Whether you call them “orange wines”, “amber wines” or “skin-contact white wines”, these postmodern wines are here to stay. However, are they going to remain a niche curiosity drunk only by the adventurous or will they break out from the independent wine specialist sector into multiples and even supermarkets? Here are two skin-contact whites which are leading the way.
Mazzei Tenuta Belguardo Codice V Maremma Vermentino 2019
I previously reviewed the “regular” Mazzei Belguardo Vermentino and found it excellent, so I was keen to taste this pull-out-all-the-stops flagship version. To make the best Vermentino they could, Mazzei started with clones from Corsica, the spiritual home and likely origin of the Vermentino grape. Of course they were planted in Maremma on the Tyrrhenian coast as the cooling effect of sea breezes is important for retaining freshness. The vineyard site is 30 to 50 metres above sea level and is orientated south / south-west on predominantly sandy soils.
Harvesting is all by hand but it’s vinification where things start to get really interesting:
20% is fermented and aged on the skins in amphorae for nine months
30% is fermented and aged on the skins in stainless steel tanks for nine months
50% is fermented and aged on fine lees in stainless steel tanks (I presume for nine months)
The construction material and any lining of the amphorae is not specified. After blending back together the wine is bottled and stored for a further six months before release.
If someone had already tasted the regular Vermentino then the Codice V would be quite familiar, though they might feel they had been missing half of the story. The nose shows complex aromas of citrus and stone fruit, with hints of smoke. These elements continue onto the palate where they intertwine with mellow savoury notes and layers of mixed peel and ginger. The finish is fresh and mouth-watering.
I have reviewed Gérard Bertrand‘s wines widely over the years; his impressive range includes whites, rosés and reds from the Languedoc at several different price points, many of which are organic and / or biodynamic. To those colours he has added an orange wine, a homage to Georgian wines of 4,500 years ago. It is a real blend, being made with seven different varieties: Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Mauzac, Muscat and Clairette.
When perfectly ripe, the grapes are hand-picked in whole bunches and transferred to vat without any destemming or crushing, as with many red wines. The grapes then ferment, partially in the normal way and partially carbonicly (where the weight of the grapes causes some to ferment within their skins. After 10 to 15 days the grapes are separated and pressed to extract colour and tannin; this press wine is then added to the existing must in stainless steel tanks to finish fermenting. Finally, the wine is put into used barrels to mature.
In the glass (and in the bottle) this is a vibrant gold colour, and could be easily mistaken for a Sauternes or Tokaji. The nose is complex, with apple blossom, marmalade, apricot jam and pear drops – very enticing. The palate is dry but with fruit sweetness on the mid palate. There’s a real savoury complexity to this wine, and a light saline tang with some tannins on the finish. From one point of view it could be said that the nose and the palate offer entirely different aspects, but that is a truism for orange wines in general. Once expectations are reasonably set I think this is a tasty wine that many would enjoy.
These wines are quite different, taking different approaches to producing a balanced wine, and a single varietal compared to a blend. Although the number of orange wines available in Ireland is fairly low at the moment it doesn’t mean that any particular wine can represent a whole colour. What they do have in common is that they are both delicious and approachable, while maintaining a savoury character that expands their interest and versatility.
For me the Codice V is the better wine, but of course has a higher price. Due to its fairly widespread availability and lower price I think the Orange Gold is more likely to tempt more casual wine drinkers into trying an orange wine for the first time – but hopefully not the last time!
*Any wine geeks among you may have noticed that the alcohol for this wine is a little higher than the regular Vermentino I reviewed a year ago (13.39% v 12.5% on the respective tech sheets). This is due to vintage variation (2019 v 2018) rather than differences in winemaking; the 2018 vintage of the Codice V also had 12.5% alcohol.
Pepe Mendoza makes fascinating wines in his home region of Alicante. To understand the wines we must first understand the region and the man himself. We will look at the range of wines he makes followed by tasting notes of one of them.
Where is Alicante? I wouldn’t have been able to place it accurately on a (blank) map, so here’s an annotated map:
Alicante wine comes from the province of the same name in south eastern Spain. As you can see on the outline map above (Credit: Té y kriptonita), there are two separate and distinct sub-regions:
Vinalopó which follows the banks of the river of the same name
La Marina which is a newer, smaller region by the coast
Monastrell is the major grape planted in Alicante – especially in the more developed and warmer Vinalopó – as it is in other wine regions in this part of Spain. A long-standing speciality of the area is Fondillón wine, a late-harvest red wine which is left in barrel for extended periods – similar to the way that Tawny Port is matured, though Fondillón is not fortified.
