Tag: Shiraz

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz of 2016

And so, finally, here are my Top 10 Fizzes of 2016!

10. Hush Heath Estate Balfour 1503 Pinot Noir

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If you have an interest in fizz then you might know that Pinot Noir is an important grape in the production of sparkling wine, even for those with no colour, but Hush Heath Estate have taken things even further with their “Noir de Noir” (if such a term exists!)  A recent addition to the range of this Kent estate, it’s made in a clean, fresh and fruity style – worth trying as something different, but stands up on its own in terms of quality.

9.  Cirotto Prosecco Superiore Asolo Extra Brut 2015

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Vintage Prosecco is not that common, though most consumers probably don’t pay much attention.  This Prosecco isn’t for most consumers, however (though they would probably like it) – it’s sights are aimed higher at those who value more than just something with bubbles in.  This beauty from Cirotto is an Extra Brut which tells us a couple of important things:

  1. with less residual sugar (only 3g/L) it might appeal more to those who find average Proseccos too sweet, and
  2. without the mask of as much sugar the wine beneath is laid bare, so it had better be good!

Wine geeks will also be interested in the fact it is made in the small DOCG region of Asolo and that 10% of the blend is made up of local varieties Perera and Bianchetta.  This is the best aperitif style Prosecco I have ever tasted!

8. Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV

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The quality of Charles Heidsieck’s standard non vintage is due to the silver lining of a very dark cloud.  The marque’s UK sales fell off a cliff at some point a few decades ago, leaving it with lots of long term grape buying contracts that it didn’t really need, so rather than produce lots of finished Champagne that would just create a glut on the market, or terminating contracts that would be very difficult to re-establish in better times, they honoured those contracts and built up their stocks of reserve wines.

Hence the Brut Réserve consists of over 40% reserve wines with an average age of 10 years – giving it far greater depth and complexity than nearly all other NVs around.

7. Jip Jip Rocks Sparkling Shiraz NV

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Sparkling Shiraz does appear on the supermarket shelves in Ireland but usually just in the guise of a single, entry level brand (I’m being kind and not naming names here).  But those who don’t like Banrock Station (oops!!) might find that moving up market a little brings a lot in terms of quality and balance.  Jip Jip Rocks shows why the category is much more popular down under – it manages to be the best of both red and sparkling worlds, without breaking the bank!

6. Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2007

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One of the truisms about Champagne is that value is most often found at a cooperative, but Champenois coops can also be the source of top quality wines, such as this Blanc de Blancs from Beaumont des Crayères.  I’m a fan of the regular Brut NV but Fleur Blanche is on another plane entirely – lots of citrus and bready flavours, think lemon curds on toasted brioche!

5. Henriot Brut Souverain NV

 

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The Henriot family put down roots in Reims in the 16th century, eventually becoming cloth merchants in the city’s biggest trade of the time (Mercier means haberdasher!) and then (thankfully for us) Champagne producers in 1808.  This is a traditional blend with a slight bias towards Chardonnay (much of it from Grand Cru villages) for elegance and floral notes.  Ageing on the lees for three years adds some lovely biscuit tones.

4. Albert Beerens Carte Or NV

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The Carte Or is the standard bearer for the Albert Beerens range.  With an astonishing 46% reserve wines in the blend it is also an ambassador for the southerly reaches of the Champagne region – the Côte des Bar.  This family-owner grower-producer farms just seven hectares around Bar-sur-Aube, and their obsessive focus on quality and innovation shine through in the wine.

3. Christian Bourmault Cuvée Hermance Brut NV

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Based in the Grand Cru village of Avize on the Côte des Blancs, Christian Bourmault follows in the footsteps of his forebears including the founders Ernest and Hermance, after who this cuvée was named.  It’s unusual for Avize in that it has a significant majority of black grapes – the blend is 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier. The use of old oak barrels for ageing and plenty of lees work adds lots of character – this is a Champagne worth seeking out.

2. Sugrue Pierre “The Trouble With Dreams” 2011

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Not content with “just” being the creator of delicious English sparkling at Wiston Estate, Dermot Sugrue has a personal side project making a traditional Champagne blend from a tiny single vineyard.  Made from 55% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier, the 2010 was delightful but the 2011 was sensational!  There’s plenty of lemon, lime and stone fruit, but also an intriguing chalkiness – a direct result of the vineyard’s chalk soils? This was the best English sparkling wine I tasted in 2016!

1. Charles Heidsieck Cuvée des Millénaires 1995

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This cuvée was released a few years ago but keeps getting better every time I taste it.  1995 is still considered one of the top few vintages of the last 25 years, so with 17 years ageing before disgorgement this is an outstanding expression of the year.  It’s a luxury, yes, but if you get to taste it you might just see it as a necessity – one of the most complex and seductive Champagnes I’ve ever tasted!

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2016

The turn of the year means a chance to look forward to some excellent tastings coming up, but also a chance to look back at some great wines tasted over the previous twelve months.  Here are ten of the many reds which caught my attention in 2016:

10. Cicero Alto Reben AOC Graubünden Pinot Noir 2012

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In Europe the country most well known for Pinot Noir is of course France, with examples from Burgundy still being among the most expensive wines in the world.  After that it’s probably Germany for Spätburgunder and then perhaps Italy for Pinot Nero, but don’t forget Switzerland – hillside vineyards can be perfect for Pinot, and although Swiss wines are never cheap they can offer good value for money.  See here for the full review.

