Tasting Events

Unfinished Sympathy

After a little reflection, one of the most important characteristics of a great winemaker (in my humble opinion) is sympathy for the vineyards they pick from and the grapes that they harvest.  Underlying this are intelligence, knowledge, and more than a little humility.

Many winemakers develop this sympathetic nature over the course of decades with a small number of plots of land and as few as two or even just one grape variety, as is the case in Burgundy.  Indeed, sometimes it’s an ancestral connection with knowledge that has been passed down in the family for generations.

In stark contrast to the timescale of the Burgundians, I give you Pieter Hauptfleisch Walser of BLANKbottle.  Pieter has 58 different varieties growing all over the Western Cape, though you won’t see them mentioned on the bottle.  A few months ago, thanks to WineMason I had the opportunity to try eight of this wines which were new to the Irish market (and only available in very small quantities).  Each has an intriguing backstory and a interesting label to go with it.

with apologies for the quality of my snaps…

Rabbitsfoot 2018 (14.5%, RRP ~ €30)

BLANKbottle Rabbits Foot 2018

We start with a Sauvignon Blanc, but not that you would probably recognise at first – it’s not like a Loire or Kiwi Sauvignon, and to be honest it’s not even like other South African Savvies, although perhaps some could be though of as baby versions of this.  It has more body, texture and alcohol than most Sauvignons, still grassy but with spicy notes.  Tasted blind my first guess would have been Grüner Veltliner!

Full details here

BOBERG 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €33)

BLANKbottle BOBERG 2018

Boberg means “on top of the mountain” and the mountain is pictured on the label – but not on its own.  It is depicted as being overlooked by seven generations of Pieter’s family who lived on the farm next to it.  These Chenin Blanc vines are old and low yielding, and have recently been certified organic.  For 2018 they were picked early and fermented in old French oak barrels with natural yeast.  The wine is fresh but with real depth; a whole basket of Granny Smith apples with a few Golden Delicious and lemons.

Full details here

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018 (13.0%, RRP ~ €33)

BLANKbottle Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018

Pieter found these vines while on his travels and took a backroad shortcut to get to his next appointment – the name means “shortcut to Cape Town”.  The grape variety used is even more obscure (especially in South Africa): Fernão Pires!  If you’re a fan of Portuguese wine then it might not be so obscure as it is grown throughout Portugal, sometimes under the moniker Maria Gomes.  It’s a highly aromatic grape, somewhere in the realm of Gewurztraminer and Viognier, though fairly gentle (Alsace aficianados: think of Klevener de Heiligenstein).  I liked this wine though it didn’t shine quite as brightly for me as the two whites above.

Full details here

B.O.E.T. 2017 (14.0%, RRP ~ €36)

BLANKbottle B.O.E.T. 2017

It’s fairly well known among wine geeks that South Africa’s signature variety Pinotage was created as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (the Rhône’s Cinsault, then known as Hermitage in South Africa).  This wine is something of a family reunion as it features all three grapes, though Pinotage is dominant with small amounts of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir.  On the nose I would never have guessed this to be a Pinotage blend – my best guess would perhaps have been a Languedoc red.  The palate is lighter, with medium body, lithe red fruit and good acidity.  This is the perfect example of BLANKbottle’s labelling philosophy – those who would be put off by the varieties might well love this wine if tasted without knowing.  I certainly loved it!

Full details here

My Koffer 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €37)

BLANKbottle My Köffer 2018

This is single vineyard Cinsaut (without the “l” as usually spelt in South Africa) – a variety known for high yields and large berries which is often used to make rosé or inexpensive bulk red wine.  It’s not a grape I taste as a single varietal very often, but if it’s as good as this then I definitely should.  The nose is all cherries, following through onto the palate where they are joined by exotic spices.  The finish is pleasantly dry.

Full details here

My eie Stofpad 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €38)

BLANKbottle My eie Stofpad 2017

This wine is principally Cabernet Franc but also has a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, all from different vineyards, so it’s technically a Bordeaux blend.  It tastes nothing like a Bordeaux, with thick mouthfeel and ripe blackcurrant fruit.  There’s a savoury edge as well plus fine grained tannins.  An excellent wine.

Oppie Koppie 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €39)

BLANKbottle Oppie Koppie 2017

This lovely Syrah reminded me of St Joseph or Hawke’s Bay on steroids – but not as ripe and juicy as most Aussie Syrah/Shiraz.  Perhaps we (I) just just stop with the comparisons and say it’s a great example of South African Syrah.  Whole bunch fermentation is used in varying degrees depending on the vintage (and in particular how ripe the stems are) – for this 2017 80% was whole bunch.  2017 was the first vintage that a little Syrah from Swartland and Cinsaut from Breedekloof were added to the main Syrah from Voor-Paardeberg, all for additional complexity.  The result is a fantastic red wine that is rich yet fresh, full of black and red fruit and spice, but no jamminess.

