Tag Archives: Merlot

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)

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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.

Wines I’ve Had Recently: December 2014 to February 2015

Things have been quiet of late on The Motley Cru. Instead of apologising I’ll boast instead: I was on holiday for a couple of weeks in much sunnier climes, lazing by the beach and doing a whole lot of nothing. That meant a packed work schedule a couple of weeks  before and another couple of weeks after the trip away, and so here I am a whole month-and-a-bit on from my last post.

I’ve lots of material for another few posts, which I’ll cobble together over the coming week or two, but for now let me update you on what I’ve been drinking over the last few months:

 

Michel & Stéphane Ogier Syrah La Rosine 2009
VdPdes Collines Rhodaniennes. 100% Syrah
€27.95 from The Vineyard and The Corkscrew

Beautiful, changeable nose over a beautifully knit palate. This is a really classy, quality wine, and though it doesn’t perhaps have knock-your-socks-off complexity it still offers plenty of interesting dark, gamey, spicy fruit over a silky palate of perfectly pitched tannin and acidity.

Perhaps it’s not as long in the mouth as it should be, but that said it is still a beautiful wine that was still drinking well into its third day, showing some interesting dark fruit, clay and some cinnamon spice.

 


Patrick & Christophe Bonnefond Sensation du Nord 2009
VdP des Collines Rhodaniennes. 100% Syrah
€19.99 from Jus de Vine

Another Syrah from an area called Collines Rhodaniennes in the Northern Rhône, an area I discovered for the first time via Simon Tyrrell at the Ely Big Tasting a couple of years ago, and which wraps aroudn the much more famous regions of Côte Rôtie, Condrieu and Hermitage.

This was lighter on the palate than the La Rosine but still had some deep black forest fruit and more gamey sous bois characteristics than expected. It’s fresh and has nice acidity though not too complex, but this shouldn’t detract from what is an enjoyable, good quality everyday wine.

 

Emiliana Coyam 2009
D.O. Colchagua Valley. 41% Syrah, 29% Carménère, 20% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Mourvèdre, 1% Petit Verdot
€22.99 from O’Brien’s, Searson’s and Vanilla Grape

This is a bit of a bruiser that takes kindly to a bit of air time, so be sure to glug it generously into a jug and leave it breathe for a while before approaching. 100% organic, as is the want generally of this well-respected Chilean producer, this has juicy brambly fruit with deep spicy blackberry notes on the nose; the palate is notably dry with more ripe black fruit coming through.

It’s quite the mélange of grapes (see above) and I do wonder Its punchy 14.5% means it’s tricky to get beyond a couple of glasses, so this is one for sharing amongst friends with some seriously meaty food. Some six years on from vintage hasn’t softened it out yet and I’m not sure it’s one for keeping a hold of for too long, though Emiliana claim it can last 12-14 years.

 

Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Rioja Colección Privada 2007
D.O.C. Rioja. 100% Tempranillo
€38.49 from O’Brien’s

I was gobsmacked when I tasted this at the annual O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale a few years ago and instantly bought a couple of bottles; this is my last one, unfortunately.  It’s really gorgeous, smoky and electric, long and balanced yet rich, developing nicely over the course of the evening. Which is exactly how I enjoyed it: in a big glass by the fire in December. Bliss.

 

Antinori Cervaro della Sala 2008
Umbria IGT.  85% Chardonnay, 15% Grechetto 
€51.95 from The Corkscrew

This is the famous Antinori family’s flagship white wine, made mostly from Chardonnay. This of course causes constant comparison with Burgundy, but perhaps unknown to many is the very Italian nose-thumbing in the form of a generous dollop of Umbria’s local Grechetto variety.

It has a chameleon-like nose, starting buttery and progressing through lemon-and-lime then matchstick and finally on to peach and spice.
On the palate there’s butter again, yellow apple and that matchstick characteristic again. The palate itself is silky smooth with just enough acidity to keep it afloat. An intriguing wine.

 

Château Gloria 2008
Saint Julien. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot.
€55.25 from Searson’s and Fine Wines

This was the wine on which I first properly tested my new Coravin, and a perfect example of the revolutionary device put to good use (which I’ll elaborate on in a different post later). It would otherwise be too young to drink this wine, but having a Coravin meant that I can have a glass then, a glass in six or twelve months later, another glass six months after that … and so on, watching the wine evolve over the years. This is definitely still young but nevertheless very drinkable: rich ripe fruit with touches of cedar and oak and blackberry. A little simple now and will no doubt evolve over time.

