Tasting Events

Fresh Italian Reds [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 3]

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

Fattoria San Lorenzo Rosso Piceno “Burello” 2013

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

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

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

Cantina Sampietrana Primitivo del Salento “I Saraceni” 2018

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

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

Cantina Sampietrana Salento Negroamaro “Parnanio” 2018

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

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


GrapeCircus 2020:

Tasting Events

Whites From Off The Beaten Track [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 2]

After the Champagnes of Laherte Frères in Part 1, we now turn to a trio of unusual whites.  They aren’t that obscure, but they aren’t going to appear in your local supermarket.  They are all made by small, family owned producers who prefer to do work in the vineyard rather than the winery.  Note: I tasted these wines back in February this year so some outlets may well have moved onto the 2019 vintages of the respective wines.

M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz Weiss 2018

Martin and Anna Arndorfer are part of the new generation in Austria, acknowledging their respective families’ deep ties to their region of Kamptal but breaking free and setting down their own roots.  Their approach might be described as “hands-off”, but that would belittle the work they do in the vineyard, fully respectful of nature’s gifts.

This is the first time I have reviewed the M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz (field blend), though I have previously reviewed their single varietal 2015 Grüner Veltliner  and their 2016 Vorgeschmack white.  As the latter is no longer available and consisted of the same blend (80% Grüner Veltliner & 20% Riesling) as this wine I believe it is simply a matter of renaming.

Those familiar with the component varieties – hopefully a decent majority of you – should be able to imagine its style; decent body with lots of spice and pip fruit, but a racy finish.  Apples and pears meet lemon and lime?  What’s not to like?

Burja “Petit Burja” Zelen 2018

When faced with this label most wine drinkers would be forgiven for thinking “what even is that?”  (Confession: I thought exactly that!)  So: “Burja” is the name of the estate, “Zelen” is the name of the grape and “Petit Burja” is the name of the bottling.  Burja is run by Primož Lavrenčič who named it after the Mistral-like wind which can blow through the vines.  Zelen is a local grape variety named after the Slovenian word for ‘green’ which is the colour that it apparently takes on when fermenting.  The estate is run on both organic and biodynamic lines.

So how does this unusual grape taste?  It doesn’t taste exactly like anything else, but in a word, great!  It’s highly aromatic, with floral and citrus notes to the fore.  These continue onto the palate which is juicy and tangy, but also mineral and linear.  This wine could be the jolt that your palate needs!

Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Blanc 2018

I have reviewed the red wine from this stable before; Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge was the Frankly Wines #2 Value Red of 2017.  The Domaine has been run by Italian Laura Semeria for 13 years; she has woven the new (converting viticulture to organic and then biodynamic) with the old (maintaining local varieties including the rare Romorantin).  The vines cover a surface area of 20 hectares and vary in age up to 80 years old.

Just as the Arndorfer wine above, this is an 80/20 blend, but this time 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Chardonnay (yes, Chardonnay is grown in the Loire!)  This blend is rarely seen in France, nor even Australia or New Zealand, but does occur in northern Italy.  Although unusual, the blend is seamless, showing floral, herby and citrus notes.  It’s a light yet thrilling, real wine.


GrapeCircus 2020:

Tasting Events

Champagne Laherte Frères [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 1]

Champagne Laherte Frères is based in the village of Chavot, a ten minute drive south-ish of Epernay.  The estate was established in 1889 by Jean-Baptiste Laherte and was expanded incrementally over the generations.  The estate is named after sixth generation brothers Christian and Thierry, though I couldn’t confirm if they were the first to make the big leap from growing grapes to making their own Champagne.  Thierry’s son Aurélien has been a part of the firm for the last fifteen years.

Laherte’s 11.38 hectares of vineyards are covered in detail on their website.  The majority are in villages of the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay, split 4.22 ha planted to Chardonnay, 3.88 to Pinot Meunier and others 1.18 ha.  A further 1.48 of Pinot Meunier is in the Vallée de la Marne and 0.62 of Chardonnay on the Côte des Blancs.  They have identified 75 different plots which are vinified separately; 80% of the wines are fermented and matured in wood barrels or casks.

Credit: Laherte Frères

Since 2011 Laherte has also bought in grapes from growers who farm around 4 hectares in the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs; of course these growers share the same philosophy.

This is our way of celebrating the terroir: by respecting differences, promoting uniqueness, and letting the soil express itself.

In his excellent book on Grower Champagne “Bursting Bubbles”, Robert Walters makes some excellent point about the style and quality of Grower Champagnes in general.  Firstly, many who make Champagne under the Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) label are simply much smaller versions of the big Houses; it is those who focus on their terroir and allowing their wines to express it that can make great Grower Champagnes.  Secondly, small producers who take such care but also buy a small amount of grapes from close contacts – and therefore have the Négociant-Manipulant (NM) label – can also make excellent terroir Champagnes.

Aurelien Laherte was noted as a promising grower in Bursting Bubbles, but of course as the firm now buys in grapes  they are classed as NM.  Walters specifically mentions Jacquesson & Fils as an example of terroir focused small houses, but I believe that Laherte Frères would also qualify for that accolade.