Full details here

B.I.G. 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €41)

BLANKbottle B.I.G. 2017

This is a single varietal blend; if that sounds strange it’s because it’s made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in eight different vineyards across South Africa.  Well, normally eight, from sea level up to mountain tops, except for the 2017 vintage which saw the fruit from two of the vineyards lost to smoke taint from fires – depicted on the label.  This is definitely a Cabernet Sauvignon but it’s not too far in character from the Cabernet Franc above, just a little richer and with more pronounced blackberry and blackcurrant fruit.  As you’d expect there are fine grained tannins to keep everything in check. A truly delicious wine.

Full details here

Make Mine A Double, Opinion, Tasting Events

Earth Angel – Domaine des Anges [Make Mine a Double #49]

An Englishman, and Irishman and a Frenchman climb up a mountain…and make some great wine!  Domaine des Anges was established on the slopes of Mont Ventoux by English couple Malcolm and Janet Swan in 1973.  At that point grapes were mainly being processed by the local cooperative, so it was a bold venture, but help and advice was surprisingly forthcoming from the famous but less-than-approachable Jacques Rayas of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Swans had variable levels of success, and after 20 or so years they sold the estate to Irishman Gay McGuinness.  He increased investment and hired professional winemakers – fellow Irishman Ciaran Rooney and after a decade Florent Chave.  Quality has continually increased and Domaine des Anges has received a plethora of praise from critics and consumers.

I recently had the opportunity to taste through the Domaine des Anges range thanks to a kind invitation from Boutique Wines, their Irish representative.  The wines were presented by historian and oenophile Giles MacDonogh – a close friend of the proprietors – and whose notes I have cribbed for background information.  While I liked all the wines I tried, two in particular stood out for me: the white and red AOC Ventoux “Archange” wines:

Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Blanc 2016 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)

Domaine des Anges archange Ventoux blanc

Whereas the regular Domaine des Anges Ventoux Blanc is a third each of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Bourboulenc, the Archange is 100% Roussanne – a grape that rarely gets the limelight all to itself.  In fact the winemaking is as much the star of the show here, with techniques very reminiscent of Burgundy.  The wine is aged in small oak barrels, giving notes of toast, toffee and vanilla.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked to preserve freshness, and regular lees stirring gives a wonderful creamy aspect.  The varietal character does come through the middle of all of this as an intriguing peachy tanginess…it’s like Burgundy but with a bit more going on.  The only downside to this wine is that it’s perhaps too good to drink every day – perhaps just save it for the weekend?

Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Rouge 2015 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)

Domaine des Anges archange Ventoux rouge

Although the Rhône Méridional is known for its Grenache-based blends, in the cooler heights of Mont Ventoux Syrah can play a much bigger role.  In this blend it accounts for a full 90% with the balance being Grenache.  As the 14.5% alcohol indicates this is a powerful wine, but it does not have the sweetness of a Barossa Shiraz, for example. There’s a distinct richness, but with smoky notes, black pepper, black fruits and leather, with an altogether savoury finish.  My “go-to” Rhône appellation is Saint-Joseph with its savoury Syrahs, but this Ventoux presents a great alternative – and at a great price.

Conclusion

These two wines are an outstanding pair and really over-deliver for the price tag.  They won’t fade in a hurry, either, so it would be well-worth putting a few (dozen) down to see how they evolve over time.

 

 

And for you film buffs out there, here’s a clip from the film which inspired part of the title of this post:

Tasting Events

DNS Holiday Wines 2019

When restarting the DNS Wine Club tasting calendar after the summer break it has become a tradition to start with wines that members have enjoyed on their holidays.  It’s always a nice and relaxed event and gives a far more idiosyncratic range than is the norm at DNS.

September 2019 had us meet and taste wines from Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, France, Australia and….Yorkshire!  Here they are in the order of tasting (and with apologies for the quality of the photos from my phone):

Yorkshire Heart Sparkling Rosé NV (11.0%)

Yorkshire Heart Sparkling Rosé NV

The best English wines tend to come from the south of the country: south coast counties like Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Cornwall.  Whereas southern English producers used to focus on varieties that could prosper despite a damp and cold climate, global warming and experience has led to a boom in sparkling wine production, usually with the three main Champagne grapes.  Further north in Yorkshire, however, the climate is now mild enough for the special cross and hybrid varieties to survive (though prosper might be a little overstating the case just now.)

Yorkshire Heart are based close to York, so the name is apt.  They also have a brewery and a cider orchard so most bases are covered.  The vineyard has 17 varieties across ten acres, so it is still fairly small scale and experimental.  The grapes used for the sparkling rosé are not disclosed apart from the use of Pinot Noir to create the pink hue.  It’s made using the traditional method with the wine resting on its lees for 12 months – not as long as Champagne but longer than some NV Cava.

The wine has a fruity nose and a nice mousse when poured, but unfortunately it was not persistent.  The palate is full of summer fruits; raspberry, strawberry, cranberry and a touch of blackberry competed for attention.  As this is an English wine there’s ample acidity, though the finish resolves with fruit sweetness.

Read more about Yorkshire Heart here.

