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Tasting the Past: The Port From 1916

“Epic” is a grossly over-used adjective nowadays, which is unfortunate since it is the most appropriate word I can think of for an incredible event I attended recently.

The occasion in question, held by Tindals Wine Merchants, was billed as an exciting but nevertheless not uncommon tasting of a range of old Dow’s Port vintages. But it actually turned out to be an intensely familial affair that involved history, war, revolution, fire and tongs, a long-lost treasure, a travel through time and a heartfelt toast to those gone and those yet to come.

What caused this tasting to be more than a relatively straightforward retrospective was the inclusion of an exceedingly rare and long-forgotten bottle of Port from 1916. Not only was it a century old, but its significance was heightened by the resonance that particular year has on us Irish.

The more experienced and established wine writers have at least one vinous experience in their lives that was for them transformational or transcendental, or both. I thought it would be some time yet until I had mine – until this event, that is.

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old Port

 

Out of the Frying Pan…

In case enough stops weren’t pulled out by Tindals, the venue was One Pico, a restaurant I highly admire but ashamedly hadn’t been to in some years. What’s more I was welcomed on arrival with a glass of Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain, a very fine and elegant Champagne which I also have to admit I hadn’t tried previously, but one I’m sure to revisit many times again.

After some small talk with the always-ebullient members of the Tindal family I was introduced to a gentleman I didn’t recognise but whose name immediately rang bells: Johnny Symington, of the eponymous family who own a host of the most well-known Port brands such as Graham’s, Cockburns, Dow’s, Warre’s, Quinto do Vesuvio, and more.

Johnny was an absolute gentleman, a disposition that seems to bestow itself liberally on the family members of winemaking dynasties. He burned with keen interest in everyone he spoke to, and spoke eloquently about his family’s wines and history over the meal.

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Ah yes, the meal. The food was sublime. Really, One Pico is a true Dublin icon, and I urge everyone to make it their next destination for a meal out. In the noise generated by the Michelin stars and edgy, modern openings, it’s easy to forget the restaurants that are just simply classically excellent, day in, day out.

We started with the largest slab of foie gras parfait I’ve ever faced, and doubts about my ability to finish it were quickly dispelled via warm toasted brioche and fig chutney. This was paired with the Dow’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port (see below for tasting notes), a sublimely decadent treat.

Next was an autumnal Wicklow venison with beetroot, Roscoff onion, chanterelles and blackberries, a hearty and lusciously savoury dish paired excellently with the Quinta do Vesuvio DOC Douro (again see below for tasting notes), a dense wine that shared many of the characteristics of the dish.

The final course, a selection of cheeses, was to be paired with the flight of Ports about to be presented to us. But first, there was the matter of opening that bottle of 1916.

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… into the Fire

The moment arrived for the grand opening of this piece of history. There were no markings on the bottle, apart from a barely legible “1916” imprinted into the cork. But the corks on these antique bottles are now so brittle that corkscrews would easily disintegrate them – how then to access the ancient liquid inside?

The answer, as befitting the occasion, was quite dramatic. A pair of long-handled tongs was heated over a gas burner (with great patience!) by Nigel Werner, the Tindals Director of Fine Wine. Once red-hot, they were clamped around the neck of the bottle for a short while, before quickly being replaced by a cloth soaked in iced water.

The sudden change in temperature splits the neck of the bottle in a razor-sharp, clean line, with no shards or splinters to worry about. It’s quite a sight to behold.

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old Port

Now opened, we were each treated to a not insignificant measure of this rarity, a 100-year-old wine. Though everyone present was grateful for the chance to witness its release from its century-old tomb, not many held too much hope for a successful end product: it was stored upright all that time and not exactly in cellar-like conditions, so the odds were definitely stacked against it.

The liquid that poured from the neck of the unlabeled bottle into my glass was a pale tawny in colour and tasted … well it tasted really quite excellent, actually. In fact it was really delicious. The air in the room changed perceptibly as everyone else realised that they had, as the American saying goes, “lucked out”.

