Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 4 – GrapeCircus)

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Last – but no means least – of our awesome foursome from Spit is GrapeCircus.  Enrico’s wines are the most “edgy” of the whole gang (if you’ve got a moment, some are edgier than U2’s guitarist walking along the side of the Cliffs of Moher watching Tom Cruise film “Edge of Tomorrow” on his Samsung phone.)  This means that even open minded wine geeks such as myself won’t necessarily like every wine in a tasting line-up, but it’s highly likely that we will love lots of them!

Here are five that I loved from SPIT:

Laherte Frères Champagne Extra Brut “Ultradition” NV (12.5%, RRP €53.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin, Meath & Galway; Fallon & Byrne Exchequer St & RathminesBlackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Mitchell & SonSIYPS)

laherte freres champagne nv

Founded in 1889, Laherte Frères is now in the hands of the sixth and seventh generation of the family.  The latter is represented by Aurelien Laherte who has spearheaded the estate’s move to organic and biodynamic practices.  A key strength is their use of over 350 old oak barrels to ferment each parcel separately, giving lots of options when putting together each cuvée.

“Ultradition” is of course a portmanteau of “ultra” and “tradition”, though at 4g/L the dosage is extra brut rather than ultra brut.  The blend is 60% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir (including 40% reserve wines).  The nose is quite floral with a touch of biscuitiness.  Fresh red and citrus fruit dominate the palate

Agusti Torello Mata Xarel-lo “Xic” 2017 (11.0%, RRP €18.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin, Meath & Galway; Green Man Wines, Terenure; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Ashes of Annascaul; SIYPS)

augusti torello mata xarel-lo xic

Xarel-lo is best known as one of the three traditional Cava grapes, along side Macabeo and Parellada.  Agustí Torelló Matá does indeed make Cava but this is a single varietal still offering designed to be fun and drinkable.  It does drinkable in spades, so delicious and moreish!  The palate abounds with fresh quince, apple, grapefruit and lime.  This is a stunning wine that really drinks ahead of its price point.

Meinklang “Burgenlandweiß” 2017 (11.0%, RRP €19.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin & Galway; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Ashes of Annascaul; SIYPS)

meinklang burgenlandweiss

So now to Austria’s Burgenland and an aromatic white blend from biodynamic producer Meinklang.  And it’s aromatic as hell!  Enrico made sure I tasted this when he showed it at the Ely Big Tasting as he knew it’s my kind of wine (he’s a shrewd man).  A blend of 50% Grüner Veltliner, 40% Welschriesling and 10% Muscat, this is just a downright delicious liquid that puts a smile on your face when you sniff it and a sh*t-eating grin when you drink it!

Welschriesling’s origins have yet to be discovered.  Also known as Riesling Italico, Olaszrizling, Laški Rizling or Graševina, it is unrelated to “true” (Rhine) Riesling or Schwarzriesling (better known as Pinot Meunier).

Le Due Terre “Sacrisassi” Bianco 2014 (13.0%, RRP €49.00 but on-trade only at the moment)

sacrisassi bianco le due terre

This wine is exactly why independent wine festivals like SPIT are important – they give trade, press and public an opportunity to try wines that they otherwise would not have the chance or the yen to try.  The hefty price tag and lesser known region of production might put many off, but this is a wine that, once tried, goes straight into the “special treat” category.

A blend of 70% Fruliano (the grape formerly known as Tocai) and 30% Ribolla Gialla, on tasting this wine has the “wow factor”, such depth of flavour.  It shows wonderful soft stone fruit at the core, surrounded by an envelope of sea-spray freshness.

Roccalini Barbaresco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €47.00 at Green Man Wines, Terenure; Sheridans Galway)

roccalini barbaresco

Paolo Veglio follows the traditional “hands off” winemaking practices of Barbaresco, making wines that would be considered by many to be “natural” (though more on that another day.)  As well as their overall quality, Paolo’s wines are known for their drinkability and their texture.  Too often (for me at least), 100% Nebbiolo wines are too tannic and a little on the thin side, even though they might have prodigious levels of alcohol.  At Roccalini they use a traditional third way of extracting colour and flavour from the grape skins; instead of punching down or pumping over, they wedge sticks in the top of the concrete fermenters which keep the cap submerged

This is a thick, chewy, viscous, amazing Barbaresco that needs to be tried!

