Tasting Events

Fresh Italian Reds [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 3]

No Shake n’ Vac required here, the freshness is already there – it never left!  Here are three of my favourite Italian reds that I tried at the GrapeCircus portfolio tasting earlier this year.

Fattoria San Lorenzo Rosso Piceno “Burello” 2013

Yes there’s a pretty bunny on the front label but this is far from a “critter wine”.  Rather than simply to look good on a shelf, the picture represents Natalino Crognaletti’s love of the animals which reside on his family’s estate and are part of the wholistic view they take.  Based in the Marche, San Lorenzo produces whites made from Verdicchio and a range of red blends using Montepulciano and Sangiovese.  All are organic and biodynamic.

The Burello is made from Rosso Piceno DOC fruit in the proportion 60% Montepulciano and 40% Sangiovese.  Fermentation is with indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks but maturation is for 18 months in stainless steel for the Sangiovese and oak for the Montepulciano.  The size and age of the oak vessels is not given but this is not an oak dominated wine so we’re not talking 100% new barriques here.

It may be just my perception but I tend to think of Sangiovese being a more noticeable or expressive variety than Montepulciano, so it shines through in this blend, though tamed by the Montepulciano.  The nose has dark fruit and tobacco; black berries and black cherries dominate the palate with hints of herbs and tobacco again.  There’s lovely texture here and high-ish acidity which keep the whole thing fresh.

Cantina Sampietrana Primitivo del Salento “I Saraceni” 2018

Cantina Sampietrana has been making wine in Puglia since 1952.  They very much follow their maxim “Loyal to tradition, but always moving with the times”, with the local varieties Negroamaro, Primitivo and Malvasia to the fore, trained in the “alberello pugliese” method (which they translate as “Apulian small tree”).  They also have smaller plots of Susumaniello, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Lambrusco, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Fiano and Verdeca.

This Primitivo is a fruit-driven wine, full of plums, prunes and blackberry.  The palate is mouth-filling and warming, a real winter wine.  In fact there’s so much big juicy fruit that it tastes more like 14% than 13% abv, though it doesn’t finish hot.  This is a great value, crowd pleasing wine that deserves a try.

Cantina Sampietrana Salento Negroamaro “Parnanio” 2018

Another from Cantina Sampietrana, this Negroamaro is the big brother of the Primitivo above.  Despite these varieties’ propensity to produce lots of sugar and hence alcohol, the location of the vineyards close to the coast helps to keep things cool and balanced.  We’re a long way from Cali Zins with 16% and upward of (potential) alcohol.

True to its name, this Negroamaro is black and bitter!  It has smooth, voluptuous black fruit with spicy and a savoury, herby edge.  This would be a very versatile food pairing wine – anything from charcuterie, winter stews, steaks or Moroccan lamb.


GrapeCircus 2020:

Opinion

Lidl Xmas 2020 Wines

Lidl Ireland are launching their Christmas wines in two separate parts, the first of which is already underway.  In addition to those limited release wines – marked * below – they are stocking up on new vintages of regular favourites.  My reviews below are not unqualified recommendations; other wines of the same type are available which offer better quality, though not better value.  I let you, dear readers, decide on whether each wine sounds like its worth putting in your trolley.

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

Clare Valley Riesling 2019*

This is a gentle Riesling, very drinkable and with no sharp edges.  When compared to the best Clare Valley Rieslings such as Grosset Polish Hill or Petaluma Hanlin Hill it’s a much simpler wine, with a shorter finish and even has a touch of residual sugar.  However, this is aimed at the casual drinker and I doubt that many people would be in the market for both styles; Lidl’s example is actually more approachable so might actually be more preferable for those looking for an easy-going (and less expensive) tipple.

When to drink: Whenever you like!

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €8.84
  • Stockists:  Lidl Ireland

Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva 2020

While the Riesling above isn’t very “Riesling” this 2020 Gran Reserva is VERY “Sauvignon Blanc”!  By this I mean that it is very young and expressive, and needs a little more time before settling down.  The key is one of the “Gs”, the aromas and flavours found in this Chilean Savvy:

  • Grass
  • Green (bell) pepper
  • Gooseberry
  • Grapefruit

For me the green pepper sticks out a little too much at the moment, so if you aren’t fond of that flavour then this wine isn’t for you.  However, if you are ambivalent or like green capsicums then you might be a fan.  Try decanting!

When to drink: With a fresh green salad or with goats cheese.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €12.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Il Santo Bevitore IGT Isola Dei Nuraghi 2019

This wine was a total unknown to me so I had to do a little research.  Isole dei Nuraghi is an IGT which covers the whole of Sardinia.  Many international grapes are used plus a few local specialities.  My guess was that this was a Syrah / Merlot blend but I was unable to confirm this.  The nose is smoky with red and black fruits.  The palate has black cherries and sour red cherries, overlain by a touch of vanilla.  Acidity is medium to high but not jarring.

