Opinion

Spanish Treats from O’Briens

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Here are a few of my favourite Spanish wines available at O’Briens – and until 17th August they are on sale with 20% or more off, so it’s a great time to snap them up!

Martín Códax Rías Baixas Albariño 2013 (12.5%, €17.95 down to €14.36 at O’Briens)

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The fresh one: Named after a literary hero from Galicia in northwest Spain, this wine also uses the celebrated local grape Albariño.  While some examples can be a little too tart for my taste, several months of ageing on the lees before bottling and a few years’ rest make this wonderfully round, though still fruity and refreshing.  Expect citrus and soft stone fruit notes.

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Capellanía 2010 (13.5%, €24.95 down to €19.96 at O’Briens)

15WSP010-Capellania j

The Marmite one: this is generally a love or loathe type of wine due to the deliberate introduction of some oxygen during the winemaking process – i.e. giving it a slight “Sherry” taste.  It’s how traditional style white Rioja is made – and to be honest I’m all for it as technically better modern examples are often a bit dull.  I also tasted a 2005 vintage recently and it was still going strong, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it!

Torres Ribero del Duero Crianza Celeste 2012 (14.0%, €21.95 down to €17.56 at O’Briens)

Celeste

The regular one: Although it’s fairly well distributed, this is a classy wine that always delivers – it’s a regular tipple for me.  It’s made from Tempranillo which is of course the mainstay of red Rioja, but the hotter days and cooler nights of the Ribero del Duero give the local variant a thicker skin and hence the wine has more colour and flavour – dark berries with a pinch of spice!

Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €30.45 down to €24.36 at O’Briens)

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The surprising one: This wine was one of the stand outs for me at the O’Briens Spring Wine Fair.  When it comes to Rioja I don’t usually go for a Gran Reserva as they can be woody and dried out from too much time in oak, but this was a revelation.  30 months in American oak followed by 3 years in bottle have set it up superbly.  The strawberry fruit is so, so soft with vanilla on the side, and a slight smoky edge to the wine.  The oak is definitely noticeable but it’s now well integrated.  A fabulous wine!

Marques de Murrieta Castillo De Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2007 (14.0%, €85.00 down to €68.00 at O’Briens)

Castillo Ygay j

The no-expense spared one: Yes, this is an expensive wine, but it is counted among the best in Spain, so if you’re splashing out then why not?  It’s a blend of 86% Tempranillo and 14% Mazuelo (a.k.a. Carignan) matured in oak for 28 months.  It tastes pretty damned amazing, but it’s still a baby – put a couple of bottles away for a special occasion in a few years time!

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Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2015

As I said at the beginning of my review pieces, for me 2015 was an excellent year for wine.  If one region really stood out for me in 2015 it would be Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France; already well known for bulk wine and subsequently good value bottles, it has a growing reputation for excellence in the hands of dedicated producers.

Here are ten of the reds which most impressed me in the year:

10. Château de Rousselet Côtes de Bourg 2009 (€12.99, Lidl)

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For about 17 years my parents lived close to La Rochelle in the Charente Maritime department – much better known for Cognac than wine.  But happily it was close enough to Bordeaux that day trips were quite easy, and so at least once a summer I would head down in the car for some tasting and buying.

Heading south, the first subregions encountered are the Côtes de Blaye (now renamed) and Côtes de Bourg.  Touring around with a visitors booklet I would try new vineyards every year, plus return to a chosen few of the best.  Château de Rousselet was one I returned to year after year, as Francis Sou and son Emmanuel continued to gradually improve the quality of their wines.  Here are a few of the older bottles I still have:

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So I was surprised and delighted to see a fairly recent vintage being sold through Lidl! The 2009 vintage was outstanding in Bordeaux, and even modest areas such as the Côtes de Bourg produced some crackers – classic claret, still great for food, but also round and fruity enough to be drunk by itself.  Sadly the Lidl stores close to me didn’t have any stock when I visited!

9. Château Paul Mas Clos de Mures Coteaux du Languedoc 2013 (€16.99, Molloys)

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Paul Mas is one of the star estates of the Languedoc. There are several different quality levels of which Château Paul Mas is around the top – “Everyday luxury”.  The equivalent white also featured in my Top 10 whites of 2015.

