Tasting Events

Dream Sweets (Are Made Like This)

DNS Wine Club were recently treated to a sneak peak of the sweet wines shown to the Irish press.  The trio below were the standouts, but please remember – sweet wines are not just for dessert!

 

Château Rieussec Sauternes 2014 (14.0%, RRP €50.00 (375ml) at O’Briens)

Chateau Rieussec 2014 Half Bottle

We start with the smallest bottle and lowest abv yet highest price – and all these facts are related.  Sauternes is an expensive wine to produce, as botrytised grapes (shrivelled by noble rot) contain less juice than normal grapes, and picking them at optimum levels often requires several passes in the vineyard.

Château Rieussec is one of 11 Premiers Crus (just below the sole Premier Cru Supérieur of Château d’Yquem) established by the 1855 Classification.  It was bought by the Lafite branch of the Rothschilds in 1984 and benefitted from their marketing and distribution efforts, though (thankfully) pricing is still a fraction of Lafite-Rothschild’s Grand Vin.  A second sweet wine (Carmes de Rieussec) and a dry white (R de Rieussec) complete the range.

This 2014 is made from the traditional Sauternes blend of Sémillon (93%), Sauvignon Blanc (5%) and Muscadelle (2%) and is an exuberant delight for the senses.  Still very young, it has a highly perfumed nose of stone fruit, whisky marmalade and ginger.  The spice is somewhat muted on the palate at present, as apricot, peach and citrus dominate, wrapped in an envelope of sweetness that is cosseting but not cloying.  As one DNS member put it “this tastes of money” – it’s a fabulous, beautiful wine.

 

Gérard Bertrand Banyuls 2011 (16.0%, RRP €23.95 (750ml) at O’Briens)

 

Gerard Bertrand Banyuls

Along with Maury and Rivesaltes, Banyuls is one of the three Vin Doux Naturel producing areas in Roussillon, French Catalonia.  As with the VDNs produced throughout France, grape spirit is added early on during fermentation to kill the yeast, leaving plenty of sugar left in the juice – and plenty of alcohol too!  This is the same method as used in Porto, so the end result is not unlike Port.

Grenache is the king in these parts, not least because of the grape’s ability to produce high sugar levels and moderate tannin levels.  Bottling is relatively quick after mutage as Grenache is susceptible to unwanted oxidation if left in oak, but once under cork the wine can last for decades.

At 16.0% Gérard Bertrand’s Banyuls comes in at around the same as some Californian and Italian wines – and tastes lighter than the vintage Port it was tried against.  Grenache Gris supports the mainstay Grenache Noir and adds elegance.  Fruit is the key here, both dried and fresh, with a little tannin and acidity supporting the show.  This would be superb with some fruit cake but perfect for contemplation on its own.

 

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny NV (19.0%, €24.95 (750ml) at O’Briens)

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny

Most of us don’t associate fortified wines with Australia, but for the majority of the twentieth century locally produced “port” and “sherry” dominated the market.  Once dry table wines had taken off, the Grenache and Shiraz vines that were the source of grapes for fortifieds were still used to some extent, but as varieties they fell behind Cabernet Sauvignon in the fashion stakes, so many older vines were sadly ripped up and replaced.  Thankfully, some still survive and make brilliant port style wines – though of course they can’t be labelled as such in the EU – and are the highlight of many winelovers’ discoveries on visiting Australian cellar doors.

This is a rare example which is available up here – in Ireland at least.  Produced by the ever-excellent Geoff Schrapel at Bethany in the Barossa, it is a blend of late harvested Grenache and Shiraz, aged together in old oak casks for an average of ten years before bottling.  As with tawny Port, this gives a lighter – almost brown – colour to the wine, with dried fruit and nutty flavours.  This is a delightful drink, especially in the coming darker months, and has more flavour than most Ports at this price.

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Make Mine A Double

Make Mine a Double #04 – White Graves (of the Bordeaux Kind)

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!

