Tasting Events

10 Top Reds from O’Briens

Ranging from €14 to €49, here are some of my favourite reds from the recent O’Briens Wine Fair:

Viña Chocálan Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (14.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)

Cab Sauv

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is usually pretty good, even when inexpensive, as Chile has enough sunshine to fully ripen the fruit but the temperatures aren’t so high that it becomes jammy and unbalanced.  This is full of juicy blackcurrant but also has a little bit of cedar wood and graphite which adds interest.

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza 2013 (14.0%, €17.95 down to €15.95 for May at O’Briens)


Particularly at Crianza level, Rioja is known for red fruit flavours (strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, red cherry) with a good helping of vanilla from American oak.  Sierra Cantabria doesn’t follow this plan at all – it’s all about black fruit and intensity of flavour, much more akin to a good Ribera del Duero than most Riojas.  Why not try it back to back with the Reserva?

Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, €23.95 at O’Briens)


At the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island is the Wairarapa wine region (not to be confused with Waipara near Christchurch).  The oldest part is probably Martinborough (not to be confused with Marlborough at the top of the South Island) but there are other notable areas within the Wairarapa such as Gladstone.  Urlar (from the Gaelic for “Earth”) is an organic and practicing biodynamic producer which makes fantastic Pinot Noir.  While full of fruit it has a savoury, umami edge, and will undoubtedly continue to develop complexity over the coming years.

Viña Chocálan Vitrum Blend 2013 (14.5%, €24.95 down to €22.95 for May at O’Briens)

Vitrium Blend

Sitting just below their icon wine Alexia, Vitrum is Chocalan’s premium range, so named as the owners Toro family have been in the glass bottle making business for over 80 years.  As stated it this wine is a blend, and the grapes aren’t named on the front label as there are so many of them! (for reference the 2013 is: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec, 4% Carmenère, 2% Petit Verdot).  All these different varieties make for an interesting wine – quite full bodied and with considerable structure, but balanced and drinkable.

Domaine Olivier Santenay Temps des C(e)rises 2014 (13.0%, €28.95 down to €23.16 for May at O’Briens)


If you don’t speak French then you’d be forgiven for missing the jeu de mot in the name of this wine: temps des crises is the time of crises and temps des cerises is the time of cherries – and also the name of a famous French revolutionary song.  Anyway, on to the wine itself: this is a mid weight Pinot Noir from Santenay in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune.  It has delightful red currant and red cherry with a touch of smokiness from barrel ageing.  It’s a food friendly wine which could also be drunk on its own.  While ready to drink now I would (try to!) keep this for a few more years before drinking.  Great Burgundy for the €€!

Château Fourcas Hosten Listrac-Médoc 2009 (13.0%, €29.95 down to €23.95 for May at O’Briens)


Listrac is one of the two villages (with Moulis) in Bordeaux’s Médoc peninsula outside of the famous four that have their name on an appellation, but is rarely seen in Ireland. Château Fourcas Hosten was bought by the family behind the Hermès luxury goods group around a decade ago and they have invested significantly in quality since then.  As 2009 was an excellent vintage in Bordeaux this is a fairly ripe and accessible wine.

Unusually for a warm vintage it has quite a bias towards Merlot (65%) versus Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), even though they make up 45% each of the vineyard area (and Cabernet Franc being the final 10%).  This wine shows fresh and dried black fruit with some pencil shavings and tobacco – classy, accessible Bordeaux!

Cambria “Julia’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5%, €29.95 at O’Briens)


The spotlight on US Pinot Noir mainly falls on Oregon and its Willamette Valley, but California shouldn’t be ignored – especially Santa Barbara County, which was of course the setting for Sideways.  The cool climate here, especially in Santa Mary Valley, helps Pinot Noir develop fully, keeping acidity and light to medium tannins to frame the fresh red fruit.   One of my favourite American Pinots!

Man O’War Waiheke Island Ironclad 2012 (14.5%, €34.45 at O’Briens)


I’m a big fan of Man O’War’s premium range, all nautically named and great examples of their type (I’m just gutted that demand for their Julia sparkling wine at their winery restaurant means that it won’t be exported anymore).  Ironclad is the Bordeaux blend; the blend changes from year to year depending on how each variety fared, with any fruit that doesn’t make the grade being declassified into the next tier down.