Principe Strozzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2017 (13.0%)

Principe Strozzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2017

Following the Italian wine naming convention of [grape] from [place], this is a 100% Vernaccia from San Gimignano in Tuscany (aka Chiantishire).  On the nose the wine evokes wet stones – can you get more mineral than that?  On the palate, it’s as though fresh lemons have been squeezed onto said stones – a real citrus zing on top of the minerality.  It has a touch more body than I had at first expected.  This is a well-made wine which, while not setting the world alight, makes for some very pleasant drinking.

Tesco Finest Tingleup Great Southern Riesling 2018 (12.0%)

Tesco Finest Tingleup Great Southern Riesling 2018

Of all the wines brought to this tasting, this Australian Riesling was from the furthest away.  However, DNS member Michelle was blagging this one as she had not been to Australia, and had instead spent her holidays in the local Tesco.  The wine is made for Tesco by Howard Park who are based in Western Australia and specialise in wines from Margaret River and Great Southern.  On the nose it has aromas of lime and…well…Riesling!  The palate is full of refreshing, zingy citrus and there’s just a kiss of sweetness on the finish.  A great way to get into Riesling.

Read more on Howard Park Wines here.

Mar de Frades Rías Baixas Albariño Atlántico 2018 (12.5%)

Mar de Frades Albarino Atlantico Rias Baixas 2018

So let’s count up the nautical references: the producer is Mar de Frades (which translates as something like “Sea of Friars”), the wine is Albariño Atlántico which indicates that it’s from the part of Rías Baixas close to the ocean, and the label depicts huge crashing waves and a chuffing seagull!  Message understood, loud and clear!  Thankfully the wine is very nice, despite being the producer’s “entry level” effort.  It spends six months on the lees which adds a nice bit of texture to the pear and peach fruit.  A saline finish seasons it perfectly.  In a sea (sorry, it’s catching) of samey Albariño, this is a winner.

Read more on Mar de Frades here.

Tenute delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2017 (14.0%)

Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2017.jpg

Tenuta delle Terre Nere takes its name from the black basalt and pumice stones which cover much of the estate on the northern side of Mount Etna.  Its surface area totals 55 hectares and is far from homogeneous – the 24 parcels range from 600 to 1,000 metres above sea level and (apart from a few new plantings) between 50 and 100 years old.

This Rosso is mainly Nerello Mascalese (95%) with a dash of Nerello Cappuccio (5%).  The soil is volcanic soil, obviously (I bleedin’ hope it’s obvious!!).  Stylistically the wine is somewhat Pinot Noir like, but with a touch more body and spice.  It has delicious smoky black and red fruit plus a certain chewy earthiness. 

Read more on Tenuta delle Terre Nere here.

Domaine du Bois de St Jean “Les Ventssssss” Côtes du Rhône 2016 (14.0%)

Domaine du Bois Les Ventssssss CdR 2016

The Domaine is located near Avignon and has a range of different red, white and rosé Côtes du Rhône wines plus Crus Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Vacqueras.  One notable wine is “Pur Cent”a cuvée first released 9 years ago made from 16 different varieties, all planted when the estate was founded in 1910, i.e. one hundred year old vines.

The odd name of this wine – which you can see in the heading above, but not so well on the label – is because the six Ss at the end of Ventssssss represent the six different names for the main wind which affects the Rhône: The Mistral.   The vines are planted on sand and pebble soils, north-facing slopes (presumably not too steep an incline) at around 400m.  The vines vary between 60 and 80 years old and consist of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Counoise and Cinsault.  For the 2016 only the first four varieties were used, but the precise blend is a family secret.

The wine is extremely smooth and elegant, attributable (in my humble opinion) to the sandy soils and north facing aspect respectively.  The velvet texture immediately reminded me of the Mas Saint-Louis Châteauneuf-du-Pape which is also predominantly Grenache grown on sandy soils – and that’s a real compliment.  Quite simply this is the best AOC Côtes du Rhône I’ve ever tasted.

Read more on the Domaine du Bois de Saint Jean here.

Quinta dos Aciprestes Douro Tinto 2016 (14.5%)

Quinta dos Aciprestes Douro Tinto 2016

One of my wine rules of thumb is that, when a place is famous for wine derived drinks other than regular table wines, if they were to produce table wines they would be quite poor.  When was the last time you had a regular table wine from the Sherry, Champagne or Cognac regions?  The Douro is a prominent exception to that rule of thumb with some excellent, characterful and drinkable wines, especially reds.

Quinta dos Aciprestes” means “Estate of the Cypress Trees“; the three depicted on the front label are most likely a representation of the three Quintas which were joined together to make the estate.  The grapes are a typical Port blend, including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinto Cão and Tinta Barocca.  Maturation is for 12 months in French oak (I suspect mainly older barrels).  This is a rich wine, typical of the Douro, but still round and soft – softer than the 14.5% alcohol would imply.

