Tag: Tempranillo

Selection from Febvre – Part 2

Selection from Febvre – Part 2

After an all white Part 1, here are more of my favourite wines from Febvre’s recent portfolio tasting – fizz, sweet, rosé and red:

Champagne Deutz Brut Classique NV (12.0%, RRP €55.00 at On The Grapevine, Dalkey; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Wine Online)

Deutz

Classique is very apt in the case of this Champagne as it is a blend of equal parts of the 3 classic Champagne grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.  I narrowly preferred it to Taittinger’s equivalent NV Brut as it seemed slightly more lifted and elegant.  It has a fine mousse when poured then citrus on the attack (from Chardonnay) and red fruit on the mid palate (from the Pinots).  There’s a lovely creamy leesiness to the body and a crisp, precise finish.  For a few quid more this is waaay better than some more famous marques!

Champagne Taittinger Nocturne City Lights Sec NV (12.0%, RRP €58.00 at On The Grapevine, Dalkey; Higgins, Clonskeagh)

Nocturne

The blend for this cuvée is 40% Chardonnay then 30% each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – but it’s the dosage which marks it out as different from the Deutz above. Whereas Brut Champagne often has around 10g/L of residual sugar, this Sec has almost twice that at 17.5g/L; the next step up is Demi-sec which is around double that of a Sec. The apparent sweetness of the Nocturne is off-dry; there’s still some crispness and the sugar adds fruitiness and smoothness rather than sugariness.  It’s a wine you can drink all night long!

Francois Lurton Les Fumees Blanches Rose Gris de Sauvignon 2016 (12.5%, RRP €24.99 at The Grape Vine, Ballymun; Leopardstown Inn Off Licence; 1601, Kinsale)

Fumee

No my account hasn’t been hacked and your eyes aren’t deceiving you, this really is a rosé recommendation from yours truly.  “But how can a Sauvignon make rosé?” I hear you ask – well it all depends on which Sauvignon is used – and this is a blend of both the familiar Sauvignon Blanc and its less well known sibling Sauvignon Gris.  The colour comes from the skins of the latter which are grey~pink, but as they are paler than black grapes usually used to make rosé then they need more maceration time.  The grapes are sourced from four different wine regions of France and blended to make a complex, delicious wine.  It has lovely soft and inviting strawberry flavours, but with a slight edge to stop it being flabby.

Delas Freres Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2015 (15.0%, RRP €15.95 (half bottle) at On The Grapevine, Dalkey)

Muscat

This is a fortified sweet wine which has been made in the southern Rhône for two thousand years!  It is classed as a Vin Doux Naturel, literally a “Natural Sweet Wine”, meaning that its sweetness all comes from the original grapes.  95º grape spirit is added part way through fermentation, killing the yeast and leaving plenty of residual sugar.  Of the hundreds of different Muscats (and Moscatos, Moscatels, Muskatellers etc.) only two can be used:  Muscat blanc à petits grains and Muscat rouge à petits grains, both of which (obviously if you speak French) have small berries, and thus have more intense flavour.

De Bortoli Deen de Bortoli Vat 5 Botrytis Semillion 2009 (11.0%, RRP €13.75 (half bottle) at Wine Online)

Vat 5

De Bortoli’s Noble One stands as one of the best sweet wines in the world, so I was interested to try its “baby brother” named after the second generation of the family (and first to be born in Australia) Deen De Bortoli.  It pours a lovely golden colour and has the distinctive honey and mushroom botrytis notes on the nose.  On the palate it has an amazing intensity of flavour – honey and stone fruit with a touch of caramel and ginger.  It’s rich and sweet but not cloying, with a fantastic long finish.

Finca del Marquesado Rioja Crianza 2014 (13.5%, RRP €14.95 (though currently in restaurants only))

Marquesado

Whereas many Bodegas in Rioja source grapes and even wines from a multitude of growers, this wine from respected producer Bodegas Valdemar is made on a single Finca, or farm.  After several years of planning and preparation, the vines were planted in 1984 in a fairly classic proportions:  70% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha and 5% Graciano. Being a Crianza means it has spent at two years or more maturing, at least a year of which must be in oak barrels – I would guess closer to 18 months in oak from the nose…it smells like a Médoc chai to me! (which is a good thing by the way).  It’s still on the young side but has intense red and black fruit flavours with smoky oak notes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vinos_de_la_Tierra_de_España
Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

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

Vinos_DO_de_España
Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

 

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

 

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.

