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A Quick Tokaji Comparison

Things have been a little quiet on this site of late, so I thought I’d quickly jot down an impromptu Tokaji comparison I conducted after lunch one day (such are the joys of working from home!) while a larger, weightier piece I’m looking forward to writing soon is brooding in the background.

I really like sweet wines, but my experience of them to date has been very restricted for a number of reasons, the over-arching one being that very few people – or nobody that I know at least – seem to share my love of these golden elixers. This doesn’t seem to happen with regular dry wines: even if someone isn’t a fan of a style or variety that you open for them over dinner the likelihood is that they’ll drink it anyway, or the bottle will somehow magically empty itself over the course of the evening one way or another.

But this doesn’t happen with sweet wines, which seem to have a Marmite effect on people, especially here in Ireland. If you decide to round off a nice dinner with friends by opening up that bottle of stickie that you’ve been saving, the chances are you’ll be the only one enjoying it, save perhaps one other curious friend.

And unlike dry wine, emptying half the bottle – or most of one if your liver’s up to it – simply isn’t an option, unless diabetes is a disease you’re particularly fond of. So to date I’ve had to keep my sweet wine affection in check, except for the odd time I would get it by the glass in a restaurant.

But this has now all changed thanks to my trusty Coravin, a very generous Christmas present from my family and something with which I have absolutely fallen head-over-heels in love with since. It allows me to take measures of wine from a bottle without it spoiling, opening up the possibility of enjoying the same bottle over the course of years rather than days. Watch this space for a more extensive write-up on this magic device at a later date…

Tokaji

So, after lunch one day I got the notion to have a small glass of sweet wine, specifically a Tokaji, and upon opening my fridge I remembered I had two available, both bought in Budapest airport on the return leg of a holiday in said capital city (which I would highly recommend).

Tokaji (pronounced “toke-eye”) is one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, enjoyed for centuries by the great and good: Russian tsars, Polish kings, Austrian emperors and even Louis XIV of France are amongst its roll call of admirers.

Tokaji wines consist mostly of an indigenous grape called Furmint which are allowed to be inflicted with ‘noble rot’ (botrytis cinerea to the geeks out there). This is where a benign mould dessicates the grapes on the vine, increasing their sugar levels (since there’s now less water) but also increasing acidity, giving a happy coincidence of a wine that’s both simultaneously sweet and refreshing when done right.

This is usually about it as far as many other styles sharing this process are concerned, Sauternes included, but Tokaji differs in that this syrupy sweet wine – called aszú and which sometimes in the form of a ground up paste of grape musts – is effectively added back into vats of regular dry wine.

Traditionally the grapes were collected in 20 litre wooden tubs or hods called puttonyos, and the end style and sweetness of the wine was demarcated with how many of these puttonyos were added to each barrel of regular wine. On a scale of one to six: the more puttonyos, the sweeter, richer and rarer the Tokaji.

Mouldy grapes in a puttonyo – yum!

The two Tokaji wines I had were both “5 Puttonyos”, one click off the top of the aszú hierarchy (there is though a fabled Essencia categorisation above this). Obviously, in today’s winemaking world, “number of tubs in a barrel” isn’t exactly the most accurate or encouraging categorisation, so they’ve shifted to the more scientific measurement of grams of sugar per litre – in this case,  5 Puttonyos equals 120g/L, and where the aszú grapes account for approx. 70% of the final blend.

So, how were the wines?


 

Grof Degenfeld Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2004
Approx. €40-€45, not available in Ireland

Surprisingly light with a little tartness, redolent of pear drops and apricot. It has a zingy fruity sweetness that I couldn’t put a finger on until I did a quick search online to clarify the name and came across a tasting note that mentioned marmalade, which sums it up nicely. Fresh and flavoursome and deliciously moreish, with a depth and complexity befitting its (still relatively young) years.

 

Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2008
€34.99 from Mitchell & Sons and The Corkscrew

Much more on the caramel and butterscotch end of the spectrum but still nicely balanced nevertheless, and not too cloying. Maybe lacks the complexity of the Grof Degenfeld but then again it’s four years younger, so it’s not a fair comparison. There are apricots again, but more of the dried variety and blended with a fresher, honeyed characteristic that marks it apart from the Grof Degenfeld.

Dublin

Six of the Best Wine Bars in Dublin’s City Centre

Last week the Irish travel website Get Real Irish Tours posted a piece by me where I gave my six favourite wine bars in Dublin’s city centre. I’m re-posting here to give it a second airing, mostly to benefit those who may have missed it first time around, but also maybe perhaps breaking a blog drought in the process (ahem).

Where’s your favourite place? Leave your opinions in the comment section below.

