Tag Archives: Champagne

Happy 1st Birthday to TheTaste.ie

I can’t believe it’s only been a year since TheTaste.ie opened its virtual doors to the Irish public. The Irish public, for its part, has wholeheartedly embraced Ireland’s new online food & drink destination, with a mind-boggling 1.7m unique users visiting the site per month and literally tens of thousands of people following them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For comparison, the IrishTimes.com has 6.1m users per month, but then they have the advantage of 156 years in print and 21 years online (they were the first Irish paper on the web in 1994). So for TheTaste.ie to garner 28% of the IrishTimes.com readership in 4% of the time is impressive by any standard.

Such has been the success of the site that owners Keith and Julie Mahon have since assembled a small but passionate team of full-timers to help handle the exponential expansion of the TheTaste.ie, as well as a solid portfolio of contributors (yours truly included, if you don’t mind me saying so).

The popularity of TheTaste.ie looks far from being a flash in the pan and we can expect to see this indigenous success story continue for many years to come. But what next? TheTaste.ie line of food items? A TheTaste.ie restaurant? Given the energy of these guys I wouldn’t discount anything!

Anyway, below is my most recent article for them where I make a clichéd attempt to match wines with countries participating in the Rugby World Cup. But given that today, Monday 19th October, is the day after we lost out to Argentina in the RWC quarter final, then the below may be too soon after the fact for some…!


This is an article from the October issue of TheTaste.ie

You may not have noticed it, but there’s a Rugby World Cup going on right now. It’s just too irresistible to avoid matching wines to the countries participating in the tournament. Grab some of these wines the next time their respective teams are playing and have your own head-to-head at home.

 

England

Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011 – from €49.99  available from Mitchell & Son and McHugh’s Off-Licences

Anybody with any interest in sparkling wine cannot have missed the rising star that is English sparkling wine, which many in the wine trade now beginning to agree are seriously rivalling Champagne in terms of quality. The same need not be said of their rugby team though, who have always been world class (thought the Welsh might beg to differ!)

This Hattingly Valley blend (or “cuvee”) has been one of my favourites so far, a blend of 71% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir & 9% Pinot Meunier, it’s very fresh but still has a luxurious richness thanks to some barrel fermentation. Saline, toasty, electric and, importantly, delicious.

 

France

Jean Claude Mas, Piquepoul de Pinet ‘Frisant’Jean Claude Mas, Piquepoul de Pinet ‘Frisant’ – from €15.95  available from Deveney’s Dundrum, Clontarf Wines, Jus de Vine Portmarnock, Martin’s Fairview and 64wine Glasthule

Ah, the French. If they’re not stubbornly going against the grain, they’re being louche and languid and shrugging with Gallic nonchalance. Much like their rugby team in fact, who can sometimes either fight to the death or not bother at all, though unfortunately for their rivals they tend to bring their A Game to world tournaments.

Piquepoul (or Picpoul) is perhaps best known for the light and zippy Picpoul de Pinet, I was surprised then to see it as a sparkling version. When tasting this I was told that a certain Monsieur Jean Claude Mas wanted this wine to be a “Prosecco Killer”, and after tasting this the famous Italian bubbly is now extinct in my book. Honeyed, creamy, but still dry, this is deliciously elegant and great value.

 

Italy

Michele Biancardi, Uno più UnoMichele Biancardi, Uno più Uno€14.75 available from JNwine.com

The Italians, though relatively new to top-flight rugby, are known to play with plenty of heart and determination, despite suffering some heavy defeats in the past. Thankfully though they’ve been improving in recent years, much like their wines. Of course, Italy has always had fine wine, but the bulk of it has tended to be simplistic ‘table wine’ until a few decades ago. Now most winemakers in almost every region have turned their attention to quality over quantity.

This is a wine from Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’, which has traditionally provided gutsy, rustic table wines. This wine, however, from Michele Biancardi is a perfect example of increased quality now available from the region. Made with two grape varieties native to the area, the famous Primitivo and less well-known Nero di Troia, this is smooth, rich, fragrant, absolutely delicious and a steal for just under €15.

 

South Africa

Doran Vineyards Chenin BlancDoran Vineyards Chenin Blanc – from €17.99 available from Kinnegar.com and Mitchell & Son

South Africa, Japanese slip-ups aside, are known for being a big, bruising, world class team. Luckily their wines, though also world-class, are rarely as brawny as their rugby players, given the Springbok wine producers’ emphasis on balance and elegance in recent decades.

Chenin Blanc might surprise many as being South Africa’s foremost ‘adopted’ white grape, though they do have a considerable track record with the variety. This is a good example of South African Chenin done well and for not too much money. The palate is weighty but fresh with fragrant honeysuckle, grilled nuts and a twist of lemon.

