Tag Archives: Christmas

Penfolds: A Liaison with a Legend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The Mix

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

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

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

 

A Journey of a Thousand Sips…

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

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

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

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A Good Year

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

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

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

 

The Wine from Dr. Penfold’s Back Garden

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

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

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

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

 

The Wine at the End of the Earth

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

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

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

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

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


THREE TO TRY

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

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

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

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

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

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

 

This post originally appeared on TheTaste.ie

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Last-Minute Christmas Wine Help!

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.

Good luck and merry Christmas!


NATIONWIDE: O’Brien’s

Wth outlets now in Cork, Limerick, Galway and lots of other places, you’re not too far from an O’Brien’s and their great range of wines.
Open Wednesday 23rd & Thursday 24th: until 8pm or 9pm (click here to check your local store)
Brocard Chablis – now €18.99
I covered this recently in my post about the recent O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale, and I’ve no problem recommending it again: simultaneously steely, mineral and generous, this is textbook Chablis at a great price.

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.

Vincent Girardin, Savigny-Les-Beaune ‘Vermots Dessus’ – The 2011 I tasted is €28.70, but the last bottles of 2006 are currently on sale for the silly price of €15 Complex and creamy with excellent length, this is a really excellent, characterful Burgundy.

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.

 

BORDER COUNTIES: JN Wine
The famous JN Wine company has its wholesale business both north and south of the border and offer a mail-order service to match, but as it’s too late to avail of the latter then you’ll have to hop over to their store in Crossgar, Co. Down, to grab some of the bottles below.
(For more you can read a recent profile on James Nicholson – the JN of the company name – in the Irish Times here)

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.

TheTaste.ie: Sweet Wines for Christmas (and Beyond)

At the moment I’m sipping postprandially on a very nice glass of Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port, which reminded me to re-post my current piece on TheTaste.ie, which, incidentally, concerns sweet wines.

It’s the perfect time of year for this underestimated category of wine, of course, but sweet wines shouldn’t be confined to just this festive period, which is the current situation.

You can read the piece on TheTaste.ie here, or, of course, below:


I’m not sure why, but here in Ireland we seem to have a dislike for sweet wine, which is a great shame as I think we’re missing out on such a great style of drink.

The most common explanation seems to be that the wines are “too sweet” for many people; however if we examine the sugar content of some of our favourite soft drinks on the market, you’ll find that we actually like sweet drinks more than we realise.

For example, Innocent Smoothies have between 100-140 grams per litre (g/L) of sugar, depending on the flavour, while Tropicana Original Orange Juice also has 100 g/L. Coke, meanwhile, has 106 g/L, Red Bull has 110 g/L and Club Orange, amazingly, has a whopping 130 g/L of nothing but refined cane sugar.

For comparison, the suggestions I’ve given below range between 82 g/L for the Banyuls to 166 g/L for the Tokaji, so they’re much in line with – or not far off – many of our everyday drinks. (I’m giving special exemption to the 400 g/L Pedro Ximenez however!)

Alcohol, admittedly, can also give the impression of sweetness, which may explain why some may find dessert wines to be more saccharine than they actually are. The better examples, however, should have everything in balance and the sweetness should never be too dominant and cloying.

Below are some delicious sweet wines in a variety of styles. I’ve given the alcohol and sugar contents too so you can compare between then, but also so you can see that many dessert wines aren’t much sweeter than our favourite soft drinks.

And remember, you’re not likely to drink 500ml of sweet wine, so the relative sugar intake will be much lower than a bottle of pop while the return on flavour will of course be exponentially greater.

Be sure to enjoy sweet wines slightly chilled, and unlike dry wines they’ll last a week or more in the fridge after opening.

