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.

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.

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).
Ely Rhone WIne Tasting

The Ely Big Rhône Tasting 2014

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.

You can read more about the week on the Rhône Wine Week website, as well as Jean Smullen’s Wine Diary and plenty of other places if you Google it.

 


The Findlater Selection

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.ieMillésima
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.

Riscal Wines

Marqués de Riscal: 156 Years in 156 Minutes (Part 2)


Read part one of this feature by clicking here.

The Reds

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…

 

Jose Luis

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.”

I think that’s a good note on which to leave it.

 

José Luis with a bottle of Frank Gehry Selection 2001 (photo by Kevin Ecock at firstpress.blogspot.com)

 


Kevin Ecock was also at the tating and wrote a good piece on it which you can read here.

Marques de Riscal Hotel

Marqués de Riscal: 156 Years in 156 Minutes (Part 1)

The title is roughly true – give or take an hour – but never let the truth get in the way of a catchy headline.

This is the next in my series of blog posts titled “Clearing Accumulated Crap Off My Mac Desktop” (click here for the previous cathartic ramble) comes this one on iconic Rioja producer Marqués de Riscal.

In all seriousness my delay in posting this has nothing to do with lack of enthusiasm or respect. In fact it’s quite the opposite: I originally misunderstood Marqués de Riscal to be one of those many big old Riojas favoured by boorish cigar-chomping bankers that choose it simply because it’s one of the only wine names they know beyond “Chablis” and “Claret”.

However I’m glad to say that my perception changed for the better when a few months ago Señor José Luis Muguiro – officially titled Global Sales Manager but in reality a sort of catch-all ambassador, figurehead, historian, consultant, family member and much more – visited Ireland. Regular readers will have read (I hope) my interview with him in a previous post.

And so I ended up writing this a somewhat longer and heavier post than expected, partly due to a newfound respect and admiration but also due the number of wines on tasting, requiring this to be split into two parts (I’ll really have to start becoming more concise). Oh, and I was too busy and lazy until now to edit it. Whoops!

Old-school Riscal winemaking (Image: marquesderiscal.com)
Old-school Riscal winemaking (Image: marquesderiscal.com)
The Company

Having been established in 1858 or 1860 by either Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga or Guillermo Hurtado de Amézaga – depending on what source you trust – Marqués de Riscal is one of Rioja’s oldest wineries and very widely known to many, but I didn’t realise the history of how instrumental they were in revolutionising the wine industry in Spain.

Hurtado de Amézaga (as we’ll call him for simplicity), founder of Riscal (as we’ll call it for simplicity), produced wines in the typically local way for a few years before reverting to the practices of the region from which he emigrated to Rioja: Bordeaux. Out went the big old wooden barrels and in came smaller, new oak barriques, along with a new-fangled grape variety called Cabernet Sauvignon and the practice of bottling only grapes that were estate-grown, amongst other things.

Not only that, but Hurtado de Amézaga invented the gold wire mesh that is seen on many a bottle of Rioja nowadays, an anti-fraud measure designed, depending again on who you ask, to prevent empty bottled being re-filled with lesser juice (where the net needed to be cut to open the cork) or to stop expensive labels being stuck onto bottles of inferior wine. Either way our Hurtado was proving himself to be quite the polymath.

That famous Riscal gold wire netting
That famous Riscal gold wire netting

But it wasn’t just 19th Century Rioja that Riscal set about shaking up. Dissatisfied with the greasy, overly-oaked whites produced in Rioja at the time, Riscal pre-empted the fashion for crisp, clean whites by a good 40 years and discovered a style they best preferred in a little-known region northwest of Madrid called Rueda, planting their first vines there in 1972 and pushing for the establishment of the area as a recognised Denominación de Origen in 1980. Rueda, needless to say, is now one of the most popular white wines you’ll find on restaurant lists worldwide.

Finally, their release in 1986 of a top-end, Cabernet-heavy wine they called Barón de Chirel prompted the entire Rioja region to explore making fuller, more internationally styled wines, again predicting a trend that was to take off around 10 years later.

Throw in an outlandish, futuristic, award-winning hotel and winery complex and you’ll probably more clearly understand that “nothing stands still for long at this traditional, but consistently innovative bodega”, as Tim Atkin remarks in this immensely helpful and concise article.

This unusual mix of history mixed with revolutionary impulses was acknowledged by US magazine Wine Enthusiast when they named them European Winery of the Year last year, highlighting that it was their “willingness to take risks, and the successes that have resulted” that sealed the deal for them.

 

The Whites

We started off with two white wines from Rueda: one made from Sauvignon Blanc and the other from the local Verdejo variety. Given that Riscal were pretty much the first commercial winery in the area this meant that the vines for the first two whites are largely from 1974-1976.

Marques de Riscal Sauvignon Blanc copyMarqués de Riscal Sauvignon Blanc
€14.49 from SuperValu; Londis; Centra; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide

Interestingly, the company initially started out planting Chardonnay alongside Verdejo in Rueda, but a few years of capricious frosts pointed the company towards Sauvignon Blanc, which took to the colder weather better.

This has a herbaceous and yellow fruit character that stands it apart from the overt New Zealand style that has become so tiring over the years, with some zinging acidity initially that softens out mid-palate.

 

Marques de Riscal Rueda copyMarqués de Riscal Rueda
€13.49 from SuperValu; Londis; Centra; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide; http://www.thewineshop.ie; Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; Fine Wines, Limerick

This was much more to my style and had a really lovely, intensely aromatic nose and was lively all through the palate. It was simple and refreshing, and cried out for seafood. It was summer in a glass, but unfortunately I was distracted half way through tasting and didn’t take any more notes. Not to worry, just take it that this is definitely recommended.