The 1916 Dow’s Port was light and ethereal, round and long, with coffee, toffee and pipe smoke flavours. Johnny noted that it was quite feminine in style, in contrast to the more concentrated Vintage Ports we’re used to today. It was an experiential treat, and one surely to be unrivaled.

 

The past beats inside me like a second heart” (John Banville, The Sea)

The 1916 bottle had an interesting history to it, as you might expect. It was donated to the tasting by siblings Sofia and Toby Couchman from Carlow, who discovered it in the back of a press in their family home. It was purchased by their grandfather some time ago and ‘tidied away’ by their grandmother, which goes some way to explaining how it may have been forgotten until now.

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Johnny introduced the rarity by informing us all that it was his great-grandfather, Andrew James Symington, who made the wine, most likely with his son, Johnny’s grandfather, at his side. In his preparation for its big reveal, Johnny delved into the archives to see what his grandfather made of the wine at harvest.

As it turned out, AJ Symington’s prediction was eerily prescient: “This vintage was quite good – I can see these wines lasting for some time.” I thought it touching to envisage Johnny reading his great grandfather’s hand-written notes of a wine that he now had in front of him.

It was time to toast the occasion. Picture the scene: we all held aloft glasses of a pale tawny liquid that came to life in the year that our own young country was awakening. Indeed, mere metres from where we were standing young men fought and died for a freedom that we enjoy today. Elsewhere in Europe, many, many others were perishing for a much greater cause.

A few years later a man bought a bottle of wine as a treat to himself; today, two of his grandchildren were sharing it with the great grandson of the person who made that very same drink.

We were all literally drinking the past, and what’s more it tasted alive, elegant, deferential … so very present. The past was now living on inside us, beating like a second heart.

And lest we ever forget about our own transient appearance on this earth, Johnny Symington signed off with the most resonant toast on this most symbolic of afternoons: “Here’s to the next hundred years.”

 

THREE TO TRY

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old PortDow’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port

€48 from Searsons

I’ve really taken to Tawny Port this year and it’s guaranteed I’ll have some on my Christmas table this December.

Tawny differs from other Port styles in that it’s aged in barrel rather than in the bottle, meaning it loses its bright red colouring and takes on a nutty, dried fruit character. What’s amazing about this (and other Tawnys) is its balance: sweet but refreshing, never cloying, decadent yet elegant, and just so moreish.

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old PortQuinta do Vesuvio DOC Douro

€60 from Searsons

Quinta do Vesuvio is another Symington family property.

Most well known for their very highly-regarded Ports, this is one of the two still red wine offering from the property.

It was very dense and intense, with dark plum, blackberry and chocolate. A chunky but elegant wine, and ideal with the venison that day.

 

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old PortDow’s 1994 Vintage Port

€180 (Magnum) from Searsons (in-store only)

The fact that you can pick up a magnum of 22-year-old Vintage Port from Dow’s for €180 is a travesty, but one anyone with half a wine brain should gleefully exploit. Though I didn’t get to taste the actual 1994 on the day I couldn’t let this recommendation slip by, and having tasted the Dow’s Ports back to 1916, 1947, 1963 and more, I can however absolutely attest to its longevity. The Wine Advocate give this 96 points this year, too – need any more reasons to pick up this beauty for Christmas?

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

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Charity Focus: Football for Refugees

This has nothing to do with wine, but I wanted to give some publicity to an amazing and innovative charity initiative set up by some friends of mine.

They’ve established an Irish-based NGO called Football For Refugees, a volunteer organisation that runs football festivals and funds football training for refugee children. They are presently operating on the island of Lesvos, in Greece.

Their core aim is to use football as a means to promote health, social integration and – most importantly, given everything that these children have already been through – fun.

They are having their first fundraising gig on Tuesday 20th December in Whelan’s in Dublin from 7:30pm to 11pm, in aid of the 2nd Football Festival that they will run in Lesvos in January 2017.

There will be good music, some merchandising for sale, and good craic on the night. Tickets are €15, which all goes to the charity, and are available on the door (or you can register your interest via the Facebook Event page here.)