 

Yalumba ‘Y Series’ Viognier 2009
South Australia. 100% Viognier
€15.99 from Deveney’s, Greenacres, thewineshop.ie

The nose of this was promising, offering the characteristic apricot-and-honey scents that Viognier is famous for. However the palate was a let-down – flabby and lacking any supporting acidity, it was a little like melted-down gum drops. Without that bit of backbone this is unfortunately a bit of a mis-fire, which is unfortunate for this otherwise laudable winery.

 

Château La Tour Figeac 2007
Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé. 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
€48.00 from Mitchell & Sons

Rich and satisfying, heady scent of macerated black fruit. The palate is fleshy and continues the dense, rich fruit theme. Nice fine tannins that are enjoyable now but can knit further for a few years at least, with good length. Very enjoyable now and will be over the coming years.

 

Marqués de Riscal ‘150 Aniversario’ Rioja Gran Reserva 2001
D.O.C. Rioja. 90% Tempranillo, 8% Graciano, 2% “Others”
€50.49 from Donnybrook Fair, Dublin; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Vintage Wine Investments, Killarney, Kerry

I wrote about this in a previous post, but this time around I enjoyed it so much more than previously – and the last time it was really good. This bottle showed much more life than the last one, giving up an ultra-savoury, gamey palate and a nose that was heady and decadent. It was sipped on the fly so I couldn’t mull over it too long, but it struck a chord and has been memorable since.

 

Ornellaia 2011
D.O.C. Bolgheri. 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot
€165 from Cabot & Co. (or €150 for the 2009 from The Corkscrew and Mitchell & Sons)

Bolgheri is on the Tuscan coast in Italy, and this is one of a prestigious set of wines called “Super Tuscans”, or those that defied Italian wine laws in the 70s and 80s by growing “foreign” – i.e. not indigenous – grapes on their lands, resulting in their wines being downgraded to simple table wine status. Never mind, these rebels continued to make what they perceived as the wines that best suited their particular climate, bureaucracy bedamned. The result was a massive shift in perception of the quality of Italian wines both domestically and world wide, and kick-started a quality revolution in the country as a whole. The rest, as they say, is hostory; eventually the laws were changed to accommodate them.

Another wine sipped on the fly, this was impressive from the get-go: grilled meat, blackcurrant, ever-evolving. Tightly structured and needs to unwind a little. A stunner that demands a re-visit in a few years’ time.

Marqués de Riscal: 156 Years in 156 Minutes (Part 1)

The title is roughly true – give or take an hour – but never let the truth get in the way of a catchy headline.

This is the next in my series of blog posts titled “Clearing Accumulated Crap Off My Mac Desktop” (click here for the previous cathartic ramble) comes this one on iconic Rioja producer Marqués de Riscal.

In all seriousness my delay in posting this has nothing to do with lack of enthusiasm or respect. In fact it’s quite the opposite: I originally misunderstood Marqués de Riscal to be one of those many big old Riojas favoured by boorish cigar-chomping bankers that choose it simply because it’s one of the only wine names they know beyond “Chablis” and “Claret”.

However I’m glad to say that my perception changed for the better when a few months ago Señor José Luis Muguiro – officially titled Global Sales Manager but in reality a sort of catch-all ambassador, figurehead, historian, consultant, family member and much more – visited Ireland. Regular readers will have read (I hope) my interview with him in a previous post.

And so I ended up writing this a somewhat longer and heavier post than expected, partly due to a newfound respect and admiration but also due the number of wines on tasting, requiring this to be split into two parts (I’ll really have to start becoming more concise). Oh, and I was too busy and lazy until now to edit it. Whoops!

Old-school Riscal winemaking (Image: marquesderiscal.com)
Old-school Riscal winemaking (Image: marquesderiscal.com)
The Company

Having been established in 1858 or 1860 by either Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga or Guillermo Hurtado de Amézaga – depending on what source you trust – Marqués de Riscal is one of Rioja’s oldest wineries and very widely known to many, but I didn’t realise the history of how instrumental they were in revolutionising the wine industry in Spain.

Hurtado de Amézaga (as we’ll call him for simplicity), founder of Riscal (as we’ll call it for simplicity), produced wines in the typically local way for a few years before reverting to the practices of the region from which he emigrated to Rioja: Bordeaux. Out went the big old wooden barrels and in came smaller, new oak barriques, along with a new-fangled grape variety called Cabernet Sauvignon and the practice of bottling only grapes that were estate-grown, amongst other things.

