Lidl invited me to taste through a range of French wines they’ll be introducing to Irish stores this Easter, appearing on-shelf from Monday 3rd March.
I’m always impressed by how both Lidl and Aldi manage to source some really decent wines for pittance, a skill which they are both getting better at and gaining recognition for. OK, they may not be the most complex wines that are representative of their terroir or vintage, but they do tend to be very enjoyable for very little money, and for that they should be lauded.
So below are my picks of the wines they’ll have in-store from next week, but first a round-up of the sparkling wines which they have available year-round…
Prosecco Treviso Frizzante €7.99, available all year round
This is a simple, very fruit-forward fizz tasting mostly of pear drops. Not exactly interesting but it really is unbeatable at this price.
Arestel Cava €10.49, available all year round
I was a little amazed at how muted this was – not bad, but not good either, just … meh. So not a terrible decision if you’re desperate for some fully-sparkling bubbly at a ridiculous price like this, just don’t expect any typical Cava character.
Marquis de Plagne, Crémant d’Alsace €12.99, available all year round
Though the nose is nice and floral, the palate is simple and inoffensive. Still, an OK steely sparkler from an often over-looked region.
Comte de Brismand Champagne €19.99, available all year round
A relatively simple and straightforward Champagne, some floral characteristics and noticeable acidity. A little aggressive initially it softens out to a creamy but still slightly tart palate. Twice as good as, say, Moet et Chandon, at half the price.
Bissinger & Co. Champagne Premium Cuvée €29.99, from 2nd February until stocks last
Ironically, this is positively stratospheric price-wise in Lidl terms, but relative to Champane prices everywhere else outside of the German discounters you’re only really getting started at €30.
It’s hard not to call this a “baby Bollinger”, given the rich grilled nuts aromas and the equally rich and creamy, brioche-tinged palate. Granted, the length is only medium and the bubbles could be finer, but at €30 this is a steal.
To be honest the whites were disappointing, with the majority of them being flabby and lacking in the crucial acidity needed for some decent balance. This is despite the inclusion of an Alsace Gran Cru for a paltry €12.99, but even that didn’t warrant its price tag, despite its esteemed provenance.
There was, however, one diamond in the rough for me, but at €12.99 for this I’d still opt for, say, Aldi’s excellent Gavi at €8 approx. any time:
Les Vignes de Saint Laurent l’Abbaye, Pouilly-Fumé 2013 €12.99 This had some nice smoky/flinty notes on the nose and lively white stone fruit on the palate with gooseberry and asparagus showing. OK at this price.
The Reds: Bordeaux
Château Arnaud 2012 €9.99 A really quite nice ‘entry level’ Bordeaux: blackcurrant and oak, with a rich enough palate and nice tannin. Everything present and correct.
Château Pithivier 2011 €9.99
Much richer nose than the Arnaud with dark red fruit evident over a soft lush palate with noticeable blackcurrant. Very good.
Château de Clotte, Côtes de Castillon 2010 €12.99
The most complex nose thusfar with cedar and blackcurrant trading blows over a light a fragrant palate
Domaine la Roche, Pessac-Léognan 2008 €19.99
The joint oldest vintage in the tasting, this had a beautiful perfumed nose with black tea and evident oak. The palate was nicely balanced and flavoursome. It’s rare to get a readily-aged Bordeaux from one of the best vintages of the last decade in your local German discounter for €20, so I’ll be picking up a bottle of this to try again at home.
L’Enclos de Château Saint Pey, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2011 €13.99
This had a bloody, meaty fragrance, which isn’t as unappealing as it sounds, promise! The palate was supple and rich(ish) with nicely integrated tannin. Very good and a great price.
Tour de Laroze, Margaux 2008 €17.99
The other oldest vintage in the tasting. All was present and correct here but I felt there was better value to be had at lower price points. It was nice, though, and great if you feel the pressure to have the famous Margaux name on your dining room table.
The Reds: Rhône
Château Notre Dame des Veilles, Côtes-du-Rhône 2013 €8.99 A ridiculous price for a CDR, though its flavour profile was very much on the lighter, bubblegum and boiled sweets side of things.
Saint-Joseph 2012 €12.99
Again, another ridiculous price, but then this is Lidl after all. This was really very good, with a smoky, black pepper nose with some grilled meat evident. It had a silky peppery palate that was soft and spicy. I’ll definitely be picking up a bottle on my travels for this money.
Serabel Vacqueyras 2012 €12.99
Though the nose was rather muted the palate was better, with floral rose and cherry flavours with some raspberry. The Saint-Joseph is much better in my opinion but it’s good to have options.
