This was new to me in every respect: I don’t think I’ve had a wine from Gascony before,nor do I recall tasting its local grapes Colombard or Gros Manseng at any point, both of which make up 80% and 20% of the blend respectively.
What I definitely didn’t expect is how interesting this wine is, and for a quite incredible price too, which has been made even more appealing with 20% off this weekend.
Expect tropical grapefruit and pear tinged with herbal grassiness; a fun and no-nonsense wine ideal for summer.
Chenin Blanc is a very underestimated grape and virtually unknown to consumers, which though regretful means that it’s often great value.
Here’s one example, and from the grape’s historical home in the Loire too. What’s more it’s only 11%, so great for summer sipping. Ripe, round and flavoursome, and a great price even at full RSP.
Domaine Begude Etoile Was €19.95, now €15.96
At just under €20 this was great value, and at just €15.96 it’s unmissable. An organic, barrel-fermented 100% Chardonnay, this is the best Burgundy look-alike I’ve ever come across, and it has so much more poise than the often bruising examples of oaked Chardonnay from the New World.
There’s lots that buttery creaminess of course, but still maintains a backbone of lemony, sprightly fruit. The finish is long, textured and gorgeous, the balance fantastic. A treat wine for any day of the week, if you will. One of my stand-outs of late.
Though I prefer the richer style of Burgundy (see the last wine as an example) this is a really good (and currently great value) example of crisp, refreshing, unoaked Chardonnay for those who like their wines on the zestier side. Pure, clean and lemony, it would be great with some summer salads.
No this is not sweet. Much has been written about the public’s unwillingness to take to Riesling due to its unfortunate historical association with sickly sweet, branded confections. The reality, as ever in wine, is far from the common perception but it’s unlikely that consumers’ negative view of this noble grape is unlikely to change. Which, for the rest of us, means that it will continue to be good value, at least.
Here’s a great example of the grape, and in an approachable style too – yes there’s the limey, stoney character typical of the style but it’s rounded out and more textured than others can be, while still retaining the trademark zingy acidity. A delicious drop.
Côtes du Rhône ranks among Chablis, Chianti, Bordeaux and others as one of those regions that people call for by name, often without any reference for winemaker, brand or any other additional info. The unfortunate side effect of this popularity is that unscrupulous producers can exploit this and provide below-par wines for premium prices, something I’ve moaned about before.
Thankfully M. Chapoutier is not one of those companies, and at this price they definitely over-delivering. Expect juicy, brambly fruit with that distinctive black peppery characteristic typical of the region.
Yes, this could be in the “Splash Out” section below, but it’s also a super barbeque wine. If you’re a lover of Bordeaux, and particularly if you’re fond of your brands and/or Irish connection, then look no further. This is drinking fantastically well now: textured, juicy but balanced fruit with blackberry and blackcurrant loveliness on a deliciously dry, long finish. Definitely a special wine for that long-overdue get-together this summer, with a nice steak of course.
This was one of two whites on Burgundy übermenschRaymond Blake‘s table, and it just simply blew my mind. The world should taste wines like this and realise what it’s been missing in its race to de-oak chardonnay.
Gorgeously supple and textured, it offers up layers of undulatingly delicious flavours and a length that goes on forever. Very highly recommended.
I think many people are unduly harsh about Valentine’s Day; where others see a day where they’re ‘forced’ to jump through hoops, I simply see another excuse to enjoy myself. Think about it: what are the clichéd components on Valentine’s Day? Posh chocolates, flowers, a nice meal and some good wine, all shared with your loved one … if you find cause to dislike any of the above then I think you’re missing out on one of life’s pleasures.
And yes, it’s been over-commercialised, but what hasn’t been nowadays? As Alfred Wainwright famously said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” So change your mind-set about Valentine’s Day: grab someone you love (whether romantically or platonically), pick up one of the delicious bottles of wine below, put together some gorgeous food, and enjoy the fact that you’ve been given another excuse to experience some of the finer things in life.
I’ll readily admit that, in my early years in the wine trade, I ensured that I volubly turned my nose up at Jacob’s Creek in order to reassert the fact that I was now a wine professional.
