Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 2 – other whites)

In part 1 I mentioned that Liberty’s Portfolio Tasting is the biggest on the Irish wine trade calendar, and the evidence is below in the number of independent off licences which stock the wines I’ve recommended.  This part will focus on some delicious whites, mainly from Portugal but with an excellent Kiwi Sauvignon thrown in for good measure.

Framingham Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (12.5%, RRP €23.99 at 64 Wine; Avoca; Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Fallon & Byrne; Green Man Wines; JJ O’Driscoll, Cork; The Wine House, Trim; www.wineonline.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford)

Framingham Sauvignon Blanc

Unusually for Marlborough, Framingham started out producing just Riesling in 1994 and are still best known for that variety, in both dry (reviewed here) and botrytised styles.  However, here we have their Sauvignon Blanc, the variety for which Marlborough and New Zealand in general is best known.  While not in the funky wild yeast style, this is more interesting than most Marlborough Sauvignons, with real texture and depth of flavour, no doubt aided by partial maturation in acacia wood.  A special wine from a special producer.

Azevedo Loureiro / Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2018 (12.0%, RRP €16.99 at Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Bradleys, Cork; Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; Clontarf Wines; The Drink Store; Egans Wines, Portlaoise; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Grapevine, Dalkey; Myles Creek, Kilkee; The Wine House, Trim; McHugh’s; The Parting Glass; Redmonds of RanelaghThomas’s of Foxrock; Thomas Woodberry’s, Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford; www.wineonline.ie)

Azevedo Screwcap

At a high level it’s easy to split the wines of Vinho Verde into two types – the everyday tipples, usually blends, which are pleasant but not exciting, and the more serious varietal Alvarinhos, mostly from Monção & Melgaço.  However, there are some producers who take their blends more seriously, such as this single estate blend of Loureiro (70%) and Alvarinho (30%).  Lees stirring adds a little heft and texture, though the wine is still lovely and fresh with a long, zingy finish.

Azevedo Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde Reserva 2017 (12.0%, RRP €17.99 at Clontarf Wines; Gibney’s of MalahideMcHugh’sThomas’s of Foxrock; www.wineonline.ie)

Quinta Azevedo

From the same producer, this is like the wine above but more so.  It is crafted from the best Loureiro and Alvarinho grapes on the estate, given a 24 hour cold soak before fermentation.  It may seem contradictory, but this is both finer and more textured than the regular wine, with lifted aromatics of citrus and tropical fruit.  The Quinta wine is less obvious, but more rewarding.

Morgadio da Torre Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2017 (12.5%, RRP €25.99 at Bradley’s, Cork; Clontarf Wines; www.wineonline.ie)

Morgadio da Torre Alvarinho 2014_Packshot_sem fundo  (01)

This wine is from the Monção & Melgaço subregion which I mentioned above, the furthest one from the Atlantic and therefore with the potential to show more power and concentration.  The Quinta da Torre estate was established in 1603 and is now owned by Mafalda da Cunha Guedes and her relatives; the wines are made by Antonio Braga who is also the guiding hand behind Azevedo.  This is a fabulous example of Vinho Verde, and a fabulous Alvarinho in general.  It has sublime texture with a saline edge; the palate shows soft citrus and stone fruit, all framed by fresh acidity.

Duque de Viseu Dão Branco 2018 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Egans Wines, Portlaoise; Gibney’s Of Malahide; Myles Creek, Kilkee; www.wineonline.ie)

Duque de Viseu Branco

You call that a blend?  Hold my glass!  This Dão is made from four local grape varieties: Encruzado (43%), Malvasia Fina (30%), Bical (17%) and Gouveio (10%).  It’s an entirely different style of wine from the Vinho Verdes above, much softer and rounder.  It does show citrus notes but they are accents around soft stone and pip fruits.  This is an enticing wine, lovely and soft, inviting, with nice texture and a crisp finish.

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019

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Tasting Events

DNS host Wilson on Wine (Part 1)

It has become something of a tradition at DNS Wine Club for one of our events every year to be a fun event based on Irish Times wine columnist John Wilson’s annual book, “Wilson On Wine”.  Here’s the post I did on our first such event back in 2015 which explains how it works in more detail.  If you have a wine tasting / drinking group of six or more people then I highly recommend giving it a go.

John Wilson

For the first time, DNS were joined by the main man himself.  John is a complete gentleman, and was unfailingly polite despite the far-fetched tales told about each wine by the club (which is all part of the fun of “call my wine bluff”).  As I was keeping tight control of the answers he was left to guess the wine along with the rest of the gang, but of course he was spot on every time.

