Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time. Here is a selection of my favourites:
Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)
I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed. Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did! I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side. More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.
Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)
This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent. If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.
La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)
This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world. It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!
Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)
Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer? This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now. Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate. Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!
Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)
This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family. At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes. Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!
Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)
When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas. They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is). Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla, all in a soft and cosseting package. Get in!
Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)
This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux. The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs). It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak! More info here.
Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)
Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.
This series of articles each covers two wines that have something in common, and most likely some point of difference. Compare and contrast is the order of the day – so make mine a double!
Two Fresh Loire Sauvignons
Two wines: same grape, same year, same region, different producers and adjoining appellations – the perfect way to understand the similarities and differences.
The Loire Valley is one of the most under-rated wine regions in Europe. It actually consists of several different sub-regions by the course of the river which specialise in different groups of grapes: Melon de Bourgogne in Muscadet, then Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Gamay and others in the middle, and finally Sauvignon Blanc to the east.
Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are the most well-known and prestigious Sauvignon areas, but there are plenty of quality producers in the others:
The Terres Blanches in the name of the first wine refers to white clay soils. The producer is based at Bué en Sancerre, and also make Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre wines. Coteaux du Giennois is a much less well known appellation next door to Sancerre with the vineyards split:
White: 95 hectares planted – 2,900 hl produced – 65 hl/ha max yield – Sauvignon Blanc variety Red: 78 hectares planted – 3,200 hl produced – 59 hl/ha max yield – Pinot Noir & Gamay varieties (80% maximum of either variety in a blend) Rosé: 20 hectares planted – 600 hl produced – 63 hl/ha max yield – Pinot Noir & Gamay varieties
So now to the two wines themselves (note: both kindly given by SuperValu):
Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC 2014 (€10.00, SuperValu) 12.5%
On opening this is obviously from the Loire, it couldn’t be anywhere else. If has primary gooseberry on the nose, joined by quince and grapefruit on the palate. It’s too young for asparagus characters, too Loire for the tropical passionfruit and mango which some Kiwi Savvies exhibit.
It’s fresh and juicy, not austere, with plenty of fruit. The initial big hit fades quickly, but lessens rather than fading totally away. Enjoyable on its own or – I’d imagine – with goats cheese.
Guy Saget Sancerre AOC 2014 (€14.00, SuperValu) 12.5%
Sancerre’s soils are a mix of Kimmeridgian clay, dry limestone with lots of pebbles and flint. A typical example of Sancerre, this has plenty of green fruit but is also very mineral, perhaps even saline. It has more acidity yet is somehow a little smoother than the Giennois.
Split The Difference
The Giennois is slightly more eager to please, whereas the Sancerre is a little standoffish – you have to make a little more effort with it, but it’s worth it. Amazingly it is the more expensive Sancerre which has a screwtop while the Coteaux du Giennois is under cork. I really like both of these wines; I’d be very happy with the Giennois any day, but to drink with fine food at the table then I’d choose the slightly more refined Sancerre.
For the first of my posts on Valentine’s Wines I thought I would try something a little bit different from the norm. My wife and I invited her elder brother Andrew and his girlfriend Paula round for dinner to and to try some different wines in advance of Valentine’s Day.
It’s good to hear the opinions of other people – wine tasting can be very social and lots of fun. I heartily recommend you try forming your own tasting panel now and again, with friends from absolute novices to MWs.
Before we get into the wines, here is the delicious meal they accompanied:
Cantaloupe Melon drenched in Pineau des Charentes
Slow Roasted Loin of Pork with a Bramley apple glaze, server with roasted potatoes, julienne carrots and petits pois, roasted root vegetables, apple and citrus jus
Apple Strudel with Cornish Vanilla Ice cream and / or Homemade Vanilla Custard
Selection of: Brie de Meaus, Abbaye du Mont des Cats, Diliskus semi-soft Herbed.
Disclosure: the wines tasted below were kindly provided by O’Briens, but opinions are entirely our own.
Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV (€20.99, currently €17.99)
Valentine’s connection: who doesn’t like popping the cork on some fizz?