Longview ‘Epitome’ Late Harvest Riesling

Alcohol: 11% | Sugar: 155g/L
€15.99 down from €16.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (375ml)

We’ve been seeing more and more ‘late harvest’ wines appear on Irish shelves in recent years, which can only be a good thing. ‘Late harvest’ simply means that the grapes are left on the vine long after they’d usually be picked for dry wines, meaning the grapes gradually start drying out. This natural reduction in water means that the sugars, flavours and acidity of the grapes are intensified, giving a lusciously decadent wine.

Longview, from Australia, has some excellent dry wines and this “sticky” (as the Aussies call sweet wines) is equally as impressive: it has delicious flavours of quince, preserved lemons & limes and acacia honey.

Château Dereszla Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos

Alcohol: 12.5% | Sugar: 166 g/L
€34.99 from Mitchell & Sons, Baggot Street Wines and The Corkscrew (500ml)

If you haven’t tried Tokaji yet then you really must. Tokaji (pronounced “toke-eye”) is one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, enjoyed for centuries by the great and good: Russian tsars, Polish kings, Austrian emperors and even Louis XIV of France are amongst its roll call of admirers.

It’s made by allowing a mould nicknamed ‘noble rot’ to infect the grapes, which – like the late harvest method above – desiccates them and again concentrates the sugar and flavours.

For this popular Tokaji, expect marmalade, dried apricots, caramel, butterscotch and honey, while its deliciously refreshing acidity prevents it being too cloying.

Gérard Bertrand Banyuls
Alcohol 16.5 % | Sugar 82 g/l
€19.99 down from €23.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (750ml)

This is a ‘vin doux naturel’, which means that alcohol is added to stop the fermentation before it’s finished, resulting in some sugar being left behind (a method made popular by Port producers, in fact).

Gérard Bertrand’s Banyuls is a lush, coffee-and-chocolate version with subtle Christmas cake spice flavours thrown in the mix, and great value in O’Brien’s this festive season.

(TheTaste.ie chatted to Gérard Bertrand himself recently – click here to see it)

Graham’s ‘Six Grapes’ Reserve Port
Alcohol: 20.0% | Sugar: 104 g/L
€21.99 down from €28.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (750ml)

They call this the “everyday Port for the vintage Port drinker”, though the thriftier among us can read into the subtext that this is a vintage Port for a quarter of the price!

It doesn’t lack in quality or complexity though: the grapes come from the same vineyards as the Graham family’s famous vintage Ports and it’s treated in much the same fashion.

Expect big, heady, ripe black fruit flavours and some serious depth. If you like serious Port then this is a bargain.

Valdespino ‘El Candado’ Pedro Ximénez

Alcohol: 18.0% | Sugar: 400 g/L
€15.99 from Donnybrook Fair and other good off-licences (375ml)

OK, so the sugar is getting a bit stratospheric here, but hear me out. This is a really unique sherry style made by laying out Pedro Ximénez grapes to dry in the sun, resulting in the wine being made, essentially, from raisins.

This gives a product that’s almost closer to treacle than wine, and in fact the Spanish often treat it as such: “PX”, as it’s commonly abbreviated, can often be found drizzled over ice cream for a decadent and adult treat.

Valdespino’s ‘El Candado’ PX is an excellent example of this style. It tastes – unsurprisingly – of raisins and figs, with some chocolate and coffee too. Enjoy with dessert, both on its own (in small amounts) and as a condiment for desserts.

Two New Aussies Hit Irish Shores

Australian wine can often be misunderstood here in Ireland, with many (maybe most?) people directly equating all output from this immensely diverse country – nay, continent – with the cheap and nasty stuff with pretty animals on the labels.

The real truth is that Australia has an incredible array of wines: from cheap to ultra-expensive; simple quaffers to multi-layered and complex bottles; from old reliable grapes to new and exciting plantings of obscure varieties. Really, Oz wines are amazing nowadays, but that’s for another day’s blog post.

But lest we forget what Australia does best, two new wines have come to the Irish market to remind us of the characteristics that made us fall in love with Aussie wine in the first place.