 


 

Ely

The original Ely, located on (and named after) Ely Place just off St. Stephen’s Green, was established in 1999 by Erik and Michelle Robson, whose vision was for a wine bar in the continental style complemented by thoughtful, slow-cooked food with meats supplied by the family farm in Co. Clare in the west of Ireland. The wine, in other words, came first, with food provided to complement it – a concept generally unheard of in Ireland to that point.

Sixteen years later, Ely has firmly established itself as the most prominent wine destination in Dublin. With two locations in Dublin – one either side of the River Liffey – they offer focused wine evenings, cookery classes and even a cook book, not to mention consistently winning enough awards to constantly worry their mantelpiece.

Combine this with an manifesto issued in 2014 declaring a shake-up of their pricing policy to make fine wines more affordable to the consumer, and it’s easy to see how this stalwart of the Irish wine scene has become a byword for all that is good with wine in Dublin.

Ely Wine Bars
22 Ely Place, Dublin 2. 01 676 8986
CHQ, IFSC, Dublin 1. 01 672 0010 


 

Fallon & Byrne

Fallon & Byrne broke new ground in 2006 when they opened their large, airy, New York-style emporium of luxury food in Dublin’s city centre, the first of its kind ever seen on this scale in Ireland.

Situated in the former Telephone Exchange building in Exchequer Street, on the ground floor they have a fine food market, deli, fishmonger, butcher, cheesemonger and café; a restaurant on the first floor; and a wine bar – as is de rigueur nowadays – in the basement.

The wine bar really made a name for itself by introducing “Happy Mondays”, which gave wine-loving Dubliners the opportunity to enjoy any bottle off their shelves for a measly €1 corkage (usual price €10) – all supplemented, of course, by Fallon & Byrne’s tasty menu of nibbles, sharing platters, and more substantial fare.

Fallon & Byrne
11-17 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2
01 472 1010 


 

Olesya’s

Literally across the street from Fallon & Byrne, this cosy little spot is great all year round, but really comes into its own on the (rare) warm evenings in Dublin when Olesya’s can fling open their large street front windows to provide a truly continental, almost al fresco experience.

The list is impressively expansive with the by-the-glass offerings changing regularly, and those a little less confident in their wine knowledge can rest easy here thanks to concise descriptions of what can be expected from each bottle.

Like other winebars, Olesya’s offers a tasty menu to accompany their wines, but for me their charcuterie boards are the real draw. This writer has more than once been felled by the enormity of their Deluxe Platter, a veritable smorgasbord of cheeses, meats and other accoutrements that can be a struggle to finish, even when shared. Other offerings of note is the Seafood Platter which has a distinctly Russian theme to it, a nod to the Siberian homeland of its owner Olesya Mylnikova, containing pickled vegetables and cured seafood.

With monthly wine masterclasses based around specific themes and live jazz on most Wednesday evenings from 7pm, this quirky little spot has a great ‘neighbourhood wine bar’ feel to it, albeit slap bang in Dublin’s city centre.

Olesya’s Wine Bar
18 Exchequer Street, Dublin
(01) 672 4087


 

KC Peaches Wine Cave

Don’t let the name scare you, this is more cosy basement than cold cave. Katie Cantwell – the “KC” of her eponymous chain – opened her first outlet on Pearse Street in 2006 offering mountains of healthy fresh salads and hot food, mixed-and-matched to your liking and sold by the plate.

Nine years later and there are now four KC Peaches in Dublin’s city centre, with this Nassau Street location offering its own wine-lover’s hideaway. In keeping with the wholefood philosophy of their food businesses their wine selection offers a large number of organic and biodynamic offerings, which of course can be enjoyed with some hearty, mindfully curated food and live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Though in existence for a couple of years now, the room and wine list have both been revamped of late, offering a new and exciting alternative to getting your wine fix in Dublin’s city centre. That is, of course, if you can make it past the mounds of incredible baked goods stacked enticingly in the window of the entrance.

KC Peaches
28-29 Nassau Street, Dublin 2
0 1 633 6872


 

Bagots Hutton

Located slap bang in what is colloquially known as the “Hipster Triangle” of Dublin, Bagots Hutton – named after the wine merchant trading from that exact location from 1829 to the 1980’s – offers a wine experience infused with a design aesthetic befitting the area.

But don’t expect form over function here: this is a luxuriously cosy space full of soft leather sofas and candlelight, a carefully curated wine list and a notable and diverse food menu. It’s a mish-mash of offerings, and that’s just how they like it: from casual passing trade in the front during the day, to cosy social wine hangout in the back in the evenings, right the way through to hopping venue at the weekends, this is a chameleon of a bar but one that always has wine and food as its premise.