Château Nico Lazaridi Drama 2016 (15.0%)

Ch Nico Lazaridi Drama 2016

Let’s get the bad pun out of the way first: the phrase “no drama” is usually taken to be a good thing – but not in this case!  Drama is a municipality in the East Macedonia and Thrace region of north east Greece and home to Italophile wine producer Nico Lazaridis.  French grapes predominate with some Sangiovese and autochthonous varieties.

The eponymous Château Nico Lazaridi wine is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese – what might be termed a Super Tuscan blend – that has spent 12 months in French oak.  It has an enticing, fragrant but gentle nose.  The palate is rich, explosive but smooth – cherries, chocolate and luscious black fruits all wrapped in velvet.  At 15% there’s also a suggestion of Napa Valley style power and sweetness.  This is a fabulous wine!

Read more on Château Laziridi here.

The Votes From Our North Side Jury

All of these holiday wines were good and worth trying, but two did stand out as the best and second best of the tasting:

  1. Château Nico Lazaridi received 8 votes (out of 18 total)
  2. Domaine du Bois de St Jean “Les Ventssssss” received 4 votes (out of 18 total)
Tasting Events

Lidl France 2019 (part 2 – Reds)

While part 1 covered my favourite white wines from the Lidl France “sale”, this part 2 looks at reds from Burgundy, the Rhône, Bordeaux and the Languedoc:

Les Paroisses Côte de Beaune-Villages 2016 (13.0%, €16.99 at Lidl)

Les Paroisses Côte de Beaune-Villages AOP, €16.99

Les Paroisses” means “The Parishes“; it’s made from 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the southern part of the Côte d’Or, Burgundy.  Although I liked this wine I musty give it a health warning – it’s a bit stinky!  Although this funk is probably a fault (such as brettanomyces) it didn’t put me off – and there was plenty of red fruit on the nose as well.  It pours light in the glass as you’d expect from Burgundy.  The palate is soft and round, very inviting.  This is Proper Burgundy!

Comtes de Lorgeuil “Les Pierres” Cabardès 2016 (13.5%, €9.99 at Lidl)

Les Pierres Languedoc-Roussillon Cabardès AOP, €9.99

Cabardès is just inside the northwestern border of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, just north of the tourist trap that is Carcassonne.  As an AOC it is much smaller (500 ha) than its Languedoc neighbours Minervois (5,100 ha) or Corbières (15,000 ha), and due to its position between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, its vignerons are required to grow grape varieties from both coasts and blend them (with at least 40% of both) in the finished wine.

This wine has a slight Atlantic bias with 40% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon versus 30% Syrah and 10% Grenache.  It’s thick and chewy in the mouth, quite savoury with lots of black fruit.  It is a little bit rustic, but it’s charming too – a great winter wine to have with hearty food.

Château Roque le Mayne Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux 2017 (14.0%, €14.99 at Lidl)

Château Roque le Mayne Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux AOC, €14.99

Castillon-la-Bataille is on the north bank of the Dordogne, to the east of the much more famous Saint-Emilion.  It’s quite an up-and-coming sub-region at the moment, with quality rising all the time.  The blend is 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec.  It has a ripe, expressive nose with explosive black fruit.  The palate is rich, oaked and smooth – there are lovely soft tannins.  A very fruity wine, but still recognisably Bordelais.

Collin-Bourisset Coteaux Bourguignons Rouge 2018 (14.0%, €8.99 at Lidl)

Collin Bourisset Coteaux Bourguignons AOP red, €8.99

As I mentioned in part 1, Coteaux Bourguignons can be red or white and covers the whole of Beaujolais and Burgundy proper.  Collin-Bourisset is based in Beaujolais so it makes sense that this is 100% Gamay.  It has a typical Gamay nose of blueberries and damsons.  It has a juicy palate of red and black fruit and very soft tannins.  It’s quite a light wine with decent acidity so perfect for lunchtime with a platter of charcuterie.

Dame de Clochevigne Rasteau 2018 (14.5%, €9.99 at Lidl)

Rasteau Dame de Clochevigne AOP, €9.99

Now “Cloche” means “Clock” and “Vigne” means “Vine” so does “Clochevigne” mean “Vineclock“?  Perhaps we could ask the Dame.  The southern Rhône is GSM territory and this Rasteau fits that template perfectly: 76% Grenache, 22% Syrah and 2% Mourvèdre.  The juicy red fruit is thick and chewy – it’s a meal all in itself.  Black olive and liquorice finish keep a savoury edge.  Drink with a spoon!

Vinsobres Cru des Côtes du Rhône 2017 (14.5%, €9.99 at Lidl)

Cru des Côtes du Rhône Vinsobres AOP, €9.99

This Vinsobres is pretty similar to the Rasteau above, perhaps a touch softer.  The blend here is 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre.  The extra year it has compared to the Rasteau really helps the wine to settle and relax, though decanting (a simple jug is all that’s really required) would help the strawberry and raspberry fruit to shine.

Tasting Events

Super French Wines (part 1)

The end of summer in Ireland means it’s time for SuperValu’s French Wine Sale, running from 5th to 26th September in store and online.  As well as the usual favourites there will be a dozen “Special Guest Wines” which are available for a limited time only – marked with *.

