Tag: Spain

10 Top Reds from O’Briens

Ranging from €14 to €49, here are some of my favourite reds from the recent O’Briens Wine Fair:

Viña Chocálan Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (14.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)

Cab Sauv

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is usually pretty good, even when inexpensive, as Chile has enough sunshine to fully ripen the fruit but the temperatures aren’t so high that it becomes jammy and unbalanced.  This is full of juicy blackcurrant but also has a little bit of cedar wood and graphite which adds interest.

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza 2013 (14.0%, €17.95 down to €15.95 for May at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Rioja-Crianza

Particularly at Crianza level, Rioja is known for red fruit flavours (strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, red cherry) with a good helping of vanilla from American oak.  Sierra Cantabria doesn’t follow this plan at all – it’s all about black fruit and intensity of flavour, much more akin to a good Ribera del Duero than most Riojas.  Why not try it back to back with the Reserva?

Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, €23.95 at O’Briens)

Urlar-Pinot-Noir_1

At the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island is the Wairarapa wine region (not to be confused with Waipara near Christchurch).  The oldest part is probably Martinborough (not to be confused with Marlborough at the top of the South Island) but there are other notable areas within the Wairarapa such as Gladstone.  Urlar (from the Gaelic for “Earth”) is an organic and practicing biodynamic producer which makes fantastic Pinot Noir.  While full of fruit it has a savoury, umami edge, and will undoubtedly continue to develop complexity over the coming years.

Viña Chocálan Vitrum Blend 2013 (14.5%, €24.95 down to €22.95 for May at O’Briens)

Vitrium Blend

Sitting just below their icon wine Alexia, Vitrum is Chocalan’s premium range, so named as the owners Toro family have been in the glass bottle making business for over 80 years.  As stated it this wine is a blend, and the grapes aren’t named on the front label as there are so many of them! (for reference the 2013 is: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec, 4% Carmenère, 2% Petit Verdot).  All these different varieties make for an interesting wine – quite full bodied and with considerable structure, but balanced and drinkable.

Domaine Olivier Santenay Temps des C(e)rises 2014 (13.0%, €28.95 down to €23.16 for May at O’Briens)

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If you don’t speak French then you’d be forgiven for missing the jeu de mot in the name of this wine: temps des crises is the time of crises and temps des cerises is the time of cherries – and also the name of a famous French revolutionary song.  Anyway, on to the wine itself: this is a mid weight Pinot Noir from Santenay in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune.  It has delightful red currant and red cherry with a touch of smokiness from barrel ageing.  It’s a food friendly wine which could also be drunk on its own.  While ready to drink now I would (try to!) keep this for a few more years before drinking.  Great Burgundy for the €€!

Château Fourcas Hosten Listrac-Médoc 2009 (13.0%, €29.95 down to €23.95 for May at O’Briens)

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Listrac is one of the two villages (with Moulis) in Bordeaux’s Médoc peninsula outside of the famous four that have their name on an appellation, but is rarely seen in Ireland. Château Fourcas Hosten was bought by the family behind the Hermès luxury goods group around a decade ago and they have invested significantly in quality since then.  As 2009 was an excellent vintage in Bordeaux this is a fairly ripe and accessible wine.

Unusually for a warm vintage it has quite a bias towards Merlot (65%) versus Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), even though they make up 45% each of the vineyard area (and Cabernet Franc being the final 10%).  This wine shows fresh and dried black fruit with some pencil shavings and tobacco – classy, accessible Bordeaux!

Cambria “Julia’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5%, €29.95 at O’Briens)

Cambria-Julias-Vineyard-P-Noir

The spotlight on US Pinot Noir mainly falls on Oregon and its Willamette Valley, but California shouldn’t be ignored – especially Santa Barbara County, which was of course the setting for Sideways.  The cool climate here, especially in Santa Mary Valley, helps Pinot Noir develop fully, keeping acidity and light to medium tannins to frame the fresh red fruit.   One of my favourite American Pinots!