Please follow them via these social media links, and there’s an opportunity to donate and/or get in touch via their website:

Websitewww.footballforrefugees.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/footballforrefugees 
Instagramwww.instagram.com/karatepeunited and www.instagram.com/footballforrefugees
Twitter: @karatepeunited and @futbol4refugees

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Here is a brief summary of who they are and what they do from a recent press release they sent me:

The 1st Refugee Football Festival in Lesvos took place in September and it was a great success.

Since then we have been sponsoring weekly football training for refugee children and youth of the Kara Tepe Refugee Camp, in partnership with a Lesvos-based NGO called Movement on the Ground.

Most of the volunteers are from Ireland, but some have come from Catalonia, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and UK.

As you know, there is a protracted refugee crisis in Greece and in Lesvos in particular (as it is a designated hotspot for the processing of asylum applications from refugees arriving from Turkey).

Refugees are stuck there until their applications for international protection are processed, and the processing time is almost as long as it is in Ireland!

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The living conditions are very precarious in Kara Tepe refugee camp and absolutely appalling in the bigger one, Moria.

This projects aims to extend European solidarity to the people of Greece as they have taught a lesson to the world in the humane manner in which they have treated hundreds of thousands of refugees who have landed on its shores, even when Europe let them down with the infamous, immoral and illegal agreement with Turkey which entered into force on 18 March this year. The project is implemented with the support and in partnership with the local Greek authorities and people.

If you cannot come to the gig but would like to support this project, we also welcome donations  🙂

We also welcome football gear i.e. football boots/shoes, socks, shin guards, shorts, and jerseys.

Any and all help and support will be most welcome as the kids will need shoes/boots for sure!

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An Odyssey of Kir-Yianni Wines from Greece

I think I’m lucky to have come into the wine game when I did. I’m now 33 and started in the wine trade eight years ago, meaning that I managed to avoid a great number of wine-related hang-ups and prejudices that most wine drinkers the generation above me seem to carry around with them.

I love Chardonnay, for example, in direct contravention of the Anything But Chardonnay ideology that seems to have afflicted those stung by the mistakes of the Aussies in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Similarly, I was never tainted by what I hear were wines of questionable quality from Greece, nor has their famous (but much-maligned) retsina crossed my lips.

So while at the Ely Big Tasting I came across a wine called Ramnista from Kir-Yianni, made from a grape new to me called Xinomavro, I was bowled over. Never did I think that Greek wines could taste like this, and from indigenous varieties too.

How lucky I was then that Gabriel Cooney of Grapevine in Dalkey, who imports Kir-Yianni wines here to Ireland, invited me to taste the full range of their wines at a jovial consumer evening in October. The night was hosted by Lambros Papadimitriou, officially Kir-Yianni’s Sales & Marketing Director but also their de facto export manager.

Accompanied by bread and some delicious 220 Trees olive oil – another Grecian import by Grapevine – we started into eleven of Kir-Yianni’s finest.

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Greek Wine: Long History, Short Tradition

Lambros began by deftly leading us through a brief history of Greek wine, proudly claiming that the first appellation system was established in Greece, with Homer’s extensive writings on the subject held up as evidence. Pramnian and Ismarian wines were particularly good at the time, apparently.

The wines of those times were sweet, for better preservation (and a result of incomplete fermentation I would guess), as well as being ultra-concentrated, resulting in the requirement that they be watered down before consumption. Indeed, only uncouth barbarians such as the Scythians of Crimea would drink undiluted wine at the time – savages!

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But it is what he said next that struck a chord: when it came to wine, the region “has a long history but a short tradition”. He extrapolated by explaining that, despite making wine since the 7th century BC, Greece produced nothing remarkable until the 1990’s, when a slew of educated and aspirational young winemakers decided to revamp and modernise the country’s wine offering.

These “New Old World” winemakers made a conscious decision to improve the quality of Greek wine for the better, introducing new technologies, better clonal selection, updated practices in both the vineyard and the winery, and, equally importantly, some much-needed EU funding.

