While very privileged to regularly taste new wines that expand the boundaries of my wine knowledge, it’s also nice once in a while to pop the cork on an old favourite; pleasure can come from familiarity as well as discovery. Here are two old friends of mine:
Loosen Dr L Riesling 2015 (8.5%, €14.00 at Morton’s Ranelagh, Jus de Vine Portmarknock, Nolan’s Clontarf)
Ernst Loosen is one of the bigger producers in Germany’s Mosel, a strong candidate for the best place in the world to make Riesling. He makes a wide range of wines from different vineyards, up to and including Grosses Gëwachs. The Dr L wines are blends from different sites designed to make an approachable, everyday style. There is a dry version but this is the off-dry to medium one with only 8.5% and a fair bit of residual sugar (43.2 g/L). Of course there’s plenty of acidity in the wine’s backbone so the sweetness enhances the racy lime and lemon fruit rather than being just sugary. The perfect introduction to Mosel Riesling!
Peter Lehmann Clancy’s Barossa Red Blend 2013 (14.5%, €12.99 at Londis Malahide, Morton’s Ranelagh, O’ Donoghues O/L Cork, The Drink Store Manor Street, Nolan’s Clontarf)
I’m a long-time admirer of Peter Lehmann wines as their varietal Barossa range were a treat for me when I got into Aussie wine in the mid to late 90s. More recently I’ve been lucky to taste the premium wines in the range, but this entry level red blend is still an enjoyable pour. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot – all from the Barossa Valley, and the relative proportions I’m sure change depending on the vintage.
While Cabernet is a slight favourite of mine ahead of Shiraz, the later does a good job of filling the hole in the mid palate which Cab can sometimes have (it’s not called the “doughnut grape” for nothing!) There’s lots of juicy blackcurrant and blackberry with spice and a mocha finish. This is a very appealing wine with a price that means you wouldn’t mind sharing it with “red wine drinkers” (people who say they love red wine but can’t name more than a handful!)
Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004 (14.5%, €20.00 at Sweeney’s – current vintages c. €35.00)
Like many large producers, Penfolds has distinct ranges of wine so that some sort of hierarchy can be recognised, especially when a handful of grape varieties are used for the majority of their best red wines. Bin 28 is part of the Penfolds Collection which includes the flagship Grange, Bin 707 and Yattarna wines.
Kalimna comes from the prestigious Barossa Valley Kalimna Vineyard which Penfolds bought in 1945 and was the original sole source of the grapes for this wine. Like the majority of Penfolds wines, it is now a multi-region, multi-vineyard blend, with that blend changing from year to year depending on the characteristics of the vintage and the fruit available to the winemakers.
Bin 28 was simply the name of the huge container that the wine was made in.
Although these wines are often drunk soon after release, the peak drinking window extends 15 to 20 years after vintage, so 2017 is a pretty good time to be drinking the 2004. Two rounds of duty increases plus a big swing in the AUD/EUR exchange rate mean that the €20 I paid for the 2004 some years ago looks like an incredible bargain!
The nose is full of fresh black fruit with a twist of spice, plus a slightly meaty edge. This follows through to the palate which shows blackberries and blueberries, lots of meat and black olive notes (umami heaven!) – though the fruit is still fresh rather than stewed or dried. There are still vanilla echoes from the American oak, though they are very much in the background rather than being dominant. There’s a little fine tannin remaining on the finish, but this adds to the savoury side rather than grippy.
This is a spectacular wine which is maturing but still has plenty of powerful fruit and could easily have lasted another five years.
Now it’s the turn for white wines to shine – here are ten of the best still dry whites which shone in 2016:
10. Feudo Luparello Sicilia Grillo – Viognier 2015
A novel blend of indigenous Sicilian and international grapes, this wine is more than the sum of its parts. Local Grillo is fresh and textured, more dry than fruity, whereas Viognier adds a voluptuous touch. This is how blended wines should work!
See herefor the full review (and the Nero d’Avola – Syrah blend!)
