Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Pureza Moscatel Anfora 2019

Pepe Mendoza makes fascinating wines in his home region of Alicante.  To understand the wines we must first understand the region and the man himself.  We will look at the range of wines he makes followed by tasting notes of one of them.

Alicante DO

Where is Alicante?  I wouldn’t have been able to place it accurately on a (blank) map, so here’s an annotated map:

DO_Alicante_location

Alicante wine comes from the province of the same name in south eastern Spain.  As you can see on the outline map above (Credit: Té y kriptonita), there are two separate and distinct sub-regions:

  • Vinalopó which follows the banks of the river of the same name
  • La Marina which is a newer, smaller region by the coast

Monastrell is the major grape planted in Alicante – especially in the more developed and warmer Vinalopó – as it is in other wine regions in this part of Spain.  A long-standing speciality of the area is Fondillón wine, a late-harvest red wine which is left in barrel for extended periods – similar to the way that Tawny Port is matured, though Fondillón is not fortified.

La Marina is cooler and has more rainfall, and so is more suitable for white grapes – Moscatel is prevalent.

Another historical wine style which was once more common is Brisat wines, i.e. skin-contact wines made using amphoras.

Señor Pepe Mendoza

José (Pepe) Mendoza grew up learning about vines and winemaking in his father’s eponymous firm Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, founded in 1989.  Pepe was closely involved in the vineyard and the winery, then the overall running of the family firm with his younger brother Julian.  In addition to this large concern – it covers 500 hectares and produces 250,000 bottles annually – Pepe and his wife Pepa Agulló also founded their own boutique operation Casa Agrícola.

From the beginning of 2021 Pepe stepped away from the family firm to concentrate on Casa Agrícola and a new consultancy business – Uva Destino – aimed at helping “vineyards that strive to express themselves”.

Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Wine Range

There are four distinct wine ranges within the Casa Agricola portfolio:

“Landscape” wines

These are Pepe’s entry level wines which blend local varieties and are designed to be fresh but easy drinking:

  • Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco: Moscatel 40%, Macabeo 40%, Airén 20%
  • Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto: Monastrell 70%, Giró 25%, Alicante Bouschet 5%

Single Varietal wines

There is currently just one wine in this range:

  • Pureza Moscatel Anfora: 100% Moscatel (see below)

Terroir wines

These are also single varietal wines but made with grapes sourced from a single terroir, one which allows the variety to thrive:

  • Giró de Abargues: 100% Giró from Marina Alta
  • El Veneno Monastrell: 100% Monastrell from Alto Vinalopó

Small Production wines

These are experimental wines which act as an R&D lab for Pepe to try out new styles:

  • Mares de Luz Coupaje: a blend of Monastrell from Vinalopo and Giró from Marina Alta
  • Giró-Gironet Ánfora Velo Flor: 2 different Giró clones fermented under a veil of flor
  • Blanc Brisat Moscatel “La Solana”: a 100% Moscatel skin contact wine aged in amphoras

Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Pureza Moscatel Anfora 2019

casa agricola pureza moscatel 3

The vineyard where the grapes for this wine are sourced from is only two hectares in area and was planted in 1943.  It is farmed without irrigation and according to organic principles but is uncertified.  Wine making takes an additive-free approach: yeast is indigenous and there are no enzymes, acid, sugar or other additives used.

The grape variety used is 100% Moscatel de Alejandría (Muscat of Alexandria) which is common all across the Mediterranean.  It is sometimes regarded as inferior to other Muscats – principally Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains – but in the right setting it can deliver very good wines.

The juice is fermented on skins in amphoras of 220, 250 and 350 litres, with macerations two to three times a day.  After alcoholic fermentation of around ten days, the wine is matured in the same amphoras for six months, without lees stirring, then in bottle for a further five.

Although classed by some as an “orange” or “amber” wine, this is more of a deep lemon colour.  The nose shows grapes as expected from a Muscat, but also orange blossom and citrus peel.  When tasted, at first it shows delicacy and poise, dancing on the tongue.  There’s a fleshy sweetness to the mid palate, but this is followed up by some grippy tannins and an oh-so-dry finish.