This first article will focus on the less expensive wines which shone on the night – all of course featured in Wilson On Wine 2019.

Aldi Exquisite Collection Crémant du Jura 2014 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at Aldi)

Aldi Exquisite Cremant du Jura

This fizz will be familiar to many as it’s a reliable, great value for money crémant which is perfect for parties.  So much so, in fact, that it has appeared in every edition of Wilson On Wine to date.  During our tasting it suffered from following a more sophisticated (and more expensive) Champagne, but I’d rather drink this than the vast majority of Prosecco on the market.

Pequenos Rebentos Vinho Verde 2017 (11.5%, RRP €15.50 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

Vinho Verde

For me Vinho Verde usually falls into one of two categories – cheap and cheerful blends of local grapes or slightly more serious varietal Alvarinho, with the latter coming from the premium subregion of Monção & Melgaço.  This is one of the cheap and cheerful types in terms of price and grapes, but for me rises above its lowly origins.  The typical citrus and saline notes are present, but the fruit is so damn juicy!  It has a certain je ne sais quoi which makes it one of the best Vinho Verdes I’ve ever tried.

Bairrada Messias Bairrada Selection 2014 (13.5%, RRP €12.65 at Karwig Wines)

bairrada messias selection family wines tinto

Here we have another inexpensive Portuguese wine which rises above its modest origins.  In decades past Bairrada was mainly a source of rough and ready bulk wine that was sold by the carafe in restaurants, but like many “lesser” European wine regions, quality has increased significantly with modern equipment and a firm eye on quality.  The clay soils here are best known for the Baga grape, but this wine is actually more of a Douro (or Port) blend as it’s made with Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca.  Red and black fruits abound, but again with a nice dash of acidity.  This is a really well put together wine that I’d be happy to drink any time of the year.

Ingata Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €18.00 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

Ingata SB

Outside of a few brands such as Villa Maria and Brancott Estate, less expensive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is something I tend to avoid.  It tends to be overly aromatic and intensely acidic – it gets plenty of attention with the first few sips but even a second glass is often too much.  Trading up to the likes of Tinpot Hut, Mahi or Greywacke more than pays back the price differential.  Here is one that breaks the mold -it’s a true but gentle expression of Marlborough Sauvignon, with all its components in balance.  In fact, this is even worth a try for folks who “don’t like New Zealand Sauvignon” -they might be pleasantly surprised

 

Apart from the Aldi Crémant I hadn’t tasted any of these wines before, yet they really shone above and beyond their price tags.  That’s one of the real positives of being able to rely on someone pre-tasting wines for you!

Tasting Events

The Fifth Element – Part 2

Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store.  Here are some more of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:

Quinta da Raza Grande Escolha Vinho Verde 2016 (12.0%, €17.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

quinta da raza 2

North west “Green” Spain’s best known white wines are probable the Albariños of Rías Baixas (see below).  Less well known are the Alvarinhos of northern Portugal, just the other side of the Minho river in the Vinho Verde region.  Alvarinho is just one of several local grapes which are often blended to make refreshing, easily approachable young wines.  Some of them are a notch or two above that, however, and Quinta da Raza’s Grande Escolha is one of them.  This is a blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura, also known as Treixadura in Galicia.  Although modest in alcohol (12.0%), it is packed full of flavour – melon and fruit polos! (I shit you not!)  great value for money.

Bodegas Zarate Rías Baixas Albariño 2015 (12.5%, €21.25 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)
zarate 2

The Zarate family have been making wine in the Salnes Valley for over 300 years and have been at the forefront of modern winemaking in the area.  This is their “entry level” Albariño, made from vines with an average age of 35 years.  It’s made in the normal style – clean, fresh, young, fruity – but is a great example of that style.  It shows a variety of citrus: lemon, lime and grapefruit and has a long, clean finish.

Mahi Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.5%, €22.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Mahi SB

Brian Bicknell is regarded as one of the most accomplished winemakers in Marlborough.  He did a tour of duty that took him from the antipodes to Hungary, France, Chile and finally back to New Zealand.  After five years of planning, Mahi made their first vintage in 2001 and then established their winery in Renwick (pictured above from my visit) in 2006.  The grapes come from owned and rented vineyards, currently extending to five varieties (but no Riesling yet, which is a pity!)

This is Mahi’s standard Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s a world away from the Marlborough Sauvignon on offer in the local supermarket – in fact, it’s one of the best examples of straight Sauvignon you can find.  It shows grapefruit, gooseberries and cut grass, green but ripe, and wonderfully balanced.