9. Nugan Estate Riverina Dreamer’s Chardonnay
A “supermarket wine” made from “unfashionable” Chardonnay in a region known for its bulk wines, on paper this wine should be pap – but it works, in fact it works a treat! In Ireland (at least) the main parameter for wine consumers in supermarkets in price, especially if a promotional offer is involved. Given the high rates of duty and tax squeezing the cost side of the equation it’s not easy to find everyday wines that are actually enjoyable (though plenty are drinkable).
Nugan Estate’s “Personality” Single Vineyard series ticks all the boxes for me, and this was narrowly my favourite of the lot. See herefor my review of the full range.
Although the label might look like an impressionist’s take on Health & Efficiency, the wine inside is fantastic – great with seafood, but gentle and fruity enough to be enjoyed on its own. If only all Albariños were this good!
The “other” white grape of Burgundy (ignoring the small amounts of Pinots Blanc and Gris) which is definitely a second class citizen, and is so poor on its own that the Kir cocktail was invented to find a palatable use for it – or so the received wisdom goes.
There’s some element of truth in this, but Aligoté is usually grown on less-favoured sites and with a focus on yields rather than flavour, so it takes a brave producer to break out of this cycle and give the grape the attention it deserves. The Goisot family are such a producer, based in the Sauvignon Blanc outpost of Saint-Bris. This Aligoté is unlike any other I have tasted – it actually has colour unlike most which are like pale water, and an intensity of white flower and spicy pear flavours which reveal the age of the vines.
6. Gaia Wild Ferment Santorini Assyrtiko 2013
When I put together a “wild” wine tasting for DNS Wine Club last year, there were a few obvious candidates that couldn’t possibly be missed from the line-up – this being one of them. I had recommended it several times in the past so I was hoping it would live up to its reputation – especially tasted blind – and it certainly did! Overall this was the favourite wine of the tasting, showing the funky flavours of wild yeast fermentation but still plenty of lovely citrus fruit and crisp acidity.
5. Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016
A common complaint levelled at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – and Marlborough in particular – is that “they all taste the same”. There is some truth in this – the aromatics are generally recognisable before the first glass has even been poured and they are never short of acidity – but if you taste different examples side by side then there are clear differences. The alternative styles of SB are another thing, of course, with wild yeast barrel fermentation and oak ageing used to make a different type of wine (see this article for more information).
4. Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
This isn’t a wine for everybody, but it’s a wine everybody should try at least once. Based mainly on Listan Blanco grapes from ten plots in Tenerife’s Valle de La Orotava, it’s so different that at first it’s hard to describe using everyday wine terms – it’s not fruity or buttery – perhaps nutty and waxy? Sounds strange, but it’s an interesting and very enjoyable wine.
3. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2014
Domaine Zinck’s Portrait Series wines are fine examples of regular AOC Alsace wines and show the town of Eguisheim in a good light. Take the step up to the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, however, and you move into different territory; not just in terms of the elevation of the vines, but a much more intense catalogue of aromas and flavours. Even a young example such as this 2014 is delightful, but with the capacity to age for a decade or two and continue developing.
2. Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011
Narrowly pipping its countryman, Sipp-Mack’s Grand Cru Riesling is from another exalted site: the Rosacker vineyard near Hunawihr, in between Ribeauvillé (where Trimbach is based) and Riquewihr (home to Hugel). It has both primary fruit and mineral notes, and performs fantastically at the table.
For such a stunning wine it is relatively inexpensive at around €30 retail. See herefor the full review.
1. Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014
When I have favourite wines that I taste regularly over the years, I try not to repeat myself too much in my Top 10 review articles. Given that I am lucky enough to taste several thousand wines over the course of an average year, it’s not such a difficult line to take…apart from M3!! The 2014 is still very young, but it’s a delight to drink now. Adelaide Hills is now possibly second to Tasmania for trendy cooler climate Aussie wines, but for me it’s still number one.
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:
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 herefor the full review.
9. Mas St Louis Châteauneuf du Pape 2012
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
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
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 herefor the full review.
6. Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013
“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 herefor the full review.
5. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014
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
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
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, accessibleBarolo. See here for the full review.