When to drink: With just about anything apart from fish or seafood.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €11.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Barossa Valley Shiraz 2017*

In a similar vein to the Clare Valley Riesling, this is a very approachable, easy-going wine that doesn’t demand too much from its drinkers – it’s made in a deliberately commercial style.  The nose shows blackberry, blackcurrant and a little vanilla.  These notes continue through onto the palate but adding a little stewed fruit to the fresh.  Light tannins round off the wine nicely, though the finish is a little short.

When to drink: Very quaffable on its own, or pair with richer foods.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €8.84
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Carménère Gran Reserva 2020

Carménère is one of Bordeaux’s six black grapes, though it’s hardly grown there at all these days.  Instead it has become the flagship black grape of Chile, where it was mistaken for Merlot for over a century.  In the glass it pours a bright purple, typical of the variety.  The nose is lovely, with rich cassis, spice and blackberry.  These notes are repeated on the palate though they are somewhat barged out of the way by our friend green pepper; these green pepper notes tend to appear in Carménère when the grapes are picked before they have reached full phenolic ripeness, often when they are harvested at the same time as the earlier-ripening Merlot.  In this case, seeing the 14.5% alcohol, I wager that this wine was made from very warm vineyards where the sugar outpaced the flavours.  At any rate, the finish is nice and smooth.

When to drink: Beef or lamb stew.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €11.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Corte Alle Mure DOCG Chianti Riserva 2015*

2015 was an excellent year throughout most of Italy so I was eager to try this Chianti Riserva.  This isn’t what I’d call a polished wine, but it is very Chianti, by which I mean it has typical tobacco and liquorice on the nose, Morello cherries and a hint of oak on the palate.  Acidity is prominent which makes it a food wine rather than a comfortable sipper

When to drink: Charcuterie or mixed Christmas leftovers.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

 

Opinion

Solera Wine Selection (part 3)

It’s time for the big guns from Rioja and Tuscany!  After some fantastic whites in part 1, and some cracking reds in part 2, we now have wines from the esteemed Bodegas Roda and Mazzei.

once again, apologies for the poor quality of my snaps!

Bodegas Roda “Sela” Rioja 2016 (14.0%, RRP €27.95 at Blackrock CellarDeveney’s Dundrum; D-Six Off Licence; The CorkscrewJus de VineThe VintrySweeney’s D3Lotts & CoNectar WinesBaggot Street Wines)

Bodegas Roda Sela Rioja 2016

Bodegas Roda were founded as recently as 1987 but have already forged a reputation for excellence.  They have evaluated over 552 Tempranillo clones before settling on the best 20 to plant going forward.  French – rather that American – oak barrels are used for maturation, yet the oak treatment is always in balance with the fruit.

Sela is the “entry level” from Roda, with fruit hand harvested from 15 to 30 year old bush vines.  Maturation is for 12 months in seasoned French oak.  Of course, this wine could be labelled as a Crianza, but that term has a cheap and cheerful image in Spain, definitely not fitting for Bodegas Roda!  The blend is 87% Tempranillo, 7% Graciano and 6% Garnacha giving fresh red and black fruit.  Sela is an easy drinking style but also has the elegance to be served at the table.

Bodegas Roda “Roda” Rioja Reserva 2015 (14.0%, RRP €39.50 at 64 WinesBlackrock CellarDrink Store, Stoneybatter; Deveney’s DundrumJus de VineThe VintryNectar WinesThe Corkscrew)

Roda Roda Rioja 2015

The Roda Reserva is a clear step up from the Sela.  While the blend is almost identical –  86% Tempranillo, 6% Graciano and 8% Garnacha – the vines are all over 30 year old and yields are lower, both aiding concentration.  Alcoholic fermentation is in French oak vats followed by malolacic fermentation in French oak barrels (40% new, 60% second use) where the wine then matures for 14 months.  When bottled the Reserva is kept in Roda’s cellars for a further two and a half years before release.

The nose has red and black cherries, strawberries and raspberries with vanilla and smoky notes from the oak, and hints of cinnamon.  The wine feels thick and viscous in the mouth with the fruit aromas coming through to the palate.  The Roda Reserva is a vibrant wine, still in the flushes of youth, but should continue to evolve for the next decade or two.