The current release is the 2012 which is 45% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon – only Carménère misses out from Bordeaux’s black grapes, and hardly anyone grows that in Bordeaux nowadays anyway. It’s full of ripe blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry fruit with some graphite.  It would pair well with red meat, but being a bit riper in style than most Bordeaux means it drinks well on its own.

Frank Phélan 2012 (13.0%, €34.95 down to €27.95 for May at O’Briens)


Back to Bordeaux proper again with the second wine of Château Phélan Ségur, named after the son of the original Irish founder Bernard Phelan.  As a second wine it mainly uses younger fruit than the Grand Vin, a shorter time in barrel and a higher proportion of Merlot (this is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon).  All these lead to it being a more supple wine, and more approachable in its youth.  For me this was quite similar to the Fourcas Hosten – dark black fruit in particular – but younger and with a little more tannin and graphite notes.  Steak anyone?

Torbreck The Struie 2014 (14.5%, €49.00 down to €42 for May at O’Briens)


It’s fair to say that Barossa Shiraz is one of Australia’s most well-recognised wine styles, but there are actually significant differences within the Barossa.  The most notable difference is that there are actually two distinct valleys – the Barossa Valley itself and the Eden Valley which is at a higher altitude and hence has a cooler climate (there’s some great Riesling grown in the latter but very little in the former!)

The Struie is a blend of fruit from both valleys: 77% Barossa (for power and richness) and 23% Eden (for acidity and elegance), all aged in a mix of old and new French oak barrels.  There’s intense blackberry and plum fruit with a twist of spice.

This is a fairly monumental wine which actually deserves a bit more time before drinking, so buy a few and lay them down…but if you can’t wait, decant!










This Summer’s BBQ Wines #5

In the summer months, such as they are on the Emerald Isle, drinkers tend to leave their bigger red wines to one side apart from when firing up the barbie and devouring half a cow.

If you’re a determined red wine drinker, what should you be looking for on the warmer days?  I put it to you that Pinot Noir might well be the answer.  I will make my case:

Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2012
Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2012
  • It’s lower in tannin so can pair with poultry and meaty fish (such as tuna steaks) as well as red meat.
  • Among black grapes it’s relatively high in acidity which makes it refreshing.
  • It’s lighter in body and can take a light chill – 30 minutes in a domestic fridge before bringing out to the patio will add some zip!
  • You can choose a savoury edge from the old world (esp Burgundy or Germany) or a fruitier style from the New World depending on your fancy.
  • Miles drank Pinot Noir in the cult wine film Sideways.

You know it makes sense!

Here’s a Pinot Noir that I recently test drove at a barbecue and really enjoyed:

Byron Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2012 (€25.49, O’Briens)

Byron Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2012
Byron Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2012

Santa Barbara County is the original home of quality cool climate Pinot in the States, and  is indeed where Miles and Jack from Sideways went to try some delicious wine.

Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara County

If you’re not familiar with the area you might not place it as an American wine at first; there’s minerality on the palate and a lightness of touch that can be missing from some US wines.  The winemaker’s notes state that it spent 8 months ageing in 100% small French oak barrels, but the oak is already well integrated and does not jarr.

Redcurrant, red and black cherry, strawberry and raspberry fruit compete for your attention.  Although very smooth and approachable, there’s a serious side to this wine – the acidity and savoury notes give it some gravitas.

Although this delicious Pinot Noir would be great for a drink outdoors at a BBQ, to be honest it would be a treat in any season and setting!

Disclosure: Sample was provided, but opinions are entirely my own

This Summer’s BBQ Wines:

#1 – Bellow’s Rock Coastal Region Shiraz 2013

#2 – Château Michel Cazevieille Origine 1922 AC Saint Chinian 2012

#3 – and #4! Domaine de Maubet IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2014 & Venturer Côtes de Gascogne 2014

#5 – Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2012

#6 – Lot #01 Mendoza Malbec Cabernet 2013


My Top 10 Reds of 2014

It was nearly impossible to reduce this list down to 10 reds so there are lots of magnificent wines that didn’t make the cut – some fine Chilean Pinots in particular.  Pinot is well represented from numbers 10 to 8…

10. Cline Cellars Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012

Cline Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012
Cline Cellars Pinot Noir 2012

Very few quality American wines make it to Irish shores, and so discovering Cline Cellars Pinot Noir at the Big Ely Tasting was a revelation.  After tasting it again with Fred and Nancy Cline at the James Nicholson Tasting (and some of their other wines) I was definitely a firm fan.