Man O’War Waiheke Island Ironclad 2012 (14.5%, €34.45 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Ironclad-Bordeaux

I’m a big fan of Man O’War’s premium range, all nautically named and great examples of their type (I’m just gutted that demand for their Julia sparkling wine at their winery restaurant means that it won’t be exported anymore).  Ironclad is the Bordeaux blend; the blend changes from year to year depending on how each variety fared, with any fruit that doesn’t make the grade being declassified into the next tier down.

The current release is the 2012 which is 45% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon – only Carménère misses out from Bordeaux’s black grapes, and hardly anyone grows that in Bordeaux nowadays anyway. It’s full of ripe blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry fruit with some graphite.  It would pair well with red meat, but being a bit riper in style than most Bordeaux means it drinks well on its own.

Frank Phélan 2012 (13.0%, €34.95 down to €27.95 for May at O’Briens)

Frank-Phelan

Back to Bordeaux proper again with the second wine of Château Phélan Ségur, named after the son of the original Irish founder Bernard Phelan.  As a second wine it mainly uses younger fruit than the Grand Vin, a shorter time in barrel and a higher proportion of Merlot (this is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon).  All these lead to it being a more supple wine, and more approachable in its youth.  For me this was quite similar to the Fourcas Hosten – dark black fruit in particular – but younger and with a little more tannin and graphite notes.  Steak anyone?

Torbreck The Struie 2014 (14.5%, €49.00 down to €42 for May at O’Briens)

Torbreck-Struie

It’s fair to say that Barossa Shiraz is one of Australia’s most well-recognised wine styles, but there are actually significant differences within the Barossa.  The most notable difference is that there are actually two distinct valleys – the Barossa Valley itself and the Eden Valley which is at a higher altitude and hence has a cooler climate (there’s some great Riesling grown in the latter but very little in the former!)

The Struie is a blend of fruit from both valleys: 77% Barossa (for power and richness) and 23% Eden (for acidity and elegance), all aged in a mix of old and new French oak barrels.  There’s intense blackberry and plum fruit with a twist of spice.

This is a fairly monumental wine which actually deserves a bit more time before drinking, so buy a few and lay them down…but if you can’t wait, decant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 White Wine Bargains from O’Briens

After another successful O’Briens Wine Fair, I find myself with the usual predicament of too many good wines to recommend.  I have therefore picked my 10 favourite whites listed at €15.00 or under – before any promotional offers.

Examining the list shows that:

  • Several varieties are repeated: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Colombard and (unoaked) Chardonnay
  • Several places are repeated: Chile, the Loire and Gascony

From which you could draw certain conclusions:

  • Obviously, there’s a link between variety and place!
  • Certain varieties are better for making good yet inexpensive wines
  • Oak is a significant cost so is seldom used for the least expensive wines

Here are the ten wines:

Domaine Duffour Côtes de Gascogne 2016 (12.0%, €11.45 or 2 for €20 during summer at O’Briens)

Duffour

From the land of d’Artagnan (and Dogtanian as well, for all I know) come probably the best value white wines of France – Côtes de Gascogne of south west France.  Nicolas Duffour is a big fan of local star Colombard which gives ripe melon flavours; Ugni Blanc (more commonly distilled into Cognac or Armagnac) adds freshness while Gros Manseng (well-established in Jurançon) gives complexity.  Summer in a glass!

Viña Chocálan Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)

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This wine is so grassy that you might wonder if you have face-planted into a pile of mown grass.  It’s fresh and linear, with a juicy citrus finish.  Tasted blind I would probably have guessed it hailed from the Loire Valley, perhaps a Touraine, but this is actually from a family run winery in Chile’s Maipo Valley.

