Tag: Wine

Wine World Colouring Book [book review]

Adult Colouring Books are all the rage nowadays – meaning of course colouring books designed for adults rather than containing 18+ material.  Primarily they are used to aid relaxation and stress-reduction, though I think it would be fair to say that there is also an element of nostalgia.

51gasOSpVBL

Up to now I haven’t succumbed to this fashion, though I have been known to “help” my 4 1/2 year old son with his colouring.  However, my Twitter friend and fellow blogger Zelda Sydney has authored an adult colouring book that has me searching for colouring pencils – because the illustrations are all related to wine!

The first three pages explain (a brief) history of wine production, Zelda’s interest in wine and illustration, and why she thought to combine them.

There are 20 hand-drawn comic-style illustrations each of which has a wine-related theme.  It’s obvious that a great deal of thought has gone into their composition – they have (at times) quite technical wine themes but are approachable for those with only a passing interest in wine.  Don’t be fooled by the simplistic lettering, this lady knows her stuff!

Here is my overall favourite: before any colouring and after I have started work (Disclaimer: please bear in mind that I am partially colourblind and so the actual colours used may bear no resemblance to those intended to be used.)

 Before:beforeAnd after:

after

What fun!

Click on the image to buy the book on Amazon

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G.D. Vajra Dinner at Ely Wine Bar

G.D. Vajra Dinner at Ely Wine Bar With Giuseppe Vaira

Last month my wife and I were invited to a wine dinner at Ely Wine Bar, my favourite venue in Dublin and one which I often mention on Frankly Wines and on Twitter.  It was jointly hosted with importers Liberty Wines and the wines were presented by third generation family member Giuseppe Vaira.

Magical food was prepared by Ryan Stringer and this team, with Ely Wine Director Ian Brosnan the man with the bottles.

Just to whet your appetite here is the menu:

Menu 2

 

Background to G.D. Vajra

The owner and winemaker is Aldo Vaira who established the firm in 1972, naming it after his father Giuseppe Domenico.  The family had been growing grapes since the 1920s but made the jump to producing wine.  Since then they have gradually expanded their holdings in the area around Barolo to 60 hectares.

Winemaking is traditional, in that the grapes are not left on the vine until very ripe and oak is used judiciously, but there is no overt woodiness and no faults, just fruit that speaks for itself and its birthplace.

Aperitif: 

G.D. Vajra “Pétracine” Langhe Riesling 2012 (12.5%, 3.8 g/L RS)

Vajra Riesling

Italian Riesling?  Unexpected or downright unusual, but the proof of the pudding is on the palate. Lemon and lime with perhaps a touch of stone fruit on the nose.  Very zesty, with lemon and apple flavours.  It does fall off a little after the amazing attack, but then mellows out for a very long finish.  There’s a tiny touch of sweetness in there, but it definitely falls into the “dry” category.  Would compare well to many Alsace Rieslings (which is high praise from me!)

Crispy pig tail, black pudding, caramelised onion, carrot & pine shoot oil

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The pig tail was tasty but it was the combination of the black pudding, the caramelised onion and carrot which ruled the dish.  Beautifully presented  it was appealing to both the eye and the palate. It also worked well with the crisp wines accompanying it.

G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba DOCG 2015 (13.0% – available by the glass at Ely Place)

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Dolcetto is often looked down upon, especially by outsiders, but it’s what the locals often choose to drink themselves.  Although the name alludes to sweetness, it’s nearly always a dry red wine with some tannin and moderate acidity as a frame for red cherry and red berry fruit.  Fabulous aromas of violets mean you will be nosing the glass for an age before tasting – though once you have tasted you will want more!

G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC 2013 (13.5%)

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Unlike wines made under the Barbera d’Asti DOC regulations (which allow up to 15% of other local grapes, this Barbera d’Alba is a 100% varietal.  (Also see the new Nizza DOCG within Asti which is always 100% Barbera.)  This is a more powerful wine than the Dolcetto, blended from the fruit of six different vineyards.  The key notes for me were chocolate, berries and earthiness – a great match with the starter!