Spanish Treats from O’Briens

Flag_of_Spain.svg

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

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

21089-Martin-Codax-Albarino j

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

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

15WSP010-Capellania j

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

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

Celeste

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

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

13WSP007-Monte-Real-Gran-Reserva j

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

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

Castillo Ygay j

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

A Portuguese Posse

A Portuguese Posse

As you might have read on this blog I am a big fan of Portuguese wines, both white and red.  They are often made using indigenous grapes which aren’t known well (if at all) outside the country so are interesting, taste good, and are nearly always great value for money.

The first Saturday in April was a washout, but thankfully the day was made a little brighter by Sweeney’s of Glasnevin who opened some Portuguese wine for tasting.  Here are my brief notes:

Portuga Branco VR Lisboa 2014 ( 12.0%, €12)

Portuga Large

A blend of Arinto, Vital and Fernão Pires from around Lisbon.  Light and refreshing, quite simple and straightforward, but nothing wrong with that. Citrus notes with a crisp finish. Did you notice the low abv of 9.5%?  I didn’t when tasting it [update: because Google got it wrong on this occasion ]!

Quinta do Cardo Branco 2011 €14.50

Quinta do Cardo Large

This white is a blend of Siria (which I’d never heard of before) and Arinto (which is far more common).  The grapes are “ecologically grown” (which I suppose might mean organic) in vineyards at 700 metres elevation.

Compared to the Portuga above it has a more sophisticated nose, with orange in particular showing through.  The palate is less expressive, however.  This might be due to its age – most whites like this are consumed young.  Some inexpensive wines do develop further after their initial fruit has faded – like this ten year old Chilean Gewurz – but there is only trial and error to find out!

Lab VR Lisboa Tinto 2014 (13.0%, €12)

Lab Large

And now on to the reds.  This cheap and cheerful number is a blend of Castelão (35%), Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo, 25%), Syrah (25%) and Touriga Nacional (15%).  After fermentation it is aged in new Portuguese oak for 4 months.

A quick taste and details of the blend are forgotten.  It’s soft and fruity, a very approachable wine. Lots of cherry and other red fruits, but fresh, not confected nor sour. Immensely gluggable!

Segredos de São Miguel VR Alentejano 2015 (13.5%, €12 or 2 for €22)

Segredos de São Miguel Large

This time the blend is Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez (aka Tempranillo, again), Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira.  It’s made in the Alentejo region but is a Vinho Regional (VR) rather than a DOC, and the back label suggests it’s a fun rather than serious wine.

On tasting I’d have to agree that it’s fun, but although nice it is very young indeed (only six months old?)  It shows promise but needs to relax and come out of its shell – perhaps in time for the annual week of Dublin sunshine?

Vale da Mata VR Lisboa Tinto 2010 (13.0%, €20)

Vale Da Mata Large

Although only a VR, the back label does state that this is from the Sub-Região Alta Estremadura.  Estremadura is the historical name for the province around Lisbon and in fact was the previous name of the VR Lisboa, so perhaps this is an indicator of quality.

After the Lab and the Segredos de São Miguel this is a bit more serious.  It has darker fruit and a touch of tannin (steak here we come!).  On its own it was good, but not great – I think it definitely needs food to shine.

Herdade de Rocim VR Alentejano Tinto 2010 (14.0%, €19)

Herdade de Rocim Large

We almost have a full house of varieties here: Aragonez, Alicante Bouchet, Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira.  As you might expect it is full of dark fruit, particularly blackberries and plums.  Note the vintage – 2010 – it’s already showing some development, with violets and pencil shavings on the nose.

Among the higher priced reds on show this was definitely my favourite.  Given the flavour profile and structure it reminded me of an Haut Médoc from a ripe vintage (such as 2010 in fact).  Interestingly (and reassuringly), when I last took notes on (the same vintage of) this wine nearly two years ago I recommended it to Claret lovers.  This wine and I are on the same page!