A New Wave in an Old World

So it was came to be that Yiannis Boutaris founded Kir-Yianni winery, originally as a spin-off from the Boutari group founded by his grandfather, but which went completely independent of the famous drinks company in 1997.

Yiannis Boutaris is an interesting character we’re told. As well as naming the winery after himself – “Kir Yianni” roughly translates as “Sir Yianni” or “Sir John” – the now 74 year old apparently has an impressive collection of tattoos and rocked Greece society when he became the first public figure to admit to alcoholism, an affliction he has now thankfully overcome, though not before changing public attitudes towards the condition. Oh, and he’s also the mayor of Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki. Interesting indeed.

Yiannis was one of the first proponents of single vineyard wine-making in Greece and a driving force for the revival of the much prized Naoussa appellation and its unique local variety Xinomavro. Today his son Stellios Boutaris, the fifth generation of this winemaking family, runs the show.

They practice sustainable agriculture, which is essentially organic by everything but name; or, as Lambros put it: “as much as necessary but as little as possible”.

The Wines

We began the evening with a sparkling wine, something that took me by surprise as I never associated Greece with bubbles. The Paranga Sparkling is a blend of Chardonnay, Xinomavro and Muscat, with the latter’s aromatics and pear drop aromas most distinct. A light and lively, semi-dry refresher to kick the night off.

From there we tasted four whites: Paranga White (€16 from Grapevine), a soft, tropical fruit-flavoured blend of Greece’s native Malagouzia and Roditis grapes; Ktima Kir-Yianni Samaropetra, a more sprightly blend of Roditis and Sauvignon Blanc with an Old World herbaceousness; the more serious and flinty, almond-tinged Droumo Sauvignon Blanc; and finally the punchy and ultra-buttery Palpo Chardonnay, a bruising wine that ramps the Burgundian style up to 11.

We transitioned to the reds via the delicious Akakies Rosé, detailed more extensively below, before moving on to the Paranga Red (€16 from Grapevine), a fun a simple wine with a surprisingly refreshing acidity. The Ktima Kir-Yianni Yianakohori Hills and Ramnista were next, my favourites of the night which I cover later, with the red flight finishing on Diaporos, a Xinomavro and Syrah blend giving a meaty, textural, and age-worthy ‘icon’ wine.

As we sipped the very last wine – a fresh and floral, honeyed Late Harvest Gewurztraminer called Chrysogerakas – Lambros, ever the gracious host, signed off a fantastic evening of Grecian pleasures by second-guessing what is perhaps a common query put to him after many a wine is sipped: how is Greece, paragon of the financial crisis, faring nowadays

Cautious of being flippantly upbeat, he left us with a nugget of relative optimism: “wine is booming in Greece, so let’s focus on the positives”.

If their wines are anything to go by, there’s a bright future yet for Greece.

 

THREE TO TRY

Kir-Yianni Akakies Rosé
RSP €16 from Grapevine, Dalkey (coming soon)

I’m not the biggest fan of rosé, but this 100% Xinomavro gives a big, meaty version that’s more akin to a light red than the more light-bodied examples we’re usually used to. The Amyndeon appellation in north-western Greece, from which this wine is sourced, is the only Greek PDO for rosé wines. It has smoky, macerated strawberry and raspberry aromas with a balanced medium body. It would be fab with salmon.

 

Ktima Kir-Yianni Yianakohori Hills
RSP €19 from Grapevine, Dalkey (coming soon)

“Ktima” roughly translates as “Estate” in Greek, and for some reason I wasn’t expecting much from this wine as I awaited a sip the winery’s excellent Ramnista. I was delighted to be proved wrong: this was supremely balanced and elegant, yet with a charm and grace that allowed it not to be taken too seriously. Made from 50% Xinomavro, 30% Merlot and 20% Syrah, it had distinct blueberry, leather, violet and vanilla aromas. It’s sourced from different plots individually vinified and blended. A lot of work goes into this wine, which is reflected in the glass but not in the price, oddly. A bargain.

