Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay

Before the arrival of this wine into Dublin I have to confess that I was only distantly aware of Wente Vineyards and their home of Livermore Valley in California’s Central Coast.  The two are inextricably linked, but first here’s a map for us to get our bearings:

Livermore Valley in California

 

As you can see, Livermore Valley is at the top of the Central Coast region, across the Bay from San Francisco.  Cooling sea breezes and fogs from San Francisco Bay give the valley more significant diurnal temperature variation, helpful for producing quality wine.

Although not that well known today – in Europe at least – grapes were first planted in Livermore in the 1840s, before the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and well before phylloxera devastated European vineyards.

There was a flurry of winery openings in the 1880s, with Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 followed by Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards in 1883.  Colcannon and Wente are still in operation today, with Wente being the biggest.  In fact, it was Wente who ended up buying the land that Cresta Blanca had used and replanted it after decades of being barren.

Livermore Valley’s influence on Californian wine extended beyond its immediate borders:

  1. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
  2. Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
  3. As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay

Wente Vineyards

Wente Vineyards are proud of their status as “the country’s longest, continuously operated family-owned winery”.  They have now reached five generations of family winegrowers:

  1. Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
  2. Ernest Wente imported Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier in 1912 and established the Wente Clone.  His brother Herman Wente helped to found the California Wine Institute in 1936
  3. Karl L. Wente joined the business in 1949 and greatly expanded US and international distribution.  He also expanded the family’s holdings into Arroyo Secco (Monterey)
  4. Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
  5. Christine, Karl, Jordan, Niki and Aly Wente hold various positions in the business

Not content to simply fall back on with their long history, Wente are also embracing the future with the first ever virtual wine tasting accessed through Alexa or Google.

In addition to producing wine the estate also features a restaurant, 18 hole golf course and concert venue.  But it’s the wine that matters most to us!  The Wente wine portfolio consists of several ranges.  In approximate order of most to least expensive they are:

  • The Nth Degree
  • Small Lot
  • Single Vineyard
  • Wente Winemakers Studio
  • Estate Grown

It’s not unusual for Estate wines to be the top range in a producer’s portfolio, so this indicates a high quality level.  To evaluate this theory we now turn to a specific wine from the Estate Grown range.

Disclosure: This bottle was kindly provided as a sample

Wente Morning Fog Livermore Valley Chardonnay 2018

Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay from Livermore Valley

The Wente Vineyards “Morning Fog” Livermore Valley Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Karl Wente.  Its name evokes the fogs that roll across San Francisco Bay and into the east-west trained vines of Livermore Valley.  Various Wente Chardonnay clones are used, including “Old Wente” which have been propagated without going though heat treatment at UC Davis.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately.

After the grapes are pressed the must is split into two parts: 50% is fermented in old American oak and 50% is fermented in stainless steel tanks.  The barrel fermented portion remains in those containers for five months and undergoes monthly lees stirring.  The Inox portion is split further; half remains on its lees and receives bâtonnage while half is racked into clean tanks.  All vessels are then blended together before bottling.

When poured the wine is lemon, not as deep as some other (more oaky) Chardonnays.  It’s highly aromatic on the nose – helped by 2% Gewürztraminer – full of toasty, leesy notes and fresh citrus.  The palate is fresh and clean, but with lovely texture.  Unlike some Cali Chardonnays, the texture doesn’t get in the way of the wine or stand out awkwardly, but rather comes along for the journey.  There’s a fine mineral streak through the wine and a fresh finish.

Overall this is a very well put together wine, rising above many confected and manufactured rivals at this price point.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €27
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Jus de Vine; Lotts and Co; Martins Off Licence; McHughs Kilbarrack and Malahide; Mitchell and Son Glasthule and CHQ; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Power & Co Fine Wines; Sweeney’s D3; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock
Single Bottle Review

Offley Drinkable Port

Vintage Port is the pinnacle of the Port quality tree, only made in the best years and very rarely in two successive years.  It’s a wine made for the long haul, able to last for several decades and often entering its peak drinking window after one or two.  The drawback is, however, that it is often unapproachable in its youth.  A very small proportion of wine drinkers buy bottles to drink a decade hence, leaving Port producers with something of a dilemma.

A few months ago I attended a zoom masterclass with Luís Sottomayor, winemaker at Offley Port and Casa Ferreirinha (I have already written about the latter’s Vinha Grande Branco and Tinto here).  Luís gave an overview of the 2018 harvest and the background to the 2018 Vintage Port: Spring 2018 was wet and the Summer not particularly hot.  The harvest started earlier than usual in mid September, but was done very slowly as maturity was quite uneven.  Overall 2018 was similar to the 2016 vintage apart from a slightly hotter summer in ’16.

The principal varieties used are Touriga Francesa, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão.  To make this Port more approachable the proportion of Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) was increased; it has a high level of tannins but they are soft.