Organic Burren lamb belly, potato, samphire & lamb jus

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Occasionally ordering lamb belly can lead to a disappointingly greasy result. This dish offered anything but, with tender rolled pink lamb belly. The samphire (a first for us) added saltiness to both the potatoes and the lamb and really brought balance to the plate. The jus was sweeter than expected and would have been enjoyed more if there was a little more on the plate, because it was that good.

G.D. Vajra “Albe” Barolo DOCG 2011 (14.5% – available at Ely Place)

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The Albe is Vajra’s entry level Barolo with grapes sourced from several vineyards.  The nose is predominantly red fruit and floral, with pine resin / eucalyptus in the background – definitely fruits of the forest!  Although it spent several years in barrel before release, it’s not at all woody;  tannins are present but not overbearing.  For such a relatively young wine, this is a minor miracle (from my limited experience of quality Barolo!)

G.D. Vajra “Ravera” Barolo DOCG 2011 (14.5% – available at Ely CHQ)

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Ravera is a “Cru” or designated vineyard in the south west of Barolo, with a free-draining mix of clay and loose sand.  Although vines were first planted in 2001, the wines were labelled as Langhe Nebbiolo until 2008.  After 3 weeks of fermentation, the wine spent 42 months in Slavonian (Croatian) oak barrels.

The star of the show!  A full on black fruit experience on both the nose and palate – lovely juicy blueberries and blackberries, with a mineral edginess.  So well put together – rich yet delicate; poised…once the wine touches your lips you can’t wait for it to sate your taste buds.

Considering the young age of the wine and time spent in barrel this is a remarkably approachable wine already.  It seems Vajra have mastered the art of complex wines that don’t need a decade and a half to be ready!

Custard & rhubarb tart, poached rhubarb, lemon meringue
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The rhubarb and custard tart was smooth in texture and had plenty of zing.  The delicious, slightly chewy meringue added texture and the coulis of rhubarb cut through any over-sweetness.  Dessert offered texture and tang and was a winner.

G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2015 (5.5%, 143 g/L RS)

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Sometimes the icing on the cake can be a little bit too much – but not in this case!  Moscato d’Asti is naturally sparkling from the CO2 produced by the fermentation process.  This is stopped early – by bringing the temperature down to stop the yeast from functioning – so that only some of the sugar has turned to alcohol.  Sort of like the opposite to Holsten Pils, if you remember those Griff Rhys-Jones adverts.  The result is an avalanche of fruit – apricot, peach, mango, pear, passionfruit… it just goes on and on.  The dessert it accompanied was an inspired choice, as the acidity in the rhubarb and the Moscato were a match then the sweetness of the meringue was equalled by the residual sugar in the wine.

 

Thanks to my wife Jess who wrote the food sections above!

Great food, great wine, great company – this was an evening to remember!

 

Make Mine a Double #06 – Spot the Difference, Puglia Style

Make Mine a Double #06 – Spot the Difference, Puglia Style

This series of articles 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!

Vigneti del Salento I Muri

I Muri Primitivo & I Muri Negroamaro
I Muri Primitivo & I Muri Negroamaro

The I Muri Negroamaro has been a firm staff and customer favourite at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin (Dublin) for many years – it even featured as one of my favourite reds from their wine fair earlier this year.  Now Sweeney’s are also stocking its twin, with a very similar looking label (don’t ask me the colour difference, I’m partially colourblind).

So where are they from and what is the difference?

Salento
Salento

Salento is the south eastern part of Puglia (technically Apuglia in English I suppose), the heel of Italy. This peninsula separates the Adriatic Sea from the Ionian Sea, and thus no point is ever more than 30 kilometres from the sea.

The wine here has often been quite fiery – powerful but rustic – and was historically used to (illegally) beef up the paler reds from further north in Italy.  The grapes most planted are the local specialities Primitivo and Negroamaro – and that’s exactly what we have here.

Winemaker Filippo Baccalaro is the driving force behind Vigneti del Salento, owned by the Farnese group.  He likes producing fresh whites and soft, approachable reds with as little intervention as possible.

Vigneti del Salento I Muri Primitivo IGT Puglia 2013 (€16.50, Sweeney’s and other independents) 14.0%

Vigneto del Salento I Muri Primitivo IGT Puglia 2012
Vigneto del Salento I Muri Primitivo IGT Puglia 2013

After years of guessing it was finally proved that Primitivo is the same variety as California’s Zinfandel.  Some Puglian producers are now even using oak to make their wines in a pseudo Californian style and using Zinfandel on the label for exports.  Further research showed that the impressively unpronounceable Crljenak Kaštelanski from Croatia is the same grape, before finally (for now) finding the oldest ancestral name of Tribidrag down the Dalmatian coast a little.