La Marina is cooler and has more rainfall, and so is more suitable for white grapes – Moscatel is prevalent.
Another historical wine style which was once more common is Brisat wines, i.e. skin-contact wines made using amphoras.
Señor Pepe Mendoza
José (Pepe) Mendoza grew up learning about vines and winemaking in his father’s eponymous firm Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, founded in 1989. Pepe was closely involved in the vineyard and the winery, then the overall running of the family firm with his younger brother Julian. In addition to this large concern – it covers 500 hectares and produces 250,000 bottles annually – Pepe and his wife Pepa Agulló also founded their own boutique operation Casa Agrícola.
From the beginning of 2021 Pepe stepped away from the family firm to concentrate on Casa Agrícola and a new consultancy business – Uva Destino – aimed at helping “vineyards that strive to express themselves”.
Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Wine Range
There are four distinct wine ranges within the Casa Agricola portfolio:
These are Pepe’s entry level wines which blend local varieties and are designed to be fresh but easy drinking:
Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco: Moscatel 40%, Macabeo 40%, Airén 20%
Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto: Monastrell 70%, Giró 25%, Alicante Bouschet 5%
Single Varietal wines
There is currently just one wine in this range:
Pureza Moscatel Anfora:100% Moscatel (see below)
These are also single varietal wines but made with grapes sourced from a single terroir, one which allows the variety to thrive:
Giró de Abargues:100% Giró from Marina Alta
El Veneno Monastrell:100% Monastrell from Alto Vinalopó
Small Production wines
These are experimental wines which act as an R&D lab for Pepe to try out new styles:
Mares de Luz Coupaje: a blend of Monastrell from Vinalopo and Giró from Marina Alta
Giró-Gironet Ánfora Velo Flor: 2 different Giró clones fermented under a veil of flor
Blanc Brisat Moscatel “La Solana”: a 100% Moscatel skin contact wine aged in amphoras
Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Pureza Moscatel Anfora 2019
The vineyard where the grapes for this wine are sourced from is only two hectares in area and was planted in 1943. It is farmed without irrigation and according to organic principles but is uncertified. Wine making takes an additive-free approach: yeast is indigenous and there are no enzymes, acid, sugar or other additives used.
The grape variety used is 100% Moscatel de Alejandría (Muscat of Alexandria) which is common all across the Mediterranean. It is sometimes regarded as inferior to other Muscats – principally Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains – but in the right setting it can deliver very good wines.
The juice is fermented on skins in amphoras of 220, 250 and 350 litres, with macerations two to three times a day. After alcoholic fermentation of around ten days, the wine is matured in the same amphoras for six months, without lees stirring, then in bottle for a further five.
Although classed by some as an “orange” or “amber” wine, this is more of a deep lemon colour. The nose shows grapes as expected from a Muscat, but also orange blossom and citrus peel. When tasted, at first it shows delicacy and poise, dancing on the tongue. There’s a fleshy sweetness to the mid palate, but this is followed up by some grippy tannins and an oh-so-dry finish.
This is a highly individual and unusual wine, completely out of the mainstream. It’s not one I would drink regularly on its own – it would surely blossom even more with food – but it’s very well done and deserves consideration for a wine which activates your senses and stimulates your brain.
Stockists: The Wine Pair; Higgins Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum; SC Grocer Monkstown
Source: media sample
Other Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola wines available in Ireland
In addition to the Pureza Moscatel Anfora, the following Pepe Mendoza wines are available in Ireland:
Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; SC Grocer Monkstown; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock.
Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; Mitchell and Son.
El Veneno Monastrell 2018 (RRP €43.95) Stockists: Avoca; D-Six Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum
When it comes to naming New Zealand’s wine regions, the significant region which is most often forgotten or overlooked is North Canterbury, close to the major city of Christchurch on the South Island. North Canterbury includes the sub-region of Waipara which is more often seen on wine labels (though not to be confused with Wairarapa which is at the bottom of the North Island and includes Martinborough). I’m not sure why Canterbury is overlooked – perhaps because it doesn’t specialise in Sauvignon Blanc? – but some great wines are made here.
Not too dissimilar to Marlborough which is further north on the South Island, Waipara is situated in the rain- (and wind-) shadow of the Southern Alps and is close to the sea, giving temperate summers with cool nights and dry autumns which allow grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness as their own pace. The most important varieties here are Riesling and Pinot Noir, though other aromatic whites and Chardonnay also do well.
