Tag: Port

So you think you know Douro wines?

Port is one of the great fortified wines of the world.  Even though it’s not particularly fashionable at the moment, many wine drinkers keep a special place in their heart – and their drinks cabinets – for Port.  On top of the usual Vintage and LBV Ports there are lots of new styles being created such as Bottle-matured LBV and Rosé Port.

Then we have “dry” Douro reds which are dark, tannic and powerful – though full of fruit. In some ways they really are dry Ports, made from the same grapes, full-bodied and occasionally surpassing 15%.  The quality of Douro table wines has improved significantly over the past decade or two (as has most Portuguese wine) so they are generally well-received.

….and now for something completely different…

Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013 (12.5%, RRP €23)

clos-de-crappe

So first you notice the name – pretty amusing in my opinion, especially when you realise it sounds quite like “a load of crap“, but then I have quite a childish sense of humour.  At least it stands out!

Then you notice the verses on the label – what the actual heck is this?  You can just about make out one of them on the photo above, here’s another:

A modern old style wine.
A wine full of character, some mistakes.
Technically a disaster.
But a wine full of passion and expression.
A wild , intense nose full of reduction.
A palate “the incredible lightness of being”.
Fine, elegant and very long.
“What the hell is Clos de Crappe?”

How novel!  It really seems as though Niepoort were having a lot of fun with this wine and its packaging – and I think more producers should take note.

When reading the label you might also notice the alcohol – only 12.5%, which is a far cry from the typical big Douro reds.  Before popping the cork, you already know that the contents are going to be something different.

Then finally the wine itself.  In the glass it’s much lighter than most Portuguese reds, and really brings the funk on the nose (regular readers may have noticed that I love funky wines).  Smoke and “struck-match” reductive notes add to the intrigue.

Then to taste, red fruit is in abundance, with fresh acidity and a light mouthfeel.  This wine drops large Burgundian hints, though of course the local grapes (Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Sousão, Alicante de Bouschet, Rufete and others) are different.

Tasted blind, I would never place this wine in the Douro.  Even though I had poured it out of the bottle myself, I had some doubts!  It’s a wonderful wine…but the sting in the tail is that production is very small, and only a few cases allocated to Ireland.  Seek it out before it all goes!

Many thanks to Ben and Barbara from WineMason who parted with one of their precious bottles.

Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson (Third Edition) [Book Review]

Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson (Third Edition) [Book Review]

Book Review – Port and the Douro – 3rd Edition – Richard Mayson

Front Cover

Most of us like Port, but few of us actually drink it – on a regular basis at least.  It’s possibly even more niche than the other great fortified style from the Iberian Peninsula, without Sherry’s trendiness in its favour.

Above all, many of us are curious about Port:

  • What’s the difference between Ruby, Tawny, LBV and other labels?
  • Why do so many producers have English names?
  • And for the very curious: What’s the connection between Dog Strangler (1) and the Bishop of Norwich? (2)

Richard Mayson’s excellent and authoritative book answers these questions and much more besides.  

The first chapter gives a condensed history of Portugal, Port and the Douro. Politics, religion, agriculture, industrialisation and international treaties all intertwined in the second millennium CE to create the fascinating landscape we have today.

The second chapter is a detailed exposition of the geography, climate and principal grapes of the Douro. This includes a map of the top 80 or so Quintas (farms or estates) with a review and contact details of each.  In conjunction with chapter 8 “Directions in the Douro” this makes a mini travel guide.  Would be visitors now have a valuable resource to help plan their trip.

The evolution of Port production methods is treated in chapter 3.  Whereas fine “light” wines can enjoy a long fermentation and maceration to extract flavour, colour and tannin from grape skins, Port has no such luxury.  With a maximum of 48 hours of skin contact before fermentation has to be arrested, firm and rapid extraction is key – and the tried and tested best method for this is foot treading in a lagare (a big, square, open-topped stone tank).

Throughout this third edition, the main text is interspersed with panels painting light-hearted pen pictures of the “Men (and women) who shaped the Douro”. In fact, these small pieces on their own give the reader some entertaining insights into the whole Port story.