9. Mas St Louis Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

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CNDP can often be a blockbuster wine with loads of mouthfeel and 15.0% or more alcohol. Wines which don’t measure up to this are often inferior lightweight versions not worthy of the appellation or the price tag – better to go for a Gigondas or Vacqueras instead.  But just occasionally you might come across a wine which is not typical of the area but transcends it – and this is the one.  A high proportion of Grenache and sandy soil are apparently the reason for its lightness – but you will have to try it yourself.

8. Paul Osicka Heathcote Shiraz 2004

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My favourite hotel in Ireland is The Twelve in Barna near Galway City, and luckily it’s also my wife’s favourite.  The rooms, the service and the food are all excellent – and so is the wine!  When last there some months ago for a weekend (kid-free) break I spied this mature Heathcote Shiraz on the wine list and had to give it a try with the côte de boeuf for two (and although I was tempted to have both to myself I did of course share them with my wife).  I will definitely look out for this wine again!

7. Atalon Napa Merlot 2004

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Quality Californian Merlot isn’t an oxymoron, though there is plenty mediocre Merlot made in the Central Valley.  When it’s good, it can be great, and this nicely mature 2004 is probably the best Merlot I’ve ever tasted from California, and definitely the best I’ve tasted from any region this year.  See here for the full review.

6. Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013

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“A wine that asks more questions than it answers” is a fair summary of this unusual Douro red – and perhaps that’s why it’s so interesting.  It’s not a wine for everyone, with higher than average acidity and body more akin to Burgundy than the Douro, but it brings the funk!  See here for the full review.

5. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014

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Time and time again, the 20 Barrels Pinot has impressed me with its silky smooth berrytastic goodness.  It’s possibly the closest thing to a red wine for all men (and women) – without being a lowest common denominator compromise.  Most notably it shone in an all-star Pinot Noir tasting arranged by importers Findlaters, beating off competition from Burgundy, California, Marlborough and elsewhere – in fact the only real competition was the big brother Cono Sur Ocio, though that is around twice the price.

4. Wolf Blass Black Label 1998

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Wolfgang Blass is something of a legend in Australian wine, and while his eponymous wines range down to everyday drinking level, his multi-award winning Black Label has been one of the top Aussie wines since its creation in 1973 – it won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for an amazing three consecutive years with the 73 – 74 – 75 vintages, and then an unprecedented fourth time with this 1998 release.  Tasting the 1998 was a real privilege!

3. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2011

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I’ve had some nice Barolos over the years but, to be honest, the tannin and acidity have often put me off – not to mention the price.  Many need a good decade to even start being drinkable, and, while I’m not advocating fruit bombs, Barolo can be somewhat lacking on the primary flavour side.   But, as Erasure said, it doesn’t have to be like that – this is a wonderful, complex, accessible Barolo.  See here for the full review.

2. Penfolds Grange 2010

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If Spinal Tap’s amps went up to 11, then wine critics should surely have awarded this wine 102 points, as it betters even the excellent 100-pointer from 2008.  It’s still tightly wound compared to the lighter 2011 and more easy-going 2009, but it will be a legendary vintage when it reaches its peak in another decade or two.

1. Cascina Garitina Nizza 900

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A wine to show that Barbera can make excellent wines, not just something to sup waiting for Barolos and Barbarescos to mature.  Made around the town of Nizza Montferrato in Piedmont, Nizza wine was a subregion of Barbera d’Asti until gaining full DOCG status in 2014.  Gianluca Morino of Cascina Garitina is an innovative producer who makes some very good Barbera d’Asti but an amazing Nizza – a truly excellent wine with more depth and poise than I’ve witnessed in any other Barbera.

 

 

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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!

 

 

The Victorians at Molloys [Make Mine a Double #23]

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Once past the humongously big area that is “South Eastern Australia”, the next level of appellation is usually the state.  As the biggest wine producing state it’s usually South Australia that is most prominent on the wine shelves, with perhaps Western Australia next (WA is a relatively small producer in volume terms though it does produce a good proportion of Australia’s quality wines).  NSW has the Hunter Valley and others, but it’s those regions whose names make it onto labels.

Victoria has lots of quality wine regions such as the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Heathcote, but blends between them are not that common either.  Here are a couple of Victorian wines I tried recently that are multi-region blends:

MWC Pinot Gris Victoria 2015 (13.5%, €18 down to €15 in September at Molloy’s)

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The stylistic division between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris is quite a divider (and I’ve commented on it myself several times).  The divide is now being blurred by many wine makers who want to make a fresh, mineral style but with a lot more flavour than bulk Italian Pinot Grigio – Fiona Turner at Tinpot Hut is one.

This example is quite rich, though not as sweet or oily as Alsace versions can be.  There’s lots of tangy fruit flavours as a result of extended time on the skins.  It’s got enough to please both crowds without selling out to either – a great achievement!

MWC Shiraz Mourvedre Victoria 2014 (14.0%, €18 down to €15 in September at Molloy’s)

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Wines sold in the EU don’t have to mention minor parts of the blend if they are less than 15% in total, so mentioning the Mourvedre component of this 95% Shiraz 5% Mourvedre wine is a deliberate choice by the producers.  That tells you something – they want to stand out from the crowd of varietal Shiraz and they also think that even 5% of a variety adds something to the final wine.