This is a highly individual and unusual wine, completely out of the mainstream.  It’s not one I would drink regularly on its own – it would surely blossom even more with food – but it’s very well done and deserves consideration for a wine which activates your senses and stimulates your brain.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €29.95
  • Stockists: The Wine Pair; Higgins Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum; SC Grocer Monkstown
  • Source: media sample

Other Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola wines available in Ireland

In addition to the Pureza Moscatel Anfora, the following Pepe Mendoza wines are available in Ireland:

  • Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; SC Grocer Monkstown; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock.
  • Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; Mitchell and Son.
  • El Veneno Monastrell 2018 (RRP €43.95) Stockists: Avoca; D-Six Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum
Make Mine A Double

Wine Review: Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté and Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Aligoté

Aligoté is on the comeback trail, a grape which used to looked down upon for its acidity and rusticity is now producing treasured wines, especially in its homeland of greater Burgundy.  I recently praised one inexpensive specimen of Bourgogne Aligoté from Lidl, but now we have two more accomplished examples from well reputed producers:

Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté 2017

Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté

Maison Ambroise have been a favoured Burgundy producer of mine for several years.  The family grow and source grapes from 20 hectares split over 20 different appellations.  Of those available in Ireland, the Hautes Côtes de Nuits white and Côtes de Nuits Villages red are excellent mid range wines.  The entry level here is the red and white pair of Lettre d’Eloïse, while there are other treats available such as the stunning Nuits-St-Georges “Haut Pruliers”.

Ambroise’s Aligoté tucks in just behind the Lettre d’Eloïse Chardonnay in the range.  It has an intriguing nose of pear, citrus and herbs.  Textbook strong acidity make this a fresh wine, but fleshy texture and ripe citrus notes also give it some body.  There’s also a strong mineral streak which is almost metallic in character.  This is a tangy, mouth-watering and delicious example of the grape.  Ambroise themselves suggest pairing it with fish, and especially Sushi.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €20
  • Stockists: The Wine Pair; Avoca; Le Caveau Kilkenny; MacGuiness wines; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Martins Off License; Station to Station wines; Listons
  • Source: purchased from The Wine Pair

Domaine Michel Lafarge Raisins Dorés Bourgogne Aligoté 2018

If Ambroise is small with 20 hectares, then Domaine Michel Lafarge is even smaller at about half the size.  Based in Volnay, the Domaine is now run by Frédéric and his daughter Clothilde, the second and third generation respectively.  The estate is certified organic and biodynamic, with a low-intervention approach to winemaking.  

Whereas Ambroise’s vines are 40 years old, Lafarge’s Aligoté vines are more than twice that.  After whole-cluster pressing, fermentation takes place spontaneously with wild yeast in stainless steel tanks.  The wine is then matured between three and six months in older oak barrels, depending on the vintage.  Before bottling the wine may be fined and / or filtered, again vintage-dependent.

I don’t think I’m doing this bottle of Raisins Dorés (Golden Grapes) a disservice by saying that it’s fairly similar to the Ambroise, but more so: aromas and flavours are much more concentrated, there’s more smoke and fleshy texture, and such a long finish.  It’s almost as though this is the wine that Riesling and Albariño want to be when they grow up.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €32
  • Stockists: the current allocation of 32 bottles for Ireland has already sold out.
  • Source: media sample

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that the Lafarge is the better of these two wines in my eyes (or should that be “in my mouth”?), but the real question is their comparative quality to price ratio.  Which is the better value for money?  The extremely low availability of the Lafarge take it out of the buying equation right now, but I’d say that the two wines are equal in the VFM stakes.  If you just want to spend €20 then buy the Ambroise, but if you can spend just over €30 and can find the Lafarge wine then snap it up!


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

 

 

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay

Before the arrival of this wine into Dublin I have to confess that I was only distantly aware of Wente Vineyards and their home of Livermore Valley in California’s Central Coast.  The two are inextricably linked, but first here’s a map for us to get our bearings:

Livermore Valley in California

 

As you can see, Livermore Valley is at the top of the Central Coast region, across the Bay from San Francisco.  Cooling sea breezes and fogs from San Francisco Bay give the valley more significant diurnal temperature variation, helpful for producing quality wine.

Although not that well known today – in Europe at least – grapes were first planted in Livermore in the 1840s, before the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and well before phylloxera devastated European vineyards.