To show how the terms can be used interchangeably, note that the sign above mentions Waipara whereas the website banner states “Fine North Canterbury Wine” under “Pegasus Bay”
Background to Pegasus Bay
It started with a doctor reading a book. The doctor was Neurologist Ivan Donaldson and the book was one of Hugh Johnson’s wine books, “Wine”, given to him by his then girlfriend Christine. The book lit a fire within him; he journeyed round many of Europe’s well-established wine regions, and on his return he planted Canterbury’s first vines in 1976. This first vineyard was in Mountain View, just south west of Christchurch, and was very experimental in nature. Ivan managed to fit in his wine hobby in between hospital and private consulting work.
Almost a decade later, Ivan and Chris decided to make the jump from a hobby to a proper enterprise. By now they had four sons, so it was a combined family effort to plant vines in the Waipara Valley. They named their winery Pegasus Bay after the large bay running from the City of Canterbury up to the mouth of the Waipara River.1
The first vintage was 1991 which Ivan made in his garage. The family gradually expanded the winery, cellar door, restaurant and gardens. All four sons are now involved in the winery, with the eldest – Matthew, a Roseworthy graduate – being chief winemaker. As well as estate wines under the Pegasus Bay label the Donaldsons also make Main Divide wines from bought in fruit.
Pegasus Bay Wine Styles and Philosophy
In a nutshell, Pegasus bay wines have something of a Burgundian sensibility but they reflect Waipara and the vintage in which they are made. In a interview that Ed Donaldson gave for the Wine Zealand Project2 in 2016 he expounds the family’s philosophy:
So what drives us is – hopefully – making better wine all the time
One of the advantages [we have is that] my brother Matt’s taken over the winemaking so he has a lot of time to experiment, and to tweak, and to change, and see the wines age, and the vines getting some vine age, and just seeing what works and what doesn’t work, and continually trying to evolve and make better wine.
Our winemaking style is to be true to ourselves, not trying to emulate anything. We have a lot of respect for the old world and its wine styles. We as a family drink a lot of wine from all over the world but we’re not necessarily trying to emulate them, we’re trying to make the best example of what we think expresses the region and the season as best we can. Trying not to follow trends, we try to make the best wine we can and find a home for it.
We’ve been members of the Sustainable Winegrowers Programme pretty much since its inception, and we make wine as naturally as possible.
Pegasus Bay Wine Ranges
There are two main ranges, Estate and Reserve. The Estate wines are (obviously) made only with their own fruit, and although they are perhaps the junior wines in the Pegasus Bay portfolio they are not what you or I would call “entry level”, which has connotations of lower quality, simpler wines for drinking very young. Make no mistake, the Estate wines are seriously good.
The Reserve range is a significant step up again, in both quality and corresponding prices. This range includes two botrytis sweet wines; a Semillon Sauvignon blend reminiscent of Sauternes and a Riesling which evokes the Rhine. The Reserve wines are named with an operatic theme as Chris Donaldson is an opera devotee.
The Vengence range has just two experimental wines whose composition varies from year to year. They are totally different in style from the main two ranges; they are fun and quirky rather than being serious. They give the winemakers the opportunity to play around with different vineyard and winery choices that they couldn’t just jump into with the main ranges.
Reserve: Bel Canto Dry Riesling, Aria Late Picked Riesling, Virtuoso Chardonnay, Prima Donna Pinot Noir, Maestro Merlot/Malbec, Encore Noble Riesling, Finale Noble Semillon Sauvignon
Vergence: Vergence White (Semillon blend), Vergence Red (Pinot Noir)
Wines in bold are reviewed below
Pegasus Bay Chardonnay 2017
As with most of Pegasus Bay’s vines, this Chardonnay is harvested from vines which are mainly ungrafted. The vines now average 30 years old and are planted on rocky soils which are free draining and low in fertility. These facts all lead to lower yields but with concentrated flavours. The climate is warm, rather than hot, yet with cool nights, so the growing season is long.
I mentioned above that there’s a Burgundian sensibility to Pegasus Bay wines, but in the case of this Chardonnay the winemaking is definitely Burgundian in nature. Multiple passes were made to hand harvest the fruit at optimum ripeness. The grapes were whole bunch pressed then transferred to 500 litre oak barrels, 30% new and 70% used. Spontaneous fermentation took place in these puncheons and the young wine was left to mature on its lees over winter and spring. Malolactic fermentation started naturally into the summer months, with the winemaking team halting it based on regular tasting to get the balance between fresh malic and round lactic acids.
When poured this Chardonnay is a normal lemon colour. On the nose there are citrus fruits but they initially take a side seat to outstanding “struck-match” reductive notes. There are also soft yellow fruits and a stony mineral streak. The palate is magnificent, a really grown up Chardonnay that balances fruit, tanginess, minerality, freshness, texture and roundness. This is one of the most complete Chardonnays I’ve had the pleasure of trying in many years.
