Tag Archives: Rioja Reserva

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.

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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)

Marqués de Riscal: 156 Years in 156 Minutes (Part 2)


Read part one of this feature by clicking here.

The Reds

1860 Tempranillo
€13.49 from Londis; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide

After some refreshing whites (especially a lovely Rueda) it was then on to the reds for which Marqués de Riscal is famed.  José Luis began with the “1860 Tempranillo” which is from the broader Castilla y León region next door to Rioja. I’m not sure of the history behind this wine as José Luis didn’t bring it up on the day and I’ve found it hard to find anything substantial about it online, but given it’s their ‘introductory red’ for want of a better term, this is understandable.

Coming in a handy screwcap, it had a very fruit-forward style with some juicy sweet cherry, liquorice and toast, with only some minor tannin and acidity. In other words it’s a consumer-friendly, weekday or party wine that can be easily enjoyed on its own. Oh, it’s a blend of Tempranillo, Merlot and Syrah in a proportion of approximately 85/7.5/7.5.

 

Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2008
€22.99 from Tesco; Dunnes Stores; SuperValu; Londis; Centra; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide; www.thewineshop.ie; Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview, Dublin; and all other good independent off-licences

Finally on to the flagship wine, and it was here that I had my previous misconceptions dispelled. What I remembered to be an unreliably over-oaked, flabby and uninteresting wine (like so many other Riojas I’ve experienced) turned out in fact to offer up more balanced leather and tobacco notes with some typical – but not excessive – vanilla. It was heady and decadent but not too serious, thankfully, as there should always be an element of “mañana” in Spanish wines at this level I think.

The palate was taut and savoury, and again happily devoid of any oaky sweetness. Our host, Brasserie Le Pont, served up some steak sandwiches with aïoli and caramelised onion around this point, and in doing so provided me with one of those epic food & wine pairing moments that some speak about … yes, it’s hardly a revolutionary or innovative match, but my God was it a gorgeous pairing.

 

Marqués de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva 2005
€41.99 from Shiels Supermarket Malahide, Dublin; Bradley’s Off Licence, Cork; O’Driscoll’s Supermarket, Cork; 1601 Off Licence, Kinsale, Cork

Then it was on to the more premium bottlings, with their Rioja Gran Reserva first up. While Reserva wines spend one year in oak and two years in the bottle, Gran Reserva wines must spend two years in oak and three in the bottle (or thereabouts). So what you get is a more aged wines which, all things going well, will be deeper, more complex and longer-lasting than the tier below it.

Marqués de Riscal’s Gran Reserva had a less expressive nose than the Reserva, with typical tertiary aromas of black tea with some subtle spice and old faded leather. Though it was a very good wine in its own right I perhaps preferred the more forward and decadent Reserva to be honest, though many would prefer this more austere style I’m sure.

 

Marqués de Riscal ‘150 Aniversario’ Rioja Gran Reserva 2001
€50.49 from Donnybrook Fair, Dublin; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Vintage Wine Investments, Killarney, Kerry

This is a “particular favourite” of José Luis’s, and it certainly has the regal provenance to back this up: celebrating the 150th anniversary of the winery (duh!) and made from vines averaging eighty years of age, this includes a 5% dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon, something that Riscal are one of the few producers permitted to do in Rioja due to a rule that states that anything planted over sixty years  previous is deemed to now be a ‘local’ variety. So lots of history there, no pressure.

This is definitely one that benefitted from time in the glass as it opened up throughout the tasting. Again, like the “regular” Gran Reserva above this was tight and lean with, again, those dried black tea leaves and leather notes, but this time with a definite blackcurrant and pencil lead streak underneath, most likely from the Cabernet (though the power of persuasion could have played a part).

 

Baron de Chirel 2006
€68.99 from La Touche Wines, Greystones

Here we go, the biggie: its provenance, place in history, the weight of the bottle and even the epic-sounding name all suggest something special, and special it was. There are a few random quips dotted around my tasting notes, things like “so, so good”, “mindblowing”, “amazing” and “texture is incredible”. Nothing but goodness it seems then.

This was the first ‘new wave’ wines of Rioja which used 100% new French oak barriques and use of modern vinification techniques, which was a shock to the family when first produced back in 1986. Nothing better than a rebel wine that delivers the goods.

