Tasting Events

DNS taste North America

One of the recent themes we explored at DNS WineClub was North American wines.  Barefoot and Blossom Hill represent the very commercial face of North American wine, manufactured in huge facilities in accordance with simple, fruity, easy-drinking recipes.  At the top end, Cult Cabernets can be spectacular.  However, there is fairly thin coverage in Europe of the wines in between these two extremes – and they’re the ones which offer most interest to winelovers.

California is the powerhouse of the USA and therefore the whole of North America; even though wines are made in the other 49 states, together they make up just 10% of the USA total.  In these parts the most available outside of the Golden State are probably the wines of Oregon and Washington State – we see very little from elsewhere, not even the hip wines of New York State’s Finger Lakes region.

Here are the five wines which shone the most at our tasting:

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Chenin Viognier 2014 (12.5%, RRP €24.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

pine ridge chenin viognier

If you ask a fairly knowledgeable wine drinker what grapes they associate with the Napa Valley, Cabernet would undoubtedly come first, followed by Merlot and Zinfandel, with possibly Chardonnay thrown in as a token white.  So here we have something quite unexpected in Napa – a blend of the Loire’s Chenin Blanc and the Rhône’s Viognier.  The blend is consistent from year to year at 80% Chenin and 20% Viognier, and a little residual sugar is left in to round off the acidity.  Most importantly, it really works as a wine – fresh green apple with a little rich apricot as a counterpoint.

Ovum Wines Oregon “Big Salt” 2017 (12.9%, @RRP €33.95 at Baggot Street Wines, Le Caveau and other good independents)

ovum big salt

Ovum are named after the concrete egg fermenters they use, reflected in the shape of the label of this Alsace-style blend from Oregon.  The grapes used are Riesling, Muscat & Gewurztraminer; the relative proportions are not stated, but the fact that spicy Gewurz doesn’t dominate the nose makes me think that it is probably 10% or less of the blend, with fresh Riesling taking the lead at around 55% and the aromatic Muscat being the balance of around 35% (all my own guesswork, happy to be proved wrong!) 

Again referring to my beloved Alsace, a blend of this quality would be from a Grand Cru vineyard, with the fascinating interplay of three fantastic varieties.  The name of the wine also rings true, with lovely saline elements.  This is an unusual wine which is in fairly short supply in Ireland, but it is worth seeking out.

Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017 (13.5%, RRP €39.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

Jim Clendenen is the star winemaker and owner of Au Bon Climat, one of the best producers in Santa Barbara County.  ABC is famous for its Pinot Noirs And Chardonnays – Jim is a Burgundy devotee – which come from a variety of different vineyards in the area.  The “Wild Boy” is less subtle than the regular wines, with lots of funk and noticeable oak, spicy pears and citrus.  Whatever magic he uses, this is a highly impressive wine!

The Four Graces Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2014 (13.1%, RRP €40.00 at Sweeney’s and other good independents)

the four graces pinot noir

Perhaps because I’d only tried a couple of lesser quality examples, my preconception of Oregon Pinot Noir was that it could be a bit thin and weedy, rarely living up to its price tag.  While this is no Central Otago clone, it nevertheless has plenty of body and an amazing velvety smoothness to it.  Dundee Hills are one of the best subregions of the Willamette Valley – on this evidence I will be looking out for it again.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Sparkling Ice Wine 2015 (9.5%, RRP €56 (375 ml) at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other good independents)

inniskillen sparkling ice wine

And now for something completely different – something I didn’t even know existed before I put together the wines for this tasting.  Yes, Niagara is famous for its Icewine, often made with the hybrid grape Vidal (which has a very complicated heritage that I’m going to skip over), but a sparkling version?  I didn’t know there was such a thing!  Once pressed, with the ice removed from the juice, specific yeast is added to the juice in a charmat tank so that the CO2 produced from fermentation is dissolved into the wine.  This is such a treat of a wine, with amazing tropical mango, guava and peach notes.  For many tasters, this was the wine of the night.  I really liked it but would probably prefer the still version for myself.