Part 2 will look at some great Bordeaux wines from the sale; this part 1 looks at some of the others I enjoyed:

La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc Vin de France 2018* (12.5%, €11.99 down to €9.00 at SuperValu)

La Petite Perriere Sauvignon Blanc

For this cuvée La Perrière blended Sauvignon Blanc grapes from their home in the Loire with others sourced from the Languedoc and the Gers, adding ripe southern fruit to crisp Loire grapes.  In my view this has been very successful as overall it presents appealing ripeness with a fresh finish.  The nose and palate reflect the Gs: gooseberry, grapefruit and grass.

La Petite Perrière Rosé 2017* (11.5%, €11.99 down to €9.00 at SuperValu)

La Petite Perrier Rose

It is rare for me to recommend a rosé, and outside of quality sparkling or excellent wines like Domaine Tempier of Bandol, I actually prefer the simpler, cheaper wines to the fancier ones.  This doesn’t have a celebrity owner or producer, but it’s accessible and affordable, with appealing red fruit and a fresh finish.  Why can’t more rosés be like this?

Alma Cersius Coteaux de Béziers Rouge 2017* (13.5%, €14.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Diapositive 1The IGP Coteaux de Béziers is in the Languedoc’s Hérault department and up until 2015 was known as Coteaux-du-Libron, the change effected for better name recognition.  The IGP regulations are very wide in terms of permitted grape varieties, but the three used here are among the most well known: 50% Syrah, 25%Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is a fruit forward wine with very soft tannins, showing blackcurrant, plum and raspberry notes.  A great quaffing wine to have in the cupboard when friends pop round for a drink.

Coteaux du Giennois Alchimie 2018 (13.5%, €14.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Alchimie White.jpg

In years past I have reviewed the 2014 and 2015 vintages so it’s fair to say that it’s a favourite.  The vines are on sandy soil, deposited when the Loire was broader and slow-moving at the edges.  This makes for a soft, gentle wine which it great for sipping.  Wild yeast fermentation adds a bit of interest.

Guy Saget Sancerre 2018 (13.0%, €19.99 down to €15.00 at SuperValu)

Guy Saget Sancerre

Into more serious territory now, a wine aged for seven months on the lees in stainless steel tank.  This is an expressive wine with a slightly saline, mineral character backed up by floral notes and tangy fruit.  The 2018 vintage is drinking now but if well kept should develop nicely over the next few years.

Guy Saget Pouilly-Fumé 2016 (12.5%, €19.99 down to €15.00 at SuperValu)

Guy Saget Pouilly

From Sancerre we now cross directly from the left (southern) bank of the Loire to the right bank and Pouilly-Fumé.  Sancerre has a more rolling landscape and more diverse soils, whereas Pouilly-Fumé is flatter, and also closer to the river.  We also have an additional two years of bottle age with this 2016, which shows white flowers and green fruit in an elegant package.

Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne NV* (12.0%, €26.99 down to €19.00 at SuperValu)

Cremant-de-bourgogne-Brut

This was one of my highlights of the tasting, an excellent traditional method sparkling from the Chablis area (the black grapes coming from the Auxerrois).  Simmonet-Febvre is in fact the only producer of Crémant de Bourgogne in the far north of Burgundy and has been making it since 1840.  The blend is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, with the wine resting on its lees after the second fermentation for 24 months.  This is notably well in excess of the 9 months required for non-vintage crémant and even the 15 months required for NV Champagne.  On pouring it has a nice weight to it, with citrus and red fruits lifted by some bready notes.  A classy wine!

Mégalithe Sancerre 2016* (12.5%, €29.99 down to €22.00 at SuperValu)

La Perrière Sancerre Blanc Mégalithe_2016

Now we have a different beast entirely.  Of course this is 100% Sauvignon Blanc but 40% of the must is fermented (with wild yeast) and matured in new French oak.  Over this eight to nine month period the fine lees are stirred regularly.  The other 60% is vinified in stainless steel and the two batches blended before bottling.  It has a little more weight and funk than the Guy Saget wines above but not that much compared to, say, Greywacke Wild Sauvignon.  This is a gentle, gorgeous wine that will drink well now and for the next few years.

Louis Latour Meursault 2017* (13.5%, €59.99 down to €42.00 at SuperValu)

Louis Latour Meursault

As long as I have been into wine Meursault has been a premium wine with a premium price.  After the Montrachet twins it’s the next most celebrated white wine commune of the Côte de Beaune, with a reputation for medium to full bodies oak-aged wines.  Louis Latour’s history goes back to 1797 and has been in family hands ever since.  Outside of the Côte d’Or the firm also owns Simmonet-Febvre (see above) and produces wines in the Ardèche.

The Louis Latour 2017 Meursault is fermented in oak barrels where it also goes through MLF.  Maturation is also in medium toast oak barrels (from its own cooperage), 15% of which are new.  This is a generous wine with lovely heft and mouthfeel, full of soft fruits and a touch if vanilla from the oak.  2017 is a fairly accessible vintage but if put away for another year it would be even more of a treat.

