Opinion

O’Briens Fine Wine Sale 2019

The Irish off-licence chain O’Briens has various promotions on throughout the year, but probably the most eagerly awaited is the annual Fine Wine Sale.  This year it runs from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th December.  Below are the wines I’d be snapping up this year.  Note that I haven’t necessarily tried the vintage stated of each wine, but I have tasted them often enough over the years to comfortably recommend them.

Gaia Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Gaia-Assyrtiko-Wild-Ferment

I have previously written about the 2013 and 2016 vintages of this wine as well as its younger brother Monograph, and tasted it many times in between; it remains one of my favourite “mid-priced” white wines available in Ireland.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough  Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (13.0%, €35.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Cloudy-Bay-Sauvignon-Blanc

An iconic wine at a very reasonable price!  I recently tried the 2017 (which was maturing nicely) and the 2019 which, for such a young wine, was surprisingly settled and ready to go

Julien Brocard Chablis La Boissoneuse 2018 (12.5%, €29.95 down to €25.95 at O’Briens)

Brocard-La-Boissoneuse-Organic

The 2017 vintage was #1 in my Top 10 Whites of 2019 so any reduction in price of this fantastic organic, biodynamic Chablis makes it worth snapping up!

Chanson Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017 (12.5%, €34.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Chanson-Chablis-1er-Cru-Montmains

Chanson has been part of the Bollinger group for two decades and produces consistently good wines.  This Montmains is an excellent Premier Cru and while delicious now, deserves another five years or so before being opened.

Man O’War Waiheke Island Valhalla Chardonnay 2017 (14.5%, €32.95 down to €28.95 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

I wrote about the 2010 vintage (in 2014) the 2011 (in 2016) and the 2016 (earlier this year) and loved them all.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay which will please those who like bold wines – and that includes me.

L’Ostal Cazes Minervois La Livinière Grand Vin 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €20.95 at O’Briens)

L_Ostal-Cazes-Grand-Vin

The JM Cazes family who have long owned Lynch Bages in Bordeaux have spread their interests to the Rhône and Languedoc, amongst other places.  In my not-so-humble-opinion this Minervois La Livinère is the best value wine in their portfolio.

Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2015 (13.5%, €48.00 down to €42.00 at O’Briens)

Ch_teau-Franc-Maillet

The 2014 of this wine was very good, so the even better vintage of 2015 is definitely worth a shout.  This wine is worthy of a place on my Christmas dinner table, so it’s definitely worthy of yours, too!

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 (14.0%, €32.95 down to €23.95 at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Gran-Reserva

If you like Tempranillo-based wines but tend to favour Ribero del Duero, this a Rioja house which can match the black fruited savoury wines from there.  I have previously tried the 2010 Crianza which was great, but a Gran Reserva from 2008 should be even more of a stunner!

d’Arenberg  McLaren Vale Dead Arm Shiraz 2015 (14.6%, €54.95 down to €44.95 at O’Briens)

d_Arenberg-Dead-Arm-Shiraz

While Penfolds Grange prices have rocketed off into the stratosphere, here’s an iconic Aussie wine that is (relatively) more affordable – and approachable at a younger age, too, though if you manage to keep your hands away it will last for a decade or two.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (13.8%, €80 down to €68 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

The (virtual) ink has only just dried on my review of the 2012 vintage of this wine but it’s already included in the fine wine sale.  If you want to treat yourself for Christmas (2019 or 2029) then this is a great bet!

Tasting Events

An Impromptu Quartet

Sometimes it’s nice to plan events well in advance, as the anticipation is part of the enjoyment.  But it’s also nice to be a bit more spontaneous and do something at short notice.  At the suggestion of my better half we invited a few friends round for dinner – and of course some bottles of wine were opened to accompany her amazing dishes.

