Opinion

Wines at Xmas #1 – Sam Logan [Guest post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

First up is Sam Logan, Copywriter & Social Media Editor of Wines Direct, a family wine wholesale and retail business in Ireland.


Bera Moscato d'Asti 2015When it comes to Christmas, I’m a bit of a Grinch.

I always feel coerced into taking part in the season. Somehow, I always emerge from the season of carols, crowds, and cards with no more than my normal quota of comfort and joy.

Bah Humbug!

However, something I really love about Christmas is that food and drink take centre stage, and normal standards of restraint and decency are temporarily suspended.

Our modern Christmas holidays have their origins in the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia. And the Romans didn’t mess about when it was time for a party. Saturnalia seems to have been a solid week of feasting, including all the fun of non-stop carnivals, gambling and an inversion of social norms.

I do my best to pay homage to the Romans, and my personal Saturnalia always starts with a special, late breakfast on Christmas morning. To classic scrambled eggs on toast, I add a layer of Alpine cheese (this year it’ll be Schnebelhorn or Neufenen) and top it all with Ed Hick’s Bacon Jam. Christmas comes but once a year after all.

Now, this is all very rich and savoury, so I’m going to enjoy it with a glass of Bera Moscato d’Asti 2015. Moscato d’Asti is a wonderful combination of sweetness and sparkles, with enough crisp acidity and blossom aromatics to keep it from becoming cloying. This Moscato d’Asti is a great example of the style with vibrant stone fruit, honey and citrus flavours. It’s delicate, effervescent and absolutely perfect with salty, savoury food. Conveniently, it’s also very low in alcohol at just 5% ABV.

With the spotlight on Dinner, Christmas Breakfast usually gets neglected. I like to start my festivities as I mean to continue and, for me, Bera Moscato d’Asti 2015 is the perfect start to Saturnalia.

Bera Moscato D’Asti 2015: €18.95 from Winesdirect.ie, Wines Direct Shops in Mullingar and Arnotts, Dublin 1

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Tasting Events

Five Fab Whites from the Ely Big Tasting

I’ve already picked my five favourite reds, now here are five of the whites which stood out for me at the Ely Big Tasting:

 

Bride Valley Brut Reserve 2014 (12.0%, RRP ~ €54, Liberty Wines)

Bride Valley

Bride Valley is a producer named after a place of the same name in Dorset on the south coast of England (it’s between Hampshire and Devon (I had to check as I’m a Northerner myself).  The estate is owned by Steven Spurrier and his wife Arabella; Steven is a former wine merchant, a wine educator and a wine writer, and is perhaps most famous for hosting the “Judgement of Paris” in 1976 (though he wasn’t too happy to be portrayed by a 60+ year old Alan Rickman in Bottle Shock!).  The soil is said to be similar to Champagne, though I think it’s probably more technically accurate to say that Champagne has similar soil to this part of Dorset as the village of Kimmeridge (whence Kimmeridgian) is close by!

The blend is “typically” 50% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, the three main Champagne grapes, though not seen in these proportions that often.  It’s not the most complex English sparkler I’ve tried, though that’s understandable as it’s a very young estate – but it’s simply a delicious wine, and dangerously quaffable!

 

O Luar do Sil Valdeorras Godello Sobre Lias 2015 (13.5%, RRP ~ €30, Mitchell & Son)

o luar do sil

The Rodero Villa family had been making fine Ribero del Duero wines at Pago de los Capellanes for two decades before they set up an outpost in Galicia, north west Spain.  Valdeorras is Godello country with a cool climate that encourages a long growing season and lots of aromatic compounds in the wines.  “O Luar do Sil” apparently means “The Reflection of the Moon on the river Sil” – though I presume this only applies at night…

Anyway, the wine itself is delicious – fresh, green fruit with creamy richness from six months on fine lees.  Wines like this reinforce my view that Godello can make wines equally as good as – if not better than – Galicia’s other prominent white grape Albariño.

 

Mahi Estate Boundary Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP ~ €26 Quintessential Wines)

Mahi Boundary Road

I’ve already written about this wine in 2017 but I make no excuses for repeating myself – it’s an excellent wine.  Don’t think that this is “just another Marlborough Sauvignon”, it’s far more than that: smoky, funky and citrusy all at the same time.  If anything I think this is tasting better than it did earlier in the year, but should keep on developing for several years.

 

Maison Ambroise Côtes de Nuits Villages Blanc 2013 (13.0%, RRP ~ €28, Le Caveau)

maison ambroise

Maison Ambroise are better known for their red wines (as is the Côtes de Nuits in general), with a history going back to the 18th century.  The vineyards were reinvigorated by Bertrand Ambroise in 1987 and the amount of land under vine increased to 21 hectares.  Organic certification came in 2013.