Laherte make a large number of different wines, grouped into three different types.  The wines in blue are reviewed below.

  • Ultradition: Brut, Brut Rosé, Brut Blanc de Blancs
  • Special & Original Cuvées: Ultradition Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut
  • Terroir Fundamentals Cuvées: Les Beaudiers (Rosé de Saignée Meunier), Les Longues Voyes (Blanc de Noirs 1er Cru), Les 7 (all 7 Champagne grapes in a “solera” system), Les Vignes d’Autrefois (Old Vine Meunier), Les Grandes Crayères (Vintage Blanc de Blancs)

Champagne Laherte Frères “Ultradition” Extra Brut NV

This is a blend of the three main varieties: 60% Pinot Meunier (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and Pinot Noir (10%).  40% of the total is from reserve wines which are kept in barrel and add complexity.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked for a portion of the base wines to give a mix of roundness and freshness.  Those base wines also spend six months on their lees while maturing.

Ultradition Extra Brut has an amazing nose of lifted floral, citrus and pear aromas; so lifted, in fact, that you feel like you’ve got the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building.  In the mouth it pulls off the trick of being both creamy and fresh, briochey and citrusy, with a lively mousse and a satisfying, fresh finish.

Champagne Lahertes Frères Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut NV

This is a “Rosé d’Assemblage”, incorporating both saignée and pressée techniques.  Made solely from old vine Pinot Meunier, it consists of 30% macerated wine, 10% red wine and 60 % white wine.  40% of the later is from reserve wines aged in barrels.  Vinification is the same as for the Ultradition Extra Brut, though dosage is even lower at 2.5 g/L.

The nose is full of juicy red fruits that leap out of the glass.  On the palate they are further defined as strawberry, cherry and raspberry.  The dosage is low, even for an Extra Brut, but the quality of the fruit and the fact they are picked when fully ripe means that more is not required.  The fruits are so fresh and vivid that, if tasted blindfolded, you’d be peeking to see if any berries were floating in your glass.

Champagne Lahertes Frères Blancs de Blancs “Les Grandes Crayères” 2014

This is a single vineyard, single variety, single vintage wine made from one of Laherte’s best sites.  As you might be able to guess from the name “Les Grandes Crayères” the vines are grown on chalky soils.  Not in the Côte des Blancs, however, but rather in their home village of Chavot where the chalk  in some plots is only 20 cm down.  Unlike the other cuvées above, MLF is totally blocked for this wine to preserve acidity as the wine ages over the years.

The Champagne geeks among you might wonder what the single variety is; for the vast majority of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes this would automatically be Chardonnay, but when a producer makes a wine with all seven permitted varieties (five white, two black) then it could be any one of five.  But it’s Chardonnay!

And what a Chardonnay!  The nose has layers of flowers, lime and toast plus a little candied peel.  In the mouth it is creamy yet fresh and refined, with mineral notes and a certain tanginess.  This is an amazing wine that could be nothing else than a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.


GrapeCircus 2020:

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz 2019

My interest in good and great bubbly is well known, so there are some crackers in my Top 10 Fizz this year.  It’s dominated by Champagnes, which reflects both my preferences and the wines that I’ve been able to taste in the last year or so – but try as many as you can and make your mind up for yourself:

10. Champagne Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2009

Beaumont des Crayeres Fleur Blanche

12.0%, RRP €47.00.  Distributed by O’Briens.

Co-operative Beaumont des Crayères’ regular bottle is their Grande Réserve NV which is a very acceptable bottle itself, but this vintage Blanc de Blancs is a whole new level.  For non-francophones, the name “Fleur Blanche” simply translates as “White Flower” which both hints at its composition and evokes its aromas.  The palate shows evidence of extended lees ageing with lovely toasted brioche topped by citrus and stone fruit.  2009 is a very good vintage so this is something that you could lay down and enjoy a bottle every so often over the next decade.

9. Champagne Laherte Frères Extra Brut “Ultradition” NV

laherte freres champagne nv

12.5%, RRP €53.00.  Distributed by GrapeCircus.  Also see related article here.

This Champagne is part of the Pinot Meunier comeback (more on which later) – the region’s third grape variety is somewhat unloved as it doesn’t have the cachet of the big two – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – nor, according to many, the same ageing potential.  However, Meunier has plenty of character of its own which can really shine through when it’s done properly as in the hands of the Laherte brothers.  The nose evokes flowers but the palate has both red and citrus fruit plus some nice leesy notes.

8. Champagne Leclerc-Briant Brut Réserve NV

leclerc briant brut reserve

12.0%, RRP €62.00.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Another Meunier dominated non vintage Champagne with an extra brut dosage, this is a lively, fruity little number that tastes fresh rather than dry – it has lots of red fruit but they tend towards redcurrant and even cranberry, a sign of zippy acidity.  Depending on your personal preferences, this could be laid down for several years for it to round out and develop more complexity with bottle age – or just enjoy right now!

7. Champagne Salon Cuvée “S” Le Mesnil 2007

Salon 2007

12.0%, RRP €530.  Distributed by Pembroke Wines.