This Primitivo is far from rustic – it has the expected dark colour, full body and firm tannins but delivered in a smooth package, where each of the components are well balanced.  There’s a milk chocolate character to the texture, topped off by blueberry and red berry fruit.

Vigneti del Salento I Muri Negroamaro IGT Puglia 2012 (€15.95, Sweeney’s and other independents) 13.0%

Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012
Vigneti Del Salento I Muri Negroamaro IGT Puglia 2012

Even a basic proficiency in Italian will give you a clue as to how Negroamaro tastes – black and bitter.  But not so bitter that you can’t drink it; like many Italian wines there is a certain tartness or bitterness to the fruit, but all the better for it.  Who would choose tinned black cherries over fresh ones?

The rougher edges of the grape have been rounded off by four months in French and American oak (not much of which was new, I suspect).  Black cherry and blackberry fruit are accompanied by spice and dark chocolate.  Acidity is prominent to keep it fresh but not so much that it tastes sour.

Comparison and Preference

This is very much a question of style and preference rather than a difference of quality; do you prefer dark chocolate or milk chocolate? Tasted side by side at a barbecue hosted by D, a fellow DNS Wine Club member and a food blogger, the group was almost evenly split on which they preferred – and everyone liked both of them, with just a minor preference for one.

So my advice is: buy both, and choose according to your mood!

Make Mine A Double #03 – Contrasting Nebbiolo Wines from Piedmont

Make Mine A Double #03 – Contrasting Nebbiolo Wines from Piedmont

This series of articles 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!

Nebbiolo is something of an enigma; it’s hard to love and definitely something of an acquired taste, but those who do like it, almost canonise it.  At the suggestion of Anne from @liqueurplate, a recent gathering of Dublin bloggers set to on a short tasting exploration.

Map of Piedmont / Piemonte
Map of Piedmont / Piemonte (Credit: Guild of Sommeliers)

These two Nebbiolos (Nebbioli?) are two very different styles – at different price points – which most piqued my interest from the selection.  Both are from Piedmont, specifically the Langhe, which is probably the region most closely connected to the grape.  The “King and Queen” of the region are Barolo and Barbaresco respectively are the most prestigious names associated with the grape.  I highly recommend Kerin O’Keefe’s book on them.

Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo 2013 (€17.95, Mitchell & Son) 14.0%

Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo 2013
Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo 2013

This is probably the most fruit-forward style of Nebbiolo I’ve tried (though I don’t claim any expertise on the grape).  Although not austere, it does have the tannin and acidity that Nebbiolo is renowned for, along with roses on the nose.  But there’s also lots of juicy dark fruit which makes it very moreish.  A great introduction to Nebbiolo, and very good value for money.

Elio Grasso Barolo “Ginestra Casa Mate” 2006 (~€65, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin) 14.0%

Elio Grasso Barolo "Ginestra Casa Mate" 2006
Elio Grasso Barolo “Ginestra Casa Mate” 2006

Finian Sweeney of the eponymous Wine Merchants in Glasnevin imports this himself and recommended it to me as a serious, but accessible Barolo.  At nine years old it is now ready to drink, but still has some way to go until it hits its peak.

Elio Grasso is based in Monforte d’Alba, the most southerly major commune in the Barolo wine region.  They have just 18 hectares, mainly planted with local grapes Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera.  Elio Grasso makes three Barolos, which have been bottled separately since 1978 with an eye on constantly improving quality.

Elio Grasso vineyards

The estate produces an average of 14,000 bottles of this Ginestra Casa Maté per year from three hectares.

Vinification is modern – temperature controlled in stainless steel – before the wine is transferred to large 2,500 litre Slavonian (Croatian) oak casks for maturation.  Once bottled it is held back to mature further for another eight to ten months.

So given the much higher price tag, is this a much better wine than the first?  In my opinion probably not quite, at the moment.  I will qualify that by adding that, for most people the Elio Grasso isn’t that accessible right now, even though it’s lovely to drink.  However, with a few more years in bottle I think it could turn out to be much, much more than it’s showing now.  This is a wine to revisit towards the end of the decade!