The label “Extra Dry” on Prosecco is usually a misnomer – the wine is often on the sweet side. A little sweetness can make Prosecco very easy to drink and is one of the factors behind its current boom in sales. However, Rizzardi’s style is actually dry on the palate. Being a Spumante it had a proper cork and was fully sparkling.
On tasting the main flavours we noted were pip fruit such as Granny Smith’s apple and pear, citrus (even Lemon Sherbet) and a sour sweetness (if that makes any sense) – a bit like the sensation from Sour Squirms sweets.
A little sweetness did come through on the finish once it had warmed up a little in the glass (it was served straight from a domestic fridge).
Andrew 5 [not a fan of fizz]
Paula 8 [can I have another glass please?]
Jess 4 [found it too dry]
Frankie 7 [preferred it to most other Proseccos]
This wine clearly divided opinion on the panel, but that’s no bad thing. Hopefully the comments give you the information to decide whether this Prosecco is for you, or perhaps try a sweeter one.
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013 (€14.49, currently €12.99, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: say it with (white) flowers
Although labelled as a Vin de France, which could come from almost anywhere in France, this was made in the Corbières region of the Languedoc, quite close to the Mediterranean coast. The name property name “Les Auzines” comes from the Occitan meaning “little leaves from the oak tree”, owned by Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife Neasa Corish.
The blend is based on Grenache Gris, with perhaps a dash of Grenache Blanc. It is classed as an oaked white as 85% was fermented and aged in second and third-use oak barrels, but although it has gained texture and complexity it doesn’t taste typically “oaky”.
Smooth and rich but tangy, it shows flavours of Macadamia nuts, lime, gravel and mineral, fennel, lavender and other herbs – it’s really interesting. Alcohol is surprisingly modest at 11.5% – it doesn’t feel lacking in any way.
Andrew 7 [Nuts and gravel]
Paula 8 [Soft and easy-drinking]
Jess 7 [A white wine for red wine drinkers]
Frankie 8 [what a find!]
Fleurs Blanches was an amazing match for the main course – perhaps helped by the dash of Fleurs Blanches which went in the jus. O’Briens’ notes reckon that it “bears a closer resemblance to fine Burgundy than to Corbiéres” – I would clarify that by saying it could double for maturefine Burgundy – it’s that good!
Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013 (€22.99, currently €19.99, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: woo your Valentine with a classy, classic white wine.
Sancerre was the first wine region famous for varietal Sauvignon Blanc, but as is the way with Appellation-based fame, it is open to use and abuse. If you’ve ever bought a Sancerre in a French supermarket then you will know that quality can be very variable…
So what to do? Find a good producer, of course – or a greatproducer, such as Henri Bourgeois.
Minerality is a buzzword in wine at the moment, but the chalk soils of HB’s vineyards impart a magnificent flint character to his wines. The very name “Porte de Caillou” means Pebble Gate, so that should give you an idea!
As well as the minerality (liked by one taster to sucking on gravel!), there’s lots and lots of fruit: very green, but ripe, fruit such as gooseberry and grapefruit, plus a little restrained tropical fruit. There’s lots of acidity but it’s smooth rather than spiky, with more body and texture than you might expect from a Sauvignon.
Andrew 8 [An integrated continuum from the nose though to the palate]
Paula 7 [Lovely and fresh]
Jess 6 [Prefer fruity Sauvignons]
Frankie 8 [Classic Sancerre!]
Food friendly Sauvignon that the Kiwis are now trying to emulate. This shows how Sancerre should be done, and why it became a classic in the first place.
Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007 (€17.49, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: an appeal to the finer things in life – and seductive in the glass.
Named after the Mediaeval Latin for “New Art” (as in New Technique), this is a blend of 40% Tempranillo (well known in Rioja and elsewhere in Spain), 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot (both from Bordeaux). Its home region of Navarra had non-native (mainly French) varieties planted from the 1980s onwards, so now winemakers have a wide choice of ingredients.
As a Gran Reserva it has spent eighteen months maturing before being bottled – the producer mentions nine months in French oak so I’m guessing a further nine in a larger format of vessel. Alcohol is punchy but not overblown at 14.0%.