The grapes were foot-trodden in traditional lagars for maximum flavour and colour extraction without bitter phenolics.  Normal corks are used as, in Luís’s considered opinion, they are the best closure for ageing.  The wines have great body, acidity and structure making 2018 a classic Port vintage, though the crop was small.  Luís characterises it as a fairly simple wine, easy to understand, drinkable when young but capable of ageing for decades.

Offley Vintage Port 2018

It might be approachable but this Vintage Port is opaque in the glass, as it should be.  The nose has intense, rich black fruits, lifted aromas including spice and balsamic notes.  The palate shows both red and black fruits, balsamic notes, chocolate, all kept fresh by good acidity.  It’s a very generous but not overwhelming wine; it flows straight down without having to chew.  Perhaps this is Goldilocks’ Port?  Not too sweet, not too tannic or dry, not a blockbuster, but not too light.  In a word, accessible!

Luís recommends drinking with cheese or – as the locals do – with Feijoada, a Portuguese black bean and meat stew.

  • ABV: 20.0%
  • RRP: €78.99
  • Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; wineonline.ie
Make Mine A Double

Dynamic Douro Duo [Make Mine a Double #67]

Port wine is world famous, known wherever wine is drunk.  It’s a powerful, sweet, fortified wine that has become the name of a style – just like Champagne – even though it should only be used for geographically demarcated wines from Portugal.  Although the Port Houses are innovating, with a multitude of styles and colours being marketed, demand for their fortified wines isn’t as strong as it could be, considering their quality.

Table wines from the Douro have therefore increased in importance.  The style of Douro wines is evolving as well; initially they were often “dry Ports”, made from the same varieties and full of alcohol, flavour and body.  Although popular, some of them were a little rustic and lacked elegance.  Enter Casa Ferreirinha, taken from the Liberty Wines Ireland website:

Founded in 1952, with the production of the first ever vintage of Barca Velha, Casa Ferreirinha pioneered the quality revolution in Douro still wines and was the first producer in the region dedicated entirely to producing wine, rather than port. Named after the legendary Porto matriarch Dona Antónia Ferreira, Casa Ferreirinha, pays homage to the memory of this visionary woman. Today, the winemaking is headed up by Luís Sottomayor, who restrains the Douro’s natural exuberance to produce wines that have a vibrant freshness allied to a lovely texture and depth.

Earlier this year I joined a zoom masterclass presented by Luís Sottomayor himself and got to taste some of the wines (disclosure: which were samples, obvs):

Casa Ferreirinha “Vinha Grande” Douro Branco 2019

Although there are white Port grapes grown in the Douro (white Port and tonic is the “in” summer drink these days) we don’t tend to think of dry white Douro wines.  The Vinha Grande Branco has been made since 2005 since the acquisition of 25 hectares of suitable vineyards at high altitude.  The precise blend changes from year to year, but for 2019 it is:

  • 40% Viosinho – a well balanced and highly aromatic local variety
  • 35% Arinto (aka Pedernã) – a high acidity grape, better known in Bucelas
  • 15% Rabigato – a high acidity grape almost solely grown in the Douro
  • 10% Gouveio (aka Godello) – which gives roundness and complexity

Vinification took place in stainless steel tank and then the wine was split into two; 50% was aged in 500 litre barrels and 50% in steel tanks.  Both halves received regular lees stirring and then were recombined after six months.  Per Luis, the aim of using oak is to add complexity and capacity for ageing, but only 50% as they don’t want oak to dominate the fruit.

Initially it shows white fruits and flowers on the nose, then citrus and passionfruit, rounding off with some oak notes.  The high altitude of the vineyard shows up on the palate which is very fresh and has good acidity.  There’s some body to this wine and beautiful ripe fruit notes in the mid palate.  Overall this is an excellent wine, and one that I suspect will continue to improve for several years.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €21.99
  • Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Egans, Portlaoise; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; wineonline.ie

Casa Ferreirinha “Vinha Grande” Douro Tinto 2017

 

This is the daddy, one of the first Douro reds, and originally was made with grapes sourced from a specific vineyard called Vinha Grande; nowadays the wine includes grapes from Cima Corgo and Douro Superior subregions.  I don’t have the exact varietal composition for 2017 but for 2018 the blend was:

  • 40% Touriga Franca – the most widely planted black grape in the Douro
  • 30% Touriga Nacional – perfumed and powerful king of the Douro
  • 25% Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) – for suppleness, the second most important black grape
  • 5% Tinta Barroca – early ripening Douro grape which adds colour and alcohol

Alcoholic fermentation is carried out – separately in each subregion – in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, with some maceration to extract colour, flavours and tannins.  The two are then blended together and matured in used (two to four year old) French barrels.  Luis stated that French oak is regarded as more neutral, less aromatic than American oak.  Portuguese oak was used until 2001 when supplies dried up – it gave more tannins and was more aromatically neutral still, but was a little rustic.

