Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Cataldi Madonna Pecorino Giulia 2019

When particular wines become a commodity it can be hard for quality producers to sell their wines for a price that reflects their efforts and costs.  One rule of thumb is that, if there is a “Tesco Finest” example of a wine then it’s already close to a commodity.  Two principal ways of overcoming this barrier are:

  1. Brand marketing
  2. Stand-out quality

Brand marketing is expensive and really only worthwhile to large scale producers.  These producers will often have distinct quality levels among their wines.  Brancott Estate and Villa Maria of New Zealand spring to mind.

By “stand-out quality” I mean that a producer who focuses on improving quality year on year may – eventually – be sought out as one of the best examples of their particular wine.  One example is Villa des Crois Picpoul de Pinet.  Before tasting this I couldn’t have imagined that premium Picpoul could exist.  In fairness, it is still modestly priced for a quality white wine, but it does command a premium over other Picpouls.

So now we move onto the questions: What is Pecorino like?  Where is Pecorino grown?

Pecorino

According to Jancis, Julia and José’s book Wine Grapes1, Pecorino is a very old grape from the Marche in central Italy, possibly even domesticated from wild grapes of the area.  The wine has no connection with Pecorino cheese; the cheese is just made from sheep’s milk and the grapes are said to have been popular with grazing sheep (Pecora)2.  It was widespread up to the end of the 19th century but fell out of favour.

The story of the rediscovery of Pecorino in the last quarter of the 20th century has a few different versions.  Luigi Cataldi Madonna (see below) claims that his friend Vincenzo Aquilano found some 80 year old vines in 1983 and that he (Luigi) was bowled over by an experimental wine made from it in 1990.  Wine Grapes credits Guido Cocci Grifoni as resurrecting the grape in the 1980s, though that producer’s website gives 1975 as their first year of making Pecorino wines.

One of the main characteristics of Pecorino is its high, sometimes bracing, acidity.  It naturally produces low yields (which is a likely reason it fell out of favour) but is strongly resistant to both downy and powdery mildew.

Cataldi Madonna

Cataldi Madonna is located on the “Forno d’Abruzzo” plateau, a hot subregion which receives cooling downdrafts from the most southerly glacier in the northern hemisphere.  The vines cover 30 hectares and are situated between 320 and 440 metres above sealevel.

The business was founded in 1920 by Baron Luigi Cataldi Madonna, but didn’t bottle wine until 1975 under the founder’s son Antonio.  Antonio totally modernised the vineyards and production facilities, bringing it right up to date.  The next generation saw Antonio’s nephew Luigi take over the business in 1990.  He transformed the house even further and made it one of the best respected wineries of Abruzzo.

As mentioned above, Luigi first tasted Pecorino in 1990 and immediately planted his own vines.  The variety became a calling card of Cataldi Madonna and is currently available in three versions.  Luigi’s daughter Giulia became the fourth generation of the family to run the business when she recently took over the reins.

Cataldi Madonna Pecorino Giulia 2019 

This is the middle Pecorino of Cataldi Madonna, with a bag-in-box base wine and the SuperGiulia premium wine.  They are all Pecorino IGT Terre Aquilane.  Giulia was created by Luigi to celebrate the 18th birthday of his daughter Giulia.  The wine is 100% Pecorino from vines planted in 2001 at 380 metres on clay loam soil.

Opened young and straight from the fridge, this wine is somewhat muted on the nose, with light citrus notes to be found.  The palate is dominated by bright, I mean BRIGHT citrus notes and a real zap of acidity.  But then, if you’re not a complete amateur like me, given some time and air it opens up a little on the nose and especially on the palate.  The acidity settles down, remaining fresh but not jarring.  The citrus notes unfurl into lime, lemon and grapefruit, and are accompanied by some pear and tropical fruits.

This wine loves to take you on a journey, and the delicious destination is worth the price of the ticket!

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €25
  • Stockists: Deveneys, Dundrum; McHughs, Kilbarrack; D-Six Off Licence; Baggot Street Wines
  • Source: media sample

1Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours – Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, José Vouillamoz

2No relation to Pakoras, either

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay

Before the arrival of this wine into Dublin I have to confess that I was only distantly aware of Wente Vineyards and their home of Livermore Valley in California’s Central Coast.  The two are inextricably linked, but first here’s a map for us to get our bearings:

Livermore Valley in California

 

As you can see, Livermore Valley is at the top of the Central Coast region, across the Bay from San Francisco.  Cooling sea breezes and fogs from San Francisco Bay give the valley more significant diurnal temperature variation, helpful for producing quality wine.