Things have been quiet of late on The Motley Cru. Instead of apologising I’ll boast instead: I was on holiday for a couple of weeks in much sunnier climes, lazing by the beach and doing a whole lot of nothing. That meant a packed work schedule a couple of weeks before and another couple of weeks after the trip away, and so here I am a whole month-and-a-bit on from my last post.
I’ve lots of material for another few posts, which I’ll cobble together over the coming week or two, but for now let me update you on what I’ve been drinking over the last few months:
Michel & Stéphane Ogier Syrah La Rosine 2009 VdPdes Collines Rhodaniennes. 100% Syrah €27.95 from The Vineyard and The Corkscrew
Beautiful, changeable nose over a beautifully knit palate. This is a really classy, quality wine, and though it doesn’t perhaps have knock-your-socks-off complexity it still offers plenty of interesting dark, gamey, spicy fruit over a silky palate of perfectly pitched tannin and acidity.
Perhaps it’s not as long in the mouth as it should be, but that said it is still a beautiful wine that was still drinking well into its third day, showing some interesting dark fruit, clay and some cinnamon spice.
Patrick & Christophe Bonnefond Sensation du Nord 2009 VdP des Collines Rhodaniennes. 100% Syrah €19.99 from Jus de Vine
Another Syrah from an area called Collines Rhodaniennes in the Northern Rhône, an area I discovered for the first time via Simon Tyrrell at the Ely Big Tasting a couple of years ago, and which wraps aroudn the much more famous regions of Côte Rôtie, Condrieu and Hermitage.
This was lighter on the palate than the La Rosine but still had some deep black forest fruit and more gamey sous bois characteristics than expected. It’s fresh and has nice acidity though not too complex, but this shouldn’t detract from what is an enjoyable, good quality everyday wine.
Emiliana Coyam 2009 D.O. Colchagua Valley. 41% Syrah, 29% Carménère, 20% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Mourvèdre, 1% Petit Verdot
€22.99 from O’Brien’s, Searson’s and Vanilla Grape
This is a bit of a bruiser that takes kindly to a bit of air time, so be sure to glug it generously into a jug and leave it breathe for a while before approaching. 100% organic, as is the want generally of this well-respected Chilean producer, this has juicy brambly fruit with deep spicy blackberry notes on the nose; the palate is notably dry with more ripe black fruit coming through.
It’s quite the mélange of grapes (see above) and I do wonder Its punchy 14.5% means it’s tricky to get beyond a couple of glasses, so this is one for sharing amongst friends with some seriously meaty food. Some six years on from vintage hasn’t softened it out yet and I’m not sure it’s one for keeping a hold of for too long, though Emiliana claim it can last 12-14 years.
Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Rioja Colección Privada 2007 D.O.C. Rioja. 100% Tempranillo €38.49 from O’Brien’s
I was gobsmacked when I tasted this at the annual O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale a few years ago and instantly bought a couple of bottles; this is my last one, unfortunately. It’s really gorgeous, smoky and electric, long and balanced yet rich, developing nicely over the course of the evening. Which is exactly how I enjoyed it: in a big glass by the fire in December. Bliss.
Antinori Cervaro della Sala 2008 Umbria IGT. 85% Chardonnay, 15% Grechetto €51.95 from The Corkscrew
This is the famous Antinori family’s flagship white wine, made mostly from Chardonnay. This of course causes constant comparison with Burgundy, but perhaps unknown to many is the very Italian nose-thumbing in the form of a generous dollop of Umbria’s local Grechetto variety.
It has a chameleon-like nose, starting buttery and progressing through lemon-and-lime then matchstick and finally on to peach and spice.
On the palate there’s butter again, yellow apple and that matchstick characteristic again. The palate itself is silky smooth with just enough acidity to keep it afloat. An intriguing wine.
Château Gloria 2008 Saint Julien. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. €55.25 from Searson’s and Fine Wines
This was the wine on which I first properly tested my new Coravin, and a perfect example of the revolutionary device put to good use (which I’ll elaborate on in a different post later). It would otherwise be too young to drink this wine, but having a Coravin meant that I can have a glass then, a glass in six or twelve months later, another glass six months after that … and so on, watching the wine evolve over the years. This is definitely still young but nevertheless very drinkable: rich ripe fruit with touches of cedar and oak and blackberry. A little simple now and will no doubt evolve over time.
The nose of this was promising, offering the characteristic apricot-and-honey scents that Viognier is famous for. However the palate was a let-down – flabby and lacking any supporting acidity, it was a little like melted-down gum drops. Without that bit of backbone this is unfortunately a bit of a mis-fire, which is unfortunate for this otherwise laudable winery.