As a patriotic Yorkshireman, I particularly enjoyed hearing of a bluff, straight-talking fellow Tyke (3) who devoted himself to exploring and documenting the vineyards of the Douro itself, rather than focusing on the blending, maturation and shipping from Villa Gaia de Nova. Joseph James Forrester produced some excellent maps of the region, and was also a vocal proponent of light (unfortified) Douro wines. Unfortunately, he was 150 years too early for consumer taste and shipping conditions, so these views were widely derided by the Port establishment.

A lack of available labour in the 1960s necessitated the introduction of mechanised alternative to the human foot, with varying degrees of success.  Much of the Douro was without a reliable (or any) electricity supply at that time.  Autovinification was an ingenious answer, as it used the pressure created by the natural production of carbon dioxide during fermentation  to pump the must over the cap (of floating grape skins).  More modern technology has since seen the use of robotic devices which attempt to reproduce the firm-but-not-too-firm extraction techniques of the foot.

Who invented Port? Although “light” wine had been made in the Douro for millennia, it was English Shippers who added spirit to large barrels of wine to stop them spoiling on the sea voyage to England. But that wasn’t the invention of Port! Port production depends on the addition of spirit before fermentation has finished, thereby retaining some of the grapes’ natural sugars as the spirit kills off the fermenting yeast. And that practice was first documented by a couple of wine merchants who found the Abbot of Lamego carrying it out on 1676.

The fourth chapter explains the different types of Port, from the well-established to the new.  The following table summarises the main styles:

Main Types of Port 3

The best of the best – Vintage Port – gets chapter 5 all to itself.  Each year from 1960 to 2015 (in the new paperback edition)  is given a mark from nil to five stars as an overall guide, plus a narrative explaining how the vintage unfolded – essentially the weather throughout the year – and the author’s pick of the best bottles.  Selected other years going back to 1844 (!) are also included in the vintage guide.  Whether this is a useful buying guide depends on the distance of your drinking horizon and/or the depths of your pockets.

Adulation and Adulteration. Without reference to quality, (young) Port’s defining characteristics are that it is sweet, strong in alcohol and dark in colour. Unscrupulous shippers based in Portugal and (especially) wine merchants in England would therefore bulk out real Port wine – or even wine from other regions – with sugar, raisin wine, cheap alcohol and elderberry juice.

Port Producers and Shippers are addressed in chapter 6, some now defunct and many now conjoined into large groups:

Major Port Groups

Joseph James Forester’s beloved light (everything is relative) Douro wines finally make an appearance in chapter 7.  They are made using essentially the same grapes as Port itself, but fermented to dryness, and skipping the addition of spirit.  Douro wines only gained their own DOC in 1979.  Usually big and bold, when well made they can perform well at the table with many courses, rather than just Port’s traditional role at the end.

As already mentioned, chapter 8 has travel information on hotels, restaurants and local dishes.

Chapter 9 is a short postscript on the future for Port and the Douro.  It would be an interesting exercise to look at the predictions in earlier editions!

Overall, this is an essential book for Port and Douro fans, and great reading for anyone with an interest in wine!

Click on the pic to buy directly from Amazon:

**********************************************************************

Footnotes
(1) The literal translation of the name “Esgana Cão”, the extremely acidic Port grape which also appears as Sercial in Madeira.
(2) Asking a person at the dinner table if they know the Bishop of Norwich is apparently a polite prod to keep the Port moving round the table!
(3) Peter Mayson is a resident of the other (dark) side of the Pennines, so was duty bound to use this description.

A Dozen Valentine’s Treats

A Dozen Valentine’s Treats

Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, and hence the colour pink.  This often means that rosé wines are promoted at this time of year, but as they aren’t generally my thing I thought I would recommend a dozen wines of differing hues from O’Briens, who are offering 10% back on their loyalty card (or wine savings account as I call it).