2. Penfolds Grange 2010
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 vintagewhen it reaches its peak in another decade or two.
1. Cascina Garitina Nizza 900
A wine to show that Barberacan 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.
When DNS Wine Club recently met to taste a few different Rieslings, two significant conclusions presented themselves:
Although Riesling can be very pleasant in the €15 – €20 bracket (in Ireland), it’s at €25+ where the wines start to be special
Despite normally being a 100% varietal, Riesling can taste incredibly different depending on where and how it is made.
Here are the three which really stood out:
Pewsey Vale The Contours Eden Valley Riesling 2010 (12.5%, €24.95 at The Corkscrew)
While the cool Clare Valley is celebrated as the home of most of Australia’s best Riesling, the higher parts of the Eden Valley are also favourable for the variety. Pewsey Vale winery can claim a number of firsts:
It was the first winery founded in (what is now) the Eden Valley in 1847
It was the first winery to plant Riesling in Australia (also in 1847)
It became the first winery in Australia to use the Stelvin screw cap closure in 1977
The Contours is Pewsey’s flagship single vineyard bottling that they only release five years after vintage as a “Museum Release” – so it already shows significant development. And that development shows most on the nose, an amazingly intense cocktail of toast, brioche, lime, sage and petrol. The palate is just a little less intense, but still beautiful.
Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011 (14.0%, €30.00 at Mitchell & Son)
As the DNS Wine Club had already held an Alsace tasting earlier in the year, and given my predilection for the region’s wines, I had intended not to include any Alsace wines in the Riesling tasting. However, I failed! As the Sipp Mack Vieilles Vignes Gewurztraminer showed so well previously I was minded to show the equivalent Riesling, but as stocks of that had not quite arrived in the shops from the docks I was “forced” to step up to the Grand Cru!
Of all the Rieslings we tried this had the highest alcohol at 14.0% – the Grand Cru sites get lots of sun (so the grapes develop lots of sugar) and Sipp Mack’s house style is to ferment until totally dry, so all the sugar is turned into alcohol. This Rosacker is super smooth, with appleand tangylimefruit plus chalky minerality. A profound wine.
Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel Riesling Spätlese 2013 (8.0%, €29.95 at The Corkscrew)
The Mosel is considered by some to be the ultimate region for Riesling, with steep slate-laden vineyards running down to the river. Being relatively far north makes the ripening season longer and so flavours get even more chance to develop. While there is a modern trend toward dry Riesling, for me the beauty still lies in the traditional sweeter wines such as this Spätlese (literally “late harvest”.
Sonnenuhr literally means “sun-hour” or “sun-clock”, but is better translated as sundial! The significance seems to be that the prime south facing sites were the ones where a sundial would work so they made sure to advertise the fact.
Even before pouring it was obvious that this wine was different from the others with its golden hues. Residual sugar is not “volatile” meaning it can’t be detected by the human nose, but the aromas of honey, soft stone fruit and flowerswere phenomenal. I did see one taster look shocked on first sniffing this wine – it’s that good! Although quite sweet on the palate this Spätlese was perfectly balanced with zingy acidity.
All three of these wines were excellent, and well worth the price tags. I would be extremely happy drinking any of them and all were well received by the club, but by a narrow margin the Max Ferd. Richter was declared wine of the night!
And here’s the musical reference from the article title…
Hunter Valley Semillon is rightly regarded as an “Australian Original”, with magnificent examples coming from Tyrrell’s, McWilliam’s and the like. Picked early in the harvest season it is generally light and fairly modest in alcohol – and, it has to be said, somewhat simple in flavour when young. However, over time it grows in complexity with layers of honey and toastiness added to the primary citrus. It often tastes oaked when it has been nowhere near an oak barrel.
Barossa Semillon, made around a thousand miles to the west, is a different beast entirely. The grapes are usually picked when fully ripe and maturation in oak barrels is common for Semillon, just as for Shiraz, Cabernet and Chardonnay.