Château La Tour Figeac 2007 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé. 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon €48.00 from Mitchell & Sons
Rich and satisfying, heady scent of macerated black fruit. The palate is fleshy and continues the dense, rich fruit theme. Nice fine tannins that are enjoyable now but can knit further for a few years at least, with good length. Very enjoyable now and will be over the coming years.
Marqués de Riscal ‘150 Aniversario’ Rioja Gran Reserva 2001 D.O.C. Rioja. 90% Tempranillo, 8% Graciano, 2% “Others”
€50.49 from Donnybrook Fair, Dublin; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Vintage Wine Investments, Killarney, Kerry
I wrote about this in a previous post, but this time around I enjoyed it so much more than previously – and the last time it was really good. This bottle showed much more life than the last one, giving up an ultra-savoury, gamey palate and a nose that was heady and decadent. It was sipped on the fly so I couldn’t mull over it too long, but it struck a chord and has been memorable since.
Bolgheri is on the Tuscan coast in Italy, and this is one of a prestigious set of wines called “Super Tuscans”, or those that defied Italian wine laws in the 70s and 80s by growing “foreign” – i.e. not indigenous – grapes on their lands, resulting in their wines being downgraded to simple table wine status. Never mind, these rebels continued to make what they perceived as the wines that best suited their particular climate, bureaucracy bedamned. The result was a massive shift in perception of the quality of Italian wines both domestically and world wide, and kick-started a quality revolution in the country as a whole. The rest, as they say, is hostory; eventually the laws were changed to accommodate them.
Another wine sipped on the fly, this was impressive from the get-go: grilled meat, blackcurrant, ever-evolving. Tightly structured and needs to unwind a little. A stunner that demands a re-visit in a few years’ time.
Looking back over my notes now I realise that I regretfully missed quite a few wines that I would really loved to have spent some time over: a tableful of Portuguese dry wines ruefully skipped; another table that held nothing but sherries, a missed opportunity to fill in a major gap in my knowledge; the reds of Domaine La Perriere and Domaine Sagat, whose whites I really enjoyed; the first ever craft beer section; and so on.
But such is life, and these things roll around again. Anyway, below are some reds that jumped out at me on the day:
A beautifully rich and intense wine, herb-tinged and deliciously structured. Another cracker from Allegrini, and an interesting mix of 80% Corvina, 10% Syrah and 10% Oseleta, the previously ‘lost’ grape native to the Veneto recently ‘resurrected’ by Masi.
Rodet Bourgogne Pinot Noir
€15.99 from The Corkscrew
For me the generic ‘Bourgogne Pinot Noir’ is something of a minefield. Burgundy is the home of Pinot Noir and where the best expression of the grape can be found, albeit at a price. The more affordable bottles – simply labelled Bourgogne (i.e. Burgundy) – mostly don’t do the region any justice and tend to be thin and cheap-tasting in my experience.
But this is the best generic Bourgogne I’ve come across. It’s noticeably light but has a lovely mineral streak over some delicate savoury flavours. Refreshing and elegant.
Niepoort Rótulo, Dão 2012
€17.50 from The Corkscrew
Dry Portuguese reds are definitely in the ascendancy at the moment, but it’s a style I’m ashamedly not familiar with. Interestingly, Niepoort have opted to prioritise – nay, exalt – the Dão region very prominently on the colourful label ahead of the historic and famous Niepoort name, or indeed even its given
It’s very intense, taut and concentrated but with elegant floral and dark fruit flavours; the tannin is just right and calls out for food. But I won’t event try and pronounce the grapes: Touriga Nacional, Jaen and Alfrocheir.
Ziereisen Tschuppen 2011
€23.95 from The Corkscrew
“This is Pinot Noir”, said the man behind the table (who I later discovered was Ben Mason of Origin Wines). “Or do you mean … Spätburgunder?” said I, twinkle in my eye. “Ho ho ho” we chuckled together, knowingly, for what fun we trade insiders have .
Seriously, this was an amazingly impressive wine, a steal at under €25. It toes the line between the New World and Old World style of Pinot deftly, taking the savoury elegance of the latter and combining it with some headonistic richness of the former. A really notable wine.
A delicious, fresh wine of cherry and red berries but also an underlying savoury note, light but packed with flavour, really beautiful. Again organic; chapeau to Le Caveau for sticking their neck out and producing such ethical, delicious wines for such amazing prices.
€38.95 from The Corkscrew
An incredible, amazing nose of smoky complexity. Outstanding stuff, deep, intense, multi-layered, meaty, taut and with tingling acidity. An outstanding heavy-hitter, made predominantly from Alicante Bouschet with a small percentage of Trincadeira
Château de Pierreux Brouilly Réserve 2007
€24.95 from The Corkscrew
A Beaujolais no doubt! I’m usually wary of the region, which I’m aware is a sweeping generalisation, but good examples for me tend to be few and far between, diamonds in the rough. This is one such wine, though; smooth and delicious with some gentle spice , noticeable tannin and a lip-smacking finish.