Mahi Boundary Road Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (14.0%, €25.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Mahi Boundary Road

Whereas the regular Sauvignon above is blend from across all Mahi’s vineyards, this is a single vineyard wine, but also a different expression of the grape through different winemaking techniques.  The vines are in a north-facing (the warmest aspect in the southern hemisphere) plot close to the edge (hence “Boundary Farm”) of Blenheim.  The grapes are handpicked compared to the normal practice of machine harvesting.  They are whole-cluster pressed, fermented with wild yeast in French oak barriques and then matured in the barrel for a further eleven months.  The result is a totally different style of wine: smoky, oaky and intense funky flavours over a lemon, lime and orange citrus core.  If anything, this 2014 was slightly too smoky on the finish for me, but as it’s only just been released I would expect it to calm down somewhat and integrate more over the coming months and years.  Smoked salmon anyone?

Bodegas Zarate Rías Baixas Tras da Viña 2015 (12.5%, €29.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

TRAS_DA_VINA

Tras da Viña is a tiny hillside parcel of only 0.6 hectares, facing south for maximum sunshine.  The Albariño vines were replanted in 1965 so they were celebrating their 50th birthday for this vintage.  Such age has given the wine a fantastic intensity of flavour, and a very long finish.  It is classic Albariño, with a slightly saline edge, but much more than that – lithe and liquid on the tongue.  This is a refined wine that would be perfect for delicately flavoured dishes, flattering them rather than overpowering them.

Domaine Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru “Fourchaume” 2015 (13.0%, €32.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

Fevre

Fourchaume is generally rated in the top echelon of Chablis’s Premiers Crus, with an easterly aspect that bathes it in the morning sun – this promotes ripeness without overblown alcohol or losing freshness.  Domaine Fèvre have 10 hectares in the middle of the Cru, all based on Kimmeridgian limestone.  Fermentation and maturation on fine lees take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.  This is a grown up Chablis, already very approachable despite the young age.  Tangy citrus and mineral notes combine with a delightful texture and sublime poise.  Top class Chablis!

 

The Fifth Element Series:

Information, Opinion

The Kaleidoscope of Wine – how’s your palette?

Kaleidoscope (Credit: wolfepaw)
Kaleidoscope (Credit: wolfepaw)

Being a bit of a geek (in wine, but other things as well) and possibly with a few ADHD tendencies, I’m a sucker for patterns and lists.  On my recent holiday in Portugal I started jotting down the different colours associated with wine, whether often used in descriptions, grape names or something else, and came up with A LIST.

Now, this is only from my own thoughts, so I’ve very happy to add any suggestions that you may have (leave a comment or send a Twitter message).

And did I mention I’m partially colourblind?  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…

So, in alphabetical order…

Amber

Mtsvane Amber Wine
Mtsvane Amber Wine
  • A WSET term for a deep dark gold colour, often apt for aged / oaked / sweet wines.
  • Georgian Amber Wine is made in the traditional way in clay pots (a bit like amphorae) called Quevris which are buried underground.

Black

Black Wine of Cahors
Black Wine of Cahors
  • As a general rule, the grapes that make red wine are black, not red.
  • Some always have black as part of their name – e.g. Pinot Noir – where there are different versions of the grape in different colours.
  • Some black grapes don’t usually need the suffix “Noir” as they are far better known than their siblings, unless a comparison is being made – e.g. Grenache is assumed to be the black version (as opposed to Blanc or Gris), but sometimes it is annotated as Grenache Noir.
  • The famous Black wine of Cahors which is a deep, dark, opaque Malbec blend.
  • The definition of Black Wine according to the motto of the Domaine Le Bout du Lieu: “If you can see your fingers through the glass, it’s not a Cahors.”
  • Pinot Meunier is sometimes known as Schwarzriesling – literally “Black Riesling” – in Germany!

Blue

Blaufränkish grapes
Blaufränkish grapes
  • Blau is of course German for “blue”, so this variety commonly found in Austria is a blue Frankish grape, evoking Charlemagne and his empire.
  • In Hungary the grape is known as Kékfrankos, which has the same literal meaning but sounds like a Greek ailment.

Blush

Blush
Blush
  • A term used to describe Californian rosé, especially the sweetish stuff made from Zinfandel.
  • What any self-respecting wino does when drinking the above wine (miaow!)