You’d never mistake it for Burgundy, but to be honest it knocks spots off most red Burgundy under €30.  It’s on the big side for Pinot but it has poise and balance so that all its components remain in harmony.

9. Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011

Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011
Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011

This stood out as my favourite Pinot of the whole Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin.  While Marlborough wineries are still working out how to get the best out of Pinot Noir, their Wairarapa counterparts across the Cook Strait can already be considered masters of the grape.

One of the top few producers in New Zealand, Ata Rangi is one of the well established Martinborough vineyards making outstanding Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in addition to Pinot Noir.  This has fruit and power, but is soooo smooth that a bottle can disappear in a frighteningly short time!

8. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002

Yes, I’ve included a Champagne among my reds of the year!  But I have my reasons…

Like many rosé Champagnes, particularly those with some age on them, this was actually closer to a still Pinot Noir than a young white Champagne.  And for good reason when you look how it’s made.  70% of the blend is Pinot Noir from Grand Cru villages, of which around 13% from Bouzy is added as red wine.  This is then topped off with 30% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger and Chouilly.

I opened this on the day we celebrated my wife’s birthday – something to enjoy while we got ready to go out. My wife wasn’t that impressed by it, but that just meant more for me! The texture is the key for me – it wasn’t that fizzy or zippy, but it had an amazing Pinot nose and soft red fruit on the palate.  I don’t tend to drink much rosé but this shows what it can do.

7. Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2009

Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz
Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2009

The so-called Baron Of The Barossa, who sadly passed away in 2013, Peter Lehmann was the maker of several ranges of Barossa gems.  They started above the level of everyday wines but went right up to this flagship – more expensive than most people would spend on a regular basis but nowhere near the price of other Aussie icons such as Hill Of Grace or Grange.

At the Comans silent tasting, the 2009 showed that it’s still young and would reward patient cellaring, but it’s so drinkable now that it’s hard to resist.  It’s made in a rich, concentrated old-vine style which is defiantly and definitively Barossa, but there are layers and layers of complexity.  It packs a punch but also makes you think.

6. Château Pesquié Ventoux Artemia

Château Pesquié Ventoux "Artemia" 2006 en magnum
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2006 en magnum

I was lucky enough to taste three different vintages of this southern Rhône superstar during the year – the 2012 from bottle and the 2006 from magnum at the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely, and then the 2005 from magnum at a jaw-droppingly excellent food and wine dinner at Belleek Castle (more to come on that!)

Although its home of Ventoux is situated in the southerly reaches of the Rhône, the cool winds coming off the Mont de Ventoux and Valcluse mountains help maintain acidity and freshness.  Artemia is Château Pesquié’s premium bottling made of equal parts of Grenache and Syrah, both from low-yielding sites

The wines are rich and unctuous, with dark black fruit and spice competing for your attention.  But it’s not all about big fruit, there’s also acidity and minerality there.  I’m trying to see if I can get my hands on a few magnums for myself!

5. Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008

Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008
Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008

Forget Galaxy Chocolate, this is possibly the smoothest thing known to man – pretty unusual for a Chianti!

The biggest producer in Italy, family owned and run Antinori bought the estate in 1987 and set out to create the ultimate expression of Tuscan Sangiovese.  Clones were specially selected to give velvet and acidity – hence the smoothness.

It has an amazing nose of red and black fruit, but these are joined on the palate by rich dark chocolate. It has an international sensibility but is unmistakably Chianti Classico.  By some distance it’s the best Chianti I have tasted to date!

4. Torres Mas La Plana 2005

Torres Mas La Plana 2005
Torres Mas La Plana 2005

When wines are this good, choosing between different vintages much be like choosing between different children, but if a choice has to be made of all the different vintages tasted of Torres’ Cabernet flagship Mas La Plana then 2005 was the chosen one.

Although regarded as an interloper by many in Spain, Cabernet Sauvignon can actually thrive in the right settings.  As it’s my favourite black grape I say boo to tradition and enjoy this blackcurrant beauty!  Compared to an excellent Rioja there are quite noticeable differences – primarily black fruit rather than Tempranillo’s red strawberries and smokey French oak rather than big vanilla from American oak.