These wines are mainly higher priced for which I make no excuse – these are treats for yourself and / or your significant other!  Of course, they would make a nice treat for Mother’s Day or at any time of year…

Chateau Kirwan Margaux Troisième Cru 2010 (€95.00)

Chateau-Kirwan-2010

The last of Bordeaux’s fantastic four vintages within eleven years (2000, 2005 2009, 2010) allows this Margaux to show its class but be more approachable than in leaner years.  You could keep this for another decade or two if you didn’t want to drink it yet.  Decant for several hours after opening if you can, and serve with beef.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (€62.00)

Penfolds-Bin-407-Cabernet-Sauv

One of Penfolds’ top Cabernet Sauvignons which combines power, fruit and elegance. 2010 happened to be a great vintage in South Australia as well, so if you’re climbing the quality tree it’s a good time to do it.  Being a Cab means it’s all about cassis, intense blackcurrant aromas and flavours, with some vanilla to go with it.

1757 Bordeaux 2012 (€49.99)

1757-Bordeaux

This is a very interesting wine for the geeks out there as it is a custom blend of parcels from well known appellations from around Bordeaux including Paulliac, Graves and Canon-Fronsac.  It was created by JM Cazes group winemaker Daniel Llose and O’Briens Head of Wine Buying Lynne Coyle MW.  Oh, and it tastes wonderful as well!

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2013 (€27.95)

Ata-Rangi-Crimson-Pinot-Noir

Ata Rangi is one of stars of Martinbrough, an hour or so drive from Wellington in the south of New Zealand’s North Island.  Crimson is their second wine intended to be drunk while young rather than laid down, but it is first rate in quality.  Beats any Pinot from France at this price point.

Lanson Rose Label NV (€57.95 down to €45.00)

 

Lanson-Rose-Label-NV

This isn’t a token rosé, it’s a proper Champagne which happens to be pink.  Lanson’s house style is based on preventing / not encouraging malolactic fermentation in the base wines, meaning they remain fresh and zippy even after the secondary alcoholic fermentation which produces the fizz.  Texture is key here as well, and the lovely red fruits have a savoury edge.  You could even drink this with pork or veal.  Great value when on offer.

Beaumont des Crayeres Grande Réserve NV Champagne (€36.95 down to €30.00)

Beaumont-des-Crayeres-GR

Another Champagne which is even less expensive, but still a few steps above most Prosecco and Cava on the market.  The regulations for non vintage Champagne stipulate a minimum of 15 months ageing on the lees, but the lovely toasty notes from this show it has significantly more than that.  Punches well above its price.

L’Extra par Langlois NV (€19.99)

L_extra-par-Langlois

The Loire Valley is home to a multitude of wine styles, including Crémant (traditional method sparkling) such as this.  Made from internationally famous Chardonnay and local speciality Chenin, it doesn’t taste the same as Champagne – but then why should it?  The quality makes it a valid alternative, not surprising when you learn that it’s owned by Bollinger!

Graham’s Port LBV 2009 (€22.99)

Grahams

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is a great way to get into serious quality Port without paying the full price for Vintage Port.  Whereas the latter is bottled quickly after fermentation and laid down for many years, LBV spends time maturing in casks.  There it slowly loses colour and tannin but gains complexity.  Graham’s is one of the most celebrated Port Houses and their LBV is one of the benchmarks for the category.

Chanson Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2010 (€60.49)

Chanson-Chab-GrandCru-Les-Clos

Grand Cru Chablis is a very different beast from ordinary Chablis.  It’s often oaked, though sympathetically rather than overpoweringly, and can develop astounding complexity.  Among the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grand Crus, Les Clos is often regarded as the best of the best.  At just over five years from vintage this is still a baby – it would be even better in another five years but it might be impossible to resist!

Château-Fuissé les Brûlés 2012 (€42.00)

Ch-Fuisse-les-Brules

Pouilly-Fuissé is probably the best appellation of the Maconnais, Burgundy proper’s most southerly subregion which borders the north of Beaujolais.  The white wines here are still Chardonnay, of course, but the southerly latitude gives it more weight and power than elsewhere in Burgundy.  Oak is often used in generous proportions as the wine has the fruit to stand up to it.  This Château-Fuissé is one of my favourites from the area!

Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon 2013 (29.95)

Greywacke-Wild-Ferment-Sauvignon

It’s a Sauvignon Blanc, but then it’s not just a Sauvignon Blanc.  Kevin Judd was the long time winemaker of Cloudy Bay, finally branching out on his own a few years ago.  The wild yeast and partially oaking give this a very different sensibility from ordinary Sauvignons.  It’s not for everybody, but those that like it, love it!

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2011 (€29.45)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

One of my favourite New Zealand wines, full stop.  I have mentioned this wine several times over the past few years…mainly as I just can’t get enough of it!  It’s made in Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay so has more weight than, say, a Marlborough Chardonnay, but still enough acidity to keep it from being flabby.  Tropical fruit abounds here – just make sure you don’t drink it too cold!

 

 

 

 

 

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #04 – Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009 (#MWWC20)

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #04 – Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009 (#MWWC20)

Q: When is a variety not a variety? Bear with me, for I have an answer…

Having unexpectedly won Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #19 (#MWWC19) with this entry on choosing a Burgundy, I was given the winner’s prerogative of choosing the theme for #MWWC20.  The least I could do is enter myself – and it has pushed me into finally starting on a topic I have been meaning to explore for nearly two years – clones. In the fullness of time I will get into more detail (and that article will of course be called “Attack of the Clones”), but for now here’s an introduction.

“Variety” has lots of different meanings, even within the sphere of wine. The most common usage is for a type of grape, cépage in French. Thankfully, Jeff the Drunken Cyclist has already dealt with my bête noir of confusing variety (grape type) and varietal (wine made from a particular grape). The most technically correct term is actually cultivar, as pretty much all wine is made from cultivated grapes, but variety works for me.

Why is variety so important? Overall, it’s the single most important factor affecting the taste of a wine.  Yes, terroir can be very important, but that’s actually shorthand for a whole host of factors.  Additionally, (and subsequently), the way many wine drinkers outside Europe express their vinous preferences is by grape – and a fair share of those within Europe as well.

However, there are different versions of most grape varieties, and they are known as clones. These clones have subtly different characteristics, often adaptations from centuries of growing in particular places. Sometimes grape growers assist in this process by taking cuttings from the best performing vines and propagating them.

The last few decades have seen an increasingly scientific approach taken, with institutions and nurseries classifying existing and developing new clones which will thrive best in different soils and climates, or give a particular style of wine at the end. For example, producers aiming to make a richer, buttery style of Chardonnay might often chose to plant Mendoza Chardonnay clones, as their thicker skins and smaller berries make them suitable for a Meursault style.

So now for a varietal wine which involves a lot of variety from within a single grape variety (it will make sense, I promise):

Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009 (€23.99, jnwine.com)

Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009
Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009

Quinta da Falorca is one of four vineyards which are part of the larger Quinta Vale Das Escadinhas in the Silgueiros sub-region of Dão in central Portugal. It was established on south-facing steep banks of the river Dão over a century ago by the Costa Barros de Figuerido family.

The Dão wine region in central Portugal (Credit: Elapsed)
The Dão wine region in central Portugal (Credit: Elapsed)

The Dão is home to dozens of indigenous grapes varieties, with the most popular being Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen, Alfrocheiro Preto and Encruzado.  Indeed, the region is actually the original home of Touriga Nacional which is so vital in the Douro.  To honour this fact the Dão DOC regulations require a minimum 20% of Touriga Nacional in red wines.  

Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009
Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009

So it’s a good producer, but what’s so special about this bottle?  The name “T-Nac” gives us a clue that it’s made from Touriga Nacional, but that’s just the start.  It’s made from 100% Touriga Nacional, but 31 different clones of that variety!  It says something of the history of the area that over 30 clones of a single grape have been identified, and a lot more about a producer that can grow and vinify them!

Unlike some traditional style Dão wines it isn’t chock full of tannins from over-extraction, nor is it sullied by oak like some of the more modern style wines.  Instead it plots a happy medium course with excellent juicy black fruit fruit and fine-grained tannins that give it a real savoury edge.  This is a wine to pair beautifully with a steak or a hearty beef stew – in fact, a small glass in the stew would be perfection.