Famille Bougrier Les Hauts Lieux Chenin Blanc 2015 (12.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)

Bougrier-Chenin-Blanc

The Bougrier Family make several Loire wines (their Sauvignon Blanc was just 45 cents too much to make it into this article) labelled as Vin de France, giving them flexibility over grape sourcing and varietal labelling.  I found the Chenin just off dry, emphasizing the ripe stone and pip fruit, with the acidity keeping it fresh.  So drinkable!

Viña Leyda Chardonnay Reserva 2014 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

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This Chardonnay is unoaked but is not a lean-Chablis like wine (the 14.0% alcohol might have been a clue).   Viña Leyda are based in the Leyda Valley (no surprise there) and so are close enough to benefit from cooling coastal breezes – these help extend the growing season and help to increase intensity of flavour while maintaining aromatics.  This is a great example of ripe but unoaked Chardonnay, full of tropical fruits and citrus.

Domaine Langlois-Château Saumur Blanc 2014 (12.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Domaine-Langlois-Chateau-Saumur-Blanc

The Maison des Vins de Saumur is one of my favourite places to taste wine in France – it has close to a hundred wines of all types from the Anjou-Saumur sub-region of the Loire. The white wine of Saumur itself are unfairly overlooked in favour of Vouvray and other appellations for white and Saumur’s own reds and rosés.  Of course this is Chenin Blanc and its perfect balance of acidity and fruit sweetness makes it a great drink to sip on a nice sunny day.

Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Los-Vascos-Sauvignon-Blanc_1

Los Vascos is a project of the Lafite branch of the Rothschild family, sourcing wines from both Argentina and Chile.  This Chilean Sauvignon is very racy and less exuberantly aromatic compared to many – it’s probably closer to a Touraine Sauvignon or even a Chablis than most Savvies (Marlborough it ain’t!) Appealing mineral notes would make it a great accompaniment for oysters or other shellfish.

Hijos de Alberto Gutiérrez Monasterio de Palazuelos Rueda Verdejo 2016 (13.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)

rueda

Rueda and its Verdejo is often overlooked in favour of Albariño and Godello from north west Spain.  And that’s ok with me as Rueda wines are consistently good quality and good value for money.  This one has lovely melon and citrus notes, so soft and approachable that you will be pouring a second glass quickly!

Boatshed Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.0%, €14.95 down to €11.95 for May at O’Briens)

Boat-Shed-Sauvignon-Blanc

Different Sauvignons from Marlborough offer flavours from a wide spectrum, but often concentrating on one part of it.  This seems to have nearly all of them!  There’s tropical and green fruit such as passionfruit, grapefruit, gooseberry and pineapple, but also green pepper and asparagus notes.  Compared to – say – the Los Vascos Sauvignon, it’s probably the other end of the spectrum – a wine great for quaffing on its own.

Producteurs Plaimont Labyrinthe de Cassaigne Côtes de Gascogne 2015 (11.5%, €13.95 down to €9.95 for May at O’Briens)

labyrinthe

This is a single estate Côtes de Gascogne from the north of the area, close to Condom (make your own jokes please).  Tropical fruit from Colombard and Gros Manseng make this a real Vin de Plaisir – and fairly light in alcohol at 11.5%.  Good value for money at €14, great value at €10!

Los Vascos Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Los-Vascos-Chardonnay

Like its sister Sauvignon above, this unoaked Chardonnay has a great deal of minerality which make it ideal for shellfish and other seafood.  It does have more body, however; enough to almost give it the feel of an oaked wine, though not the flavour.  The finish is zesty citrus and stays with you for quite some time.

Top Selection of Reds [Make Mine a Double #29]

Here are a couple of fab reds from Top Selection, an interesting UK-based boutique wine merchant:

Habla de la Tierra Vino de la Tierra de Extremadura 2014 (13.5%, £14 from Top Selection)

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This is a modern Spanish wine made from a blend of Cab Franc and Tempranillo.

Unlike its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon (see here), Cabernet Franc is far less celebrated. In its home of the Loire Valley it can make some fantastic mid-weight reds, but as that region is often overlooked Cab Franc is rarely shouted about.  In Bordeaux it’s a useful blending grape on both banks, but very rarely makes up the majority of a cuvee. Perhaps its route to fame will be in Argentina where it has been the Next Big Thing for some time.