Herdade de Sobroso DOC Alentejo Tinto 2013 (14.0%, €22)

Herdade do Sobroso Large

The back label for this wine states that it is made from the “noble” varieties of the Alentejo, later revealing them to be Aragonez (30%), Trincadeira (30%), Alicante Bouschet (20%) and Alfrocheiro (20%).  This last grape was another one new to me, apparently favoured for the deep colour it brings to blends, and amusingly also known as Tinta Bastardinha.

“Barrique Select” on the front lets you know it has been aged in oak – and a wine geek like me would presume 225 litre French oak barrels, though the back reveals this to be only partly true; the wine was indeed matured in French oak barrels for 12 months, with the forest (Alier) even specified, but in 500 rather than 225 litre barrels.  If this seems like splitting hairs, perhaps it is, but the larger sized barrels add a certain roundness as much as oakiness.

I liked this wine, but I think it suffered from being after the Herdade de Rocim which had more intense flavours.  I’d like to give this wine another try in a big wine glass after a few hours in a decanter – I suspect it would really open up.

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2015

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2015

As I said at the beginning of my review pieces, for me 2015 was an excellent year for wine.  If one region really stood out for me in 2015 it would be Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France; already well known for bulk wine and subsequently good value bottles, it has a growing reputation for excellence in the hands of dedicated producers.

Here are ten of the reds which most impressed me in the year:

10. Château de Rousselet Côtes de Bourg 2009 (€12.99, Lidl)

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For about 17 years my parents lived close to La Rochelle in the Charente Maritime department – much better known for Cognac than wine.  But happily it was close enough to Bordeaux that day trips were quite easy, and so at least once a summer I would head down in the car for some tasting and buying.

Heading south, the first subregions encountered are the Côtes de Blaye (now renamed) and Côtes de Bourg.  Touring around with a visitors booklet I would try new vineyards every year, plus return to a chosen few of the best.  Château de Rousselet was one I returned to year after year, as Francis Sou and son Emmanuel continued to gradually improve the quality of their wines.  Here are a few of the older bottles I still have:

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So I was surprised and delighted to see a fairly recent vintage being sold through Lidl! The 2009 vintage was outstanding in Bordeaux, and even modest areas such as the Côtes de Bourg produced some crackers – classic claret, still great for food, but also round and fruity enough to be drunk by itself.  Sadly the Lidl stores close to me didn’t have any stock when I visited!

9. Château Paul Mas Clos de Mures Coteaux du Languedoc 2013 (€16.99, Molloys)

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Paul Mas is one of the star estates of the Languedoc. There are several different quality levels of which Château Paul Mas is around the top – “Everyday luxury”.  The equivalent white also featured in my Top 10 whites of 2015.

As it common in the Languedoc this is a blend, comprising 83% Syrah, 12% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre – so it’s a GSM blend of sorts, though showing more black than red fruit due to the higher Syrah content.  This wine was one of the surprise stars of the (as yet unpublished) DNS tastings on Syrah and Shiraz – both for the absolute quality and the value for money at €16.99.  

8. Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (€23, JN Wine and others)

Condado de Haza

Pesquera’s sister property in a warmer part of the Ribero del Duero shares much in terms of ethos and quality but has a different sensibility – it’s more fun and accessible, with an emphasis on fruit and pleasure rather than refinement.  Plum, blackcurrant and black cherry are rounded off by vanilla from 18 months in American oak.

There’s no doubt that Tinta Pesquera is the senior sibling but this crowd-pleaser is a lot of wine for sensible money, and is the one I would chose to drink on its own.  

See this article for more details.

7. Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block 21 “Viento Mar” Pinot Noir 2012 (€19.99 from O’Brien’s Wines, Mitchell & Sons, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin, Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Bradley’s and O’Driscoll’s of Cork)

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Cono Sur do a great range of Pinot Noirs from the everyday Bicicleta up to the prestigious Ocio.  This is a single vineyard release Pinot which sits roughly in the middle of the range; there are also seven other varietal single vineyard releases including Riesling, Carmenère and Syrah – I’d like to try them at some point as well!

The vineyard itself is nicknamed the Spanish for “Sea Wind”, invoking the coastal breezes which help keep the temperature relatively cool in San Antonio Valley – ideal for Pinot Noir.