Here are a few of the whites that really stood out for me:

Château Carbonnieux Blanc Pessac-Léognan 2008

Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Leognan 2008
Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Léognan 2008

This somewhat aristocratic looking wine is from the heartland of the Graves subregion of Bordeaux.  The Pessac-Léognan AOC was carved out of the middle of the Graves AOC in 1987 to highlight the finest terroir of the area.  Although it is home to many fine reds, including the 1855 1st Growth Haut-Brion, Pessac is where the top echelon of Bordeaux’s dry whites are made.

Château Carbonnieux is in the commune of Léognan and is a classed growth under the 1959 Graves classification.  As you’d expect from a Bordeaux white it is a Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blend, but with a lovely vanilla envelope from some gentle oak ageing.

This type of wine can age gracefully for a decade or more, though for me it is à point right now.  There are still the grapefruit and hints of honey from its youth but now its pleasantly round.

Jean-Philippe Fichet Le Meix Sous Le Château Meursault 2010

Jean-Philippe Fichet Meursault 2010
Jean-Philippe Fichet Le Meix Sous Le Château Meursault 2010

Meursault is the archetypal oaked Chardonnay, though of course it doesn’t say so on the label.  Being a self-confessed oak lover – when it’s done right, of course – it’s one of the labels I gravitate towards in Burgundy.

Jean-Philippe Fichet has lots of small parcels dotted in and around Meursault – see the map on his excellent website.  This wine is from a 1/2 hectare Lieu-dit (a named area which doesn’t have Premier Cru or Grand Cru status) near the centre of Meursault itself. The vines are 50 to 60 years old which comes through in the concentration of flavour.  As 2010 was a warm vintage there are plenty of tropical notes in addition to the brioche from the oak, neither dominating.  This was a “bin-end” from The Wine Society – a definite winner for me!

Also see Jamie Goode’s report of his visit here.

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010 (Waiheke Island)

Man O'War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010
Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010

Man O’War are a fantastic producer based in Waiheke Island, a short ferry ride from Auckland in New Zealand.  Their Bordeaux blend “Ironclad” and Syrah “Dreadnaught” are big and bold reds – not for those who prefer shy and retiring types – and the whites are similarly forthright.

The 2011 vintage of this was a highlight for me of the NZ Trade Tasting at the beginning of the year.  It’s a really tropical wine which might be too much for some – but not for me!

The key to balance in this wine is that malolactic fermention is blocked, meaning it retains some zesty acidity and isn’t flabby.  Can you imagine candied pineapple that isn’t teeth-achingly sugary?  There you go!

Château Princé Côteaux de l’Aubance 2007

Château Princé Côteaux de l'Aubance 2007
Château Princé Côteaux de l’Aubance 2007

The Loire Valley wine region is actually a collection of quite different subregions which specialise in different grapes and types of wine.  Just for reds, for example, Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Malbec and Pinot Noir are all used.  There are some great sparkling wines and classy rosés plus world famous dry whites such as Sancerre and Muscadet.

But for me the real gems of the Loire are the often overlooked sweet whites.  Most are based on the Chenin Blanc grape which means they have acidity to balance the sugar and stop the wines being cloying.

The best sites are the slopes leading down to the Loire and its many tributaries, including the Layon, Aubance and Louet.

Simple map of the Coteaux de l'Aubance [Source: Wikipedia]
Simple map of the Coteaux de l’Aubance [Source: Wikipedia]

Being so close to water creates the humid conditions that encourage noble rot, which reduces the water content of grapes and concentrates the sugar, acidity and flavour.

This 2007 was among a stash I picked up several years ago from the excellent Maison du Vin de Saumur – worth a four hour round trip to Saumur on its own.  At seven years old it’s still a baby, but has fantastic concentration.  There’s honey on the nose but a whiff of funk from the botrytis – it is a fungus after all.  On the palate there are noticeable Chenin characteristics of apple and greengage with luscious tropical fruit notes.  It’s a fully sweet wine but the zing of acidity keeps it fresh and interesting.