My thanks for the sample to JN Wines who will be showing this (and many other wines) at their Portfolio Tasting:

Time: Friday 6th November 18.00 – 20.00

Venue: Smock Alley Theatre, 6-8 Exchange Street Lower, Dublin 8

Tickets €15 online from Smock Alley

The Kaleidoscope of Wine – how’s your palette?

Kaleidoscope (Credit: wolfepaw)
Kaleidoscope (Credit: wolfepaw)

Being a bit of a geek (in wine, but other things as well) and possibly with a few ADHD tendencies, I’m a sucker for patterns and lists.  On my recent holiday in Portugal I started jotting down the different colours associated with wine, whether often used in descriptions, grape names or something else, and came up with A LIST.

Now, this is only from my own thoughts, so I’ve very happy to add any suggestions that you may have (leave a comment or send a Twitter message).

And did I mention I’m partially colourblind?  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…

So, in alphabetical order…

Amber

Mtsvane Amber Wine
Mtsvane Amber Wine
  • A WSET term for a deep dark gold colour, often apt for aged / oaked / sweet wines.
  • Georgian Amber Wine is made in the traditional way in clay pots (a bit like amphorae) called Quevris which are buried underground.

Black

Black Wine of Cahors
Black Wine of Cahors
  • As a general rule, the grapes that make red wine are black, not red.
  • Some always have black as part of their name – e.g. Pinot Noir – where there are different versions of the grape in different colours.
  • Some black grapes don’t usually need the suffix “Noir” as they are far better known than their siblings, unless a comparison is being made – e.g. Grenache is assumed to be the black version (as opposed to Blanc or Gris), but sometimes it is annotated as Grenache Noir.
  • The famous Black wine of Cahors which is a deep, dark, opaque Malbec blend.
  • The definition of Black Wine according to the motto of the Domaine Le Bout du Lieu: “If you can see your fingers through the glass, it’s not a Cahors.”
  • Pinot Meunier is sometimes known as Schwarzriesling – literally “Black Riesling” – in Germany!

Blue

Blaufränkish grapes
Blaufränkish grapes
  • Blau is of course German for “blue”, so this variety commonly found in Austria is a blue Frankish grape, evoking Charlemagne and his empire.
  • In Hungary the grape is known as Kékfrankos, which has the same literal meaning but sounds like a Greek ailment.

Blush

Blush
Blush
  • A term used to describe Californian rosé, especially the sweetish stuff made from Zinfandel.
  • What any self-respecting wino does when drinking the above wine (miaow!)

Brick

Brick red
Brick red
  • Obviously a shade of red, it’s usually connected to older red wines

Burgundy

Burgundy shirt
Burgundy shirt
  • For some reason Burgundy as a colour only ever refers to the region’s red rather than white wines.
  •  Quite well established as a colour outside of the wine world…I bet few garment wearers think of Pinot Noir…

Champagne

Champagne Aston Martin
Champagne Aston Martin Virage
  • The oft litigious organisation that represents Champagne, the CIVC, don’t like Champagne being used as a colour when not directly connected to one of their member’s products.
  • However, it’s probably too late, the cat is out of the bag for describing a silvery-goldy colour – and to be honest, should they really complain if it’s an Aston Martin?

Claret

Aston Villa Claret & Sky shirt
Aston Villa Claret & Sky shirt
Neil Back covered in Claret
Neil Back covered in Claret
  • The well known term for red Bordeaux wine.
  • However, the term actually originates from Clairette, a dark rosé style wine still made in Bordeaux (and was actually how most Bordeaux looked back in the day).
  • Now often used to mean wine- (or blood-) coloured.

Garnet

Garnet stones
Garnet stones
  • A WSET approved term for a mid shade of red, in between Ruby (another gemstone) and Tawny.