 

 

Tasting Events

Lidl French Wine Cellars (part 1 – red)

Lidl Ireland’s “French Wine Cellars” promotion runs from Monday 25th March while stocks last.  It’s not a “sale” as such – rather a group of seasonal wines which are available in limited quantities.  First we turn our attention to the reds, with emphasis on Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley.

Château Saint Antoine Bordeaux Supérieur 2016 (13.5%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Château Saint Antoine Bordeaux Supérieur, €9.99

The regulations to make Bordeaux Supérieur are not that significant – slightly higher vine density, slightly lower yields and slightly higher minimum alcohol – but when was the last time you saw a Bordeaux wine at less than 10.0% abv?  I remember some as low as 11.0% in the early nineties but that rule is largely irrelevant now.  This is modern, approachable Bordeaux, with lots of black fruit and liquorice.  There’s a touch of leather and soft tannins, but this is not austere.  Would be perfect for steak, but quaffable on its own if decanted.

Baron de Portets Graves 2016 (13.5%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Baron de Portets Graves, €9.99Graves in part of Bordeaux’s lower left bank, and was in fact making great wines before the Médoc was drained by Dutch engineers.  The best areas of the Graves were sectioned off into a new appellation – Pessac-Léognan – in 1987, leaving the remaining area as more everyday producers.  And I don’t think I’m being unfair in calling this Baron de Portets an everyday wine – it’s only a tenner after all – but it’s far better than I’d expect from left bank Bordeaux at this price.  It’s seductive and smooth with lots of black fruit and a touch of red.  A hint of liquorice on the finish keeps it on the savoury side.

Château Fonguillon Montagne-Saint-Emilion 2015 (13.5%, €11.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Rotwein, Frankrech, LIDL

Although this is from one of Saint-Emilion’s four satellite appellations (there’s another in this offer which wasn’t to my taste), it’s very well put together – the full Saint-Emilion experience.  Dominated by Merlot, it boasts rich plum and blackberry fruit balanced by soft tannins.  Château Fonguillon is quite a mouthful (yes, in both senses), but it’s not jammy and is definitely worth a try.

Château Haut-Plaisance Montagne-Saint-Emilion 2016 (14.0%, €12.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Château Haut-Plaisance Saint-Émilion, €12.99

If ever a wine had a promising name, Château “High Pleasure” would be it.  And it is a pleasurable wine – fruit forward with quite a bit of oak (some may prefer to let it breathe properly before drinking).  Blackberry, damson and plum are the order of the day, but fresh and with a streak of acidity.  Great value for money.

Château Saint-Rémy Fronsac 2017 (14.5%, €11.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Château Saint-Rémy Fronsac, €11.99

Just north of the right bank’s leading town, Libourne, Fronsac is one of the best value appellations within Bordeaux.  Château Saint-Rémy has 17 hectares of vineyards which follow the normal patterns of right bank wine: 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is a ripe, thick and rich red wine, though there’s no heat on the finish that the 14.5% (!) alcohol might imply.  It’s not everyone’s idea of Bordeaux, but as a bridge between France and the new world it works a treat!

Clos des Batuts Cahors 2017 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Clos des Batuts Cahors, €9.99

Cahors and its “black wines” are the original home of Malbec, though the variety is also found in Bordeaux, the Loire Valley and – most famously – Argentina.  In the past Cahors wines have needed some time in bottle before drinking, but this is a very drinkable example.  It’s mid weight rather than hefty, clean and full of red and black fruit.  Tannins are present and correct but not too dry.  This will do well at summer barbecues, if we get a summer this year…

Cru des Côtes du Rhône Vinsobres 2017 (14.5%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Vinsobres is one of the more recent Rhône areas to be promoted up to a Cru – in 2006 in fact.  It still isn’t that well known which means that there are some bargains to be had.  AOC rules stipulate minima of 50% Grenache and 25% Syrah and / or Mourvèdre, so expect big and bold fruit – and that is exactly what we have here.  Tannins are fairly low and acidity is reasonable (the Grenache component is probably over 60%) so this is a very approachable wine.  Give me more!

Dame de Clochevigne Rasteau 2017 (14.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Rasteau, €9.99

This is not a terribly complex wine, but it’s juicy and quaffable – nice enough to crack open on a school night with dinner or out on the patio now that we’re getting a bit of a stretch in the evenings.  The breakdown of grape varieties isn’t given, but being southern Rhône it’s highly likely to be a GSM – and given its flavour profile the emphasis is very much on Grenache.

Gigondas 2017 (14.5%, €16.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Gigondas, €16.99

Gigondas is considered second in the southern Rhône hierarchy – after Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but doesn’t have the latter’s instant recognition – or price tags to match.  This is, however, the most expensive red in Lidl Ireland’s offering, though still fairly modest by independent wine shop standards.  It’s cossetting and smooth, quite a cozy wine in fact (if that term means anything to anyone).  It’s not light but it does have a touch of sophistication and elegance.  This is how southern Rhône reds should be, and it’s well worth the premium on the others above.