Extremadura is a Spanish province which has Andalucia to the south and Portugal to the west, with the Douro dipping into its northern reaches.  The only (exclusive*) Denominacion de Origen here is DO Ribera del Guadiana around the banks of the River Guardiana; the Vino de la Tierra Extremadura covers the whole province.

Vinos_de_la_Tierra_de_España
Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

*DO Cava can also be made in Extremadura, but production is very small.

Vinos_DO_de_España
Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

So how does this unusual blend work?  Very well, actually!  It has the bright, fresh raspberry character of Cab Franc on the attack, with the supple roundness of Tempranillo on the finish – a thoroughly delicious wine!

Harwood Hall Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5% £19 from Top Selection)

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Most people know where New Zealand is but even seasoned NZ wine fans might not know where the different Kiwi wine regions are in the country.  Central Otago is the most southerly of NZ’s wine regions – and in fact the most southerly place where wine is produced on a commercial basis in any country.  It’s relatively dry, and semi-continental which gives it hot summer days but cool nights and cold winters.

WONZ-regional-map-white
Credit: Wines Of New Zealand

All these factors give Central Otago wines a great intensity of flavour while preserving acidity and freshness.  Although relatively new as a wine region – even by NZ standards – it is among the top places to grow Pinot Noir in the country.

Harwood Hall is a joint venture between two New Zealanders who have worked in the industry for 20 years.  The simple instructions to accompany this wine should be: open, pour, lock the doors, enjoy the wine!  It’s super smooth, pure velvet in the glass.  There are red and black cherries and red berries with a touch of spice, a heavenly combination.

 

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

 

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

 

Top Selection of Whites [Make Mine a Double #26]

UK wine importers Top Selection have an enviable portfolio of exclusive niche wines (and spirits) across the price spectrum.  Here are a couple of their fresh whites which impressed me recently:

Angel Sequeiros Rías Baixas Albariño “Evoe” 2013 (13.0%, £17.50 at Top Selection)

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Not long after gourmets and gourmands started using the term “food porn”, winelovers hit back with the equally hyperbolic “wine porn”.  Although the term is supposed to be figurative, it’s not far off the literal truth for this bottle!

Founder Angel Sequeiros bought the already-established Finca Quinta Gaviñeira on his return to Galicia in 1960.  The Rías Baixas estate is 100% Albariño and is now run by Angel’s son Clement.  Clement has been making his own mark with the estate since his first release in 2009.

It’s floral, fresh, and gently fruity – pleasant drinking on its own but not so intense that you couldn’t bring it to the table.  This is one of the most balanced Albariños I’ve tried!

Apparently, “evoe” in English means “an exclamation of Bacchic frenzy” – and looking at the label I’d say that’s not too far off the mark!

Villa Mattielli Soave Classico Campolungo 2015 (13.0%, £17.00 at Top Selection)

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As I have opined many a time and oft* on this blog, Soave from the Veneto in north eastern Italy continues to be unfairly looked down on because of the inexpensive and unexpressive bulk wine made in the region.  In fact, going back to the 1970s, Soave sales in some export markets rivalled that of Chianti.  In spite of the burgeoning quality of many other Italian wines, Chianti is still seen as the “go-to” Italian red wine in export markets, whereas Soave has been overtaken by the infamous Pinot Grigio (most of which, itself, is not exactly characterful).

landscape_soave
Soave vineyards (Credit: Alessandro Pighi)

Thankfully Villa Mattielli are a quality-orientated family producer with 30 hectares of vines across the Soave Classico and Valpolicella DOCs.  Winemaker Roberta is the fourth generation of the family to run the firm, along with her husband Giacomo and her sister Valeria.