As its sibling above, this is a blend from different premium vineyards across Victoria.  My educated guess would be that it contains a fair bit from the cooler southern regions such as Yarra Valley as it’s much lighter than most I’ve had from the warmer inland areas.  In the mouth it’s nice and smooth, but well-balanced.  It has the usual black fruit and spice but they are fresh rather than stewed or jammy.  This Shiraz blend would be fantastic with a peppered steak!

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Nugan Estate Personality Wine Range

The Nugan Group was founded by Spanish emigré Alfredo Nugan in Griffith, New South Wales, in 1940.  Initially it was in the fruit packing business and then moved into premium fruit juice production in the 1970s.  A further expansion in 1993 involved the planting of vineyards and selling the grapes – just another fruit, at that time.  The natural progression was then into making wine, and now Nugan Estate has 590 hectares of vineyards in Riverina (NSW), King Valley (Victoria) and McLaren Vale (South Australia).

Nugan recently introduced the “Personality Range” – four single varietal wines that have been named after some of the larger-than-life people working at Nugan Estate.  I think it’s a great idea, most people love a story and a bit of history behind a wine – even if they just have a glance at the bottle while having a glass on a Wednesday evening.

Nugan Estate King Valley “Bossy Boots” Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (12.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Bossy Boots Sauv Blanc

“Dedicated to my grandmother – I learned early on never to judge a book by its cover and never underestimate the women in my family! Take Bossy Boots, she might look soft and feminine but don’t be fooled! After the world wars, Australia became home to many immigrants from Europe. They settled in the rugged outback where our vineyards are today. My grandmother was one of them. She was strong and spoke her mind, determined to build a new life for her family no matter what it took. She was a determined woman – so much admired by everyone.”

The King Valley is in North-East Victoria – and when looking up its location I found I have actually been there when dropping into Brown Brothers in Milawa!  It’s a fairly hilly area which makes it a good location for cooler climate wines.  Australia isn’t known for varietal Savvy – it’s more commonly seen in a blend with Semillon or even Chardonnay – so I was very interested to find out how this tasted.

This would never be mistaken for a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but then why should it? On tasting there’s a tropical fruit explosion in the mouth – pineapple, mango and passionfruit.  The wine still has plenty of acidity but it’s not tart or sharp.  In fact, if Kiwi SB isn’t for you then I would recommend giving this a try.

Nugan Estate Riverina “Dreamers” Chardonnay 2013 (13.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Dreamers Chardonnay

“My mother has this uncanny knack of dreaming big then making her dreams come true. Like when she decided she wanted to start our winery over twenty five years ago. She came in one day and said we are going to plant vineyards. Large ones, all over Australia! We all thought the old girl is really going too far this time. But turns out she was spot on. We planted our vineyards from scratch and you’re drinking the fruits of our hard yakka right now. I always hated that saying ‘your mother’s always right’ but perhaps there’s something in it.”

It’s very rare to see “Riverina” on a wine label – a lot of bulk wine is made there so producers often prefer to use the more generic “South-Eastern Australia” instead (and that also lets them include fruit from other states as well).  Of course Nugan are based in Griffith which is the capital of the Riverina agricultural area, so they proudly declare their origins on the label.  Wine fans should note that Australia’s most celebrated sweet wine – De Bortoli’s Noble One – is made just round the corner!

The Dreamers Chardonnay sees no new oak – as is the current vogue for Chardonnay in Australia – just two and three year old barrels which provide added roundness and texture. It does spend six to eight weeks on the lees, with daily stirring to give some yeasty characters and interesting texture.  It’s fresh and tangy – and far more moreish than Aussie Chardonnays of old!

Nugan Estate Riverina “Scruffy’s” Shiraz 2014 (14.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Scruffy Shiraz

Scruffy is our Shiraz vineyard manager – he’s a mountain of a man and always looks like he’s been wrestling the local wildlife. Despite constantly looking untidy and in desperate need of a shave, he’s a real charmer with the ladies. We excuse him for being so rough around the edges as that’s his style and the world would be so boring if everyone was the same and he really knows what he’s doing in our vineyards.”

Another Riverina wine, this is partially matured in oak – both French and American – 25% of which is new.  Winemaker Daren Owens keeps vineyard yields low to help intensify flavours and insists on careful fruit selection to maintain quality.

Scruffy by name, but not by nature – this wine is full of juicy berries, blackberry and blackcurrant in particular.  There’s just a lick of vanilla from the oak which adds complexity.  Probably the most drinkable wine at this price point!

Nugan Estate Riverina “Stompers” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (14.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Stompers Cab Sauv

“My mother can be an intimidating person and there’s a few blokes that still wish they’d never given her a hard time. That said, our one vineyard manager named Stomper seems to have found a way to sidestep her wrath with his seemingly carefree attitude. We call him Stomper because the whole building shakes when he walks in – a gentle giant!”

Whereas the Shiraz has both American and French oak, the Cabernet Sauvignon’s more reserved character is better suited to just French oak – though again only a quarter of it is new.

Stomper’s wine is more about cassis and chocolate, with some noticeable Cabernet graphite and cedarwood characters.  It’s a little more serious, but would pair very well with red meat.

Choices, Choices

To be honest I’d be very happy to pay €12.99 for each of these wines, but at €10.00 they are an absolute steal.  The choice between the whites depends on whether you prefer a little more subtlety (the Chardonnay) or a little more expressiveness (the Sauvignon).  I’d probably pick the former two out of three times.  Between the reds I’d have a preference for the Shiraz (as does my wife!).