 

 

Opinion, Tasting Events

Fine Time (Part 1 – NZ & Australia)

There are few words that bring joy to a winelover’s ears as much as “fine wine sale”.  Below are some of the Kiwi and Aussie wines included in Irish chain O’Briens’ fine wine sale that I have tried and enjoyed this year.  I will leave the discussion on what constitutes “fine wine” for another day!

Note: links now added as O’Briens have also taken the fine wine sale online.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (13.1%, €33.95 down to €26.95 at O’Briens)

cloudy bay sauvignon blanc

The one Savvy to rule them all – Cloudy Bay brought Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to international attention and acclaim, for a while it sat alone at the top of the tree. Nowadays it has company – not least Greywacke, made by Cloudy Bay’s founding winemaker Kevin Judd, and Dog Point, also made by former CB winemakers.

But it’s in difficult vintages such as 2017 where the premium labels really earned their stripes; lots of grey rot was present in the grapes of bulk producers – a byproduct of being paid for quantity over quality – so the careful selection and sorting of upmarket producers like Cloudy Bay made a huge difference to the finished wine.  This is so much smoother and less aggressive than everyday Marlborough Sauvignon that it’s almost like a different wine!

Man O’War Dreadnought Waiheke Island Syrah 2014 (14.6%, €35.45 down to €26.95 at O’Briens)

man-o-war-dreadnought-syrah-2014

Man O’War’s nautically named Flagship range always go down a treat chez moi – and they are indeed a treat, especially the Valhalla Chardonnay.  Here we have their Dreadnought Syrah, perhaps a little riper and fuller-bodied than the Syrahs of Hawke’s Bay, but still recognisably Kiwi.  Black fruit and blueberries are framed by oak (though now integrating well) and tannins (present but ripe).  A fantastic wine!

St Hallett Old Block Barossa Shiraz 2014 (13.7%, €60.00 down to €48.00 at O’Briens)

St-Hallett-Old-Block-Shiraz-2014

Whereas the Dreadnought above is unmistakably Kiwi, this is unmistakably Barossa.  In fact the fruit is sourced from two sub-regions of the Barossa Zone, the Barossa Valley proper (62%) and the slightly cooler Eden Valley (38%) just to the east (note the ABV is a fairly moderate 13.7%.)  And “Old Block”?  That means OLD, with a minimum vine age for the 2014 of 80 years.  The result is a fabulous, concentrated wine with vibrant red and black berry fruit and fine tannins.

d’Arenberg Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 (14.5%, €54.95 down to €43.95 at O’Briens)

dArenberg Dead Arm Shiraz

Another iconic Aussie Shiraz, this time from McLaren Vale which is a short way south of Adelaide and a few clicks inland from the sea.  Cheeky chappie Chester Osbourne is still the head winemaker of this family firm, but despite the loud shirts and outgoing personality he really knows his stuff (the 2002 Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon was my top red of 2017.)   Intense red, purple and black fruit dominate the palate – this will be at its best in the years to come, but drinkable now, especially if decanted.

Also see my French picks in part 2

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 4)

So far we have looked at the northern Crus (part 1), Châteauneuf-du-Pape (part 2) and other southern Crus (part 3).  Now it’s the turn of wines from the regional Côtes du Rhône appellation plus one of the stars of Ventoux, not a cru as such but one of the best of the other AOCs in the Rhône.

Domaine André Brunel “Cuvée Sommelongue” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (14.0%, RRP €18.30 at Karwig Wines)

Andre Brunel CDR cuvee sommelongue

It would be very rare for a wine drinker to have not had a bottle of Rhône, and it’s close to a certainty that they have tried an AOC Côtes du Rhône.  The reason is simple – 48% of the whole region’s production has that AOC with a further 11% being Côtes du Rhône-Villages [2016 vintage: source: http://www.rhone-wines.com/en/en-chiffre].

What would be unusual, however, would be for that drinker to have tried a CDR with five or six years of age – most are very approachable in their youth and so are enjoyed when young.  Just because a wine can be enjoyed young doesn’t mean that it should be – and this is the perfect example of a CDR that has benefitted from ageing.

This tastes quite different from the exuberantly fruity young CDRs; primary fresh fruit has mellowed and the herbal garrigue notes are more prominent.  This Cuvée Sommelongue would be perfect with a hearty stew, and adding a dash or two as you make it would be highly appropriate!

Domaine Roche-Audran “César” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (15.0%, RRP €22.95 at Baggot Street Wines)

Domaine Roche-Audran Cesar CDR

Just like buses, there seem to be no 2012 CDRs and then two come along together!  This shows that well made wines can age gracefully, despite a modest appellation.  I say gracefully, but César is a bit of a bruiser – with 15.0% abv it has as much power as Greyskull.  You don’t need to be He-Man to drink it though – this biodynamic beauty has lots of lovely red fruit and herbal notes from 100% Grenache grapes.  If it’s cold outside, pop the cork and warm yourself up!