Salon is something of a legend in Champagne circles, but amongst regular and even enthusiast wine drinkers it is not well known – mainly down to the very small production volumes and minimal advertising (oh yes, and the price).  All the grapes are sourced from one of the Côte des Blancs’ best Grand Cru villages, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  It’s a special enough place that master blenders Krug released their first single vineyard Champagne from there: Krug Clos Le Mesnil.  Salon only produce a single, vintage wine and then only in very good years; 2007 is only the 38th release since the first in 1921, and the 2008 is only going to be released in magnum format (form an orderly queue please).  So how is the 2007?  Intense, bready, taut, young…almost raw in fact.  But the inherent splendour can be guessed at – if you are prepared to wait a while then break open the piggy bank and stash a bottle or two.

6. Arcari + Danesi Franciacorta “Dosaggio Zero” 2013

franciacorta dosaggio zero arcari danesi

12.5%, RRP €60.  Distributed by GrapeCircus. Also see related article here.

This is the best Franciacorta I have tasted by a country mile.  It has no dosage but doesn’t need one – there’s loads of juicy fruit sweetness without any extra sugar.  Talking of which, Arcari + Danesi don’t even use sugar or the second alcoholic fermentation, but rather grape juice from their own harvest.  If you’ve been underwhelmed by the Franciacortas available where you are (and I was) then this shows you how good they can be.

5. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée MV

picture 86377

12.5%, RRP €61.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

More and more English sparkling wines are coming to the market each year and the overall quality keeps getting higher, but for me Nyetimber are still top of the pops.  So how do they stay ahead of the chasing pack?  A relentless drive to improve has made their Classic Cuvée better with each subsequent release.  Is there a ceiling?  I don’t know, but it will be fun finding out!

4. Champagne Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis NV

Champagne Cuvee Paradis Brut Alfred Gratien

12.0%, RRP £125.00 (magnum).  Distributed in the UK by The Wine Society.

Alfred Gratien doesn’t receive the kudos that some of the big houses do, but their no-nonsense Champagnes have plenty of fans.  This is a magnum of their top offering; with several years post-disgorgement it’s on the mature side (which is a good thing) but has plenty of years left (also a good thing).  I’ve tried it twice in the past 18 months and it was even better the second time.  If you can get your hands on some, do!

3. Champagne Gosset Grand Millésime 2004

Gosset Grand Millesime 2004

12.0%, RRP €95. Distributed in Ireland by Mackenway and in the UK by BBR.

The oldest extant Champagne house, Gosset was founded in 1584 – before Champagne wines were even sparkling.  They have a fantastic range, with the Petite Douceur Extra Dry Rosé and Blanc de Blancs also being big favourites of mine.  I’ve  been lucky to try the Grand Millésime 2004 several times recently and it’s truly magnificent – such finesse and complexity.  It’s even found a fan in my dad who doesn’t normally bother with anything sparkling.  The blend is 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, neither of which go through malolactic fermentation, preserving freshness. A minimum of six years’ ageing on lees before disgorgement is not as long as some prestige cuvées but helps to generate lots of interesting creamy, nutty and fruity notes.  A real treat!

2. Champagne R&L Legras Cuvée Exceptionelle Saint-Vincent 1996

r-l-legras-saint-vincent-blanc-de-blancs-grand-cru-brut

12.0%.  Distributed in the UK by BBR.  Also see related article here.

While this is also a treat, it’s not for everyone as it is quite mature in style (apparently, some people don’t like mature Champagne – what gives?).  But I bloody love it!  From the  village of Chouilly, this is 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay.  Quite tight and structured on release, a dozen or so additional years of bottle ageing have added layers of spice and baked apple onto the citrus and brioche framework.  This is mature but far from tired, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it.

1. Champagne Dom Pérignon P2 2000

Dom Pérignon 2000 P2

12.5%, RRP €420.  Distributed in Ireland by Edward Dillon; retailed by SIYPS.

Even people quite familiar with Dom Pérignon – it is the best selling luxury cuvée, after all – might not be aware of the house’s P2 and P3 Oenothèque releases.  The “standard” or “regular” (how inadequate those words sound!) Dom Pérignon 2000 was released in 2008 after disgorgement the previous year, so after six or so years on the lees.  Some of the wines were held back and aged on lees for an additional nine years, apparently the wine’s second peak (or “Plenitude“).  The result is not just more autolytic notes, but it’s a turbocharged Dom Pérignon, with nuts, cream, coffee, honey….the list goes on, as it stands as one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted (of any type).  Yes, it’s just over double the price of the current release of DP, (around €200) but it’s not that much more than the DP Rosé which I think it is far better than.  If you get chance to taste this, you must.

 


The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

  • Top 10 Whites
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • Top 10 Reds
  • Top 10 Sweet
  • Top 10 Value Whites
  • Top 10 Value Reds
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Ireland
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Alsace

 

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 4 – GrapeCircus)

gc_logo_web_square

Last – but no means least – of our awesome foursome from Spit is GrapeCircus.  Enrico’s wines are the most “edgy” of the whole gang (if you’ve got a moment, some are edgier than U2’s guitarist walking along the side of the Cliffs of Moher watching Tom Cruise film “Edge of Tomorrow” on his Samsung phone.)  This means that even open minded wine geeks such as myself won’t necessarily like every wine in a tasting line-up, but it’s highly likely that we will love lots of them!