The nose of the Vinha Grande Tinto exudes rich black and red fruits, spice, freshly made coffee and hints of cedar.  The palate is lovely and supple, with blueberry, blackberry and plum plus smoky notes.  The body is generous but not too thick; with its soft tannins this is a refined and elegant wine.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €21.99
  • Stockists: Avoca Handweavers, Ballsbridge; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Martins Off Licence, Fairview; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road; Terroirs, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; The Parting Glass, Enniskerry; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; wineonline.ie

 

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

Make Mine A Double

Love, Love me Dão [Make Mine a Double #65]

Adega de Penalva is one of the leading cooperatives in the Portuguese Dão region (I gave an overview of the Dão in a previous article here, but in summary it is in the centre of northern Portugal close to the Douro.)  The coop was formed in the ’60s and has around a thousand members – that’s a lot of coordination – but with an average of only around 1.2 hectares of vines per member the volume crushed is manageable.

Their extensive main range can be spilt into four categories:

  • Red: Adega de Penalva Reserva, Encostas de Penalva, Flor De Penalva, Flor De Penalva Reserva, Jaen, O Penalva, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Pinheira, Touriga-Nacional, Milénio
  • White: Cerceal – Branco, Encostas De Penalva, Encruzado, Flor De Penalva, Bical
  • Rosé: Adega de Penalva Rosé
  • Sparkling (Método Clássico): Milénio Reserva, Milénio Bruto, Milénio Seco, Milénio Tinto Bruto)

As you might be able to parse from the wine names, some are made to be drunk young while others will reward some cellaring.  Not featured in the main list are a red and white fun and drinkable pair made (for Portuguese Story) from blends of indigenous grapes: Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own

Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend Dão Branco 2019

This white blend is composed of:

  • 40% Encruzado (a speciality of the Dão)
  • 30% Malvasia (grown all over southern Europe; the particular variant is not specified)
  • 30% Cerceal (aka Esgana Cão (“Dog Strangler”!,) or Sercial in Madeira)

According to Wine Enthusiast, “Encruzado is, arguably, Portugal’s greatest white grape” – and having enjoyed Quinta dos Carvalhais’s Dão Colheita Branco I think it is a fair statement.  Here, of course, it is not on its own and has a supporting cast of Malvasia (which adds body) and Cerceal (which adds freshness).

All grapes are hand-picked and winemaking is fairly straightforward; after destemming and pressing, the must is fermented with selected yeasts in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.  Maturation is also in INOX – with no wood to be seen – all to preserve the wine’s inherent fruit aromas and flavours.

On the nose it shows a variety of stone fruits and quince, plus almonds and a whiff of the forest (pine? cedar?)  Ripe stone fruit return on the palate – peach, nectarine, apricot – but with a zippy fresh finish that literally makes your mouth water.  This Branco shows why the Portuguese are so keen on blending – it really is more than the sum of its parts!

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €14.95
  • Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; McHugh’s Off-Licence Kilbarrack Rd; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil St.; Baggot Street Wines

Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend Dão Tinto 2017

The blend for the Tinto is:

  • 40% Touriga Nacional (the Douro’s (and Portugal’s?) key black grape
  • 30% Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo, and many other names),
  • 30% Jaen (aka Mencia in NW Spain)

The order of the varieties above is from heavier to lighter; Touriga Nacional has the most structure and weight – which is why it is so important in the Douro – with Tinta Roriz being medium bodied and more accessible, and finally Jaen being quite light and fresh.  Winemaking is similar to the Branco above apart from the use of lined concrete tanks – in addition to stainless steel – for maturation.

Unsurprisingly, given the above, the wine is a medium intensity cherry red in the glass.  The nose has vibrant red fruits – cherry, strawberry, raspberry and cranberry.  On the palate these fruits are even more vibrant and juicy, seeming to jump out of the glass.  There are also notes of blackberry, chocolate and smoke, all wrapping up in a dry but fresh finish.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €14.95
  • Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Martins Off-Licence, Fairview; McHugh’s Off-Licence Kilbarrack Rd; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil St.; Clontarf Wines
    DrinkStore, Stoneybatter; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock

Conclusion

Yes, these wines are easy to drink.  Yes, they are quite affordable.  And yes, they have relatively modest alcohol %.

So they definitely qualify as “lunchtime wines” or “house wines”, but they are far more than that.

Such poise, balance and deliciousness has them punching well above their weight!

 


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

Single Bottle Review

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling

Our first born child arrived in September 2011, and rather than just buy a case of wine for him (or us) to enjoy when he reached his majority I decided to buy a wine I could enjoy around his birthday every year as a toast to another year on earth.  In the end I settled (!) for one of Australia’s iconic white wines, generally regarded as Australia’s best Riesling: Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling.  Normally I enjoy the wine so much that I completely forget to make notes, but this year at least I did write a brief tasting note.