Make Mine a Double #02 – Two Fresh Loire Sauvignons

Make Mine a Double #02 – Two Fresh Loire Sauvignons

This series of articles 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 Fresh Loire Sauvignons

Giennoix & Sancerre
Giennoix & Sancerre

Two wines: same grape, same year, same region, different producers and adjoining appellations – the perfect way to understand the similarities and differences.

The Loire Valley is one of the most under-rated wine regions in Europe.  It actually consists of several different sub-regions by the course of the river which specialise in different groups of grapes: Melon de Bourgogne in Muscadet, then Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Gamay and others in the middle, and finally Sauvignon Blanc to the east.

Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are the most well-known and prestigious Sauvignon areas, but there are plenty of quality producers in the others:

Central Loire Vineyards (DalGobboM¿!i? & Louis Kehlweiler)
Central Loire Vineyards (Credit: DalGobboM¿!i? & Louis Kehlweiler)

The Terres Blanches in the name of the first wine refers to white clay soils.  The producer is based at Bué en Sancerre, and also make Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre wines.  Coteaux du Giennois is a much less well known appellation next door to Sancerre with the vineyards split:

White: 95 hectares planted – 2,900 hl produced – 65 hl/ha max yield – Sauvignon Blanc variety
Red: 78 hectares planted – 3,200 hl produced – 59 hl/ha max yield – Pinot Noir & Gamay varieties (80% maximum of either variety in a blend)
Rosé: 20 hectares planted – 600 hl produced – 63 hl/ha max yield – Pinot Noir & Gamay varieties

So now to the two wines themselves (note: both kindly given by SuperValu):

Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC 2014 (€10.00, SuperValu) 12.5%

Coteaux du Giennois Blanc Alchimie 2014
Coteaux du Giennois Blanc Alchimie 2014

On opening this is obviously from the Loire, it couldn’t be anywhere else.  If has primary gooseberry on the nose, joined by quince and grapefruit on the palate.  It’s too young for asparagus characters, too Loire for the tropical passionfruit and mango which some Kiwi Savvies exhibit.

It’s fresh and juicy, not austere, with plenty of fruit. The initial big hit fades quickly, but lessens rather than fading totally away. Enjoyable on its own or – I’d imagine – with goats cheese.

Guy Saget Sancerre AOC 2014 (€14.00, SuperValu) 12.5%

Guy Saget Sancerre Blanc 2014
Guy Saget Sancerre Blanc 2014

Sancerre’s soils are a mix of Kimmeridgian clay, dry limestone with lots of pebbles and flint.  A typical example of Sancerre, this has plenty of green fruit but is also very mineral, perhaps even saline.  It has more acidity yet is somehow a little smoother than the Giennois.

Split The Difference

The Giennois is slightly more eager to please, whereas the Sancerre is a little standoffish – you have to make a little more effort with it, but it’s worth it.  Amazingly it is the more expensive Sancerre which has a screwtop while the Coteaux du Giennois is under cork.  I really like both of these wines; I’d be very happy with the Giennois any day, but to drink with fine food at the table then I’d choose the slightly more refined Sancerre.

Also see:

Make Mine a Double #01 – Paddy Borthwick & Pegasus Bay Rieslings

 

 

Essential Wine Accessories (that won’t break the bank) – Part 3

Essential Wine Accessories (that won’t break the bank) – Part 3

If you’re a budding wine drinker (or you know one) looking to ensure you have the most essential wine accessories, but without laying out big bucks, this is the right guide for you.

PART 3 – Something to drink the wine out of – glasses

Although you could drink wine out of almost any kind of drinking vessel, glass is pretty much the best material for your …erm… glass known to man. Coffee mugs and polystyrene cups can hold liquid, but nothing beats the real thing. So, now we’ve established the material, it’s time for a fairly fundamental statement:

The type of glass you use makes a significant difference to how a wine smells and tastes.

As you’re reading a wine blog I’m assuming that this is of some importance to you.  Here is a summary of the important characteristics of a good wine glass:

Format

A proper wine glass needs to have a stem by which it can be held.  This ensures that any chilled white wine isn’t heated up too quickly by a grasping hand and the bowl isn’t smudged with fingerprints (which makes examining the wine much more difficult).  Of course, if you want to put it down on a flat surface then it will also need a foot to rest on.