Yes yes, I know what you’re thinking: why in God’s name am I writing about this fair almost two months after the event, and in “Dry January” and everything? Well, as regular readers of The Motley Cru (all dozen of you) will know, I’m not exactly the most expedient when it comes to writing up my blog posts, and this annual fair is too significant and has too much going on to just simply leave slide. So better late than never.
Yes, this annual gathering held by wine retailer of note, The Corkscrew, is for me at least one of the highlights of the wine year in Ireland, providing as it does a fantastic opportunity to overview the Irish wine trade in one fell swoop (and a woozy one at that).
I first experienced the fair all the way back in 2008, my first year in what was then Woodford Bourne, when I myself stood behind one of the tables serving wine to an increasingly inebriated public who, by degrees, came over just to taste “your most expensive wine.”
Back then our “most expensive wine” on show was iconic Super-Tuscan Ornellaia‘s second wine Le Serre Nuove, which today retails for €55. But over the years I saw the quality of wines on offer drop somewhat: a product of that perfect storm in the wine trade involving both the recession and successive, punitive increases of alcohol duty in the Budget.
Last year, though, I thought I sensed a glimmer of hope, and this year I was glad to see that confidence was finally returning to the trade, at least as far its the public face was concerned. Not that we were showering ourselves in Dom Pérignon, of course (we’re not the Sunday Independent Life Magazine after all), but the fact that suppliers weren’t afraid once again to show bottles in the €30-€40 range and above was heartening, and a testament to the returning confidence in both consumers and wine importers/retailers in this country.
My recurring difficulty of successfully tasting wines from each table at events like this was very much to the fore once again here (as it was for Ely’s Big Rhône Tasting), and as I was also with a few friends at the time my notes were a mess of mostly incomplete scrawls squeezed into the margin of the accompanying booklet, so this is far from being a comprehensive review of the fair. But from what I can decode from these scribbles, and recall from memory, below were my favourite sparkling wines and whites of the day:
This is a really lovely, biscuity champagne, very fine, delicately balanced and deliciously moreish. I couldn’t but help draw comparisons to the Bollinger style, with its toasy brioche, albeit a little less bombastic. Enrobed (as I’m sure they’d like me to call it) in a new bottle and label, this is a serious Champagne both in and out. (Jamie Good has a more detailed article on Charles Heidsieck for wine nerds here.)
I was informed that this was a Blanc de Blanc (i.e. 100% Chardonnay), which was news to me as they didn’t specify it on the label, which itself I identified immediately since it’s been popping up on various social media outlets this last year or so (especially Frankly Wines, who reviewed it not once, not twice, but thrice).
This was a really very lovely Champagne in a nicely contrasting style to the Charles Heidsieck from earlier, a point I relished elaborating to my friends (for all of, oh, 12 seconds or so before they got bored).
Delicate, poised and creamy, it had an unmistakable citrus streak but finished with a softened almost bready finish. A really delicious, artisan Champagne, and highly recommended.
I always enjoy visiting the Le Caveau table at these fairs, but unfortunately I was a bit rushed on this occasion time as my friends had moved on elsewhere, partly given the awkward location of the table in the far corner of the room. In what time I had I found the offerings at the lower to be most noteworthy and great value, a fact most likely down to the fact the more expensive bottles all needed to have stories to be told and their styles explained, a luxury not afforded by my time constraints.
So this Rueda was one of those I marked “GVFM” – a handy acronym I now use regularly which I ‘borrowed’ from Kevin Ecock. Much more subtle than the sprightly, lively Ruedas available, this provides a nice counterpoint to ubiquitous the ultra-fresh style. Unmissable in its acid-green labelling also.
Saget La Perrière, Petit Perrière Sauvignon Blanc 2013 €13.95 from The Corkscrew
A pretty straight-forward wine, nice and inoffensive, but when I realised the price I was very impressed. Wine made to this quality for this price is a rarity, most especially in France. Excellent value for money and one to buy by the case.
Le Domaine Sagat, Pouilly Fumé €22.95
Very clean, precise, deliciously fine wine. Sorry, I don’t have more notes, but i do remember it being delish, so take that as you will.
Rully (“roo-yee”) is a region in Burgundy that produces whites which are a great example of Old World and New World Chardonnay styles combined, hot-skipping between the former’s buttery oakiness and the latter’s fresh tropical fruit to give a chameleon-like wine. The Jean Chartron’s ultra-rich buttery nose belies a really clean, fresh palate with a fantastic, refreshing mineral streak. Balanced and beautiful.
