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)

Sierra-Cantabria-Rioja-Crianza

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)

Urlar-Pinot-Noir_1

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)

Domaine-Olivier-Sant-Temps-des-Crises_1

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)

Ch_teau-Fourcas-Hosten-2009_1

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)

Cambria-Julias-Vineyard-P-Noir

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)

Man-O_War-Ironclad-Bordeaux

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)

Frank-Phelan

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)

Torbreck-Struie

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tasting Events

A February Feast, part 2

Following on from A February Feast, part 1, here are some of the reds which really impressed me at the Tindal’s portfolio tasting in February.  In my dash round the hall I only got to taste one wine from the Tyrrell’s table – as they have just partnered up with Tindal’s they were new to the portfolio and hence probably the busiest table there!

 

Craggy Range Martinborough Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2012 (€39.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown))

Te Muna Road

Although Central Otago gets most of the column inches nowadays, Martinborough remains one of the top regions for Pinot Noir within New Zealand.  Like all Craggy Range’s …erm … range, this is a single vineyard bottling.  The Te Muna Road vineyard is pictured above, and as this is New Zealand it is obviously bigger than some Burgundian Clos.

The 2012 is a serious wine, with concentrated red and black fruit, balanced tannins and a very smooth finish.  I could see this still tasting lovely into the next decade.

Château Pesquié Ventoux Les Terrasses Rouge 2014 (€19)

Vue_du_Ventoux

Fred Chaudière’s family estate is considered to be among the best of the Ventoux in the Southern Rhône.  Although Château Pesquié has a range of bottlings from the everyday to very serious (see some more of the latter here), it’s the Terrasses Rouge which stands out as a great buy.  Certified organic from 2014, it consists of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, with minor traces of Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.  Buy a magnum and book a day off!

Château Spencer La Pujade Corbières “Le Millésime” 2008 (€27.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Cashel Wine Cellar (Cashel))

diapo1

Winemaker Sebastien Bonneaud loves his beret and loves his Carignan, being one of its fiercest supporters.  This cuvée is an unusual departure for him in that it is made from 80% Mourvèdre and 20% Syrah.  After fermentation the wine is matured from 14 to 16 months in 100% new 300 and 600 litre French oak barrels, as befits an upmarket cuvée (“Le Millésime” literally translates as “The Vintage”).

At over seven years old the oak is now very well integrated, and though its influence is felt it does not stick out or jarr at all.  It’s big, round and powerful, but also elegant.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2013 (€26.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Nolans Butchers (Kilcullen))

Badia

Badia a Coltibuono – literally translated as “Abbey of the Good Harvest” – has existed for a millennium, with the monks gradually expanding their landholdings, until significant change arrived under Napoleonic secularisation in 1810.  This Chianti Classico is made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo (which softens the edges).  Wild yeast are used for fermentation and it then spends a year in cask before bottling.  Chianti’s signature notes are all present – sweet / sour red and black cherries, tobacco (highlighted by the tannins) and vanilla from the oak.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 (€39.50, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

2016-02-23 13.43.47

This was one of the highlights of the tasting for me.  It has a noticeable family resemblance to the standard Chianti Classico above, but more depth of flavour and even smoother. The wine is made from the best selection of grapes, then the best barrels spend a further 12 months ageing on top of the standard bottling’s 12.  A serious wine which is seriously drinkable!

Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2011 (€58.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown))

Sangioveto is the old local name for the Sangiovese grape, a nod to tradition for Badia a Coltibuono’s top red.  Only made in the best vintages, with extra ripe fruit and maturation in French oak barrels, it is arguably Super Tuscan in style, even though it is a varietal Sangiovese – this is also hinted at by the IGT Toscana classification.  Some might decry the break from tradition, but then Chianti used to contain 15% Malvasia Blanca!

This is a powerful but soft wine, lots of black fruit supported by soft tannins and 15% alcohol.  Lovely to drink now, especially if decanted, but it would be worth stashing a few of these away for 2020.