Bodegas Roda “Roda I” Rioja Reserva 2012 (14.5%, RRP €64.00 at 64 WinesBaggot Street WinesBlackrock CellarClontarf WinesDeveney’s DundrumD-Six Off LicenceMartins Off-LicenceThe CorkscrewThe VintrySweeney’s D3Clontarf Wines)

Roda Roda I Rioja 2012

The main difference between Roda I and Roda (formerly Roda II) is in flavour profile – for Roda I grapes are picked from old bush vines which tend to show more black fruit characteristics rather than the red fruit of Roda.  The blend is Tempranillo dominated (96%) with a seasoning of Graciano (4%).  The oak regime is slightly different as well – the barrels are 50% new and ageing in barrel is for 16 months.

While obviously sharing some house similarities with its junior sibling, this is a different wine altogether, much more complex.  The nose is more perfumed and expressive with black fruit, smoky oak, earthiness and chocolate.  These notes continue through to the palate where some dried fruit and mineral flavours join them.  The mouth is voluptuous and soothing.  Fine grained tannins help to make a savoury, satisfying dry finish.  Although this would be a real treat to drink on its own it would shine even brighter with food.

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015 (14.0%, RRP €48.95 at 64 WinesBlackrock CellarDeveney’s Dundrum)

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012
Yes, I forgot to take a snap of the 2015, so here’s my snap of the 2012. If you try really hard, I’m sure you could imagine how the 2015 bottle would look…

You can read the full background on this wine in my recent post on the 2012, so I won’t repeat that here.  The blend is consistent at 92% Sangiovese and 8% Malvasia Nera & Colorino and the oak regime is the same.   The 2015 is from a slightly warmer year so the exact alcohol reading is 14.26% versus 13.73% for the 2012; not a huge difference but an indication of the vintage.  This is a fabulous wine, really smooth but tangy and fresh, with red and black fruit bursting out of the glass.  Mazzei give it an ageing potential of 20 years but when wine is this good it would be really difficult not to drink now!

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli “Siepi” Rosso Toscana 2016 (14.5%, RRP ~ €125.00* at Blackrock Cellar)

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Siepi Rosso Toscana 2016
*Blackrock Cellar currently just has the 150cl magnum in stock for around €250

It does seem to this cynic that any IGT Toscana with French grapes in the blend is classed as a “Super Tuscan” these days, but this is truly deserving of the epithet.  Siepi is named after the six hectare estate vineyard from where the grapes are sourced –  one of Mazzei’s best – and has been produced since 1992.  The blend is 50% Sangiovese and 50% Merlot; the varieties are picked at different times (17 days earlier for the Merlot which is known to be an early ripener in Bordeaux) and are given different maceration times (14 days for Merlot, 18 days for Sangiovese).  Ageing is for 18 months in French barriques, 70% new and 30% used.

This 2016 was released in October 2018 and tasted 12 months later.  It was still a little shy and closed, but already showing flashes of its future grandeur.  To depart from my usual style of tasting notes, drinking this wine was like sitting in front of a warm fire on a big, well-worn sofa with soft cushions.  As I write during Storm Dennis, that would be most welcome!

 

 

Tasting Events

DNS Holiday Wines 2019

When restarting the DNS Wine Club tasting calendar after the summer break it has become a tradition to start with wines that members have enjoyed on their holidays.  It’s always a nice and relaxed event and gives a far more idiosyncratic range than is the norm at DNS.

September 2019 had us meet and taste wines from Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, France, Australia and….Yorkshire!  Here they are in the order of tasting (and with apologies for the quality of the photos from my phone):

Yorkshire Heart Sparkling Rosé NV (11.0%)

Yorkshire Heart Sparkling Rosé NV

The best English wines tend to come from the south of the country: south coast counties like Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Cornwall.  Whereas southern English producers used to focus on varieties that could prosper despite a damp and cold climate, global warming and experience has led to a boom in sparkling wine production, usually with the three main Champagne grapes.  Further north in Yorkshire, however, the climate is now mild enough for the special cross and hybrid varieties to survive (though prosper might be a little overstating the case just now.)

Yorkshire Heart are based close to York, so the name is apt.  They also have a brewery and a cider orchard so most bases are covered.  The vineyard has 17 varieties across ten acres, so it is still fairly small scale and experimental.  The grapes used for the sparkling rosé are not disclosed apart from the use of Pinot Noir to create the pink hue.  It’s made using the traditional method with the wine resting on its lees for 12 months – not as long as Champagne but longer than some NV Cava.

The wine has a fruity nose and a nice mousse when poured, but unfortunately it was not persistent.  The palate is full of summer fruits; raspberry, strawberry, cranberry and a touch of blackberry competed for attention.  As this is an English wine there’s ample acidity, though the finish resolves with fruit sweetness.

Read more about Yorkshire Heart here.