The 2005 still has loads of primary fruit, but has already developed some interesting cedar and tobacco notes. It’s in full bloom but has the structure to last until the end of this decade at least.

3. Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

Gerard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989
Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

I didn’t taste enough sweet wines this year for them to deserve their own category, but this fortified Grenache muscled its way into the Reds list.  A Vin Doux Naturel from the Roussillon in South West France, this is similar-ish to Rasteau from the Rhône and Maury close by in Roussillon – and not a million miles away from Port.

Unexpectedly this was my favourite wine from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Age has taken away with one hand – colour has faded significantly – and given back with the other – complexity writ large.  It’s definitely a wine for the winter season but it’s something to look forward to.  Class in a glass.

2. Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

This was technically drunk in 2015 as it was popped after midnight on New Year’s Eve, but I love it so much I have to include it.  A long time favourite producer since my visit to Coonawarra in 2000, and undoubtedly one of the standout in terms of consistent quality, Katnook Estate makes big cabs that are to die for.

This young example had fresh blackcurrants – so fresh and intense that you would swear you were actually chewing on them – with Coonawarra’s trademark eucalyptus providing additional interest.  It’s my go-to red for good reason!

1. Penfolds Grange 2008

Penfolds Grange 2008
Penfolds Grange 2008

I am an unbashed fan of Australia’s first world class wine, and included some older vintages of Grange in my best wines of 2013.  Without the 2008 for reference I’m pretty sure I would have picked the 2009 for the top spot this year – the 2009 was very nice indeed – but the 2008 was on another level altogether.  Apparently it was awarded the full monty 100 points by both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator

Only a couple of years after release, it is still an absolute baby of course, but is actually drinkable now.  It has tremendous concentration, and although you can find the American oak if you search for it, fruit dominates the nose and palate.  Blackberry, blackcurrant and damson are tinged with choca-mocha and liquorice.

It’s an immense wine without being intimidating –  At 14.5% the alcohol is fairly middling for an Aussie Shiraz, perhaps tempered by 9% fruit from the cooler Clare Valley.  It’s made to last for decades, but unlike some flagship wines I tasted this year its elements are already harmonious.

As a “collectible” wine that has become bought more and more by investors, Grange has now moved firmly out of my price range.  I am still tempted nevertheless!!


Tasting Events

Glasnevin Fizz Fest 2014

After a second trip to Champagne and Alsace in 2013 I decided that my birthday party would be a sparkling wine tasting affair.  My review of the wines was posted under the grand name of Glasnevin Fizz Fest: the good the bad and the ugly.

Due to personal circumstances I didn’t have a big birthday bash this year, so instead our New Year’s Eve party became the opportunity to try lots of fizz!

Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV

Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV
Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV

The kick-off wine at the Wine Society’s 2014 Dublin tasting proved to be a worthy opener again.  Made by the Californian offshoot of Louis Roederer from four of their top vineyards, it is definitely made to the high standards of its Champenois maison mère.

Full bodied like the Brut Premier at home, it does, however, reverse the house blend of around two thirds Pinot Noir to Chardonnay, instead being 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir.

As well as bready characters from time on the lees this also has depth from reserve wines which have been aged in oak.  This is probably the finest Californian fizz I have tasted to date.

Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV

Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV
Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV

A fairly simple Prosecco brought by a guest, it was pleasant enough not to be passed over, and considering I didn’t have any Prosecco open myself (damn, not again!) it was a nice contrast to some of the bigger names.

Lightly sparkling (a Frizzante with a screw top, no less) with gentle apple and grape flavours, it’s a wine to enjoy rather than contemplate.  For some reason it does really well in the Netherlands!

Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs NV

Sainsbury's Blanc de Blancs NV
Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs NV

I bought this own label 100% Chardonnay from UK supermarket Sainsbury’s a couple of years ago when there was a double-bubble promotion on.  It’s actually good enough at full price but I couldn’t resist stocking up.

Two years later on and the citrus freshness is still there, but additional bottle age has brought a bit more body and complexity.  It could still serve well as an aperitif but with more richness it could accompany roast chicken.

I wonder how many bottles bought at the same time made it this long – not many I’d wager!

Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV

Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV
Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV

Méthode Cap Classique is the South African term for traditional or Champagne method, and Mr Beck helpfully puts “Chardonnay . Pinot Noir” on the front label for those who aren’t sure.  Graham Beck is renowned as one of the best producers of fizz in the country

On the nose this had a slightly spirit quality, as though there was a trace of stronger alcohol in there.  It wasn’t apparent on the palate which was sophisticated and dry – one of the driest New World sparklers I’ve tried – with creaminess and richness from the lees.  A very good effort, especially considering the relatively modest pricetag.

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007

The first significant quality producer of English sparkling wine goes from strength to strength.  2007 was one of the first vintages seen from start to finish by head winemaker Cherie Spriggs and husband Brad Greatrix, elevating the already serious quality to a higher plane.

So how does this bottle taste?  Apple pie!  No, seriously – amazingly intense apple flavours backed up by pastry notes from the lees and then bottle ageing.  Seriously delicious!

Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004

Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004
Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004

Non vintage Möet didn’t fare very well when tasted double blind in the previous Glasnevin Fizz Fest, but as I’ve enjoyed the house’s prestige cuvée every time I’ve tried I’d, I thought I’d give the middle ground of Möet Grand Vintage a go.

Being a vintage Champagne it was guaranteed to have a longer minimum period on the lees (36 months v 15 for NV) and this came through on the palate.  However, the fruit behind it wasn’t good enough to support the yeastiness – it tasted as though there was a hole in it, if a drink can said to have a hole in it!

Most people preferred the Sainsbury’s own label fizz, which tells you all you need to know!

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

Widely acknowledged as their best vintage yet, Nyetimber’s Champagne Blend from 2009 had showed well previously.  Perhaps context is more important than we think, because tasted straight after the Möet Grand Vintage this was fantastic, even better than I expected.

The 2009 Classic Cuvée blend is 55% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier.  The Pinots are more obvious with soft red fruit on the attack, but then the Chardonnay’s citrus and soft stone fruits follow closely behind.  It’s very elegant and polished, and should continue to develop over the next decade and more.

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999

The Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on Champagne’s Côte des Blancs is the source of Krug’s famed single vineyard Clos du Mesnil.  Whereas that tends to retail at £600 or more per bottle, the village’s co-operative makes an excellent Blanc de Blanc that retails closer to £30 – a twentieth of the Krug price!

I had snapped up some magnums of the 1999 vintage a few years ago in a bin-end sale – and what a bargain they turned out to be!!  Champagne (and wine in general) matures more slowly in a magnum than in a regular 75cl botle, but authors such as Tom Stevenson also content that sparkling wine matures better in the larger format.  Without a comparative tasting for myself I will take Tom’s word for it, but the evidence provided by these magnums is definitely in favour of the argument.

Somewhat yellow in the glass from ageing, the wine is full of yeasty, bready characters on the nose.  This follows through onto the sumptuous palate, with citrus and soft stone fruit playing a supporting role.  A very long finish makes this an excellent fizz – what a shame I’ve only got one bottle left!

Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999

Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999
Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999

Context rears its head again – and not in a good way this time.  Tasted among the other sparklers this appeared somewhat flat.  It wasn’t unpleasant, just a different type of drink.

I hope to try it again in 2015 to see how it shows then.

Cloudy Bay Pelorus Marlborough 2009

Cloudy Bay Pelorus 2009
Cloudy Bay Pelorus 2009

Cloudy Bay’s NV and Vintage sparklers are probably the best value wines in their range, especially considering the extra work that goes into making fizz.  Unlike its compatriot Lindauer or Australia’s Jacob’s Creek Sparkling, they are serious wines make with great attention to detail.  We served Pelorus NV for the toast at our wedding in 2009!

As you’d expect in a serious offering from Marlborough, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the grapes used, and like vintage Champagne it gets at least three years maturing on the lees.  There’s apple, citrus and bready notes on the nose, followed by a creamy palate with more apple and then roasted almonds.  It’s only a youngster so there’ more to come!

Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV

Cave de Turckheim Crémant d'Alsace Confidence NV
Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV

The last bottle opened before we moved onto some reds was this Blanc de Blancs Crémant d’Alsace from one of the region’s best co-operatives.  They produce a wide range of still wines and several sparklers – this was my favourite when we visited in 2013. Not widely known outside France, Crémant d’Alsace is actually the second most popular source of sparkling wine in France.