As it common in the Languedoc this is a blend, comprising 83% Syrah, 12% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre – so it’s a GSM blend of sorts, though showing more black than red fruit due to the higher Syrah content.  This wine was one of the surprise stars of the (as yet unpublished) DNS tastings on Syrah and Shiraz – both for the absolute quality and the value for money at €16.99.  

8. Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (€23, JN Wine and others)

Condado de Haza

Pesquera’s sister property in a warmer part of the Ribero del Duero shares much in terms of ethos and quality but has a different sensibility – it’s more fun and accessible, with an emphasis on fruit and pleasure rather than refinement.  Plum, blackcurrant and black cherry are rounded off by vanilla from 18 months in American oak.

There’s no doubt that Tinta Pesquera is the senior sibling but this crowd-pleaser is a lot of wine for sensible money, and is the one I would chose to drink on its own.  

See this article for more details.

7. Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block 21 “Viento Mar” Pinot Noir 2012 (€19.99 from O’Brien’s Wines, Mitchell & Sons, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin, Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Bradley’s and O’Driscoll’s of Cork)

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Cono Sur do a great range of Pinot Noirs from the everyday Bicicleta up to the prestigious Ocio.  This is a single vineyard release Pinot which sits roughly in the middle of the range; there are also seven other varietal single vineyard releases including Riesling, Carmenère and Syrah – I’d like to try them at some point as well!

The vineyard itself is nicknamed the Spanish for “Sea Wind”, invoking the coastal breezes which help keep the temperature relatively cool in San Antonio Valley – ideal for Pinot Noir.

Luscious black and red fruits combine with a hint of vanilla – it’s got lots of fruit but fresh rather than confected fruit.  Amazingly drinkable, and knocks spots off Burgundy (and most other regions’) Pinot at this price.

See this article for more details.

6. Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinère 2011 (€23.49, O’Briens)

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The general Minervois appellation has around 800ha planted to vines and the smaller, more prestigious, Minervois La Livinière appellation is around a quarter of that, with lower yields and a higher proportion of better-regarded grapes such as Syrah.

The JM Cazes group of Château Lynch-Bages fame first ventured outside of Bordeaux when they acquired this property in 2002.  The Grand Vin composes 70% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 10% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre and weighs in at 14.0%, so in weight terms it’s somewhere in between northern and southern Rhône.

Although it doesn’t have the stature of its more well-known stablemates, it’s more accessible than most of them – especially those from Paulliac and Saint-Estèphe – and would be the one I reached for most often given the choice of all of them.

5. Alpha Zeta Amarone della Valpolicella 2011 (€35, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

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Amarone is one of the first Italian wines that people fall in love with, enjoying its big rich flavours and textures, though they come at a premium price.  It’s a wine that’s easy to love.  Sometimes it can get a bit too much, with jammy fruit and high alcohol making too much of a mouthful for a second glass.

This example from Alpha Zeta is one of the most well-balanced I’ve come across, and while it might still be too fruit forward for Barolo loving masochists it doesn’t intimidate. Also, compared to many it is (relatively) inexpensive at €35 a bottle (many others go far north of €40).

This was the bottle I took along to a meal with fellow wine blogger friends at Dada Moroccan restaurant in Dublin.  The touch of sweetness and richness turned out to be a perfect match for the lamb and apricot tagine I ordered – probably the favourite wine of the evening.

4. Uno de Mil Tempranillo & Petit Verdot (€23.95, Cases Wine Warehouse)

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A pretty label and a stunning wine, which happens to be organic and biodynamic.  Such is the explosion of fresh fruit and vanilla in the mouth that it instantly made me think of a blueberry muffin!  Made from a blend of Tempranillo (from Rioja and Ribero del Duero) and Petit Verdot (a small part of some Bordeaux reds), it’s from the less well-known region of La Mancha – but knocks spots of plenty of Rioja that I’ve had!

3. E.Guigal “Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph” Saint-Joseph 2005 (2009: €46, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

Saint Joseph

 

Saint-Joseph has become my go-to Rhône appellation, with its lovely blackberry, black olive and sour black cherry flavours.  What I hadn’t appreciated was that the appellation was named after an actual vineyard, itself named after Holy Joe himself who was reputed to have lived there.

Now in the hands of famed Rhône producer Guigal, the “lieu-dit” Saint-Joseph produces both red and white wines of superlative quality.  2005 was an exceptional year in the northern Rhône (10/10 according to The Wine Society) and this wine was at its peak.  It showed all the trademark Saint-Joseph notes but with a polish and complexity that stood out.