 

New Zealand

Saint Clair Premium Marlborough Pinot NoirSaint Clair Premium Marlborough Pinot Noir – from €19.99 available from Mitchell & Son and Baggot Street Wines

Ah, the famous, and feared, the All Blacks. Even those who don’t follow rugby are fully aware of New Zealand’s dominance of the game; and the same can now be said of the traditionally French Pinot Noir too, for the grape is now almost completely synonymous with the Kiwi nation.

Here is a Kiwi Pinot that not only tastes good, but helpfully is in a very apt all black outfit too, the Saint Clair Marlborough Premium Pinot Noir. Silky and concentrated with blackcurrant and violets, this is a classy drop and a great representation of New Zealand’s take on one of France’s most precious grapes.

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The “Wine Days” of 2015

Here’s an interesting graphic sourced from the www.americanwineryguide.com: a guide to all the “wine days” that we can look forward to this year.

Though a few are obviously American-centric – I can’t see myself raising a glass to Michigan Wine Month any time soon – it still provides a nice focus and a good excuse to crack open a bottle of something you wouldn’t normally reach for.

I won’t need any convincing to enjoy Champagne Day, but the days allocated to Moscato, Grenache, and even Sauvignon Blanc (which I normally avoid) will hopefully provide enough excuse for me to finally buy a bottle of that variety and, in the case of the latter at least, set aside ingrained prejudice and give peace a chance.

Here are the days most relevant to us in Ireland:

9th May: Moscato
15th May: Sauvignon Blanc
21st May: Chardonnay
2nd August: Albariño (Spain) / Alvarinho (Portugal)
27th August: Cabernet Sauvignon
18th September: Grenache
23rd October: Champagne
7th November: Merlot
12th November: Tempranillo
19th November: Zinfandel

And here’s the full chart:

See you on Moscato Day…!

The Lidl French Wine Selection for Easter 2015

Lidl invited me to taste through a range of French wines they’ll be introducing to Irish stores this Easter, appearing on-shelf from Monday 3rd March.

I’m always impressed by how both Lidl and Aldi manage to source some really decent wines for pittance, a skill which they are both getting better at and gaining recognition for. OK, they may not be the most complex wines that are representative of their terroir or vintage, but they do tend to be very enjoyable for very little money, and for that they should be lauded.

So below are my picks of the wines they’ll have in-store from next week, but first a round-up of the sparkling wines which they have available year-round…

 


 

The Bubbles

 

Prosecco Treviso Frizzante
€7.99, available all year round
This is a simple, very fruit-forward fizz tasting mostly of pear drops. Not exactly interesting but it really is unbeatable at this price.

Arestel Cava
€10.49, available all year round
I was a little amazed at how muted this was – not bad, but not good either, just … meh. So not a terrible decision if you’re desperate for some fully-sparkling bubbly at a ridiculous price like this, just don’t expect any typical Cava character.

Marquis de Plagne, Crémant d’Alsace
€12.99, available all year round
Though the nose is nice and floral, the palate is simple and inoffensive. Still, an OK steely sparkler from an often over-looked region.

Comte de Brismand Champagne
€19.99, available all year round
A relatively simple and straightforward Champagne, some floral characteristics and noticeable acidity. A little aggressive initially it softens out to a creamy but still slightly tart palate. Twice as good as, say, Moet et Chandon, at half the price.

Bissinger & Co. Champagne Premium Cuvée
€29.99, from 2nd February until stocks last
Ironically, this is positively stratospheric price-wise in Lidl terms, but relative to Champane prices everywhere else outside of the German discounters you’re only really getting started at €30.
It’s hard not to call this a “baby Bollinger”, given the rich grilled nuts aromas and the equally rich and creamy, brioche-tinged palate. Granted, the length is only medium and the bubbles could be finer, but at €30 this is a steal.

 


 The Whites

To be honest the whites were disappointing, with the majority of them being flabby and lacking in the crucial acidity needed for some decent balance. This is despite the inclusion of an Alsace Gran Cru for a paltry €12.99, but even that didn’t warrant its price tag, despite its esteemed provenance.

Lidl Pouilly FumeThere was, however, one diamond in the rough for me, but at €12.99 for this I’d still opt for, say, Aldi’s excellent Gavi at €8 approx. any time:

 

Les Vignes de Saint Laurent l’Abbaye, Pouilly-Fumé 2013
€12.99
This had some nice smoky/flinty notes on the nose and lively white stone fruit on the palate with gooseberry and asparagus showing. OK at this price.