Not only that, but Hurtado de Amézaga invented the gold wire mesh that is seen on many a bottle of Rioja nowadays, an anti-fraud measure designed, depending again on who you ask, to prevent empty bottled being re-filled with lesser juice (where the net needed to be cut to open the cork) or to stop expensive labels being stuck onto bottles of inferior wine. Either way our Hurtado was proving himself to be quite the polymath.

That famous Riscal gold wire netting
That famous Riscal gold wire netting

But it wasn’t just 19th Century Rioja that Riscal set about shaking up. Dissatisfied with the greasy, overly-oaked whites produced in Rioja at the time, Riscal pre-empted the fashion for crisp, clean whites by a good 40 years and discovered a style they best preferred in a little-known region northwest of Madrid called Rueda, planting their first vines there in 1972 and pushing for the establishment of the area as a recognised Denominación de Origen in 1980. Rueda, needless to say, is now one of the most popular white wines you’ll find on restaurant lists worldwide.

Finally, their release in 1986 of a top-end, Cabernet-heavy wine they called Barón de Chirel prompted the entire Rioja region to explore making fuller, more internationally styled wines, again predicting a trend that was to take off around 10 years later.

Throw in an outlandish, futuristic, award-winning hotel and winery complex and you’ll probably more clearly understand that “nothing stands still for long at this traditional, but consistently innovative bodega”, as Tim Atkin remarks in this immensely helpful and concise article.

This unusual mix of history mixed with revolutionary impulses was acknowledged by US magazine Wine Enthusiast when they named them European Winery of the Year last year, highlighting that it was their “willingness to take risks, and the successes that have resulted” that sealed the deal for them.

 

The Whites

We started off with two white wines from Rueda: one made from Sauvignon Blanc and the other from the local Verdejo variety. Given that Riscal were pretty much the first commercial winery in the area this meant that the vines for the first two whites are largely from 1974-1976.

Marques de Riscal Sauvignon Blanc copyMarqués de Riscal Sauvignon Blanc
€14.49 from SuperValu; Londis; Centra; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide

Interestingly, the company initially started out planting Chardonnay alongside Verdejo in Rueda, but a few years of capricious frosts pointed the company towards Sauvignon Blanc, which took to the colder weather better.

This has a herbaceous and yellow fruit character that stands it apart from the overt New Zealand style that has become so tiring over the years, with some zinging acidity initially that softens out mid-palate.

 

Marques de Riscal Rueda copyMarqués de Riscal Rueda
€13.49 from SuperValu; Londis; Centra; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide; http://www.thewineshop.ie; Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; Fine Wines, Limerick

This was much more to my style and had a really lovely, intensely aromatic nose and was lively all through the palate. It was simple and refreshing, and cried out for seafood. It was summer in a glass, but unfortunately I was distracted half way through tasting and didn’t take any more notes. Not to worry, just take it that this is definitely recommended.

 

Marques de Riscal Rosado copyMarqués de Riscal Rosado
€13.49 from Next-door Off Licences nationwide and Joyce’s of Galway

Before moving on to the reds we crossed the bridge of Rosado. It has a fresh but slightly muted nose that carried a suggestion of cranberry juice. The palate was slightly herbal and quite dry with hints of cranberry and raspberry. It used to be 100% Tempranillo but Garnacha was added to the blend to lighten the colour, bowing to market preference for more pinkish-coloured rosés and giving it a more Provencal look in the process.

 

 

Click here to read part two.

“Hanging Out” with Craggy Range and Tindal Wines on Google

Last night I completed Tindal Wine Merchants‘ second ever “Google Hangout” which on this occasion involved New Zealand wine producer Craggy Range.

Tindal must be commended for this very innovative use of Google+, which up to now I’ve seen as a poor attempt to muscle in on the social media scene, though I now see that it offers a really interesting medium for a disparate group of people located around the globe to come together audio-visually but without the need to download separate software, e.g. Skype or similar. The rest of Google+ is still pretty shite though.

As per instructions from Tindal I picked up a couple of bottles of Craggy Range from Searson’s Wine Merchants in Monkstown, which of late have become one and the same. So with that I chilled the white, popped the red (or unscrewed it to be exact), and logged on to Google+ at precisely 8pm on Tuesday  21st to undertake a very 21st Century wine tasting…

 

Craggy Range: The Winery

I didn’t know Craggy Range at all before this tasting, beyond a vague recognition of the label, but a hasty look at their website made me fall in love with the story of how they started. You can read it in full here, but here’s a snippet:

When Terry Peabody arrived home from a four-week business trip in the fall of 1993 his wife Mary, and daughter Mary-Jeanne, cooked him dinner. The meal was long and leisurely, but not without purpose. Terry wasn’t allowed to leave until he had agreed to go into the wine business. The specification was that the business must never be sold. It was to be a family business, an enduring heritage legacy.