There was a flurry of winery openings in the 1880s, with Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 followed by Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards in 1883.  Colcannon and Wente are still in operation today, with Wente being the biggest.  In fact, it was Wente who ended up buying the land that Cresta Blanca had used and replanted it after decades of being barren.

Livermore Valley’s influence on Californian wine extended beyond its immediate borders:

  1. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
  2. Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
  3. As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay

Wente Vineyards

Wente Vineyards are proud of their status as “the country’s longest, continuously operated family-owned winery”.  They have now reached five generations of family winegrowers:

  1. Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
  2. Ernest Wente imported Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier in 1912 and established the Wente Clone.  His brother Herman Wente helped to found the California Wine Institute in 1936
  3. Karl L. Wente joined the business in 1949 and greatly expanded US and international distribution.  He also expanded the family’s holdings into Arroyo Secco (Monterey)
  4. Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
  5. Christine, Karl, Jordan, Niki and Aly Wente hold various positions in the business

Not content to simply fall back on with their long history, Wente are also embracing the future with the first ever virtual wine tasting accessed through Alexa or Google.

In addition to producing wine the estate also features a restaurant, 18 hole golf course and concert venue.  But it’s the wine that matters most to us!  The Wente wine portfolio consists of several ranges.  In approximate order of most to least expensive they are:

  • The Nth Degree
  • Small Lot
  • Single Vineyard
  • Wente Winemakers Studio
  • Estate Grown

It’s not unusual for Estate wines to be the top range in a producer’s portfolio, so this indicates a high quality level.  To evaluate this theory we now turn to a specific wine from the Estate Grown range.

Disclosure: This bottle was kindly provided as a sample

Wente Morning Fog Livermore Valley Chardonnay 2018

Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay from Livermore Valley

The Wente Vineyards “Morning Fog” Livermore Valley Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Karl Wente.  Its name evokes the fogs that roll across San Francisco Bay and into the east-west trained vines of Livermore Valley.  Various Wente Chardonnay clones are used, including “Old Wente” which have been propagated without going though heat treatment at UC Davis.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately.

After the grapes are pressed the must is split into two parts: 50% is fermented in old American oak and 50% is fermented in stainless steel tanks.  The barrel fermented portion remains in those containers for five months and undergoes monthly lees stirring.  The Inox portion is split further; half remains on its lees and receives bâtonnage while half is racked into clean tanks.  All vessels are then blended together before bottling.

When poured the wine is lemon, not as deep as some other (more oaky) Chardonnays.  It’s highly aromatic on the nose – helped by 2% Gewürztraminer – full of toasty, leesy notes and fresh citrus.  The palate is fresh and clean, but with lovely texture.  Unlike some Cali Chardonnays, the texture doesn’t get in the way of the wine or stand out awkwardly, but rather comes along for the journey.  There’s a fine mineral streak through the wine and a fresh finish.

Overall this is a very well put together wine, rising above many confected and manufactured rivals at this price point.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €27
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Jus de Vine; Lotts and Co; Martins Off Licence; McHughs Kilbarrack and Malahide; Mitchell and Son Glasthule and CHQ; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Power & Co Fine Wines; Sweeney’s D3; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock
Opinion

Five Festive Flagons

As we roll on towards the festive season, despite the pandemic. many of us are starting to plan which wines we want to have in stock for drinking over the Christmas period (Christmas don’t care ’bout Covid!)  Here are five wines that you should consider this Yule:

Disclosure: bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own

Perelada Cava Reserva Brut

I reviewed this wine just over three years ago and the salient points of that article remain valid:

  • There’s a lot of very ordinary Cava out there, at very low prices (often €12 or less)
  • Small-scale, renowned producers such as Llopart and Raventos i Blanc are available from around €30 upwards in Ireland (and are usually better than any Champagnes down at that price)
  • That leaves a big gap in the market between the two price points which is neatly filled by Perelada

This Reserva Brut bottling is made from the traditional three Cava grapes: Macabeo (30%), Xarel·lo (45%) and Parellada (25%) with 15 months maturation on the lees – significantly more than the nine months minimum for Cava.  It’s highly aromatic, just a delight to sniff, but very attractive on the palate with apple, pear and citrus notes.  The finish is crisp, perhaps a little dry for some tastes (though not mine).