Principe Strozzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2017 (13.0%)

Principe Strozzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2017

Following the Italian wine naming convention of [grape] from [place], this is a 100% Vernaccia from San Gimignano in Tuscany (aka Chiantishire).  On the nose the wine evokes wet stones – can you get more mineral than that?  On the palate, it’s as though fresh lemons have been squeezed onto said stones – a real citrus zing on top of the minerality.  It has a touch more body than I had at first expected.  This is a well-made wine which, while not setting the world alight, makes for some very pleasant drinking.

Tesco Finest Tingleup Great Southern Riesling 2018 (12.0%)

Tesco Finest Tingleup Great Southern Riesling 2018

Of all the wines brought to this tasting, this Australian Riesling was from the furthest away.  However, DNS member Michelle was blagging this one as she had not been to Australia, and had instead spent her holidays in the local Tesco.  The wine is made for Tesco by Howard Park who are based in Western Australia and specialise in wines from Margaret River and Great Southern.  On the nose it has aromas of lime and…well…Riesling!  The palate is full of refreshing, zingy citrus and there’s just a kiss of sweetness on the finish.  A great way to get into Riesling.

Read more on Howard Park Wines here.

Mar de Frades Rías Baixas Albariño Atlántico 2018 (12.5%)

Mar de Frades Albarino Atlantico Rias Baixas 2018

So let’s count up the nautical references: the producer is Mar de Frades (which translates as something like “Sea of Friars”), the wine is Albariño Atlántico which indicates that it’s from the part of Rías Baixas close to the ocean, and the label depicts huge crashing waves and a chuffing seagull!  Message understood, loud and clear!  Thankfully the wine is very nice, despite being the producer’s “entry level” effort.  It spends six months on the lees which adds a nice bit of texture to the pear and peach fruit.  A saline finish seasons it perfectly.  In a sea (sorry, it’s catching) of samey Albariño, this is a winner.

Read more on Mar de Frades here.

Tenute delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2017 (14.0%)

Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2017.jpg

Tenuta delle Terre Nere takes its name from the black basalt and pumice stones which cover much of the estate on the northern side of Mount Etna.  Its surface area totals 55 hectares and is far from homogeneous – the 24 parcels range from 600 to 1,000 metres above sea level and (apart from a few new plantings) between 50 and 100 years old.

This Rosso is mainly Nerello Mascalese (95%) with a dash of Nerello Cappuccio (5%).  The soil is volcanic soil, obviously (I bleedin’ hope it’s obvious!!).  Stylistically the wine is somewhat Pinot Noir like, but with a touch more body and spice.  It has delicious smoky black and red fruit plus a certain chewy earthiness. 

Read more on Tenuta delle Terre Nere here.

Domaine du Bois de St Jean “Les Ventssssss” Côtes du Rhône 2016 (14.0%)

Domaine du Bois Les Ventssssss CdR 2016

The Domaine is located near Avignon and has a range of different red, white and rosé Côtes du Rhône wines plus Crus Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Vacqueras.  One notable wine is “Pur Cent”a cuvée first released 9 years ago made from 16 different varieties, all planted when the estate was founded in 1910, i.e. one hundred year old vines.

The odd name of this wine – which you can see in the heading above, but not so well on the label – is because the six Ss at the end of Ventssssss represent the six different names for the main wind which affects the Rhône: The Mistral.   The vines are planted on sand and pebble soils, north-facing slopes (presumably not too steep an incline) at around 400m.  The vines vary between 60 and 80 years old and consist of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Counoise and Cinsault.  For the 2016 only the first four varieties were used, but the precise blend is a family secret.

The wine is extremely smooth and elegant, attributable (in my humble opinion) to the sandy soils and north facing aspect respectively.  The velvet texture immediately reminded me of the Mas Saint-Louis Châteauneuf-du-Pape which is also predominantly Grenache grown on sandy soils – and that’s a real compliment.  Quite simply this is the best AOC Côtes du Rhône I’ve ever tasted.

Read more on the Domaine du Bois de Saint Jean here.

Quinta dos Aciprestes Douro Tinto 2016 (14.5%)

Quinta dos Aciprestes Douro Tinto 2016

One of my wine rules of thumb is that, when a place is famous for wine derived drinks other than regular table wines, if they were to produce table wines they would be quite poor.  When was the last time you had a regular table wine from the Sherry, Champagne or Cognac regions?  The Douro is a prominent exception to that rule of thumb with some excellent, characterful and drinkable wines, especially reds.

Quinta dos Aciprestes” means “Estate of the Cypress Trees“; the three depicted on the front label are most likely a representation of the three Quintas which were joined together to make the estate.  The grapes are a typical Port blend, including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinto Cão and Tinta Barocca.  Maturation is for 12 months in French oak (I suspect mainly older barrels).  This is a rich wine, typical of the Douro, but still round and soft – softer than the 14.5% alcohol would imply.

