Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2017

Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Syrah make up a good proportion of the reds I really enjoyed last year and will be looking to enjoy again soon:

10. Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, RRP €23.95)

Urlar-Pinot-Noir

When it comes to New Zealand Pinot Noir a lot of the bottles available in Ireland are from Marlborough.  Although some are very good, for me a lot of them are just a bit average.  One alternative is to head for Central Otago’s bigger, bolder Pinots – but they often come with a serious price tag.  Instead, why not head to one of the first Pinot producing areas in the country – Wairarapa at the bottom of the North Island.  Martinborough is the most famous sub-region (particularly as it’s easier for us to pronounce), but Gladstone is also worth checking out.  Urlar’s Pinot shows black fruit and spice but with savoury notes – none of the jam or cherry cola than can appear in Marlborough.  It’s quite a powerful wine but well balanced and equally at home with dinner or on its own.

9. Dominio de la Vega Paraje Tournel Utiel-Requena Bobal 2014 (14.0%, RRP €23.95)

paraje-tornel-bobal-2014

Neither the DO Utiel-Requena wine region nor the Bobal grape are particularly renowned, and the two are intertwined.  The DO is in the province of Valencia in the east of Spain and has traditionally been known for its bulk wine, three quarters of which was made from Bobal.  Some more quality conscious producers realised that careful viticulture, keeping yields low (the antithesis of bulk wine production!) and good treatment in the winery could allow Bobal’s hitherto hidden quality to shine through.  I haven’t tasted many examples of Bobal but this was fantastic – a nice change from the standard Tempranilli, Garnacha and Monastrell.  It’s aged for 12 months in new French oak barrels then 12 months in bottle before release.  This is darker and more full bodied than many Spanish reds, full of blackcurrant and blueberry with hints of vanilla.  The acidity keeps the fruit fresh and adds to the long finish.

8. Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 (13.0%, RRP €32.50)

Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage Rouge 2015

Unlike some, I’m often wary of buying Crozes-Hermitage.  Yes they can be good value, pleasant drinking, and often good with food, but rarely do they have the “wow factor” – so I’m more likely to trade up to a Saint-Joseph.  However, here is one that does have the wow factor, or more accurately, the WOW FACTOR – it’s easily the best Crozes I’ve ever tried.  It’s everything that Northern Rhone Syrah can be – intensely savoury, smoky and spicy, with juicy red and black fruits, black pepper and black olive.  It’s still young at the moment with lots of tannin, but this is a wine to buy a dozen or two of and drink them over the next decade.

7. Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004 (14.5%, RRP €35 for current releases)

Penfolds-Bin-28-Kalimna Shiraz

 

Unless you’re very familiar with the Penfolds range, it’s not that obvious where each particular wine fits in to the hierarchy.  Bin 28 just squeezes into the “Penfolds Collection”, the flagship range which goes all the way up to Grange, Bin 707 and Yattarna.  I had no idea of this when I bought a few bottles of the 2004 vintage several years ago for €20, but the current RRP of €35 and the sheer quality of the wine make me believe it deserves its status.  Intense black (and blue!) fruit are joined by black olive and liquorice notes.

6. Ziereisen Rhini Baden Spätburgunder 2011 (12.5%, RRP €49)

ziereisen-rhini

If you want to see how good German Pinot Noir can be, try this producer from the country’s warmest wine region, Baden.  Compared to many other Spätburgunders this has more of everything – more fruit, more oak, more tannin and more body.  That might not necessarily be a successful recipe but the quality of the fruit from the Rhini vineyard and gentle winemaking have resulted in a delicious, well-balanced wine.  It’s far from cheap, but better value than many Burgundies of the same quality (and yes, it deserves to be spoken of in the same sentence).