Gold

Burgundy's Côte d'Or
Burgundy’s Côte d’Or
  • Mature and / or sweet white wine is often described as gold, particularly Tokaji.
  • Burgundy’s heartland subregion of the Côte d’Or is literally the “Slope of Gold”.

Green

Vinho Verde Map (Credit: Quentin Sadler)
Vinho Verde Map (Credit: Quentin Sadler)
  • While “green wine” might not sound that pleasant a concept, it is of course the literal translation of Vinho Verde from northern Portugal.
  • By extension, used as a term for certain flavours which either invoke youth or the taste of something green (e.g. asparagus in Sauvignon Blanc)

Grey

AOC Côtes de Toul
AOC Côtes de Toul
  • Mid coloured grapes such as Pinot Gris (yay!) or the Italian equivalent Pinot Grigio (boo!)
  • Vin Gris (literally “Grey Wine”) is the term used for a white(ish) wine made from black grapes.
  • Often has a little more colour than a Blanc de Noirs, e.g. the Gamay-based AOC Côtes de Toul from Lorraine.

Orange

Orange Apple Festival
Orange Apple Festival
  • Quite a trendy type of wine at the moment, basically making a wine from white grapes using red wine methods, particularly lots of contact between the juice and the skins – different but interesting.
  • Orange Muscat is a variant of the ancient but popular Muscat family
  • Also a wine growing town in New South Wales, Australia, whose symbol is an apple – go figure!
  • In fairness, orchard regions are often good for making wine.

Pink

Pink wine
Pink wine
  • David Bird (author of Understanding Wine Technology) makes a valid point asking why we use the term rosé in English when we say red and white quite happily instead of rouge and blanc.

Purple

Moscatel Roxo (purple-pink muscat) grape variety. Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, Setúbal. Portugal (credit Mauricio Abreu)
Moscatel Roxo (purple-pink muscat) grape variety. Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, Setúbal. Portugal (credit Mauricio Abreu)
  • While reading a book on Port I came across a new colour category of grape: Roxo
  • Many grapes – and actually many wines – look quite purple, but Portugal is the first country I have seen to actually have a recognised term for it.

Red

Red Red Wine
Red Red Wine
  • Obviously the huge category of red wine as a whole.
  • Tinta / Tinto, the Portuguese and Spanish words for red (when applied to wine) is used for many grape varieties and their pseudonyms, including Tinto Aragon and Tinta Cão.
  • One of the few grapes in French to have red in its name is Rouge du Pays, also known as Cornalin du Valais or Cornalin.
  • However, without Red Wine would faux-reggae band UB40 have been so popular? Everything has its downsides…

Ruby

Niepoort Ruby Port
Niepoort Ruby Port
  • A bright shade of red, usually signifying a young wine.
  • A style of Port, often the least expensive, bottle young and so retains a bright red colour.
  • The grape Ruby Cabernet is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, though usually included in cheap fruity blends.

Tawny

Taylor's Aged Tawny port
Taylor’s Aged Tawny port
  • A light shade of red, tending to brown, usually signifying an older but not necessarily fully mature wine
  • A style of Port which has usually been aged in wood rather than bottle, with colour fading over time.

White

German White Grapes (Credit: shweta_1712)
German White Grapes (Credit: shweta_1712)
  • White wine, of course, which covers a multitude of grapes and styles
  • White grapes (well many of them are of course more green than white) particularly those whose name includes white (in English or any other language) to distinguish them from darker coloured siblings, e.g. Pinot Blanc / Pinot Bianco / Weissburgunder.

Yellow

Vin Jaune
Vin Jaune
  • Of course the Jura’s famous “Vin Jaune” (literally “yellow wine”) leaps to mind here.
  • Ribolla Gialla (thanks Jim) is the yellow version of Ribolla, generally found in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy and over the border into Slovenia.