However, when I actually tasted the stuff I was surprised – then delighted – to find that it’s actually quite tasty stuff. Not complex, not life-changing, but very tasty and quite enjoyable indeed. It has simple strawberry and cranberry flavours, nice lively bubbles and a touch of sweetness to help it all slide down easily.
If you’re just looking for enjoyable pink fizz, then you can’t go wrong with this old reliable.
South African winery Graham Beck is famous for their sparkling wines, with the company’s efforts often being held up as the very definition of the Methode Cap Classique, South Africa’s version of the traditional Champagne method.
Their regular Graham Beck Sparkling Brut has been enjoyed by Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama, Prince Harry, and Bono, amongst many others and here they apply the same care and attention to a single-vintage rosé which has been lauded by critics worldwide.
This is basically rosé Champagne in everything but name: made with two of the traditional Champagne grapes – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – it’s produced via the traditional Champagne method and has the typically light yeasty aromas and creamy complexity with strawberry pastry all the way to the long finish. A very fine example of the style.
If you’d like to impress your loved one with a slightly more obscure Champagne, this rosé offering from a lesser-known Champagne House is a must, especially when it over-delivers on flavour given the price.
Expect strawberries and raspberries of course but I got lots of hazelnuts and white pepper from this very delicate wine too, a richness that belies Devaux’s location at the region’s sunnier southern location. A really fine treat and a rare find.
When all the stops are being pulled out, then really you need look no further than Bollinger Rosé. Like Devaux above, Bollinger are proud of and famous for their Pinot Noir, using a substantial proportion of it in all of their Champagnes which gives them that distinctive Bollinger body and character.
But it wasn’t until 2008 that Bollinger decided to create the Rosé to let their Pinot shine more brightly, and it’s a wonder why they waited so long. It has a distinctive, deep strawberries-and-cream flavour topped with cinnamon and spice. Really, this can’t but be enjoyed with the most decadent, fine foods, like oyster, scallops and even red meats delicately done, such as beef carpaccio.
So it’s Christmas eve-eve, and you haven’t picked up wine for the coming days yet.
No worries, there’s still time, and to help I’ve picked out some favourites from a few importer/retailers around the country, so that hopefully some of my suggestions below shouldn’t be too far from where you live.
Please not though that for the sake of brevity I’ve picked out only a tiny selection of wines I’ve sampled recently from importers that have invited me to their tastings, so obviously this is by no means a definitive or exhaustive list.
As such the best default course of action – as I’ve always strongly recommended – is to go into your local independent off-licence (not supermarket) and tell someone there what you’re looking for; you’ll almost always end up with something exactly what you’re looking for and usually something better than expected, as well as supporting local businesses. Win win.
There are a couple of whites and a couple of reds from each supplier that I think will be pretty fail-safe for the coming days, covering both party wines and special bottles.
Château Fuisse Saint Veran – now €19.99
Though I would normally choose the more expensive wines of the Château Fuisse range – such as the Pouilly Fuissé ‘Tête de Cru’ I reviewed in the O’Brine’s Fine Wine Sale post, for €20 this is a great introduction to the brand and a fantastic white Burgundy in general. Zingy and refreshing but with some of that creamy oak influence underneath, this is perfect for those recovering from the oak overload of old.
Bellow’s Rock Shiraz – now €9.99
A consistently very good wine that’s always excellent value, this has all you’d want from Shiraz but without the usual blowsy, over-cooked characters: weight, balance and drinkability. An above-par party wine.
Monte Real Rioja Reserva – now €13.99
I continue to be perplexed as to how O’Brien’s continue to source this wine at this price. Rioja Reservas usually start around the €20 mark, but Monte Real often appears well below €15, which shouldn’t be possible given the quality. Still, take advantage while you can and buy a case or two then this comes on sale: it has all the trademark Rioja characteristics of dark fruit with vanilla and leather over a silky supple palate. A real Christmas winner.