 

Marques de Riscal Rosado copyMarqués de Riscal Rosado
€13.49 from Next-door Off Licences nationwide and Joyce’s of Galway

Before moving on to the reds we crossed the bridge of Rosado. It has a fresh but slightly muted nose that carried a suggestion of cranberry juice. The palate was slightly herbal and quite dry with hints of cranberry and raspberry. It used to be 100% Tempranillo but Garnacha was added to the blend to lighten the colour, bowing to market preference for more pinkish-coloured rosés and giving it a more Provencal look in the process.

 

 

Click here to read part two.

WineTiles

Wines I’ve Had Recently (September to November 2014)

I’ve had a folder sitting on my desktop named “Wines” which contained an increasing number of hastily-taken iPhone photos of wines I’ve had over the last couple of months, and only now I’ve finally come around to writing up the  notes on them. At last!

Some I took proper notes for – recorded on my CellarTracker account – others I’m only recalling now off the top of my head. Looking back over the below it looks like I haven’t had a lucky time of it as it appears at first that I didn’t like any of them! But apart from one or two duds I did really enjoy all of them, despite some honest reservations or critiques which I had no problem in highlighting of course.

This on-the-fly round-up of wines I’ve tasted at home or out and about will likely be a regular feature, so I hope you enjoy this inaugural edition!

 

Chanson Gevrey-ChambertinChanson Père et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin 2007
€48.50 from O’Brien’s, nationwide; and Millesima
Really very nice, though perhaps lacks the complexity for the price. Nicely balanced with savoury characteristics to the fore. Nice minerality and delicate acidity. Good length, a good all-round package but, as I said, I was found wanting somewhat.

 

Patrick Regnault Champagne Grand CruPatrick Regnault Champagne Grand Cru Vintage 2004
€40.00 from The French Paradox, Dublin
Delicate with baked pear most evident. Lean and a refreshing, but maybe a bit one-dimensional. This is a fantastic price for a vintage Grand Cru, but I was expecting perhaps more complexity for the prestige.

 

Serego Aligheri AnniversarioSerego Alighieri Valpolicella dell’Anniversario 2009
Approx. €20.00
A wine that impressed me immensely when I tasted it first maybe 3-4 years ago. Far richer than your usual light and refreshing Valpolicella – in fact it’s more comparable to Masi’s ripasso-style Campofiorin (Serego Aligheri is produced by Masi which may explain the potential similarity). This had kirsch cherry and bitter chocolate notes over a concentrated, taut palate.

 

Pol Roger 2000Pol Roger Champagne Vintage 2000
€67.99 from O’Brien’s, nationwide; Terroirs, Dublin; Mitchell & Son, Dublin; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin
The big one: taut and complex, mineral and steely, this was really impressive. I expected it to simply be a “better version” of the Pol Roger ‘White Foil’ non vintage whereas in fact it was it wasn’t really possible to compare this reserved and austere offering to the richer, more forward non-vintage label.

 

Domaine Guillot-Broux Mâcon-CruzilleDomaine Guillot-Broux Mâcon-Cruzille 2010
€19.99 in On The Grapevine, Dublin and Cabot & Co., Mayo
I tasted this originally a couple of years ago in On The Grapevine in Dalkey when they had a bottle open on tasting. I was really impressed by it: a refreshing and interesting Burgundian Pinot, whereas I was taken aback by the fact that it was in fact 100% Gamay, which I thought was only grown with any seriousness in Beaujolais. In fact Mâcon-Cruzille Rouge AOC can only be produced Gamay. I’ll need to read up on that one.

With some chagrin I bought a bottle to enjoy later. Problem is that I might have left it too late: this was, four years on, overly acidic and lacking in fruit, and a bit of a chore to get through. Either that or the bottle was flawed. Pity, but maybe I’ll try a fresher vintage some other time.

 

Chateau Dereszla Sparkling TokajiChateau Dereszla Sparkling Tokaji
€14.99 from Mitchell & Son, Dublin
A Hungarian sparkling wine made from a grape more famous for its sweet wines. If that doesn’t turn heads at your next dinner party then I don’t know what will (actually, here are few other fantastic factoids). This proudly proclaims itself as being frizzante, or lightly sparkling, despite being sealed under the traditional ‘mushroom cork’ used for fully-sparkling Champagne and Cava.

Pungent passionfruit, grapefruit and very ripe pear leap from the glass. Palate is equally generous with the sweet white fruit. Unfortunately it lacks the acidity or balance to offset its off-dry style – might be pleasurable for many but not my style. A nice interesting sparkler that’s well priced and goes down easily, but I’m not reaching for the third glass.

 

Allegrini Palazzo della TorreAllegrini Palazzo della Torre 2011
€24.99 from Mitchell & Son, Dublin; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; The Vineyard, Galway; Red Nose Wine, Tipperary; Greenacres, Wexford; The Drink Store, Dublin; WineOnline.ie
Very ripe and fruit forward, thick and mouthfilling palate, blackberry, smoke, some vanilla. Hedonistic, a bit chunky, but appealing if a big gutsy wine is what you’re after. Though in the same league as the Napa Cellars, above, in terms of weight and style, it has the balance and depth to match up to its beefy nature which is what the Napa Cellars lacked. A really nice drop.

 

CXVBodegas La Rosa CXV Cientoquince 2011
€26.95 from No. 21 Off-Licence, Cork
Really lovely, rich wine but with a balance that belies its 14.5% alcohol and New World origins. Not a shy wine by any means, this has plenty of sweet vanilla and coconut but that glycerine sweetness that’s usual from 14.5% alcoholic blockbusters is not much evident (again, see Napa Cellars above), resulting in a smooth and refreshing, full-bodied red. Nicely integrated tannin with a tingle of salinity. Really recommended.