5. Mourchon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 (15.0%, RRP €50)

Mourchon Chateauneuf du pape

2017 was the year that I really rediscovered Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  For casual drinkers that might be something of a surprise, as it’s a very well-known wine.  However, negociants who buy the bottom of the barrel or the cheapest grapes in the appellation have done it a disservice – there’s lots of very average Châteauneuf out there which trades on the name.  A few over the past several years have restored my faith and then the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely in November 2017 there was an abundance of great CNDP.  This example from Mourchon impressed me without a stratospheric price.  The blend is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah which is a slight variation on the usual GSM order, but the extra Mourvèdre helps to add more backbone and darker fruit notes.

4. GD Vajra Bricco delle Viole Barolo 2013 (14.0%, RRP €83.99)

GD Vajra Barolo Bricco Delle Viole 2013

While many Barolos can be acidic, tannic and unapproachable in their youth, G.D. Vayra’s eschew that “playing hard to get” style.  The Bricco delle Viole vineyard is 4.79 ha in total area and runs from 380m – 470m; the altitude makes for a long growing season so complex flavours can develop while preserving freshness.  Although 14.0% abv this is not a heavy wine; it has body but is light enough to dance on the tongue.  It shows typical rose and tar notes on the nose with raspberry and blackberry on the palate.  Above all, it’s a smooth, complex but accessible wine.

3. Château-Gris Nuits-Saint-George 1er Cru “Château-Gris” Monopole 2015 (cask sample) (13.5%, RRP €73)

Chateau Gris

Château-Gris is part of the Albert Bichot portfolio and is a monopole appellation, i.e. a single producer owns the whole vineyard – and when the appellation is named after the producer that’s no surprise.  Depending on the vintage the wine is matured for 12 – 15 months in oak, of which 25% is new; the oak was quite prominent on this cask sample but didn’t overpower the sweet red and black fruit.  Some people cite red Burgundy as the holy grail of wine – this wine manages to be so good, powerful yet ethereal, that I’m starting to be a believer.

2. Ar.Pe.Pe. Valtellina Superiore Sassella Riserva “Rocce Rossa” 2007 (13.5%, RRP €76.95)

arpepe-sassella-rocce-rosse-2007

Valtellina in Lombardy is far less celebrated than Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco, yet its best producers can produce some very fine wines indeed.  And fine is actually a very apt descriptor as the wines are lighter and more ethereal than their counterparts to the west.  It’s not a case of which is better, but rather which one prefers or is in the mood for. This lovely Sassella from the Rocce Rossa vineyard was ten years old when tasted but was still in the earlier stages of development.  Cherry and herbs were the key notes in a fabulous wine.

1. D’Arenberg Coppermine Road McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (14.5%, RRP ~€50 for current releases)

darenberg-the-coppermine-road-cabernet-sauvignon-2002

D’Arenberg is an iconic producer in McLaren Vale and this is one of their three icon wines – the other two being the celebrated Dead Arm Shiraz and the less well known Ironstone Pressings GSM blend.  The 2002 was only the eighth release under this name, though d’Arenberg have been releasing fine Cabernet Sauvignon from their High Trellis vineyard for over four decades (winning the 1969 Jimmy Watson Trophy).  I opened this wine at my birthday meal out with my wife and a couple of good friends – and it was stupendously good!  Although somewhat mature at fifteen years old it was nowhere near over the hill.  Tannins were gentle and round and the big smack of cassis had been joined by cedar and graphite notes – just a perfectly balanced, à point, wonderful wine.

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Opinion

Wines at Xmas #13 – Alan March [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Alan March is different from most wine bloggers – while we wax lyrically about various bottles of wine we have tasted he is actually at the “coalface” helping to make innovative wine in the Languedoc.  His aptly titled A March in the Vines is well worth a follow.


Mas Coutelou La Vigne Haute.jpgChristmas is about family and friends, sharing and reflection on the year which is fading. My choice of wine reflects these. I have lived most of the last 3 years in the Languedoc and spent much of the time helping at and writing about Mas Coutelou.  Jean-François (Jeff) Coutelou makes a series of excellent natural wines but for this special occasion I shall choose La Vigne Haute 2013.