One of the tables at the event belonged to Nomad Wine Importers, Burgundian wine distributor of note, run by Frenchman Charles Derain. But don’t go Googling just yet, for Nomad dodoesn’t’t have a website, it’s not on Facebook, nor does it dabble in Twitter – nada – so the only contact seems to be via direct email to Charles. A pretty old-school way of doing things in the 21st century.
I first briefly met Charles at the Ely Big Tasting back in October where, apart from a few delicious wines, I was taken by his very Gallic, effusive nature. His passion was undoubtable, as it should be, but he had a refreshingly cheeky chappy demeanour laced with pithy, often audacious throwaway comments, all punctuated with that nonchalant shrug that seems to be the birthright of every Frenchman. He was great craic.
Anyway. What was most notable about the Nomad table, apart from Charles’s vivacious energy, was that he was holding a mini vertical and horizontal tasting combined (a vertical is when different vintages of the same wine are tasted, a horizontal is when different producers’ wines from the same vintage are tasted).
So what we had on the night was two vintages each of two wines, both Crozes-Hermitage: Domaine Maxime Graillot’s ‘Domaine des Lises’, and Domaine Alain Graillot’s regular Crozes-Hermitage. The eagle-eyed will have spotted the similarity of the names, and they’d be right, for Maxime Graillot is son of Alain Graillot, the latter being a big deal in Crozes-Hermitage since he set up shop there in 1985.
Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage 2012 €28.00 in good wine shops
The 2012 vintage of this wine was the first in our glass, and wow was it good. Beautifully perfumed, intense but elegant, savoury gilled meat and graphite, a subtle and reserved, quite dry palate with really lovely tannin at the end. What a fantastic start – I was salivating at the thought of how the tasting would progress from here.
This was quite … characterful. I have three adjectives related to its acidity written on my notes: the first is “very vivid”, later it’s “electric”, before finally relenting to “aggressive”. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a bad or unbalanced wine in the slightest, but it certainly had plenty of … well, character, for want of a better word.
Charles looked on intently and seemed pleased that my expression matched his expectations. “Yes, it’s ‘very French’” he said, smiling, before going on to acknowledge that it’s quite the challenge. The nose was feral, earthy. But it’s a delight to taste something from the same region and same vintage as the previous glass, but in such a significantly different style. The joys of wine, eh?! I just wouldn’t be rushing to drink this particular bottle just yet.
Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage 2009
I was looking forward to this. After the stellar performance of the 2012 I couldn’t but wait to see what a few years would do to it, especially from a noteworthy vintage. But what’s this? The amazing fruit of the 2012 had faded far beyond its three years; sure enough that earthiness was now coming through, but accompanied by somewhat off-balance acidity and tannin. This wasn’t going down well at all – admittedly, it was a disappointment . A wine to drink young then it seems (but then what a wine in its youth!). A little confused, I moved on to the 2009 Alain Graillot, though with some trepidation after the almost literally shocking experience of the 2012.
Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2009
And what’s this? The jarring, aggressive punk-rock characteristic of the 2012 was gone, and in its place was a softer, smoother, more supple drop. True enough its acidity was still significant but it had relaxed to give way to some actual noticeable fruit now, though more in the blackberry and plum region than savoury meatiness. It would be great to taste this in a couple of years again; definitely the winner of the 2009s.
I was quite relieved to discover that my thoughts were in line with Charles’s – it’s always flattering to know you’re on the same page as a former 2 Michelin star sommelier! It was a fantastic experience that showed how you can take two quite different approaches to much the same grape juice from the same area: a more youthful, fruit-forward style that’s excellent when young but doesn’t age well, versus the old guard approach where the wines can often be undrinkable young but grow old gracefully. With some panache Charles not only managed to succinctly highlight this in a few glasses, but worked in a father and son angle too. Chapeau!
This is the first of a new section I’m going to establish for posts like these. One of the great things about doing this blog is the research behind wines I come across that I like, and comparing and contrasting my experiences with certain wines against others out there on the internet. So this will be a piecemeal section where I’ll link to other articles on the topic for further reading, recommend select reviews on a wine I’ve reviewed and other related bric-a-brac I think would be of interest.
Here’s a great write-up by New York sommelier Victoria James on her visit to the Graillot winery. In it she mentions that the Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage in general, “in its youth, the wine is abrasive but very appealing, though the finished product holds such longevity it can seem a shame to drink it young.” Yep, abrasive is another word for it! More specifically, she said of the 2012 that “while [it] held less intensity [than the 2013] its aggressive structure transmitted power and a robust energy.”