Here are five that I loved from SPIT:

Laherte Frères Champagne Extra Brut “Ultradition” NV (12.5%, RRP €53.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin, Meath & Galway; Fallon & Byrne Exchequer St & RathminesBlackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Mitchell & SonSIYPS)

laherte freres champagne nv

Founded in 1889, Laherte Frères is now in the hands of the sixth and seventh generation of the family.  The latter is represented by Aurelien Laherte who has spearheaded the estate’s move to organic and biodynamic practices.  A key strength is their use of over 350 old oak barrels to ferment each parcel separately, giving lots of options when putting together each cuvée.

“Ultradition” is of course a portmanteau of “ultra” and “tradition”, though at 4g/L the dosage is extra brut rather than ultra brut.  The blend is 60% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir (including 40% reserve wines).  The nose is quite floral with a touch of biscuitiness.  Fresh red and citrus fruit dominate the palate

Agusti Torello Mata Xarel-lo “Xic” 2017 (11.0%, RRP €18.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin, Meath & Galway; Green Man Wines, Terenure; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Ashes of Annascaul; SIYPS)

augusti torello mata xarel-lo xic

Xarel-lo is best known as one of the three traditional Cava grapes, along side Macabeo and Parellada.  Agustí Torelló Matá does indeed make Cava but this is a single varietal still offering designed to be fun and drinkable.  It does drinkable in spades, so delicious and moreish!  The palate abounds with fresh quince, apple, grapefruit and lime.  This is a stunning wine that really drinks ahead of its price point.

Meinklang “Burgenlandweiß” 2017 (11.0%, RRP €19.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin & Galway; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Ashes of Annascaul; SIYPS)

meinklang burgenlandweiss

So now to Austria’s Burgenland and an aromatic white blend from biodynamic producer Meinklang.  And it’s aromatic as hell!  Enrico made sure I tasted this when he showed it at the Ely Big Tasting as he knew it’s my kind of wine (he’s a shrewd man).  A blend of 50% Grüner Veltliner, 40% Welschriesling and 10% Muscat, this is just a downright delicious liquid that puts a smile on your face when you sniff it and a sh*t-eating grin when you drink it!

Welschriesling’s origins have yet to be discovered.  Also known as Riesling Italico, Olaszrizling, Laški Rizling or Graševina, it is unrelated to “true” (Rhine) Riesling or Schwarzriesling (better known as Pinot Meunier).

Le Due Terre “Sacrisassi” Bianco 2014 (13.0%, RRP €49.00 but on-trade only at the moment)

sacrisassi bianco le due terre

This wine is exactly why independent wine festivals like SPIT are important – they give trade, press and public an opportunity to try wines that they otherwise would not have the chance or the yen to try.  The hefty price tag and lesser known region of production might put many off, but this is a wine that, once tried, goes straight into the “special treat” category.

A blend of 70% Fruliano (the grape formerly known as Tocai) and 30% Ribolla Gialla, on tasting this wine has the “wow factor”, such depth of flavour.  It shows wonderful soft stone fruit at the core, surrounded by an envelope of sea-spray freshness.

Roccalini Barbaresco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €47.00 at Green Man Wines, Terenure; Sheridans Galway)

roccalini barbaresco

Paolo Veglio follows the traditional “hands off” winemaking practices of Barbaresco, making wines that would be considered by many to be “natural” (though more on that another day.)  As well as their overall quality, Paolo’s wines are known for their drinkability and their texture.  Too often (for me at least), 100% Nebbiolo wines are too tannic and a little on the thin side, even though they might have prodigious levels of alcohol.  At Roccalini they use a traditional third way of extracting colour and flavour from the grape skins; instead of punching down or pumping over, they wedge sticks in the top of the concrete fermenters which keep the cap submerged

This is a thick, chewy, viscous, amazing Barbaresco that needs to be tried!

 

The SPIT series:

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 3 – VinosTito)

 

Logo emblema VT

The Spanish team (now with added Polish) at Vinostito have put a firm focus on low intervention winemaking – not for the sake of it, but for the authenticity and excellence of the wines it can produce.  Of course they have an extensive selection from Spain, but also other countries such as Portugal, Germany, France and Italy.

Here are five which really piqued my interest at October’s SPIT festival:

Weingut Immich-Batterieberg CAI Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.5%, RRP €21.50 at 64 Wine, Glasthule; Loose Canon, Drury St; Baggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Kelly’s Off-Licence, Clontarf)

immich batterieberg riesling kabinett cai

Immich-Batterieberg is one of the oldest estates in Germany’s Mosel, being noted in the first, second and now third millennium.  The Immich family themselves began making wine back in 1425, and were instrumental in the creation of the Batterieberg  between 1841 and 1845 using lots of explosives!