It shows smoke rather than vanilla characters from the oak, followed by red fruit (strawberry) moving into black fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry) and a savoury finish. There’s perhaps an edge of leather and liquorice but they don’t dominate. Overall the impression is of fruit sweetness, plenty of tannin, well balanced.
Andrew 8 [My kind of wine, fruit and tannin together]
Paula 9 [My favourite wine of the night]
Jess 9 [Easy going, smooth, could drink this every day]
Perfectly poised between (fruit) sweet and (tannin) savoury, this was a big hit with everyone. It was a good match for the cheese but would also be great with beef, lamb or venison. Without the renown of Rioja, the winemakers of Navarra have really upped their game. The only downside to this wine was that a Lussac St-Emilion tasted afterwards was dry and thin in comparison!
O’Briens Wine is the largest family-owned off licence group in Ireland with 32 stores, 20 of which are in greater Dublin. They have 55 exclusive wineries in their portfolio and a wide selection in terms of country, grape and price level. One of the distinguishing factors about O’Briens is the wine knowledge of their staff – it’s always nice to meet a wine enthusiast behind the counter.
Here are the sparklers and still whites which stood out for me at their Autumn Press Tasting last month:
Beaumont des Crayères Grand Réserve Champagne NV (€36.99, €29.99 in Nov/Dec)
This is proper Champagne, with slightly aggressive bubbles which could serve it well as an aperitif. At first it is rich on the tongue from its Pinots Meunier (60%) and Noir (15%) followed by fresh lemon from Chardonnay (25%).
Made by a cooperative, this doesn’t reach the heights of something like Bollinger, but it’s much more quaffable than big brand duds such as Moët – and at a lower price.
Man O’War Tulia 2009 (€37.00, €33.00 in Nov/Dec)
Made by the Champagne method, this would never be mistaken for Champagne. There’s too much primary fruit for that, but it’s a stylistic rather than qualitative difference in my eyes. Any vintage Champagne has to spend at least 36 months on the lees after the second fermentation, but this only spent 9 months so don’t expect a bakery here.
Malolactic fermentation is blocked for freshness and balance – an essential decision. Interestingly the second fermentation is all handled by Marlborough’s sparkling experts No 1 Family Estate. The fruit is tropical but stylish, I suspect partially due to the particular Chardonnay clones which were used. This is no shrinking violet!
Pinot Blanc is one of the most under-rated grapes around, usually overlooked in favour of its flashier siblings Noir and Gris. It tends to be light and fruity with enough going on to keep things interesting but not so much that it dominates any food it is paired with. Chicken or pork in a creamy sauce would be a great match.
As you might guess from the Germanic producer name but French grape name, this is from Alsace. It’s soft and supple with ripe apple, pear and peach flavours. It’s not bone dry, but the tiny bit of residual sugar adds body and roundness rather than sweetness.
Bellows Rock Chenin Blanc 2014 (€15.99, €9.99 in Nov/Dec)
Chenin Blanc is another under-rated grape, hailing from the Loire Valley in France, but also at home in South Africa. It is usually recognisable in its many different variations – bone dry, off-dry, medium right up to lusciously sweet, or even sparkling. My personal preference is the sweet stuff, especially Coteaux d’Aubance, Coteaux du Layon or Quarts de Chaume. I rarely like the drier end of the spectrum.
One of my favourite sayings – about life in general, but can equally be applied to wine – is:
It’s never too late to lose a prejudice
This South African Chenin is dry – but I like it! It has the honey and acidity of all Chenins with a rich, oily mouthfeel and a crisp dry finish. It’s an absolute bargain on offer at €10!
Château de Fontaine Audon AOC Sancerre 2013 (€21.99, €18.99 in Nov/Dec)
Before Marlborough had seen a single Sauvignon vine, Sancerre was considered the world standard for the variety – and for some it still is, especially on the subtle mineral and green side compared to the antipodean fruit explosion that is Marlborough. However, the fame of the appellation means that producers who favour quantity over quality can push yields up and intensity down, diluting the wine and the reputation of the area.
