Tag Archives: Redmond’s of Ranelagh

Bollinger – A Visit to the Legendary Champagne House

Emerging from the forested hilltop of Montagne de Reims, the heartland of the Champagne region unfurls itself before you. The reveal is gradual and, as you’d expect from this most famous of wine regions, not without elegance.

However when I visited the region in March it was not lush undulating green hillsides that greeted me but the rather more sobering sight of heavy, leaden grey skies over bleak fields of skeletal vines – the area had not yet fully emerged from its winter dormancy and so was distinctly lacking in any vegetation or colour.

I was in Champagne to visit Bollinger, the famous House known to anyone with even a passing interest in sparkling wine. Having worked with the brand for years it was akin to meeting one of your heroes, though in contrast to the old saying I couldn’t imagine this encounter to be in any way disappointing.

Descending from Montagne de Reims we hung left before Épernay in the direction of Aÿ, home to Bollinger as well as other notable names such as Ayala, Deutz and a small boutique brand known as Moët et Chandon. Aÿ itself came upon us quite suddenly and without the fanfare I was expecting from such an eminent address. I also found it difficult to comprehend its size: with a mere 4,000 souls or so, I didn’t expect Aÿ to be, well, a village.

Overlooking Clos St Jacques in Aÿ

More surprising was how we came to find ourselves outside the House of Bollinger itself: instead of a gilded avenue lined with cypress trees and cherubs heralding our arrival, we approached the château via what seemed to be a back lane behind some houses, pulling up outside the iconic polished brass nameplates with absolutely no ado.

That’s not to say the House of Bollinger itself is very impressive however: a very typical château in that much French style, with two sweeping staircases leading to a doorway beneath a wrought iron balcony and surrounded by white shuttered windows. It features a lot in the Bollinger iconography, and rightly so.

We started by having a gander at Bollinger’s back garden – literally. Behind the House is a walled vineyard, and a very rare one too as it’s one of the few in France that wasn’t devastated by the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out most vineyards across Europe in the 1860s onwards. Indeed, it’s one of only two in Champagne that wasn’t affected by the devastating louse – the other, Clos St Jacques, is literally across the road and also owned by Bollinger. Needless to say this rarity is fully exploited via an extremely limited-production Champagne called Vieilles Vignes Françaises which is made exclusively from these two plots; a bottle of this – if you can find one – will set you back at least €500, if you’re lucky.

The cooperage in Bollinger

From there we made our way down the deserted streets on foot to Lily Bollinger’s house where, across a modest courtyard, there was a small cooperage where they still maintain their oak barrels to this day, the last company in Champagne to do so. Hanging haphazardly on the walls were a handful of movie posters from past Bond films, the only obvious connection here to the world’s most famous spy, for whom Bollinger has been the Champagne of choice since the 1970’s. Oddly, the posters they chose were all from the Pierce Brosnan era – none from before, and none since. I wonder if the coopers of Bollinger have a particular affinity for the man from Navan?

Next to the cooperage was a door leading down into the cellars of Bollinger: dark, dank tunnels hewn from the chalky earth for which Champagne is famous. Here, thousands upon thousands of dusty cobwebbed bottles line the walls that snake for an incredible five kilometres underneath Aÿ. It’s mind-boggling to think that the  residents of this sleepy village have literally millions of Euros of the finest Champagne resting beneath their feet.

One of the many stretches of underground cellars

Established in 1829, Bollinger is one of the few Champagne Houses left under full family ownership. The beefy “Bollinger style” is famous worldwide and owes no small part to the predominance of Pinot Noir in its blends, but their dogged commitment to traditional (read: expensive and time consuming) methods also play their part, for example their habit of fermenting a high proportion of their wines in wood, their use of a large amount of Premier and Grand Cru wines in the blends, and ageing for well beyond the legal minimum, amongst others.

‘Attention to detail’ is a term bandied about a lot, and mostly erroneously so, but for Bollinger it really is an underlying philosophy of what they do, preferring as they do to prioritise quality, tradition and craftsmanship over profit and margins – an enviable situation made all the easier by being family-owned.

The result is expensive, yes, especially in light of €20 Champagne in the likes of Aldi and Lidl, but you really do get what you pay for with Bollinger.

When Bollinger says they lay down their Champagne for years they ain’t lying!

Back at Aÿ we emerged blinking from the cellars to face what was perhaps the highlight of the highlights: tasting the fruit of all this effort. The full range of non-vintage and vintage wines were laid before us in white and rosé versions, and even a rare still red wine called La Côte Aux Enfants.

But before we finish, no article on Bollinger is complete without the famous quote by Lily Bollinger, a tour de force who ran the company on her own for four decades in which she revolutionised the company, doubled sales, expanded production, and all the time adhered resolutely to the tradition that made the Bollinger name famous:

I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.