The CAI is a Trocken, i.e. dry style of Riesling, with an alcohol of 11.5% which is higher than many sweeter wines, but remains modest.  It isn’t bone dry, however, with just a touch of residual sugar which enhances the attractive, zippy fruit.  Full of Riesling Goodness!

Weingut Immich-Batterieberg Escheburg Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.0%, RRP €29.00 at 64 Wine, Glasthule)

escheburg

Compared to the CAI, this is somewhat drier, still young and tight – waiting for its wings to unfurl.  It’s made from superior grapes which don’t quite make it into the single cuvées.  The steep slate vineyard soils really show in the minerality of the wine, even though the minerals themselves are not technically soluble enough to be absorbed by the vines.  This is a fairly serious wine which would be at its best with shellfish or after some years to develop and open out.

Casa da Passarella Descoberta Dão Branco 2017 (13.0%, RRP €16.50 at On The Grape Vine, Dalkey; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview; Lilac Wines, FairviewBaggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Matson’s, Cork)

casa passarella

Dão wines aren’t particularly well known in Ireland, though they deserve more attention.  The region is situated about a third of the way down the country from the northern border and roughly equidistant from the Atlantic and the eastern border with Spain.  It sits on a granite plateau topped by well drained sandy soil – not too bad for quality wine!  This is a blend of local speciality Encruzado plus some Malvasia Fina and Verdelho.  It’s quite different from the by-the-glass selection in your local pub, with a lovely mouthfeel and richness to it, but not oiliness.  A dry, textured finish seals the deal.

Suertes del Marqués Trenzado 2016 (13.0%, RRP €25.00 at SIYPS, Baggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Clontarf Wines, Clontarf; Lilliput Stores, Stoneybatter)

trenzado

I’ve reviewed this wine at least once before, but no apologies for repetition will be forthcoming as it’s so damn good – and so damn interesting – that it never disappoints.  Suertes del Marqués are a relatively new outfit but they have access to plenty of older vines – the ones for this blend range between 10 and 150 years old, all in the Valle de La Orotava of Tenerife.  I say “blend” as the majority of the wine is Listán Blanco (aka Palamino of Sherry fame) but there are also dashes of Pedro Ximenez, Albillo Criollo, Gual, Marmajuelo and Malvasia.  As pictured on the front label, the vines are (mainly) trained with the traditional trellis system of cordón trenzado after which the wine is named.

For anyone studying wine this is a great example to do a model tasting note for as it shows so many different types of aroma and flavour: various citrus fruits, nuts and sea-washed pebbles on the nose, with the same on the palate but also a slightly waxy character.  It’s a fairly different wine but it’s one that’s easy to like and to love.

Luís Seabra Vinhos Xisto iLimitado Tinto 2016 (12.0%, RRP €22.00 at Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; 64 Wine, Glasthule; On The Grape Vine, Dalkey; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview; Lilac Wines, FairviewBaggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Matson’s, Cork)

luis seabra vinhos xisto ilimitado

Luís Seabra makes a fantastic range of wines in Portugal’s north, the Douro Valley and Vinho Verde regions.  His Douro wines are very different from the normal big reds found there, with lots of fruit, oak, tannin and alcohol.  His wines are lighter and judiciously oaked, but don’t lack in flavour or length.  As “Xisto” is the Portugese for “schist”, it’s not too hard to guess what type of soil the vines are planted in!

This 2016 is a blend of several grapes, some of which are coplanted in old and almost forgotten plots: 30% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Amarela, 20% Tinta Roriz, 10% Rufete, 10% Tinta Barroca, 5% Malvasia Preta and 5% Donzelinho Tinto.  Luís’s approach to grape variety selection and winemaking both lead to his wines being very interesting and very fresh.

I was browsing some new additions to the shelves of Baggot Street Wines in early 2018 and noticed several wines from Luis Seabra in Portugal.  What really caught my eye was the “REPROVADO / DISAPPROVED” warning notice on the back label of the 2015 Tinto – the first time I had ever seen anything like that on a wine label.

Speaking to the man himself a few weeks later at the Vinostito portfolio tasting, he recounted that when the wine was not allowed the Douro classification due to being “untypical” of the region, he sought permission to  put a warning label on.  The wine authorities had never received such a request previously, but they allowed it.

For the 2016 vintage (above) the Tinto was immediately given the Douro badge – I think the wine authorities learned their lesson!

 

The SPIT series:

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 2 – Nomad)

nomad

While WineMason’s specialities are Portugal, Austria, Germany and South Africa, Nomad is a Burgundy specialist outfit.  Of course, the range has seen additions from other regions – particularly in France – but Burgundy is still at the heart of the portfolio.  As with all of the SPIT crew, Nomad’s wines are generally from small producers who practise sustainable, organic or biodynamic viticulture, but they remain fairly conventional – though excellent – in taste.

Here are five of Nomad’s best that caught my eye at SPIT.