Château Nico Lazaridi Drama 2016 (15.0%)

Ch Nico Lazaridi Drama 2016

Let’s get the bad pun out of the way first: the phrase “no drama” is usually taken to be a good thing – but not in this case!  Drama is a municipality in the East Macedonia and Thrace region of north east Greece and home to Italophile wine producer Nico Lazaridis.  French grapes predominate with some Sangiovese and autochthonous varieties.

The eponymous Château Nico Lazaridi wine is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese – what might be termed a Super Tuscan blend – that has spent 12 months in French oak.  It has an enticing, fragrant but gentle nose.  The palate is rich, explosive but smooth – cherries, chocolate and luscious black fruits all wrapped in velvet.  At 15% there’s also a suggestion of Napa Valley style power and sweetness.  This is a fabulous wine!

Read more on Château Laziridi here.

The Votes From Our North Side Jury

All of these holiday wines were good and worth trying, but two did stand out as the best and second best of the tasting:

  1. Château Nico Lazaridi received 8 votes (out of 18 total)
  2. Domaine du Bois de St Jean “Les Ventssssss” received 4 votes (out of 18 total)
Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 3 – Old World Reds)

Part 1 covered French wines and Part 2 some Portuguese and NZ whites.  Now for some Italian reds, plus an interloper from Croatia – though, to be fair, made with a grape that has Venetian origins:

Matošević “Grimalda” Red 2016 (13.0%, RRP €36.99 at Blackrock Cellar; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Searsons; www.wineonline.ie)

Grimalda crna

A few firsts for me with this wine.  Firstly, it’s from the Croatian province of Istria, and although I’ve had Croatian wines before, never (knowingly) one from Istria.  Secondly, 30% of the blend is contributed by a grape I’ve never heard of – Teran – though I have heard of the Refosco family of which it is a member.  The remaining components are much more familiar –  Merlot (60%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) – as are the French barrels in which the wine is matured for 15 months.  The vineyard is located in Brdo (surely a place name with too few vowels) in Central Istria.  The winemaker is pioneer and living legend Ivica Matošević.

The French and local varieties complement each other well – the Merlot gives plum and dark chocolate notes, filling the mid palate, while the Teran gives fresh, ripe-but-tart forest fruits.  Overall, it’s velvety smooth goodness all the way.

Massolino Barolo 2014 (13.5%, RRP €54.99 at 64 Wine; The Corkscrew; Fallon & Byrne; Hole in The Wall; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Mitchell & Son; www.wineonline.ie)

Massonlino Barolo

Though I’m far from an expert in Piedmontese wines, it’s easily understandable that there are differences even within DOC and DOCG areas.  Franco Massolino sources his Nebbiolo grapes from several plots in the Commune of Serralunga d’Alba at an altitude of 320m – 360m.  The soils are mainly limestone and the vines age from 10 up to 60 years old.  Serralunga d’Alba is regarded as one of the best parts of Barolo and produces well-structured wines that can age for decades, so it’s a little surprising that this 2014 is already so accessible – softer and more approachable, in fact, than Massolino’s 2016 Langhe Nebbiolo.  The nose is floral with forest fruits and the palate has rich, smooth black and red fruits, kept fresh by a streak of acidity.

Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo “Cicala” 2014 (14.0%, RRP €162.99 at 64 Wine; Mitchell & Son; The Corkscrew)

Poderi Aldo Conterno Cicala Barolo

One of the unique things about this producer is that they have reduced their output over the last twenty years, more than halving production from 180,000 bottles to 80,000 bottles from the same 25 hectares of vines, all with an eye to improving quality.  It seems to have worked!  Established by Aldo Conterno himself in 1969, nowadays his son Stefano is the winemaker, with his other sons running the business.  The Cicala name comes from the single vineyard where the grapes are sourced from.  This 2014 is half a percent lighter in alcohol than other recent vintages, but it’s no lightweight – it’s an immense wine, though not impenetrable.  The nose is enticing and rewarding; it’s worth just enjoying the rose and tar aromas for a while before even taking a sip.  On the palate there’s still plenty of oak evident, but balanced by ripe fruits.  This is an “Oh wow” wine.

Petra “Hebo” 2016 (14.0%, RRP €25.99 at Baggot Street Wines; Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; The CorkscrewClontarf Wines; Red Island Wine, Skerries; www.wineonline.ie)

Petra Hebo

The Petra estate is large compared to the Barolos above at 300 hectares.  It was created close to the Tuscan coast by the Moretti family of Bellavista fame (particularly known for their Franciacorta).  This is Super-Tuscan territory, borne out by the blend: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese.  However, this is not a Bordeaux copy; it has some similarities with Médoc wines but tastes Italian – whether due to terroir or the 10% Sangiovese is up for debate.  With ripe red and black fruits framed by tannin and acidity, this is a well put-together wine that offers better value than most Bordeaux at this price.