The Barossa Valley is based around the small towns of Tanunda, Nuriootpa and Angaston, north east of Adelaide in the state of South Australia. It’s a very picturesque area – well yes, most wine regions are – but in particular shows the rich Germanic heritage of the area. The small village of Bethany is the home of Bethany Wines. It was the first part of the Barossa to be settled, with the Schrapel family planting their first vines in 1852. The family firm is now run by brothers Geoff and Robert Schrapel from the 5th generation and some of their children now forming the 6th generation.
Among the Bethany portfolio is this delicious Semillon. The alcohol is not that high at 12.5% but is a few pips higher than a traditional Hunter Valley Sem. During maturation it spent some time in French hogsheads which is definitely discernible, though not at all overdone. In both aromas and flavours there’s a blend of fresh citrus and mellow honey – and it’s totally delicious!
It’s sort of like drinking a dry Sauternes – which might sound funny, but actually makes a bit of sense when you consider that Semillon is one of the main grapes in Sauternes and is often barrel aged. And the G6 monicker? That refers to the 6th generation of the Schrapel family of course!
Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, and hence the colour pink. This often means that rosé wines are promoted at this time of year, but as they aren’t generally my thing I thought I would recommend a dozen wines of differing hues from O’Briens, who are offering 10% back on their loyalty card (or wine savings account as I call it).
These wines are mainly higher priced for which I make no excuse – these are treats for yourself and / or your significant other! Of course, they would make a nice treat for Mother’s Day or at any time of year…
Chateau Kirwan Margaux Troisième Cru 2010 (€95.00)
The last of Bordeaux’s fantastic four vintages within eleven years (2000, 2005 2009, 2010) allows this Margaux to show its class but be more approachable than in leaner years. You could keep this for another decade or two if you didn’t want to drink it yet. Decant for several hours after opening if you can, and serve with beef.
One of Penfolds’ top Cabernet Sauvignons which combines power, fruit and elegance. 2010 happened to be a great vintage in South Australia as well, so if you’re climbing the quality tree it’s a good time to do it. Being a Cab means it’s all about cassis, intense blackcurrant aromas and flavours, with some vanilla to go with it.
This is a very interesting wine for the geeks out there as it is a custom blend of parcels from well known appellations from around Bordeaux including Paulliac, Graves and Canon-Fronsac. It was created by JM Cazes group winemaker Daniel Llose and O’Briens Head of Wine Buying Lynne Coyle MW. Oh, and it tastes wonderful as well!
Ata Rangi is one of stars of Martinbrough, an hour or so drive from Wellington in the south of New Zealand’s North Island. Crimson is their second wine intended to be drunk while young rather than laid down, but it is first rate in quality. Beats any Pinot from France at this price point.
This isn’t a token rosé, it’s a proper Champagne which happens to be pink. Lanson’s house style is based on preventing / not encouraging malolactic fermentation in the base wines, meaning they remain fresh and zippy even after the secondary alcoholic fermentation which produces the fizz. Texture is key here as well, and the lovely red fruits have a savoury edge. You could even drink this with pork or veal. Great value when on offer.
Another Champagne which is even less expensive, but still a few steps above most Prosecco and Cava on the market. The regulations for non vintage Champagne stipulate a minimum of 15 months ageing on the lees, but the lovely toasty notes from this show it has significantly more than that. Punches well above its price.
The Loire Valley is home to a multitude of wine styles, including Crémant (traditional method sparkling) such as this. Made from internationally famous Chardonnay and local speciality Chenin, it doesn’t taste the same as Champagne – but then why should it? The quality makes it a valid alternative, not surprising when you learn that it’s owned by Bollinger!
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is a great way to get into serious quality Port without paying the full price for Vintage Port. Whereas the latter is bottled quickly after fermentation and laid down for many years, LBV spends time maturing in casks. There it slowly loses colour and tannin but gains complexity. Graham’s is one of the most celebrated Port Houses and their LBV is one of the benchmarks for the category.
Grand Cru Chablis is a very different beast from ordinary Chablis. It’s often oaked, though sympathetically rather than overpoweringly, and can develop astounding complexity. Among the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grand Crus, Les Clos is often regarded as the best of the best. At just over five years from vintage this is still a baby – it would be even better in another five years but it might be impossible to resist!