 

Disclosure: wines were kindly provided for review

 

Make Mine a Double #16 – California Dreaming

Wine is produced in all 50 of the USA’s states, and many of them are now seeping into the wine drinker’s consciousness – New York State (Finger Lakes), Oregon (Willamette Valley) and Shenandoah Valley (Virginia).  Despite this, California still accounts for around 90% of the USA’s total production, and is almost synonymous with American wine from a European point of view.

Central and Northern California
Credit: http://www.discovercaliforniawines.com

Of all the regions within California, the most well known are Napa and Sonoma in the North Coast (at the top of the map above).  The Central Coast also has a lot to offer, including Santa Barbara (the setting for Sideways).  Below are a couple of fantastic reds hailing from Santa Maria (area 71 in the map above) and Napa.

 

Cambria Estate Santa Maria Valley Tepusquet Syrah 2010 (14.5%, €24.95, O’Briens)

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This 100% Syrah is the sister wine to the Cambria Estate Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir which I reviewed recently elsewhere.

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Credit: Cambria Estate

Well, not quite the sister, as Julia’s sister Katherine has her own namesake vineyard next door.  The Tepusquet Vineyard is in the far south of Cambria Estate as it is the most protected from the elements, and is therefore a little warmer.

Internationally, the choice of synonym normally denotes the style – spicy and savoury Northern Rhône Syrah or big and bold Aussie Shiraz. In common with many US versions of the grape, this wine is labelled Syrah no matter what the style, but as it happens this is somewhere in between the two – as though Saint Joseph had a very warm year.  This spicy, savoury edge to the dark juicy fruit gives it versatility – lovely to drink on its own but would pair well with red meat dishes without overpowering them.

If you like South African Shiraz or Hawke’s Bay Syrah then this is definitely worth putting on your list.

 

Atalon Napa Valley Merlot 2004 (14.0%, €27.45, O’Briens)

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And so to the wine that dare not speak its name.  Merlot often gets a bad press, with the influence of Miles from Sideways still felt…

Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.
Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!

Napa is rightly famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Chardonnay, but Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc are also planted there.  Atalon aim to produce Bordeaux-style wines from the different parts of Napa which exhibit elegance and complexity – words not always associated with Californian wine.

This is almost a varietal Merlot, with just a 3% dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, so this is right-bank in style – think Pomerol or Grand Cru Classé Saint-Emilion.  At 12 years of age it is still in its prime, with lots of black fruit, and still a little tannin.  I’d imagine it spent well over a year in American oak while maturing, but that oak is well integrated now, leaving just a little vanilla and spice.

This is a Merlot for people who don’t think much of Merlot – it is indeed elegant and complex, with far more going on than any other new world example I’ve tasted.

This is the finest varietal Merlot I’ve tasted in many years!

More from Make Mine a Double

 

 

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2015

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2015

As I said at the beginning of my review pieces, for me 2015 was an excellent year for wine.  If one region really stood out for me in 2015 it would be Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France; already well known for bulk wine and subsequently good value bottles, it has a growing reputation for excellence in the hands of dedicated producers.

Here are ten of the reds which most impressed me in the year:

10. Château de Rousselet Côtes de Bourg 2009 (€12.99, Lidl)

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For about 17 years my parents lived close to La Rochelle in the Charente Maritime department – much better known for Cognac than wine.  But happily it was close enough to Bordeaux that day trips were quite easy, and so at least once a summer I would head down in the car for some tasting and buying.

Heading south, the first subregions encountered are the Côtes de Blaye (now renamed) and Côtes de Bourg.  Touring around with a visitors booklet I would try new vineyards every year, plus return to a chosen few of the best.  Château de Rousselet was one I returned to year after year, as Francis Sou and son Emmanuel continued to gradually improve the quality of their wines.  Here are a few of the older bottles I still have:

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So I was surprised and delighted to see a fairly recent vintage being sold through Lidl! The 2009 vintage was outstanding in Bordeaux, and even modest areas such as the Côtes de Bourg produced some crackers – classic claret, still great for food, but also round and fruity enough to be drunk by itself.  Sadly the Lidl stores close to me didn’t have any stock when I visited!

9. Château Paul Mas Clos de Mures Coteaux du Languedoc 2013 (€16.99, Molloys)

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Paul Mas is one of the star estates of the Languedoc. There are several different quality levels of which Château Paul Mas is around the top – “Everyday luxury”.  The equivalent white also featured in my Top 10 whites of 2015.

As it common in the Languedoc this is a blend, comprising 83% Syrah, 12% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre – so it’s a GSM blend of sorts, though showing more black than red fruit due to the higher Syrah content.  This wine was one of the surprise stars of the (as yet unpublished) DNS tastings on Syrah and Shiraz – both for the absolute quality and the value for money at €16.99.  

8. Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (€23, JN Wine and others)

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Pesquera’s sister property in a warmer part of the Ribero del Duero shares much in terms of ethos and quality but has a different sensibility – it’s more fun and accessible, with an emphasis on fruit and pleasure rather than refinement.  Plum, blackcurrant and black cherry are rounded off by vanilla from 18 months in American oak.

There’s no doubt that Tinta Pesquera is the senior sibling but this crowd-pleaser is a lot of wine for sensible money, and is the one I would chose to drink on its own.  

See this article for more details.

7. Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block 21 “Viento Mar” Pinot Noir 2012 (€19.99 from O’Brien’s Wines, Mitchell & Sons, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin, Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Bradley’s and O’Driscoll’s of Cork)

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Cono Sur do a great range of Pinot Noirs from the everyday Bicicleta up to the prestigious Ocio.  This is a single vineyard release Pinot which sits roughly in the middle of the range; there are also seven other varietal single vineyard releases including Riesling, Carmenère and Syrah – I’d like to try them at some point as well!

The vineyard itself is nicknamed the Spanish for “Sea Wind”, invoking the coastal breezes which help keep the temperature relatively cool in San Antonio Valley – ideal for Pinot Noir.

Luscious black and red fruits combine with a hint of vanilla – it’s got lots of fruit but fresh rather than confected fruit.  Amazingly drinkable, and knocks spots off Burgundy (and most other regions’) Pinot at this price.

See this article for more details.

6. Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinère 2011 (€23.49, O’Briens)

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The general Minervois appellation has around 800ha planted to vines and the smaller, more prestigious, Minervois La Livinière appellation is around a quarter of that, with lower yields and a higher proportion of better-regarded grapes such as Syrah.

The JM Cazes group of Château Lynch-Bages fame first ventured outside of Bordeaux when they acquired this property in 2002.  The Grand Vin composes 70% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 10% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre and weighs in at 14.0%, so in weight terms it’s somewhere in between northern and southern Rhône.

Although it doesn’t have the stature of its more well-known stablemates, it’s more accessible than most of them – especially those from Paulliac and Saint-Estèphe – and would be the one I reached for most often given the choice of all of them.

5. Alpha Zeta Amarone della Valpolicella 2011 (€35, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

2015-09-02 19.23.59

Amarone is one of the first Italian wines that people fall in love with, enjoying its big rich flavours and textures, though they come at a premium price.  It’s a wine that’s easy to love.  Sometimes it can get a bit too much, with jammy fruit and high alcohol making too much of a mouthful for a second glass.

This example from Alpha Zeta is one of the most well-balanced I’ve come across, and while it might still be too fruit forward for Barolo loving masochists it doesn’t intimidate. Also, compared to many it is (relatively) inexpensive at €35 a bottle (many others go far north of €40).

This was the bottle I took along to a meal with fellow wine blogger friends at Dada Moroccan restaurant in Dublin.  The touch of sweetness and richness turned out to be a perfect match for the lamb and apricot tagine I ordered – probably the favourite wine of the evening.

4. Uno de Mil Tempranillo & Petit Verdot (€23.95, Cases Wine Warehouse)

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A pretty label and a stunning wine, which happens to be organic and biodynamic.  Such is the explosion of fresh fruit and vanilla in the mouth that it instantly made me think of a blueberry muffin!  Made from a blend of Tempranillo (from Rioja and Ribero del Duero) and Petit Verdot (a small part of some Bordeaux reds), it’s from the less well-known region of La Mancha – but knocks spots of plenty of Rioja that I’ve had!

3. E.Guigal “Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph” Saint-Joseph 2005 (2009: €46, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

Saint Joseph

 

Saint-Joseph has become my go-to Rhône appellation, with its lovely blackberry, black olive and sour black cherry flavours.  What I hadn’t appreciated was that the appellation was named after an actual vineyard, itself named after Holy Joe himself who was reputed to have lived there.

Now in the hands of famed Rhône producer Guigal, the “lieu-dit” Saint-Joseph produces both red and white wines of superlative quality.  2005 was an exceptional year in the northern Rhône (10/10 according to The Wine Society) and this wine was at its peak.  It showed all the trademark Saint-Joseph notes but with a polish and complexity that stood out.

2. D’Arenberg The Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005 (2008: €54.99 from O’Briens and independent merchants)

Dead Arm

D’Arenberg are one of the standout producers of McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide in Australia.  Led by the colourful (in several senses) Chester Osbourne,  they have a wide portfolio of wines with different quality levels and varieties.  The Dead Arm is one of their three Icon bottlings, along with The Coppermine Road (which I once realised I was driving on!) Cabernet Sauvignon and Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre.

And the unusual name?  From the d’Arenberg website:

Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa Lata that randomly affects vineyards all over the world. Often affected vines are severely pruned or replanted. One half, or an ‘arm’ of the vine slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side may be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side, while low yielding, display amazing intensity

The 2005 is beautifully mature, though far from over the hill.  It has the blackberry and plum fruit, pepper and spice plus vanilla notes as you’d expect from an Aussie Shiraz, but these flavours are all now interwoven and settled in; they are speaking in harmony rather than shouting individually.  I just wish I’d bought more than one bottle!

1. Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1996 (~€115, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other independents)

Bin707

And so for the third year running my favourite wine of the year is a Penfolds red!  In 2013 it was the 1998 Bin 707, then in 2014 I was lucky enough to try the Grange 2008.  The former would have has a good shout again in 2015 but the bottle of 1998 I had planned to open with Christmas dinner didn’t actually get opened until 2016.  I did, however, open both 1996 and 1997 and it was narrowly the former which I favoured.

The biggest surprise was that although it showed signs of maturity in the brick red rim, the nose and palate still showed lots of fruit – overwhelmingly blackcurrant, of course, given that this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  There were some touches of cedar and pencil shavings that pointed to its age, but they were knitted in.

Bin 707 stands second to Grange in the Penfolds hierarchy, but for my tastes it runs it very close or even beats it sometimes!