KILKENNY: Le Caveau An award-winning Burgundy specialist, it would be remiss of me not to feature some of my (slightly) more affordable favourites from the iconic region Open Wednesday 23rd until 10pm, and Thursday 24th from 10.30am – 4.30pm
Olivier Leflaive, Bourgogne Blanc – €20.40
And excellent basic Bourgogne from an iconic producer, this ticks all the boxes and comes in at barely a shade over €20. Really highly recommended.
Louis Boillot, Bourgogne Rouge – €26.50
Beautifully fragrant and smoky, with sweet red fruit and a herbal tinge. Soft and generous and surprisingly complex for a basic Bourgogne.
Maison Ambroise, Cotes de Nuits Villages – €28.90
My tasting notes say that this tastes of Christmas, so no better time to grab a bottle then! Clove and baking spices are overlaid by brambly red fruits and a lush expressiveness.
GALWAY: Cases Wine Warehouse A great outlet run with passion, yet not lacking in some great-value finds Open Wednesday 23rd until 7pm and Thursday 24th from10am to 3pm
Autoritas Reserva Viognier – now €9.95
I had this marked as “Very Good Value for Money” when it was €11.95, so now it’s Excellent Value for Money at the discounted price for Christmas. A surprising treat for the cost, it’s full and rich with peach and honey, though beware the 14% alcohol!
Lady Sauvignon – €11.95
Another bargain from Chile. Though it’s typically expressive and flavoursome in the New World style, I found the acidity to be a little less aggressive than we come to expect from the style. Everything else is in place, such as the grassy pea characteristics. One to buy in bulk.
Mister Shiraz – €13.95
Yes, you guessed it, Mister Shiraz is the partner to Lady Sauvignon above. But I’m not featuring it just to complete the pair: I found this to be much lighter than expected, which is a pleasant surprise as New World Shiraz at this price tends to be over-blown. Still, it’s deep and satisfying with blueberry and blackberry flavours.
Bagante Mencia – €13.95
One of my favourites from the Cases tasting a few months back, and again great value for money (a running theme from Cases it seems). I wrote about this for TheTaste.ie before, and I’d recommend it again: juicy, fresh, lively and all pleasure, it’s fun and sun in a glass.
Sartarelli Verdicchio Classico – €14.99
I found this to be very good value for money: fresh and easy with approachable tropical fruit, but the palate still has some weight and seriousness to it. I’d say this would be a very versatile choice at the Christmas table.
Weingut Salwey, “Salwey RS” Weissburgunder – €21.99
Weissburgunder is the German name for Pinot Blanc, and this is a fine, rich example of the variety: it straddles the line between freshness and creaminess, giving sprightly citrus fruits over a lightly waxy palate. I’d recommend reading this post by Frankie Cook, where he gives a more detailed post on the background of this wine.
Bodegas Paco Garcia, Rioja Crianza – €18.99
Ah yes, where would Christmas be without Rioja? This is a younger Crianza style though, and as such is fresher and livelier than the Reservas we’re usually used to drinking. I thought the texture of this wine was excellent to, giving an all-round, crowd-pleasing quality drop.
Domaine Fournier, Bourgogne Rouge – €24.50
Yes, another Bourgogne Rouge, but when done well it really is excellent and the ideal Christmas wine in my opinion. Fournier produce another excellent example, with the texture of this wine the first thing to catch my attention, followed by some clove and Christmas spices. A really delicious wine.
It’s that time again: the annual O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale has just kicked off as of 10.30am this morning, Thursday 3rd December.
O’Brien’s are always good at special offers throughout the entire year, but those looking for something a little more special in the run-up to Christmas are well catered by this conveniently-timed sale of some special bottles. Unsurprisingly, most of the offers concentrate on the richer, more warning styles of wine, which befit the time of year (riper, richer Bordeaux is particularly well represented).
The selection is such that the wines can be enjoyed this month or put away for a while – indeed I still have a few bottles from past Fine Wine Sales lying around, and if you play your cards right you can get a nice rotating system going on: buy some wines in the sale now and open some from last year or the year before, and so on, building up a tidy little cellar along the way.