 

Make Mine A Double

Make Mine a Double #01 – Paddy Borthwick and Pegasus Bay Riesling

When I’m hosting wine tastings, especially for less experienced tasters, I try my best to serve wines in related pairs to best illustrate the differences made by one particular factor.

For example, tasting a McLaren Vale GSM blend back to back with a Chateauneuf du Pape from the same year is more illuminating than comparing the later with a mature Barossa Shiraz.

And now I’m going to apply that principle to wine reviews – a series of articles where each covers two wines that have something in common, and most likely some point of difference.  Compare and contrast is the order of the day – so make mine a double!

Two New Zealand Rieslings

Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling (L) and Paddy Borthwick Riesling (R)
Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling (L) and Paddy Borthwick Riesling (R)

As well as the runaway export leader Sauvignon Blanc, NZ is noted for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.  However, other aromatic varieties in addition to SB also perform well in many parts of the country – Pinot Gris, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.  Here are two that I recently enjoyed together, from places with similar (at first) looking names but actually on different islands.

Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Riesling 2013 (€14.95, Wines Direct)

Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Riesling 2013
Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Riesling 2013

Disclosure: Sample kindly provided for review

Although the name wouldn’t seem out of place in Dublin, Paddy Borthwick is a fifth generation Kiwi farmer based in Gladstone at the heart of Wairarapa, close to Wellington. 90% of his produce is exported, including Sauvignon Blanc (amazingly tropical, mango and passion fruit) and Pinot Gris (to die for).

Wairarapa (www.nzwine.com)
Wairarapa (www.nzwine.com)

Fairly pale in colour, though not water white, this is unmistakably Riesling on the nose – very aromatic.  There’s a sense of sweet fruit in the aromas, even though sugar isn’t supposed to be volatile (explain THAT, Mr WSET!)

The palate is tangy and fresh, with enticing flavours of grapefruit, ginger and exotic spices, lemon and lime – there’s striking acidity through the middle and a touch of sweetness, perfectly balanced.  Although this was lovely to drink on it’s own it would really shine with East or mild-medium spiced South Asian food.

Pegasus Bay Waipara Encore Noble Riesling 2008 (~£25 375ml, The Wine Society)

Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling
Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling

Pegasus Bay is one of the standout producers of Waipara, part of the larger Canterbury wine region north west of Christchurch.  They produce a wine range of wines from which it is difficult to choose a favourite.  I particularly enjoyed the Chardonnay and several Rieslings when tasting at the cellar door in 2009.

Waipara / Canterbury (www.nzwine.com)
Waipara / Canterbury

The Noble in the name of the wine of course refers to noble rot, Botrytis cinerea, which is allowed to grow on grapes left late on the vine.  This reduces the water content of the grapes, hence concentrating the sugars, and also adds complex flavours.

This 2008 is almost gold in colour, a combination of the sweetness, age and botrytis (here’s a reminder).  It’s lusciously sweet, but not cloying; the residual sugar levels are high but balanced by the acidic streak running through the wine.  Although now seven years old it’s still tangy, with rich flavours of peach,apricot and nectarine, plus some mushroom notes from the botrytis.  Above all it’s an interesting wine!

Tasting Events

A half-dozen of the best from the Ely BIG Tasting

Twice a year the Ely Winebar and Restaurant Group hold consumer tastings at their larger venue in Dublin’s IFSC.  Over a dozen of their wine suppliers show a selection of their wines, both currently listed and not listed, so that consumers get a chance to try new things and their feedback might lead to new listings!

The tastings are very well organised by Ely Group Wine Manager Ian Brosnan and Head of Biz Dev Jeri Mahon – thanks to both them and all the other staff supporting the event.

Here are a few of the wines which really stood out for me:

1. Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV (Liberty Wine) {by the glass at Ely Place and Ely CHQ}

Champagne Charlie
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve

Perhaps it was the occasion, the perfect serving temperature or perhaps just a little extra time in bottle since I tried this last year, but Charles was tasting fantastic. The fruit is lovely and there’s some light biscotti notes from ageing on the lees. Perfectly balanced and poised, this is a definite candidate for the best non-vintage Champagne on the market.