Thickness

It’s far more pleasant to drink from a thin wine glass than something which could double as a coffee mug.  A cleaner edge means that you have precise control over how much you pour into your cakehole – which is a good thing, surely.

Clarity

The glass should be transparent, not coloured, and not etched. Being able to see the wine properly is an important part of evaluation and appreciation.

Shape

A good glass needs a wide bowl with a narrower rim so that the aromas are gathered within the glass rather than evaporating out into the ether.  It also means that when the glass is swirled to get the wine in contact with air, the wine stays in the glass…

Volume

Swirlability also depends (in tandem with shape above) on the capacity of the glass – it’s a lots easier with a bigger glass.  Many wines, particularly reds and / or oaked wines, need space in the glass to breathe, so they are better if the glass isn’t too full.  A bigger glass means a reasonable pour without filling it too high.

Let’s start by naming and shaming a few different types which you should avoid if looking to acquire some glasses:

1. Paris Goblet

Paris Goblet
Paris Goblet

The standard vessel of many French restaurants – those without at least a Bib Gourmand at least. They fulfil the very basic task of holding wine, but don’t hold enough and no good for swirling.

2. Tumbler

Tumbler (not the Batman version)
Tumbler (not the Batman version)

What am I, a fecking peasant? Tumbler’s are fine for water and water of life, but not for wine.

3. Champagne Flute

Champagne Flutes
Champagne Flutes

Traditional Champagne flutes are dead.  Flutes might look pretty, but they aren’t that great for anything other than basic Prosecco or Moët. Anything I serve at home with a high Pinot content or significant ageing gets put into a white wine glass as a minimum, or even a (larger) red wine glass.

Now, I do have a few Riedel flutes, and they’re are wider than most, so they’re not too bad for the basic stuff.

4. Champagne Coupe

Champagne Coupe
Champagne Coupe

Supposedly made in the shape of a famous French woman’s breast (though the story varies), the coupe is great for making Champagne towers, but not for drinking the stuff – the aromas dissipate too quickly and so do the bubbles.

5. Cut Crystal

John Rocha Waterford Crystal
John Rocha Waterford Crystal

Waterford crystal by John Rocha.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s really pleasing on the eye, worth of display in a cabinet, but it’s about as much use as a chocolate fireguard when it comes to appreciating wine.  The lip is too thick, the pattern interferes with examining the wine and the lack of a decent bowl shape means if you swirl a wine you’ll probably end up wearing some of it.

6. INAO/ISO tasting glass

ISO Tasting Glass
ISO Tasting Glass

This might be a surprise for some, but although “official” tasting glasses are de rigeur on most wine course and at some trade tastings, they’re actually too small for many wines. As an example, when I was tasting a subtly oaked white Louis Jadot Burgundy earlier this year, the oak was over-emphasised by the ISO glass.

At bigger pro-events the tasting glass of choice is usually the Riedel Vinum Chianti Classico/Riesling, a significantly larger glass.

So, if you are on a budget, what sort of glass should you go for?

There are several high quality glass manufacturers, and many of them make different ranges which get more and more wine-specific and correspondingly more and more expensive!

But if you’re on a budget these are out of reach.  I would suggest you could do with something cheap and cheerful such as this:

Tesco wine glass
Tesco wine glass

Even better would be something with a taller bowl, such as this:

Tesco finest wine glass
Tesco finest wine glass

If you drink quite a lot of white wine as well as red, then it’s worth getting some slightly smaller ones for white so that the wine doesn’t warm up too much – important for sweeter wines, for example.

Riedel Sommelier and Zalto glasses belong in another post entirely…

Part 1 looked at something to open bottles with

Part 2 looked at something to pour the wine into

Essential Wine Accessories (that won’t break the bank) – Part 1

Essential Wine Accessories (that won’t break the bank) – Part 1

If you’re a budding wine drinker (or you know one) looking to ensure you have the most essential wine accessories, but without laying out big bucks, this is the right guide for you.

PART 1 – Something to open the bottle – Corkscrew

Of course if you only ever drink screwcapped wine then you won’t need a corkscrew, but although some great wine is available with a tin lid there’s still lots out there that isn’t.