Oak is used sparingly to add complexity and mouthfeel – details weren’t immediately available but I suspect that any new oak was only a fraction of the total.  This is a superlative white – for a relatively modest outlay – so beware, it might just be the wine that gets you hooked on white Burgundy!

 

Jean Thévenet Domaine de la Bongran Viré-Clessé 2010 (14.0%, RRP ~ €33, Wines Direct)

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Viré-Clessé is in the Maconnais, the southernmost sub-region of Burgundy proper before Beaujolais, so the fruit is nearly always riper than Chablis at the other (northern) end of Burgundy.  Jean and Gautier Thevenet go even further with their Domaine de la Bongran grapes – they leave them on the vine for several weeks longer than all their neighbours, resulting in powerful wines.  The high sugar levels at harvest time combined with natural yeast means that fermentation can take months and months.  Such is the richness of the wine that you might think there’s oak used along the way, but not a bit of it.  This is an unusual style of Chardonnay that really needs to be tried!

Tasting Events

Six Top Whites from the Ely Big Tasting

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The Ely Big Tasting is now something of an institution on the Dublin wine scene, giving interested wine drinkers a chance to try a wide variety of wines from Ely’s suppliers.  Some of them are already established favourites and some are shown to gauge interest from punters.  Over the several events that I’ve attended (Spring and Autumn each year) it has been interesting to see the camaraderie and some good natured competition between the importers.

Here are six of my favourite whites from the Autumn 16 event:

D’Arenberg “The Money Spider” South Australia Roussanne 2010 (13.2%, Febvre)

money-spider

Roussanne is one of the most important grapes in France’s Rhône Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon.  Innovative McLaren Vale producers d’Arenberg decided to plant white Rhône varieties given how successful the Rhône varieties Shiraz/Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are in the Vale.  And the theory paid off!  Nutty and peachy, it’s full of interesting flavours that you just don’t find in the usual supermarket suspects of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.  Seek it out!

Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Setz Weinwiertel 2015 (Wine Mason)

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Lovely field blend of 17 different varieties. These vines are all planted in the same vineyard and are harvested and vinified together. When Ingrid took on the family vineyards she had to rely on her grandmother to identify which variety was which!

The result in the glass is both complexity and drinkability – what more could you want?

In case you were curious, the varieties are:

Chardonnay, Müller Thurgau, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Grauburgunder, Pinot Blanc, Frühroter Veltliner, Neuburger, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Sämling, Roter Veltliner, Grauer Vöslauer, Hietl Rote, Weiße Vöslauer and Silberweiße.

More info here.

Trimbach Alsace Vieilles Vignes Riesling 2012 (13.0%, C+C Gilbey’s)

riesling-selection-de-vieilles-vignes-2012-trimbach

This Vieilles Vignes (“Vee-ay Veen”, Old Vines) Riesling is a step above the standard Riesling (which I like) and slots in below Trimbach’s premium Cuvée Frédéric Emile.  The VV is only made in certain years (2009 was the release previous to this 2012) so my guess is that Trimbach only decide to make it when they have more quality fruit than they need for “Fred”.

Ther fruit is sourced from the lieux-dits (named vineyards) Rosacker, Muehlforst, Vorderer Haguenau and Pflaenzer.  Being old, the vines yield less grapes than in their youth, but the resultant wines have more intense and complex flavours.  This wine is mainly available in bars and restaurants (such as Ely!) rather than wine merchants and is worth calling in for on it own!

Lucien Aviet “Cuvée des Docteurs” Arbois-Jura 2011 (13.0%, La Rousse)

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The Jura region – nestled in the hills between Burgundy and Switzerland – has been making wine for a long time, but has only recently stepped into the limelight.  The area’s Vin Jaune has been regarded as an interesting diversion but now the table wines are receiving lots of attention – due in no small part to Wink Lorch’s excellent book.

Whereas Vin Jaune and some other Jura wines are deliberately exposed to oxygen during their production, this Chardonnay is in the ouillé “wee-ay” style – the barrels are topped up to prevent a flor forming or major oxidative notes.  It’s therefore much more my cup of tea – or glass of wine!  The wild yeasts used are reflected somewhat in the wild flavours, so this isn’t for everyone, but every wine enthusiast should try it at least once.