Although not that well known today – in Europe at least – grapes were first planted in Livermore in the 1840s, before the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and well before phylloxera devastated European vineyards.

There was a flurry of winery openings in the 1880s, with Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 followed by Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards in 1883.  Colcannon and Wente are still in operation today, with Wente being the biggest.  In fact, it was Wente who ended up buying the land that Cresta Blanca had used and replanted it after decades of being barren.

Livermore Valley’s influence on Californian wine extended beyond its immediate borders:

  1. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
  2. Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
  3. As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay

Wente Vineyards

Wente Vineyards are proud of their status as “the country’s longest, continuously operated family-owned winery”.  They have now reached five generations of family winegrowers:

  1. Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
  2. Ernest Wente imported Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier in 1912 and established the Wente Clone.  His brother Herman Wente helped to found the California Wine Institute in 1936
  3. Karl L. Wente joined the business in 1949 and greatly expanded US and international distribution.  He also expanded the family’s holdings into Arroyo Secco (Monterey)
  4. Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
  5. Christine, Karl, Jordan, Niki and Aly Wente hold various positions in the business

Not content to simply fall back on with their long history, Wente are also embracing the future with the first ever virtual wine tasting accessed through Alexa or Google.

In addition to producing wine the estate also features a restaurant, 18 hole golf course and concert venue.  But it’s the wine that matters most to us!  The Wente wine portfolio consists of several ranges.  In approximate order of most to least expensive they are:

  • The Nth Degree
  • Small Lot
  • Single Vineyard
  • Wente Winemakers Studio
  • Estate Grown

It’s not unusual for Estate wines to be the top range in a producer’s portfolio, so this indicates a high quality level.  To evaluate this theory we now turn to a specific wine from the Estate Grown range.

Disclosure: This bottle was kindly provided as a sample

Wente Morning Fog Livermore Valley Chardonnay 2018

Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay from Livermore Valley

The Wente Vineyards “Morning Fog” Livermore Valley Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Karl Wente.  Its name evokes the fogs that roll across San Francisco Bay and into the east-west trained vines of Livermore Valley.  Various Wente Chardonnay clones are used, including “Old Wente” which have been propagated without going though heat treatment at UC Davis.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately.

After the grapes are pressed the must is split into two parts: 50% is fermented in old American oak and 50% is fermented in stainless steel tanks.  The barrel fermented portion remains in those containers for five months and undergoes monthly lees stirring.  The Inox portion is split further; half remains on its lees and receives bâtonnage while half is racked into clean tanks.  All vessels are then blended together before bottling.

When poured the wine is lemon, not as deep as some other (more oaky) Chardonnays.  It’s highly aromatic on the nose – helped by 2% Gewürztraminer – full of toasty, leesy notes and fresh citrus.  The palate is fresh and clean, but with lovely texture.  Unlike some Cali Chardonnays, the texture doesn’t get in the way of the wine or stand out awkwardly, but rather comes along for the journey.  There’s a fine mineral streak through the wine and a fresh finish.

Overall this is a very well put together wine, rising above many confected and manufactured rivals at this price point.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €27
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Jus de Vine; Lotts and Co; Martins Off Licence; McHughs Kilbarrack and Malahide; Mitchell and Son Glasthule and CHQ; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Power & Co Fine Wines; Sweeney’s D3; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock
Make Mine A Double

Shining Lights [Make Mine a Double #66]

I’m in the very lucky position where I get to try lots of good and great wines on a regular basis, many of them sent as samples (especially in 2020!)  Sometimes, even among these wines, a few shine even brighter than the rest.  It’s often hard to put into words what makes them so special, though I do try.  Here are a couple of (unrelated) wines which stood out even in good company:

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own

Elgin Ridge 282 Elgin Chardonnay 2018

Elgin is South Africa’s coolest climate wine region, located about an hour’s drive south east of Cape Town.  Although now an exciting area for grapes, for many years it was known almost exclusively for its orchards, particularly apples and pears1; as a rule of thumb, agricultural land which is suitable for orchards is generally suitable for grapes.  Elgin is even cool enough for Riesling, with Paul Cluver’s wines leading the charge.