When to drink: This would be a great start to Xmas morning, good enough to sip on its own, with nibbles or even a smoked salmon starter.

  • ABV: 11.5%
  • RRP: €20
  • Stockists: The Drink Store, Stoneybatter D7 / Higgins Off Licence, Clonskeagh / Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Fine Wines O/L Group.

Fontanafredda Gavi di Gavi 2019

Amongst a group of my friends we have a running joke that one (Gosia) would often select Gavi di Gavi from a wine list when there were other, more interesting, options available.  This wine shows that joke to be hollow as it’s a cracking wine, full of flowers and spicy pear on the nose, sensual texture on the palate and soft stone fruit flavours.  There’s a racy acidity to the wine but it isn’t lean, just refreshing.

When to drink: With shellfish, white fish or even lighter poultry.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €20 – €21
  • Stockists: Redmonds of Ranelagh; Martins Off Licence, Fairview; D-SIX Wines, Harolds Cross

Trapiche Malbec Reserva Malbec 2019

Trapiche have several different quality levels within their line-up, including the excellent Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec which I reviewed here.  This Reserva is a more of an everyday wine, but is true to its variety with bold plum and blackberry fruits and a touch of vanilla.  It’s an easy-going red that doesn’t hit the heights but hits the spot with a steak.

When to drink: With red meat or just with your feet up in front of the TV

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €13 – €15
  • Stockists: Dunnes Stores; Nolans Supermarket, Clontarf

Mommessin Domaine de la Presle Fleurie 2018

Fleurie is Ireland’s favourite Beaujolais Cru by some distance, perhaps helped by the easily pronounceable name.  It’s a relatively light Cru so sits as a happy medium in depth of colour.  The nose shows a variety of cherries, blueberries and red table grape skins.  On the palate we find freshly-made home-made jam from a variety of red and black fruits, a little garden thyme and pencil shavings.  On it’s own I thought it a good but not great wine, but when my wife tried it with extra mature cheddar she though it magnificent – the fruit of the wine counters the saltiness of the cheese and the cheese softens the acidity of the wine.  As a non-cheese eater I will take her word for it!

When to drink: With hard cheese, charcuterie, wild boar sausages, venison, duck, or nut roast

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €18 – €20
  • Stockists: Fine Wines Off Licence; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Nolans Supermarket, Clontarf; Kellers Carry Out, Nenagh.

Boutinot La Côte Sauvage Cairanne 2017

Cairanne only became a named village or Cru in its own right a few years ago, though 20% of the land was effectively demoted at the same time (1,088 hectares of the original 1,350 survived the increased standards).  Being in the Southern Rhône this is a GSM blend, consisting of Grenache Noir (60%), Syrah (20%), Mourvèdre (10%) and Carignan (10%).  The minor grapes add considerable colour as the wine is darker than many Grenache based wines.  Their influence is felt on the nose, too, which has rich black fruit and spice, something like blackberry crumble in a glass.  These notes continue through to the palate which is velvety and powerful.  This is heady stuff, perfect for Xmas or winter celebrations.

When to drink: With friends, family, or on your own.  Treat yourself!

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €23
  • Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Martins, Fairview; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Fine Wines O/L Group

 

Single Bottle Review

Remelluri “Granje Remelluri” Gran Reserva 2012

While the Remelluri estate’s origins hark back over six hundred years, the Rodríguez family’s involvement started relatively recently in 1967 when Jaime Rodríguez bought the key vineyards.  They lie on the high slopes of the Sierra de Toloño mountains – at a high altitude, but with a  southerly exposure and protected from overly harsh weather.  Significant diurnal temperature swings help the grapes to become fully ripe yet retain flavour and acidity.

Chemicals have never been used in the vineyards but the organic approach has been extended to a holistic system; far from being a monoculture, the estate has fruit groves and hedges to maintain a natural balance.

After decades spent raising the bar in Rueda, Ribero del Duero and Galicia, prodigal son Telmo Rodríguez returned to Rioja in 2010 and set about further developing the Remelluri estate.  Amongst his initiatives are reexamining old training systems and evaluating the best variety for each specific plot and microclimate.