Pouilly-Fuissé is probably the best appellation of the Maconnais, Burgundy proper’s most southerly subregion which borders the north of Beaujolais. The white wines here are still Chardonnay, of course, but the southerly latitude gives it more weight and power than elsewhere in Burgundy. Oak is often used in generous proportions as the wine has the fruit to stand up to it. This Château-Fuissé is one of my favourites from the area!
It’s a Sauvignon Blanc, but then it’s not just a Sauvignon Blanc. Kevin Judd was the long time winemaker of Cloudy Bay, finally branching out on his own a few years ago. The wild yeast and partially oaking give this a very different sensibility from ordinary Sauvignons. It’s not for everybody, but those that like it, love it!
One of my favourite New Zealand wines, full stop. I have mentioned this wine several times over the past few years…mainly as I just can’t get enough of it! It’s made in Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay so has more weight than, say, a Marlborough Chardonnay, but still enough acidity to keep it from being flabby. Tropical fruit abounds here – just make sure you don’t drink it too cold!
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)
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:
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)
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)
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.
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)
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.
6. Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinère 2011 (€23.49, O’Briens)
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)
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.
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!
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)
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)
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!
Lionel Richie’s Commodores were easy on Sunday morning, but when it’s a bank holiday weekend it means Sunday evenings are even better than the mornings.
This Sunday evening I was invited to my brother-in-law Andrew’s for take out and wine – what a relaxing way to spend a Sunday evening – with the rider that his wine-loving friend Noel and family would also be there. Andrew sorted the food, and Noel provided most of the wine, with a bit chipped in from Andrew and myself.
Although it was easy, it was also a very enjoyable evening, with some cracking wines noted below. Where there is an Irish stockist listed on Wine Searcher I have added it, otherwise a UK stockist.
A good rule of thumb for Austrian Grüners is that the alcohol level is an indicator of the wine’s style, and so the 12.0% of this Birgit Eichinger proved true to be a light, summer-quaffing style. Fresh and light, it doesn’t scream its grape variety, but is remarkably easy to drink.
Pauillac is probably the most prestigious appellation on the Médoc peninsula, Bordeaux’s left bank with grand names and grander buildings. Three of the five First growths are in the commune – Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild – with world famous reputations and prices to match.
The small village of Saint-Lambert within the Commune of Pauillac is home to the much more modestly priced Château Gaudin. Its wines are very much true to the general Pauillac style, being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) with support from Merlot (10%) and Carménère (5%) plus tiny dashes of Petit Verdot and Malbec.
2009 was the middle year of three fantastic vintages within six years (2005 – 2009 – 2010) and was perfect for Cab Sauv. With such a high percentage of that grape one might think that five or six years from harvest is too short a time for a wine to be approachable, but this is already drinking fantastically now. The fruit is still dense and the evidence of 18 months ageing in new oak barrels is still apparent, but there’s no reason to wait!
Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010 (€55, O’Briens)
Made by widely admired superstar Bernard Magrez of Pessac’s Pape-Clement, La Tour Carnet was officially classed as a Fourth Growth in 1855. Debate as to the relevancy of that classification continues, but it is useful as a general indicator of quality.
Average vine-age is 30 years. The precise blend changes from year to year, but it is usually led by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with small contributions from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. After fermentation, 70% of the blend was aged on the lees in French oak barrels for 18 months (30% of which new) and the balance in stainless steel.
Although from a very good year, in comparison with the Ch. Gaudin above it was perhaps a little awkward and not quite sure what it wanted to be. A very nice drop which, with a bit of patience, might integrate more fully and blossom in a few years.
Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010 (GBP 40.42, Exel, €61.67 (2011) Millesima)
I have to confess I hadn’t heard of this wine before, but after asking the google it seems as though I really should have! Widely decorated, it’s a blend of 85% Sangioveto (the local name for Sangiovese) with 15% Malvasia Nera. The name “I Sodi” refers to land so steep and uneven that it has to be worked manually, not even using horses.