La Fief du Breil “La Haye Fouassière” Muscadet Cru Communal 2013 (12.5%, Wines Direct)

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Anyone who has holidayed on the Atlantic coast of France and has enjoyed the seafood there is almost certain to have tried Muscadet, from the western reaches of the Loire.  It’s a wine while is often maligned outside of an accompaniment for oysters, and if we take the average quality of all wines produced then that’s probably not too unfair.  However, some producers are very quality conscious and can make some fantastic wines in the region.

This cuvée spends 14 months on the lees, giving a very creamy texture, but remains refreshing thanks to vibrant acidity.  It will partner well with seafood but is just downright delicious on its own.

More info here (downloads).

Brookland Valley “Verse 1” Margaret River Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, Liberty)

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Compared to most of the producers above, Brookland Valley is a newcomer – they were established in Margaret River in 1983 (compared to 1626 for Trimbach!)  While heritage and history are nice, at the end of the day it’s what’s in the glass that counts.  Verse 1 is their “entry level” range, with Estate above that and Reserve at the top.

This Chardonnay is a cracker, still young perhaps but full of flavour.  Racy grapefruit and lemon are set against brioche, vanilla and nuts.  It’s well balanced with a long finish.  If drinking in the next year or so then decant for half an hour before drinking, if you can.

More info here.

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

A Walk on the Wild Side [Make Mine a Double #25]

There are lots of trends in wine which compete for our attention at the moment – orange wines, natural wines, organic, biodynamic, lutte raisonnée, skin contact, wild ferment, pet-nat, and many more.  Some are almost interchangeable and some are ill-defined.

Against this backdrop, many producers continue to improve quality by taking care in the vineyard, first and foremost, and allowing the terroir to be expressed in the wine.  One of the key ways of doing this is to use “wild” yeast, i.e. the yeast which occurs naturally in the vineyard, rather than commercial or cultured yeast.

Here are two wild yeast fermented wines from France which I tried recently:

Domaine des Chezelles Touraine Sauvignon 2015 (12.5%, €13.85 at Wines Direct)

dom-chezelles

Touraine Sauvignon is a banker for me, always fresh and fruity, great value for money…in a word, reliable.  Although this might sound like damning with faint praise, it isn’t; while not hitting the heights of Loire neighbours Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, it’s the appellation I actually buy the most of.

Domaine des Chezelles practises wild yeast fermentation and organic techniques but haven’t been certified (which can be an expensive process).  They’re using organic methods because they think it’s the right thing to do, rather than a sales tool.

In the glass it’s recognisably a Touraine Sauvignon, with lots of pleasant green flavours – gooseberry, grapefruit, green pepper and grass – but more exuberantly fruity than the norm.  Drink as an aperitif or with dishes containing asparagus or shellfish.

Château La Baronne Corbières “Les Chemins” 2013 (14.5%, €22.75 at Wines Direct)

labaronnechemins

Corbières was one of the first Languedoc appellations that I became familiar with, but quality has certainly increased over the past 20 years or so.  The reds (which are over 90% of all Corbières wines produced) are generally a blend composed of some or all of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault – what I call GSM-CC.

Les Chemins (“The Paths” or “The Ways”) is particularly interesting as it’s a naturally-produced wine from Corbières, but can’t be labelled as “natural” because of the sulphur levels – though no sulphur is added, the amount which occurs naturally is just over the threshold.  The blend is Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvère – the Lignères Family who own the Château are particularly fond of Carignan so it is the biggest component of the wine.

On pouring the wine has a wonderfully fruity nose – fruits of the forest in particular.  On the palate there are wondrous red and (mainly) black fruits – red and black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant.  It’s the sort of wine that autumn really calls for!

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

 

 

Make Mine A Double

Sicilian Blends from Feudo Luparello [Make Mine a Double #18]

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Credit: NormanEinstein

All of Italy’s regions produce wine, and most of them have indigenous grapes which are rarely seen outside the country – or sometimes even outside the province.  Although rightly proud of their native grapes, when exporting wines to other countries the lack of recognition can be an issue.  Italy’s southernmost region has a clever solution: blends of local and international varieties.  If consumers don’t know the local then they might still buy the wine if they know the other, and over time the local grapes get better known.

Of course, the blends have to work well as wines, otherwise they would be forgotten quickly.  Here are two Sicilian blends I tried recently which I think are very successful:

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided for review.

Feudo Luparello Grillo – Viognier 2015 (13.0%, €15.85 at winesdirect.ie)

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Grillo is a native Sicilian grape which copes well with the island’s sun-baked climate. Sometimes on the neutral side, it has received most recognition to date as the grape behind Marsala, Sicily’s famous fortified wine (One of “Frankie’s Rules of Thumb”: where regular wine is turned into another product (Sherry, Cognac, Champagne etc.) the underlying wine is usually bland as hell).