I’m finding it difficult to find a retailer for the Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage online, though Terroirs and Vanilla Grape do have the next bottle down called “Equinoxe”. I recall having it in The Cellar Restaurant under The Merrion a couple of years back and really quite liking it, so I’ll have to pick up a bottle again soon.
John Wilson of the Irish Times didn’t seem to find the acidity of Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage too much, not that he could say in the handful of words he’s permitted at least (2011 vintage notwithstanding).
Though a little late in the posting – given this is based on a tasting conducted on the 6th November – if you’re reading this before Christmas Day then in theory this is actually perfectly well timed for the festive season. That’s how I’m validating the delay to myself anyway.
Last month I popped in to the Big Rhône Tasting that took place in the atmospheric subterranean vaults of Ely CHQ to get my chops around the wines of the famous southern French wine region.
This is the second iteration of Rhône Wine Week, organised by Rhône experts and general all-round lovely people Tyrrell & Co. (Wine Importers) Ltd with a little help from Inter Rhônes. It’s heartening to see the love and support Simon Tyrrell et al receive from the wine community before and during this week, all of it absolutely warranted.
Events are run up and down the country in the shape of everything from light and fun intro evenings to serious tastings and brain-churning quizzes that would make the most expert wine buff sweat.
Throw in radio spots, dinners and lots more besides, and you have an amazingly well-assembled and comprehensive paean to a region Simon Tyrrell feels is under-loved; at this rate there no fear of that being a reality for much longer.
My first port of call was the Findlater Wine & Spirit Group stand to call in on some friends and former colleagues who on this occasion were showing a nice broad range of wines from renowned- and sometimes controversial – Rhône producer M. Chapoutier. I’ve written extensively about the living legend that is Michel Chapoutier and his company which you can swot up on again here.
Chapoutier ‘Belleruche’ Rouge Côtes du Rhône 2013 €15.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; The Vintry, Rathgar, Dublin; Molloys Off-Licences, Dublin; Martins of Fairview, Dublin; Next Door Off-Licences nationwide; Mitchell & Son, Dublin
Soft and sweet but still some nice drying tannins at the end; cherry and coffee with some of the expected spiciness, but not excessively. Quite good value for money and another wine that dispels my quickly-fading fear of generic Côtes du Rhône.
Chapoutier Gigondas 2011 €25.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; WineOnline.ie
A really lovely wine with a much more floral nose than expected, underlaid with some herbal characteristics and leather. The palate is light and silky but has a slightly bitter, tannic finish that cries out for food. Great tasting on its own at a table but would be amazing with some meaty fare.
Chapoutier ‘Les Meysonniers’ Crozes-Hermitage 2012 €20.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; Millésima
This wine was much more the ‘typical’ Rhône style I had come to expect with noticeable spice and a kick of heat over savoury, leathery flavours and dark red fruit. Despite this the palate was again much lighter and silkier than expected, with tannins nice and integrated.
Chapoutier ‘La Bernardine’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 €34.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; The Vintry, Rathgar, Dublin; WineOnline.ie; Millésima
Much more deep and concentrated this one, with brambly fruit, damson and blackberry with some grilled meat notes too. The palate is taut with only a gentle lick of black pepper spice – again another food-hungry wine.
Chapoutier Rasteau 2012 €19.99
I’ve written “more tactile than flavoursome” in my notes, but that’s not in a negative way: apart from some nice but general savoury, blackberry, slightly spicy characteristics, for me the wine was better enjoyed for its silky, taut, brooding palate. At this price it’s really good value for money, a sort of little brother to the ‘La Bernardine’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape perhaps. Really good value for money.
Best of the Rest
It’s incredible in retrospect, but I didn’t get to taste any white wines, most definitely a loss on my part as I rarely (correction: ever) get to taste white wines from the Rhône normally. But given the tight timing (I had to rush off to a dinner with friends) and the fact I was with a friend who was definitely a ‘red’ guy, then the whites had to be sacrificed in order to prioritise those wines that the region is most noted for. Next year I’ll be sure to sample some whites!
Simone Joseph ‘Les Vignes Paralleles’ Côtes du Rhône 2012 €13.45 from TheWineStore.ie; TheDrinkStore.ie
I had to do a double-take at the price of this wine – at €13.45 it’s incredible value for money. Though hardly the most complex wine of the evening, understandably, for some decent change out of €15 you get a lightly pleasant, interesting wine from Simon Tyrrell’s own négociant business.
Domaine Brusset Cairanne Côtes du Rhône Villages ‘Les Travers’ 2010 €19.99 from Mitchell & Sons, Dublin
Initially I got some worryingly ‘green’ aromas on the nose, which thankfully faded quickly enough to give way to deeply brooding, interesting, dark fruit aromas, and a taut, rich, long and spicy palate of black fruit and dried currants. Really quite excellent, another excellent value for money wine.