Castellare di Castellina was born in 1968 from the consolidation of five farms in the Chianti Classico region, and became solely owned by Paolo Panerai around ten years later. At that point he carried out a detailed survey of all the vines on the property so that the best genetic material could be selected.
Subsequently Paolo engaged in partnership with the University of Milan, the University of Florence and the Institute of San Michele all’Adige to carry out ongoing research on the best clones as well as the production of grapevines selected for the renovation of the vineyards.
On pouring I thought it very pleasant, but not amazing; very smooth and drinkable without bring special. However, after a bit of time in the glass it really started to open up, herbs and liquorice layers on top of cherries and blackberries. This is a fine wine that I will definitely be trying again.
An interjection between the reds, something sweet to go with dessert. From the pride of Ribeauvillé, this is a late harvest (that’s exactly what Vendanges Tardives means in French, or Spätlese in German) Gewurztraminer from 2001.
Probably not overly sweet in its youth, it is still sweeter than a normal Gewurz but is not at all “sticky”. The ageing process reduces the wine’s sweetness (though I have not yet found the mechanism) and there is still some acidity to offer balance. As you expect from Gewurz there’s a real floral aspect to it on the nose, with stone / white fruit such as peach and lychee on the palate.
It was actually a little too restrained for the chocolate brownie and ice cream dessert, but off itself was delicious. It’s showing no sign of slowing down at the moment so it might well make it as far as its 20th birthday.
Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2009 (€100, McHugh’s)
Giscours was a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification, but its fortunes have waxed and waned several times since, mainly as ownership has changed and more or less was put into the vineyards. Margaux is the most feminine of the Médoc’s big four appellations, often with a higher percentage of Merlot than the others and a certain silkiness to the wines.
For the whole Giscours estate’s 94 hectares under vine, the split of grape varieties is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Of course the Grand Vin receives a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon than the second and third wines, particularly in a good year such as 2009. The estate matures the Grand Vin in 100 % French oak barrels (fine grain and medium toast) for 15 to 18 months, 50% of which are new and 50% have had one previous use.
Although still relatively young, this was not dumb, tight or closed – it was already singing. Modern Claret is sometimes overdone in the search for Parker points and so needs a decade before approaching, but it wasn’t the case here. Perhaps this was infanticide on a wine that will go on to greatness, only time will tell.
Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998 (GBP 180, WinePro)
Grange occupies the sole spot at the top of the Penfolds pyramid, but Bin 707 isn’t too far behind. Whereas Grange is virtually all Shiraz based, the 707 is the King of Cabernet., allegedly named after the fancy new Boeing airliner of the time.
Grange’s first (though non-commercial) release was in 1951 and the 707’s inaugural vintage was 1964. It hasn’t been made every year since; between 1970 and 1975 there was a conscious decision to put the best Cabernet fruit in other wines, then in the years 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011 winemakers didn’t have access to the appropriate style and quality of fruit.
Both Grange and Bin 707 are both multi-regional blends, that is, the fruit comes from several different vineyards in several different regions within South Australia. For the 707 these are Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully. Maturation is for 18 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads (300 litres).
So 17 years on, how did it fare? To the eye the age was apparent on the rim which was quite red brick in hue, though the core was still opaque black. The nose showed spearmint, menthol & eucalyptus with dried black fruit and just a tiny hint of oxidisation.
To taste there was a touch of mint and lots of fresh blackcurrant, with some raisins in the background. It was really smooth and still monumental in mouthfeel, despite an abv of 13.5% which is quite modest by today’s standards. Above all it had an amazing length, a small sip lingered in the mouth for several minutes. A stunning wine.
Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006
To cap it all off was a sweet – sweet wine. As I’ve mentioned before I reckon 5 putts is probably the *ahem* sweet spot for Tokaji, the perfect balance between flavour, sugar and acidity. Château Dereszla also produce 3 and 6 puttonyos wines, plus the legendary Aszú Eszencia
This showed typical apricot, honey and marmalade notes, quite sweet but not at all cloying. This is a wine to get up in the night to drink!