Below are some wines I’ve enjoyed recently that are now available at a great price. The sale is mostly only available in-store and may vary from location to location, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something great in your local shop.
Laurent-Perrier Brut Was €53.99 now €39.99
Laurent-Perrier is one of my favourite Champagne houses, and at €40 this is a steal. The quality is superb, and manages to be both delicate and generous with a really fine mousse. A really excellent and historic Champagne now at a silly price – what’s not to love?
Brocard Chablis Was €24.99 now €18.99
Christmas and Chablis are like, well, turkey and ham. The generic “Chablis” appellation can throw up some less than appealing bottles however, so knowing your producer is important. I tasted Brocard’s Chablis recently and was really impressed by it: displaying very typical steely mineral characteristics, this is long and very more-ish. An excellent example of the style.
Château Fuisse, Pouilly Fuissé Tête de Cru Was €31.99 now €27.99
Oaked Chardonnay has had a bad rep over recent years, but done well it’s hard to beat. Rely on the Burgundians, then, to continue to fly the flag for the style: this Pouilly Fuissé from Château Fuisse is a gorgeously creamy and beautifully expressive Chardonnay, which is both rich and yet with an edge of fresh herbaceousness underneath.
“Les Clos”, another version from the same producer, is also available for €34.50 (down from €46) and is also superb, but the Tête de Cru gives great bang for your buck.
Château Fourcas-Hosten 2004
Was €26.99 now €19.99
I tasted both the 2004 and 2009 vintages of this wine and was mightily impressed by the 2004, which was showing some age with some nice savoury, barnyard characteristics and nicely developed tannin that will be fantastic with wintery meaty dishes.
O’Brien’s do very well at regularly sourcing older bottles and bringing them to the masses at keen prices, and this is an excellent example of that. My Bordeaux bargain of the winter.
Man O’War Dreadnought Syrah Was €35.49 now €29.99
Incredibly intense, brooding and powerful, smoky and concentrated, this is a hugely warming and peppery, spicy powerhouse of a wine which has to be experienced to be believed. At €30 this is a bargain for anyone who loves big, serious Syrah.
Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Reserva Was €23.99 now €16.99
This is one of my favourite Rioja producers (along with Muga) and at €17 this is a fantastic price to pick up a bottle – nay, a case. All the characteristics we love about Rioja are there, but with heightened quality and balance: vanilla (but not too much), leather, tobacco, cedar – this is a delicately balanced but still hedonistic wine that’s made for Christmas.
The Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Gran Reserva is also available for €24.99 (down from €34.99) but as I haven’t tasted it I can’t comment – but given the quality of Murrieta in general it’s likely to be a good bet.
1757 Bordeaux 2012 Was €49.99 now €37.49
This is an interesting one as it’s a collaboration between O’Brien’s and Domaines Jean-Michel Cazes, known here for their ever-popular Château Lynch-Bages. Head wine buyer Lynne Coyle MW has worked with Daniel Llose in Bordeaux for the last four years to being this to Irish shores, so effectively it’s a completely exclusive wine tailored for the Irish wine market.
This is definitely in the more ripe, full, hedonistic style often referred to as ‘New Bordeaux’ – it’s rich and supple with concentrated red and black fruits and a clear streak of vanilla oak. It’s definitely enjoyable now but would need a good decant beforehand, or, following my suggestion above, lay it down and enjoy it in a couple of years or more.
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…!
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.
Hattingley 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.
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.
Michele 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.
Doran 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.
Saint 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.
Some of you may know that I contribute to TheTaste.ie, easily the foremost food & drink website in Ireland. I’ve often thought I should re-post those articles here on TheMotleyCru.com, but for some reason I’ve never got around to it before now. So anyway, without further ado, here was my September article which you can also read on TheTaste.ie by clicking here.
As of Tuesday 1st September, we’ll officially be in Autumn. This may not come as a surprise to many, given that July was so wet and August left a lot to be desired – it’s almost as if we skipped summer altogether!
But there have been whispers of an Indian Summer potentially appearing this month, which may offer the chance of wheeling out those barbecues one last time before the evenings begin to darken.