DO GET one (or more) of the following:

1. A foil cutter

Foil cutter
Foil cutter

Using one of these is quicker and safer than a knife for cutting the foil off bottle tops.  It’s also somehow more satisfying.  Not expensive so grab a few!

2. A waiter’s friend

Waiter's friend
Waiter’s friend

There’s a reason this has its name, it’s probably the most efficient and easy to use design, but compact enough to slip into a pocket.  Sometimes has a bargain extra crown cap opener as well.

3. A waiter’s friend with double hinge

Waiter's friend with double hinge
Waiter’s friend with double hinge

For long corks where a regular waiter’s friend just can’t reach, this is just the ticket.  Also, for delicate corks that threaten to break when they are slightly bent on opening, the double hinge lets you minimise this.

4. A waiter’s friend with foil cutter

Waiter's friend with foil cutter
Waiter’s friend with foil cutter

The best of 1 and 2 above!  What’s not to like?  This is actually my favourite design, I have about a dozen around the house.

DON’T GET any of these:

5. Screwpull

Screwpull
Screwpull

Yes these look(ed) delightfully trendy, and gadgety, and …well…blokey, but it’s heavy and cumbersome, and it’s just total overkill.  As for the ones attached to a bar, don’t get me started…

6.Twin wing lever with solid core

Twin lever wing corkscrew
Twin lever wing corkscrew

This just destroys the cork so it might not even get back into the bottle, never mind be relatively airtight to serve as a stopper for a day or two.  Unfortunately they are fairly commonplace.  There are versions which don’t have a solid core, but to be quite honest they still look crap!

If you have a favourite, or you disagree with any of the above, leave a comment and let me know!

Part 2 will look at something to pour the wine into…

Easy like Sunday evening

Easy like Sunday evening

Lionel Richie’s Commodores were easy on Sunday morning, but when it’s a bank holiday weekend it means Sunday evenings are even better than the mornings.

This Sunday evening I was invited to my brother-in-law Andrew’s for take out and wine – what a relaxing way to spend a Sunday evening – with the rider that his wine-loving friend Noel and family would also be there.  Andrew sorted the food, and Noel provided most of the wine, with a bit chipped in from Andrew and myself.

Although it was easy, it was also a very enjoyable evening, with some cracking wines noted below.  Where there is an Irish stockist listed on Wine Searcher I have added it, otherwise a UK stockist.

Birgit Eichinger Kamptal Grüner Veltliner “Hasel” 2014 (€16.99, Mitchell & Son)

Birgit Eichinger Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2014
Birgit Eichinger Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2014

A good rule of thumb for Austrian Grüners is that the alcohol level is an indicator of the wine’s style, and so the 12.0% of this Birgit Eichinger proved true to be a light, summer-quaffing style.  Fresh and light, it doesn’t scream its grape variety, but is remarkably easy to drink.

Château Gaudin Pauillac 2009 (€32.55, Wines Direct)

Château Gaudin Pauillac 2009
Château Gaudin Pauillac 2009

Pauillac is probably the most prestigious appellation on the Médoc peninsula, Bordeaux’s left bank with grand names and grander buildings.  Three of the five First growths are in the commune – Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild – with world famous reputations and prices to match.

The small village of Saint-Lambert within the Commune of Pauillac is home to the much more modestly priced Château Gaudin.  Its wines are very much true to the general Pauillac style, being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) with support from Merlot (10%) and Carménère (5%) plus tiny dashes of Petit Verdot and Malbec.

2009 was the middle year of three fantastic vintages within six years (2005 – 2009 – 2010) and was perfect for Cab Sauv.  With such a high percentage of that grape one might think that five or six years from harvest is too short a time for a wine to be approachable, but this is already drinking fantastically now.  The fruit is still dense and the evidence of 18 months ageing in new oak barrels is still apparent, but there’s no reason to wait!

Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010 (€55, O’Briens)

Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010
Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010

Made by widely admired superstar Bernard Magrez of Pessac’s Pape-Clement, La Tour Carnet was officially classed as a Fourth Growth in 1855.  Debate as to the relevancy of that classification continues, but it is useful as a general indicator of quality.