Grosset established his eponymous winery in the small town of Auburn in 1981.  Auburn lies at the northern end of the Mount Lofty Ranges, a Nelson (111) km north of Adelaide and 25km south of the town of Clare.  The Polish Hill vineyard lies at 460 metres, covers eight hectares and is certified organic.  The soil is rocky and low in fertility making the vines work hard.  Winemaking is straight forward, trying to retain as much of the fruit’s character as it becomes wine.

Famously tight when young, the wine is made from small berries, a stark contrast to the larger grapes which grow in the Watervale sub-region of Clare Valley for Grosset’s other key Riesling, Springvale.  Acidity is high and in its youth there are pronounced chalky characteristics.  Indeed, you might say that (in most vintages) this is a wine for purists, but given time (and good care) it can blossom into something truly magnificent.

Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2011

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first: how dry or sweet is this Riesling?  Well, Clare Valley Rieslings are nearly always dry – Grosset’s Alea Riesling is an exception to that rule – and by dry I mean technically dry, i.e. the yeast could not ferment any more sugar into alcohol, leaving just 0.9 g/L.

It pours a bright lemon in the glass; I expect that it was paler on release, though I didn’t have a young equivalent to compare it to.  The nose is amazing – I could happily sniff it for hours.  There are chalky mineral notes, of course, plus lifted lime, quince and grapefruit.  There are no real kerosene notes yet, with the TDN¹ compound not present.

The palate is surprisingly soft and juicy, full of citrus with a soft chalky texture.  The softness doesn’t mean it’s gone flabby – far from it, with literally mouth-watering acidity – but any austerity it had in its youth is firmly discarded.  This is a classy, long and serene wine, nicely into the swing of things at nine years old, but with plenty to go yet.  Yes it’s far from cheap, but for this quality and ageability it’s a very fair price to pay.

 

Latest vintage available in Ireland is 2019.

¹TDN stands for 1,1,6,-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronapthalene, apparently

Make Mine A Double

Kiss From a Rosé [Make Mine a Double #63]

Wine drinkers’ thirst for rosé appears to be boundless, with pink wines from all major wine producing nations experiencing growth.  In French supermarkets there are far more rosé wines than whites on the shelves, and rosé is even the category driving growth in Champagne.

The increase in rosé volume has also been accompanied by an increase in the number of premium rosés on the market.  Some are made with a firm eye on quality, some are marketing-led trendy wines with celebrity producers getting in on the game.  Provence rosé is the most fashionable style at present: pale in colour, lightly fruity and dry, with mineral and / or herbal notes.  Producers from other areas are emulating this style; of course they can’t call it “Provence rosé” but they can mention it is similar in style.

I’m a rosé skeptic; I’m very hard to please when it comes to rosé and I am suspicious of wines with a hefty advertising budget behind them.  There are two styles I have found myself enjoying in the past:

  1. simple, fruit forward (though still dry) rosés, especially Pinot Noir rosés
  2. serious styles which are made to age and come close to a light red, such as Bandol’s Domaine Tempier.

Among many that I’ve been luck to try recently, two in particular stood out for me.  One is from Provence and the home of the very trendy Whispering Angel – Château d’Esclans – and the other is from further west in the Languedoc, south west of Monpellier.  Below is a map showing their respective locations on the French coast.

Morin-Langaran and Château d’Esclans in the South Of France: Languedoc to the left and Provence to the right (Source: Google Maps)

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own

Domaine Morin-Langaran IGP Pays d’Oc Rosé Prestige 2018

Domaine Morin-Langaran is in Picpoul de Pinet country, right by the Étang de Thau between Béziers and Montpelier.  In fact, the vineyard’s borders are entirely within the Picpoul de Pinet AOC limits, with 36 hectares of the total 58 being planted to white grapes and the remaining 22 black.  The vineyard was created right back in 1330 by a religious order who eventually lost it during the wars of religion.  After changing hands several times over the centuries, it was bought by the Morin family in 1966.  They themselves had been making wine down the generations since 1830.

The vines for the Rosé Prestige are mainly Syrah plus a few Cinsault, all on limestone-clay soils.  Harvesting takes place in the cool of night and the must is cold-settled after pressing.  Bâtonnage is used to add creaminess and body to the wine without the need for excessive extraction in the press.

On pouring, the wine is a little darker than the ultra pale rosés which are so en vogue at the moment, but all the better for it. The nose shows strawberry and redcurrant plus some brioche notes from the bâtonnage.  The palate is full of sweet red fruits, but finishes crisp and clean.  This is an unpretentious wine which goes down well on its own or perhaps with lightly spiced food.