What’s more they like to mix things up, with an “Aperitivo Hour” every day, then “Meaty Mondays” and “Cheesy Tuesdays” where you get a free meat or cheese board with your bottle of wine respectively. Something for everyone in the heart of the hottest area in Dublin – what’s not to like?

Bagots Hutton Wine Emporium
28 William Street South, Dublin 2
01 534 3956


 

Stanley’s

Technically more of a restaurant than a stand-alone wine bar – though the ground floor of this location would fit that description nicely – the newly opened Stanley’s gets a notable mention here given its conscientious and reverential approach to wine.

In addition to a carefully curated selection of interesting and original wines available by the glass, there’s a sizeable and varied set of sweet/fortified wines, an entirely separate list dedicated solely to “The Wonderful World of Sherry” and even an innovative “Skin Contact Wine Flight” offering an introduction to white wines made using ancient methods.

Not only that, but Stanley’s Wine Director, Morgan Vanderkamer, holds regular wine club events and winemaker dinners, taking this passion for grape well beyond their impeccable list. You won’t find your run-of-the-mill Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc here, and Dublin is all the better for it.

Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar
7 Saint Andrew’s Street, Dublin 2
01 485 3273

Lidl Cartoon

The Lidl French Wine Selection for Easter 2015

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…

 


 

The Bubbles

 

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.

 


 The Whites

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.

Lidl Pouilly FumeThere 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

 

Lidl Chateau ArnaudChâteau 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.

 

Lidl Chateau PithivierChâteau 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.

 

Lidl Chateau de ClotteChâteau 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

 

Lidl Domaine la RocheDomaine 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.

 

Lidl L’Enclos de Chateau Saint PeyL’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.

 

Lidl Tour de LarozeTour 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.

 

Lidl Saint JosephSaint-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.

 

Lidl VacqueyrasSerabel 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.

Wine Label Wallpaper

Wines I’ve Had Recently: December 2014 to February 2015

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.

 

Yalumba ‘Y Series’ Viognier 2009
South Australia. 100% Viognier
€15.99 from Deveney’s, Greenacres, thewineshop.ie

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.

 

Ornellaia 2011
D.O.C. Bolgheri. 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot
€165 from Cabot & Co. (or €150 for the 2009 from The Corkscrew and Mitchell & Sons)

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.

The Corkscrew

Highlights from The Corkscrew Winter Wine Fair – Part 2

 For Part 1 – which included my sparkling and white wine choices – click here.

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:

Allegrini La Grola 2010
€27.95 from The Corkscrew, Mitchell & SonWineOnline.ie

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.

 

Château du Cèdre Heritage Malbec 2011
€14.95 from Le Caveau, The Corkscrew, TheWineShop.ie

Another great value wine from Le Caveau with fresh, juicy, ripe sweet fruit. Given it’s organically produced the value is even more impressive.

 

Chaume-Arnaud Côtes du Rhône 2012
€16.55 from Le Caveau, MacGuinness Wine Merchants

Another VGVFM (Very Good Value For Money) wine; medium-bodied, spicy and noticeable tannins that cry out for some meaty food. A traditional blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Cinsault.

 

Maison Ambroise, Cotes de Nuits Villages 2010
€28.90 from Le Caveau and MacGuinnes Wine Merchants

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.

 

Mouchão 2007
€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.

The Corkscrew Winter Wine Fair

Highlights from The Corkscrew Winter Wine Fair – Part 1

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:

 

Charles Heidsieck Brut NV Champagne
€60-65 from Castle Off-Licence, Mitchell & Son, O’Brien’s, Terroirs

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.)

 

Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Cuvée Cuis 1er Cru NV
€54.95 from The Corkscrew and the Wine Workshop

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.

 

Bodegas Menade Rueda 2013
€14.65 from Le Caveau and Quintessential Wines

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.

 

Jean Chartron Rully 2012
€29.95 from The Corkscrew

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.

Hermitage Hill

A Murder of Crozes

I had intended this to be a sort of addendum to my last post about the Ely Big Rhône Tasting, but figured it would be long enough for its own post. Also I really needed to finish the last one in a hurry.

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.

One of the few pictures available online of Charles Derain!

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.

Charles was Head Sommelier in Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud for over 6 years and produces the critically-acclaimed Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône with wine polymath extraordinaire Simon Tyrrell, so to say he knows what he’s doing is an understatement. You can read a really good Q&A with Charles and Simon on Julie Dupouy’s new blog.

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 and Alaine Graillot (Photo: vigneronsdexception.com)

 

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.

 

Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2012
€29.50 from Mitchell & Son, Terroirs and Vanilla Grape

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.

 

 End Result

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!

 


 

Postscript

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).