This had a really elegant and intriguing nose which I dubbed “soft and classy, quite forgiving, so complex but shy” – yep, I can really talk a lot of bullshit when spell-bound. But that can only be a good thing, really. The superlatives in my notes go on: “palate is velvety and elegant, fine grained, incredible, such class, one of the best wines I’ve tasted”. As cringey as these notes read now, looking over it a few months later, to re-word them now would lose the sheer awe and excitement experienced when tasting this wine for the first time. My favourite of the tasting by far.

 

Frank Gehry Selection Rioja Gran Reserva 2001
Approx.€400.00, but not available in Ireland

The last wine was one of the company’s most revered and rare: the Frank Gehry Selection 2001, which I was told in fact had never been tasted publicly outside the winery before, so quite the treat this was. Of course that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been enjoyed by other people worldwide; in fact José Luis made the passing comment that Frank Gehry himself is single-handedly threatening reserve stocks of the wine by giving bottles away to his family and friends, the latter of which consists of notable names such as a certain Brad Pitt.

This is a very limited production wine named in honour of, and made in association with, the eponymous architect of Marqués de Riscal’s now famous “City of Wine” as a sort of thanks perhaps and also in an effort to continue the relationship beyond construction of their outrageously fantastic building. Indeed, it took Gehry six months to simply design the label, which consists of a pile of squiggles. The artistic process, eh?

The current bottling, José Luis admits, is even now a little closed, which would go some way to explaining my notes that it was somewhat muted and tight with the palate a little overly grippy and concentrated. So some more time, and/or air was needed for this particular bottle, and no surprise there given the forensic approach to making the wine. So as happy as I was experiencing the rare occasion of tasting a €400+ wine, I’d be happy with the relatively modest €70 Baron de Chirel any time…

 

Jose Luis

A Bit of Banter: Screwcaps and Milking Cows

It was then that Señor José Luis Muguiro leaned back, stretched his legs, and gave his time graciously to the gathering, a rarity well appreciated whenever it happens. Being, effectively, a global brand ambassador, José Luis was full of banter and anecdotes, such as the time when he was dispatched to Riverstick in Co. Cork as a teenager in order to improve his English. Imagine that: an exotic, sunned Spaniard rocking up to a small Irish village some 17kms from Cork city, milking cows in his spare time. Even with the most established of families there are always some surprising idiosyncrasies!

The chat also included some revealing research that Marqués de Riscal conducted into the screwcap vs cork closure debate, a debate spurred on by the Riscal’s decision to seal the 1860 Tempranillo under the former. José Luis roughly outlined the tests they did: basically, they put 10 bottles of a wine under cork and another 10 bottles of the same wine under screwcap (he didn’t mention what wine unfortunately).

When they revisited the wines five years later, ten of the ten screwcapped wines were perfect he said. However, seven of the ten wines under cork had “lost colour” (so I’m assuming it was a red), two of the ten were ‘corked’ or spoiled in some way, and only one of the ten was ‘perfect’. Although this experiment is lacking a rigid scientific approach – though I’ll admit we didn’t probe too deeply into the specifics – it is quite revealing that one of the oldest companies in one of the most historic wine regions of the world have shown screwcaps to be more reliable for the purposes under which they tested then. The debate goes on.

Finally, amongst all the wine geekery, José Luis let loose on one of those impassioned monologues that I love in which winemakers sometimes indulge themselves; that is, after yet another question on grams per litre of sugar content or specific level of toasting of the barrels, said wine figure lets loose about the ‘spirit’ of wine rather than its specifics or technical details, the importance of its soul over analytics and technicalities.

For José Luis, his moment came when someone asked about a certain food and wine pairing:
“You hear this stuff about wines smelling like ‘horses’ stables’ … that’s bullshit! The important thing is to make good, fine wine that goes well with food; the important thing is that it’s fine, and that it goes well with food.”

I think that’s a good note on which to leave it.

 

José Luis with a bottle of Frank Gehry Selection 2001 (photo by Kevin Ecock at firstpress.blogspot.com)

 


Kevin Ecock was also at the tating and wrote a good piece on it which you can read here.

A Chat with José Luis Mugurio of Marqués de Riscal

In May this year Señor José Luis Muguiro of famous Rioja producer Marqués de Riscal visited Ireland after a hiatus of a number of years. His official title is General Sales Director, but as always with historic, family-run wineries his duties are multifarious: he does indeed oversee Marqués de Riscal’s sales in the over 105 countries their wines are sold, but he is also Brand Ambassador, Business Development Manager, Spokesman, Figurehead, Historian, and much more besides.