The South-Western district of Bordeaux is known as the Graves after the gravelly soil which predominates and produces a wide range of classic red and white Bordeaux. Although much less well known than the famous communes of the Médoc on the left bank and St-Emilion and Pomerol on the right bank, Graves was actually producing quality wines even before Dutch engineers drained the marshy Médoc peninsula. In fact, Samuel Pepys even made mention of the well-established “Ho Bryan” in his eponymous diary written in the 1660s.

There are producers of top quality white wine in the rest of Bordeaux but the Graves is easily the leader for whites. Apart from Haut Brion, which was one of the original four First Growths, the remainder of the Graves was omitted from the 1855 Bordeaux Classification; the Classification of Graves was first published in 1953 for reds and whites were added in the 1959 update.

Grave Vineyards
Grave Vineyards (Credit: vingnobledebordeaux.com)

The best part of the northern Graves surrounding the villages of Pessac and Léognan has had its own appellation since 1987, though the wines still show (usually Grand Vin de) Graves or Bordeaux on the label.

A word of caution for the uninitiated: whereas Bordeaux Supérieur AOC is a red wine made with slightly stricter regulations on yields and minimum alcohol (which is nowadays exceeded in most years anyway) than standard Bordeaux AOC, Graves Supérieures AOC is actually a sweet wine! It is similar in style to the more famous sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, though usually less intense and complex. Both sweet and dry whites are generally a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes with a dash of the third ranked white grape Muscadelle.

Having done a tour of the Graves Wine Route many years ago I can personally attest to their quality! Sadly availability in Ireland is very limited indeed. Here are a couple I have tasted and enjoyed recently.

Château Simon Graves 2013 (€15.95, Cases Wine Warehouse) 12.5%

Château Simon Graves 2013
Château Simon Graves 2013

Although based in Barsac and specialising in sweeter wines, Château Simon also produces 12,000 bottles a year of white Graves from three hectares.  Fermentation (to dryness) is in oak; batonnage is carried out for several months to add creamy lees character.

Château Simon
Château Simon

Tangy! Honey and soft white fruit from the Sémillon (50%), citrus freshness from the Sauvignon Blanc (50%). Definitely more than the sum of its parts, the two grapes work perfectly together. Lively enough to work as an aperitif or with seafood, but enough body to accompany chicken and stronger poultry, or even pork. Great value for money.

Le Must de Landiras du Château Terrefortes des Chons Graves Supérieures 2004 (direct from the Château)

Le Must de Landiras du Château Terrefortes des Chons Graves Supérieures 2004
Le Must de Landiras du Château Terrefortes des Chons Graves Supérieures 2004

A different beast entirely. If my warning above wasn’t enough, the deep golden colour should let you know that this is pretty sweet. Brought to a DNS Wine Club barbecue by my mate Paul W, it is apparently just about ready to drink according to the producer – at over ten years old.

Les Chons is smack bang halfway between the villages of Sauternes and Barsac, and the Grand Vin is indeed a Sauternes.  However, they also own other vineyards in the Graves and this is the resulting wine.

Many of the Graves Supérieures I’ve tried in the past have been disappointing – some sweetness, but not enough to qualify as a dessert wine, and not concentrated enough to be interesting as a medium / off-dry wine. This blows all of them out of the water – easily the best I’ve tasted from the region and on a par with a very good Sauternes. Honey and baked apples show on the nose and palate, with an unctuously sweet mouthfeel, but balanced by acidity. Outstanding.

Tasting Events

Some Highlights from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Reds and Sweet

Following on from my review of the sparkling and white wines in part one, here are the red and sweet wines which impressed me at the O’Briens Wines Autumn Press Tasting:

Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012 (€10.99)

Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012
Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012

Navarra (or Navarre in English) is a wine region in the north of Spain close to the more famous Rioja.  It used to be well-known for its rosados but now produces plenty of quality reds and whites, from both indigenous and international grape varieties.  In fact, the old Garnacha vineyards previously used for simple rosés are now being put to a more noble use in reds such as this one.  The other grapes in the blend are the local Tempranillo and the international Merlot.