2. D’Arenberg The Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005 (2008: €54.99 from O’Briens and independent merchants)

Dead Arm

D’Arenberg are one of the standout producers of McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide in Australia.  Led by the colourful (in several senses) Chester Osbourne,  they have a wide portfolio of wines with different quality levels and varieties.  The Dead Arm is one of their three Icon bottlings, along with The Coppermine Road (which I once realised I was driving on!) Cabernet Sauvignon and Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre.

And the unusual name?  From the d’Arenberg website:

Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa Lata that randomly affects vineyards all over the world. Often affected vines are severely pruned or replanted. One half, or an ‘arm’ of the vine slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side may be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side, while low yielding, display amazing intensity

The 2005 is beautifully mature, though far from over the hill.  It has the blackberry and plum fruit, pepper and spice plus vanilla notes as you’d expect from an Aussie Shiraz, but these flavours are all now interwoven and settled in; they are speaking in harmony rather than shouting individually.  I just wish I’d bought more than one bottle!

1. Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1996 (~€115, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other independents)

Bin707

And so for the third year running my favourite wine of the year is a Penfolds red!  In 2013 it was the 1998 Bin 707, then in 2014 I was lucky enough to try the Grange 2008.  The former would have has a good shout again in 2015 but the bottle of 1998 I had planned to open with Christmas dinner didn’t actually get opened until 2016.  I did, however, open both 1996 and 1997 and it was narrowly the former which I favoured.

The biggest surprise was that although it showed signs of maturity in the brick red rim, the nose and palate still showed lots of fruit – overwhelmingly blackcurrant, of course, given that this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  There were some touches of cedar and pencil shavings that pointed to its age, but they were knitted in.

Bin 707 stands second to Grange in the Penfolds hierarchy, but for my tastes it runs it very close or even beats it sometimes!

 

Also check out the Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites, Top 10 Fizz and Top 10 Sweet wines of 2015.

 

 

Tasting Events

The Field of Dreams – Tinto Pesquera

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In April I was delighted to be invited to lunch at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel to meet Miguel Angel Bocos from Pesquera, one of the foremost producers in Spain’s Ribero del Duero. Along with a tasty lunch Miguel took us through five of the Pesquera Group’s current releases. But first, a bit of background to set the scene…

Disclosure: food and wine were covered by generous hosts James Nicholson Wine Merchant; opinions are mine alone.

Origins and Development of Pesquera

Quite simply Pesquera exists due to one man, Alejandro Fernández, and one place, the Ribero del Duero in northern Spain.  Raised in a traditional small-holding family, Alejandro had a burning desire to create his own Bodega.  He chose the Ribero del Duero region which, at that time, was barely known apart from the very grand Vega Sicilia.  After 10 years of hard work, he restored a modest 16th century stone-built bodega in the village of Pesquera and began to bottle his wine.

Barrel hall
Barrel hall

Compared to the well-established Vega Sicilia, which included Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot in their blends, Alejandro produced wines which were 100% Tinto Fino – the local name for Tempranillo.  Whereas some Rioja wines can be on the light side, when it comes to Tempranillo fruit, and so can need beefing up, well grown Tinto Fino vines in the Ribero produce thicker skinned grapes and hence darker, deeper coloured wines.  There may well be some clonal differences between the two regions, but essentially it’s the sharper differences between day and night temperatures plus poor soil which turbocharge Ribero’s grapes.

Sunset
Sunset

After years of success, Alejandro gradually expanded the group.  Firstly, Condado de Haza was also established in the Ribero del Duero, though with a subtly different microclimate and soil profile.  Later he expanded further west with Dehesa La Granja and further south in La Mancha with El Vínculo.

Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (RRP €23)

100% Tempranillo, 14.0%, 18 months in American oak barrels then 6 months in bottle

Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011
Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011

Although in the same region as Tinto Pesquera, the climate, aspect and soil are different for this sister winery. The powerful fruit is able to take significant oak, and thus spent 18 months in 100% new 225 litre American oak barrels. Condado de Haza is a south-facing slope along one kilometre of the Duero River, planted from 1989 onwards.