The blend is supposedly a secret but I remember 100% Chardonnay being whispered at the tasting counter.  Perhaps because it’s not seen as an Alsatian grape?  It’s not permitted in still Alsace wines, but is allowed in Crémant, sometimes with Pinot Blanc and other varieties.

As is the norm in Alsace, this displayed more primary fruit than flavours from lees ageing. We’re talking citrus, apple and quince here, so more of an aperitif style, but very enjoyable nevertheless.

The Overall Verdict

This was no professional trade tasting – all samples were drunk and enjoyed – so there’s somewhat less than 100% objectivity here, but my rankings would be:

  1. Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
  2. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
  3. Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV

Here’s to next year’s Fizz Fest!

Tasting Events

My Favourites from the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting (Part two)

Part one of my report covered some delicious sparkling and white wines.  Now it’s time to focus on the red wines that I really liked at the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting:

Vignobles Alain Maurel Château Ventenac La Réserve de Jeanne 2012 (€15.45)

Domaine Vententac La Reserve de Jeanne 2012
Château  Ventenac La Réserve de Jeanne 2012

An unusual (officially speaking) but traditional (entirely off the record) blend of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, this typically consists of Cabernet Franc (30%), Merlot (30%), Syrah (35%) and Grenache (5%), though the precise assemblage is vintage-dependent.  There is a long tradition of using robust and fruity wines from the Rhône to add a bit of oomph to Burgundy and fruitiness to Bordeaux.  In Australia the Shiraz-Cabernet blend is an established part of the winescape, but only recently have premium multi-region blends started to reappear in France.

Vignobles Alain Maurel is based near Carcasonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Domaine Ventenac is used for everyday-drinking varietal wines whereas Château Ventenac is for terroir-driven more complex wines under the Cabardes AOC.

Vinification is in large stainless stell tanks.  The grapes are cold soaked for five days then fermented at 28°C.  The juice is pumped over every day for the whole 35 days of the process.  10% of the blend spends 12 months in American oak barriques and 90% spends 12 months in slightly porous concrete  tanks.

Although in the south of France the aspect of the vineyards enables the wines to be kept fresh rather than jammy.  This wine exhibits lots of herb and spice characters, particularly liquorice, with acidity keeping it interesting.  An absolute steal at this price!

Societa  Agricola Piero Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2009 (€39.50) & Barbaresco San Stunet DOCG 2008 (€57.50)

Societa  Agricola Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2008
Societa Agricola Piero Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2008

I couldn’t decide which I preferred of this pair so I put them both in!  Produced in the “other” top wine area of Piedmont’s Langhe (the more famous being Barolo) this is a 100% Nebbiolo. If you are interested in the differences between the two areas then Kerin O’Keefe’s new book “Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine” is a great place to look further.

The winery was founded by Piero’s father in 1953 and is still a family affair – his wife Lucia, his daughter Emanuela and his son Pierguido are all intimately involved in the vineyard and the winery.  Fermentation is in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and then maturation is 18 months in large oak barrels with a further 6 months in bottle.

The biggest difference between the two wines was explained as the altitude of the respective vineyards; the Mondino is at 190 M whereas the San Stunet Stefanet M.  The obvious implication is that temperatures tend to be cooler at higher altitudes and the wines are “cooler” as a consequence.  On tasting, both wines showed power and tannin but finesse.  The Mondino was more feminine in character, and the San Studet Stefanetto was definitely masculine.  For Bordeaux lovers, Margaux v Pauillac is something of an illustration.

So which would I chose?  I’m not sure the San Studet Stefanetto is worth the price premium for my palate so I’d buy the Mondino – but if someone else was paying then definitely the former!

Cline Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012 (€18.45)

Cline Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012
Cline Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012

I was lucky enough to taste this wine when James Nicholson had a table at the Big Ely Tasting (keep your eyes peeled for the post(s)!) and liked it so much that I was very keen to try it again at JN Wine’s own tasting.

Based in California’s Sonoma County, Fred and Nancy Cline started out by restoring old vineyards planted with Rhône varieties, then adding Zinfandel and later Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.  They produce several different quality levels, from “California Classics” up to more premium “Single Vineyard” bottlings.