So Craggy Range was borne of love, and if I make that sound soppy and limp-wristed then I don’t apologise one jot. The best wines, as far as my experience is concerned, come from those wineries that are family-owned and prioritise pride in their work above profit margins and shareholder returns.

Don’t get me wrong, many commercial wineries can make some really good wine at great prices, but you can’t replicate the almost intangible energy in wine instilled by the weight of having your family name attached to the product, whether that be directly (e.g. AntinoriHugel, etc.) or indirectly (e.g. Masi, Craggy Range, etc.).

Quite simply put, pride and honour trumps finance in every aspect of winemaking, in my view. I’m delighted to add Craggy Range to my list of those producers who go above and beyond making nice-tasting alcoholic grape juice to offer us something special.

But beyond this, what of the practices in the vineyard? I was delighted to hear Steve take a dichotomous approach to his wine philosophy: he regards with great admiration the Old World’s approach to terroir and the texture etc. but feel that they miss out somewhat on the New World ‘fruit forward’ characteristic which makes these types of wines a hedonistic delight.

So by combining these two somewhat disparate approaches – i.e. a food-friendly wine that’s enjoyable by itself – Craggy Range take a “bilingual” approach to winemaking that could be considered too ‘catch-all’ but which I think should be lauded; why not enjoy wines that can be enjoyed literally throughout a meal, from apéritif to digestif?

The Craggy Range family
The Google Hangout

We were joined by Steve Smith MW, founding director and current Director of Wine & Viticulture (or “arch viticulturist and Craggy Range boss” according to Decanter) and also chief winemaker Matt Stafford. Being the bossman, Steve spoke most with Matt chipping in at various points to add a more precise and technical spin to Steve’s garrulousness.

Despite being a bit blurry and unfortunately back-lit (don’t sit with your backs to a window, guys!), it was an incredible experience to be chatting live to two winemakers in New Zealand with an audience of Irish wine lovers based in kitchens and living rooms across the country.

An unfortunate IT mix-up meant that I was able to spectate but not participate until five minutes from the end, but the whole experience was very enjoyable and worthwhile. Keep an eye out for the next Tindal Google Hangout on their site – you won’t regret it.

Craggy Range Google Hangout
The Google Hangout with Steve Smith MW and Matt Stafford

 


 Craggy Range: The Wines

So, how did they taste on the night?

 

Craggy Range ‘Te Muna Road’ Single Vineyard Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012
€19.99 from Tindals and Wines on the Green

This was a really classy Sauv Blanc which began with all the hallmarks of the Kiwi take on the grape which has made it world famous, namely some pungent pea and asparagus notes that leap out of the glass.

But the Old World mentality kicks in and this brash New World aspect is replaced by a more floral character and herbal, grassy notes underlaid by a subtle, flinty, smokey character that gives it a sort of grilled vegetable nuance when combined with the pea and asparagus mentioned previously.

I loved Steve’s simile of this wine being like a “walk through a meadow,” in other words a plethora of fragrances that come and go:  floral, grassiness, clover, earth, lime tree, nectarine… Definitely the “Old World” care and attention is evident here.

This approach is re-affirmed on the palate, which is uncharacteristically smooth, at least based on the highly acidic experiences with most of the plethora of NZ Sauv Blancs on the Irish market today (and which we seem to go in for in a big way for some unknown reason).

Supple and soft but still with a bit of a kick to keep it refreshing, at two and a half years old (for the Southern Hemisphere harvest is at the start of the year) I found this to be caught somewhere between youthful freshness and mellow maturity. The length, surprisingly, was average, but that’s not to detract from it’s overall quality. Definitely recommended.

 


Craggy Range ‘Te Kahu’ Gimblett Gravels Single Vineyard Hawkes Bay Blend 2010
€24.25 from Tindalls

When we speak nowadays about the “Bordeaux Blend” this usually means some blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the two icons of the region and a combination that has been mimicked the world over, not least by New World producers hoping to replicate this classic iconic pairing in greener pastures.

However Craggy Range have taken this one step further and seem to me to have incorporated every possible viable Bordeaux grape into one bottle, so for Te Kahu 2010 they’ve included 80% Merlot,  8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Malbec, a veritable what’s what of Boredaux grapes. These proportions vary year-on-year, with some vintages even receiving a dollop of Petit Verdot.