Leclerc Briant Champagne Brut Reserve NV (12.0%, RRP €62.00 at SIYPS; 64 Wine, Glasthule & Green Man Wines, Terenure)

leclerc briant brut reserve

Leclerc Briant was the first organic and biodynamic producer in Champagne – no mean feat when the cool and sometimes damp climate is taken into account.  They are based in the Vallée de la Marne where Pinot Meunier is most at home, and it shows in the blend: 65% Pinot Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay.

30 months on the lees (double the minimum requirements for a non vintage Champagne) softens out the wine somewhat, meaning that a low dosage of 4g/L is all that’s required.  The Pinot(s) dominance really comes through in the red fruits flavour profile – raspberry, redcurrant and cranberry.  A lively, clean and refreshing Champagne!

Domaine des Ardoisieres Vin des Allobroges-Cevins “Schiste” 2015 (12.0%, RRP €51.00 at SIYPS, Martins Off-Licence, Fairview & Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown)

domaine des ardoisieres schiste

If Tolkein’s Dwarves drank a wine, it would be from Savoie, made in the shadow of Mont Blanc.  Like the other wines in Brice Omont’s biodynamic range, Schiste is labelled after the soil type on which it is grown.  The grapes are a mix of the fairly well-known and the almost unknown: 40% Jacquère, 30% Roussanne, 20% Malvasia and 10% Mondeuse.

My Tolkein reference might be far-fetched, but there is definitely something other-worldly about this wine.  It somehow manages to combine butter and sweet stone fruits with zippy citrus, and has a very long, soothing finish.  A remarkable wine!

Domaine JB Ponsot Rully “En Bas de Vauvry” 2016 (13.0%, RRP €29.90 at SIYPSGreen Man Wines, Terenure, Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown)

jean-baptiste ponsot rully

As vineyard and grape prices have rocketed in Burgundy’s heartland of the Côte d’Or, many producers have been looking further south to the Maconnais where costs are much lower, but the astute have also been investing in the Côte Chalonnaise which lies in between the two.  Rully is my favourite village from the Chalonnaise, and in good hands can produce some seriously good wine.

BOOM!!  This is one of the best wines I tasted in the last twelve months*.

I’ve enjoyed previous vintages of Ponsot’s Rully, but this is easily my favourite yet.  It has a mesmerising nose of pear and peach; they follow through onto the palate and are joined by apricot, apple and a hint of citrus.  It’s soft, gently oaked and obviously young, but drinking so well at the moment.  Decant it or use a big glass – you won’t rue your choice!**

Domaine Bachelet-Monnot Puligny Montrachet 2016 (13.0%, RRP €79.00 at SIYPS and Martins Off-Licence, Fairview)

bachelet-monnot puligny-montrachet

After the exuberance of the Rully, we now take a step back to enjoy the power and elegance of an excellent Puligny-Montrachet.  There are some obvious oak notes on the nose, smoky and leesy, with soft pip fruit and citrus on the palate.  It’s still quite tight – probably a criminal offense to drink right now – but if I had a few bottles I would take the risk and enjoy!

Domaine Audoin Marsannay Cuvée Marie Ragonneau 2015 (13.0%, RRP €42.00 at SIYPS and 64 Wine, Glasthule)

domaine audoin marsannay cuvee marie ragonneau

Marsannay is the most northerly village-level appellation in the Côte de Nuits, extending almost into Dijon itself, and the most recent as it was created in 1987.  It is also the only Burgundy village appellation which can produce the trio of red, white and rosé wines.

Domaine Audoin’s Marsannay is somewhat serious and savoury, but what a wine!  A complex melange of red and black fruit, plenty of acidity and fine tannins.  It might sound strange to the average wine drinker, but this €40+ Burgundy is great value for money!

 

The SPIT series:

 

* Actual tasting note includes the sentence “F*cking hell, that’s a bit of all right, innit?” Perhaps my notes were scribbled on by a passing cockney…

** Sorry

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 1 – WineMason)

spit

SPIT is actually an acronym for Specialist Professional Independent Tasting, but to be honest that’s too much of a mouthful so I will stick to the shorter version.  SPIT brings together four of the best independent wine importers working in Ireland with trade tastings in Cork and Dublin plus an evening consumer event in Dublin.  This series of posts will cover some of my favourite wines tasted at the most recent SPIT fest in Dublin.

First up is WineMason:

wine-mason-logo

WineMason is an importer and agent of original and distinctive wines from Germany, Portugal, Austria, Spain, France, Italy and South Africa. We work with 50 wineries over 8 countries and have listed just under 300 wines. We distribute these wines to Ireland’s best restaurants, winebars and independent retailers. We help shape and build tailored wine lists for the on and off trade that are exciting, well priced and trending. From emerging wine regions to discovering the potential of local grape varieties, we are constantly evolving with the ever-changing wine world and we work to reflect this in the wines we sell.

Niepoort Redoma Douro Branco 2017 (13.0%, RRP €23.50 at  Redmonds of Ranalagh; SIYPS; Morton’s; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Blackrock Cellar)

niepoort redoma branco

Niepoort is one of the few famous Port houses which doesn’t have an English family name.  In fact their origins are Dutch, and fifth generation Dirk van der Niepoort has been head of the business since his father retired in 2005.  Niepoort are more than just a Port house, though; they make fantastic dry reds in the Douro, including some fairly eccentric wines such as Clos de Crappe.