Some Highlights from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Reds and Sweet

Some Highlights from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Reds and Sweet

Following on from my review of the sparkling and white wines in part one, here are the red and sweet wines which impressed me at the O’Briens Wines Autumn Press Tasting:

Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012 (€10.99)

Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012
Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012

Navarra (or Navarre in English) is a wine region in the north of Spain close to the more famous Rioja.  It used to be well-known for its rosados but now produces plenty of quality reds and whites, from both indigenous and international grape varieties.  In fact, the old Garnacha vineyards previously used for simple rosés are now being put to a more noble use in reds such as this one.  The other grapes in the blend are the local Tempranillo and the international Merlot.

It’s unmistakably Spanish, with bold red and black fruit cossetted in a basket of vanilla. This is smooth and very easy to drink on it’s own, but would stand up to beef or lamb with aplomb.  Great value for money.

Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011 (€15.99)

Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011
Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011

The Spanish speakers among you may have spotted from the label that this was matured in oak for 12 months, and thereby qualifies for the Crianza designation.  The oak used was mainly French (80%) with the balance American.

Jumilla is a region on the rise, as modern viticultural and vinification techniques are applied to some old bush vine vineyards.  Monastrell (the Rhône’s Mourvèdre) dominates the blend here with beefiness and spice, augmented by Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and a little Merlot.  The fruit is black rather than red – and it almost explodes out of the bottle.

Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009 (€42.00)

ongview The Piece Shiraz 2009
Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009

Longview are based in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia, just into the hills above….err…Adelaide!  Known as a cool(er) climate region, it can produce sublime Chardonnays and is now getting a serious reputation for Shiraz: Shaw + Smith excel at both.  “The Piece” is their top wine with all grapes handpicked, sorted and fermented in four separate one tonne open fermenters. It was aged for 24 months in new and old 300 litre French oak hogsheads.

At five years of age the wine has now settled down and is beginning to unfurl its petals.  It has sweet black fruit with soft integrated oak.  Medium acidity and silky tannins provide the structure for balance and additional ageing if you can resist drinking it now.

Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007 (€75.00, €67.00 in Nov/Dec)

Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007
Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007

How much? you might ask.  Yes, it’s an expensive bottle, but it’s a high end wine, and if you feel like splashing out for Christmas this would be perfect.  2007 was a good year for Bordeaux’s southerly Sauternes subregion so it should last for at least a decade from now.

On opening the wine has a divine, honey and apricot nose that you just want to inhale all day.  This follows through onto the palate, and while it’s definitely a dessert wine, there’s enough acidity to provide balance and stop it being cloying.

If you are a fan of foie gras then a glass of this would be a sublime match.

Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989 (€27.99)

Gerard Bertrand AOC Muscat de Rivesaltes 1989
Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

For me this was the standout wine of the tasting.  For those not familiar with the term, a Vin Doux Naturel is a fortified sweet wine where grape spirit is added early in the fermentation process to kill off the yeast, stopping fermentation and leaving some of the natural sugars from the grapes.  The Muscat grape is a staple for this job, especially around the Mediterranean, but Grenache offers an alternative style in several appellations.

The  Rivesaltes appellation takes its name from the town of the same name in the Roussillon area, which means “High Banks” in Catalan.

The Muscat versions are often sweet, simple and grapey, nice but nothing to write home about. This 25 year old Rivesaltes demands you buy a big book of stamps!

Time has caused the colour to fade from the wine – Grenache doesn’t tend to hold on to its colour that well anyway – but in return there are layers upon layers of complexity.  You could lose yourself for an hour just smelling the aromas, before diving into the heavenly Christmas pudding palate.  Spice up your wine selection here!

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny (€23.99)

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny
Bethany Old Quarry Tawny

The obvious word missing from the name of this wine is “Port”, and that’s because it’s from Australia not Porto.  Most people are very familiar with Australian table wine but aren’t aware that fortified wines were the majority of the industry’s output until the 1970s.  Port and Sherry imitations dominated the domestic market but were never able to compete with the real deal overseas.  Nowadays the proportion of production devoted to fortifieds is small with virtually nil exported.

Happily this is one of the bottles in that small rounding error, made from the traditional Barossa fortifieds grapes of Grenache and Shiraz.  Barrel ageing has given it some wonderfully intense raisin and nutty “rancio” characters.

Try this as an alternative to LBV or Tawny Port.