I was delighted to recently invite myself be invited to Classic Drinks‘ Portfolio Tasting at Fade Street Social Restaurant in the heart of Dublin. Classic supply both on and off trade in Ireland and given their portfolio of 800 wines there’s a good chance that the average Irish wine drinker has tried one.
Here are a few of the wines which stood out for me:
Champagne Pannier Brut NV (RRP €52.99)
Given my proclivities for quality fizz (a friend and fellow wine blogger dubbed me a “Bubbles Whore”, to which I have no retort) it was no surprise to see me making a beeline for the Champagne.
Louis-Eugène Pannier founded his eponymous Champagne house in 1899 at Dizy, just outside Epernay, later moving to Château-Thierry in the Vallée de la Marne. The current Cellar Master, Philippe Dupuis, has held the position for over 25 years. Under him the house has developed a reputation for Pinot-driven but elegant wines.
The Non Vintage is close to a three way equal split of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. The black grapes provide body and red fruit characters, but the good whack (technical term) of Chardonnay gives citrus, flowers and freshness. A minimum of 3 years ageing adds additional layers of brioche. It’s a well balanced and classy Champagne.
From near Venice comes this blend of local and international white varieties: Garganega 50%, Chardonnay 30%, Trebbiano di Soave 20%.
Garganega is probably most well known for being the basis of Soave DOC / DOCG wines, whose blends often include the other local grape here, Trebbiano di Soave. In fact, the latter is also known as Verdicchio in the Marche region where it is most popular.
So how is it? Amazing bang for your buck. More than anything this is peachy – so peachy, in fact, that you can’t be 100% convinced they haven’t put peaches in with the grapes when fermenting! More info here.
Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013 (RRP €13.99)
Angove was founded in the beautiful region of Mclaren Vale (just south of Adelaide in South Australia) in 1886, and are still family run and owned, now by the fifth generation. The company has sixteen sub-ranges which span a large range of quality levels (and price brackets).
So why doesn’t the new World do more of this type of blend? Lots of citrus zing from the Riesling with just a touch of peachy body and spicy aromas from the Gewurz. The precise blend was the matter of some contention, with both (40% / 60%) and (30% / 30%) being quoted, though my guess would be closer to 80% / 20% as otherwise Gewurz would totally steal the show on the nose.
This would be great as an aperitif or flexible enough to cope with many different Asian cuisines – Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese.
Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012 (RRP €20.99)
Internationally, Nelson is firmly in the shadow of Marlborough when it comes to both export volumes and familiarity with consumers. Although Nelson isn’t far from Marlborough at the top of the South Island, it gets more precipitation and produces wines of a different style.
Neudorf is one Nelson producer which has received accolades for its owners Tim and Judy Finn, and Seifried is another. From their website:
The Seifried family have been making stylish food-friendly wines since 1976. The range includes rich full Chardonnays, fine floral Rieslings, lively Sauvignon Blancs, warm plummy Pinot Noirs and intensely delicious dessert wines.
If you see the Seifried “Sweet Agnes” Riesling then snap it up, it’s delicious!
The 2012 Pinot Gris has an Alsace Grand Cru standard and style nose – so much stone fruit, exotic fruit and floral notes. On the palate these are joined by spice, pear and ginger. This would be a great food wine with its comforting texture
For my personal taste it would be even better with a touch more residual sugar than its 5g/L, but that’s just me and my Alsace bias. A lovely wine.
Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011 (RRP €32.99)
More than just Chardonnay, more than just Chablis…in fact this is more than just 1er Cru Chablis, it’s a great effort. There’s a hint of something special on the nose but it really delivers on the palate – it just sings.
Laroche tells us that the fruit is sourced from several Premier Cru vineyards such as Vosgros, Vaucoupins and Vaulignau (I don’t know if selection is alphabetical…) and then blended together so the wine is more than the sum of its parts.
The majority (88%) is aged in stainless steel and the remainder (12%) in oak barrels. The texture and palate weight might lead you to believe that more oak was involved, but this also comes from nine months ageing on fine lees and the minimal filtration. Full info here.
Thanks to Classic Drinks and venue hosts Fade Street Social!