Château Pesquié “Quintessence” Ventoux 2015 (13.5%, RRP €27.95 at Searsons)

Pesquie Quintessence

René & Odette Bastide bought Château Pesquié in the early 1970s, around the same time that the Côtes du Ventoux appellation was created (it dropped the “Côtes du” from 30th November 2008).  They replanted much of the vineyards while still selling their grapes to the local co-operative.  A decade or so later their daughter Edith and her husband Paul Chaudière joined the family firm and took up oenology seriously.  Together they built a winery and started producing Château Pesquié wines from the 1990 vintage – including Quintessence which was (and remains) a statement of quality for the region.

The slopes of Mont Ventoux provide much needed cool air to the area, thus making Syrah a key variety down here as it is in the north.  Quintessence is 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache, full of dark black fruit and savoury tapenade.  Although drinking nicely now, it has the structure and acidity to age for several decades – if you can manage not to touch it!

Château Pesquié “Artemia” Ventoux 2014 (14.5%, RRP €46.50)

Pesquie Artemia

Edith and Paul Chaudière’s sons Alex and Fred became the next generation to join the family wine business, bringing additional enthusiasm and know-how.  Artemia became the new flagship wine, the combination of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah from two individual low-yielding old vine single vineyards.  Maturation is 18 months in oak, split half and half between new and used barrels.

Given the blend, Artemia is more fruit forward and less obviously structured than Quintessence – more elegant and more approachable, though still with an intense concentration of fruit.  The oak is well integrated and adds a little gravitas.  This is a very different expression of Ventoux from its sibling, and preference between the two is very much down to personal preference.  My own….I’ll take both please!

 

 

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 3)

After the serious Syrahs of the northern Rhône in part 1 and the famous wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in part 2, we now turn to some of the other prestigious Crus of the southern Rhône.

Domaine Brusset “La Bastide” Rasteau 2015 (13.5%, RRP €23.95 at Mitchell & Son)

Domaine Brusset La Bastide Rasteau

While Rasteau has been an AOC for Grenache-based Vin Doux Naturel since the 1943 vintage, its dry reds were only promoted up from Côtes du Rhône Villages-Rasteau from the 2009 vintage onwards.

For all my opening talk of autumn, this is a wine that would be perfect(ly) at home on a cold winter’s day.  It’s a thick, chewy blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre with a fair dose of new oak, full of ripe black fruits and toasty spices.  This style of wine would be too full-on and heavy in summer, but it’s a perfect comfort-wine for autumn into winter.

Alain Jaume “Grande Garrigue” Vacqueras 2014 (14.5%, RRP €24.00 at Mitchell & Son)

Alain Jaume Grand Garrigue Vacqueras

Garrigues” is a wonderful word which means a number of interlinked things: firstly, it’s a type of limestone-based landscape, typical of parts of the Mediterranean coast; secondly, it refers to the low-growing plants and bushes often found on such a terrain; thirdly, it is used as a wine descriptor for notes that conjure up the herbs such as rosemary, lavender and thyme which are found on garrigue.

This bottle is a typical Rhône GSM blend, with 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre.  Supple and viscous in the mouth, it dances over the tongue and belies its 14.5% abv.  Black fruits are accompanied by fragrant herbal and liquorice notes.  A really delicious wine.

Montirius La Tour Gigondas 2015 (13.5%, RRP €27.50 at Baggot Street Wines)

Montirius Gigondas La Tour

Gigondas is generally regarded as the second most prestigious southern Cru – after Châteauneuf-du-Pape but ahead of Vacqueras.  Of course, it’s the wine not the appellation that counts, and biodynamic outfit Montirius have really struck gold with their “young vines” cuvée (if 35 years can be said to be young!)  The wine is named “La Tour” after one of the parcels the grapes are sourced from and it has a zero oak regime, being fermented and aged in concrete tanks before bottling.  Those who are a fan of oak won’t miss it though, as it’s a soft and cossetting wine.  Fresh strawberries and raspberries really stand out, with a shake of exotic spice.  At this price it’s amazing value for money!

Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux “Cuvée Doucinello” Vacqueras 2014 (14.5%, RRP €32.00 at Searson’s)

Domaine le Sang des Cailloux

This is Serge Férgioule’s main red cuvée (the other being the old vine “Cuvée Lopy”) which confusingly and charmingly rotates in name between his three daughters – so other vintages could also be Cuvée Floureto or Cuvée Azalaïs.  Whatever the name happens to be, the blend is 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah  and the remaining 10% a mix of Carignan, Mourvèdre and Cinsault.  The vines are between 35 and 40 years old and are farmed biodynamically.  Serge (and his son) have a hands-off approach in the winery, preferring to do the hard work in the vineyard and then let the fruit speak for itself.  The 2014 is soft, powerful and fresh – beautifully balanced and very drinkable.

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 2)

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

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

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

chateauneuf-du-pape mas saint louis

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

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

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

Roche Audran Chateauneuf du pape

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

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

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

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

Andre Brunel CNDP Les Cailloux

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

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

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

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

Mourchon CNDP

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

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