Opinion

My Top 10 Reds of 2014

It was nearly impossible to reduce this list down to 10 reds so there are lots of magnificent wines that didn’t make the cut – some fine Chilean Pinots in particular.  Pinot is well represented from numbers 10 to 8…

10. Cline Cellars Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012

Cline Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012
Cline Cellars Pinot Noir 2012

Very few quality American wines make it to Irish shores, and so discovering Cline Cellars Pinot Noir at the Big Ely Tasting was a revelation.  After tasting it again with Fred and Nancy Cline at the James Nicholson Tasting (and some of their other wines) I was definitely a firm fan.

You’d never mistake it for Burgundy, but to be honest it knocks spots off most red Burgundy under €30.  It’s on the big side for Pinot but it has poise and balance so that all its components remain in harmony.

9. Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011

Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011
Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011

This stood out as my favourite Pinot of the whole Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin.  While Marlborough wineries are still working out how to get the best out of Pinot Noir, their Wairarapa counterparts across the Cook Strait can already be considered masters of the grape.

One of the top few producers in New Zealand, Ata Rangi is one of the well established Martinborough vineyards making outstanding Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in addition to Pinot Noir.  This has fruit and power, but is soooo smooth that a bottle can disappear in a frighteningly short time!

8. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002

Yes, I’ve included a Champagne among my reds of the year!  But I have my reasons…

Like many rosé Champagnes, particularly those with some age on them, this was actually closer to a still Pinot Noir than a young white Champagne.  And for good reason when you look how it’s made.  70% of the blend is Pinot Noir from Grand Cru villages, of which around 13% from Bouzy is added as red wine.  This is then topped off with 30% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger and Chouilly.

I opened this on the day we celebrated my wife’s birthday – something to enjoy while we got ready to go out. My wife wasn’t that impressed by it, but that just meant more for me! The texture is the key for me – it wasn’t that fizzy or zippy, but it had an amazing Pinot nose and soft red fruit on the palate.  I don’t tend to drink much rosé but this shows what it can do.

7. Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2009

Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz
Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2009

The so-called Baron Of The Barossa, who sadly passed away in 2013, Peter Lehmann was the maker of several ranges of Barossa gems.  They started above the level of everyday wines but went right up to this flagship – more expensive than most people would spend on a regular basis but nowhere near the price of other Aussie icons such as Hill Of Grace or Grange.

At the Comans silent tasting, the 2009 showed that it’s still young and would reward patient cellaring, but it’s so drinkable now that it’s hard to resist.  It’s made in a rich, concentrated old-vine style which is defiantly and definitively Barossa, but there are layers and layers of complexity.  It packs a punch but also makes you think.

6. Château Pesquié Ventoux Artemia

Château Pesquié Ventoux "Artemia" 2006 en magnum
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2006 en magnum

I was lucky enough to taste three different vintages of this southern Rhône superstar during the year – the 2012 from bottle and the 2006 from magnum at the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely, and then the 2005 from magnum at a jaw-droppingly excellent food and wine dinner at Belleek Castle (more to come on that!)

Although its home of Ventoux is situated in the southerly reaches of the Rhône, the cool winds coming off the Mont de Ventoux and Valcluse mountains help maintain acidity and freshness.  Artemia is Château Pesquié’s premium bottling made of equal parts of Grenache and Syrah, both from low-yielding sites

The wines are rich and unctuous, with dark black fruit and spice competing for your attention.  But it’s not all about big fruit, there’s also acidity and minerality there.  I’m trying to see if I can get my hands on a few magnums for myself!

5. Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008

Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008
Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008

Forget Galaxy Chocolate, this is possibly the smoothest thing known to man – pretty unusual for a Chianti!

The biggest producer in Italy, family owned and run Antinori bought the estate in 1987 and set out to create the ultimate expression of Tuscan Sangiovese.  Clones were specially selected to give velvet and acidity – hence the smoothness.

It has an amazing nose of red and black fruit, but these are joined on the palate by rich dark chocolate. It has an international sensibility but is unmistakably Chianti Classico.  By some distance it’s the best Chianti I have tasted to date!

4. Torres Mas La Plana 2005

Torres Mas La Plana 2005
Torres Mas La Plana 2005

When wines are this good, choosing between different vintages much be like choosing between different children, but if a choice has to be made of all the different vintages tasted of Torres’ Cabernet flagship Mas La Plana then 2005 was the chosen one.

Although regarded as an interloper by many in Spain, Cabernet Sauvignon can actually thrive in the right settings.  As it’s my favourite black grape I say boo to tradition and enjoy this blackcurrant beauty!  Compared to an excellent Rioja there are quite noticeable differences – primarily black fruit rather than Tempranillo’s red strawberries and smokey French oak rather than big vanilla from American oak.

The 2005 still has loads of primary fruit, but has already developed some interesting cedar and tobacco notes. It’s in full bloom but has the structure to last until the end of this decade at least.

3. Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

Gerard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989
Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

I didn’t taste enough sweet wines this year for them to deserve their own category, but this fortified Grenache muscled its way into the Reds list.  A Vin Doux Naturel from the Roussillon in South West France, this is similar-ish to Rasteau from the Rhône and Maury close by in Roussillon – and not a million miles away from Port.

Unexpectedly this was my favourite wine from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Age has taken away with one hand – colour has faded significantly – and given back with the other – complexity writ large.  It’s definitely a wine for the winter season but it’s something to look forward to.  Class in a glass.

2. Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

This was technically drunk in 2015 as it was popped after midnight on New Year’s Eve, but I love it so much I have to include it.  A long time favourite producer since my visit to Coonawarra in 2000, and undoubtedly one of the standout in terms of consistent quality, Katnook Estate makes big cabs that are to die for.

This young example had fresh blackcurrants – so fresh and intense that you would swear you were actually chewing on them – with Coonawarra’s trademark eucalyptus providing additional interest.  It’s my go-to red for good reason!

1. Penfolds Grange 2008

Penfolds Grange 2008
Penfolds Grange 2008

I am an unbashed fan of Australia’s first world class wine, and included some older vintages of Grange in my best wines of 2013.  Without the 2008 for reference I’m pretty sure I would have picked the 2009 for the top spot this year – the 2009 was very nice indeed – but the 2008 was on another level altogether.  Apparently it was awarded the full monty 100 points by both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator

Only a couple of years after release, it is still an absolute baby of course, but is actually drinkable now.  It has tremendous concentration, and although you can find the American oak if you search for it, fruit dominates the nose and palate.  Blackberry, blackcurrant and damson are tinged with choca-mocha and liquorice.

It’s an immense wine without being intimidating –  At 14.5% the alcohol is fairly middling for an Aussie Shiraz, perhaps tempered by 9% fruit from the cooler Clare Valley.  It’s made to last for decades, but unlike some flagship wines I tasted this year its elements are already harmonious.

As a “collectible” wine that has become bought more and more by investors, Grange has now moved firmly out of my price range.  I am still tempted nevertheless!!

 

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Tasting Events

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.