And this is something else again, a Douro white made from a wonderous blend of local grapes: Rabigato, Códega do Larinho, Viosinho, Donzelinho and Gouveio.  It has a lovely, round texture but isn’t heavy – it dances around the tongue with sweet stone and pip fruit.

Keermont Terrasse Stellenbosch 2015 (13.5% RRP €29.50 at The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; SIYPS)

keermont terasse

The Keermont range so fantastic across the board that it was difficult to narrow my selection down at all.  The delightful white terrasse blocksblend “Terrasse” begged for inclusion, really punching above its weight.  The blend is 56% Chenin Blanc then roughly equal parts Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Helpfully, the Keermont website features this table of which blocks and which varieties are used in the 2015 vintage.  Each component is barrel fermented and matured separately, then blended before bottling.  Each variety adds something to the wine (which is the point of blends, I suppose) – there’s spiciness, fruit, acidity and richness all humming along together in harmony.

Keermont Stellenbosch Estate Reserve 2012 (14.5%, RRP €37.00 at Gibneys, Malahide; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; Blackrock Cellar)

keermont estate reserve

estate reserve blocks

The block figures on the right are for the 2013 vintage so there might be some small differences for the 2012 tasted, but the Estate Reserve is pretty much a red Bordeaux blend with a splash of Syrah.  The 2012 is nicely settled in now, still showing lots of pristine black fruit and a very Graves-like graphite edge.  The main difference between this wine and an actual red from Bordeaux is not the splash of Syrah – it’s that to get this amount of fruit and complexity from Bordeaux you’d have to pay double or more!

Keermont Topside Syrah 2014 (13.5%, RRP €53.00 at The Corkscrew, Chatham St. (also poured at Forest & Marcy))

keermont topside syrah

The previous two wines are from the “Keermont” range, sitting in the middle of the hierarchy above the “Companion” wines and below the “Single Vineyard” series.  Now we have one of the latter, which also features a Chenin Blanc, a Cabernet Franc and another (“Steepside”) Syrah.  The Topside Vineyard is well named, being high up on the west-facing slopes of the Stellenbosch Mountain Range.  The soil is mainly rock with some patches of sand, and with the altitude of 350 – 400m the wines grown here have a real freshness to them.  Compared to the Steepside, the Topside sees less oak (used 500 litre barrels only), has a full percent less alcohol and has more acidity.  There’s a place for both, but for me the Topside shows some of the best aspects of warm climate and cool climate Syrah in the same wine.  Bravo!

Emrich-Schönleber Halenberg Großes Gewächs (12.5%,  RRP €65.00 at 64 Wine (also poured at Dromoland Castle))

emrich-schonleber halenberg gg

Separate from the potential sweetness-based Prädikat system (which goes from Kabinett to Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short)), members of the VDP* may also be able to use the relatively new terms Erstes Gewächs or Großes Gewächs (GG) for their best dry wines.  I have to confess that I didn’t really understand the first few GG wines I tried – they were sort of nice but not exactly delicious drinking – and given their premium prices that put me off somewhat.

This wine, with more syllables than you shake a stick at,  shows me what I was missing out on.  With a few years behind it this Halenberg Riesling starts to reveal what a great GG can do.  There’s amazing sweet fruit on the attack and mid-palate, extraordinary length and a mineral, dry finish.

*VDP stands for Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter, so let’s just keep using VDP!

 

The SPIT series:

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 2)

Part 1 covered some fantastic northern Rhône reds to try this autumn.  Now we move onto the most famous appellation of the Rhône – and possibly the whole of France – Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Although aspects of quality are built in to the AOC rules, it doesn’t mean the wines are always great – some negotiants have released wines which aren’t balanced and do the CNDP name little good – they are usually found in discount supermarkets.  Thankfully there are quality conscious producers who make outstanding wines that show why Châteauneuf is held in such high regard.

Mas Saint-Louis Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (14.0%, RRP €36.00 at Searsons)

chateauneuf-du-pape mas saint louis

Tasted among its peers this wine stands out for its lightness and elegance rather than its power – in fact its appellation would be a surprise to many as it is perhaps more like a Pommard than a typical blockbuster CNDP.  The blend here is 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah and the remaining 15% a mix of Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Picpoul Noir.

Red and black fruits abound, but it is the beguiling manner of their delivery which is so compelling.  With a touch of spice and a long finish, this is the Châteauneuf that you will want to keep as a secret!

Domaine Roche-Audran Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (14.0%, RRP €49.00 at 64 Wine)

Roche Audran Chateauneuf du pape

Domaine Roche-Audran was set up as recently as 1998, but began biodynamic practices soon after in 2006.  They have three distinct terroirs, and it’s the third of a hectare in Châteauneuf-du-Pape which concerns us here, described as “molassic sand covered with round pebbles originating from the river Rhône”.  Sand loses heat quickly so the vines get something of a rest at night, helping to preserve acidity and delicacy.