The nose offers a typical red and black fruit mélange which I found hard to pull apart, but for me it was the palate where this really shone. Given the presence of some big players here – Cab Sauv and Malbec I’m looking at you – the palate is amazing light, supple, delicate and balanced .. in fact disarmingly so. My notes mention “amazingly light” in some form or another a number of times, so much so it’s almost similar to a ripe, quality Chilean Pinot from the likes of Cono Sur. It has the light acidity and gentle tannin to keep it fresh and interesting too. A beaut.

Ely Elation

An email pinged into my inbox yesterday from Ely announcing another pair of fantastic fine wine offerings at their Ely Place heartland, and again it was so good I had to rush out to take advantage.

[singlepic id=26 w=320 h=240 float=left]On offer was (and is) the Réserve de Léoville Barton 2008 from St-Julien in Bordeaux and the Domaine Christophe Bonnefond ‘Côte Rozier’ 2007 from Côte Rôtie in the Rhône, both for €59 a bottle or, even more attractively, €15 per glass.

Yes I know what you’re thinking: for €15 you could get an entire bottle of very decent wine in an off-licence, so why  in God’s name would you opt for only a glass – i.e. a quarter of a bottle – for the same outlay?

Consider, then, that both the Reserve de Léoville Barton and Côte Rozier are normally €40 from the excellent wine merchants Tindals and Tyrrels respectively. This is the off-trade pricing though, so using the rule of thumb of at least doubling that cost to get the on-trade price then this wine should cost at least €80, but more likely €90-€100, in a wine bar. So instead of paying €20-€25 for a glass of each I was paying €15, so this was like a Brown Thomas sale in terms of pricing: sure it’s still expensive, but given the quality, the rarity and the price relative to what it should be then it’s a bargain.

Luckily I had my eternally patient fiancée with me so I could get to try both wines in one sitting. First up for me was the Réserve de Léoville Barton 2008, which is the ‘second wine’ of the famed Léoville Barton, a Second Growth Bordeaux in St-Julien.

Estates in Bordeaux bottle their flagship wines, or ‘grand vin’ under the name of their estate or château, but oftentimes quality control is so stringent that there can be enough grapes left over to make what they call a ‘second wine’ which, though not as good as the grand vin, is nevertheless still of very high quality.

Remember that the painstakingly pedantic work that goes into managing the entire vineyard over the course of the year applies to all the grapes, and so really the ‘second wine’ is only established at the final stages; as such you get something quite similar to the top wine but for a fraction of the cost, and it’s a perfect introduction to the top-level estate offering. If the wine world had its own version of the Kildare Outlet Centre then you’d be sure that’s where the ‘second wines’ would hang out.

[singlepic id=24 w=320 h=240 float=right]So back to Léoville Barton. You might guess that the name isn’t fully French, and you’d be right. The Barton family have their roots in Straffan, Co Kildare, and still maintain an estate there to this day. In 1826 Hugh Barton, then owner of Château Langoa Barton in St-Julien, bought a part of the large Léoville estate next door and created Château Léoville Barton there. Since then it has become a Second Growth, one of only fifteen properties that sit just below the top tier of Bordeaux wines, which itself only has five properties in total. So the Irish done good, you could say.

And so what about the Réserve de Léoville Barton 2008? I could smell it as soon as the waiter began placing it on the table. An intoxicating, complex scent of cedar, oak, blackcurrant, some spice – I could have nosed it for hours. The palate was delicious and lighter than expected, gorgeous but perhaps not as long as I’d imagined. It was then that I realised that this was my first taste of ‘real’ Bordeaux, and I have to say I’m hooked. I’ll be back for more for definite.

[singlepic id=25 w=320 h=240 float=left]What then about the Domaine Christophe Bonnefond ‘Côte Rozier’ 2007? Again, Côte Rôtie is one of those fabled regions that is renowned for its fine wines, and never comes cheap. They only grow Syrah, which is Shiraz under a different name. But whereas the Shiraz we’re more familiar with – the Australian version – can be big, hot and spicy, Syrah from the Northern Rhône is a much more complex and subtle affair. And so it was with the Côte Rozier, which surprised me by being showing some aged Burgundy characteristics: leather, tobacco, white pepper; and again the palate wasn’t as heavy as I imagined.

Ely have to be commended for continually giving the general public the opportunity to try some genuinely fine and rare wines. In terms of wine in Dublin they set the bar years back and continue to be the benchmark today; not everyone has the guts to offer €59 wines as ‘specials’, but they can because they know what they’re doing and they do it well. Congrats all round.