There are currently five wines in the Remelluri range:

  • Remelluri Blanco
  • Lindes de Remelluri ‘Viñedos de San Vicente’
  • Lindes de Remelluri ‘Viñedos de Labastida’
  • Remelluri Reserva
  • Granja Remelluri Gran Reserva

The two Lindes wines are made from the grapes of growers in the surrounding villages.  Now we turn our attention to the top wine in the stable:

Remelluri “Granje Remelluri” Gran Reserva 2012

Granja Remelluri Gran Reserva 2012

The “Granje Remelluri” Gran Reserva is made only in the best years, and then only in very small quantities.  The blend for 2012 breaks down as 70% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha and 5% Graciano.

The vines selected for the Gran Reserva vary in age from 40 to over 90 years old and are at elevations between 480m and 705m.  Vinification takes place in small wooden vats with ambient yeasts, followed by maturation for 24 months in a variety of seasoned oak vessels from 225L barriques up to 2,000L foudres.  After bottling the wine is kept in Remelluri’s cellars for a further five years before release.

This is an epic, immense wine still in the early stages of youth.  The nose has a cornucopia of fruit: blackberries, plums, black cherries and wild strawberries joined by cedar, exotic spice and vanilla from the oak.  It is warming and powerful in the mouth, with dark fruits and vanilla, yet with elegance and freshness.  No shrinking violet this, it’s a substantial wine that would be best with hearty food now or to be kept for the long haul.  If I had the spare readies I’d be opening one every couple of years.

Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Making Wine Amid Moving Borders [Make Mine a Double #56]

European Borders

For those of us living in the UK or Ireland it is rare to think of international borders moving.  Yes, there’s the Northern Ireland border between the two sovereign states, but that hasn’t moved since its inception a century ago and is hopefully fading away.  Because we live on islands even the concept of driving to another country seems a little strange for many, never mind that border moving over time.

The movement of borders has created some unusual situations for wine folk, such as the Becker family in Germany’s Pfalz – whose vineyards run into Alsace – and also the Gravner family – whose lands were in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at one point but now lie (just) in Italy.

This all came to mind as I was thinking about a pair of wines I tasted earlier in the year.  They are based on the same geological set of hills (Gorizia Hills in English, Collio Goriziano in Italian or Goriška Brda in Slovene) but in different countries.  The drive between them is less than an hour an a half:

map 1

So now for that pair of wines:

Gašper Rebula 2016

Gasper Rebula

First things first: Gašper is the name of the producer (literally, as Gašper Čarman is the gentleman who own and runs the place) and Rebula is the grape variety.  The latter is better known to most of us as Ribolla Gialla in Friuli but it is a major variety in Brda.

Gašper’s vines are planted in “opaka” soil (silica-calcite sedimentary rock) on terraces between 80 and 200 metres above sea level.  Both altitude and proximity to the sea help to retain aromas and freshness in the wine.

This Rebula is made with 16 hours skin contact – far more than more white wines but nowhere near as long as orange / amber wines.  Fermentation is in huge (4,000 litre) casks, temperature controlled to preserve fruit characters and freshness.  Maturation takes place first in old French barriques (1 year) then in old, large big format Slavonian oak casks.

The time spent on skins adds a real depth of colour to the wine – it deserves the “Gialla” (yellow) descriptor in its Italian name.  The nose shows bright citrus – lemon, grapefruit, orange – and mixed citrus peel.  The palate is soft, not too shouty with great texture.  The fresh and dried fruits are joined by a certain creaminess and they resolve in a clean, fresh finish.

Gašper himself told me that the wine has great ageing potential – and I have every reason to believe him.

 

Livio Felluga “Illivio” Pinot Bianco / Chardonnay / Picolit 2017 

Livio Felluga Illivio

After two World Wars Friuli’s agriculture and viticulture was significantly diminished and almost abandoned by the flight from countryside to city.  Livio Felluga was one who had a great vision of restoring Fruili’s proud tradition of winemaking.  He bought up old vineyards planted new ones and over the course of decades reinvigorated the region.  He has long been acknowledged as the driving force behind the restoration of Friuli and as an ambassador for its wines.

Illivio was created as by Livio’s children to celebrate his 85th birthday.  It’s a blend of Pinot Bianco (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and indigenous variety Picolit (10%).  Picolit was traditionally used for sweet wines as it has a good balance between sugar and acidity,  with a flavour profile not too far form Viognier, and had a cult following in the 1960s and ’70s.