TWO TO TRY

Bollinger Special Cuvée
RSP €65 and widely available from good independent off-licences

The benchmark, and not for the faint hearted: full, rich, toasty, buttery, this is bruising but nevertheless elegant – a contradiction of sorts, yes, but true nevertheless. A properly posh Champagne.

 

Bollinger La Grande Année 2002/2004/2005
RSP €120 from Mitchell & Son, O’Brien’s, The Corkscrew, Redmond’s of Ranelagh and other fine wine retailers

This is the vintage Champagne from Bollinger and any one of the years above may be on the shelves of your local fine wine retailer at the moment. I’ve recently had the 2002 and for me it’s the best vintage Champagne I can recall, and from (vague) memory the 2004 and 2005 vintages are up there too. It’s more refined than the Special Cuvée, more delicate and mineral, and though more toned down in volume is nevertheless still rich and complex with incredible length. A true treat Champagne.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.

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TheTaste.ie: Wines for Autumn

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

[I featured this more extensively on a recent post which you can read here]

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!

A Foray into Niepoort

I was lucky to be invited to a preview of  Niepoort wines the night before the Wine Mason portfolio tasting a short while back (though I could not make the portfolio tasting itself, unfortunately).

I must admit that, apart from a brush with one or two of their famous ports, I was completely unfamiliar with Niepoort until recently. As mentioned, Niepoort is perhaps most famous for its Ports, but the last couple of decades have seen this shipper place much more focus on its dry reds. In particular, it’s the 5th generation of this famous wine family, Dirk Niepoort, who has made it his particular goal to expand the expertise of this historic wine family beyond the fortified.

Exchequer Charcuterie
Charcuterie … lots and lots of charcuterie

The Niepoort family has been creating Port wines since 1842, but it wasn’t until 1991 when Dirk Niepoort started a new era in the company with the creation of their first red dry wine, “Redoma”. What followed was a white in similar vein, then an alternative red – all receiving exalted praise. The rest, as they say, is history.

Indeed, Hugh Johnson has high praise for this sea-change, noting in his famous Wine Companion that, “With restless energy [Dirk] Niepoort continues to acquire small estates and parcels from which he produces an expanding portfolio of table wines of remarkable character and individuality, and usually steering clear of the massive, oaky styles that are coming to dominate the region.” High praise, then.

In recent years Niepoort have looked to Dão and Bairrada, completing what they call “The Niepoort Triangle” of different terroirs: Schist  in the Douro, Limestone in Bairrada and Granite in Dão, creating a range of wines vinified to best represent these areas and their particular characteristics.

And so it was that I found myself amongst a small group of esteemed wine trade colleagues within the big and bright front window of The Exchequer Wine Bar in Ranelagh. Paulo Silva, export manager at Niepoort, was on hand to provide the background info for each wine, though if I’m to be absolutely honest I was a little too distracted by the mountains of gorgeous charcuterie laid on by The Exchequer to fully take in everything he said. Below are my thoughts nevertheless…

 


 

Dócil Loureiro, Vinho Verde 2014
€16.95 from Searsons, The Corkscrew, and Hole in the Wall

Vinho Verde carries with it something of a bad rep, if it’s known at all. This huge, expansive area – Portugal’s largest wine region – is most famed for producing easy, quaffable wines that offer simple transient pleasure and nothing much else.

A Vinho Verde can be a blend of a number of grapes in varying proportions; can be red, white or rosé; can range from dry to slightly sweet; and may or may not be slightly spritzy. Oh, and often they don’t bother declaring the vintage either. No surprise then why the region isn’t often taken seriously.

The most popular, or at least well-known, grape here is Alvarinho – better known by its Spanish name Albariño and the Rías Baixas region in which its produced – though other grapes used are Loureiro, Trajadura, Arinto/Pedernã, Avesso, and Azal Branco. No, I’ve never heard of any of them either.

But as it the trend worldwide, some serious wines are being made in historically less-than-serious places, with Vinho Verde one such example and Niepoort one such producer.

The wine has tropical fruits, peach and pear drops on the nose; the palate is fleshy and long with a touch of a slight bitterness at the end. Very good quality and a great alternative white for the summer.

 

Niepoort Rótulo, Dão 2013
€16.95 from Green Man Wines, Redmond’s, Corkscrew, Gibney’s, Blackrock Cellar, Terroirs, Drinks Store, Hole in the Wall, Donnybrook Fair

I’ve written about this before and it’s quickly become one of my favourites for a number of reasons: the flavour being one of course, but the price being another, and the surreal labelling a feather in the cap of this remarkable wine.

However on this occasion the wine seemed different to me: more vivacious acidity and brambly, juicy sweet fruit versus the taut intensity I’d experienced at The Corkscrew Wine Fair. This perplexed me until later I discovered it was the 2013 that was poured and not the 2012 as per the tasting sheet (and the fair), which would explain things somewhat. Either way this is still a very recommended wine.