Stockists: Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.
Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2016
This 2016 pours a medium intensity ruby red, consistent across the glass. The nose has lots of fruit, more black than red; the black fruits appear at first (blackberry and black cherry) but gradually cede attention to red (red cherry and pomegranate). Enticing savoury notes and spice complete the olfactory picture. It’s a very sophisticated and complex nose that deserves – nay demands – frequent revisits.
The palate is savoury and fruity in taste. Those same black fruits come to the fore but with black liquorice and black olive counterpoints, Fine grained tannins and acidity provide a fantastic structure, but this is a supple and sappy wine, not austere.
The alcohol is little higher than we usually see in a Pinot Noir, but the 14.5% does not stick out at all when tasting. This is a well-balanced wine, albeit a powerful one. When it comes to food pairing, Pinot Noir is often matched with mid level meats such as veal or pork – and to be fair this would be excellent with charcuterie – but this has the weight and intensity to match well with game, lamb or even beef.
Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule; World Wide Wines, Waterford: The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; La Touche Wines, Greystones; D-Six, Harolds Cross
Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling 2008
Pegasus Bay have four Rieslings in their portfolio, as befitting a top Waipara producer:
The Estate Riesling is produced every year
The Bel Canto (Reserve) Dry Riesling has a little botrytis and is made in two out of every three years, depending on vintage conditions
The Aria (Reserve) Late Picked Riesling is a late harvest style that often has a small proportion of Botryis grapes and is made roughly one on two years, vintage dependent
The Encore (Reserve) Noble Riesling is only made with fully botrytised berries, often requiring multiple passes, and of course when there are sufficient grapes in a particular vintage.
Only in very exceptional years such as 2008 and 2014 are all four styles made. The Riesling vines are on a rocky outcrop which has warm days but very cool nights, helping to maintain acidity and thus preserve freshness.
As the pure botrytis (and therefore sweetest) Riesling in their range, Pegasus Bay liken it in style to a Séléction de Grains Nobles (SGN) from Alsace or a Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) from Germany. When harvested the grapes are totally shrivelled and so produce a very small amount of juice – but such luscious juice! After clarification the juice is allowed to ferment naturally; when the yeast finishes its task there is plenty of residual sugar, though the precise figure is not published.
On the nose it’s instantly identifiable as Riesling, but with honey and tropical fruits to the fore. In addition to the pineapple, mango and grapefruit there are also hints of mushroom. The palate is beautiful but perhaps confounding for the uninitiated – it’s rich and sweet yet full of acidity, giving your palate a smorgasbord of experiences. The finish is amazingly long.
At 13 years of age this bottle has had plenty of development, possibly rounding off the acidity slightly while also tapering the apparent sweetness to some degree (the mechanism for which is not yet understood). It still has plenty of life left though – it could easily keep to the end of this decade.
RRP: €35 for 2016 vintage (375ml bottle)
Stockists: currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
Source: own cellar
Other Pegasus Bay Wines available in Ireland
In addition to the three wines reviewed above there are three further Pegasus Bay wines available in Ireland
Sauvignon / Semillon: RRP €29, Stockists: Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; The Corkscrew; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock
Bel Canto Dry Riesling: RRP €35, currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
Prima Donna Pinot Noir: RRP €75, Stockist: The Wine House, Trim
Frankly Wines and Pegasus Bay
Now, those who follow me on Instagram may realise that I live in the Dublin suburb of Glasnevin, also home to the National Botanic Gardens, the Irish Met office and the large Glasnevin cemetery. It was therefore a huge surprise when, while touring New Zealand on honeymoon, we suddenly realised that we were driving through Glasnevin, Canterbury. And where was our first stop? Pegasus Bay, of course!
1Ironically Pegasus Bay was originally known as “Cook’s Mistake” – I’m glad I didn’t find that out on my honeymoon!
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:
Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay
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:
Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
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
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)
Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
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
Wente Winemakers Studio
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
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.
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
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.
Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; wineonline.ie
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.
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.
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
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
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!
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.
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
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!
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.
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:
simple, fruit forward (though still dry) rosés, especially Pinot Noir rosés
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.
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.
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.
Stockists: The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Morton’s; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Eldons, Clonmel; Dicey Reillys, Donegal; Baggot Street Wines
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.
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
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:
Gamay / Pinot Noir blend
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!
Marlborough’s Framingham is probably the most respected producer of Riesling in New Zealand, but has added additional varieties across its three ranges:
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!
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.