Elgin Ridge is the only winery in Elgin to be both certified organic and certified biodynamic (there is one other which is solely biodynamic).  It was founded by Brian and Marion Smith on the site of a former small (ten hectare) apple farm in 2007 and has remained in family hands since.  Their aim is to be self sufficient in terms of inputs (biodynamic preparations and cow manure) using sheep to control weeds and ducks to control insects and snails.

The figure 282 in the name of this wine, their flagship Chardonnay, refers to the vineyard’s altitude of 282 metres above sea level.  It pours lemon in the glass and initial aromas are predominantly of toasted coconut, indicating a fair bit of oak ageing.  Absolutely heavenly, if you like that sort of thing – which I do!  The coconut gives way to fabulous orchard fruits(!), smoke and spices.  On the palate this is a rich wine, with integrated oak and stone fruits and a touch of butterscotch.  There’s plenty of body and flavour, but this is no big butter bomb as there is a certain elegance and lightness to the finish.  In terms of style this brought to mind excellent southern hemisphere Chardonnays such as Smith + Shaw’s Adelaide Hills M3 and Man O’War’s Waiheke Island Valhalla.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €25.53
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Domaine Fournier Sancerre Les Belles Vignes 2019

For some reason 2020 has been the year of Sancerre for me, with lots of very enjoyable bottles showing that the average standard in the region is very high.  Even among those, this baby stood out.  But first a bit of background.

The maison mère2(!) is Fournier Père et Fils – to give it its full name – under which there are four Domaines:

  • Domaine Fournier (Sancerre &c.)
  • Domaine de Saint Romble (Sancerre)
  • Domaine des Berthiers (Pouilly-Fumé)
  • Domaine Paul Corneau (Pouilly-Fumé)

The full range of Domaine Fournier is detailed below.  As you might expect from one of the “Cuvées Appellations”, this wine is made from vines planted on the three key soil types of Sancerre: Silex, Caillottes and Terres Blanches.  The nose opens with ripe peach but also peach stone, sweet fruit reined in by acidity and a pleasant tartness.  On the palate there’s more fruit but on the citrus side of the spectrum, along with a touch of mown grass and green bell pepper.  Don’t mistake this for a Touraine Sauvignon plus, though; this is a smooth and gentle wine which showcases its different flavours on a long journey through your mouth.  A superior Sancerre.


The portfolio of Domaine Fournier comes under eight different labels:

  • Cuvées Grand Caillou: Sauvignon, Pinot Noir
  • Cuvées F: Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sauvignon
  • Cuvées Mmm: Rosé, Chenin
  • Cuvées Appellations: Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Rouge, Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Rosé, Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Blanc, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Rosé, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Rouge, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Blanc, Pouilly-Fumé “Les Deux Cailloux”, Pouilly Sur Loire “Les Marnes”
  • Cuvée Terroirs: Cuvée Silex, Cuvée Les Terres Blanches
  • Grandes Cuvées: Sancerre “L’Ancienne Vigne” Rouge, Pouilly-Fumé Grande Cuvée, Sancerre “La Chaudouillonne”, Sancerre “L’Ancienne Vigne Blanc
  • Single Vineyard Wines: Sancerre “Les Boffants”, Sancerre “Monts Damnés”
  • Cuvées Exceptionnelles: Menetou Salon Rouge “Sourire Aux Anges”, Sancerre “No. 22”, Sancerre “Vendanges d’Hélène”

1no cockney rhyming slang here, thank you

2French for parent company, literally “mother house”, which is a little ironic as it’s a “father and son” operation.

 

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

Information, Single Bottle Review

Pignolo, The Lazarus Grape

Have you heard of Pignolo?  I hadn’t until recently – when I tasted the wine below) – though I since spotted it in one of my friend Cara Rutherford’s posts.  Now I could be forgiven for this as I’m no expert on Italian wines, though Pignolo does feature as one of Jancis, Julia and José’s 1,368 Wine Grapes.  However, it nearly disappeared after its native Friuli was ravaged by phylloxera over a century ago, and it was forgotten about; low yielding vines and susceptibility to powdery mildew put it at a disadvantage when it came to replanting.

Fast forward to the 1970s and Pignolo vines were found (on their own rootstocks) at the Abbey of Rosazzo.  Cuttings were taken from these hundred plus year old vines and a new vineyard planted by Girolamo Dorigo (no relation to the former England footballer Tony Dorigo, to the best of my knowledge).  Other producers in Friuli have since planted Pignolo so that a tiny 20 hectares in 2000 had grown to (a still modest) 93 hectares in 2010 (let’s not ask about 2020 just yet!)