Luscious black and red fruits combine with a hint of vanilla – it’s got lots of fruit but fresh rather than confected fruit.  Amazingly drinkable, and knocks spots off Burgundy (and most other regions’) Pinot at this price.

See this article for more details.

6. Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinère 2011 (€23.49, O’Briens)

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The general Minervois appellation has around 800ha planted to vines and the smaller, more prestigious, Minervois La Livinière appellation is around a quarter of that, with lower yields and a higher proportion of better-regarded grapes such as Syrah.

The JM Cazes group of Château Lynch-Bages fame first ventured outside of Bordeaux when they acquired this property in 2002.  The Grand Vin composes 70% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 10% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre and weighs in at 14.0%, so in weight terms it’s somewhere in between northern and southern Rhône.

Although it doesn’t have the stature of its more well-known stablemates, it’s more accessible than most of them – especially those from Paulliac and Saint-Estèphe – and would be the one I reached for most often given the choice of all of them.

5. Alpha Zeta Amarone della Valpolicella 2011 (€35, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

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Amarone is one of the first Italian wines that people fall in love with, enjoying its big rich flavours and textures, though they come at a premium price.  It’s a wine that’s easy to love.  Sometimes it can get a bit too much, with jammy fruit and high alcohol making too much of a mouthful for a second glass.

This example from Alpha Zeta is one of the most well-balanced I’ve come across, and while it might still be too fruit forward for Barolo loving masochists it doesn’t intimidate. Also, compared to many it is (relatively) inexpensive at €35 a bottle (many others go far north of €40).

This was the bottle I took along to a meal with fellow wine blogger friends at Dada Moroccan restaurant in Dublin.  The touch of sweetness and richness turned out to be a perfect match for the lamb and apricot tagine I ordered – probably the favourite wine of the evening.

4. Uno de Mil Tempranillo & Petit Verdot (€23.95, Cases Wine Warehouse)

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A pretty label and a stunning wine, which happens to be organic and biodynamic.  Such is the explosion of fresh fruit and vanilla in the mouth that it instantly made me think of a blueberry muffin!  Made from a blend of Tempranillo (from Rioja and Ribero del Duero) and Petit Verdot (a small part of some Bordeaux reds), it’s from the less well-known region of La Mancha – but knocks spots of plenty of Rioja that I’ve had!

3. E.Guigal “Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph” Saint-Joseph 2005 (2009: €46, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

Saint Joseph

 

Saint-Joseph has become my go-to Rhône appellation, with its lovely blackberry, black olive and sour black cherry flavours.  What I hadn’t appreciated was that the appellation was named after an actual vineyard, itself named after Holy Joe himself who was reputed to have lived there.

Now in the hands of famed Rhône producer Guigal, the “lieu-dit” Saint-Joseph produces both red and white wines of superlative quality.  2005 was an exceptional year in the northern Rhône (10/10 according to The Wine Society) and this wine was at its peak.  It showed all the trademark Saint-Joseph notes but with a polish and complexity that stood out.

2. D’Arenberg The Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005 (2008: €54.99 from O’Briens and independent merchants)

Dead Arm

D’Arenberg are one of the standout producers of McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide in Australia.  Led by the colourful (in several senses) Chester Osbourne,  they have a wide portfolio of wines with different quality levels and varieties.  The Dead Arm is one of their three Icon bottlings, along with The Coppermine Road (which I once realised I was driving on!) Cabernet Sauvignon and Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre.

And the unusual name?  From the d’Arenberg website:

Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa Lata that randomly affects vineyards all over the world. Often affected vines are severely pruned or replanted. One half, or an ‘arm’ of the vine slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side may be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side, while low yielding, display amazing intensity

The 2005 is beautifully mature, though far from over the hill.  It has the blackberry and plum fruit, pepper and spice plus vanilla notes as you’d expect from an Aussie Shiraz, but these flavours are all now interwoven and settled in; they are speaking in harmony rather than shouting individually.  I just wish I’d bought more than one bottle!

1. Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1996 (~€115, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other independents)

Bin707

And so for the third year running my favourite wine of the year is a Penfolds red!  In 2013 it was the 1998 Bin 707, then in 2014 I was lucky enough to try the Grange 2008.  The former would have has a good shout again in 2015 but the bottle of 1998 I had planned to open with Christmas dinner didn’t actually get opened until 2016.  I did, however, open both 1996 and 1997 and it was narrowly the former which I favoured.

The biggest surprise was that although it showed signs of maturity in the brick red rim, the nose and palate still showed lots of fruit – overwhelmingly blackcurrant, of course, given that this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  There were some touches of cedar and pencil shavings that pointed to its age, but they were knitted in.

Bin 707 stands second to Grange in the Penfolds hierarchy, but for my tastes it runs it very close or even beats it sometimes!

 

Also check out the Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites, Top 10 Fizz and Top 10 Sweet wines of 2015.

 

 

Five of the best Reds from Sweeney’s Wine Fair

I’ve already picked out five whites from the Sweeney’s Wine Fair that really impressed me, so now it’s turn for my selection of reds.  But first a brief introduction of the people behind the name:

Finian Sweeney, proprietor
Finian Sweeney, proprietor, after winning another award
Kevin (R) about to host the Wines of the Year Award & glamourous guest Tara (L)
Kevin (R) about to host the Wines of the Year Award & glamourous guest Tara (L)
Lynda (with a "y") enjoying dessert at a food & wine matching meal, the last night of the Sweeney's Learn About Wine Course
Lynda (with a “y”) enjoying dessert at a food & wine matching meal, the last night of the Sweeney’s Learn About Wine Course

Apparently, for those who like that sort of thing, Sweeney’s also have a great range of artisan cheese from Sheridan’s cheesemonger.

So now for the reds:

5 Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012 (Liberty Wines, €15.95, 2 for €28.00)

Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012
Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012

Grape: Negroamaro

A favourite with Sweeney’s staff and customers alike for a few years, I Muri hails from the heel of Italy – the beautiful region of Puglia. The most important local grape is Negroamaro, literally translated as “black and bitter”, and while this wine is listed as a 100% varietal Negroamaro it shows no bitterness. It does have black – blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with a savoury edge but a polished finish.

4 Herdade de Rocim “Rocim” VR Alentejano 2010 (Grace Campbell Wines, €19.00)

Herdade de Rocim “Rocim” VR Alentejano 2010
Herdade de Rocim “Rocim” VR Alentejano 2010

Grapes: Aragonez / Alicante Bouchet / Others

Aragonez is the Portuguese name for the grape known as Tempranillo in Spain (well, in Rioja at least).  Alicante Bouchet is a teinturier, the term for a (very rare) type of grape with red flesh, so both the skin and flesh give colour to a wine.

Do you remember the scene in the film Ratatouille where restaurant critic Anton Ego tastes the eponymous dish and is instantly transported to his childhood?  Tasting Herdade de Rocim gave me exactly the same sensation, except I was magically transported to a summer barbecue, drinking wine.  I think it’s a sign.

3 Marchese Antinori “Marchese” Riserva DOCG Chianti Classico 2006 (Findlater WSG, €28.00)

Marchese Antinori “Marchese” Riserva DOCG Chianti Classico 2006
Marchese Antinori “Marchese” Riserva DOCG Chianti Classico 2006

Grape: Sangiovese

Check out the vintage!  The current release is 2011, so it’s quite rare to see older vintages on the shelves, even in a good independent wine merchants, but this is entirely deliberate; Finian bought several cases of this when it was released and has kept it in bond to be released when ready.  And boy, is it ready!

It has all the hallmarks of good Chianti Classico – liquorice, tobacco, acidity, tannin, black cherry – but the extra years maturing have seen them knit into a smooth, harmonious whole.  I think it’s now closer in style to its big brother Badia a Passignano, which still remains the smoothest Chianti I’ve experienced.

Hearsay at the Wine Fair suggested I might be in the minority liking this bottle (it’s not the first time and certainly won’t be the last time I’m in a minority); reflection has led me to believe that some people who are used to drinking young Chianti prefer, or at least expect, the components mentioned above to stand out individually.  If that is more to your taste then I suggest trying the 2011 Marchese, reviewed here.