 

Kir-Yianni Ramnista
RSP €21 from Grapevine, Dalkey

This is the wine that brought me all the way to Dalkey on a dark Thursday night. A 100% Xinomavro from select parcels of old vines in the high-quality region of Naoussa, this is an intense yet balanced wine. A lovely, deeply savoury experience, it combines light red berry fruit with tar, leather, tobacco and baking spice. Long and complex, it keeps evolving and satisfying. Outstanding, and again a bargain.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie

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O’Brien’s Winter Wine Fair 2016: Dublin & Cork

O’Brien’s are back with their famous Winter Wine Fair which runs from tomorrow, Friday 11th November, for three sessions over two days. It’s a great event and highly recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in wine.

If you’re reading this as soon as I post it (which is probably unlikely) then it’s also currently happening in Cork today too (Thursday 10th November). Otherwise you’ll have to high-tail it to Dublin to partake in the fun.

The Winter Wine Fair is always good craic with a bit of a party atmosphere, which is probably helped by the fact that two of the three sessions are on Friday and Saturday evenings, meaning it’s a handy springboard for a night out (if that’s your kind of thing).

It’s taking place at The Print Works in Dublin Castle at the following times:

  • Friday 6-9pm
  • Saturday 2-5pm
  • Saturday 6-9pm

They’ll have 50 winemakers in attendance presenting over 200 of their wines, making it a sort of wine-based speed dating event in a way.

And the cherry on the icing is that the proceeds all go to charity, with Down Syndrome Ireland and LauraLynn, Ireland’s Children’s Hospice all benefiting this year.

Tickets can be bought in their stores or else ONLINE HERE.

Enjoy!!

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There’s an Alp for That…

As I began to write this piece on wines from the Alps it struck me that, rather neatly, the topography of the region was as good an analogy as any for the wines it produces.

The Alps are difficult to get to. They’re not easily accessible, a little inconvenient you might say, and a visit there is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s not cheap either. But for many, the effort is so worth it. Once you taste the Alpine air you can never go back; once you experience the headiness of the snow-capped vistas then many other landscapes pale in comparison.

Likewise, wines from the Alps – be they French, Swiss, Italian or otherwise – share similar characteristics. They’re hard to find, made from varieties you’ve likely never heard of, and often taste like nothing you’ve had before. Whether that’s a good thing or not is – of course – down to personal preference. But to those with a keen curiosity and open mind, they’re a revelation.

I was lucky to be allowed to dip my toe into the world of Alpine wine thanks to a small informal tasting in Ely Wine bar recently, hosted by two fantastic wine importers, Nomad and Tyrrels, who plied their Alpine wares from France and Switzerland respectively.


SWITZERLAND: DOUZE POINTS

You may not have come across Swiss wines here in Ireland before, and likely for good reason. Wines imported into Switzerland were subject to stringent tariffs until the 1990s and finally abolished in 2006; that means that until 10 years ago it was easier and cheaper for the Swiss to buy their own wine rather than Chilean or Australian imports, leaving little left over for the rest of us to enjoy. There simply wasn’t really a need to export.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

Other factors conspire against Swiss wine. For one the ownership structure is highly fragmented: the Valais region for example, from where our wines below are sourced, counts 5,137 hectares of vines owned by 22,000 people in 80,000 parcels or plots. That sort of set-up requires a lot of time and effort to pull together commercially-viable quantities of wine, let alone enough to make exporting worthwhile.

Then there’s the geography: the slopes are so steep in places that elaborate monorail systems are needed to transport equipment and grapes. Sometimes they need helicopters. The gradient means that grape picking usually needs to be by hand. And to top it all off the Swiss authorities limit how many grapes each vine can yield. Cheap and easy it ‘aint.