The wine has a lovely orange and peach nose; it explodes with the same in the mouth, round and luscious.  Unlike many Italian white wines, it has too much flavour for oysters or delicate white fish – instead try it with king scallops or garlic and ginger prawns.

*The wine is made in the area around Venice, hence the literary reference**

**Don’t tell me you didn’t get the reference!

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

 

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

A Fun Blind Tasting Event

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When I was asked to put on a wine tasting event for a birthday party, I asked what format the host wanted and the average level of wine knowledge among the guests. He replied that he was open about the format but that the partygoers would have varying levels of interest and knowledge in wine (a couple of heathens not even liking wine!) Furthermore, there would be different groups within the guests, so an arrangement which got them to mix well would be preferable.

The format we agreed on was one that has worked well for me at many events in the past, and has been progressively honed over the years. I split the guests into two teams, led by the birthday boy and his wife respectively. Six wines were served blind: two sparkling, two white and two red. For each wine, the teams had to guess five aspects:

  1. Geographical Origin
  2. Grape(s)
  3. ABV %
  4. Vintage
  5. Price Band

Now, blind tasting is actually pretty difficult even for seasoned professionals, so to make things a bit more reasonable there were 5 answers to chose from for each question, for each wine.  The teams could then go for more points if they were pretty sure what the wine was (e.g. choosing “Italy – Veneto” for origin and “Glera” for grape(s) if they thought it was a Prosecco) or hedging their bets.

As for the wines selected?  The host is a fan of classic Bordeaux and Burgundy but wanted to try other styles, so he asked me to choose some personal favourites.  I sourced them from Tesco (supermarket) and Sweeney’s wine merchants, so that if attendees liked the wines they would have a reasonable chance of finding them later.

So without further ado, here are the wines and the options for each question:

Marqués de la Concordia Cava 2013 (11.5%, €17.99 at Sweeney’s)

marques-cava

sparkling-1

Both teams guessed this was a Cava and had it in the right price band.  I’m not a fan of cheap Cava but this is actually a nice bottle at a pretty nice price.  I’d much prefer to drink this than most budget Proseccos!

Tesco Finest Vintage Grand Cru Champagne 2007 (12.5%, €35.00 at Tesco)

tesco-finest-champagne

sparkling-2

Perhaps the proliferation of cheaper Champagnes at Lidl and Aldi have changed people’s preconceptions of how much Champagne costs, as both teams selected €20 – €30.  The biggest Champagne brand in the world – Möet & Chandon – is usually listed at €50+…but I reckon this is far better, at a significantly lower price.

Prova Regia Arinto VR Lisboa 2014 (12.0%, €13.00 at Sweeney’s)

provo-regia-arinto

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This is an old favourite of mine from the days of Sweeney’s regular tastings.  It now comes in two versions, the above pictured Vinho Regional and a slightly more upmarket DOC. Whispers of “It’s Riesling, look at the bottle” were heard, and I can see the logic (the bottles were wrapped in foil so the silhouette was visible).  Several tasters thought it didn’t taste of much at all, and I’d have to agree to a certain extent – it’s definitely worth trading up to the DOC for more flavour intensity.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Hunter Valley Semillon 2005 (12.0%, €19.99 at Tesco)

semillon

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This was a really polarising wine, and one that totally misled tasters as to its age – most thought it a 2015 or 2014, when in fact it was from the 2005 vintage!  Hunter Valley Semillon is one of the true original styles to have come from Australia.  Unoaked, it is all fresh lemon in its youth, but with significant bottle age it gains toastiness and rich flavours.  This is a bottle you can buy now and hide in the bottom of a wardrobe for a decade!

Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014 (13.5%, €26.00 at Sweeney’s)

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Probably the best-received wine of the evening!  This is a lovely wine, and one that beats off most of the competition at anything close to the price.  Its richness and spiciness (for a Pinot Noir) did lead some to think it was a Shiraz – understandable.  This was the wine which people queued up to snap the label of so that they could seek it out!