Petra “Petra” 2014 (14.0%, RRP €69.99 at Baggot Street Wines; The Corkscrew; www.wineonline.ie)

Petra Petra

This is the Petra estate’s top wine, a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot.  The must is fermented in open top 100 hl vessels, then matured in barriques, of which 30% are new.  It has a highly perfumed nose, full of violets and a whiff of vanilla.  There’s lots of structure here, but also juicy cherry, blackberry and blueberry fruit.  At five years old this is still in the flushes of youth, so I’d expect it to keep evolving and improving over the next decade or so.  A Super-Tuscan which is expensive, but doesn’t cost the earth.

 

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Castello di Ama “Ama” Chianti Classico 2015 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #22]

Great wines have been made around the village of Ama for centuries, but the Castello di Ama winery was only founded in the 1970s by a group of local families who were keen to revive the area’s vinous fortunes.  Over the years they developed a significant range of Chianti wines – including several single vineyard wines that became part of the Gran Selezione classification – plus some IGTs including a Pinot Nero and a Chardonnay.

However, a significant milestone was  in 2010 when parts of each of the four vineyards were planted with new, high quality clones of Sangiovese.  As Sangiovese is prone to mutate quicker than many varieties (as in the case with Pinot Noir), a co-ordinated project within the Chianti Classico region was launched to improve the genetic material in the vineyards.  Of course, this cannot be done in a single go without huge quality and cashflow issues so it is done piecemeal.  Once the new vines were old enough to bear good grapes they were harvested and blended into a new cuvée, simply known as “Ama”.

Vineyard Technical Data (from website):

  • Total vineyard area: 80 hectares (198 acres)
  • Vineyard names: Bellavista, Casuccia, San Lorenzo and Montebuoni
  • Exposure: North-West, South-East
  • Soil: clay and calcareous
  • Altitude: 460-525 metres above sea level.
  • Training system: vertical trellis with single Guyot
  • Vine density: 5,200 vines/ha
  • Clone selections (for “Ama”): Sangiovese: CC2000, CC2004, AGRI45; Merlot: 343; Rootstock: 420

Castello di Ama “Ama” Chianti Classico 2015 (12.5%, RRP €32.95 at Karwig Wines and Mitchell & Son)

Castello di Ama

For me there is a lot of ordinary Chianti around (although this could be said for many well-known regions) and the wines can be quite thin and tannic without any fruit to counterbalance.  Despite 2015 being a warm and excellent year, the indicated alcohol of Ama is only 12.5%, which is a touch lighter than I would have expected both before and after tasting it.

Wine Technical Data (assembled from website):

  • Blend: 96% Sangiovese, 4% Merlot
  • 2015 Harvest dates: 22nd September (Merlot), 5th to 8th October (Sangiovese)
  • Yeasts: Ambient yeasts
  • Fermentation time: 25 days (varieties fermented separately)
  • Malolactic fermentation: Yes, in stainless steel tanks
  • Maturation: After blending, in second-use tight-grained oak casks
  • Bottled: January 2017

This is a smooth, quite powerful and spicy wine which is recognisably Sangiovesi and recognisably Chianti but is quite self-assured.  To have these results from such young vines is a testament to the plan of using new clones, the potential of the site and very accomplished wine-making.  After being disappointed too often this has renewed my love of Chianti!

 

Make Mine A Double

Indian Wines for an Indian Summer? [Make Mine a Double #35]

Akluj

Ten years ago my (now) wife took me to India, specifically Kerala in the far south. After finding that a few of the hotels on our itinerary were Muslim-owned – and therefore dry – it was a pleasant surprise to be given a bottle of Indian wine by the local representative of the tour operator. It wasn’t fine wine, but it was drinkable. A decade on, Indian wine is being taken more seriously, so I jumped at the chance to try these wines which are being imported into Ireland by Liberty Wines.

M/S is a joint venture between Fratelli owners Kapil and Gaurav Sekhri and Italian Piero Masi and Englishman Steven Spurrier. They were obviously unable to use their initials joined by an ampersand as retailer Marks & Spencer already have that moniker, and simply reversing the order could have led to all sorts of misunderstandings…

Among Piero Masi’s former roles, the acclaimed producer Isole e Olena stands out. Steven Spurrier is probably best known as a writer and former merchant, but also has his own Bride Valley vineyard in Dorset and founded the Wine Society of India

Akluj in Maharashtra
Approx location of Akluj within Maharashtra (credit: Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa))

I wonder what a wine map of India will look like in another decade or two…

M/S Akluj Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_WHITE NV FS

The challenges of making a wine in a sub tropical climate are countered through planting at altitude and blocking malolactic fermentation – of course it could be argued that adding 20% Sauvignon Blanc also helps.