The wine is fermented in small oak casks then left on the lees in those barrels for 10 months.  While oaked Chardonnay is of course very common internationally, oaked Pinot Blanc is mainly an Italian thing – but it can make for excellent wines.

Illivio pours yellow in the glass, though not from skin contact as the Gašper Rebula above, but rather from the influence of oak.  The nose is intense, as floral and fruit notes compete with rich smoky notes from the oak.  The palate is rich yet tangy, with buttered brioche and juicy fruit exquisitely mixed.  This is a serious wine, but seriously nice!

 

 

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

Single Bottle Review

Top Notch Malbec from Trapiche [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #29]

Trapiche make an almost bewilderingly wide range of wines, with around twenty different labels that vary from a single variety to a choice of thirteen for the “Vineyards” label.  Their “Terroirs Series” has three single vineyard Malbecs from different sites around Mendoza, an exercise in showing the effects of terroir has on the same grape.  Ambrosia comes from Gualtallary in Tupungato, the highest of the three at 1,307 metres above sea level.  The other two in the series are Suárez Lastra at 1,072m and Orellana de Escobar at a “mere” 990m.

Disclosure: this bottle was a sample, but opinions remain my own

Trapiche Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec 2014 (14.5%, RRP €36.99 at Martin’s Off Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Ice Box Off Licence)

Trapiche Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec 2014

Even before the first glass is poured, on opening this reveals itself to be a serious wine, with a left bank Bordeaux sensibility: French oak rules the day.  The smokiness and hints of vanilla on the nose are joined by pencil shavings, leather, and bold black fruit.  On the palate, there’s ripe black fruit on the attack along with tangy oak.  Beautiful mineral notes join for the long, elegant finish.  Although this is a “fruity” wine, it’s far from jammy and confected; rather, it’s beautifully balanced and serious, though doesn’t take itself too seriously.   Ambrosia is well worth its status as a single vineyard wine.

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #24]

Now part of New Zealand wine folklore, Cloudy Bay Vineyards was set up at the beginning of the Marlborough gold-rush (grape-rush?) in 1984 by David Hohnen.  Hohnen was no stranger to innovation as he had set up the pioneering Cape Mentelle in Margaret River in 1970.  As he was based in Western Australia, he recruited fellow Australian Kevin Judd to actually make the wines.

Cloudy Bay was one of the main producers which put Marlborough Sauvignon on the world map of wine, and such was demand that it often outstripped supply – it was frequently only available from merchants on allocation.  Over the years as other vineyards were established, Cloudy Bay was able to increase its supply of grapes but also had more competitors in the market.  Perhaps due to the expertise of luxury goods company LVMH who acquired it in 2003, Cloudy Bay has still managed to command a price premium over all its direct competitors.

Although hardly cheap at €35 and upwards in Ireland, the “straight” Sauvignon Blanc is one of the least expensive wines of the Cloudy Bay range.  The other include non-vintage and vintage sparkling Pelorus (which we had served for the toast at our wedding), Pinot Noirs from Marlborough and Central Otago, the excellent Chardonnay and a barrel-fermented wild yeast Sauvignon called Te Koko.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (13.1%, €35 – €42, stockists below)

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (1)

The 2019 vintage was released in Ireland at the beginning of November, so this is a very young wine, but awkward and angular it is not.  It has an unmistakably Marlborough Sauvignon nose with intense citrus and tropical fruits.  They are joined on the palate by juicy grapefruit and gooseberry.  There is plenty of acidity, but it presents as mouthwatering freshness and zip rather than being strong enough to make you wince. There’s a certain roundness and texture which is absent from many other Savvies. Hating on Sauvignon is quite common nowadays, but I think this wine is good enough to win plenty of converts.

Conclusion

Thirty years on, Cloudy Bay is still at the top of the pile – though its price reflects the renown of its brand as much as the quality of the wine.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Gibney’s, Malahide;  Londis, Malahide; Sweeneys D3, Fairview; Martin’s, Fairview; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Redmond’s Ranelagh; Mitchell’s, Glasthule & CHQ; Blackrock Cellars; Donnybrook Fair; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Bradley’s, North Main St, Cork; 1601 Kinsale; Wine Centre, Kilkenny; McCambridge’s, Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford.

Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions remain my own.