Brick

Brick red
Brick red
  • Obviously a shade of red, it’s usually connected to older red wines

Burgundy

Burgundy shirt
Burgundy shirt
  • For some reason Burgundy as a colour only ever refers to the region’s red rather than white wines.
  •  Quite well established as a colour outside of the wine world…I bet few garment wearers think of Pinot Noir…

Champagne

Champagne Aston Martin
Champagne Aston Martin Virage
  • The oft litigious organisation that represents Champagne, the CIVC, don’t like Champagne being used as a colour when not directly connected to one of their member’s products.
  • However, it’s probably too late, the cat is out of the bag for describing a silvery-goldy colour – and to be honest, should they really complain if it’s an Aston Martin?

Claret

Aston Villa Claret & Sky shirt
Aston Villa Claret & Sky shirt
Neil Back covered in Claret
Neil Back covered in Claret
  • The well known term for red Bordeaux wine.
  • However, the term actually originates from Clairette, a dark rosé style wine still made in Bordeaux (and was actually how most Bordeaux looked back in the day).
  • Now often used to mean wine- (or blood-) coloured.

Garnet

Garnet stones
Garnet stones
  • A WSET approved term for a mid shade of red, in between Ruby (another gemstone) and Tawny.

Gold

Burgundy's Côte d'Or
Burgundy’s Côte d’Or
  • Mature and / or sweet white wine is often described as gold, particularly Tokaji.
  • Burgundy’s heartland subregion of the Côte d’Or is literally the “Slope of Gold”.

Green

Vinho Verde Map (Credit: Quentin Sadler)
Vinho Verde Map (Credit: Quentin Sadler)
  • While “green wine” might not sound that pleasant a concept, it is of course the literal translation of Vinho Verde from northern Portugal.
  • By extension, used as a term for certain flavours which either invoke youth or the taste of something green (e.g. asparagus in Sauvignon Blanc)

Grey

AOC Côtes de Toul
AOC Côtes de Toul
  • Mid coloured grapes such as Pinot Gris (yay!) or the Italian equivalent Pinot Grigio (boo!)
  • Vin Gris (literally “Grey Wine”) is the term used for a white(ish) wine made from black grapes.
  • Often has a little more colour than a Blanc de Noirs, e.g. the Gamay-based AOC Côtes de Toul from Lorraine.

Orange

Orange Apple Festival
Orange Apple Festival
  • Quite a trendy type of wine at the moment, basically making a wine from white grapes using red wine methods, particularly lots of contact between the juice and the skins – different but interesting.
  • Orange Muscat is a variant of the ancient but popular Muscat family
  • Also a wine growing town in New South Wales, Australia, whose symbol is an apple – go figure!
  • In fairness, orchard regions are often good for making wine.

Pink

Pink wine
Pink wine
  • David Bird (author of Understanding Wine Technology) makes a valid point asking why we use the term rosé in English when we say red and white quite happily instead of rouge and blanc.

Purple

Moscatel Roxo (purple-pink muscat) grape variety. Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, Setúbal. Portugal (credit Mauricio Abreu)
Moscatel Roxo (purple-pink muscat) grape variety. Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, Setúbal. Portugal (credit Mauricio Abreu)
  • While reading a book on Port I came across a new colour category of grape: Roxo
  • Many grapes – and actually many wines – look quite purple, but Portugal is the first country I have seen to actually have a recognised term for it.

Red

Red Red Wine
Red Red Wine
  • Obviously the huge category of red wine as a whole.
  • Tinta / Tinto, the Portuguese and Spanish words for red (when applied to wine) is used for many grape varieties and their pseudonyms, including Tinto Aragon and Tinta Cão.
  • One of the few grapes in French to have red in its name is Rouge du Pays, also known as Cornalin du Valais or Cornalin.
  • However, without Red Wine would faux-reggae band UB40 have been so popular? Everything has its downsides…

Ruby

Niepoort Ruby Port
Niepoort Ruby Port
  • A bright shade of red, usually signifying a young wine.
  • A style of Port, often the least expensive, bottle young and so retains a bright red colour.
  • The grape Ruby Cabernet is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, though usually included in cheap fruity blends.

Tawny

Taylor's Aged Tawny port
Taylor’s Aged Tawny port
  • A light shade of red, tending to brown, usually signifying an older but not necessarily fully mature wine
  • A style of Port which has usually been aged in wood rather than bottle, with colour fading over time.

White

German White Grapes (Credit: shweta_1712)
German White Grapes (Credit: shweta_1712)
  • White wine, of course, which covers a multitude of grapes and styles
  • White grapes (well many of them are of course more green than white) particularly those whose name includes white (in English or any other language) to distinguish them from darker coloured siblings, e.g. Pinot Blanc / Pinot Bianco / Weissburgunder.