So below are some autumnal wines to match the change in season. These straddle the divide between lighter summer styles and bigger, richer wines suited to winter. Perfect for when the sun finally shines… or not, as the case may be.
Penfolds Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling €20.99 from O’Briens and other good independent off-licences nationwide
The Penfolds Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling is a perennial favourite that I like to trot out at this time of year, for how many wines are there with a season in the title?!
Thankfully, the quality of the wine is more than capable of walking the walk. Easily-spotted thanks to its retro 70’s label – the decade the wine was first created by the famous Max Shubert – this is an Aussie take on this famous grape variety that has its spiritual home in Germany.
Expect a very definitive lime character to this wine, but also rose petal floral aromatics, pear, and exotic flowers. A small addition of another grape called Traminer adds a Turkish delight and spice twist too.
Deakin Estate Chardonnay €10.99 from Donnybrook Fair, Dublin; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Bradley’s of Cork; and other good independent off-licences
For me, Deakin is a bit of an anomaly. Without wanting to get into too much detail, most Australian wines around this price are usually sourced from a large generic area of of the country, oftentimes the dreaded 2,000km expanse called “South Eastern Australia”, meaning these wines are often blends of regions hundreds if not thousands of kilometres from each other.
For Deakin, though, not only do their grapes come entirely from their own vineyards, ensuring above average quality control from start to finish, but all of Deakin Estate’s wines are sourced and produced entirely within a small 350ha area of the Murray Darling region in North Victoria.
Sounds relatively straight-forward, and it is – but usually not at this price. The result is that Deakin Estate’s wines are lighter, balanced and more subtle, with this Chardonnay is a case in point – simple, medium-bodied, balanced and very refreshing. Most appealing of all, perhaps, is the price: this is one of the best-value Aussies around. San Michele a Torri, Chianti Colli Fiorentini €15.99 from The Organic Supermarket online and in-store in Blackrock, Rathgar and Malahide
This was a nice little surprise I discovered for myself recently. It’s a fully certified organic wine from that most famous of wine regions – Chianti – or more accurately a specific zone of the region called Colli Fiorentini, close to the famous renaissance city of Florence.
Made mostly with the traditional Tuscan grape Sangiovese, it also has a dollop of the equally local Canaiolo and Colorino thrown in for good measure. The result is – for my money – an excellent and approachable wine that’s a great value representation of what the region can offer.
Give it a few swirls in the glass to open up and you’ll be rewarded with a delightfully fresh and lively wine, full of the cherries and vivacious acidity that you’d expect from a nice Chianti. It mellows out and evolves over the course on an evening – or days – and runs the gamut of red berry flavours (redcurrant especially) with some nice lip-smacking savouriness.
Bagante Mencía Joven Bierzo €13.95 from Cases.ie
If you’d like to be seen as being on top of the game as far as up-and-coming wines are concerned, then you’d do worse than picking this wine: little-known Spanish region (Bierzo)? Check. Little-known Spanish grape (Mencía)? Check. Clean minimalist labelling? Check check check.
In all seriousness, I was really taken by this medium-bodied, fresh and easy, lively wine. Juicy and fruity, I could drone on about various berry flavours, but this is a wine to be drank and enjoyed, not laboured over too much. Enjoy it Spanish-style: in the sun, with nibbles and good friends.
Graham’s Fine White Port €21.95 from Mitchell & Son
What’s this? Port? Isn’t that a winter drink?
Well yes and no. The Port we’re used to – that heavy red stuff – is indeed a deliciously wintery drink. But make Port in the same way though with white grapes instead of red and you get, well, White Port, with flavours of honeyed almonds offset by some sweet citrus elements in the case of the Graham’s Fine White.
Throw away all preconceptions of Port when tackling the white version: for one, you should serve it chilled, then serve it as an aperitif rather than a dessert wine (though it will equally well serve that role too). If you’re feeling very adventurous, try mixing it with tonic to make a refreshing Port Tonic, just like the locals do, or even use it in place of Vermouth in other cocktails. Saúde!