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Domaine Lafage whites [Make Mine a Double #48]

The Languedoc-Roussillon wine is often shortened to simply “The Languedoc”, but that does a disservice to Roussillon, the French part of Catalonia which stretches down to the border with Spain.  It does have its stars in the fortified sweet wines of Maury, Rivesaltes and Banyuls, but here we turn our attention to its table wines.

Domaine Lafage are based in Perpignan and produce a large number of different cuvées – white, rosé, red and Vins Doux Naturels.  I’ve enjoyed some of their bottles before, including their Nicolas (made from old vine Grenache Noir) and Côté Est (a blend of Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay and Rolle), but here are two that I tried recently that really impressed me:

Lafage “Centenaire” Côtes du Roussillon AOP 2018 (13.0%, RRP €19.95 at Baggot Street Wines, McHugh’s, Sweeny’s D3, DrinkStore, Redmonds of Ranalagh, Martins of Fairview, The Vintry Rathgar and Blackrock Cellar)

Domaine Lafage Centenaire Blanc

The name of this wine comes from the age of the vines – some of them are a hundred years old with the rest not far behind.  80% is made up by Grenaches Gris and Blanc (the split is not given) and the remaining 20% is Roussanne.  Such old vines have very low yields (30 hl/ha) but give intense concentration of flavour.  30% of the blend is aged in new French oak for 4 months, with bâtonnage.

Being mainly Grenache the Centenaire has a broad palate, rich but dry and herby.  This might sound something of a contradiction, but the spicy pear and quince fruit comes in the attack and mid palate with the finish being crisp and dry.  In terms of style it is not dissimilar to a southern Rhône white, but crisper on the finish than most.

Lafage Cadireta Côtes Catalanes IGP 2018 (13.0%, RRP €19.95 at Baggot Street Wines, McHugh’s, Sweeny’s D3, DrinkStore, Redmonds of Ranalagh, Martins of Fairview, The Vintry Rathgar and Blackrock Cellar)

Domaine Lafage Cadireta Blanc

The Cadireta name is of a specific climat which has deep, rocky soils.  Vines are a mixture of trellised and bush vines, planted in an east-west orientation to preserve acidity as much as possible.  The grapes are harvested in the (relative) cool of night, a practice common in Australia.  30% of the wine is fermented and matured in new Burgundian oak barrels, similar to the Centenaire, with 70% cool fermented in stainless steel.  Only 8% of the final blend goes through malolactic fermentation, adding a touch of roundness.

Now for the unusual feature of this wine: the grapes harvested are 100% Chardonnay but they are matured on Viognier lees – something which is quite innovative and adds a real depth of flavour.  Melon and red apple from the Chardonnay and vanilla from the oak are joined by apricot, peach and floral notes from the Viognier.  It’s a lusciously peachy wine yet remarkably fresh and crisp.  This much flavour and interest yet perfectly in balance make for a wine worthy of much praise.

Conclusion

These are both very good wines and excellent value for money.  For drinking on their own my marked preference is for the Cadireta – and I’m not alone as it has just won the White Wine of the Year at the Irish Wine Show!  With food, I think that the Centenaire would be a little more versatile…so perhaps a bottle glass of each!

 

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

Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 4 – New World Reds)

“New World” is not a great term as it basically means “outside Europe”, so it includes many different countries which are different in style.  Just for convenience, it allows us to look at a selection wines from California, Central Otago, Southern Australia and Ningxia, all available from Liberty Wines.

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (15.0%, RRP €72.99 at Blackrock Cellar; The Corkscrew; La Touche Wines, Greystones; McHugh’s; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Terroirs)

Pine Ridge Vineyards CabSauv NapaValley

I’ve been a fan of the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc / Viognier blend for some time (see review here) but as this is Napa then the Cabernet is the real deal.  Pine Ridge Vineyards was first established in Stags Leap District in the late 70s with a single vineyard next to a – you guessed it – pine ridge.  Their vineyards now number 12 and total 80 hectares over five Napa sub-zones: Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Carneros, Howell Mountain and Oakville.  Pine Ridge produce a number of different wines, including several from individual sub-zones, but this is a blend across the five.