Careful viticulture, restricting yields and better winemaking techniques have allowed Grillo to be quite expressive, but Feudo Luparello add 30% Viognier in this wine.  It’s quite apparent on the nose, as Viognier is highly aromatic, with floral and stone fruit notes.  On the palate it adds richness, and almost a touch of oiliness (which I love in varietal Viognier).  It’s not a flabby wine as the Grillo keeps it on the straight and narrow with fresh acidity.

This is an interesting and versatile white wine which represents great value for money.

Feudo Luparello Nero d’Avola – Syrah 2014 (13.5%, €15.85 at winesdirect.ie)

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Nero d’Avola is the most widely planted black grape in Sicily – and indeed takes its name from the city of Avola in Syracuse – though it is held in considerable esteem.  It has been likened to Syrah / Shiraz by some, though personally I don’t find them that alike.  In the past it has been seen as a little rustic in character, but that was mainly down to the winemaking.

This red keeps the same proportions as the white – it’s 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Syrah. Feudi Luparello is based in Pachino, just down the coast from Avola in Syracuse, so the vines get plenty of cooling sea breezes.  That sounds lovely, I hear you say, but what effect does it have on the wine?  The main one is to make it smoother and more elegant – there’s no hint of rusticity at all.  It is jam-packed full of juicy black fruit, with a touch of exotic spice.  Even French friends who had a taste grudgingly admitted that a “foreign” wine was pretty good!

Read more on Make Mine a Double

 

 

 

Tasting Events

Moving On Up – Argentinian Reds

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Altitude is even more important than latitude in Argentina – in terms of the weather patterns in the vineyard and the perceived quality of the wine.  The search for good vineyard sites continues in Argentina, with new parts of the wine heartland Mendoza Valley being tried, plus further north in Salta such as in the Colchaqui Valley (pictured above).

The DNS Wine Club met to examine both whites and reds from Argentina, both varietals and blends.  The whites were published on The Taste here: Hi Ho Silver (I wonder how many people got the pun in the title?)  Now it’s the turn of the reds:

Susana Balbo Crios Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Mendoza) (€16.25 down to €14.65, Wines Direct – Arnotts & online)

Crios label

14.0%, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Susana Balbo is the most recognised and celebrated oenologist in Argentina and has been at the forefront of innovation and quality improvements for decades. Key notes are plum and redcurrant (surprisingly more than blackcurrant), joined by a touch of vanilla from oak barrels. The soft tannins and silky smooth texture make this a delicious wine to enjoy in front of a roaring fire, or perhaps with a big juicy steak. Great value.

Bodega Amalaya Red 2013 (Valle Calchaqui, Salta) (€18.00, Mitchell’s – ISFC)

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14.0%, 75% Malbec, 15% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, dash of Tannat

Amalaya produce a fantastic range of wines (also check out their Torrontés Riesling blend) of which this is a fairly modest member. Based in the highlands of Salta, the vineyards start at a mile high (1,600m) and keep climbing. Warm days and cool nights promote thicker skins than in lower vineyards (giving more intense flavours) and help maintain acidity (making the wines taste fresher).

This blend is more than the sum of its parts – ripe plum from the Malbec, pepper and spice from the Syrah plus a savoury edge from the Cabernet. Narrowly missed out on the best red of the tasting.

Bodegas Norton Barrel Select Malbec 2014 (Mendoza) (€14.99, O’Briens)

 

Norton label

14.0%, 100% Malbec

At “only” 850m – 1,100m the vineyards for this wine are considered to be in the foothills (for reference, Croagh Patrick’s summit is 764m). Although located in what is usually referred to as the New World, the Estate dates back to 1895 which makes it fairly old in my book. The vines for this bottle are 15 years of age or older giving classic Malbec characters.

Hess Family Colomé Estate Malbec 2012 (Valle Calchaqui, Salta) (€25.00, Mitchells)

colomé

14.5% 100% Malbec

If anybody, anywhere, tells you that “all Malbecs taste the same, there’s no point spending more than xx Euros on one” then you have my permission to shoot them (not that I think it would be a valid defence in a court of law). The Colomé winery dates back to 1831 – older than many Rioja Bodegas, for example. There are actually four separate estates at altitudes between 1,700m and 3,111m, each adding something to the blend of the Estate Malbec.

For such a big, alcoholic wine it is remarkably refined, delicate and long. Blackberry, blackcurrant and black cherry characters are the key, with supple tannins supplying the structure. A fantastic wine!