Quite unusually for CNDP the Roche-Audran vineyard is 100% Grenache – it’s only due to the sandy soil that it doesn’t become over-ripe and over-alcoholic.  The vines are 60 years of age and cropped at 28 hl/ha.

The result is a gentle, enticing, inviting and seductive wine.  It slips down the throat and demands another glass be consumed.  Although the alcohol is not that high for the area it’s an intoxicating wine.

Domaine André Brunel “Les Cailloux” Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2013 (14.0%, RRP €45.55 at Karwig Wines)

Andre Brunel CNDP Les Cailloux

“Cailloux” are river-rounded stones, not quite as big as the famous “galets” pudding stones of the area, but serving a similar function of maintaining easy drainage and thus keeping the vines on their toes.

The Brunel family have been making wine in the area since the 17th century, but things were put on a more serious footing in 1954 when Lucien Brunel set up the Les Cailloux label.  His son André took over in 1971 and expanded the family’s holdings into other Rhône areas, but also introducing several innovations – he among was the first in CNDP to do away with chemicals in the vineyard and also created the super-premium “Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire”.  André’s son Fabrice joined in 2012 to keep the family tradition going.

Les Cailloux Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre; my tasting notes for this wine are compact and bijou – bloody amazing!  It’s smooth and fluid, a real pleasure to drink and it doesn’t bash you over the head!

Domaine de Mourchon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 (15.0%, RRP €39.00)

Mourchon CNDP

Situated just outside the beautiful village of Séguret, Domaine de Mourchon has vines around the winery and in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Their flagship wine is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah – a slight re-ordering of the typical GSM blend.  The vines range from 60 to 80 years old and are planted on sandy soils and in “le Crau” lieu-dit.  Maturation is for 12 months split between demi-muid 600L barrels (70%) and concrete tanks (30%).

This is an amazingly perfumed wine – one that you hesitate to taste as it would interrupt your appreciation of the aromas – but once you have tasted you delight in its lithe red fruit and exotic spices.  The stated alcohol is fairly punchy at 15%, but it never stands out as the wine wears it very well.  Such a fine wine!

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 1)

With apologies to Keats, autumn is the time when many light wines are forsaken and more substantial wines are poured in their stead, especially fruity and more generous reds.  Rhône Valley reds fit the bill perfectly!

This first part looks at some of the best northern Rhône reds, while part two will consider a selection from the southern Rhône.

Domaine Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2016 (13.0%, RRP €35.00 at SIYPS)

Domaine Graillot Crozes Hermitage

Crozes-Hermitage often lives in the shadow of Hermitage proper, both literally and quality wise.  There are often good value wines to be had but they can be disappointing compared to their big brother on the hill.  Domaine Graillot is an exception – an exceptional wine no matter how humble its origins.

This is a rich, dense, chewy wine full of black fruits, spice and tapenade savoury character.  It’s closer to a serious Saint-Joseph than any other Crozes I’ve tried!

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin Côte Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur 2012 (13.0%, RRP €49.99 at JN Wine)

Gerin Cote Rotie

Côte Rôtie is the most northern of the northern Rhône’s eight crus and possibly the most famous.  It is also the origin of adding a dash of Viognier into Syrah to soften it and add floral aromas to the wine – a practice that has been followed in the new world, particularly South Africa.  Traditionally, the two grapes were planted together, then harvested and vinified together – extracting more from the Viognier skins than if they had been fermented as white wine and then blended in.

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin was set up as recently as 1983 but the family has lived in Ampuis for six generations.  The first vines planted were in Côte Rôtie but the Domaine has since expanded beyond that appellation’s boundaries.  Champin Le Seigneur is the more affordable of Gerin’s Côte Rôtie wines, though obviously everything is relative!  With 5% Viognier added to the Syrah it has an ethereal quality – that indefinable lightness and sophistication that makes wine so special.

Cave de Tain “Grand Classique” Hermitage 2007 (13.0%, RRP €55.00 at O’Briens)

Cave de Tain Hermitage

From the only co-operative in Hermitage, this 2007 is absolutely à point, a perfect example of northern Rhône Syrah.  Relatively light, it still has some fine tannins and plenty of acidity – a fine structure.  There’s still plenty of fruit, too – both red and black – but also savoury notes which enhance its appeal.  Get yourself a thick piece of rib-eye steak and a super evening awaits.

Domaine Marc Sorrel “Le Gréal” Hermitage 1997 (13.0%, RRP €98.65 at Karwig Wines)

Marc Sorrel Hermitage

Those who have read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code book or seen the subsequent film may remember that “Le Gréal” is “The [Holy] Grail” which is possibly Marc Sorrel’s way of telling us that this wine is rather good – though more prosaically it is also a portmanteau of  Les Greffieux and Le Méal, two of the best plots from which grapes are sourced for this premium bottling.  Sorrel is a traditionalist, with mainly whole bunch fermentation in old oak, and his wines need some age before they are at their best.

The 1997 here has had plenty of time, but is still lively and has some years ahead of it.  10% Marsanne was added in the 1997 vintage (15% being the maximum per AOC regulations) which adds elegance.  There’s still power, but tempered by time, resulting in one of the smoothest wines known to man.