Domaine La Monardière Vacqueyras 2010 €22.85 from JNwine.com and WineOnline.ie
Another wine with little by way of tasting notes, but this time due to chatting away to the affable Jonathan Tonge of JN Wines. What I do have recorded, however, is that this was a delightfully light wine but with a palate that defied its weight with taut, heady, savoury flavours and a long delicious finish.
Domaine Brusset Gigondas ‘Tradition Le Grand Montmirail’ 2012 €25.99 from Mitchell & Sons, Dublin
A really good wine made somewhat unapproachable by its immense tannins. Paired with some intensely meaty dishes – an/or a little time – this would soften out to be a really notable wine.
Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012 €45.99 from Mitchell & Sons
One of the highest of highlights of the evening. I remember it taking my breath away, but evidently it took away my ability to write also as I simply have one word scrawled beside it in the booklet: “Wow!”
So I’ll have to refer you to Frankie Cook – who liked it also – who noted that, “it’s a delicious wine that showcases some of the best that Rhône Syrah can do. There is bacon and black olives, pepper and spice, but above all refined power from the fruit.” Read the full review here.
Domaine M. et S. Ogier d’Ampuis Côte-Rôtie 2010 €74.95 from TheWineStore.ie
Wow wow wow – incredibly alluring and multi-faceted aromas above a saline, gorgeous palate of coffee, dates, cassis; long and luxurious, a stunner.
1860 Tempranillo €13.49 from Londis; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide
After some refreshing whites (especially a lovely Rueda) it was then on to the reds for which Marqués de Riscal is famed. José Luis began with the “1860 Tempranillo” which is from the broader Castilla y León region next door to Rioja. I’m not sure of the history behind this wine as José Luis didn’t bring it up on the day and I’ve found it hard to find anything substantial about it online, but given it’s their ‘introductory red’ for want of a better term, this is understandable.
Coming in a handy screwcap, it had a very fruit-forward style with some juicy sweet cherry, liquorice and toast, with only some minor tannin and acidity. In other words it’s a consumer-friendly, weekday or party wine that can be easily enjoyed on its own. Oh, it’s a blend of Tempranillo, Merlot and Syrah in a proportion of approximately 85/7.5/7.5.
Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2008 €22.99 from Tesco; Dunnes Stores; SuperValu; Londis; Centra; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide; www.thewineshop.ie; Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview, Dublin; and all other good independent off-licences
Finally on to the flagship wine, and it was here that I had my previous misconceptions dispelled. What I remembered to be an unreliably over-oaked, flabby and uninteresting wine (like so many other Riojas I’ve experienced) turned out in fact to offer up more balanced leather and tobacco notes with some typical – but not excessive – vanilla. It was heady and decadent but not too serious, thankfully, as there should always be an element of “mañana” in Spanish wines at this level I think.
The palate was taut and savoury, and again happily devoid of any oaky sweetness. Our host, Brasserie Le Pont, served up some steak sandwiches with aïoli and caramelised onion around this point, and in doing so provided me with one of those epic food & wine pairing moments that some speak about … yes, it’s hardly a revolutionary or innovative match, but my God was it a gorgeous pairing.
Marqués de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva 2005 €41.99 from Shiels Supermarket Malahide, Dublin; Bradley’s Off Licence, Cork; O’Driscoll’s Supermarket, Cork; 1601 Off Licence, Kinsale, Cork
Then it was on to the more premium bottlings, with their Rioja Gran Reserva first up. While Reserva wines spend one year in oak and two years in the bottle, Gran Reserva wines must spend two years in oak and three in the bottle (or thereabouts). So what you get is a more aged wines which, all things going well, will be deeper, more complex and longer-lasting than the tier below it.
Marqués de Riscal’s Gran Reserva had a less expressive nose than the Reserva, with typical tertiary aromas of black tea with some subtle spice and old faded leather. Though it was a very good wine in its own right I perhaps preferred the more forward and decadent Reserva to be honest, though many would prefer this more austere style I’m sure.
Marqués de Riscal ‘150 Aniversario’ Rioja Gran Reserva 2001 €50.49 from Donnybrook Fair, Dublin; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Vintage Wine Investments, Killarney, Kerry
This is a “particular favourite” of José Luis’s, and it certainly has the regal provenance to back this up: celebrating the 150th anniversary of the winery (duh!) and made from vines averaging eighty years of age, this includes a 5% dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon, something that Riscal are one of the few producers permitted to do in Rioja due to a rule that states that anything planted over sixty years previous is deemed to now be a ‘local’ variety. So lots of history there, no pressure.