Diemersfontein Pinotage 2014 (14.0%, €23.00 at Sweeney’s)

diemersfontein-pinotage

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Another polarising wine, with several not sure if they liked it or not – and to be fair, it’s not for everyone.  This is the “Original Coffee and Chocolate Pinotage” and I happen to like it – don’t listen to the Mochas (sorry!) Of course the grape and origin weren’t explicitly listed so they were both “other” – a bit sneaky on my part?  Perhaps…

**If you are interested in having a wine tasting party or other event then please ask me for details**

 

 

Spanish Treats from O’Briens

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Here are a few of my favourite Spanish wines available at O’Briens – and until 17th August they are on sale with 20% or more off, so it’s a great time to snap them up!

Martín Códax Rías Baixas Albariño 2013 (12.5%, €17.95 down to €14.36 at O’Briens)

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The fresh one: Named after a literary hero from Galicia in northwest Spain, this wine also uses the celebrated local grape Albariño.  While some examples can be a little too tart for my taste, several months of ageing on the lees before bottling and a few years’ rest make this wonderfully round, though still fruity and refreshing.  Expect citrus and soft stone fruit notes.

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Capellanía 2010 (13.5%, €24.95 down to €19.96 at O’Briens)

15WSP010-Capellania j

The Marmite one: this is generally a love or loathe type of wine due to the deliberate introduction of some oxygen during the winemaking process – i.e. giving it a slight “Sherry” taste.  It’s how traditional style white Rioja is made – and to be honest I’m all for it as technically better modern examples are often a bit dull.  I also tasted a 2005 vintage recently and it was still going strong, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it!

Torres Ribero del Duero Crianza Celeste 2012 (14.0%, €21.95 down to €17.56 at O’Briens)

Celeste

The regular one: Although it’s fairly well distributed, this is a classy wine that always delivers – it’s a regular tipple for me.  It’s made from Tempranillo which is of course the mainstay of red Rioja, but the hotter days and cooler nights of the Ribero del Duero give the local variant a thicker skin and hence the wine has more colour and flavour – dark berries with a pinch of spice!

Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €30.45 down to €24.36 at O’Briens)

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The surprising one: This wine was one of the stand outs for me at the O’Briens Spring Wine Fair.  When it comes to Rioja I don’t usually go for a Gran Reserva as they can be woody and dried out from too much time in oak, but this was a revelation.  30 months in American oak followed by 3 years in bottle have set it up superbly.  The strawberry fruit is so, so soft with vanilla on the side, and a slight smoky edge to the wine.  The oak is definitely noticeable but it’s now well integrated.  A fabulous wine!

Marques de Murrieta Castillo De Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2007 (14.0%, €85.00 down to €68.00 at O’Briens)

Castillo Ygay j

The no-expense spared one: Yes, this is an expensive wine, but it is counted among the best in Spain, so if you’re splashing out then why not?  It’s a blend of 86% Tempranillo and 14% Mazuelo (a.k.a. Carignan) matured in oak for 28 months.  It tastes pretty damned amazing, but it’s still a baby – put a couple of bottles away for a special occasion in a few years time!

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #06 – Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza 2010

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #06 – Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza 2010

As it’s the long Eostre / Easter weekend my wife suggested roast lamb, which got a thumbs up from me as I’m very partial to lamb (sorry Flossie).  There are a few classic wine matches for lamb; Saint-Emilion or Crianza / Reserva Rioja.  As I happened to have a sample bottle of Crianza Rioja to hand the game was afoot!

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza 2010 (14.0%, €17.95, O’Briens)

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Rioja is traditionally made with a large majority of Tempranillo grapes, supported by small amounts of Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo.  American oak is typically used for maturation before bottling, with the length of time linked to classification as Joven, Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva.  All this together gives a “strawberries and cream” effect, especially for Crianzas.

But this wine didn’t taste like that at all!