The wine is pure Syrah, it is labelled as a Vin De France because Jeff chooses to avoid the rules of appellation status which would, for example, mean that a single grape wine would not be allowed.  Syrah is one of the main five Languedoc red grapes along with Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.  The grapes which make La Vigne Haute are grown in a vineyard called La Garrigue planted on two sides of a ridge, Grenache facing the southerly sun and Syrah, more sheltered and cool, facing north.

2013 was the last vintage of La Vigne Haute, if the grapes and quality are not high enough they will be used in other wines. (Happily, 2017 will see a new vintage!).  The 2013 offers warmth, long flavours of red fruits and soft tannins, great with Christmas food.  Made by my friend, shared with family and a reminder of so many happy days in Puimisson.


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Opinion

SuperValu French Wine Sale

SuperValu French picks
SuperValu’s French wine sale runs until 20th September, both online and in their stores.  Here are a few of their wines which I’ve tried and can heartily recommend:

Domaine de Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes De Grandlieu Sur Lie 2015 (12.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Muscadet

From the western reaches of the Loire, Muscadet is best known for somewhat neutral flavours and searing acidity – it’s the perfect match for oysters and other shellfish. However, the better vignerons in the area can produce something that offers much more. Based around the Lac de Grandlieu, the subregion of Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu was only established in 1994, almost 60 years after the generic appellation, and represents a fraction of total production.

This has initial notes of tropical fruit (though not over the top), with a touch of creaminess from the time on lees, followed by a long mineral finish.  There’s plenty of acidity but it’s not at all austere.  Try this instead of a Picpoul!

 

Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux Du Giennois Alchimie 2015 (13.0%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)

Alchimie

Coteaux du Giennois is a Sauvignon Blanc-only appellation close to the more famous Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire’s central vineyards.  Alchimie has been a favourite of mine over the past few vintages, and the 2015 is great.  It’s all about the Gs: gooseberry, grapefruit and grass, appealingly fruity in the mouth.  It’s definitely French Sauvignon (well this is the French wine sale after all!) but it’s accessible enough to appeal to fans of the grape grown in other countries.

 

La Vigne Des Sablons Vouvray 2015 (12.0%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)

Vouvray

Third Loire wine, third grape!  Vouvray is Chenin Blanc country, and is one of the best places for the grape.  Always with Chenin’s intrinsic acidity, it can be still or sparkling and range from austerely dry to very sweet.  This version is just off dry – there’s a little residual sugar on the finish if you really look for it, but it’s more about apple fruitiness and balancing the fresh acidity than adding sweetness.  At 12.0% the alcohol is fairly modest, which is probably no bad thing when it’s so damned drinkable!

 

Hommage Du Rhône Vinosobres 2015 (15.0%, €15.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)

Vinsobres

Vinsobres is a little known name which is not surprising as it has only existed as an appellation in its own right since 2006.  Before that it was part of the second tier of the Rhône wine pyramid as Côtes du Rhône Villages-Vinsobres which gives more of a clue as to its contents – mainly Grenache with support from Syrah and other local grapes.

Black fruit are to the fore: black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant.  While the southern Rhône is much more consistent from year to year than, say, Bordeaux or Burgundy, this is from the excellent 2015 vintage and it packs a punch at 15.0%!  This is something to buy in the sale and drink on dark winter nights with a hearty stew.

 

 

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #8

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:

Château Pesquié “Terraces” Ventoux 2012 (13.5%, €18 – 19, Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine; Jus de Vine)

terrasses

Happily, I am quite familiar with Château Pesquié wines, including sampling the range at a tasting meal at Belleek Castle.  Further up the range, Quintessence then Artemia are amazingly concentrated.

This bottle is an estate blend named after the terraces cut into the hillsides of Mont Ventoux.  Although it has (just) a majority Grenache, which tends to produce generous amounts of alcohol, it’s not a huge blockbuster. 35 % of this vintage is aged in oak barrels (2 to 4 years old) or in oak tanks for about one year.  The key to Terrasses is drinkability without dumbing down – accessibility but still with some complexity.  It’s one of the best value Rhônes on the market!