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €14.95
  • Stockists: Boutique Wines; Barnhill stores Killaney/Dalkey; Mortons, Ranalagh; Listons, Camden street; The Wine House Trim; Emilie’s, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry; Pat Fitzgerald’s (Centra), Dingle Co. Kerry; Grape and Bean, Portlaois; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil Street; Blackrock Cellars; Gleeson’s, Booterstown Ave

Château d’Esclans Rock Angel Côtes de Provence 2018 

Sacha Lichine was born into Bordeaux royalty – his family owned the Margaux Châteaux Prieuré Lichine and Lascombes – but also became an entrepreneur in the USA where he studied at university.  His big move into rosé was the purchase of Château d’Esclans in 2006, which he transformed with the help of the late Patrick Léon (a consultant winemaker and formerly the Technical Director of Mouton Rothschild).

By pricing its top wine “Garrus”at £60 in 2008, Château d’Esclans essentially created the super-premium rosé category – and prices have obviously risen since then.  From the top down, the range is:

  • Château d’Esclans Garrus
  • Château d’Esclans Les Clans
  • Château d’Esclans (ROI RRP €45)
  • Caves d’Esclans Rock Angel (ROI RRP €40)
  • Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel (ROI RRP €25)

My presumption is that the Caves wines are from bought in fruit whereas the Château bottlings are from estate grapes.

Over the past decade Whispering Angel has become one of the trendiest rosés around, one that some people are very happy to flash in front of their friends: wine as a luxury or fashion statement.  A change of gear kicked in from the late 2019 acquisition of a 55% stake in Château d’Esclans by Moët Hennessy – part of LVMH, one of the leading luxury groups in the world (and with some amazing wines in their portfolio).

But enough about the image, what about the wine?  The 2018 Rock Angel is a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Rolle (the local name for Vermentino).  The vines are 20 to 25 years old and are planted on clay and limestone soils.  Vinification and maturation take place in stainless steel (60%) and 600 litre French oak demi-muids, with bâtonnage of both formats then blending before bottling.

This is a very pale rosé, so the juice has had very little contact with the skins.  The nose has soft red fruits, flowers and spicy vanilla from the oak.  Red fruit comes to the fore on the palate, which is rich yet racy; fresh acidity is paired with mineral notes and even a kiss of tannin on the finish.  This is a serious, grown-up wine that belongs more at the table than on its own.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €40
  • Stockists: The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Morton’s; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Eldons, Clonmel; Dicey Reillys, Donegal; Baggot Street Wines

Conclusion

There’s obviously a huge price difference between these two rosés, and this is after the price reductions brought on by the LVMH purchase and change in distribution.  I find both of them have more character than the junior Whispering Angel, which is around half way between the two prices.  The Domaine Morin-Langaran is excellent value for money so I heartily recommend it.  The Rock Angel isn’t quite as good value – premium wine rarely is – but it exceeded my expectations so I think it’s definitely worth splashing out on if you’re a rosé fan.

 

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

Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

A Pair of Pretty Pinots [Make Mine a Double #58]

Pinot Noir can be tricky to make well.  It is very particular about the climate it’s grown in – not too hot, not too cold.  Here are a pair of antipodean cool climate Pinots that are worth your hard-earned:

Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2018

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir

The Yarra Valley is part of the Port Philip zone which surrounds Melbourne in Australia.  Its proximity to Melbourne makes it a popular wine tourism destination; indeed, my first trip there was on a day trip wine tour from Melbourne.  That should not detract from its status as one of the best cool climate regions of Australia, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir starring – both still and sparkling.

Innocent Bystander was founded in 1996 by Phil Sexton after selling his previous Margaret River venture Devil’s Lair.  Innocent Bystander (IB) wines are often blends from multiple sites to achieve complexity and balance at a reasonable price point.  Alongside IB, in 1998 Sexton also began creating single vineyard wines under the Giant Steps label.

The Pink Moscato explosion in Aussie wine led to a large increase in volumes being made and sold by IB, so Sexton sold it to another family owned Victorian wine producer – Brown Brothers of Milawa – in order to concentrate on Giant Steps.  Once picked IB’s grapes now make a three hour journey in refrigerated trucks to be crushed at Brown Bros’ winery.  Sexton’s Yarra Valley tasting room wasn’t part of the transaction so Brown Bros bought and converted a brewery – formerly run by Phil Sexton!

The wines in the Innocent Bystander portfolio include the following:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Chardonnay
  • Moscato
  • Pinot Gris
  • Gamay
  • Gamay / Pinot Noir blend
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo
  • Arneis

It’s the last two which are the most unusual for Australia, and therefore piqued my interest, though sadly they haven’t yet made their way to Ireland.

In the main this Pinot Noir is fruit-driven: raspberry, blackberry and tart red cherries dominate the nose and palate, though there are also herb and spice notes in the background.  It is not, however, a “fruit-bomb”; acidity and gentle tannins provide a framework against which the fruit can sing, and boy do they sing!