2 Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero 2011 (Findlater WSG, €20.00, 2 for €34.00)

Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero
Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero

Grape: Tempranillo

While also in the north of Spain and often using the same grapes as Rioja, Ribera del Duero isn’t a clone of its more famous counterpart. For a long time only the renowned Vega Sicilia made wines drunk elsewhere in Spain, never mind exported. Now the region’s reputation is on the up, with national heavyweights such as Torres joining the ranks of local producers.

Tempranillo here is usually known as Tinto Fino, and often has support from Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. However, even on its own it can show darker fruit than in Rioja.

Celeste has a nice name and a pretty bottle, but the contents surpass both of them. Bright red and black fruit are offset by creamy vanilla from the oak. It has wild strawberries rather than the poly-tunnel farmed ones that cheap Rioja can have, with blackberry and cherry riding shotgun. It’s a serious wine, yet it’s a fun wine.

1 Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon 2012 (Distinctive Drinks, €16.00)

Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon
Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon

Grapes: Syrah (45%) / Grenache (40%) / Mourvèdre (15%)

This wine is a rockstar – it stood out as the best wine of any colour from the whole tasting as it was just so interesting and funky.  Lots of fresh berry fruit is accompanied by smoke, earthiness and just a hint of farmyard.

Looking into the story of the Domaine is fascinating – it deserves a full post all to itself. The name of the wine is a direct translation of “Empty Sky”, a Bruce Springsteen song, which evoke memories of 9/11 for the owners who were working just one block away when the planes hit.

The blend of this wine has changed every year depending on the grapes available locally and how each variety fared in a particular harvest:

Le Ciel Vide blend by year, measured in litres of bottled wine
Le Ciel Vide blend by year, measured in litres of bottled wine

I love the complete honesty of co-owner Jonathan Hesford when discussing the first two vintages of this wine (2008 and 2009):

I’m not sure how these wines will age. They have the potential to develop even more fragrant aromas but don’t have the tannin structure of my other red wines.

His honesty is as refreshing as his wines!

Valentines Wines (I) The Tasting Panel

For the first of my posts on Valentine’s Wines I thought I would try something a little bit different from the norm. My wife and I invited her elder brother Andrew and his girlfriend Paula round for dinner to and to try some different wines in advance of Valentine’s Day.

It’s good to hear the opinions of other people – wine tasting can be very social and lots of fun. I heartily recommend you try forming your own tasting panel now and again, with friends from absolute novices to MWs.

Before we get into the wines, here is the delicious meal they accompanied:

Starter:

Cantaloupe Melon drenched in Pineau des Charentes

Main:

Slow Roasted Loin of Pork with a Bramley apple glaze, server with roasted potatoes, julienne carrots and petits pois, roasted root vegetables, apple and citrus jus

Dessert:

Apple Strudel with Cornish Vanilla Ice cream and / or Homemade Vanilla Custard

Cheese:

Selection of: Brie de Meaus, Abbaye du Mont des Cats, Diliskus semi-soft Herbed.

The wines

Disclosure: the wines tasted below were kindly provided by O’Briens, but opinions are entirely our own.

Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV (€20.99, currently €17.99)

Valentine’s connection: who doesn’t like popping the cork on some fizz?

Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV
Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV

The label “Extra Dry” on Prosecco is usually a misnomer – the wine is often on the sweet side. A little sweetness can make Prosecco very easy to drink and is one of the factors behind its current boom in sales. However, Rizzardi’s style is actually dry on the palate. Being a Spumante it had a proper cork and was fully sparkling.

On tasting the main flavours we noted were pip fruit such as Granny Smith’s apple and pear, citrus (even Lemon Sherbet) and a sour sweetness (if that makes any sense) – a bit like the sensation from Sour Squirms sweets.

A little sweetness did come through on the finish once it had warmed up a little in the glass (it was served straight from a domestic fridge).

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 5 [not a fan of fizz]
  • Paula 8 [can I have another glass please?]
  • Jess 4 [found it too dry]
  • Frankie 7 [preferred it to most other Proseccos]

Verdict:

This wine clearly divided opinion on the panel, but that’s no bad thing. Hopefully the comments give you the information to decide whether this Prosecco is for you, or perhaps try a sweeter one.

Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013 (€14.49, currently €12.99, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: say it with (white) flowers

Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013

Although labelled as a Vin de France, which could come from almost anywhere in France, this was made in the Corbières region of the Languedoc, quite close to the Mediterranean coast.  The name property name “Les Auzines” comes from the Occitan meaning “little leaves from the oak tree”, owned by Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife Neasa Corish.

The blend is based on Grenache Gris, with perhaps a dash of Grenache Blanc.  It is classed as an oaked white as 85% was fermented and aged in second and third-use oak barrels, but although it has gained texture and complexity it doesn’t taste typically “oaky”.

Smooth and rich but tangy, it shows flavours of Macadamia nuts, lime, gravel and mineral, fennel, lavender and other herbs – it’s really interesting.  Alcohol is surprisingly modest at 11.5% – it doesn’t feel lacking in any way.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 7 [Nuts and gravel]
  • Paula 8 [Soft and easy-drinking]
  • Jess 7 [A white wine for red wine drinkers]
  • Frankie 8 [what a find!]

Verdict:

Fleurs Blanches was an amazing match for the main course – perhaps helped by the dash of Fleurs Blanches which went in the jus.  O’Briens’ notes reckon that it “bears a closer resemblance to fine Burgundy than to Corbiéres” – I would clarify that by saying it could double for mature fine Burgundy – it’s that good!

Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013 (€22.99, currently €19.99, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: woo your Valentine with a classy, classic white wine.

Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013
Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013

Sancerre was the first wine region famous for varietal Sauvignon Blanc, but as is the way with Appellation-based fame, it is open to use and abuse.  If you’ve ever bought a Sancerre in a French supermarket then you will know that quality can be very variable…

So what to do?  Find a good producer, of course – or a great producer, such as Henri Bourgeois.

Minerality is a buzzword in wine at the moment, but the chalk soils of HB’s vineyards impart a magnificent flint character to his wines.  The very name “Porte de Caillou” means Pebble Gate, so that should give you an idea!

As well as the minerality (liked by one taster to sucking on gravel!), there’s lots and lots of fruit: very green, but ripe, fruit such as gooseberry and grapefruit, plus a little restrained tropical fruit.  There’s lots of acidity but it’s smooth rather than spiky, with more body and texture than you might expect from a Sauvignon.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 8 [An integrated continuum from the nose though to the palate]
  • Paula 7 [Lovely and fresh]
  • Jess 6 [Prefer fruity Sauvignons]
  • Frankie 8 [Classic Sancerre!]

Verdict:

Food friendly Sauvignon that the Kiwis are now trying to emulate.  This shows how Sancerre should be done, and why it became a classic in the first place.

Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007 (€17.49, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: an appeal to the finer things in life – and seductive in the glass.

Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007
Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007

Named after the Mediaeval Latin for “New Art” (as in New Technique), this is a blend of 40% Tempranillo (well known in Rioja and elsewhere in Spain), 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot (both from Bordeaux).  Its home region of Navarra had non-native (mainly French) varieties planted from the 1980s onwards, so now winemakers have a wide choice of ingredients.

As a Gran Reserva it has spent eighteen months maturing before being bottled – the producer mentions nine months in French oak so I’m guessing a further nine in a larger format of vessel.  Alcohol is punchy but not overblown at 14.0%.

It shows smoke rather than vanilla characters from the oak, followed by red fruit (strawberry) moving into black fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry) and a savoury finish.  There’s perhaps an edge of leather and liquorice but they don’t dominate.  Overall the impression is of fruit sweetness, plenty of tannin, well balanced.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 8 [My kind of wine, fruit and tannin together]
  • Paula 9 [My favourite wine of the night]
  • Jess 9 [Easy going, smooth, could drink this every day]
  • Frankie 8 [Spain meets Bordeaux, incredible value]

Verdict:

Perfectly poised between (fruit) sweet and (tannin) savoury, this was a big hit with everyone.  It was a good match for the cheese but would also be great with beef, lamb or venison.  Without the renown of Rioja, the winemakers of Navarra have really upped their game.  The only downside to this wine was that a Lussac St-Emilion tasted afterwards was dry and thin in comparison!

More Valentine’s Wines to come!