 

Also check out the Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites, Top 10 Fizz and Top 10 Sweet wines of 2015.

 

 

DNS Wine Club *FUN* Tasting

After a show of hands at the previous meet, the theme of the most recent DNS Wine Club tasting was FUN! Wine can be a very technical and complicated subject, and as something of a geek that often appeals to me, but at the end of the day the main point of wine is pleasure.

So how do you make a tasting more fun? Play games! But which games? I divided the DNS gang into two teams, opened some fizz and gave them their first task.

{All the wines tasted over the evening are reviewed in the articles Le Tour de France and Around The World in Eighty Sips on TheTaste.ie}

ROUND 1 – Match the Critic

John Wilson
John Wilson, scholar and gentleman

I reviewed John Wilson’s book “Wilson On Wine 2015 – The Wines To Drink This Year” here and refer to it frequently. For each wine reviewed there are lots of details, especially on the background of the wine, along with a fairly short tasting note. As tasting is such a subjective thing (and taste too, but that’s for another day) I wondered how easy it would be to identify wines from their tasting note alone…

Example of a wine featured
Example of a wine featured in the book

Each team was given a sheet with two columns; the first had ten wine names and the second had ten tasting notes taken from John’s book. Two wines were sparkling, four white and four red. Each column was in alphabetical order and the objective was to match the tasting notes to the correct wine.

Wine Name   Tasting Note
1 Bernhard Ott Fass4 Grüner Veltliner 2013 A A superb, light, elegant wine, with piquant dark cherry and blueberry fruits.
2 Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut NV B Almond blossoms on the nose; light, elegant, sophisticated crisp green fruits with excellent Minerality. A perennial favourite.
3 Coca y Fito DO Terra Alta Jaspi Blanc 2012 C An exuberant, fresh wine bursting with pineapples and tropical fruits.
4 Jeio Prosecco DOCG Valdobiadenne Spumante Brut NV D Bracing and herby with an inviting texture and a snappy dry finish.
5 Kasarí Zorah Areni Noir 2012 E Delectably light and tangy but with rosehips and fresh, piquant red fruits. Great with food.
6 Moric Burgenland Blaufränkish 2012 F Fresh pear and peach fruits with a good lively citrus edge
7 Pieropan Soave Classico 2013 G Intriguing, lifted fragrant black cherries with good acidity and a light earthiness, finishing on a smooth note. Different and delicious wine.
8 Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero 2013 H Pure piquant damson fruits, good acidity and a lightly tannic finish. Delicious.
9 Santa Rita Medalla Real Leyda Valley Chardonnay 2011 I Restrained peach and apple fruits with subtle toasted nuts and a core of citrus acidity.
10 Thymiopolous Naoussa Xinomavro 2013 J Succulent ripe fruits cut through with a delicious minerality and great length.

You might want to try this at home.  Bear the following hints in mind that were given on the night:

  • As both columns are in alphabetical order it is possible that a wine may still be lined up opposite its true tasting note, though most aren’t.
  • The longest tasting note belongs to (probably) the most expensive white wine.
  • The Prosecco note should be very easy to identify as it nearly always tastes of one particular fruit.
  • One of the wines includes a colour in its name (though not in English) which is included in the corresponding tasting note (in English).

Yes, most of these hints are fairly esoteric / tenuous / difficult – but that’s how I roll!

ROUND 2 – Call My (Wine) Bluff

For those know aren’t familiar with it, Call My Bluff is a long-running UK game show where celebrity contestants on a team take it in turn to give three definitions of an obscure word, only one of which is correct. The other team then tries to choose the correct definition and discard the bluffs.

The wine version has a similar structure, but instead of word definitions the guessing team has to divine which of three tasting notes they are given match the wine in their glass and their mouth!

For five white wines and three red wines, these are the choices which were proffered:

White 1
(A) Famille Bougrier Les Hautes Lieux Vin de France Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(B) José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013

White 2
(A) Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014

White 3
(A) Frantz Saumon Minérale+ Montlouis 2012
(B) Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
(C) Trimbach Cuvé Frédéric Emile Alsace Riesling 2004

White 4
(A) Dog Point Section 94 2008
(B) Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
(C) Greywacke Marlborough Wild Sauvignon 2012

White 5
(A) Frantz Saumon Minérale+ Montlouis 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Red 1
(A) Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
(B) Château Bouscassé Madiran 2007
(C) El Castro de Valtuille Bierzo 2013

Red 2
(A) Aldi Lot 01 Uco Valley Malbec-Cabernet 2013
(B) Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
(C) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011

Red 3
(A) Château Milhau-Lacugue “Les Truffières” Saint Chinian 2010
(B) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(C) Taltarni Heathcote Shiraz 2008

For the guessing team, some of the choices were more difficult if there was a similarity between the choices, e.g. for White 1 there were 2 regions and 2 grapes over 3 wines.

It was actually easiest to bluff when the reader didn’t know if they were giving the note for the correct wine or not! I suppose it is good to know that most people aren’t good liars, even if it’s just for fun.

ROUND 3 – Match the Critic (Encore)

A Book, A Bottle, A Glass
A Book, A Bottle, A Glass

Now the kicker to see if everyone had been paying attention! A double list – similar to that handed out in Round 1 – was given to each team, this time with eight wine names and tasting notes. But these weren’t just any wines taken from John’s book – they were the eight that everyone had tasted in Round 2! So of course, this final round had double points awarded.

