up to 11, then wine critics should surely have awarded this wine 102 points, as it betters even the excellent 100-pointer from 2008.  It’s still tightly wound compared to the lighter 2011 and more easy-going 2009, but it will be a legendary vintage when it reaches its peak in another decade or two.

1. Cascina Garitina Nizza 900

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A wine to show that Barbera can make excellent wines, not just something to sup waiting for Barolos and Barbarescos to mature.  Made around the town of Nizza Montferrato in Piedmont, Nizza wine was a subregion of Barbera d’Asti until gaining full DOCG status in 2014.  Gianluca Morino of Cascina Garitina is an innovative producer who makes some very good Barbera d’Asti but an amazing Nizza – a truly excellent wine with more depth and poise than I’ve witnessed in any other Barbera.

 

 

SuperValu Christmas Wine Selection Reds

One of the best things about wine retail – from the customer’s point of view – is that the bargains are available before rather than after Xmas, so if you want to choose a few nice bottles for yourself, buy a few gifts or just stock up in anticipation of thirsty visitors, now is a great time to do it.

Here are some of the SuperValu reds which I’d be very happy to sup this yuletide.

Disclosure: samples were provided for review

André Goichot Mercurey 2013 (12.5%, €22.99 down to €15.00)

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I’m a fan of the André Goichot range, which is predominantly white Burgundy, but also includes this Pinot Noir from Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise.  It’s a light wine (for NZ fans think Marlborough rather than Central Otago) than needs a bit of air to come out of its shell, but once it does the aromas are stunning.  Relatively high acidity and moderate tannins mean that this might well be the crowd pleaser to go with most dishes at the Xmas table.

Castellani Arbos Sangiovese 2013 (13.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00)

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Cheap Chianti is rarely a bargain as it tends to have the tannin and acidity typical of the area without its usual bright cherry fruit and hence being unbalanced or even unpleasant. If you’re on a budget and like the flavour of Chianti’s Sangiovese grape then far better to avoid paying a premium for the Chianti label and go for a less fancy one with lots of tasty wine behind it!

Nugan Estate Alfredo Dry Grape Shiraz 2013 (15.0%, €19.99 down to €15.00)

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Drying grapes before pressing to increase flavour and sugar concentration isn’t a new technique (it’s the secret behind Amarone afterall) but it is still less than common in Australia.  Here it’s used to add extra berry-tastic richness to supercharge this Shiraz named after the winery’s founder, Spanish emigré Alfredo Nugan.  Like many Amarone wines there is a hint of sweetness on the finish but it works well with the rich character of the wine.  For those of you who like blue cheese I reckon this would be a real treat!

Lady de Mour Margaux 2012 (13.0%, €34.99 down to €20.00)

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Margaux is one of the most famous parts of Bordeaux, helped by having one of the top ranked producers with the same name (Château Margaux) and being easy for English speakers to pronounce (I’m only half-joking there).  Margaux wines are typical left bank blends but with generally a bit less Cabernet Sauvignon than the other famous villages such as St-Estephe and Pauillac.  They are considered to be somewhat feminine and elegant, so a wine called “Lady” is definitely on the right track!  This is a refined, classy wine with dark berry fruit and complex layers of graphite, tobacco and cedar – and a steal at €20!