Rather than strawberry or any other red fruit, the palate had dark, black fruit – blackberry and damsons.  Instead of creamy vanilla there was a smoky, savoury edge.  If I had been given this wine to try blind I think the closest I would have guessed would have been Ribero del Duero, not Rioja at all.

However, I should have read the “small print”.  Not all Rioja Crianzas are supposed to taste like strawberries and cream!  Modern style Rioja is often made with French oak (which gives smoky rather than vanilla flavours) and the grapes are well macerated to extract lots of colour and tannin.

So this is a lovely wine, and would actually go better with a steak than with lamb – but I’m not complaining, not me!

DNS Wine Club *FUN* Tasting

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

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

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

ROUND 1 – Match the Critic

John Wilson
John Wilson, scholar and gentleman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROUND 2 – Call My (Wine) Bluff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROUND 3 – Match the Critic (Encore)

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

Above all, it’s a fun journey!

Make Mine a Double #05 – Salt and Pepper

Make Mine a Double #05 – Salt and Pepper

This series of articles each covers two wines that have something in common, and most likely some point of difference. Compare and contrast is the order of the day – so make mine a double!

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

salt and pepper
salt and pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And for those disappointed not to see Salt n Pepa:

The Field of Dreams – Tinto Pesquera

The Field of Dreams – Tinto Pesquera

pesque02gk-is-510

In April I was delighted to be invited to lunch at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel to meet Miguel Angel Bocos from Pesquera, one of the foremost producers in Spain’s Ribero del Duero. Along with a tasty lunch Miguel took us through five of the Pesquera Group’s current releases. But first, a bit of background to set the scene…

Disclosure: food and wine were covered by generous hosts James Nicholson Wine Merchant; opinions are mine alone.

Origins and Development of Pesquera

Quite simply Pesquera exists due to one man, Alejandro Fernández, and one place, the Ribero del Duero in northern Spain.  Raised in a traditional small-holding family, Alejandro had a burning desire to create his own Bodega.  He chose the Ribero del Duero region which, at that time, was barely known apart from the very grand Vega Sicilia.  After 10 years of hard work, he restored a modest 16th century stone-built bodega in the village of Pesquera and began to bottle his wine.

Barrel hall
Barrel hall

Compared to the well-established Vega Sicilia, which included Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot in their blends, Alejandro produced wines which were 100% Tinto Fino – the local name for Tempranillo.  Whereas some Rioja wines can be on the light side, when it comes to Tempranillo fruit, and so can need beefing up, well grown Tinto Fino vines in the Ribero produce thicker skinned grapes and hence darker, deeper coloured wines.  There may well be some clonal differences between the two regions, but essentially it’s the sharper differences between day and night temperatures plus poor soil which turbocharge Ribero’s grapes.

Sunset
Sunset

After years of success, Alejandro gradually expanded the group.  Firstly, Condado de Haza was also established in the Ribero del Duero, though with a subtly different microclimate and soil profile.  Later he expanded further west with Dehesa La Granja and further south in La Mancha with El Vínculo.

Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (RRP €23)

100% Tempranillo, 14.0%, 18 months in American oak barrels then 6 months in bottle

Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011
Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011

Although in the same region as Tinto Pesquera, the climate, aspect and soil are different for this sister winery. The powerful fruit is able to take significant oak, and thus spent 18 months in 100% new 225 litre American oak barrels. Condado de Haza is a south-facing slope along one kilometre of the Duero River, planted from 1989 onwards.

This is the real crowd pleaser of the range; this is the wine that Miguel would open to suit a variety of tastes and dishes. It obviously has structure and opulent fruit so will age for many years, but it’s just so balanced, approachable and lovely to drink right now. Ripe plum, juicy black cherry and blackcurrant compete for your palate’s attention. The oak is very much in evidence but it is well integrated and serves as the custard on a fruits of the forest pudding.