This is the real crowd pleaser of the range; this is the wine that Miguel would open to suit a variety of tastes and dishes. It obviously has structure and opulent fruit so will age for many years, but it’s just so balanced, approachable and lovely to drink right now. Ripe plum, juicy black cherry and blackcurrant compete for your palate’s attention. The oak is very much in evidence but it is well integrated and serves as the custard on a fruits of the forest pudding.

Dehesa La Granja Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2007 (RRP €20)

100% Tempranillo, 14.0%, 24 months in American oak barrels then 12 months in bottle

Dehesa La Granja Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2007
Dehesa La Granja Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2007

Heading west from Ribero, past Toro, around 50km from the Portuguese border we reach the town of Zamora.  Here lies the 800 hectare Dehesa La Granja vineyard, stretching magnificently along the banks of the River Guareña.  The climate is quite Continental and the soil is Clay, giving extra power to the wines.  The estate is self-sufficiently Organic; they even have the animals on the property to make the natural fertilizer they need

This is still a powerful wine, but it also has elegance.  There are layers of fine tannins which add interest when the wine in young, but are entirely in keeping with the fruit.  I would be very interested to see how this continues to develop.

El Vínculo Crianza DO La Mancha 2010 (RRP €22)

100% Tempranillo, 14.0%, 18 months in American oak

El Vínculo Crianza DO La Mancha 2010
El Vínculo Crianza DO La Mancha 2010

My Spanish is the remnants of two terms at night school back in the early nineties, but I do remember a couple of important points: the accent on a Spanish word tells you which syllable is to be stressed, and the letter V is pronounced almost the same as a B. These two facts are important when saying the name of this wine to a Spanish speaker as they might otherwise think you are talking about their bottom.

Yields in La Mancha are often twice the national Average of Spain, mainly because of bulk produced grapes which will end up in a distillery for brandy.  However, for Pesquera’s vines here the yield is around a quarter of the Spanish average, so this is a different beast from the usual industrial juice.  La Mancha is very dry: it is baking hot in summer, yet cold in winter (often below freezing) with low levels of precipitation.

Although quality wine is still a rarity here, Pesquera believe that it has the potential to be the best appellation in Spain.  For a group based in Ribero del Duero, that’s quite a bold statement!

This 2010 example showed leather and liquorice plus hints of spice and stewed black fruits.  The leather suggests a cooler climate whereas the stewed fruit suggests a warmer climate – quite a conundrum.

Oh yes, the name – it’s the Spanish word for “link”, as the estate represents the link between tradition and innovation.

Tinto Pesquera Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2012 (RRP €26 to €30)

100% Tempranillo, 13.5%, 18 months in American oak barrels

Tinto Pesquera Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2012
Tinto Pesquera Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2012

So now we’re onto the original Pesquera, the real deal.  At 1050m it is possibly the highest vineyard in Spain.

Whereas the previous three wines had a certain playful side to them, this is a serious, grown up wine.  Although it’s unmistakably Spanish, I hope the folks at Pesquera will excuse me for saying it has a certain French sensibility about it.  It’s not trying to ape French wine, but it has a certain polish and class that left bank Bordeaux often brings to the table.  It’s ironic that Alejandro declined to use Bordeaux grapes but has created something with a Bordeaux feel that doesn’t need those varieties.

Black cherry and black berries are surrounded by vanilla on the nose, with just a hint of smoke.  The fruit expand out into your mouth when tasting, but with a side order of tannin – not big heavy gum-stripping tannins, but fine-grained savoury tannins.  It’s lighter in style than the previous three, probably due to the vineyard’s elevation, so perhaps less obvious, but this obviously has the fruit and the structure to age for at least another decade.

Tinto Pesquera Reserva DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (RRP €37 to €42)

100% Tempranillo, 13.5%, 24 months in American oak barrels

Tinto Pesquera Reserva DO Ribero del Duero 2011
Tinto Pesquera Reserva DO Ribero del Duero 2011

The Reserva does all that the Crianza does, but more so.  Going from junior to senior is like listening to a favourite song that suddenly switches from mono to stereo – it’s not necessarily louder, it just seems more alive and more real…it makes more sense.  The same components are there, just in higher fidelity.  The fruit is more intense and rich, there’s more toast and smoke and spicy vanilla from the barrels, but it all hangs together. With a few more years there will be harmony to add to the melody.

I’ll just leave you with the line up:

Pesquera wines tasted at The Shelbourne
Pesquera wines tasted at The Shelbourne