Earlier this month, Tindals Wine Merchants held another of their very-21st-century tastings on Google Hangout. The last time I partook in one of these high-tech events was last October when Craggy Range of New Zealand was the winery in question (which you can read by clicking here), but this time we jumped across the pond to the historic, family-run Australian winery Tyrrells.
The premise was the same once again: at a predetermined date and time we would all log on to Tindals’ page on Google Hangout and – hey presto – we would all, in our very disparate locations and situations, be audio-visually connected to partake in a virtual (yet very real) tasting of some very nice wines.
Harriet Tindal was in her kitchen in Wicklow, fellow blogger Frankie Cook was at home in north Dublin, and I was here in my home office, and at various points we were also joined by the Searson’s team in their shop – though technical issues cut their involvement short – and a chap called Marco and his group of friends. The microphone of the latter wasn’t working unfortunately, but judging by their very animated expressions they were all having the craic.
Joining us on this IT adventure was Chris Tyrrell himself, fifth generation of the family and assistant winemaker at the winery, who had risen at an ungodly hour to entertain the whims of a bunch of Irish winos on the other side of the world.
We had all hoped that on this occasion Chris could take us on a live wander of the Tyrrells vineyards, but a slight miscalculation of the time it would be in Oz meant that it wasn’t possible on this occasion unfortunately – for all that Australia has going for it, the sun does not shine at 4am, no matter how much we willed it.
A screengrab of the live Hangout. That’s Chris Tyrrell in the main image with (l-r) Frankie, Marco (and friends), Harriet and me (looking smug!)
Tyrrell’s Wines – a Brief History
Tyrrell’s are based in the Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest wine region located 160kms north of Sydney. I must admit that I had no prior knowledge of Tyrrell’s or their wines before the tasting, apart from a vague appreciation that they were somehow part of Australia’s historic firmament.
A cursory look at Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion confirmed as much, informing me that Chris’s grandfather Murray Tyrrell was a key figure in the revival of the Hunter Valley in the 1970’s. Not only that but their Vat 47 Chardonnay was the first commercially available Chardonnay to be produced in Australia, something which not only took the world by surprise but also the Aussies themselves, and as such it can be credited with helping kick-starting the meteoric rise of Aussie Chardonnay in the 1980’s onwards.
They’re also known to be one of the best producers of Semillon in Oz (“Australia’s greatest”, according to Johnson), and Oz Clarke calls them “top notch”. Douze points all round, then.
There were four Tyrrell’s wines to be tasted, with mine very kindly sponsored by Tindals and delivered straight to my door a few days in advance. There were three varieties from the Lost Block range – Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz – with their Rufus Stone Shiraz providing gravitas to the proceedings.
I really loved the Lost Block’s packaging: cartoonish caricatures of an Aussie winemaker looking perplexed and in perpetual search of something. The winemaker is, in fact, not a Tyrrell but Cliff, their vineyard manager who, in the midst of the 1993 harvest, was with his team of 60 pickers working feverishly on a plot of Semillon.
Suddenly Murray Tyrrell pulled up in his 4×4 and instructed them to drop everything and tend to their prized plot of Chardonnay 10 minutes up the road as there was a storm coming; the less resilient Chardonnay was to be given priority over the Semillon, and so off they all went.
It was two weeks later when Cliff remembered that they forgot to finish picking that Semillion plot, so with a small team he went out to finish the job. Given the grapes had two weeks extra hang time on the vines the resultant wine was considerably softer, richer and more approachable – a style considerably at odds with their traditionally more lean and acidic ‘traditional’ Semillon – and in a decision that was years ahead of its time they decided to continue to produce a small portion of Semillion in that style.
The vat in which the wine was originslly fermented was jokingly labeled “Cliffy’s Lost Block” by a young apprentice, and the rest as they say is history. The range has now been expanded to include Shiraz and Chardonnay – which we were about to taste – as well as Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, all from either Hunter Valley, Heathcote, Limestone Coast or Orange.