 

The SPIT series:

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Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 2 – Nomad)

nomad

While WineMason’s specialities are Portugal, Austria, Germany and South Africa, Nomad is a Burgundy specialist outfit.  Of course, the range has seen additions from other regions – particularly in France – but Burgundy is still at the heart of the portfolio.  As with all of the SPIT crew, Nomad’s wines are generally from small producers who practise sustainable, organic or biodynamic viticulture, but they remain fairly conventional – though excellent – in taste.

Here are five of Nomad’s best that caught my eye at SPIT.

Leclerc Briant Champagne Brut Reserve NV (12.0%, RRP €62.00 at SIYPS; 64 Wine, Glasthule & Green Man Wines, Terenure)

leclerc briant brut reserve

Leclerc Briant was the first organic and biodynamic producer in Champagne – no mean feat when the cool and sometimes damp climate is taken into account.  They are based in the Vallée de la Marne where Pinot Meunier is most at home, and it shows in the blend: 65% Pinot Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay.

30 months on the lees (double the minimum requirements for a non vintage Champagne) softens out the wine somewhat, meaning that a low dosage of 4g/L is all that’s required.  The Pinot(s) dominance really comes through in the red fruits flavour profile – raspberry, redcurrant and cranberry.  A lively, clean and refreshing Champagne!

Domaine des Ardoisieres Vin des Allobroges-Cevins “Schiste” 2015 (12.0%, RRP €51.00 at SIYPS, Martins Off-Licence, Fairview & Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown)

domaine des ardoisieres schiste

If Tolkein’s Dwarves drank a wine, it would be from Savoie, made in the shadow of Mont Blanc.  Like the other wines in Brice Omont’s biodynamic range, Schiste is labelled after the soil type on which it is grown.  The grapes are a mix of the fairly well-known and the almost unknown: 40% Jacquère, 30% Roussanne, 20% Malvasia and 10% Mondeuse.

My Tolkein reference might be far-fetched, but there is definitely something other-worldly about this wine.  It somehow manages to combine butter and sweet stone fruits with zippy citrus, and has a very long, soothing finish.  A remarkable wine!

Domaine JB Ponsot Rully “En Bas de Vauvry” 2016 (13.0%, RRP €29.90 at SIYPSGreen Man Wines, Terenure, Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown)

jean-baptiste ponsot rully

As vineyard and grape prices have rocketed in Burgundy’s heartland of the Côte d’Or, many producers have been looking further south to the Maconnais where costs are much lower, but the astute have also been investing in the Côte Chalonnaise which lies in between the two.  Rully is my favourite village from the Chalonnaise, and in good hands can produce some seriously good wine.

BOOM!!  This is one of the best wines I tasted in the last twelve months*.

I’ve enjoyed previous vintages of Ponsot’s Rully, but this is easily my favourite yet.  It has a mesmerising nose of pear and peach; they follow through onto the palate and are joined by apricot, apple and a hint of citrus.  It’s soft, gently oaked and obviously young, but drinking so well at the moment.  Decant it or use a big glass – you won’t rue your choice!**

Domaine Bachelet-Monnot Puligny Montrachet 2016 (13.0%, RRP €79.00 at SIYPS and Martins Off-Licence, Fairview)

bachelet-monnot puligny-montrachet

After the exuberance of the Rully, we now take a step back to enjoy the power and elegance of an excellent Puligny-Montrachet.  There are some obvious oak notes on the nose, smoky and leesy, with soft pip fruit and citrus on the palate.  It’s still quite tight – probably a criminal offense to drink right now – but if I had a few bottles I would take the risk and enjoy!

Domaine Audoin Marsannay Cuvée Marie Ragonneau 2015 (13.0%, RRP €42.00 at SIYPS and 64 Wine, Glasthule)

domaine audoin marsannay cuvee marie ragonneau

Marsannay is the most northerly village-level appellation in the Côte de Nuits, extending almost into Dijon itself, and the most recent as it was created in 1987.  It is also the only Burgundy village appellation which can produce the trio of red, white and rosé wines.