Some Highlights from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Reds and Sweet

Some Highlights from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Reds and Sweet

Following on from my review of the sparkling and white wines in part one, here are the red and sweet wines which impressed me at the O’Briens Wines Autumn Press Tasting:

Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012 (€10.99)

Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012
Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012

Navarra (or Navarre in English) is a wine region in the north of Spain close to the more famous Rioja.  It used to be well-known for its rosados but now produces plenty of quality reds and whites, from both indigenous and international grape varieties.  In fact, the old Garnacha vineyards previously used for simple rosés are now being put to a more noble use in reds such as this one.  The other grapes in the blend are the local Tempranillo and the international Merlot.

It’s unmistakably Spanish, with bold red and black fruit cossetted in a basket of vanilla. This is smooth and very easy to drink on it’s own, but would stand up to beef or lamb with aplomb.  Great value for money.

Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011 (€15.99)

Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011
Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011

The Spanish speakers among you may have spotted from the label that this was matured in oak for 12 months, and thereby qualifies for the Crianza designation.  The oak used was mainly French (80%) with the balance American.

Jumilla is a region on the rise, as modern viticultural and vinification techniques are applied to some old bush vine vineyards.  Monastrell (the Rhône’s Mourvèdre) dominates the blend here with beefiness and spice, augmented by Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and a little Merlot.  The fruit is black rather than red – and it almost explodes out of the bottle.

Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009 (€42.00)

ongview The Piece Shiraz 2009
Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009

Longview are based in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia, just into the hills above….err…Adelaide!  Known as a cool(er) climate region, it can produce sublime Chardonnays and is now getting a serious reputation for Shiraz: Shaw + Smith excel at both.  “The Piece” is their top wine with all grapes handpicked, sorted and fermented in four separate one tonne open fermenters. It was aged for 24 months in new and old 300 litre French oak hogsheads.

At five years of age the wine has now settled down and is beginning to unfurl its petals.  It has sweet black fruit with soft integrated oak.  Medium acidity and silky tannins provide the structure for balance and additional ageing if you can resist drinking it now.

Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007 (€75.00, €67.00 in Nov/Dec)

Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007
Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007

How much? you might ask.  Yes, it’s an expensive bottle, but it’s a high end wine, and if you feel like splashing out for Christmas this would be perfect.  2007 was a good year for Bordeaux’s southerly Sauternes subregion so it should last for at least a decade from now.

On opening the wine has a divine, honey and apricot nose that you just want to inhale all day.  This follows through onto the palate, and while it’s definitely a dessert wine, there’s enough acidity to provide balance and stop it being cloying.

If you are a fan of foie gras then a glass of this would be a sublime match.

Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989 (€27.99)

Gerard Bertrand AOC Muscat de Rivesaltes 1989
Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

For me this was the standout wine of the tasting.  For those not familiar with the term, a Vin Doux Naturel is a fortified sweet wine where grape spirit is added early in the fermentation process to kill off the yeast, stopping fermentation and leaving some of the natural sugars from the grapes.  The Muscat grape is a staple for this job, especially around the Mediterranean, but Grenache offers an alternative style in several appellations.

The  Rivesaltes appellation takes its name from the town of the same name in the Roussillon area, which means “High Banks” in Catalan.

The Muscat versions are often sweet, simple and grapey, nice but nothing to write home about. This 25 year old Rivesaltes demands you buy a big book of stamps!

Time has caused the colour to fade from the wine – Grenache doesn’t tend to hold on to its colour that well anyway – but in return there are layers upon layers of complexity.  You could lose yourself for an hour just smelling the aromas, before diving into the heavenly Christmas pudding palate.  Spice up your wine selection here!

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny (€23.99)

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny
Bethany Old Quarry Tawny

The obvious word missing from the name of this wine is “Port”, and that’s because it’s from Australia not Porto.  Most people are very familiar with Australian table wine but aren’t aware that fortified wines were the majority of the industry’s output until the 1970s.  Port and Sherry imitations dominated the domestic market but were never able to compete with the real deal overseas.  Nowadays the proportion of production devoted to fortifieds is small with virtually nil exported.

Happily this is one of the bottles in that small rounding error, made from the traditional Barossa fortifieds grapes of Grenache and Shiraz.  Barrel ageing has given it some wonderfully intense raisin and nutty “rancio” characters.

Try this as an alternative to LBV or Tawny Port.