But, like all good things in life, the effort is always worth it. Swiss wines – or at least the ones I tasted that day in Ely – can be electric, exciting and intriguing, not to mention cerebrally stimulating given their history, provenance and hyper-locality.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

FRANCE: SAVVY SAVOIE

Comparatively, Alpine France – in particular the Savoie region – has an easier time of it than Switzerland. Yes, their vineyards can be similarly steep and awkward to access, but the gentler run-in from the French side is somewhat easier to manage than the almost persistently elevated nature of the Swiss wine regions.

But oddly, wines were rarely exported from Savoie until recently, a situation similar to Switzerland, but for a very different reason: the dramatic countryside is such a popular, year-round attraction that the constant flow of tourists usually drink the stocks dry.

Savoie has an admirable roll call of local grape varieties rarely found elsewhere, which many attribute to the fact the region only actually became part of France in 1860. For whites they’ve the likes of Jacquère, Altesse, Malvoisie and Mondeuse Blanche; while for reds they’ve Persan and Mondeuse Noire. Nope, I hadn’t heard of any of them before either.

Given the slightly off-piste location and abundance of local varieties, Savoie is riddled with small, passionate, boutique wine producers with many practicing organic or biodynamic principals and old-school winemaking. Many may call them ‘artisan’ or even ‘hipster’ winemakers – in truth they’re just passionate and returning to a more honest and lo-fi way of making wine. Either way, the results are rarely uninteresting.

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THE EU CONVENTION AT ELY

That day in Ely, Irishman Simon Tyrrell held court behind four wines – two white and two red – from Domaine René Favre et Fils of Chamoson in the Valais region of Switzerland, nestled between the borders of France and Italy, run by brothers John & Mike Favre.

To his right was Frenchman Charles Derain of Nomad Wine Importers and in front of him were six wines from Domaine Des Ardoisières, a winery that sources its grapes entirely from only two single vineyard sites in the Vin des Allobroges designation of Savoie: Cevins and St. Pierre de Soucy.

Cevins is perhaps the more notable of the two sites, if not because of its history. The domaine encompasses a steep hill rising above the town which was planted with vines during Roman times, before passing through the hands of Tamié monks and eventually into private ownership. But the infamous phylloxera louse that devastated much of Europe’s vineyards in the mid nineteenth century took its toll here too, and shortly afterwards the two World Wars the country had to contend with spelled the end of winemaking on this awkwardly steep hill.

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But in 1998 a group of enthusiasts began clearing the site and reinstated the old Roman terraces that helped put structured order on the slope. It was a huge effort to unite no less than 400 landowners for an area of less than 10 hectares, an unusual display of selflessness for a common good. They planted mostly the local grape varieties mentioned earlier and farmed using only biodynamic principals, with the first vintage harvested in 2003.

St. Pierre de Soucy, meanwhile, is 50 kms down the valley and a little lower in altitude. This area is farmed organically instead of biodynamically but still provides the clay (or “argile”) soil that so intrigues Domaine Des Ardoisières winemaker Brice Omont.

With the humour and generosity typical of both Charles and Simon, we got to taste through some amazing examples of the region from two fantastic producers; here are a few of my picks…


THREE TO TRY FROM THE SWISS ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine
€28.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Jancis Robinson calls this grape variety “the finest of the indigenous grape specialities of the Valais in Switzerland.” I haven’t tasted any other indigenous white varieties from Switzerland but I do have to say this was damn good. It has a beautiful texture that was almost creamy, despite being tank fermented (maybe some contact with the lees?), followed by a razor sharp, precise acidity and minerality.

A delicious wine and a fantastic experience.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine ‘Grande Année St. Pierre’
€42.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

And if the Petite Arvine wasn’t good enough, along came its ‘big brother’. Fermented and aged in oak, this was beautiful and Burgundian in style.

Think crisp green apple coated in butter. It was textural, fresh, rich and long, all at once. Transcendental.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Humagne Rouge
€29.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Humagne Rouge is a relatively rare variety from Valais which I found to be wild and rustic with its slight vegetal notes (think green pepper) diffusing into smoke and black pepper.

The palate was surprisingly soft and smooth and juicy with nice acidity at the end. Again another fantastic experience if you’re keen to try obscure grape varieties.