So not all Sancerres are the same, and it is important to pick one worthy of the label. Pick this one! Cut grass on the nose leads to gooseberry and grapefruit in the mouth. It’s tangy but not sharp; the acidity feels slightly fizzy on your tongue. This is the real deal.
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013 (€22.99)
Sho’ nuff funky! Assyrtiko is indigenous to the Greek island of Santorini in the South Aegean. 80 year old ungrafted low-yielding vines and natural yeast combine to produce something different, something wild. Approach with caution, but you won’t find anything like this on the shelves of your local supermarket.
Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2011 (€29.49, €26.99 in Nov/Dec)
I sneaked this in even though I didn’t actually taste the 2011 vintage, but I recently enjoyed the previous year so have no hesitation in recommending this.
Seguin Manuel AOC Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2011 (€45.00)
For white Burgundy there are few more renowned villages than Chassagne in the Côte d’Or. Like its adjoining neighbour Puligny, the name of their shared vineyard Le Montrachet was added into the commune name in the late 19th century. As this bottle is not from a designated Premier Cru vineyard it is known as a village wine.
2010 was a warm vintage throughout most of France and this shows through in the ripe fruit. It’s Chardonnay of course – Pinot Blanc is permitted but rarely included – with a good dose of oak that is now nicely integrated. Smoothness is the theme, and a finish that goes on and on. It’s by no means cheap, but such a great tasting wine and long finish make it a worthwhile treat.
So part one focused on Peter Lehmann’s Barossa gems and included a joke about hand gestures. Part two covered the wines of Lapostolle from Chile and Ochoa from Navarre, with a reference to Björk “It’s All So Quiet” (you all got that, right? right??)
Now part three will showcase a flight of Sauvignons, amongst others, and the disclosure of why this tasting wasn’t as silent as it should have been.
The Sauvignon Blancs
The first flight looks at some of the more memorable Sauvignon Blancs brought in by Comans.
McKenna Sauvignon Blanc 2013
This is an exclusive to Comans as it’s bottled especially for them by Undurraga. The name celebrates the historical connections between Ireland and Chile in the person of Irish-born Captain John Juan McKenna who played an important role in the rebellion of 1810. Take a few minutes to read the details in Tomas Clancy’s post here.
It’s unusual for me to recommend an inexpensive Chilean Sauvignon, but this is well made. You’d never mistake it for Marlborough, but if you find some of those too much then this is a little more restrained. The key word here is grapefruit – fruit sweetness but also acidity, making it tangy and refreshing.
Sablenay Touraine AOC Sauvignon Blanc 2012
In terms of bang for your buck, reliability and availability, it’s pretty hard to beat a Touraine Sauvignon. If I were drawing up a hypothetical restaurant wine list it’s the first thing I’d put on there.
This one has the typical grassy notes of a French Sauvignon, but also sweet tropical fruit and grapefruit. It’s much more expressive that your average Touraine, a better bet than a lower quality no-name Sancerre. Perfect for summer on the patio!
La Rochetais AOC Pouilly Fumé 2012
This is a lovely, pure, almost “Riesling-like” linear wine. It’s also an accessory to an embarrassing incident. Now as you know at pro tastings there’s no swallowing, everything is spat – if you want to taste several dozen wines and remain upright, never mind drive home afterwards, it’s the only way forward. Plus, not having so much alcohol in your bloodstream means your senses aren’t dulled and you can focus more on the tasting.
At the time of the tasting I was still recovering from a nasty chest infection – a colleague semi-seriously asked me if I had tuberculosis. Now imagine a sudden coughing fit when you’ve got a mouthful of Loire Sauvignon that you’re swilling round and trying to interpret. Instinct says spit now…but I wasn’t close to a spittoon, and so almost choked.
Thankfully the assembled members of the press were very kind and didn’t mock me which they would have been entitled to do. Though one kind gentleman did suggest I describe this wine as “one which took me breath away”.
My friends, even wine-tasting can be an extreme sport at times!