Framingham Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017

Framingham Pinot Noir

Marlborough’s Framingham is probably the most respected producer of Riesling in New Zealand, but has added additional varieties across its three ranges:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Viognier
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Montepulciano
  • Pinot Noir

Their wines are all very well crafted and offer a substantial step up from everyday Marlborough wines, but prices are sensible.  The firm’s winemaker for 18 years was Dr Andrew Hedley, who was then succeeded by the returning Andrew Brown at the beginning of this year (what a year to join!)  In between his stints at Framingham, “Brownie” had worked in several cool climate regions including Alsace, so he has great experience with Riesling.

Framingham’s own vineyards and those of partner winegrowers are all in the Wairau Valley, the central open plain of Marlborough which is on a mixture of alluvial and clay soil.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately, with grapes from clay soils in particular receiving more time on the skins.  MLF and maturation takes place in new (20%) and used French oak barrels, before final blending and bottling.  No fining or filtering is carried out to preserve flavour and mouthfeel.

When speaking to Jared Murtha (Framingham’s Global Sales Manager) earlier this year  I remarked that the Pinot Noir seemed more like a Martinborough Pinot than a typical Marlborough one to me.  This was meant as a compliment and taken as one, as I find many Marlborough Pinot Noirs to be light, simple and less than interesting.  Jared replied diplomatically that Framingham aren’t aiming to make a “smashable” wine, but rather one which is a little more serious and gastronomic.

And hell have they succeeded!  It has typical Pinot red fruit notes – cherry and wild strawberry – but also layer upon layer of smoky, spicy and savoury characters.  There are lovely round tannins giving the wine additional structure.  Umami fans will love this wine!

Conclusion

These two wines are made from the same grape variety in neighbouring countries (yeah, still quite a journey) and are close in price, so a like for like comparison is perfectly fair.  The most obvious difference, though, is their style.  The Innocent Bystander is a great, fruit-forward all-rounder and would really appeal to the casual wine drinker.  The Framingham is a different proposition, more savoury and serious, and would shine the brightest in a setting with food – though it’s not a “this needs food” wine.  My preference would be to spend the extra €4 on the Framingham … but if someone offers me a glass of Innocent Bystander I would be delighted.

 

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

Single Bottle Review

Classic and Classy: Fritz Haag Riesling

My love for Alsace wines – especially its Rieslings – is without parallel, yet even I am forced to concede: Other Rieslings Are Available!  Given the grape’s Germanic origins and it’s position as the most widely planted grape there (23% of vineyard area as of 2015) it is only fair to look to Germany.  Of all Germany’s 13 wine regions, for me the most synonymous with quality Riesling is the Mosel.

The Mosel wine region had SaarRuwer appended to its name until 1st August 2007, and those two names still account for two of the six Mosel Districts (Bereiche).   Also, adjacent to Luxembourg, the Obermosel and Moseltor Districts are home to modest wines – still and sparkling – made from Elbing and other “lesser” grapes.  The final two Mosel Districts are the most important.  The Berg Cochem District is also known as the Terraced Mosel (Terrassenmosel) as many of its slopes are incredibly steep and are terraced so that they can be worked.  The final District is Bernkastel which includes the famous sundial vineyards.

The Haag family have run their estate in Brauneberg, Bernkastel District,  since 1605.  I have previously reviewed their Brauneberger Juffer Grosses Gewächs Riesling and Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel.  Now I turn to their “entry level” dry Riesling.

Disclosure: bottle was kindly given as a sample, opinions remain my own

Fritz Haag Mosel Riesling Trocken 2018

fritz-haag-riesling-trocken

Weingut Fritz Haag hand pick their Riesling grapes for this wine from their slate-soil vineyards around their home base of Brauneberg.  Fermentation takes place in both large wooden vats (for a touch of roundness) and stainless-steel tanks (for freshness).  As many who are fluent in wine know “Trocken” means dry in German, so the fermentation is not stopped early to make the wine sweet (although Fritz Haag does make some brilliant sweet wines).

This estate Riesling pours a light lemon in the glass.  The nose is full of citrus with lifted mineral tones – and unmistakable Riesling character.

The measured residual sugar is 7.5 g/L which would be creeping into off-dry territory for some grapes, but set against this Riesling’s acidity it merely tames the zing a little and brings out the fruitiness of the wine.

On the palate we find fleshy lime, grapefruit and peach combined – you don’t taste them individually but there’s a new super-fruit that combines all their characteristics!  Light and lithe, a wine that dances on your tongue before disappearing down your throat.  Once in your stomach it sends a direct signal to your brain for another taste!  The finish is dry as you’d expect from a Trocken wine, but the fruit sweetness in the mid-palate banishes any thoughts of this being too dry.

The TL;DR review: tastes of deliciousness!