It’s unusual to find these two grapes blended together, either in their home country of France or in the new world countries where they have also prospered – but perhaps the key here is the Italian influences on the wine, as Chardonnay / Sauvignon Blanc blends can be found in northern Italy – viticultural colonists from Napoleonic times.

As well as avoiding MLF the winemakers also eschew oak barrels, though there’s an overt tanginess which I suspect comes from some lees work. In fact, if this is tasted straight from a domestic fridge the tanginess ramps up to tartness – pour it into a big glass and swirl away, or even decant the bottle if you can, and the wine really opens up. There’s a refreshing fizziness on the tongue from the acidity, with lemon and quince flavours to the fore.

M/S Akluj Sangiovese / Cabernet Franc / Shiraz 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_RED NV FS.jpg

If Italian influences on the white had to be deduced then they are writ large on the M/S red – the champion black grape of Tuscany is still very much linked to that region.

The Sangiovesi is present from the attack to the finish, with notes of leather, tobacco and smoke. It’s soon joined by juicy blackberry and plum from the Shiraz, followed by blackcurrant and a touch of green pepper from the Cab Franc. Then the Sangiovesi has the finish to itself. There’s plenty of acidity and tannin – no fruit bomb here – so medium rare rib eye steak straight off the barbie would be just perfect!

Given the paucity of Indian wines available in this part of the world I don’t have any others to compare this pair to, but they seem quite Italian in sensibility to me – which is no bad thing! Both are worth a try, with the red shading the white in my view.

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #17 – Sorcha Holloway [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Sorcha Holloway is the founder and owner of luxury wine tour company Away With Wine and also hosts the Twitter Chat #ukwinehour on Thursday evenings at 19.00 GMT / 20.00 CET


I’m dreaming of a Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Christmas…
My Christmas Wine will not be a surprise to anyone who knows me and my passion for Sangiovese, Brunello di Montalcino in particular.  I discovered Brunello on my first trip to Montalcino with Mr H in 2007, a destination chosen because of Isabella Dusi’s book “Vanilla Beans and Brodo” (Christmas gift tip for Brunello-lovers!).  I fell under the spell of both this magical medieval town and its magnificent wine.  IMG-4533I have been a regular visitor since and I’m pretty sure I leave another little piece of my heart there every time.  This is where my love affair with fine wine really began, and probably where the seed for Away With Wine was first planted.
When on a wine tour there this summer I returned to this fabulous winery with its ancient and modern cellars, and family of wolves for good measure!  After a comprehensive tasting in the company of the charming owner, Paolo Bianchini, I was tempted, unsurprisingly, to ship some treasures home, including this – a magnum of 2007 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona single vineyard Pianrosso Brunello di Montalcino.  I promise to share with my family in Ireland on Christmas Day.
It has been snowing in Montalcino this last few days – since I can’t have Christmas there, then this is the next best option.  A presto, Montalcino!
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Pianrosso Brunello di Montalcino 2007 (14.5%): not currently available in UK/Ire – bought at the winery, but delighted to report that Mentzendorff have recently started working with Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona so we hope to see more of their wines available in the UK soon.

The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Opinion

SuperValu Christmas Wine Selection Reds

One of the best things about wine retail – from the customer’s point of view – is that the bargains are available before rather than after Xmas, so if you want to choose a few nice bottles for yourself, buy a few gifts or just stock up in anticipation of thirsty visitors, now is a great time to do it.

Here are some of the SuperValu reds which I’d be very happy to sup this yuletide.

Disclosure: samples were provided for review

André Goichot Mercurey 2013 (12.5%, €22.99 down to €15.00)

mercurey

I’m a fan of the André Goichot range, which is predominantly white Burgundy, but also includes this Pinot Noir from Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise.  It’s a light wine (for NZ fans think Marlborough rather than Central Otago) than needs a bit of air to come out of its shell, but once it does the aromas are stunning.  Relatively high acidity and moderate tannins mean that this might well be the crowd pleaser to go with most dishes at the Xmas table.

Castellani Arbos Sangiovese 2013 (13.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00)

castellani-arbos-sangiovese

Cheap Chianti is rarely a bargain as it tends to have the tannin and acidity typical of the area without its usual bright cherry fruit and hence being unbalanced or even unpleasant. If you’re on a budget and like the flavour of Chianti’s Sangiovese grape then far better to avoid paying a premium for the Chianti label and go for a less fancy one with lots of tasty wine behind it!