 


 

The Reds: Bordeaux

 

Lidl Chateau ArnaudChâteau Arnaud 2012
€9.99
A really quite nice ‘entry level’ Bordeaux: blackcurrant and oak, with a rich enough palate and nice tannin. Everything present and correct.

 

Lidl Chateau PithivierChâteau Pithivier 2011
€9.99
Much richer nose than the Arnaud with dark red fruit evident over a soft lush palate with noticeable blackcurrant. Very good.

 

Lidl Chateau de ClotteChâteau de Clotte, Côtes de Castillon 2010
€12.99
The most  complex nose thusfar with cedar and blackcurrant trading blows over a light a fragrant palate

 

Lidl Domaine la RocheDomaine la Roche, Pessac-Léognan 2008
€19.99
The joint oldest vintage in the tasting, this had a beautiful perfumed nose with black tea and evident oak. The palate was nicely balanced and flavoursome. It’s rare to get a readily-aged Bordeaux from one of the best vintages of the last decade in your local German discounter for €20, so I’ll be picking up a bottle of this to try again at home.

 

Lidl L’Enclos de Chateau Saint PeyL’Enclos de Château Saint Pey, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2011
€13.99
This had a bloody, meaty fragrance, which isn’t as unappealing as it sounds, promise! The palate was supple and rich(ish) with nicely integrated tannin. Very good and a great price.

 

Lidl Tour de LarozeTour de Laroze, Margaux 2008
€17.99
The other oldest vintage in the tasting. All was present and correct here but I felt there was better value to be had at lower price points. It was nice, though, and great if you feel the pressure to have the famous Margaux name on your dining room table.

 


 

The Reds: Rhône

 

Château Notre Dame des Veilles, Côtes-du-Rhône 2013
€8.99
A ridiculous price for a CDR, though its flavour profile was very much on the lighter, bubblegum and boiled sweets side of things.

 

Lidl Saint JosephSaint-Joseph 2012
€12.99
Again, another ridiculous price, but then this is Lidl after all. This was really very good, with a smoky, black pepper nose with some grilled meat evident. It had a silky peppery palate that was soft and spicy. I’ll definitely be picking up a bottle on my travels for this money.

 

Lidl VacqueyrasSerabel Vacqueyras 2012
€12.99
Though the nose was rather muted the palate was better, with floral rose and cherry flavours with some raspberry. The Saint-Joseph is much better in my opinion but it’s good to have options.

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.

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.

Apologies, Roger Federer…

Olesya’s Wine Bar on Exchequer Street is a favourite haunt of mine. Obviously their massive book of wines from across the globe is a big attraction, but what has always brought me back is their house Champagne, Gobillard 1er Cru Grande Réserve.

[singlepic id=8 w=320 h=240 float=left]Initially it’s zippy and citrussy on approach, but the well-defined bubbles (or perlage if you want to sound posh) prevent it from these characteristics from becoming eye-clenchingly overbearing. After a few seconds some toasty, nutty characteristics step in, which belie the 3 years the wine has spent aging on its lees (the yeast deposits remaining from fermentation). In all it’s a very attractive package, being lively, creamy, toasty and refreshing – everything you would want in a Champagne, really – but most notably it’s ridiculous value, of which more in a moment.

Champagne comes in a range of styles, from tart and citrussy to heavy, buttery and oaky. The best, I feel for me at least, are those that tread the line between the two, providing the best of both camps. Pol Roger, my perennial favourite, is an excellent example of this craft, and Gobillard 1er Cru Grande Réserve ranks up there too (though slightly lighter in style).

These balanced and well-made Champagnes aren’t too difficult to come by once you do a little research, but unfortunately Champagne is an industry that, like many others, is dominated by those who shout loudest. And given that wine is an industry that many struggle to comprehend then it is unfortunately those with larger advertising budgets that make minds up for consumers, irrespective of quality. And so it is that the populace is often subjected to insipid lemon juice that only barely conforms to the regulations that allow it to be called Champagne, but is marketed as one of the most luxurious drinks available. Moët & Chandon springs to mind. Sorry, I was going to be diplomatic, but there you have it.

But less of that. What really floats my boat as far as Gobillard 1er Cru Grande Réserve is concerned is how affordable it is: €30 from frenchwines.ie or €35 from the excellent Le Caveau in Kilkenny (both charge €10 P&P but Le Caveau reduce this proportionally to the number of bottles sold, eventually becoming free when you buy a dozen, which is recommended given their excellent range). What I’m saying is that is a find, especially as it’s easily found, so to speak.