This is their excellent version of a “cool climate” Pinot Noir, though “cooler” would be more fitting as it still manages to hit 14.5% abv.  The alcohol level is not apparent when tasting as the wine is so well balanced.  It’s big and powerful, yes, and more Central Otago than Marlborough, but it’s savoury and smooth rather than jammy.

Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011 (€29.50)

Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011
Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011

Another fine Cline wine – and if you thought the Pinot sounded big, it’s but a baby brother to this Big Zin which boasts 16.0% abv!  It is a huge wine but it’s not monstrous, it’s well balanced and tasty.  Black fruit rules here, with stewed, dried and fresh plums, black cherry and blackberry, along with toasted notes from the oak, and framed by firm tannins.

It’s not a summer afternoon wine, but now winter is upon us it very much fits the bill of what I want in my glass.

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The American Dream – Highlights of The Wine Society Tasting in Dublin

The Wine Society is a mutually-owned wine buying club based in Stevenage in England.  Since its inception in 1874 as The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited its aim has been to buy wines direct from growers to ensure their authenticity and quality and to offer them to members at fair prices.

The Society has over 120,000 active members in the UK and Ireland which gives it great purchasing power and a licence to list more unusual bottles.  They run various tasting events throughout the UK and one in Dublin most years.  The most recent one focused on wines from the Americas, and below are my personal highlights.  Our hosts were the charming Simon Mason and the lovely Isobel Cooper.


Viña Litoral Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Chile 2013

Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Leyda is situated close to the Pacific coast (as you might guess from “Litoral”) with its cooling sea breezes and thus is well suited to Sauvignon Blanc.  This example has ripe grapefruit and gooseberry balanced by refreshing acidity.  The 13.5% abv gives it a generous roundness in the mouth.

Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Riesling (Chile) 2013

From a very cool, top vineyard in western Casablanca, this is a
medium-dry riesling with about a third of the harvest affected by
noble rot, overlaying a lovely light honeyed aroma and flavour
over a bright, fresh palate. Drink now to 2018. 12%

Primus Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile) 2011

Primus Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon

A textbook example of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, not terribly complex but bursting with fruit and the beginnings of cedar and tabacco notes.  Drinkable on its own mid week or with a medium rare steak.

Faldeos Nevados Torrontés (Argentina) 2013

Valdeos Nevados Torrontes

Torrontés is Argentina’s signature white grape, with aromas and flavours somewhere between Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Viognier.  At 14% abv it has plenty of body to match the bold grape and stone fruit flavours.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Unfiltered, Ontario (Canada) 2011

Norman Hardie Chardonnay

The first Canadian wine I have tasted that wasn’t an Ice Wine.  The aim here is more Burgundy than California – it has a modest 12.5% abv and a streak of minerality through the middle.  It reminded me most of Premier Cru Chablis.  In my view a little less oak would let the fruit shine more.

Weinert Carrascal (Argentina) 2008


This is a blend of 40% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, all Bordeaux varieties, although of course Malbec is mainly reduced to a minor supporting role in Bordeaux nowadays.  No shrinking violet, this is a big, rich, in-your-face wine with a velvety finish.  Great for cold nights or with red meat.

Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel (USA) 2011

Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel

Ravenswood make some fantastic Zin; big, bold and very gluggable. Their Lodi Old-Vine is slightly more expensive but more concentrated, higher in alcohol and will live for longer.  It’s a world away from “blush” white Zinfandel.

Ridge Geyserville (USA) 2011

Ridge is almost legendary among Californian producers.  This is a Zinfandel-Carignan(e) blend based on some of California’s oldest vines; the youngest are 10 years old, the oldest over 120 years, with 60% 40 years old or more.  It is very dense at first – takes a while to open up in the glass – then the powerful dark black fruit comes through, wrapped in vanilla.  This will surely continue to develop over the next 10 years.

Quartet Anderson Valley Brut Roederer Estates (USA) NV

Quartet Anderson Valley Brut, Roederer Estate

For me this was the star of the whole event.  It is a traditional method sparkling wine from Mendocino County in California. The grapes are sourced from four separate vineyards (hence the name) in the northern Anderson Valley, cooled by the proximity of the Pacific Ocean.  On the palette the 30% Pinot Noir initially gives lots of soft strawberry flavours and then the 70% Chardonnay comes through as bright citrus.  The finish has classic brioche richness from ageing on the lees.  Wonderfully balanced and put together.