Average vine-age is 30 years.  The precise blend changes from year to year, but it is usually led by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with small contributions from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  After fermentation, 70% of the blend was aged on the lees in French oak barrels for 18 months (30% of which new) and the balance in stainless steel.

Although from a very good year, in comparison with the Ch. Gaudin above it was perhaps a little awkward and not quite sure what it wanted to be.  A very nice drop which, with a bit of patience, might integrate more fully and blossom in a few years.

Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010 (GBP 40.42, Exel, €61.67 (2011) Millesima)

Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010
Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010

I have to confess I hadn’t heard of this wine before, but after asking the google it seems as though I really should have!  Widely decorated, it’s a blend of 85% Sangioveto (the local name for Sangiovese) with 15% Malvasia Nera.  The name “I Sodi” refers to land so steep and uneven that it has to be worked manually, not even using horses.

Castellare di Castellina was born in 1968 from the consolidation of five farms in the Chianti Classico region, and became solely owned by Paolo Panerai around ten years later.  At that point he carried out a detailed survey of all the vines on the property so that the best genetic material could be selected.

Subsequently Paolo engaged in partnership with the University of Milan, the University of Florence and the Institute of San Michele all’Adige to carry out ongoing research on the best clones as well as the production of grapevines selected for the renovation of the vineyards.

On pouring I thought it very pleasant, but not amazing; very smooth and drinkable without bring special.  However, after a bit of time in the glass it really started to open up, herbs and liquorice layers on top of cherries and blackberries.  This is a fine wine that I will definitely be trying again.

Trimbach Alsace Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001 (€63 1/2 bottle, Millesima)

Trimbach Alsace Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2010
Trimbach Alsace Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001

An interjection between the reds, something sweet to go with dessert.  From the pride of Ribeauvillé, this is a late harvest (that’s exactly what Vendanges Tardives means in French, or Spätlese in German) Gewurztraminer from 2001.

Probably not overly sweet in its youth, it is still sweeter than a normal Gewurz but is not at all “sticky”.  The ageing process reduces the wine’s sweetness (though I have not yet found the mechanism) and there is still some acidity to offer balance.  As you expect from Gewurz there’s a real floral aspect to it on the nose, with stone / white fruit such as peach and lychee on the palate.

It was actually a little too restrained for the chocolate brownie and ice cream dessert, but off itself was delicious.  It’s showing no sign of slowing down at the moment so it might well make it as far as its 20th birthday.

Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2009 (€100, McHugh’s)

Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2010
Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2010

Giscours was a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification, but its fortunes have waxed and waned several times since, mainly as ownership has changed and more or less was put into the vineyards.  Margaux is the most feminine of the Médoc’s big four appellations, often with a higher percentage of Merlot than the others and a certain silkiness to the wines.

For the whole Giscours estate’s 94 hectares under vine, the split of grape varieties is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  Of course the Grand Vin receives a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon than the second and third wines, particularly in a good year such as 2009.  The estate matures the Grand Vin in 100 % French oak barrels (fine grain and medium toast) for 15 to 18 months, 50% of which are new and 50% have had one previous use.

Although still relatively young, this was not dumb, tight or closed – it was already singing.  Modern Claret is sometimes overdone in the search for Parker points and so needs a decade before approaching, but it wasn’t the case here.  Perhaps this was infanticide on a wine that will go on to greatness, only time will tell.

Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998 (GBP 180, WinePro)

Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998
Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998

Grange occupies the sole spot at the top of the Penfolds pyramid, but Bin 707 isn’t too far behind.  Whereas Grange is virtually all Shiraz based, the 707 is the King of Cabernet., allegedly named after the fancy new Boeing airliner of the time.

Grange’s first (though non-commercial) release was in 1951 and the 707’s inaugural vintage was 1964.  It hasn’t been made every year since; between 1970 and 1975 there was a conscious decision to put the best Cabernet fruit in other wines, then in the years 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011 winemakers didn’t have access to the appropriate style and quality of fruit.

Both Grange and Bin 707 are both multi-regional blends, that is, the fruit comes from several different vineyards in several different regions within South Australia.  For the 707 these are Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully.  Maturation is for 18 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads (300 litres).

So 17 years on, how did it fare?  To the eye the age was apparent on the rim which was quite red brick in hue, though the core was still opaque black.  The nose showed spearmint, menthol & eucalyptus with dried black fruit and just a tiny hint of oxidisation.