Remember that this is a Premier Cru Champagne, a very tasty one at that, and you’ll realise that €30 is a steal, especially when you compare it to the stupid €45 that Moët & Chandon commands. So you can pick up a glass for €10 in Olysea’s, which again is fantastic value, though oddly Fallon & Byrne, literally a few metres across the road, have it on their list at €14 a glass, so it pays to shop around. Compare this again to, say the oh-so-ubiquitous peach juice called Prosecco that normally goes for €7-€8 and you can be certain where I’ll be spending my extra couple of quid.

Gobillard 1er Cru Grande Réserve
€30 from frenchwines.ie or €35 from Le Caveau in Kilkenny
Champagne
50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier
www.champagne-gobillard.com

The Obligatory Christmas Dinner Wine Review

It is a truism that wine bloggers get all jittery and gooey-eyed this time of year, and not for festive purposes. Christmas is the one guaranteed time of the year that ‘the good wine’ is permitted to be pulled out without an inkling of hesitation, uncertainty or guilt.

Throughout the year, wine-lovers, whether cognisant of the fact or not, torment and vex themselves on occasions where wine is requested of them, performing complex mental cost/benefit analyses in an effort to choose a bottle that fits criteria relevant to the situation. When a nice dinner is to about to be had, when friends call around on short notice, or something comforting is needed in front of the telly after a long day, all eyes turn to ‘the wine guy/girl’ in expectation and the mental gymnastics begin.

Of course the occasion for which the wine required is a big factor in the decision to be made. Should the wine be reliable or ‘interesting’; will the recipients ‘get’ an unusual bottle you choose; is it a time for alternative varietals or not? Are most of your wines in your collection for laying down for a couple of years or are some ready to drink now, and how can you be sure it’s in its drinking window? Should it be food-friendly or sipped on its own, and if the former then what food is being served and what will match it (and the complete can of worms that itself entails)? All these considerations and more jumble around your head while your hand hovers over various options until you find yourself, shamefully, weighing up if the occasion and the people involved are ‘worth’ a particularly fancy bottle on that specific occasion, before re-shelving that Super Tuscan for ‘another time maybe’.

Christmas is different though. ‘Tis the season for wild abandon of course, so the month tends to see your special wines wheeled out for all and sundry. Out come the vintage Champagnes, the icon Aussies, the Super Tuscans, the French Premier and Grand Crus, the bottles with just the right amount of aging or ones you’ll take a punt on. And of course with the ups come the downs: the bottles left too late; the ones that really should have been better; the oxidised, corked and TCA’d. But it’s all part of what we love about wine.

Anyway, here’s what we had on the day:

Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur NV[singlepic id=3 w=320 h=240 float=left]

Owned by Bollinger, the typical Bolly style is very apparent, though perhaps toned down a little – think of this as a ‘Baby Bollinger’ perhaps. Very vivid gold in the glass, there’s the toasty nutty nose and touch of butter and grilled nuts on the palate. The perlage perhaps isn’t as fine as some more expensive wines but this is just a niggle. Very good, and a decent QPR. Consistently a favourite of mine.

2001 Domaine du Duc de Magenta Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle 

A rare foray into cru white Burgundy. I’m suspicious that this may have been perhaps past its best or a victim of the scourge of random oxidation that white Burgundy has been suffering from of late. Notes of butter (real butter, and not just ‘buttery’) and nuts on the nose, even some sherry characteristics, which made me more wary of the possibility of oxidation. More sherry on the palate which blew off shortly to give more by way of nuts, a lick of oak and yellow-green apples. A sip with some Christmas turkey resulted in an explosion of this over-ripe, yellow apple characteristic which astounded me. Following from this was more sweet apple juice and some recurrent sherry notes. Overall this was an interesting bottle though I’m not sure I’d have it again.

2004 Wakefield St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon[singlepic id=7 w=320 h=240 float=right]

Good solid wine but its time may be now. Blackcurrent liqueur, some firm menthol (but not to the usual Aussie blockbuster level), a lovely all-rounder. I’m guessing it’s slightly past it: I had this last year and it was firmer and more structured, but now it’s a little sweeter and not as balanced. A recent tasting of the 2002, which was certainly on its descent, suggests a similar prognosis. Still a rich, deep wine that’s very enjoyable now though. Perhaps give it a half-hour decant too.

2005 Chanson Beaune-Grèves 1er Cru[singlepic id=4 w=320 h=240 float=left]

Took a time to open up (initially it was jarringly harsh and acidic), but when it did it provided some nice Burgundian Pinot characteristics, but not to a a 1er Cru level I felt. Some nice mature baked red fruit, quite drying in the finish and nicely integrated acidity (eventually!), it went well of course with the Christmas dinner (especially matching and elevating the cranberry sauce) but as I said, perhaps not the 1er Cru level I was expecting.