Dehesa La Granja Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2007 (RRP €20)

100% Tempranillo, 14.0%, 24 months in American oak barrels then 12 months in bottle

Dehesa La Granja Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2007
Dehesa La Granja Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2007

Heading west from Ribero, past Toro, around 50km from the Portuguese border we reach the town of Zamora.  Here lies the 800 hectare Dehesa La Granja vineyard, stretching magnificently along the banks of the River Guareña.  The climate is quite Continental and the soil is Clay, giving extra power to the wines.  The estate is self-sufficiently Organic; they even have the animals on the property to make the natural fertilizer they need

This is still a powerful wine, but it also has elegance.  There are layers of fine tannins which add interest when the wine in young, but are entirely in keeping with the fruit.  I would be very interested to see how this continues to develop.

El Vínculo Crianza DO La Mancha 2010 (RRP €22)

100% Tempranillo, 14.0%, 18 months in American oak

El Vínculo Crianza DO La Mancha 2010
El Vínculo Crianza DO La Mancha 2010

My Spanish is the remnants of two terms at night school back in the early nineties, but I do remember a couple of important points: the accent on a Spanish word tells you which syllable is to be stressed, and the letter V is pronounced almost the same as a B. These two facts are important when saying the name of this wine to a Spanish speaker as they might otherwise think you are talking about their bottom.

Yields in La Mancha are often twice the national Average of Spain, mainly because of bulk produced grapes which will end up in a distillery for brandy.  However, for Pesquera’s vines here the yield is around a quarter of the Spanish average, so this is a different beast from the usual industrial juice.  La Mancha is very dry: it is baking hot in summer, yet cold in winter (often below freezing) with low levels of precipitation.

Although quality wine is still a rarity here, Pesquera believe that it has the potential to be the best appellation in Spain.  For a group based in Ribero del Duero, that’s quite a bold statement!

This 2010 example showed leather and liquorice plus hints of spice and stewed black fruits.  The leather suggests a cooler climate whereas the stewed fruit suggests a warmer climate – quite a conundrum.

Oh yes, the name – it’s the Spanish word for “link”, as the estate represents the link between tradition and innovation.

Tinto Pesquera Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2012 (RRP €26 to €30)

100% Tempranillo, 13.5%, 18 months in American oak barrels

Tinto Pesquera Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2012
Tinto Pesquera Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2012

So now we’re onto the original Pesquera, the real deal.  At 1050m it is possibly the highest vineyard in Spain.

Whereas the previous three wines had a certain playful side to them, this is a serious, grown up wine.  Although it’s unmistakably Spanish, I hope the folks at Pesquera will excuse me for saying it has a certain French sensibility about it.  It’s not trying to ape French wine, but it has a certain polish and class that left bank Bordeaux often brings to the table.  It’s ironic that Alejandro declined to use Bordeaux grapes but has created something with a Bordeaux feel that doesn’t need those varieties.

Black cherry and black berries are surrounded by vanilla on the nose, with just a hint of smoke.  The fruit expand out into your mouth when tasting, but with a side order of tannin – not big heavy gum-stripping tannins, but fine-grained savoury tannins.  It’s lighter in style than the previous three, probably due to the vineyard’s elevation, so perhaps less obvious, but this obviously has the fruit and the structure to age for at least another decade.

Tinto Pesquera Reserva DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (RRP €37 to €42)

100% Tempranillo, 13.5%, 24 months in American oak barrels

Tinto Pesquera Reserva DO Ribero del Duero 2011
Tinto Pesquera Reserva DO Ribero del Duero 2011

The Reserva does all that the Crianza does, but more so.  Going from junior to senior is like listening to a favourite song that suddenly switches from mono to stereo – it’s not necessarily louder, it just seems more alive and more real…it makes more sense.  The same components are there, just in higher fidelity.  The fruit is more intense and rich, there’s more toast and smoke and spicy vanilla from the barrels, but it all hangs together. With a few more years there will be harmony to add to the melody.

I’ll just leave you with the line up:

Pesquera wines tasted at The Shelbourne
Pesquera wines tasted at The Shelbourne