Château de Sancerre AOC Sancerre 2012
Forget own label Sancerres in the French supermarkets, this is the real deal.
The Château is owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family who Chilean operation featured in Part Two. Both properties show the advantages of cooperation between winemakers from different areas; while the French influence can be seen in Lapostolle’s Sauvignon Blancs, for me there is a definite new world aspect to Château Sancerre – a roundness and suppleness to the fruit which make it caress the inside of your mouth.
The vineyards span four different soil types which, when blended intelligently, results in a complex yet focused wine.
Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012
At the NZ Sauvignon Masterclass before the annual trade tasting this year, Kevin Judd et al. took us through how the marked differences in weather between 2012 and 2013 translated into markedly different flavour profiles. Since then I’ve found it remarkably easy to identify 2012s blind – much greener, especially asparagus, and less tropical notes.
This Wither Hills 2012 wasn’t tasted blind but the asparagus character came straight through (I like it, some don’t), but with a tangy grapefruit finish. Dare I suggest this would be amazing with an asparagus starter?
So what is this? It’s a premium, single vineyard Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Given how many Chilean Sauvignons are around £6 / €10 it’s quite surprising to see a producer move upmarket. The first tasting note I wrote was “who’s just mowed their lawn” – it’s that distinctively grassy!
The grapes are sourced from a vineyard in Leyda Valley, which is only 9 miles / 14 km from the cooling Pacific Ocean. There are some great Pinot Noirs coming from that area, but that’s a story for another day. This 2013 vintage wine also belies its age – it has a smoother mouthfeel than one might expect from such a young wine.
So the key questions – is it a success? Is it worth the extra money? Right now I’d be happy to drink it, but I probably wouldn’t spend €24 of my own money in a wine merchants. However, I reckon this will actually evolve over the next few years, so I’d be very interested to taste an example with some more bottle age to see where it goes.
The Best Of The Rest
If you’re all Sauvignoned out, here are some of the other whites which stood out for me:
Dr L Riesling 2010
For those scared or wary of Riesling, Dr Ernst Loosen’s entry level bottling is a great place to start. It’s fairly simple, though it has enough acidity to evolve more complexity over a decade. It’s fresh and fruity with a touch of residual sugar, but it’s pleasant and balanced – so moreish!
Of course Dr L makes more profound and expensive Rieslings, but the true nature of the bargain is that you won’t feel like you’re missing out even if you’re a Rieslingphile.
I like Albariños on the whole, but my main beef with them is that they often don’t offer enough bang for the buck. Meet Salterio’s offering which is a great value example from Rias Baixas. It won’t be the best you’ve ever tasted but it’s remarkable at the price.
Protos Verdejo DO Rueda 2012
Not much to add here as I’ve recommended this Rueda several times before – it’s a cracker!
Muga Barrel Fermented White Rioja 2013
Rioja’s Viura (also Catalonia’s Macabeo) is a fairly neutral grape. By neutral, I mean thin and often lacking in flavour. This makes it a good base component for Cava, but can make for an uninspiring dry still white. The winemakers of Rioja have long used two main techniques to add interest to their whites – oxidisation and barrel ageing. As a personal preference I’m not yet a convert to oxidised styles, so such examples from Rioja leave me cold.
Happily for me, this Muga example is clean as a whistle and definitely worth a try. It has 10% Malvasia in the blend and was fermented in new French barriques. Maturation on the lees adds to the creamy texture, but it is tangy and fresh – a great example at a fairly modest price.
Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royal Brut NV
Good Cava and other traditional method sparklers are better than poor Champagne (the type you often see in the supermarkets at 50% off). But good Champagne holds its own, in my opinion.
This is an almost-equal-parts blend of the main Champagne grapes – Chardonnay for lemon and freshness, Pinot Noir for red fruit and body, plus the often unfairly maligned Pinot Meunier for white fruit and floral notes.
The Cuvée Royale has three years on the lees prior to disgorgement – far beyond the minimum for not vintage – and this is where the extra body and creaminess come from. It’s far better value than a special offer Champagne.