To taste there was a touch of mint and lots of fresh blackcurrant, with some raisins in the background.  It was really smooth and still monumental in mouthfeel, despite an abv of 13.5% which is quite modest by today’s standards.  Above all it had an amazing length, a small sip lingered in the mouth for several minutes.  A stunning wine.

Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006

Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006
Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006

To cap it all off was a sweet – sweet wine.  As I’ve mentioned before I reckon 5 putts is probably the *ahem* sweet spot for Tokaji, the perfect balance between flavour, sugar and acidity.  Château Dereszla also produce 3 and 6 puttonyos wines, plus the legendary Aszú Eszencia

This showed typical apricot, honey and marmalade notes, quite sweet but not at all cloying.  This is a wine to get up in the night to drink!

I Don’t Like Pinot Grigio, I Love Pinot Gris

Is there any other grape which is so divisive by synonym?  Possibly Syrah and Shiraz, but even then style does not necessarily follow naming convention.

I don't Love Pinot Grigio
I DON’T Love Pinot Grigio

Now, you may have seen the warning on my Twitter bio that “Views and taste in wine may offend” – and I find most Pinot Grigios undrinkable – the best that can be said about them is that they are wet and contain alcohol (but then, the same could be said of aftershave).  Often they are thin, acidic and lacking in flavour.

The derogatory term I use is “Chick Water“.  I will leave you to guess the derivation!

Pinot Grigio is of course the Italian term for the grape whereas Pinot Gris is the lesser known French equivalent.  The en vogue term nowadays is “spiritual home”, and if anywhere could make a claim to be the spiritual home for Pinot Gris it is Alsace, one of my favourite wine regions in the world.  There is already a lot of good Pinot Gris being made in New Zealand, which is well suited to aromatic varieties, and the cooler parts of Australia.

Mini Pinot Gris Tasting At Ely Wine Bar

Trio of Pinot Gris at Ely Wine Bar
Trio of Pinot Gris at Ely Wine Bar

As is my wont, I recently popped into my home-from-home Ely Wine Bar in Dublin and thought I try a few different Pinot Gris served there by the glass:

Verus Vineyards Ormož Pinot Gris 2012

Verus Vineyards Ormož Pinot Gris 2012
Verus Vineyards Ormož Pinot Gris 2012

Ormož is in North Eastern Slovenia, near the border with Hungary.  Although I knew wine is produced in Slovenia I didn’t know there were “international” grapes planted there.  Set up by friends and winemakers Danilo, Božidar and Rajkowho, Verus Vineyards focus on improving quality while making their wines a true expression of their origins.

As the first of the three in the line up, it was fresh with pleasant lemon notes, slightly sour but in an appealing way.  There was only just a hint of sweetness on the finish – it wasn’t apparent at all at first, but as the wine warmed up slightly in the glass it tickled the tastebuds.  On tasting blind would have had no idea it wasn’t from a better established / known country – I will definitely look out for more of their wines.

Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Gris 2012

Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris
Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Gris 2012

The Yarra Valley is one of the premium wine producing areas of Australia – and one of the most exciting – check out my post on De Bortoli Yarra Valley.  Innocent Bystander specialise in making good value varietal wines that reflect their Yarra origins.  They use 100% hand picked fruit, wild ferments and gravity-flow winemaking techniques, plus minimal filtration and fining – this is definitely on the low-intervention side.

The 2012 has a lovely texture that would make it a great food wine, though it drinks very well on its own.  The main flavours are stone fruit, pear, apple and lychee, backed up by plenty of acidity!

Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011

Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011
Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011

Kevin Judd needs no introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway.  He was the chief winemaker at Cloudy Bay from its inception and launch to its 25 year anniversary.  He finally left and started his own virtual winery – he bought grapes and rented winery space from former Cloudy Bay colleagues who left themselves to set up Dog Point Winery.

Although Kevin’s Sauvignons, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir take most of the limelight, his Pinot Gris is an excellent example of the variety.  It’s properly off dry, rich and oily – the most Alsace-like.  Flavours of peach and nectarine dominate, with a hint of crystalline ginger and cinnamon.  This would be amazing with Asian food but is just so lovely to contemplate on its own.

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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