Nugan Estate Alfredo Dry Grape Shiraz 2013 (15.0%, €19.99 down to €15.00)

nugan-estate-alfredo-dried-grape-shiraz-2013-coa

Drying grapes before pressing to increase flavour and sugar concentration isn’t a new technique (it’s the secret behind Amarone afterall) but it is still less than common in Australia.  Here it’s used to add extra berry-tastic richness to supercharge this Shiraz named after the winery’s founder, Spanish emigré Alfredo Nugan.  Like many Amarone wines there is a hint of sweetness on the finish but it works well with the rich character of the wine.  For those of you who like blue cheese I reckon this would be a real treat!

Lady de Mour Margaux 2012 (13.0%, €34.99 down to €20.00)

lady

Margaux is one of the most famous parts of Bordeaux, helped by having one of the top ranked producers with the same name (Château Margaux) and being easy for English speakers to pronounce (I’m only half-joking there).  Margaux wines are typical left bank blends but with generally a bit less Cabernet Sauvignon than the other famous villages such as St-Estephe and Pauillac.  They are considered to be somewhat feminine and elegant, so a wine called “Lady” is definitely on the right track!  This is a refined, classy wine with dark berry fruit and complex layers of graphite, tobacco and cedar – and a steal at €20!

 

 

Tasting Events

A February Feast, part 2

Following on from A February Feast, part 1, here are some of the reds which really impressed me at the Tindal’s portfolio tasting in February.  In my dash round the hall I only got to taste one wine from the Tyrrell’s table – as they have just partnered up with Tindal’s they were new to the portfolio and hence probably the busiest table there!

 

Craggy Range Martinborough Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2012 (€39.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown))

Te Muna Road

Although Central Otago gets most of the column inches nowadays, Martinborough remains one of the top regions for Pinot Noir within New Zealand.  Like all Craggy Range’s …erm … range, this is a single vineyard bottling.  The Te Muna Road vineyard is pictured above, and as this is New Zealand it is obviously bigger than some Burgundian Clos.

The 2012 is a serious wine, with concentrated red and black fruit, balanced tannins and a very smooth finish.  I could see this still tasting lovely into the next decade.

Château Pesquié Ventoux Les Terrasses Rouge 2014 (€19)

Vue_du_Ventoux

Fred Chaudière’s family estate is considered to be among the best of the Ventoux in the Southern Rhône.  Although Château Pesquié has a range of bottlings from the everyday to very serious (see some more of the latter here), it’s the Terrasses Rouge which stands out as a great buy.  Certified organic from 2014, it consists of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, with minor traces of Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.  Buy a magnum and book a day off!

Château Spencer La Pujade Corbières “Le Millésime” 2008 (€27.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Cashel Wine Cellar (Cashel))

diapo1

Winemaker Sebastien Bonneaud loves his beret and loves his Carignan, being one of its fiercest supporters.  This cuvée is an unusual departure for him in that it is made from 80% Mourvèdre and 20% Syrah.  After fermentation the wine is matured from 14 to 16 months in 100% new 300 and 600 litre French oak barrels, as befits an upmarket cuvée (“Le Millésime” literally translates as “The Vintage”).

At over seven years old the oak is now very well integrated, and though its influence is felt it does not stick out or jarr at all.  It’s big, round and powerful, but also elegant.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2013 (€26.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Nolans Butchers (Kilcullen))

Badia

Badia a Coltibuono – literally translated as “Abbey of the Good Harvest” – has existed for a millennium, with the monks gradually expanding their landholdings, until significant change arrived under Napoleonic secularisation in 1810.  This Chianti Classico is made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo (which softens the edges).  Wild yeast are used for fermentation and it then spends a year in cask before bottling.  Chianti’s signature notes are all present – sweet / sour red and black cherries, tobacco (highlighted by the tannins) and vanilla from the oak.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 (€39.50, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

2016-02-23 13.43.47

This was one of the highlights of the tasting for me.  It has a noticeable family resemblance to the standard Chianti Classico above, but more depth of flavour and even smoother. The wine is made from the best selection of grapes, then the best barrels spend a further 12 months ageing on top of the standard bottling’s 12.  A serious wine which is seriously drinkable!

Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2011 (€58.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown))

Sangioveto is the old local name for the Sangiovese grape, a nod to tradition for Badia a Coltibuono’s top red.  Only made in the best vintages, with extra ripe fruit and maturation in French oak barrels, it is arguably Super Tuscan in style, even though it is a varietal Sangiovese – this is also hinted at by the IGT Toscana classification.  Some might decry the break from tradition, but then Chianti used to contain 15% Malvasia Blanca!

This is a powerful but soft wine, lots of black fruit supported by soft tannins and 15% alcohol.  Lovely to drink now, especially if decanted, but it would be worth stashing a few of these away for 2020.