 

Tasting Events

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

 

Logo emblema VT

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

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

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

immich batterieberg riesling kabinett cai

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

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

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

escheburg

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

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

casa passarella

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

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

trenzado

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

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

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

luis seabra vinhos xisto ilimitado

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

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

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

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

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

 

The SPIT series:

Single Bottle Review

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #13]

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004 (14.5%, €20.00 at Sweeney’s – current vintages c. €35.00)

Bin 28

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.

Single Bottle Review

The Long Little Dog [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #11]

The Long Little Dog White 2014 (12.5%, €9.95 at Sweeney’s)

2017-02-09-18-34-29

Unsung hero Colombard takes a starring role in this “critter wine”, with the balance of 30% contributed by Chardonnay.  These varieties don’t feature on the front or even back label as it’s not really a wine aimed at aficionados – it doesn’t even shout about its origins either, with a subtle Produit de France underneath the vintage.

It only takes a sip to realise that, despite the commercial packaging, this is actually a very pleasant wine – crisp, fruity and really enjoyable.  For a tenner in Ireland, you will struggle to beat it!

 

 

 

Opinion, Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #2

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

E.Guigal “Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph” Saint-Joseph 2005 (13.5%, 2009 is €49.00 at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

2015-10-13-21-54-34

St Joseph was allegedly the saint of scorned husbands, a fact on which I make no comment! A vineyard was named after him centuries ago, becoming a small appellation in 1956, expanded to its current size in 1971.

This wine is 100% Syrah from the original Saint Joseph vineyard (“lieu-dit”), with vines between 20 – 75 years old giving great concentration. It gets more oak than Rhône master Guigal’s regular St Joe, with 50% new and 50% second use French oak. The result? Amazing! There is still sweet oak on the nose but it has integrated beautifully in the ten years since harvest. Tasted blind this might be guessed as coming from the new world, it’s so smooth and drinkable.

Tasting Events

A Fun Blind Tasting Event

rrapid_blocks

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

white-1

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

white-2

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)

20-barrels

red-1

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

red-2

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**

 

 

Tasting Events

Sémillon and Sauvignon – Together In Perfect Harmony?

Sweeneys Wine Merchants in Glasnevin, North Dublin, are both my favourite merchants to visit and happen to be my local wine shop, so I was sure to drop in to see what bargains they had on offer in their summer wine sale.  Everything they had more than a couple of bottles of was open for tasting so it was “try before you buy” for about a dozen whites and reds, with a solitary rosé holding station in the middle.

Of course I tried all of them (just for completeness, you understand), but which most piqued my interest?  There turned out to be a theme – all were Sémillon / Sauvignon Blanc blends, but from different areas.

Around ten years ago I did a “wine-walk” at the London Fine Food & Wine Show with the theme “Sémillon and Sauvignon – better on their own or together?”  Wine walks are informative and good craic – a wine writer / personality / celebrity takes you on a tour of the show, stopping to taste around half a dozen or so wines from all over the show and talks you through them.  I find them more engaging than the classroom-style talks, even if they can get a bit crowded at the peak times of the show.

Nowadays Sauvignon Blanc is most closely associated with Marlborough and New Zealand in general, since the Cloudy Bay and Montana phenomenon.   Sémillon (usually without the accent) is most commonly seen on its own in Australia – it has become a speciality of the Hunter Valley in NSW.  But, like many grapes grown round the world they both originated in France.  Before the Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc explosion it was best known as the variety behind Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, plus some slightly lesser status Loire whites.

Both grapes are allowed in White Bordeaux (along with Muscadelle which is less common) and it is together where they can reach the heights.  Sauvignon gives the freshness and acidity, Sémillon the richness and body.

So what were the beauties I picked up?

Thomas Barton Graves Blanc 2007

A famous name from South West Bordeaux.

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Chateau Bonnet Entre Deux Mers 2009

An oaky wine from Bordeaux, in between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.

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Hollick Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2007

A blend of grapes from the Coonawarra and Mount Benson areas on the Limestone Coast in South Australia.

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Clairault Swagman’s Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2005

From Margaret River in Western Australia – a rare area in Australia known for blending the two grapes together.

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