 

Niepoort Lagar de BaixoLagar de Baixo, Bairrada 2012
€23.95 from Baggot Street Wines

This is 100% Baga, for which Dirk Niepoort has a “huge passion” apparently. This is something he’s had to keep in check for some while now, grabbing some small parcels of the grape whenever he could from various disparate estates. But finally in 2012 Dirk was able to acquire Quinta de Baixo and its 25ha. of Baga vines, and thus resurrect the Lagar de Baixo brand.

A meaty nose with dark cherries over a spicy peppery palate that’s nevertheless medium-bodied. Just the right amount of acidity and fruit; delish. Paulo admitted that this is made in a “modern, reductive” style, so accordingly could do with a little airing out beforehand … or let the bottle breathe naturally as you drink it all over the course of an evening with friends, which is the far more Portuguese way of doing things.

 

Niepoort PoeirinhoPoeirinho, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 from The Corkscrew

This is also 100% Baga, and was a really beautiful and elegant wine, with a floral characteristic and violets evident. The palate was light but expressively juicy and refreshing – this was very, very good, with my notes stating that it was a ‘contemplative wine’ – Paulo concurred, mentioning it was “expressive, a wine for smelling”, and that characteristically it was “between Pinot and Nebbiolo”. A really excellent wine, my star of the evening.

 

Niepoort ConcisoConciso, Dao 2012
€39.95 but not available in Ireland, though Wine Mason say they may be reconsidering this

A mix of 40% Baga, 30% Jaen, and 30% of “others”, this, I found, has a more funky, feral characteristic with heat and spice more to the fore. It had very lovely, dark, damson fruit elements to it and the acidity was just right, with a grippy yet light finish. Many will love it, but for my money the more elegant Poeirinho for the same price was more to my taste.

 

Syrah, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 but not available in Ireland

Another funky, reductive nose blew off after a short while of swirling to give a more approachable, chunky, chocolatey characteristic. The palate, though, was very surprisingly light and elegant, with an almost saline element to it; I noted white pepper and black olive too – in other words a Northern Rhône style, which is exactly what they’re aiming for (and a region for which Dirk has great affection, apparently. He’s full of affection, Dirk is).

Indeed, Paulo noted that this was “atypical of the region, a winemaker’s wine” which was originally meant to be Merlot, but since that didn’t work out to plan they tried Syrah instead, given they’d a 1ha. plot of 20+ year old Syrah vines hidden in plain sight at Quinta de Baixo.

A winemaker’s wine indeed: it’s aged for 20 months in one single 2500L barrel of Austrian oak, is a variety that should be nowhere near Portugal and is produced biodynamically … in other words a fantastic, caution-to-the-wind experiment for which we are all grateful beneficiaries, for I found this to be really excellent. Hopefully it’ll be available in Ireland soon!

The WC Club – Argentina

Last week saw the first sitting in 2013 of the WC Club, which stands for, well, the Wine Club, eh, Club. I found myself honoured to be invited to this gathering of like-minded wine lovers, the first meet of the club in some time, and indeed I felt a little trepidation, like my first day at school.

A wine topic is chosen in advance – whether geographical, varietal, etc. – and each attendee is expected to bring along a bottle fitting the bill. Each wine is tackled individually, preceded by an informed presentation from its benefactor, then studiously examined and discussed in a balanced, erudite fashion. Marks out of 100 are given, with extra points going to wines at €12 and below. The meetings are decorous and abstemious, and finish early in time for bed and the Late Late Show.

The topic of this congressional was Argentina, so much of my spare thought that evening was taken up wondering whether the wines were Argentine or Argentinian. I’ve Googled it since and still don’t know any better. Either way, here’s what was on the table that night:

Marks & Spencer Fragoso Chardonnay 2011, €12.00, M&S[singlepic id=13 w=320 h=240 float=right]

Lanolin and butter on the nose and medium-bodied on the palate with your typical touches of tropical fruit, but not enough to warrant any sort of excitement. I thought it was lightly oaked, but no, it was completely unoaked, much to my surprise.

There was a little something on the nose also which those in the trade call ‘funky’ – and no I don’t mean in a swinging sixties way – but a sort of ‘barnyard smell’ which oftentimes can be attributed to a little excess sulphur which is yet to ‘blow off’ or dissipate given a few minutes of air. Ok ok, enough wine euphemisms: it’s a ‘farty’ smell, but it’s relatively normal and not uncommon with screwcapped wines as they provide a tighter seal which can exacerbate the issue. But it’s all grand, really. Seriously!

Anyway, this wine was found wanting and had a harsh jarring quality which, as you can guess, is not exactly good. All in all it was an experience to have an Argentinean/Argentine chardonnay, but I wouldn’t pick up this bottle again.