 

THREE TO TRY FROM THE FRENCH ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Blanc
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Chardonnay & 30% Mondeuse Blanche.

This is beautifully crisp and clean and pure, though for me there was also an interesting, slightly funky, earthy undertone – call it terroir if you will.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, Cevins, “Schiste” Blanc
€50 from select off-licences

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Roussanne & 30% Malvasia. A wilder wine with fennel, yellow apple and artichoke aromas. Again a feral note but much more noticeable this time.

Fresh and lively, its acidity is razor-sharp but it all softens to a slightly buttery finish from its time in barrel. A remarkable wine.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Rouge
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64Wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 80% Gamay (Beaujolais is just 50kms away after all) and 20% of the local Persan grape. A very characterful wine, light but complex, bursting with juicy fruit and a very distinct twist of black pepper.

Black forest fruit and black cherry abound, and it has a slightly bitter, dry twist at the end. Wonderful.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.

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Penfolds: A Liaison with a Legend

Wine regions are often classified as either “Old World” or “New World”, a convenient, if blunt, dichotomy that in reality means Europe and everywhere else, respectively.

But many “New World” producers are quite uncomfortable with being called ‘new’, given a lot of them have been around for over a century. They’re also wary of the negative connotations the label has with most regular consumers, where it is often thought that the ‘new’ can’t ever be as good as the ‘old’.

But until a more satisfactory and snappy categorisation can be agreed on, then the old Eurocentric terminology will be with us for some time yet. That doesn’t stop New World producers understandably raising the issue in exasperation every now and then, however.

Once such occasion was in 2013, when Australian winery Penfolds was named Best New World Winery by the respected Wine Enthusiast magazine in the US. At the same time the publication also named the famous Spanish producer Marqués de Riscal as their European Winery of the Year, colloquially known to all involved as the ‘Old World Winery of the Year Award’.

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Peter Gago, the Penfolds Chief Winemaker, accepted the award in New York on behalf of the winery, and though he was truthfully very honoured he couldn’t help but raise the old bête noire in his acceptance speech.

Gago pointed out that the ‘historic’ Marqués de Riscal was founded in 1858, a full fourteen years after Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold established a small winery at Magill Estate, near Adelaide in South Australia, in 1844.

So, effectively, the best “New World” winery that year was older than the best “Old World” winery. And though Gago didn’t labour the point, the inference was crystal clear: the hackneyed terminology we so casually use is not only condescending and potentially damaging, it’s also simply factually incorrect in many cases.

Though it was generous of Gago to raise the flag once again for the “New World”, he personally didn’t need to fret as his winery has perhaps done more than most to take on the big boys of the “Old World”, often winning out in many cases. For Penfolds is one of those wineries that induce misty-eyed admiration from all creeds of wine lovers, given their history, prominence and aspirations – and now thanks to a new innovation by their Irish importers we’ll have a chance to ‘Experience’ Penfolds more easily this Autumn.

In The Mix

Sam Stephens, European Brand Manager for Penfolds, relayed the above anecdote to us this August while he was in Dublin to launch for the first time a set of four mixed cases of wine dubbed The Penfolds Experience Collection.

Tackling the range of Penfolds wines can be a bit daunting, it has to be said. Apart from their critically acclaimed Koonunga Hill range at the introductory level, the vast majority of their wines are known by their ‘bin numbers’, which historically indicated where in the warehouse they were stored.But there isn’t any hierarchy nor any obvious pattern to the numbering, so getting your head around the Bin Range can often be a case of rote learning rather than deduction.

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This is where this new collection of mixed cases comes in. Bringing “learning by doing” to a new context, Irish consumers now have the opportunity to taste through themed cases of Penfolds wines rather than choosing one – often at random – from your off-licence shelf.

 

A Journey of a Thousand Sips…

The experience begins with The Explorer’s Collection, a set of five wines that serve as a wide-ranging introduction to the rarefied world of Penfolds’ Bins, allowing a glimpse of Penfolds’s blending prowess, a taster of a number of grapes they’re adept at producing, and a side-by-side comparison of two takes on that most Australian of grapes, Shiraz.

The case contains the Bin 8 Cabernet Shiraz, their approachable version of the famous “Aussie Blend”; the Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre, Penfolds’s take on the famous trilogy of grapes that call the Rhône their home; the Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvedre, originally released in 1960 and again recently reinstated after hiatus of a few decades; and finally two ‘straight’ Shirazes: Bin 128 which is sourced exclusively from Coonawarra, and Bin 28 Kalimna which is a multi-regional blend.

As the name suggests this is the perfect set from which to start your Penfolds exploration and, despite being from the same producer, offers a wide range of styles to enjoy. Ideal for Christmas, if I may be allowed to mention ‘The C Word” this early!

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A Good Year

Things start to get serious pretty quickly from then on in. Next up is The 2013 Vintage Collection, a set of three pairs of wines retailing at €350 which – you guessed it – were all harvested three years ago.

But it’s not a random assortment, thankfully, and it’s clear some thought has gone into the wines that make up the mix: a 100% Cabernet in the guise of Bin 407, the 100% Shiraz Bin 150 Marananga, and then a Cabernet / Shiraz blend via the famous Bin 389.

This innovative assembly not only allows the chance to hold your own ‘horizontal tasting’ – that is, sampling wines across a common vintage – but it also allows the opportunity to experience two 100% varietal wines before seeing what they taste like blended together. It’s almost like being a winemaker for the day. Almost.

 

The Wine from Dr. Penfold’s Back Garden

If you were paying attention earlier then the name ‘Magill’ will ring a bell – yes, it’s where Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold established his winery in 1844, so these wines are literally from where it all started.

I’d highly recommend searching for “Penfolds Magill Estate Winery” on Google Maps to witness the unusual sight of what is today a fully-fledged vineyard and winery in the suburbs of a major city, an oddity resulting from the city gradually extending out to – and eventually around – the original Magill Estate vineyard.

The Magill Experience Collection contains three pairs of vintages of the eponymous wine – 2008, 2010 and 2011 – allowing the superb opportunity to taste through the seasons of this tiny walled vineyard that is a mere 8kms from Adelaide city centre.

It’s truly the serious collector’s case and a chance to taste 170 years of history.

 

The Wine at the End of the Earth

The pinnacle. The zenith. The wine that was initially made in secret, such was its revelatory approach. The wine that is only one of a handful in the world to ever achieve 100 points in both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator for the same vintage. One of the most collectible wines in the world and the only wine to be listed as a Heritage Icon by the South Australian National Trust, such is its prominence.

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So Penfolds Grange is an important wine, to say the least; a legend in the truest sense. Many wine lovers would consider themselves lucky to even taste Grange, let alone get their hands on a flight of three different vintages.

But that opportunity is a distinct possibility today, thanks to The Grange Experience Collection. Though not cheap at a hearty €3,000, to buy a single bottle on its own can cost roughly €700-€800, depending on the retailer. If you can find a bottle, that is.

The 2009 is best enjoyed first with its generous lush fruit. Then you can argue over whether to sample the concentrated and intense plum and baking spice of the 2010, or the supple eucalypt tinge of the 2011.

Or, indeed, get the Coravin out and enjoy a tasting glass of each over the course of a decade or more. Either way, these wines are in for the long haul.


THREE TO TRY

The Explorer’s Collection
€180 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn.
This really is an excellent intro to the world of Penfolds.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

The 2013 Vintage Collection
€350 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn
I really enjoyed the thoughtful, straight-forward approach of this case, from the rich but elegantly balanced Bin 407 Cabernet to the heady and opulent Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz, finishing at the famous “Baby Grange” that is the decadently delicate Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

The Magill Experience Collection
€600 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn
A real collector’s case, offering three different styles of wine from three distinctly different vintages. Start with the austere, maturing 2008 then move on to the fuller but still restrained 2011 vintage, before finishing on the opulent 2011 tinged with baking spice and blackberry.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

 

This post originally appeared on TheTaste.ie