This is definitely one that benefitted from time in the glass as it opened up throughout the tasting. Again, like the “regular” Gran Reserva above this was tight and lean with, again, those dried black tea leaves and leather notes, but this time with a definite blackcurrant and pencil lead streak underneath, most likely from the Cabernet (though the power of persuasion could have played a part).
Baron de Chirel 2006 €68.99 from La Touche Wines, Greystones
Here we go, the biggie: its provenance, place in history, the weight of the bottle and even the epic-sounding name all suggest something special, and special it was. There are a few random quips dotted around my tasting notes, things like “so, so good”, “mindblowing”, “amazing” and “texture is incredible”. Nothing but goodness it seems then.
This was the first ‘new wave’ wines of Rioja which used 100% new French oak barriques and use of modern vinification techniques, which was a shock to the family when first produced back in 1986. Nothing better than a rebel wine that delivers the goods.
This had a really elegant and intriguing nose which I dubbed “soft and classy, quite forgiving, so complex but shy” – yep, I can really talk a lot of bullshit when spell-bound. But that can only be a good thing, really. The superlatives in my notes go on: “palate is velvety and elegant, fine grained, incredible, such class, one of the best wines I’ve tasted”. As cringey as these notes read now, looking over it a few months later, to re-word them now would lose the sheer awe and excitement experienced when tasting this wine for the first time. My favourite of the tasting by far.
Frank Gehry Selection Rioja Gran Reserva 2001 Approx.€400.00, but not available in Ireland
The last wine was one of the company’s most revered and rare: the Frank Gehry Selection 2001, which I was told in fact had never been tasted publicly outside the winery before, so quite the treat this was. Of course that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been enjoyed by other people worldwide; in fact José Luis made the passing comment that Frank Gehry himself is single-handedly threatening reserve stocks of the wine by giving bottles away to his family and friends, the latter of which consists of notable names such as a certain Brad Pitt.
This is a very limited production wine named in honour of, and made in association with, the eponymous architect of Marqués de Riscal’s now famous “City of Wine” as a sort of thanks perhaps and also in an effort to continue the relationship beyond construction of their outrageously fantastic building. Indeed, it took Gehry six months to simply design the label, which consists of a pile of squiggles. The artistic process, eh?
The current bottling, José Luis admits, is even now a little closed, which would go some way to explaining my notes that it was somewhat muted and tight with the palate a little overly grippy and concentrated. So some more time, and/or air was needed for this particular bottle, and no surprise there given the forensic approach to making the wine. So as happy as I was experiencing the rare occasion of tasting a €400+ wine, I’d be happy with the relatively modest €70 Baron de Chirel any time…
A Bit of Banter: Screwcaps and Milking Cows
It was then that Señor José Luis Muguiro leaned back, stretched his legs, and gave his time graciously to the gathering, a rarity well appreciated whenever it happens. Being, effectively, a global brand ambassador, José Luis was full of banter and anecdotes, such as the time when he was dispatched to Riverstick in Co. Cork as a teenager in order to improve his English. Imagine that: an exotic, sunned Spaniard rocking up to a small Irish village some 17kms from Cork city, milking cows in his spare time. Even with the most established of families there are always some surprising idiosyncrasies!
The chat also included some revealing research that Marqués de Riscal conducted into the screwcap vs cork closure debate, a debate spurred on by the Riscal’s decision to seal the 1860 Tempranillo under the former. José Luis roughly outlined the tests they did: basically, they put 10 bottles of a wine under cork and another 10 bottles of the same wine under screwcap (he didn’t mention what wine unfortunately).
When they revisited the wines five years later, ten of the ten screwcapped wines were perfect he said. However, seven of the ten wines under cork had “lost colour” (so I’m assuming it was a red), two of the ten were ‘corked’ or spoiled in some way, and only one of the ten was ‘perfect’. Although this experiment is lacking a rigid scientific approach – though I’ll admit we didn’t probe too deeply into the specifics – it is quite revealing that one of the oldest companies in one of the most historic wine regions of the world have shown screwcaps to be more reliable for the purposes under which they tested then. The debate goes on.
Finally, amongst all the wine geekery, José Luis let loose on one of those impassioned monologues that I love in which winemakers sometimes indulge themselves; that is, after yet another question on grams per litre of sugar content or specific level of toasting of the barrels, said wine figure lets loose about the ‘spirit’ of wine rather than its specifics or technical details, the importance of its soul over analytics and technicalities.
For José Luis, his moment came when someone asked about a certain food and wine pairing: “You hear this stuff about wines smelling like ‘horses’ stables’ … that’s bullshit! The important thing is to make good, fine wine that goes well with food; the important thing is that it’s fine, and that it goes well with food.”