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RS: 7.5 g/L
  • RRP: €23
  • Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf wines; F.X. Buckley Victualler & Grocer; Jus de Vine; McHugh’s Off-Licences, Kilbarrack Rd & Malahide Rd; Nectar Wines; The Vintry; The Wine Pair; Sweeney’s D3; Avoca Ballsbridge; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Drink Store Stoneybatter; Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Lotts & Co.; Martins Off Licence; Terroirs, Donnybrook

 

 

Opinion

Solera Wine Selection (part 3)

It’s time for the big guns from Rioja and Tuscany!  After some fantastic whites in part 1, and some cracking reds in part 2, we now have wines from the esteemed Bodegas Roda and Mazzei.

once again, apologies for the poor quality of my snaps!

Bodegas Roda “Sela” Rioja 2016 (14.0%, RRP €27.95 at Blackrock CellarDeveney’s Dundrum; D-Six Off Licence; The CorkscrewJus de VineThe VintrySweeney’s D3Lotts & CoNectar WinesBaggot Street Wines)

Bodegas Roda Sela Rioja 2016

Bodegas Roda were founded as recently as 1987 but have already forged a reputation for excellence.  They have evaluated over 552 Tempranillo clones before settling on the best 20 to plant going forward.  French – rather that American – oak barrels are used for maturation, yet the oak treatment is always in balance with the fruit.

Sela is the “entry level” from Roda, with fruit hand harvested from 15 to 30 year old bush vines.  Maturation is for 12 months in seasoned French oak.  Of course, this wine could be labelled as a Crianza, but that term has a cheap and cheerful image in Spain, definitely not fitting for Bodegas Roda!  The blend is 87% Tempranillo, 7% Graciano and 6% Garnacha giving fresh red and black fruit.  Sela is an easy drinking style but also has the elegance to be served at the table.

Bodegas Roda “Roda” Rioja Reserva 2015 (14.0%, RRP €39.50 at 64 WinesBlackrock CellarDrink Store, Stoneybatter; Deveney’s DundrumJus de VineThe VintryNectar WinesThe Corkscrew)

Roda Roda Rioja 2015

The Roda Reserva is a clear step up from the Sela.  While the blend is almost identical –  86% Tempranillo, 6% Graciano and 8% Garnacha – the vines are all over 30 year old and yields are lower, both aiding concentration.  Alcoholic fermentation is in French oak vats followed by malolacic fermentation in French oak barrels (40% new, 60% second use) where the wine then matures for 14 months.  When bottled the Reserva is kept in Roda’s cellars for a further two and a half years before release.

The nose has red and black cherries, strawberries and raspberries with vanilla and smoky notes from the oak, and hints of cinnamon.  The wine feels thick and viscous in the mouth with the fruit aromas coming through to the palate.  The Roda Reserva is a vibrant wine, still in the flushes of youth, but should continue to evolve for the next decade or two.

Bodegas Roda “Roda I” Rioja Reserva 2012 (14.5%, RRP €64.00 at 64 WinesBaggot Street WinesBlackrock CellarClontarf WinesDeveney’s DundrumD-Six Off LicenceMartins Off-LicenceThe CorkscrewThe VintrySweeney’s D3Clontarf Wines)

Roda Roda I Rioja 2012

The main difference between Roda I and Roda (formerly Roda II) is in flavour profile – for Roda I grapes are picked from old bush vines which tend to show more black fruit characteristics rather than the red fruit of Roda.  The blend is Tempranillo dominated (96%) with a seasoning of Graciano (4%).  The oak regime is slightly different as well – the barrels are 50% new and ageing in barrel is for 16 months.

While obviously sharing some house similarities with its junior sibling, this is a different wine altogether, much more complex.  The nose is more perfumed and expressive with black fruit, smoky oak, earthiness and chocolate.  These notes continue through to the palate where some dried fruit and mineral flavours join them.  The mouth is voluptuous and soothing.  Fine grained tannins help to make a savoury, satisfying dry finish.  Although this would be a real treat to drink on its own it would shine even brighter with food.

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015 (14.0%, RRP €48.95 at 64 WinesBlackrock CellarDeveney’s Dundrum)

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012
Yes, I forgot to take a snap of the 2015, so here’s my snap of the 2012. If you try really hard, I’m sure you could imagine how the 2015 bottle would look…

You can read the full background on this wine in my recent post on the 2012, so I won’t repeat that here.  The blend is consistent at 92% Sangiovese and 8% Malvasia Nera & Colorino and the oak regime is the same.   The 2015 is from a slightly warmer year so the exact alcohol reading is 14.26% versus 13.73% for the 2012; not a huge difference but an indication of the vintage.  This is a fabulous wine, really smooth but tangy and fresh, with red and black fruit bursting out of the glass.  Mazzei give it an ageing potential of 20 years but when wine is this good it would be really difficult not to drink now!