Wine Name   Tasting Note
1 Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011 A A delicious modern style of Bordeaux with light creamy cassis fruits and a smooth easy finish.
2 Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012 B A subtle and delectable blend of citrus and green fruits with a touch of honey
3 Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011 C Exhilarating precise acidity with pristine green fruits.  Inspiring, thrilling wine.
4 Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013 D Fresh, tangy, lemon and grapefruit, balanced out by clean green fruits, and a dry finish.
5 Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay 2014 E Good, deeply satisfying wine with firm, dark ripe fruits and a dry finish.
6 José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2013 F Light toasted nut aromas, fresh textured pineapples fruits and excellent length. Great wine at a very reasonable price.
7 Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches G Lightly toasted notes combined with peaches, almonds and honey.  Unusual and perfectly formed.
8 Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014 H Succulent and ripe, filled with dark cherry fruits dusted with spices

Conclusions

Blind tasting, even single blind, is difficult. Tasting notes are subjective, and, unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to understand someone else’s when you’re tasting the same wine they had. Context is very important so knowing the background to a wine can give you a lot of clues about why it tastes a certain way and where it’s headed.

Above all, it’s a fun journey!

Make Mine a Double #05 – Salt and Pepper

Make Mine a Double #05 – Salt and Pepper

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!

No you haven’t gone mad, this is still a wine blog and not a condiments review.  Nor is it a homage to the New York female hip hop trio Salt-n-Pepa.  Read on…

salt and pepper
salt and pepper

I recently tasted two different wines, in different settings, from different countries and brought in by different companies, but one had a distinct pepper taste and one was remarkably salty, so I thought they would make for an interesting pair.

Bodegas Vegalfaro “Rebel;lia” Utiel-Requena DO 2014 (€12.95, Cases Wine Warehouse) 13.0%

Bodegas Vegalfaro “Rebel;lia” Utiel-Requena DO 2014
Bodegas Vegalfaro “Rebel;lia” Utiel-Requena DO 2014

The Utiel-Requena DO is in the Province and Autonomous Community of Valencia in eastern Spain, in the transition zone between the Mediterranean coast and La Mancha high plateau. Away from most of the softening effects of the Med, the climate is very continental (long hot, dry summers and cold winters) and one of the most severe in Spain.

Bobal is the main grape grown here, accounting for over three quarters of the land under vine. Other permitted black varieties are: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The authorised white varieties are: Planta Nova, Macabeo, Merseguera, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Until fairly recently, Utiel-Requena has mainly produced bulk wine for early drinking. Some vignerons are now taking quality much more seriously, especially where vineyards are located at altitude which gives the grapes a chance to rest in the cooler evenings.

From the design of the label you can guess that Bodegas Vegalfaro is a modern winery, even putting the name of the wine upside down on the label. And so it proves in the glass. This is a blend of two French grapes – Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – which are often seen outside France as well as in the country itself, but rarely blended together. Often single varietals, when in a blend it is often with Sémillon or Colombard rather than each other (Italy is another exception).

It is a lovely, clean wine; no overt oakiness but plenty of citrus and tropical fruit.  The acidity is refreshing and keeps your mouth watering, especially with added saltiness on the finish!  It’s beyond the saline character of some Albariños or Sancerres, but while unusual is actually quite enticing.  The perfect fish and chip wine?  Perhaps, but move over Muscadet and Chablis, this is the perfect match for oysters!

Château Goudray Côtes du Rhônes Villages–Séguret 2013 (€12.99 down to €10.00, SuperValu) 14.0%

Château Goudray Côtes du Rhônes Villages–Séguret 2013
Château Goudray Côtes du Rhônes Villages–Séguret 2013

In the Rhône Valley there is a well-recognised hierarchy amongst the AOCs, with the 16 Crus at the top and generic Côtes-du-Rhônes at the bottom. One step up is Côtes-du-Rhônes Villages which is made within some of the better villages outside the Crus, and the final step below the Crus is Côtes-du-Rhônes Villages with one of 18 village names appended, such as Séguret as we have here.

Among the dozens of varieties permitted in the Southern Rhône, most wines are primarily blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, GSM for short.  Grenache gives soft red fruit, some body and plenty of alcohol.  Syrah and Mourvèdre give colour, tannin, acidity and complexity, especially with pepper and spice notes.

The village of Séguret has been voted the most beautiful in France – and the vista of vines growing protected by a hill must surely have helped.

Château Goudray was built around 1815 then after changing hands a few times was bought by Marie and Hugues Meffre in 1900.  The vines were still weakened after the effects of phylloxera so they had to replant virtually all the plots.  It took until 1920 for harvests to become fully healthy and stable, so they could finally properly market their wines.

The 2013 Château Goudray Côtes du Rhônes Villages–Séguret is full of juicy red and black fruit, supple tannins and is a real pleasure to drink.  While not the most elegant of wines it is quite moreish, and easy to quaff.  I don’t know the precise blend but it does have the most pronounced black pepper notes I have encountered in a wine – most expected from Syrah dominated blends from the northern Rhône.  This surely makes it the perfect wine to pair with peppered steak!