This bottle is labelled as a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon but that is 91% of the blend, with the balance made up by 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc.  35% of the 2016 was aged in new American oak for 18 months, giving creamy vanilla to go with the blackcurrant, cherry and blackberry notes.  This is a big, lush, heady wine that is not light and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  It’s not for those who like racy reds but it’s imposing and delicious.

New Kanaan Pretty Pony 2013 (14.0%, €52.99 at Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; The Corkscrew; The Malt House; Mitchell & Son; Terroirs)

Kanaan Winery, `Pretty Pony` FS

Ningxia is of course the most important Chinese region for wine.  Some years ago I reviewed Château Changyu Moser XV 2008 which had an abv of 12.5% and was reminiscent of old school Bordeaux (think mid ’90s).  The Pretty Pony is a very good wine, regardless of origin. It has oak, lovely black fruit and is already showing a nice bit of development.  This is not like old school Bordeaux – this is like modern Bordeaux!

Akarua “Rua” Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 (14.0%, RRP €29.99 at Avoca; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Mitchell & Son; Red Nose Wine; 1601, Kinsale; www.wineonline.ie)

Akarua Rua Pinot Noir

When Central Otago Pinot Noir began to enter into the consciousness of wine drinkers it was almost the opposite of Marlborough Pinot – big, bold and powerful – with alcohol to match.  It was almost a Pinot Noir for Cabernet drinkers – no bad thing in my eyes as Cab is my favourite black grape – but times, and the wines, have changed.  Now elegance and balance are to the fore, without losing the intensity that made them such a hit in the first place.  This is a great example of Central Pinot – especially for the relatively modest price.  It has a core of ripe red fruit and a slight smoky, savoury edge that gives it some seriousness.

Burn Cottage Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 (13.5%, RRP €69.99 at The Corkscrew; www.wineonline.ie and good independents nationwide)

Burn Cottage Central Otago Pinot Noir

Another Central Pinot, but totally different in style.  Burn Cottage has been practising biodynamic since the first vines were planted in 2003, and there is a low intervention approach to winemaking.  Whole bunch fermentation allows the wine’s aromas to develop fully – it smells…special, for want of a better term.  This is a fine, fine wine which delights all the senses but the mind too.

Mitolo “G.A.M.” McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 (14.5%, RRP €39.99 at Blackrock Cellar; www.wineonline.ie and good independents nationwide)

Mitolo GAM Shiraz

Like many McLaren Vale vineyards, Mitolo has Italian roots through its founder Frank Mitolo.  It also has an influx of German genes through winemaker and business partner Ben Glaetzer, scion of the Barossa producer Glaetzer wines.  The Mitolo portfolio is split into three ranges: Jester, Small Batch and Single Vineyard.

The G.A.M. Shiraz was the first wine produced by Mitolo; it’s not an alternative to GSM which is prevalent in the Vale, but actually stands for the initials of Frank’s three children, Gemma, Alex and Marco.  The fruit is sourced from a vineyard belonging to family friends and fellow Italian immigrants the Lopresti vineyards, in particular their “Chinese Block”.  As it’s located at the bottom end of McLaren Vale, the block benefits from cooling sea breezes.  The vines are over 40 years old and are planted on a type of clay.  Fermentation is kept on the cool side to preserve fruit flavours and then fermentation is in French oak (30% new, 70% used) for 15 months.  Only at that point are barrels given final selection for inclusion in the G.A.M. Shiraz.

Aussie Shiraz is a great crowd-pleaser but this is way above that – it has phenomenal structure and intense, opulent-but-not-jammy black fruit.  The Jester Shiraz is a great introduction to the style at a little over half the price of the G.A.M., but I’d argue that the latter is more than twice as good and represents great value at this price point.

Grosset Gaia Clare Valley 2014 (14.0%, RRP €66.99 at good independents nationwide)

Grosset Gaia

Grosset are best known for their Rieslings, especially the Polish Hill and Springvale bottlings, but they also make some great reds too, including a Pinot Noir and this “Gaia” Bordeaux blend.  I say Bordeaux blend though its precise proportions of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc would rarely be found in the Gironde.  At five years old this 2014 still has bright berry, blackcurrant and plum fruit.  It does have a dry leathery side, with grippy tannins and good acidity.  As this is Clare there is of course a screwcap closure; a challenge to the Bordelais to catch up?  This will be drinking well for years and years.

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019