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. I 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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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!
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))
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)
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))
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 – 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.
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.
I’ve already picked out five whites from the Sweeney’s Wine Fair that really impressed me, so now it’s turn for my selection of reds. But first a brief introduction of the people behind the name:
Apparently, for those who like that sort of thing, Sweeney’s also have a great range of artisan cheese from Sheridan’s cheesemonger.
So now for the reds:
5 Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012 (Liberty Wines, €15.95, 2 for €28.00)
A favourite with Sweeney’s staff and customers alike for a few years, I Muri hails from the heel of Italy – the beautiful region of Puglia. The most important local grape is Negroamaro, literally translated as “black and bitter”, and while this wine is listed as a 100% varietal Negroamaro it shows no bitterness. It does have black – blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with a savoury edge but a polished finish.
Aragonez is the Portuguese name for the grape known as Tempranillo in Spain (well, in Rioja at least). Alicante Bouchet is a teinturier, the term for a (very rare) type of grape with red flesh, so both the skin and flesh give colour to a wine.
Do you remember the scene in the film Ratatouille where restaurant critic Anton Ego tastes the eponymous dish and is instantly transported to his childhood? Tasting Herdade de Rocim gave me exactly the same sensation, except I was magically transported to a summer barbecue, drinking wine. I think it’s a sign.
Check out the vintage! The current release is 2011, so it’s quite rare to see older vintages on the shelves, even in a good independent wine merchants, but this is entirely deliberate; Finian bought several cases of this when it was released and has kept it in bond to be released when ready. And boy, is it ready!
It has all the hallmarks of good Chianti Classico – liquorice, tobacco, acidity, tannin, black cherry – but the extra years maturing have seen them knit into a smooth, harmonious whole. I think it’s now closer in style to its big brother Badia a Passignano, which still remains the smoothest Chianti I’ve experienced.
Hearsay at the Wine Fair suggested I might be in the minority liking this bottle (it’s not the first time and certainly won’t be the last time I’m in a minority); reflection has led me to believe that some people who are used to drinking young Chianti prefer, or at least expect, the components mentioned above to stand out individually. If that is more to your taste then I suggest trying the 2011 Marchese, reviewed here.
2 Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero 2011 (Findlater WSG, €20.00, 2 for €34.00)
While also in the north of Spain and often using the same grapes as Rioja, Ribera del Duero isn’t a clone of its more famous counterpart. For a long time only the renowned Vega Sicilia made wines drunk elsewhere in Spain, never mind exported. Now the region’s reputation is on the up, with national heavyweights such as Torres joining the ranks of local producers.
Tempranillo here is usually known as Tinto Fino, and often has support from Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. However, even on its own it can show darker fruit than in Rioja.
Celeste has a nice name and a pretty bottle, but the contents surpass both of them. Bright red and black fruit are offset by creamy vanilla from the oak. It has wild strawberries rather than the poly-tunnel farmed ones that cheap Rioja can have, with blackberry and cherry riding shotgun. It’s a serious wine, yet it’s a fun wine.
1 Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon 2012 (Distinctive Drinks, €16.00)
This wine is a rockstar – it stood out as the best wine of any colour from the whole tasting as it was just so interesting and funky. Lots of fresh berry fruit is accompanied by smoke, earthiness and just a hint of farmyard.
Looking into the story of the Domaine is fascinating – it deserves a full post all to itself. The name of the wine is a direct translation of “Empty Sky”, a Bruce Springsteen song, which evoke memories of 9/11 for the owners who were working just one block away when the planes hit.
The blend of this wine has changed every year depending on the grapes available locally and how each variety fared in a particular harvest:
I love the complete honesty of co-owner Jonathan Hesford when discussing the first two vintages of this wine (2008 and 2009):
I’m not sure how these wines will age. They have the potential to develop even more fragrant aromas but don’t have the tannin structure of my other red wines.
One of the best parts about becoming a blogger has been meeting other bloggers from near and far – from literally round the corner to the other side of the world. Reading their blogs has been interesting in itself, but has also been very helpful in learning how to make my own blog better. Everyone I have met has been polite, pleasant and generous.