Barossa Valley Estate (or BVE for short) have recently launched both a straight shiraz and a blend consisting of grenache, shiraz and mourvèdre. The latter is an age-old, traditional blend from the Rhône valley in France which is often abbreviated to its acronym, GSM. So you could call it a “BVE GSM” if that kind of thing takes your fancy.

As if the name wasn’t already a giveaway, the estate is based in – you guessed it – the Barossa Valley, perhaps the most famous quality wine region in Oz that holds some of the oldest vines in the world, with some amazingly over 150 years in age.

Coincidentally, the same week I received the two bottles of BVE I spotted the same said Barossa Valley Estate on the cover of The Tasting Panel magazine. If you’d like to read more I’d highly recommend clicking the link or the image below for the full run-down on the brand – they’ve said it much better than I ever could (plus copy-and-pasting isn’t my thing).

The Barossa Valley Estate Shiraz is made in the reliable, beefy, rich, soft style that we’ve come to love from Oz. Supple and rich, it has choc-loads of plummy dark fruit and toasty vanilla oak, and is sure to be a hit with anyone who loves big Aussie shiraz or similar chunky wines such as Argentine malbec.

The Barossa Valley Estate Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre, meanwhile, consists of 45%, 41% and 14% of those grapes respectively, and is a touch lighter than the straight shiraz though still on the beefier side of this style. The fruit flavours are more on the red berry end of the spectrum with strawberry more evident, and to be honest I preferred this style which was a little more balanced and poised.

The two wines are available from SuperValu for €16.99 (down to a fantastic €13 at the moment), while the straight shiraz is available in O’Brien’s for €16.99 also. Both will be loved by anyone who tends towards the bigger, richer, more unforgiving style of wine.

And in this weather at this time of year, something hearty and warming may just be the ticket.

Disclaimer: I was offered these bottles as free samples, but I was never asked to write a review, whether positive or negative. As always all opinions are honest and completely my own.

TASTING PANEL November
Click here to read more about Barossa Valley Estate

O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale 2015

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.

(There’s some nice detail on the wine on the O’Brien’s website here)

The Cases Winter Wine Fair 2015

The 9th annual Cases Wine Warehouse Winter Wine Fair takes place in Galway tomorrow, Friday 13th November, with over 100 of their own-import wines on show. I was lucky enough to taste some of their wines a few months ago and I must say they come highly recommended, so if you’re from the area or around Galway this weekend then you really should try and make it.

What’s more, all proceeds from the evening go a locally based beneficiary. This year, all proceeds go directly to the development of a sports hall  at Scoil Mhuire National School, Clarinbridge, Co Galway, a school which has experienced an explosive increase in pupil numbers over the last few years.

This charity element has always been a feature of the Winter Wine Fair I believe, and Cases should be applauded for this situation which gives a win-win-win situation: Cases get people in the door to try their wines (which is almost always a precursor to actually buying something), the public get to sample a shed-load of wine and have a nice evening out, and of course a worthy cause gets to benefit too. What’s more there’ll be live music, a raffle, and a blind tasting competition too.

Some of the wines open on the night will be from countries as diverse as Austria and Uruguay; regions as obscure as Bizkaiko Txakolina in the Basque Country and Utiel-Requena near Valencia; and varieties you might not get to experience often such as Verdicchio and Lacrima from Marche in Italy. It’s always good to see unusual options presented to the general public to freely try and taste – anything that helps move people away from Pinot Grigio and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a winner in my book!

The evening runs from 6.30 to 9.30pm at Cases Wine Warehouse on the Tuam Road in Galway. There is plenty of parking outside but, really, watching your alcohol intake at an event like this would completely remove any enjoyment from the evening I think. Best go with one of the many taxis which will be on call for the night.

Tickets, priced at €20 are available from Cases Wine Warehouse, from local shops in Clarinbridge and from members of the Scoil Mhuire Parents’ Association on 087 233 9851.

 

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.