Marqués de Riscal Logo

From the winery’s foundation in 1858 to 1945, Marqués de Riscal was owned by founder Hurtado de Amezaga’s family, with the Muguiro family joining the firm 1945 when the winery became a public limited company at the end of the Second World War.

So though on paper the company is a PLC and responsibilities are shared amongst a handful of separate interests, Marqués de Riscal still maintains that idiosyncratic family-run feel and its associated values, such as a deference to the past (and not just for PR purposes), an almost zealous dedication to quality and process, impressive humility given their size and stature, and – my favourite – a far-sightedness beyond the quarterly results reports to shareholders, the downfall of many large wineries.

Food & Wine Magazine were interested in doing a piece on him for their ‘My Foodie World’ section and I volunteered to put the questions to him before he held a comprehensive tasting of their portfolio of wines available here in Ireland via Findlater Wine & Spirit Group.

I was fortunate to also attend that tasting and will write up my notes from it next week, but for now I’ve written up an extended version of the interview with this interesting character:

 

José Luis Outside The Merrion in Dublin
José Luis Outside The Merrion in Dublin

The Motley Cru: What’s your earliest foodie memory?

José Luis Mugurio: My earliest food memory was in a restaurant in Madrid called Goizeko Kabi where I had fried egg with baby eels, which is a delicacy in Spain that they call “Spanish Caviar.” They’re fished during the winter time and are a real delicacy in Spain.

 

MC: Are they like little silverfish…?

JLM: They’re known as … [consults] … ‘elver’ eels in English

 

MC: When I visited my friend in Madrid a few years ago we had these little silverfish that I thought might be…

JLM: Well then your friend must be very wealthy as they’re very expensive!

 

MC: Oh really? OK, maybe not!

JLM: The name of these in Spanish is Angulas, and normally you eat them on the last day of the year, the 31st December, and the prices nowadays are huge as the Japanese have discovered them. You enjoy them simply with some garlic; they’re fantastic.

 

MC: What wine would you enjoy with them?

JLM: You actually have two wines: the [Marqués de Riscal Rioja] Reserva would go really well, and if people would prefer white it would do with the [Marqués de Riscal] Sauvignon Blanc.

 

MC: Where is your favourite place to eat?

JLM: There is a restaurant in San Sebastián called Arzak which has three stars, and I’ve known the family for many years. I like the traditional cuisine from the area, especially the calamari and other fantastic seafood like their turbot.

 

MC: And the best wine you ever drank?

JLM: I’ve been able to drink many wines from many different parts of the world, but by far the best wine I’ve tasted is the 1945 Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva that I’ve been lucky enough to taste three times. It received 99 points by both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker and is one of the very few wines in the world to achieve that score in both publications.

 

MC: You say you’ve tasted it three times…?

JLM: Yes I’ve tasted it three times in my lifetime. Once was with Robert Parker at a big tasting in Logroño, the second time was with friends from Laurent Perrier and the third time was with a writer from Wine Spectator.

 

MC: What is your favourite wine region?

JLM: Rioja, of course. No, really, people don’t realise that Rioja is one of the few regions in the world with a vast library of old vintages [back to 1858]; for example we have had our consultant winemaker Paul Pontallier from Margaux in Bordeaux taste through our library to see how winemaking has changed over the last century as France had most of their own old vintages taken from them during World War Two. The region is really the place that has the best old wines, and this is why I like Rioja.

 

Marques de Riscal Frank Gehry Selection copyMC: Who would you most like to have around for dinner and a glass of wine?

JLM: The person is going to be a man, and it’s going to be Frank Gehry, our architect, because he is so emotional about the Riscal winery, and so I would like to have a glass of his wine – the Frank Gehry Selection Gran Reserva 2001 – with him.

 

MC: If you were ‘king of the wine world’ what would you do?

JLM: I would really like to have the opportunity to have a lot of very old vintages from Rioja to sell all over the world, but to have much more than we already have because they’re absolutely amazing and most people don’t have the possibility to taste what is available, so I would love to have the ability to offer many people these amazing wines from the old days of Rioja.

 

MC: What’s the oldest wine you’ve had from Rioja?

JLM: We have wines back to 1858, since our foundation. Over the years we have carried out vertical tastings and also held auctions; in fact we are the only winery to have held an auction in Beijing containing over 120 vintages, which no-one else has been able to due as many lost their old vintages during the Second World War. We are the only ones – I believe, I guess – that have wines since our foundation – every single year.

 

MC: Wow. Have you tasted them all?