It’s unmistakably Spanish, with bold red and black fruit cossetted in a basket of vanilla. This is smooth and very easy to drink on it’s own, but would stand up to beef or lamb with aplomb.  Great value for money.

Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011 (€15.99)

Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011
Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011

The Spanish speakers among you may have spotted from the label that this was matured in oak for 12 months, and thereby qualifies for the Crianza designation.  The oak used was mainly French (80%) with the balance American.

Jumilla is a region on the rise, as modern viticultural and vinification techniques are applied to some old bush vine vineyards.  Monastrell (the Rhône’s Mourvèdre) dominates the blend here with beefiness and spice, augmented by Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and a little Merlot.  The fruit is black rather than red – and it almost explodes out of the bottle.

Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009 (€42.00)

ongview The Piece Shiraz 2009
Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009

Longview are based in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia, just into the hills above….err…Adelaide!  Known as a cool(er) climate region, it can produce sublime Chardonnays and is now getting a serious reputation for Shiraz: Shaw + Smith excel at both.  “The Piece” is their top wine with all grapes handpicked, sorted and fermented in four separate one tonne open fermenters. It was aged for 24 months in new and old 300 litre French oak hogsheads.

At five years of age the wine has now settled down and is beginning to unfurl its petals.  It has sweet black fruit with soft integrated oak.  Medium acidity and silky tannins provide the structure for balance and additional ageing if you can resist drinking it now.

Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007 (€75.00, €67.00 in Nov/Dec)

Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007
Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007

How much? you might ask.  Yes, it’s an expensive bottle, but it’s a high end wine, and if you feel like splashing out for Christmas this would be perfect.  2007 was a good year for Bordeaux’s southerly Sauternes subregion so it should last for at least a decade from now.

On opening the wine has a divine, honey and apricot nose that you just want to inhale all day.  This follows through onto the palate, and while it’s definitely a dessert wine, there’s enough acidity to provide balance and stop it being cloying.

If you are a fan of foie gras then a glass of this would be a sublime match.

Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989 (€27.99)

Gerard Bertrand AOC Muscat de Rivesaltes 1989
Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

For me this was the standout wine of the tasting.  For those not familiar with the term, a Vin Doux Naturel is a fortified sweet wine where grape spirit is added early in the fermentation process to kill off the yeast, stopping fermentation and leaving some of the natural sugars from the grapes.  The Muscat grape is a staple for this job, especially around the Mediterranean, but Grenache offers an alternative style in several appellations.

The  Rivesaltes appellation takes its name from the town of the same name in the Roussillon area, which means “High Banks” in Catalan.

The Muscat versions are often sweet, simple and grapey, nice but nothing to write home about. This 25 year old Rivesaltes demands you buy a big book of stamps!

Time has caused the colour to fade from the wine – Grenache doesn’t tend to hold on to its colour that well anyway – but in return there are layers upon layers of complexity.  You could lose yourself for an hour just smelling the aromas, before diving into the heavenly Christmas pudding palate.  Spice up your wine selection here!

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny (€23.99)

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny
Bethany Old Quarry Tawny

The obvious word missing from the name of this wine is “Port”, and that’s because it’s from Australia not Porto.  Most people are very familiar with Australian table wine but aren’t aware that fortified wines were the majority of the industry’s output until the 1970s.  Port and Sherry imitations dominated the domestic market but were never able to compete with the real deal overseas.  Nowadays the proportion of production devoted to fortifieds is small with virtually nil exported.

Happily this is one of the bottles in that small rounding error, made from the traditional Barossa fortifieds grapes of Grenache and Shiraz.  Barrel ageing has given it some wonderfully intense raisin and nutty “rancio” characters.

Try this as an alternative to LBV or Tawny Port.