2. San Lorenzo Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi Superiore ‘Vigna delle Oche’ Marche 2012 (GrapeCircus at Sheridan’s) {by the glass at Ely Place and Ely CHQ}

San Lorenzo Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi Superiore ‘Vigna delle Oche’ 2012
San Lorenzo Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi Superiore ‘Vigna delle Oche’ 2012

San Lorenzo is a well-established family producer now run by Natalino Crognaletti – something of a madman/eccentric/genius* (delete as appropriate) who is not only organic, not only biodynamic, but also believes in being self-sufficient. This means that he follows a minimal intervention path of wine making, with much more work required in the vineyard, but even goes so far as to keep chickens so he has his own eggs for fining the wines before bottling!! (This helps remove any big particles and can be an alternative to filtration which can strip out the flavours.

So what’s the result in the glass? Loads and loads of flavour! There’s minerality, citrus and soft stone fruit – and oodles of texture, which would make it a great food wine. You need to give this a try to taste something off the beaten path.

3. Domaine des Baumard Savennières “Clos de St Yves” 2010 (Tyrrell & Co)

Domaine des Baumard Savennières "Clos St Yves"
Domaine des Baumard Savennières “Clos St Yves”

This wine sparked such a positive reaction that I was moved to note the highly articulate comment: “Toast toast toast – frickin awesome!”

Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s most under-rated grapes, and the Loire Valley is perhaps France’s most under-appreciated wine producing areas. Having said that, I don’t often fancy the drier versions, but adore the sweeter ones, all of them having a trademark streak of acidity through the middle.

This example really hit the spot! It has already started to take on more interesting flavours but hasn’t lost its freshness. Tasted blind this would fool plenty into thinking it was a posh white Burgundy.

The producer likes his wines to be as clean as possible so uses no oak barrels and seals bottles with screwcaps rather than corks – thumbs up from me.

4. Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Wines Direct) {by the glass at Ely CHQ}

Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2014
Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2014

The third word there is the wine region of Wairarapa in the south of New Zealand’s North Island, not to be confused with Waipara which is north of Cantebury on the South Island. It’s an area more well-known for its Pinot Noir, particularly in the main subregion of Martinborough (again, not to be confused with Marlborough), but it is also home to some excellent aromatic whites.

Rather than gooseberry, asparagus and grapefruit which are stereotypical Marlborough Savvy flavours, Sauvignon from here is often even more tropical. This lovely example from Paddy Borthwick had passion fruit notes jumping out of the glass – in fact it reminded me of the passion fruit Mojito that my wife had at Cleaver East on Mother’s Day!

5. Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009 (Mitchell & Son) {by the glass at Ely CHQ}

Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009
Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009

I could happily have spent the evening just smelling this amazing wine (but then I’d have missed out on so much else!) Sipp Mack is one of the top echelon of Alsace producers and a personal favourite of mine, especially their Grand Cru Riesling and Pinot Gris bottles. There’s a touch of sweetness which acts as a counterpoint to the zippy acidity and mineral freshness.

This is drinking gorgeously now but, if you could keep your hands off it, will be even more amazing in five years’ time.

6. D’Arenburg “Lucky Lizard” Chardonnay 2012 (Febvre)

D'Arenberg Adelaide Hills "Lucky Lizard" Chardonnay
D’Arenberg Adelaide Hills “Lucky Lizard” Chardonnay

This is Unreconstructed, All-original, Can’t be bettered, Aussie Chardonnay!

The past decade has seen Australian Chardonnay move back from big, alcoholic fruit bombs to more subtle, mineral and food-friendly styles. Mclaren Vale’s D’Arenburg hasn’t really followed that trend, which wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows of the current boss Chester Osbourne – his shirts are so loud they can be seen from space and he released a wine called Fuckeliana (yes, really!)

In fairness this is actually made the other side of Adelaide from their base, up in the Adelaide Hills which is the source of Shaw + Smith’s M3 Chardonnay. It’s big but doesn’t have that buttery, especially melted butter, taste of some Chardonnays.

Why change when it’s this good?

More to come!