Yellow

Vin Jaune
Vin Jaune
  • Of course the Jura’s famous “Vin Jaune” (literally “yellow wine”) leaps to mind here.
  • Ribolla Gialla (thanks Jim) is the yellow version of Ribolla, generally found in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy and over the border into Slovenia.

Long

Lower Alcohol Wines That Taste Good!

For those brave souls that clicked on this to read more, stick with me – this won’t be full or moralising on the evils of alcohol or telling you to drink less.  I’ll leave that to puritans and the government, respectively.  Neither will I be looking at Weightwatchers or Slimming World branded wines which reportedly taste of goat’s piss.  Having tasted neither the diet wines nor hircine urine this is hearsay, but I will leave that trial to others.

Instead I’d like to cover a few wines that I like which happen to be lower in alcohol than the 14%+ blockbusters which populate wine shelves nowadays.  If you fancy a couple of glasses on a school night that won’t leave you with a heavy head in the morning, this is the way to go.

As a general rule, these wines are grown in relatively cool climates.  The moderate sunshine means that grapes aren’t as high in sugar at harvest, but they should still have plenty of flavour.  Lower alcohol is a finished wine is the result of lower sugar at harvest and / or fermentation being stopped by the winemaker before all the sugar has turned to alcohol, which obviously leaves some residual sweetness.

There are lots of other viticultural and vinification techniques which can be used to moderate alcohol levels, including:

  • Picking early
  • Canopy management
  • Clonal selection
  • Yeast selection
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Spinning cone
  • Watering down (!)

So what should you try?

Mosel Riesling

Many consider the Model to be the spiritual home of the Riesling grape.  The cool climate imparts a fierce acidity to the wine, so fermentation is often stopped before all the sugar has turned to alcohol, leaving some to soften the affect of the acidity.  Alcohol levels of 8% are not uncommon here – that’s half the abv of some blockbusters from Australia and California!

German (and Austrian) wines have a fairly complex quality hierarchy based on the sugar at the time of harvest, though the RS in the finished wine is more of a stylistic choice.  If you see Trocken then the wine should taste pretty dry.

Hunter Valley Semillon

I have already established myself as a fan of this style, delicious as a fresh blast of lemon or as a mature, honey and toast loaded beauty.  Alcohol levels here are usually between 10.0% and 11.5% – but they don’t feel to be lacking it when you drink them, the sign of a good, balanced wine.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth is a good entry level, though of course Tyrrell’s Vat 1 is the famous star of the area.

Vinho Verde

North and East of the Port producing region Douro, Vinho Verde produces light white, rosé and red wines.  They exhibit fresh acidity and sometimes a light spritz and may not exceed 11.5% apart from one exception*.  Vinho Verde doesn’t have the best reputation, but this is undeserved – the wines won’t be the most complex but they can be delightful in summer.  Modern wine-making techniques have dramatically improved the average quality level.

*The exception is for Alvarinho (the same grape as Albariño just over the border into Galicia) from the areas around the town of Monção

Moscato d’Asti

Erm are we getting into Asti Spumante territory here?  Yes we are!  But don’t worry, like many bad memories of the ’70s, the modern truth is actually far more palatable than the shuddering recollections of the past.

This is a fizzy dessert wine made soley from the grapey grape, Moscato (often known as Muscat).  It often clocks in as low as 5% so it’s the same as many beers, but please use a wine glass, not a pint glass!

North East Italian Reds

The twins of Valpolicella and the even lighter Bardolino are made from Corvina (great), Rondinella and Molinara (neither that great) in the Veneto area between Venice and Lake Garda.  Nowadays the turbocharged Amarone della Valpolicella takes the column inches in wine reviews – and I happen to be a big fan – but at ~15% it doesn’t meet what we’re after here.  The regular table wines can be very pleasant drinking but weighing in at 11.5% or so.  There are unsubstantiated rumours that the beefier Valpolicella wines have been pumped up with stronger southern Italian reds, but surely the wine industry is free from adulteration nowadays??

Forrest Estate ‘The Doctors’

Forrest Estate in Marlborough was set up by the husband and wife team Dr John and Dr Brigid Forrest in 1988.  As well as the usual grapes Marlborough fare they make wine with a few more unusual grapes.  One of these is the Austrian black grape St Laurent which makes a light to medium bodied wine somewhere in between Pinot Noir and cool climate Syrah, though its parentage is still unproven. This comes under their sub brand The Doctors’ and has a lunchtime-friendly 11.0% on the label.

They also make a Riesling under this label which has a Mosel-like 8.5% – give it a try!

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