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #7

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:

Les Deux Cols “Cuvée d’Alizé” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (14.0%, €16 – €17 at 64 Wine, Glasthule ; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Drink Store, Manor St, D7; Donnybrook Fair, Morehampton Rd)

les-deux-cols

“The Two Hills” is made by Rhône maestro Simon Tyrrell himself in the region of Estezargues, near Avignon. (Les Vignerons D’ Estézargues is a co-operative producer from the same village that Tyrrells also import). A little known fact is that Simon and his wine partner Charles Derain (owner of Nomad Wine importers) both have the middle name Colin, hence the double meaning of the winery – imagine that!*

The 2012 bottling consists of 55% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 10% Cinsault, so it has both power and elegance.  Balance is the key here with plenty of acidity keeping the black fruit fresh and appealing.

*this might not actually be true

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #6

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:

Fondrèche “Cuvée Nadal” Ventoux 2012 (14.5%, €23 – 24 at Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock)

nadal

This wine is a  multi-faceted blend:

  • It’s a GSM assemblage (45% old vine Grenache, 45% Syrah & 10% Mourvèdre) with the Grenache vines in particular being old;
  • Also, the wine is aged in a mix of foudres (600L large vats), concrete eggs (for softness and a bit of a hippy touch) and barrels (228L, more traditional);
  • Finally, the wine is the labour of love of two people, Nanou Barthélemy & Sebastien Vincenti

It’s full of blackberry fruit with a liquorice – or is it black olive? – tang.  The different methods of ageing each add something a little different to the whole, and the age of the vines shows in the intensity of flavours.

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #4

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:

Domaine de la Janasse “Tradition” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (13.5%, €18 – €19 at 64 Wine, Glasthule)

2015-10-13-21-55-22

(Monsieur) Aimé Sabon took over his family’s vineyard on returning from military service in 1967.  He decided to make wine from his own grapes, building a winery in 1973 and gradually expanding his landholdings.  Domaine de la Janasse was named after the family’s farm in Courthézon.

Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape has been a firm favourite of mine since the first Rhône Wine Week some years ago, and of course is the Twitter pic of DNS Wine Club of which I am a member! The Côtes du Rhône is made from organically grown vines just outside Châteauneuf, and is the first real southern-Rhône blend in this series: 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, 15% Carignan (60+ years old) and 5% Cinsault.

It would be unfair to compare it with its big brother, as it’s a lighter wine and considerably cheaper, but it is one of the better CDRs around and would embarrass some other producers’ Châteauneufs!  Think strawberries, but not the ones grown in poly tunnels in Ireland ot Holland, think smaller alpine strawberries with much more intense flavours.

 

 

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #3

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:

Mas Oncle Ernest “Patience et longeur du temps” Côtes du Rhône 2011 (13.5%, €19.20 at Wines Direct)

2015-10-13-21-55-12

Alex Roux is a young winemaker (only 30 years old) transforming his family’s vineyard and making organic wines in the increasingly sought-after Ventoux A/C in the Southern Rhône. The mountainside property is named after his great grandfather, Ernest, who was the first to plant vines here. The cooling breezes of Mont Ventoux enable Alex to make a lighter style of wine than the southerly location would otherwise suggest.

This blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Grenache has typical black fruit and pepper on the nose followed by blackberry and strawberry on the palate, with just a lick of vanilla.

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

O’Briens Fine Wines Sale – My Selection

Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time.  Here is a selection of my favourites:

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)

 

viognier

I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed.  Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did!  I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side.  More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)

antan

This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent.  If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.

La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)

comtesse

This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world.  It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!

Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)

puligny

Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer?  This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now.  Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate.  Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!

Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)

caro

This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family.  At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes.  Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!

Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)

marques

When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas.  They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is).  Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla,  all in a soft and cosseting package.  Get in!

Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)

delheim

This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux.  The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs).  It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak!  More info here.

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)

cigalus

Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.