We started with two whites – Semillon and Chardonnay, both from the Hunter Valley – and then two Shirazes – the Lost Block and Rufus Stone – which were both from Heathcote, north of Melbourne in Victoria, some 1,000kms away from the Tyrrells home in Hunter Valley.
During harvest it takes refrigerated trucks packed with grapes approximately 12 hours to travel from Heathcote to the Tyrrel’s winery in Hunter Valley. Chris has obviously been questioned on the environmental impact of doing this ad nauseum in the past as, unprompted, he very quickly defended their reasons for doing so: we’re all very used to buying apples from New Zealand and grapes from Chile which have been frozen for weeks and flown by plane around the world, so sending a fleet of trucks 12 hours up the road once a year is small change in comparison. Fair point.
The Rufus Stone, lest we forget, is a small range encompassing their “top non Hunter red wines” – in other words just two Shirazes, one from Heathcote and one from McLaren Vale. The Rufus Stone takes its name from a story dating back to the year 1100 when the English King William II, known colloquially as Rufus, died unexpectedly on a hunting trip.
He was with his friend Sir Walter Tyrrell, and though official records state that it was a stray deflected arrow shot by Sir Tyrrell that killed the king, his immediate and unexpected flight to France straight afterwards spurred rumours about whether it was an accident at all. Either way, the Rufus Stone (pictured above) now stands at the site where the king was found dead.
Tyrrell’s Lost Block Semillon 2014 100% Semillon, Hunter Valley
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here
This improved considerably after a little time in the glass – I had it too chilled initially which killed much of the nuance of the wine. When a little warmer there was some slight herbal notes and white stone fruit on the nose before leading to a lovely creamy palate that ended with a nice citric kick. Would be amazing with seafood and especially with shellfish. Apparently Semillon used to be known as “Shepherd’s Riesling” in Australia before they discovered what it was – not that that makes a contribution to this note, but it’s a nice trivia factoid nonetheless.
Tyrrell’s Lost Block Chardonnay 2014 100% Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here
This was a really lovely, toasty, very Aussie Chardonnay that made me smile on first sniff. Though many recoil at the thought of oaked Aussie Chardonnay, I’m young enough to have avoided the excesses of the style in the 1990’s and so I can approach these wines without any baggage. That said this is still a nicely balanced wine that’s both fresh and rich, with some tropical and lychee flavours over the creamy toastiness. This opened up in the glass later too, softening out over the course of the evening and making it dangerously more drinkable as the night went on.
Tyrrell’s Lost Block Shiraz 2013 100% Shiraz, Heathcote
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here
This was surprisingly lighter than expected, though I do have the habit of approaching every Aussie Shiraz as if it’s going to be a chocolatey spice bomb. Medium bodied and fragrant, it alternates between sweet and savoury notes with kirsch, black cherry and spice noticeable. This was a real joy and very good quality – another excellent companion to an evening chatting with friends (which is exactly what happened after the Hangout)
Tyrrell’s Rufus Stone Shiraz 2010 100% Shiraz, Heathcote
€30.00 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here
Considerably more intense, this is concentrated and brooding, and I couldn’t but help feel this needed more time to shine through. Smoky and dark, I tried it again the next day where softer, more savoury flavours were evident. The quality is unmistakable, but I’d love to revisit this in a few years’ time.
It was a real joy to be part of another Tindal Hangout, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the novelty of chatting with a winemaker who is literally on the other side of the world while sipping his wines in the comfort of my own home here in Ireland.
Soon after the Hangout finished a friend called over to ensure that the rest of the wine would not go to waste. The overall conclusion was that, though I was impressed by the power and seriousness of the Rufus Stone, I found myself reaching for both the Lost Block Chardonnay and Shiraz more and more, alternating between the two throughout the evening.
But then again the situation suited the wines I think: the Lost Block is perfectly at home at an informal chat late into the evening; if this had been a serious dinner or more special occasion it might have been more of an occasion for the Rufus Stone, given a couple of years. Still, they were all excellent wines and I’m delighted to have finally been introduced to Tyrrells.
Now, how do I get my hands on a sip of that famous Vat 47?