For some time now I had been meaning to try collaborating with some of my fellow bloggers – and then I hit on the idea of asking them to contribute a recommendation for a Valentine’s Day wine. A cheesy romantic link to V-Day was optional – it could just be a wine that the writer really liked and so would recommend – and just a couple of lines was requested, though some wrote more.
I was bowled over by the reaction – everyone I asked agreed to join in! Some even gave the background as to why a particular wine was romanic for them.
When I was asked to pick a Valentine’s Day wine, Frankie assured me it didn’t have to be in any way traditional or cheesy. Still, it’s hard to resist suggesting Champagne for this or indeed any celebratory occasion.
I first tasted Dominique Moreau’s Champagnes a couple of years ago and instantly fell in love (see…I can do cheesy!?). Dominique’s estate is in the Côte des Bar and named after her grandmother ‘Marie Courtin’. The vineyards are farmed biodynamically and most of the Champagnes are bottled in an Extra Brut style.
I say most – in reality I thought all her Champagnes were made in this style until I found her Résonance Brut NV (100% Pinot Noir) lurking on the shelves of The Organic Supermarket in Blackrock. If I’m truly honest, it probably does’t thrill me as much as the Extra Brut NV, but even with that caveat it’s worth tracking down this delicious Champagne.
So chatting with friends I usually get asked for any new recommendations for wine, beer or spirits… with valentines up-coming so did the topic of going for pinks or not…
Pinks are always fun and cute for Valentinesbut after thinking about it I asked what they wanted from their evening, as in light breezy, more seductive or maybe a slight blend…
For wine, if you want to go bright breezy then a good pink bubbly followed by either a more reasonably priced bottle of bubbles or a lovely rose from the Loire should fit the bill. If a blend of fun and seduction then bubbles (Celtic Whiskey shop has some half bottles on sale for €9.99) followed by an elegant red.
For me nothing says seduction than a northern Italian red especially a Brunello di Montalcino – pure seduction! It does depend on your menu and budget. If cash is a touch tight go for its second wine Rosso di Montalcino which is quite beautiful.
See Suzi’s full post including beers and spirits recommendations here.
Perfectly situated in the Valentine’s Day wine section, I found this beauty on the bottom shelf. I’m one to plunder the shelves down under so I bought this wine with cupidity. My expectations for this Pinot were as low as the dust bunnies I am accustomed to shooing away in aisle. However, once home Love Noir had some surprises.
What is that saying? Love thy neighbor? In this case, I bumped into a neighbor fleeing from her inlaws. It was opportune as I was a neighbor in search of a drinking buddy. To tip the scales, the in laws were watching the children. My friend’s walk “to get some fresh air” detoured to my kitchen table and we started to discuss today’s tasting.
Very first thing we noted was the lovely labeling. Gold foil on black matte paper was very classé, and you would never believe it was merely $11 and some change. But haven’t we all been fooled before. There was no coincidence that a wine with “LOVE” in the name was launched during the Valentine’s Day holiday season. I also caught a bit of naughtiness in how they positioned this wine. This is what I read on the back:
“Deep & Rich In Style
Silky & Smooth In Taste
Obsession. Desire. Passion.
This is Love Noir.”
Really? I thought I was reading the book jacket of a subgenre of romance novels. My faith with this vintage was waning. But I poured anyways.
Color was a dark, red purple. The nose was pomegranate, plum, cedar. There was good structure and I could identify 3 distinct layers; fruit first, balanced acids and smooth tannins second and thirdly a lingering woodsy, berry, oak finish. Whether aged in barrel or not, there was distinctly oak in the finish and it was pleasant and complimented the bold fruit nicely.
Hey, “every wine has a darker side.” I think I’ve surrendered to the “LOVE NOIR.” The “richness” of this wine was able to “spark intensity and intrigue.” If I can, I am certain you will “succumb to your urges and experience LOVE NOIR. Love. Changes. Everything.”
I’m not slavish to reading labels, but if you buy this wine, it is the gift with purchase. I rate this wine as a buy again – was quite good for the price and a pleasure to both drink and read aloud even in mixed company!
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…
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
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
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
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
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
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 Antinoribought 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
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
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.
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
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!!