Domaine Audoin’s Marsannay is somewhat serious and savoury, but what a wine!  A complex melange of red and black fruit, plenty of acidity and fine tannins.  It might sound strange to the average wine drinker, but this €40+ Burgundy is great value for money!

 

The SPIT series:

 

* Actual tasting note includes the sentence “F*cking hell, that’s a bit of all right, innit?” Perhaps my notes were scribbled on by a passing cockney…

** Sorry

Tasting Events

Free Pour (Part 3 – Fizz)

For part 3, we now cover a trio of sparkling wines that most impressed me from Liberty Ireland’s portfolio:

Ca’ Morlin Prosecco Superiore Spumante Asolo NV (11.0%, RRP €29.99)

Asolo Prosecco Superiore.jpg

Although Prosecco continues to dominate the market for fizz in these parts, I usually don’t care for it; a single glass is often enough, and sometimes too much.  Prosecco Superiore DOCG is another kettle of fish – indeed another drink – entirely.  There are two main sub-regions – the larger Conegliano Valdobbiadene and the lesser known Asolo which we have here.  Quite simply this is one of the best Proseccos I’ve tasted, and while that might sound like being damned by faint praise, it isn’t – this is worthy of your attention.

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée MV (12.0%, RRP €61.99)

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When Nyetimber brought out their 2009 vintage Classic Cuvée it was hailed as their best yet, as was the 2010 which followed.  The subsequent Multi-Vintage (MV) version was rated even better, and even Nyetimber fanbois such as myself could not help reserving a bit of skepticism for the claims – isn’t this what the Bordelais are wont to do?  The proof of the fizz is in the tasting, so to speak, and in my not-so-humble opinion the MV is on another level still from the already very good vintage Classic Cuvée.  Good enough, in fact, that it was the fizz I chose to celebrate my wedding anniversary on a trip away with my wife to The Twelve in County Galway.

For a touch of perspective, I recently retasted (drank!) the 2009.  With several years bottle age it now shows softly baked apples, caramel and cinnamon -what a divine combination!  The MV is obviously a little fresher in style but does show a little more red fruit character, despite the assemblage being broadly similar (MV: 60% Chardonnay / 30% Pinot Noir / 10% Pinot Meunier; 2009: 55% Chardonnay / 26% Pinot Noir / 19% Pinot Meunier).  For those who like good Champagne, this is in the same class as Charles Heidsieck and Bollinger.

Champagne Devaux “Cuvée D” NV (12.0%, RRP €67.99)

Cuvee D Champagne Devaux

Even though discussions on extending the permitted vineyard area for Champagne are (seemingly permanently) ongoing, it is noteworthy that some parts of the region are still recovering their former glory.  The southerly Côte des Bar is one such region, with a few key producers flying the flag like Drappier, Albert Beerens and Devaux.  Pinot Noir is king down here, with only around 10% of vines being Chardonnay and less than half that being Pinot Meunier (There are also minuscule amounts of Champagne’s other four grapes down here: Arbane, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Petit Meslier.)

For their top “Cuvées D” (plural because the bottle and magnum are a little different), 40% of the blend is Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs (what better place?!), Vitry and Montgueux plus 60% locally grown Pinot Noir.  Only the finest first-run juice “cœur de cuvée” is used for the base wine, 90% of which is fermented in stainless steel and 10% in 300 litre old oak barrels.  The reserve wines are very interesting: a quarter of them are kept in a “perpetual cuvées” (sometimes called a “perpetual solera”, but there is only a single layer of barrels from which older blended wines are drawn and to which newer wines are added.)  The reserve wines make up 40% of a standard bottle or 50% of a magnum.  After the prise de mousse the wines are matured for five years (bottle) or seven years (magnum) – several factors in excess of the mandatory minimum 15 months!

It’s a while since I tried a bottle of Cuvée D but I can happily report that – en magnum – it is a magnificent wine, with a combination of freshness and mature notes, red fruit and citrus, with lots of lovely brioche.  Time to find myself a case of mags I think!

The Free Pour Series:

 

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.

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: