All posts by themotleycru

Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Rhône

The night before Ireland took on the might of the French rugby team in Lansdowne Road, I had to contend with a daunting French lineup of my own. It was a far more genteel affair in contrast to what faced our men in green, however: an evening in the famous Michelin-starred L’Ecrivain restaurant, hosted by importer extraordinaire Simon Tyrrell and featuring some of the finest wines of the Northern Rhône from Stéphane Montez and Yann Chave.

The two winemakers were by the bar with Simon when I arrived, sipping on the delicious Gaia Assyrtiko from Santorini in Greece – I suppose even the French must get tired of drinking their own wines the whole time. We exchanged pleasantries while establishing that neither of us spoke the other’s language to any notable degree, and though a flurry of arrivals meant we couldn’t probe the extent of this situation, Stéphane wittily quipped that given the quantity of wine on offer we were sure to speak the same language by the end of the evening.

Little did I know how close to the truth he was…

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Chalk & (French) Cheese

Stéphane Montez is, incredibly, the 10th generation of winemakers in his family. I say ‘incredible’ not because ten generations is a long time – it is of course, but it’s not entirely unheard of in the wine world, with the Antinori family of Italy currently into their 26th generation for example.

What I found most fascinating about Stéphane’s heritage is how lightly he wore it. Other winemaking dynasties of that pedigree, though affable and generous to a fault, can over time assume a regal air about them.

Mr. Montez, however, was anything of the sort: laid-back, quick with a joke, and with an unshaven insouciance. A natural raconteur, he introduced his wines as though recounting a humorous story he heard earlier that day, punctuated here and there with the requisite nonchalant Gallic shrug and pout.

Yann Chave, on the other hand, was more reserved and professorial, most likely as a result of his previous profession: a bank fraud investigator, of all things. In 1996 Yann took over the winemaking activities of father Bernard, whose wines were apparently generally good without being exceptional, perhaps partly explained by the fact that his attention was also taken up cultivating apricots, cherries and peaches.

Yann brought a more studious and focused approach to running the domaine, certifying it as fully organic in the process and insisting on labour-intensive handpicking and no or little oak for his three wines in order to allow their pure fruits shine through – in other words a pared-back, honest, and almost reverential approach to the region and its wines.

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Samsung a Little Bit Different

The venue for the evening was not to be the main upstairs restaurant of L’Ecrivain, as I had originally assumed, but instead their brand new Samsung Kitchen located just off the reception bar. It was my first time in this space that essentially acts both as a private dining room and demonstration kitchen, and where the dishes for our evening were finished off before serving. It was staffed by one or two L’Ecrivain sous-chefs, depending on requirements, although for our starters Derry Clarke himself lent a hand. The memory of a Michelin-starred chef cooking my starter in front of me is not going to leave me for some time!

We were handed a list of wines to be tasted that evening, six superb bottles in total. But in keeping with the French nonchalant air of the evening we were told to largely disregard this sheet since three of the six wines were unavailable, as it happens, and what’s more we were in fact going to be served a whopping thirteen wines in total. Mais oui!

As an aperitif we were served the superb Les Hauts De Monteillet Blanc (reviewed below), before being poured both the 2008 and 2015 vintages of Stéphane Montez’s Condrieu “Les Grandes Chaillées”, a blend of eight select parcels from this historic appellation. The 2008 was waxy and even slightly Maderized, as you’d expect from an eight-year-old white wine, while the younger and fresher vintage was much more to my taste: weighty yet elegant with some blossom and woodsmoke.

Continuing the theme we next enjoyed the 2014 vintage of a Condrieu lieu dit called “Chanson”, which was softer than the Les Grandes Chaillées blend and perfectly poised; a properly fine wine.

While all this was going on we were first served a crab meat amuse bouche followed by incredible roast scallops with Jerusalem artichoke. Scallops are one of my favourite dishes but need to be ultra-fresh and deftly handled, which of course they were in the hands of Derry Clarke (did I mention he cooked them right in front of me?!), and served alongside some of the Rhône’s most famous whites they were, obviously, superbly paired.

 

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The Best Things Come in Two

From there it was on to the reds, starting with a pair of Yann Chave’s “Tradition” Crozes-Hermitage wines. First there was the 2003, an infamous year which saw an extreme heatwave rip through Europe, though you wouldn’t have noticed it in Yann’s bottling, which was superb and still ripe with an aged smoky minerality and black olive flavours. The 2015, one of my recommendations below, was a younger version and equally outstanding.

We progressed then to the next level of Chave’s Crozes-Hermitage, “Le Rouvre”, and again we had to vintages to compare and contrast. First was a complex, minty-cool black fruited 2007, followed by a magnum of its spicier, ‘hotter’ younger brother 2011 which needed a little time yet to knit together.

It seemed by this point that the French were intent on killing us with kindness: we were presented, yet again, with two vintages of yet another wine, this time a 2006 and 2014 of Montez’s St Joseph “Cuvée du Papy”. It comes with a lovely backstory too: it has been produced since the 1989 vintage when Antoine, Stéphane’s father became a grandfather. To celebrate he chose “his best sites, his most beautiful vines and his most select grapes, selected his best barrels and put all his love and know-how into the development of an exceptional vintage: Cuvée du Papy.”

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Stéphane was eager to draw the distinction that the 2006 was “Bordeaux in style”, while the 2014 was “Burgundy in Style”, which I agreed with wholeheartedly. In truth my preference was with the 2006, which was quintessentially aged Rhone with crunchy blueberry fruit and violets, while the 2014 was more funky and a touch ‘bretty‘, and indeed lighter and earthier in style.

Oh, and of course there was the food. Amongst all this incredible wine were some fantastic dishes, with my choice falling firmly on the sika deer on offer (it didn’t take much to predict that stone bass wouldn’t pair so well with punchy Rhône reds!)

Finally, we came to the last two red wines, both the apogées of Stéphane and Yann’s efforts. First was Montez’s 2009 Côte-Rôtie “Fortis”, a supremely elegant, deep and beautiful wine just showing a touch of bottle age through some smoke and coffee notes, followed by Chave’s 2009 Hermitage, a more serious and concentrated, herbal, long and complex wine.

Apologies to anyone looking for more extensive reviews of these two iconic wines: my notes weren’t exactly extensive at this point, since at this stage in the evening I was reeling in the hedonistic pleasure of drinking some of the world’s most prestigious and finest wines and enjoying the fantastic company.

We finished off then with what was a surprise for most of us there: a sweet Condrieu, a rarity in itself these days. Specifically, it was Stéphane’s 2007 Condrieu “Grain de Folie”, made 50% with botrytised grapes and 50% with grapes that raisined on the vine. The result was stratospheric – my more extensive review is below.

The evening was so enjoyable that next day when Ireland bravely defeated the French side I almost felt sorry for Stéphane and Yann, given how generous, humorous and memorable they were the night before.

Well, almost.

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THREE TO TRY

Les Hauts De Monteillet Blanc 2014, Domaine du Monteillet
€24.95 from Searson’s, Monkstown

stephane-montez-domaine-du-monteillet-les-hauts-du-monteillet-blanc-igp-collines-rhodaniennes-france-10371422A blend of Viognier, Rousanne and Clairette, this proved to be incredible value for money.

Beautifully mineral and herbal characters (white pepper and fennel in particular) provide foil for a toasty, buttery creaminess.

A concentrated and elegant wine that punches well above its weight. Delicious.

 

Crozes-Hermitage ‘Tradition’ Rouge 2015, Domaine Yann Chave
€27.95 from Searson’s, Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

yc03_crozes_hermitage_bis_rouge_2012_yann_chave_bdwebA fully organic wine, this provided a fresh fruity, very typically young Northern Rhône nose of blueberry, blackberry and black pepper.

The palate took a different tack and instead provided cool-climate Syrah’s distinctive smoky, mineral and savoury streak with some fantastic tannin. Poised and elegant, this is a fantastic wine.

Condrieu ‘Grain de Folie’, Domaine du Monteillet
€40 from Searson’s, Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

condrieu-domaine-du-monteillet-les-grandes-chailleesAlmost an afterthought, Stephane Montez’s sweet wine was stunning, and a refreshing coda to the serious flight of reds that came before it.

Being a botrytised wine it had the style’s distinctive marmalade character, but with supreme elegance, concentration, and refreshing acidity.

I’m a fan of sweet wine and this is up there with the best I’ve ever tasted, if not the best I’ve tasted. Superb.

 

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

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Lidl’s Value-for-Money Bubbly for Valentine’s Day

Prosecco, eh? We’re drowning in the stuff here in Ireland. The vast majority of it though – and I’m talking 90%-95% at least – is thin, insipid plonk. So why do we love it so?

Setting aside our inexplicable love of flavourless things (I’m looking at you too, Pinot Grigio), the famous Italian bubbly is relatively cheap. Prosecco either comes as spumante (full fizz) or frizzante (light fizz). The latter falls under the duty bracket for ‘still wine’, which is exactly half that of fully sparkling wine (don’t get me started on that palaver), meaning that you can get your bubbly kicks for cheap with Prosecco frizzante.

How do you tell the difference? Easy: Prosecco frizzante – the cheap stuff – has a tacky string over the cork, which itself needs a corkscrew to extract it, given that the low pressure isn’t enough to push out the cork itself (and thereby give the satisfying ‘pop’ we know and love).

So when I was offered a sample of Lidl’s new organic Prosecco spumante just before New Year’s, I was interested, and expected something nice but unremarkable to be honest. What I got instead was something rare: Prosecco with actual flavour built-in. It has a creamy, biscuity butteriness that might be described as autolytic, had it been bottle-matured, but that’s highly doubtful. However it’s made – for Lidl wine details are infamously opaque – it doesn’t really matter, as it’s really quite tasty.

Some may baulk at the €14.99 price, and eye up instead a €7 bottle of Prosecco frizzante next to it. Don’t. Remember that this is fully sparkling and so the bubbles will last much longer in the glass. It’s also far more than twice as good as something half the price. And, need it be said, it’s organic to boot, meaning you’re practically saving the planet drinking the stuff.

Viticoltori Organic Prosecco is €14.99 from 154 Lidl stores nationwide.

Isole e Olena: Forward-Thinking in Traditional Tuscany

While on holiday by Lake Garda a couple of years ago, my wife and I dined al fresco at Pizzeria Leon d’Oro, a stereotypically bustling Italian restaurant squeezed into one of Riva Del Garda’s many narrow, winding streets.

Negotiating wine lists in Italy can be a tricky affair, given each region’s unwavering commitment to its own – usually esoteric and obscure – local grape varieties and wineries. The result is like reading someone else’s shorthand notes: you can take a stab at some recognisable elements, but overall coherence is unlikely.

Luckily for me that night I did spy a well-known and highly-regarded name: Isole e Olena from Tuscany. Though I hadn’t tasted it before, the winery’s reputation preceded it, and thankfully it delivered on all levels, providing characteristic Italian cherry fruit but with the concentration, balance and finesse befitting the estate’s esteemed status.

However since that day in 2013, I for some inexplicable reason failed to get my hands on the wine again, despite being easy enough to find. Imagine my delight, then, when none other than Paolo de Marchi himself, proprietor of Isole e Olena, was in Ireland at the end of last year for an open meet-and-greet in the excellent Terroirs wine shop.

And so it was on a dark cold November night in Dublin I got the chance to rekindle some dolce vita once again … albeit this time in Donnybrook.

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional Tuscany

“You Won’t Fool the Children of the Revolution”

The Isole e Olena estate is located in the heart of the Chianti Classico region at the midway point between Siena and Florence, and the name came about in the 1950s when the De Marchifamily purchased and combined two adjoining estates, ‘Isole’ and ‘Olena’, each of which dated back hundreds of years – indeed, the earliest documentation of the village of Olena goes as far back as the 12th century.

The De Marchi family are actually from Piedmonte in the north-west of the country, an area known for its Barolo, perhaps the single most famous Italian fine wine style. After establishing the new Isole e Olena estate, the De Marchi family immediately set about rejuvenating the vineyards and updating the winery in a quality drive that was novel to the region at the time.

Paolo is the fourth winemaking generation of his family, taking over the reins at Isole e Olena in 1976, which he still runs it today with his wife Marta. Their eldest son, Luca, now runs the family estate in Piedmonte, Proprieta Sperino.

When Paolo arrived from Piedmonte, fresh from a degree in Agriculture at the University of Turin followed by several harvests in California and France, he found much need for improvement and modernisation in Chianti. To say that the region was beset by inertia and apathy at the time is an understatement – Chianti by the 1970s was terribly outmoded, with quantity preferred over quality and much plonk produced. None of this seemed to bother the region’s producers however, who were still selling their wine by the truckload to homesick Italian emigrants in the US and elsewhere.

But none of this sat well with Paolo the perfectionist, who tore up the unwritten rule book and set about with the aim of elevating Chianti to the heights he felt befitted the region he fell in love with.

The “Extra Tuscan”

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional Tuscany

Indeed, his zeal for improvement and experimentation coincided with the rise of what became called the “Super Tuscan” movement. Spearheaded by Piero Antinori and his now-iconic Tignanello, the Super Tuscans defied tradition and regulation by growing ‘international’ varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot and either blending them with native Italian grapes or indeed excluding them all together.

In the eyes of the antiquated and outdated wine regulatory body, these acts were considered scurrilous, and Super Tuscans were downgraded to ‘table wine’ designation.

Nevertheless, wine critics and lovers worldwide loved the results, leading to a revolution in the quality of Italian wines and the amendment of once-immovable regulations around wine production in Italy. The Super Tuscans are now considered icons and change hands for the same prices as the classed Bordeauxs they sought to imitate.

Paolo similarly planted international varieties at Isole e Olena, and to much success, but he tended away from the “Bordeaux Blend” of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which many other Super Tuscans were striving to replicate.

Instead he was one of the early pioneers of Syrah in Tuscany, a small drop of which finds its way into his benchmark Chianti Classico, as well as establishing an outstanding Chardonnay (more of which below).

But it’s Sangiovese and its distinctive expression in Chianti that is the true passion for Paolo, something evident in almost every account written on him to date. At all times he has striven to make the purest Chianti possible, updating tecnhiques and m

odernising methods as much as possible yet maintaining as much of the distinctive and much-loved qualities of traditional Chianti.

The apogee of this effort is manifested in Cepparello, a barrique-aged Sangiovese classified as an IGT – a designation usually reserved for basic weekday wine – because at the time of its creation in the 1980s a wine comprising 100% Sangiovese could not legally be labelled as Chianti.

But just like the Super Tuscans, Paolo felt that in order to create the best wine possible the rules had to be ignored, and so it was that Cepparello, a love-letter to the Sangiovese grape and its Tuscan home, has since become a legend in the Italian wine world … indeed, some have playfully given it the fitting moniker “Extra Tuscan”.

 

A Legend in Tweed

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional Tuscany

Given Paolo’s reputation for single-minded attention to detail, his pursuit for perfection and his bloody-mindedness in challenging the establishment, you might be forgiven for assuming he’s a difficult character in person.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Standing in Terroirs that day in November was one of the most affable and charming people you’d ever have the pleasure to meet.

A diminutive character with tousled silver hair and tweed jacket, Paolo de Marchi seemingly never stops smiling. The fact that he is a genuine wine celebrity seems to have had no effect on him, and he gave his time easily and generously to anyone who wanted it.

Interestingly, owners of Terroirs Seán and Françoise Gilley have known Paolo’s family personally for a number of years: Marta, Paolo’s wife, came to Ireland in July 1999 to study English and the Gilleys soon became very good friends with her, often having her around to their home for long dinners paired with some stellar wine from around the world. In the words of Françoise, “Marta and Paolo have remained lovely friends and we are delighted to have their splendid wines and olive oil on our shelves.”

Of course, I couldn’t meet a winemaker without having a bottle signed, and naturally Paolo did so with great enthusiasm. While he was about to hand over the bottle of Isole e Olena Chianti Classico I recounted the memory of last enjoying his wine in Riva Del Garda. This inspired Paolo to suggest he dedicate the bottle to my wife, fittingly completing the circle so to speak.

And so it is that I have a treasured bottle of one of the finest Chianti Classicos on my shelf at home, on which is written in gold: “To Helen, Paolo de Marchi”. So now, for me and my rekindled relationship with Isole e Olena, a quote Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca comes to mind: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

 

THREE TO TRY

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional TuscanyIsole e Olena, Chianti Classico

€29.50 from Terroirs

A blend of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and 5% Syrah, this is one of those wines I like to call ‘experiential’ – there isn’t one element that catches your attention, and instead it’s the wine’s overall purity, balance and elegance which strikes a chord.

Of course there’s lots of fresh cherry fruit, perfect tannin and delicate oak, but to reduce this wine to a list of flavours wouldn’t do it justice. Just buy a bottle and see what I mean.

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional TuscanyIsole e Olena, Cepparello

€79.50 from Terroirs

As mentioned above this is 100% Sangiovese, and is a more intense, serious version of their Chianti Classico.

The wine I tried was the 2008 vintage and even at eight years old I felt it was still too young to drink. A tautly-wound, concentrated wine which isn’t giving up much at the moment, you can be sure that this will start to sing in a few years’ time.

 

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional TuscanyIsole e Olena ‘Collezione Privata’ Chardonnay

€45.50 from Terroirs

This really took me by surprise. Terroirs co-owner Seán Gilley introduced the wine as being akin to Meursault, which was a neat summation of what was a decadently poised, textural and experiential wine.

It’s so well balanced, with oak, fruit and minerality all playing their part in equal measure. Oaked Chardonnay gets a bad rep nowadays, but a glass of this would convert any naysayers.

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

The Aldi Wine Lover’s Sale, August 2017

I was grateful to be invited to the Aldi Wine Lover’s Sale preview last week, a first glance at a range of wines the German discounter has brought into Ireland for a limited run.

There wasn’t a massive offering, which made the tasting gloriously concise. On a similar note, this post will be similarly as brief, highlighting some of my picks rather than detailing every wine tasted.

These are available in all 129 Aldi stores nationwide from yesterday, Thursday 3rd August, while stocks last. For other opinions on the sale, check out these

Tom Doorley
John Wilson
Carol from Gin & Griddle
John from ProperFood
Cathal from Glass of Red Wine


My Top Red Pick
El Casatero, Old Vines Garnacha, Spain. €9.99

I’m not the only one to single out this wine as either the best of the bunch, or at least very close. Old vines tend to give more concentrated and ‘serious’ wines, and El Casatero is an exemplar of this.

For a cent shy of a tenner you’re getting ripe, concentrated strawberry and blackberry fruit, with a density and length you wouldn’t expect for this price. Excellent – grab a few bottles if there’s any left this weekend.

 

One To Impress Your Friends
Uva Pirata, Petit Verdot, Spain. €11.99

… if your friends like edgy, alternative packaging that is. The bottle is undoubtedly an eye-catcher, but thankfully the juice lives up to the promise too.

This has bright and crunchy red and blue fruit flavours, with a warm and spicy body and even a nice light bite of tannin coming through. It’s a great package, and sure to impress.

 

The High-Octane One
The Restless Wine Merchant, Shiraz, Australia. €10.99

There is a significant market out there that enjoys nothing more than full-throttle, chunky, balls-to-the-wall red wines, and this one would hit the spot nicely for them. Thankfully for everyone else, it’s heavy but not overbearing, meaning it won’t be a struggle to get it down your gullet.

It’s a full-on, typically Aussie shiraz, with tons of distinctive menthol and lush blackberry fruit. Definitely one for the barbie. Strewth!

 

The Contemplative One
Punta de Lobos, Carménère Gran Reserva, Chile. €9.99

It’s the bouquet on this one that most appealed to me: there was attractive lavender, blueberry and herbal tinges in this fragrant and calming wine. The palate was soft and juicy and dense, appealing to richer tastes, and though the palate didn’t quite match up to the nose it was a pleasant all-round experience nevertheless.

 

The Party Wine
Grand Sud Merlot, France. €8.99 for 1 litre (equates to €6.74 for a regular-sized bottle)

It looks cheap, it is cheap, but it’s great value for the price. It’s nothing more than pleasantly drinkable, which is far more than you’d expect at this price. Perfect for glugging at parties.

 

The Top White Pick
The Forgotten Row, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand. €9.99

Yawn. Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc – I’m pretty tired of the style at this point, despite its unprecedented and ongoing popularity generally.

But what’s this? An inexpensive Savvie from NZ that not a tropical fruit-bomb? Yes please!

OK, so it’s still quite ripe and flavoursome, but in the herbal, pea-and-asparagus style that nods to the grape’s European roots. A nice refreshing alternative for any Kiwi Sauv Blanc lover.

 

The Sparkling One
Gardo & Morris, Sparkling Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand. €19.99

It’s Sauvignon Blanc passed through the commercial winery’s version of a Soda Stream, basically. If you love Savvie, you’ll love this. Quite fun and interesting, though at near €20 there are a few Cavas I could recommend in it’s place. A curiosity.

 

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg and the South African Wines Renaissance

Name a New World wine country. Australia most likely springs immediately to mind, as does Chile. You’ve probably said New Zealand too, and maybe Argentina. Did South African Wines figure on your list?

If you’re a casual wine drinker it’s likely it didn’t, or maybe it came as an after-thought. Here in Ireland we have an unusual blind spot for South African wines – indeed sales of wines from the country have dropped 35% since 2008.

Which is a pity, since The Cape is one of the oldest “New World” wine countries with a rich history of winemaking going back as far as the mid 17th century (another example of the fallacy of the Old World / New World categorisation).

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African Renaissance

South African wine’s fortunes within in the international wine world have been somewhat undesirable in the last century or two. Originally its Constantia sweet wines were the toast of the European monarchy in the 18th and 19th centuries, rivalled only by Hungarian Tokaji.

Since then, though, various market forces, debilitating  vine infections (which largely still exist today), international boycotting due to apartheid and old-school “quantity over quality” winemaking philosophy have largely hampered the country’s entrance to the quality wine arena.

However the newer generation of people making South African wines, now welcomed worldwide in the wake of the democratic awakening of their country, are spending time working in vineyards abroad and returning home with big ideas.

The outcome is fresh and new thinking brought to old vines in historic areas, with the result that South Africa has recently been named by Decanter magazine as the most dynamic winemaking region in the Southern Hemisphere; considering that includes Australia, Chile, New Zealand and most of their New World counterparts, then you realise that’s a big call.

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African Renaissance

The New Old New World

I had the chance to taste the wines from Rustenberg of the historic Stellenbosch district for the first time at the annual JN Wines tasting in The Merrion late last year. Standing behind the table was one of the most stereotypical Springboks you could encounter: tall, blond, broad, beefy, square-jawed and unfailingly polite.

I would later discover this was Murray Barlow, the third generation of winemakers to farm the Rustenberg estate that can trace its history back to 1682. Murray’s grandfather, Peter Barlow – after which one of their flagship wines is named – is responsible for revitalising the estate after purchasing and restoring it in 1941. The Barlow family have now been overseeing the historic property for 75 years, the longest time it has been in continuous family hands.

Murray was affably adroit at providing salient snippets of info without burdening me with technical detail. He summarised how they have in recent years concentrated more about prioritising working in the vineyard to ensure the best-quality grapes possible versus their traditional method of judicious sorting of the berries at the winery.

This approach goes hand-in-hand with some renewed ground-up thinking – if you’ll excuse the pun! – that has also expressed itself in experimenting with varieties alien to South Africa such as Rousanne and Grenache, a sweet vin de paille, and Syrah vines trained vertically on stakes in the Northern Rhone style.

Cape Crusaders

Of course Rustenberg aren’t alone in this South African resurgence. See also the wines of Mullineux, Keermont, Richard Kershaw, De Morgenzon, Glen Carlou, Kanonkop, Doran, Paul Cluver and a host of others making properly excellent, exciting wines. In fact, another article delving further into these great producers would be needed I think – watch this space…

South Africa is on the up – it’s time we opened our minds, and our palates, to the treasures offered by this historic region and started supporting their winemakers once again. Despite us Irish buying almost a third less South African wines since 2008, we’re actually 14% up on 2012, so we’re heading in the right direction. Let’s do this proud nation – and our own palates – a huge favour and continue this positive trend.

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THREE TO TRY

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African RenaissanceRustenberg Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon
€15.99 from JNwine.com

I really enjoyed the texture of this wine, which shows typical Cab flavours of blackberry and blackcurrant.

Though not hugely complex, it is nevertheless supple, textural and long, and great value at this price.

 

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African RenaissanceRustenberg Stellenbosch Chardonnay
€18.99 from JNwine.com

This was really the ‘wow’ wine for me at the Rustenberg table. Yes, their €36 single vineyard Chardonnay – the Five Soldiers – has that extra je ne sais quoi, but at a mere €19 this is incredible value for the effort that goes in, and the quality that comes out. Barrel-fermented with wild yeast, this shows judicious use of oak giving an excellent supple texture and layers of complexity.

 

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African RenaissanceRustenberg John X Merriman
€19.99 from JNwine.com

This is their Bordeaux blend and named in honour of a former owner of Rustenberg, John Xavier Merriman, who bought the farm in 1892 in sympathy with farmers suffering from the phylloxera crisis.

This has excellent texture and though a little taut is still very approachable and fine. Again excellent value at just under €20.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush: A Rosé By Any Other Name…

We seem to have an unusual aversion to rosé wines here in Ireland. Only 3% of all the wine we drink is pink, which is some distance off the 10%-11% figure recorded by our neighbours in Britain; even the US is experiencing a boom in the style, with the hashtag “#Brosé” doing its best to undo old perceptions of rosé as being “just a girls’ drink”.

The lack of knowledge about rosé might be a factor. Many believe that it’s just red and white wine mixed together, whereas in fact that’s rarely the case (though I’ve one such rarity below) and in fact it’s illegal to do so in Europe (except Champagne, but that’s another story). Others apparently believe that rosé is just red wine that’s been ‘watered down’.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…

In fact, since red wine gets its colour and flavour from its skins, then the less time the grape juice spends in contact with them then the lighter the colour of the wine. So in theory rosé can be considered a really light red wine … simple really (well, it can get a little technical, but that’s for another day).

Either way, the inference of these popular misconceptions is that rosé is somewhat inferior, which couldn’t be further from the truth: instead of comparing them to reds and whites, rosé needs to be considered a style in itself rather than a pale (or dark) imitation of the others.

So if you’re looking for a nice rosé this Valentine’s Day, look no further than the list below. But before you do, I’ve a huge admission: I’m not such a big fan of rosé myself.

I do appreciate the style, but I don’t instinctively seek it out. If anything though, this should serve as a stronger commendation to the below wines – if they’ve managed to bowl me over, then they’re sure to turn even the most sceptical wine drinker.

And, of course, these would all work great around the world’s annual celebration of love. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…JN Sparkling Saumur Rosé

RSP €23.95 from JNwines.com

First, a pink bubbly: this is a special bottling for importer/retailer JN Wines made by Bouvet-Ladubay of the Loire region in France and made from the often-overlooked Cabernet Franc grape (and I’d really highly recommend their regular white sparkling too).

It has a lovely ripe strawberry-and-cream character, and the palate has a  deliciously creamy mousse also. Thankfully it manages to avoid the cloying sweetness than can befall sparkling rosés at this price point, and indeed it has a slight bitter edge at the finish, which sounds off-putting but is actually great asset to have when it comes to pairing with food: think poached salmon or charcuterie.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Miguel Torres Santa Digna Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Rosado

RSP €13.99 and widely available: e.g. Mitchell & Son, Dublin; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock, Co. Dublin; Sweeneys  of Glasnevin, Dublin; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Bradley’s, North Main Street, Cork; O’Driscoll’s of Ballinlough, Cork; Amber of Fermoy, Co. Cork

Though not necessarily unusual, a rosé (or Rosado in Spanish) made from Cabernet Sauvignon is nevertheless not common, at least here in Ireland. Which is a shame really, as the result can be spectacular, such as this one from the Chilean outpost of the famous Torres family.

Expect blackcurrant, of course, but also some cranberry and redcurrant that only Pacific Cabernet Sauvignon rosés can offer.  It is also somewhat weightier than most rosés that we’re familiar with – so much so you could say it’s not too far off a light red wine. Delicious with cured sausages, meat pies and many pasta dishes … and, remarkably, it’s even perfect with notoriously difficult sweet-and-sour Chinese dishes.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Kir-Yianni Akakies Rosé

RSP €16 from Grapevine, Dalkey

I recommended this rosé before, and I was so impressed I felt it beared repeating, especially given the pink theme for this time of year.

Similar to the Miguel Torres above, this 100% Xinomavro from Greece is more akin to a light red than a rosé, but it dials up the beefy, meatiness more than its Chilean counterpart above.

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. Again it would be great with some charcuterie and even lighter meat dishes such as pork.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Masi Rosa dei Masi

RSP €18.99 from Baggot Street Wines, Dublin; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Fine Wines, Limerick; Nolans of Clontarf, Dublin; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin

I’m a long-time fan of the family-owned Masi winery in Italy’s Veneto. They’re most famous for establishing the ‘ripasso’ tradition with Campofiorin as well as their beefy Amarone Costasera.

A couple of years ago they released an innovative rosé made 100% with the native Venetian Refosco grape, produced by semi-drying a portion of these grapes on traditional bamboo racks using the ‘appassimento’ technique. This process helped soften out the often harsh aspects of the Refosco grape and added some ripeness and complexity of the final blend.

It has fresh raspberries and wild cherries over a zippy palate, making it great with food such as antipasti, light pasta dishes, shellfish and seafood. It’s worth mentioning its elaborate rococo label too, perfectly romantic for this time of year.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Flaxbourne Sauvignon Blanc Rosé

€15.99 from Marks & Spencer

Here’s an unusual one for you. There’s no denying that we’re a nation of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc lovers, so why not go off-piste a little with a rosé version?

They’re cheating a little here in that it’s actually a blend of 97.5% regular Sauvignon Blanc that’s ‘tinted’ with 2.5% Merlot, but the result is a not-unpleasant strawberry-tinged version of the New Zealand ‘savvie’ that we’ve come to know and love.

So if you or a loved one are a die-hard Marlborough Sauvignon fan, add a twist and a bit of spice to Valentine’s Day this year with this approachable oddity.

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

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.

port1

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.

port2

… 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.

port3

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