Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Value Reds of 2017

Here are ten of the reds which impressed me in 2017 and represent fantastic value for money:

10. Bodegas Salentein Portillo Pinot Noir 2014 (14.2%, RRP €12.99)

portillo-pinotnoir

An unusual grape for Argentina, Pinot Noir is much more often seen on the western side of the Andes, but this is a remarkably drinkable example from Bodegas Salentein. Although it’s their entry level Pinot, it has plenty of upfront but elegant fruit, and is nicely balanced – quaffable without being either jammy or thin.  There’s more complexity further up the range but this is the ideal mid-week quaffer!

9. Loggia Della Luna Morellino di Scansano 2014 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)

 

Loggia Della Luna Morellino di Scansano

This Tuscan treat is predominantly Sangiovesi and comes from the Maremma region of coastal Tuscany.  Morellino is (yet another) synonym for Sangiovesi with differing stories over the origins of its name.  However, given the prominent cherry flavours and high acidity I think the story of it being named after the morello cherry is the most likely.  This isn’t a hugely complex wine but is more likeable than many lower priced Chiantis so it gets a firm thumbs up from me.  Would make a great party wine that you’re not afraid to drink yourself!

8. Viña Chocálan Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (14.5%, €13.95)

chocalan cab-sauv

Chilean Cab Sauv is something of a commodity nowadays, so it’s nice to find one that stands out from the crowd for its intensity of flavour and balance.  In addition to cassis so vibrant that you can almost feel the individual blackcurrants popping in your mouth, this wine also offers the cedarwood and pencil shaving that are more often associated with left bank Bordeaux.

7. Castaño “Hécula” Yecla Monastrell 2015 (14.0%, RRP €16.99)

 

Hecula

This was one of the standout value wines at Liberty’s 15th anniversary portfolio tasting.  Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre, aka Mataro) is a grape which needs plenty of heat – and gets it in south east Spain – but crucially this is grown at altitude so the vines get to rest at night and acidity is preserved.  This has some structure behind the big and bold fruit but can happily serve as a tipple on its own.

6. Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Rouge 2016 (12.5%, RRP €13.50)

petit gascoun rouge

Yes the label is cute, but the wine is pretty nice as well – an easy drinking Tannat-dominated blend which is surprisingly quaffable (or “smashable” in modern parlance).  The lighter alcohol also suggests that this would make a great picnic wine in the warmer months – it’s exactly the wine to have on hand in case of an impromptu barbecue.

5. Casa De La Ermita Lunatico 2015 (14.0%, RRP €18.99)

Lunatico

Another Spanish Monastrell shows that there is lots of good value wine being made from the grape – and Spain is one of the few European countries with a climate hot enough for it to fully ripen.  12 months ageing in French oak adds structure to blueberries and blackberries.

4. Pagos de Labarca AEX Rioja 2011 (14.5%, RRP €22.99)

Pagos-De-Labarca_Rioja

Rioja wines are generally easy to like, but, on reflection, not all of them are easy to admire – some have have too much wood at the expense of fruit, some have a big bang of strawberry fruit from Tempranillo but not much else, and some are just plain weird.  As with most European wines, the region is most talked about but the producer is key to what’s in the glass.  This is one of the most accomplished and well rounded Riojas I have tasted at any price – wonderfully rich red fruit with delightful vanilla in support.  As an aside, it was also given the stamp of approval from DNS Wineclub!

3. Fog Mountain California Merlot 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.95)

Fog Mtn Merlot NV-corkcap

It’s sometimes said that Sideways killed California Merlot (and gave a big boost to Pinot Noir).  There’s an element of truth in that statement as the trajectory of the grapes’ sales moved in opposite directions, but the reality is that it was the poorer Merlot wines which lost out, leaving the good stuff behind.  The name of this wine alludes to the cooler sites from which the grapes are sourced helping to preserve acidity and balance.  The presence of 14% Petit Sirah in the blend adds a touch of backbone and complexity.

2. Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge 2016 (11.5%, RRP €23)

montcy

The assemblage of this wine – 60% Pinot Noir, 35% Gamay and 5% Malbec – would rarely be found anywhere else but the Loire.  It’s made with minimal intervention from organic grapes, resulting in a light but fruity red which tastes more alive than almost any other wine.  It’s like having freshly squeezed orange juice after a glass of squash!

1. Château Tayet Cuvée Prestige Bordeaux Supérieur 2010 (13.0%, RRP €23.00)

de-mour-bordeaux-2010-chateau-tayet-cuvee-prestige

I had sung the praises of the contrasting 2009 and 2011 vintages of this wine during the year (with my personal preference being for the 2009), but on tasting the 2010 at SPIT Festival I found that put those both in the shade.  It’s a rare thing that Bordeaux is classed as good value nowadays, but this bottling from the De Mour group is the most superior Supérieur around!

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Tasting Events

Moving On Up – Argentinian Reds

rio_calchaqui_web

Altitude is even more important than latitude in Argentina – in terms of the weather patterns in the vineyard and the perceived quality of the wine.  The search for good vineyard sites continues in Argentina, with new parts of the wine heartland Mendoza Valley being tried, plus further north in Salta such as in the Colchaqui Valley (pictured above).

The DNS Wine Club met to examine both whites and reds from Argentina, both varietals and blends.  The whites were published on The Taste here: Hi Ho Silver (I wonder how many people got the pun in the title?)  Now it’s the turn of the reds:

Susana Balbo Crios Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Mendoza) (€16.25 down to €14.65, Wines Direct – Arnotts & online)

Crios label

14.0%, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Susana Balbo is the most recognised and celebrated oenologist in Argentina and has been at the forefront of innovation and quality improvements for decades. Key notes are plum and redcurrant (surprisingly more than blackcurrant), joined by a touch of vanilla from oak barrels. The soft tannins and silky smooth texture make this a delicious wine to enjoy in front of a roaring fire, or perhaps with a big juicy steak. Great value.

Bodega Amalaya Red 2013 (Valle Calchaqui, Salta) (€18.00, Mitchell’s – ISFC)

12_AMAL_MB_Front

14.0%, 75% Malbec, 15% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, dash of Tannat

Amalaya produce a fantastic range of wines (also check out their Torrontés Riesling blend) of which this is a fairly modest member. Based in the highlands of Salta, the vineyards start at a mile high (1,600m) and keep climbing. Warm days and cool nights promote thicker skins than in lower vineyards (giving more intense flavours) and help maintain acidity (making the wines taste fresher).

This blend is more than the sum of its parts – ripe plum from the Malbec, pepper and spice from the Syrah plus a savoury edge from the Cabernet. Narrowly missed out on the best red of the tasting.

Bodegas Norton Barrel Select Malbec 2014 (Mendoza) (€14.99, O’Briens)

 

Norton label

14.0%, 100% Malbec

At “only” 850m – 1,100m the vineyards for this wine are considered to be in the foothills (for reference, Croagh Patrick’s summit is 764m). Although located in what is usually referred to as the New World, the Estate dates back to 1895 which makes it fairly old in my book. The vines for this bottle are 15 years of age or older giving classic Malbec characters.

Hess Family Colomé Estate Malbec 2012 (Valle Calchaqui, Salta) (€25.00, Mitchells)

colomé

14.5% 100% Malbec

If anybody, anywhere, tells you that “all Malbecs taste the same, there’s no point spending more than xx Euros on one” then you have my permission to shoot them (not that I think it would be a valid defence in a court of law). The Colomé winery dates back to 1831 – older than many Rioja Bodegas, for example. There are actually four separate estates at altitudes between 1,700m and 3,111m, each adding something to the blend of the Estate Malbec.

For such a big, alcoholic wine it is remarkably refined, delicate and long. Blackberry, blackcurrant and black cherry characters are the key, with supple tannins supplying the structure. A fantastic wine!

 

 

Tasting Events

DNS Wine Club *FUN* Tasting

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

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

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

ROUND 1 – Match the Critic

John Wilson
John Wilson, scholar and gentleman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROUND 2 – Call My (Wine) Bluff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROUND 3 – Match the Critic (Encore)

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

Above all, it’s a fun journey!