[singlepic id=15 w=320 h=240 float=left]Lo Tengo Torrontes 2010, €10.99, O’Brien’s

Bought for its shiny holographic label of Tango dancers, this was thickly aromatic on the nose – almost sickly sweet, like air freshener. But my God it tasted awful: harsh, alcoholic, a paint-stripper quality with a note of peach. Completely unpalatable, but others found it fine which confused me. What’s odd is that this came from O’Brien’s who should know better, though on reflection I wonder if it was a bad bottle.

Michel Torino Don David Reserve Malbec 2010, €13.99, Redmond’s of Ranelagh[singlepic id=12 w=320 h=240 float=right]

The lovely people in Redmond’s must have been wondering what on earth was happening in the Argentina section of their shop that evening as three of us sourced our wines from there. Joan brought this one, which was, she proudly pointed out, from the highest vineyard in Argentina at 1,700m.

This was quite closed on approach, meaning that it was quite hard what to make of it initially. When this happens in wine you need to leave them breathe a bit, so after a few minutes of frantic swirling we got some decent dark fruit character, plums and the like, but what really showed was its minerality, which I wasn’t really expecting from an Argentinean malbec. Some likened it to a metallic, blood-like taste too, which I suppose wasn’t too far off and suited the whole ‘pair with steak’ maxim well. It was too tightly wound for the duration of our tasting and would have been better had it opened a bit more, but it was generally agreed that the quality was excellent.

The fact that we were sniffing, sipping and postulating throughout the tasting was testament to this fact, because you never exert any brain power on €6 supermarket wines (which is one reason they’re so popular I suppose).

[singlepic id=20 w=320 h=240 float=left]Masi Passo Doble 2010, €14.39, Redmond’s of Ranelagh (and not, ridiculously, €16.50 in Superquinn)

This is the one I brought, the South American venture of renowned Italian winemaker Masi Agricola. It’s a blend of 70% Malbec but also 30% of the indigenous Venetian varietal called Corvina, and not only that but the Corvina is semi-dried by laying it out on bamboo racks, concentrating the flavours and adding plenty of oomph to the end product.

The result is a big, rich, full-bodied wine, very up-front and generous with the fruit. Baked summer berries, blueberries and dried raisins were what I got on the palate, then later some dried cranberries. The balance is great and some lovely integrated tannin decided to gently announce itself after a while, though some found it a little too drying. It was a big, friendly, approachable drop, but therein lay its weakness: some, and eventually I too, found it maybe a little simple; delicious and generous yes, but not much complexity.

Oh, and the price? €14.39 in Redmond’s of Ranelagh, but stupidly enough €16.50 in Superquinn Rathgar. It pays to shop around, and it’s always so much better giving the customer to your local offie.

Las Moras Malbec 2011, €10.99, Redmond’s of Ranelagh[singlepic id=14 w=320 h=240 float=right]

This had a smokey, spicy nose, but was nevertheless a bit shallow. Unfortunately the palate wasn’t much more impressive with a whack of alcohol showing up the lack of balance, a bitter tang which probably indicated poor fruit, and some residual sugar which was probably the winemaker’s attempt to make it palatable. Not offensive, but a no-go for me.

[singlepic id=18 w=320 h=240 float=left]Andeluna 1300 Malbec 2011, €12.99, Louis Albrouze

This, interestingly enough, was the only Argentinian (or Argentine? Gah!) wine that Louis Albrouze stocks in his fantastic offie on Leeson Street, so much given over to the Old World as he is. It come from vineyards that are, in light of the Don David, only a paltry 1,300m above sea level.

This was very much chocolately on the nose with some distinct smokiness and spice but also cranberry and black cherry. On the palate it was rich, full-bodied, had decent tannin (though more evident than the Masi), some nice oak (and therefore some vanilla), but in all it was also, like the Masi, a little simple overall.

Santa Rita 120 Merlot, €cheap, From Everywhere[singlepic id=11 w=320 h=240 float=right]

Yes, you read right. A late-comer, who shall not be named, didn’t read the brief correctly (or at all) and showed up with a wine that was from the wrong country. And a bland supermarket brand too. But, being game wine enthusiasts we decided to give it a go. The result wasn’t pretty. It was stalky and green, sulpherous, acrid, confected shite. I’m not a wine snob but I’ll have to call out a shite wine for what it is, and Santa Rita 120 is definitely that.

So who won? By a nose it was the Don David, then the Andeluna, then the Masi, though personally I would have put the Masi ahead of the Andeluna. Interestingly, though we didn’t pour out large glasses, we seemed to have no wine left, so theoretically we each drank a bottle of 14% alcohol wine each, which didn’t feel right. Either way it was felt that another bottle was in order to a Chateauneuf-du-Pape appeared out of nowhere but, alas, I had an early-morning drive ahead of me so made my excuses, and lived to wine another day.