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli “Siepi” Rosso Toscana 2016 (14.5%, RRP ~ €125.00* at Blackrock Cellar)

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Siepi Rosso Toscana 2016
*Blackrock Cellar currently just has the 150cl magnum in stock for around €250

It does seem to this cynic that any IGT Toscana with French grapes in the blend is classed as a “Super Tuscan” these days, but this is truly deserving of the epithet.  Siepi is named after the six hectare estate vineyard from where the grapes are sourced –  one of Mazzei’s best – and has been produced since 1992.  The blend is 50% Sangiovese and 50% Merlot; the varieties are picked at different times (17 days earlier for the Merlot which is known to be an early ripener in Bordeaux) and are given different maceration times (14 days for Merlot, 18 days for Sangiovese).  Ageing is for 18 months in French barriques, 70% new and 30% used.

This 2016 was released in October 2018 and tasted 12 months later.  It was still a little shy and closed, but already showing flashes of its future grandeur.  To depart from my usual style of tasting notes, drinking this wine was like sitting in front of a warm fire on a big, well-worn sofa with soft cushions.  As I write during Storm Dennis, that would be most welcome!

 

 

Tasting Events

Solera Wine Selection (part 1)

Solera Wine Merchants is a specialist wine importer based in Dublin.  MD and owner Albert Baginski spent over 14 years working as a sommelier and restaurant wine director before going full time with Solera.  He is known for being a gentleman, a true professional and – perhaps most importantly – a really nice bloke.

Albert Baginski

The Solera portfolio is still growing, but from my perspective it has some of the real stars from each region that is represented – Fritz Haag from the Mosel, Roda from Rioja and Mazzei from Tuscany, to name just a few.  Below are some brief notes on the white wines I tasted with Albert late last year.

Villa Des Croix Picpoul de Pinet 2018 (12.5%, RRP €16.95 at Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum)

Villa des Croix Picpoul de Pinet

When twitter discussions on wine scoring circle round again and again, especially whether they are absolute or relative scores; Picpoul is sometimes given as a wine which will never hit the high 90s as it’s somewhat neutral and lacking in character, and therefore lends to credence to scores being relative.

Well, there are exceptions to every rule, and this is comfortably the most flavoursome and characterful Picpoul de Pinet that I’ve tried.  It’s highly aromatic, with light fruits and flowers on the nose.  The palate is fresh with lots of citrus and more depth of flavour than usually found in the grape.  This would be a great alternative to Loire Sauvignon Blanc.

Bodegas Altos de Torona Rías Baixas Godello 2018 (13.0%, RRP €20.95 at Baggot Street WinesBlackrock CellarMartins Off-LicenceNectar Wines)

Altos de Torono Rias Baixas Godello

Rías Baixas is (quite rightly) best known for being the home of some excellent Albariños, but other varieties are grown there, such as this Godello from Altos de Torona.  The wine is unoaked but has spent six months on fine lees which imparts a little texture and a creaminess.  Conference pears and red apples complete the palate.

Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Grosses Gewächs Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.5%, RRP €38.95 at Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s D3; The Corkscrew)

Fritz Haag Juffer Riesling Trocken

This is the first of two Fritz Haag Rieslings from the Mosel, though they are very different in character.  This is a dry Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru) from the Juffer vineyard in Brauneberg (note that Brauneberger isn’t stated on the front label, probably to avoid confusion with the bottling of the best part of the vineyard around the sundial which is labelled Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr).

The nose is only lightly aromatic, but the palate is much more intense.  It tastes dry (residual sugar is 7.9 g/L) and refreshing with grapefruit, lime and quince on the palate. This is a veritable pleasure to drink now but is surely destined for greatness over the next two decades.

Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel 2017 (7.5%, RRP €33.95 (375ml) at Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines)

fritz haag brauneberger juffer riesling auslese goldkapsel
Sorry, forgot to snap this bottle myself!

From the same vineyard as the dry GG above, we now have the sweet Auslese Riesling.  If you are not fluent in German wine terms – no I’m not either – a bit of decoding is in order.  Auslese means “selected harvest” and is on the third rung of the Prädikatswein classification above Kabinett and Spatlese.  Goldkapsel refers to the gold capsule covering the cork, and signifies that this bottling is from the producer’s ripest and best grapes.

Coming in at 125.8 g/L of residual sugar this is definitely in dessert wine territory, but, as it’s a Mosel Riesling there is plenty of acidity to go with it (7.5 g/L TA in fact).  This is a fabulous, unctuous wine that creeps over your palate and isn’t in a hurry to leave.  “Make yourself comfortable”, your taste buds say.  It’s almost a crime to swallow, but the sweet flavours hitting your throat make up for it.  With honey, crystalline pineapple and a dash of lime this wine is close to perfection.

Part 2 will cover the fabulous reds