And for those disappointed not to see Salt n Pepa:

New Trafford

vineyard

New Trafford: De Trafford & Sijnn Winemaker’s Dinner @ Stanley’s, Dublin

Last month I had the pleasure to attend a fantastic Winemaker’s dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant in Dublin. Regular readers may remember a previous dinner event I attended there with Yves Cuilleron and his wines.  On this occasion it was the wines of David Trafford, co-hosted by importer/distributor Dr Eilis Cryan, the lady behind Kinnegar Wines of Galway.

David was originally an architect – with a few clues in the names and designs of his wines – but felt compelled to make wine in such an amazing land as Stellenbosch.  Many years later, he set up Sijnn in a hamlet down near the coast.

This tasting featured wines from both wineries, plus a starter from another Kinnegar producer:

Aperitif
Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011

Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011
Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011

For those not familiar with the term, Méthode Cap Classique (or MCC for short) is a traditional-method sparkling wine from South Africa.  Thelema are much better known for their excellent still wines, particularly their reds, but this is a serious effort.

As the Blanc de Blancs name suggests this is 100% Chardonnay.  Fulfilling the same requirements as vintage Champagne, it was (second) bottle fermented and left on the lees for three years.  It was disgorged in Sept/Oct 2014 and given an “extra-brut” dosage of 3.2 g/l.

It’s a lovely fresh, citrus style, perfect as an aperitif at this time in its life.  With a few more years it should mellow out so that more mature fruit develop and the acidity softens a little to let the bready characters from time on the lees show through.

Amuse Bouche

Crab and radish amuse bouche
Crab and radish amuse bouche

One of the things that great chefs can do is challenge your preconceptions.  The amuse bouche had radish which I don’t particularly care for, but with crab it was just heavenly.

Marinated scallops, cucumber, bergamot, fois gras butter

Marinated scallops starter
Marinated scallops starter

I love scallops, but I’m no fan of cucumber – I’ll pick it out of salads and send back a G&T that someone has stupidly infected with cucumber.  However, I have now become a convert of cucumber and mint soup – it was served in a mini tea cup on the side and was just divine!

De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012 & Sijnn White 2012

De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012
De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012
Sijnn White 2012
Sijnn White 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape, capable of playing several different roles, though always with its trademark high acidity.  Personally, I prefer it when it has either (1) a bit of oak, (2) a bit of age or (3) a bit of sugar; without these it can be too simple or too harsh for my taste.

David Trafford has been making Chenin for twenty years.  As with all his wines only wild yeast is used for his De Trafford Chenin, and then around 15% is matured in new oak barrels.  Bingo!  The oak adds a bit of roundness and texture, but it’s not an overtly oaky wine – it’s still fresh.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked by adding a dash of sulphur and the low cellar temperature.

The Sijnn White is also Chenin based, but as well as 20% oak maturation, it also has another trick up its sleeve: Viognier!  Around 16% of the blend is Viognier which gives stunning aromatics and a tempting texture.  I now have to add a fourth type of Chenin to my list!

Guinea fowl, green asparagus, black bacon, carbonara jus

Guinea fowl main course
Guinea fowl main course

There were no weird surprises here as I’m a fan of guinea fowl.  It was tasty and succulent, with lots of additional interesting flavours from the accompaniments. Asparagus and green beans provided a contrast against the richness of the meat.

De Trafford Elevation 393 2010 & Sijnn 2010

De Trafford Elevation 393 2010
De Trafford Elevation 393 2010
Sijnn Red 2010
Sijnn Red 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many attendees I expect this was the main (vinous) event of the evening.

Elevation is De Trafford’s flagship red.  As the 2010 is such an approachable, ripe style it has been released ahead of the 2009 which needs more time to mellow out.  This is partially due to the blend of the 2010 which was a third each of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Shiraz – there is usually a higher proportion of Cabernet in the blend which makes it a little more austere.

Although definitely fruity, the Elevation had more of a savoury aspect than many Australian Cabernet blends, for example.  South Africa really does straddle the boundaries of Old and New World.

The Sijnn Red was an altogether different blend, mainly a cross between the Rhône and the Douro: Syrah 41%; Touriga Nacional 27%; Mourvèdre 18%; Trincadeira 10%; Cabernet Sauvignon 4%.  And funnily enough, both of these influences were apparent in the finished blend – the spice, blackberry and blueberry of the Rhône were joined by the plum and prune of the Douro.  It’s quite a big wine, but totally delicious.

A fantastic wine geek fact that David gave us was that Mourvèdre needs more vine age than most other varieties before it begins producing quality fruit in reasonable quantities.

Rooibos tea custard tart, guava sorbet

Rooibos tea custard tart dessert
Rooibos tea custard tart dessert

This was so tasty that I barely managed to take a snap before wolfing it down!  You may recognise rooibos as a South African speciality – it’s a herbal tea, though often taken with milk and sugar down there.

De Trafford Straw Wine 2006

De Trafford Straw Wine 2006
De Trafford Straw Wine 2006

This might be something of a mystery for many – a straw wine?  The name is a translation of Vin de Paille – pronounced “van de pie” – which is the French term for this style of dessert wine.

It starts as 100% Chenin Blanc grapes, picked at normal ripeness.  The grapes are then dried outside on mats for three weeks, partially in the shade and partially in the sun.  The must takes a whole year to ferment, followed by two years maturation in 225L barriques (60% French and 40% American).

The finished product has a high 230 g/L of residual sugar, but with a streak of Chenin acidity it remains balanced and far from cloying.

Thanks to David, Eilis, Morgan, Stephen, Patrick and all the staff at Stanley’s for a wonderful evening!