I had the opportunity to taste Dorigo’s Pignolo earlier this year and I was astounded at its expressiveness and quality:

Dorigo Friuli Colli Orientali Pignolo 2015

Pignolo

 

On pouring it shows a medium intensity, more red than black, and a lighter garnet towards the rim.

The nose is just amazing.  Firstly there is new oak, not as you would typically find it in a wine’s aromas, but rather more like being in a Médoc chais.  If you’ve ever had the chance to be in such an establishment the oak is lifted, intertwined with evaporating alcohol from the wine.  Freshly made milk chocolate and lightly roasted coffee and exotic spices (so exotic, in fact, that they are hard to pin down!)

The aromas continue through to the palate, though the oak is a little more pronounced now but fresh raspberries, cranberries and alpine strawberries have joined the fray.  The palate is super-smooth, with gentle tannins just hovering in the background.  Acidity is firm but not intrusive, just giving a fresh aspect to the ripe fruit flavours.

This is still a very young wine, especially in magnum, which will develop gracefully over the next few decades.  Even in this youthful stage, I have to include it among the top five wines I’ve ever tasted and declare it as the best nose on any red wine I’ve tasted, ever.  This wine is made in very small quantities but if you ever get chance to enjoy a bottle chais vous (you see what I did there?) then you owe it to yourself to snap it up!

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €60 bottle / €120 magnum
  • Stockists: Deveney’s of Dundrum (magnum)

 

 

Single Bottle Review

Classic and Classy: Fritz Haag Riesling

My love for Alsace wines – especially its Rieslings – is without parallel, yet even I am forced to concede: Other Rieslings Are Available!  Given the grape’s Germanic origins and it’s position as the most widely planted grape there (23% of vineyard area as of 2015) it is only fair to look to Germany.  Of all Germany’s 13 wine regions, for me the most synonymous with quality Riesling is the Mosel.

The Mosel wine region had SaarRuwer appended to its name until 1st August 2007, and those two names still account for two of the six Mosel Districts (Bereiche).   Also, adjacent to Luxembourg, the Obermosel and Moseltor Districts are home to modest wines – still and sparkling – made from Elbing and other “lesser” grapes.  The final two Mosel Districts are the most important.  The Berg Cochem District is also known as the Terraced Mosel (Terrassenmosel) as many of its slopes are incredibly steep and are terraced so that they can be worked.  The final District is Bernkastel which includes the famous sundial vineyards.

The Haag family have run their estate in Brauneberg, Bernkastel District,  since 1605.  I have previously reviewed their Brauneberger Juffer Grosses Gewächs Riesling and Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel.  Now I turn to their “entry level” dry Riesling.

Disclosure: bottle was kindly given as a sample, opinions remain my own

Fritz Haag Mosel Riesling Trocken 2018

fritz-haag-riesling-trocken

Weingut Fritz Haag hand pick their Riesling grapes for this wine from their slate-soil vineyards around their home base of Brauneberg.  Fermentation takes place in both large wooden vats (for a touch of roundness) and stainless-steel tanks (for freshness).  As many who are fluent in wine know “Trocken” means dry in German, so the fermentation is not stopped early to make the wine sweet (although Fritz Haag does make some brilliant sweet wines).

This estate Riesling pours a light lemon in the glass.  The nose is full of citrus with lifted mineral tones – and unmistakable Riesling character.

The measured residual sugar is 7.5 g/L which would be creeping into off-dry territory for some grapes, but set against this Riesling’s acidity it merely tames the zing a little and brings out the fruitiness of the wine.

On the palate we find fleshy lime, grapefruit and peach combined – you don’t taste them individually but there’s a new super-fruit that combines all their characteristics!  Light and lithe, a wine that dances on your tongue before disappearing down your throat.  Once in your stomach it sends a direct signal to your brain for another taste!  The finish is dry as you’d expect from a Trocken wine, but the fruit sweetness in the mid-palate banishes any thoughts of this being too dry.

The TL;DR review: tastes of deliciousness!

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RS: 7.5 g/L
  • RRP: €23
  • Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf wines; F.X. Buckley Victualler & Grocer; Jus de Vine; McHugh’s Off-Licences, Kilbarrack Rd & Malahide Rd; Nectar Wines; The Vintry; The Wine Pair; Sweeney’s D3; Avoca Ballsbridge; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Drink Store Stoneybatter; Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Lotts & Co.; Martins Off Licence; Terroirs, Donnybrook