JLM: I haven’t tasted 1858 but I’ve tasted the 1900, which was absolutely amazing and was awarded 98 or 99 points by Parker too, but other members of the family have tasted every single vintage. Others I’ve tasted were 1922, 1938, 1945, 1964 and 1952, which were all the good ones. And 1958.

 

MC: And they’re still…?

JLM: They’re still very drinkable, and some still had the original cork!

 

Watch this space for a report on all of Marqués de Riscal’s wines available in Ireland!

Rioja, Indifference, Exploration

I really like Rioja. But to admit as much can prove problematic.

What I’m about to say may sound elitist and hipster, but Rioja is unfortunate in that it’s so popular. It’s on a par with Chablis, Chianti, ‘Bordeaux’ and others in that it’s made in a readily identifiable, appealing style with a name that is easily remembered but exotic-sounding enough to be said out loud with conviction.

So those who “don’t know much about wine but know what they like” order it repeatedly, as it gives them a sense of control over what is inarguably a complex area. This in itself is absolutely no problem, but when Rioja et al are mindlessly chosen simply because it’s a name that can be remembered easily or, worse, because it makes you sound like you’re knowledgeable about wine, then the situation becomes very worrisome.

Many people, it seems, choose these clichéd regions without really knowing why they’re drinking them. But before I am hung, drawn and quartered for being a wine snob, let me take some examples from other areas of our daily gastronomic lives where we have no fear of expressing our opinions.

Ask anyone where the best burger is to be found and instantly a debate is sparked with everyone offering steadfast opinions. Ask why one place is better over another and there won’t be much by way of hesitation there either. I don’t know any burger experts, or those trained in burger production or involved in the burger trade, but what I do know is that everyone I know can put at least one word on why their outlet of choice surpasses the rest in this area. Maybe their favourite place makes them bigger than others, maybe it’s juicier, or the toppings, or perhaps even the chips or the service that edges it for them.

Whatever it is – be it burgers, steaks, chicken wings, films, music – the reality is that though most people won’t be experts in the area they can at least vocalise their subjective opinions on the matter. They’ve tried a few versions of the same thing and from this experience they can compare and contrast.

But when it comes to wine people go numb. Why is that? The perception that it’s a rarefied and impenetrable area? Amble into your local Tesco, Supervalu or even petrol forecourt and you’ll dozens if not hundreds of accessible and cheap offerings.

Is it the fear of wine snobs looming over your shoulder, sniggering at your lack of knowledge? There has been a seismic shift in wine writing and education over the last decade where everyone involved in the trade are bending over backwards to educate and include as much as possible, so this is a wholly unfounded and apparently self-inflicted inferiority complex.

Is it inertia? Maybe indifference? Either way, wine producers spotted this miles off and the more unscrupulous ones now produce tanker loads of cheap, shite wine that only barely scrape into the legal definition of the regions their from. Worse is that they damage the perception of that area, undoing decades if not centuries of hard, honest work.

So what most of the world gets is, well, really shite Rioja – over-oaked, flabby, jammy crap that bares no resemblance to what half-decent Rioja can be like. Don’t get me started on Campo Viejo, and the piss-poor offerings in restaurants struggling to balance margins and the budgets of their clientele is even worse, bad enough to make a grown man cry.

So. What to do? Well, if you like Rioja – or Chablis, Chianti, Fleurie – start there and find out what differentiates one brand from another. You’ll likely already know why you prefer Lindt over Cadbury’s, so why not apply that methodology to wine? Buy one Rioja this week, and another one the next. Compare and contrast. Ask your local, independent off-licence for tips. Start exploring and educating yourself to the differences within your comfort zone and work out from there. You’ll never regret it.

Anyway. I love Muga’s Riojas. Over the weekend I had the Muja Rioja Reserva 2007 – intelligent use of oak means that they avoid the confected vanillin characteristics of lesser wines from the region. Still, it’s rich, full and silky with leathery blackberry notes. A little lighter on the palate too, which again stands it apart from the usual clunky offerings that we’re subjected to. A bit of heat and spice on the back palate, while given time in the glass it becomes more leathery, savoury and saline, crying out for some Jamón ibérico. Delicious.

Muga Rioja Reserva 2007
www.bodegasmuga.com
€21.99 from The CorkscrewO’Brien’s, Superquinn, WineOnline, The Vineyard Wine Co., and many others
70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, 7% Mazuelo and 3% Graciano

The Vagaries of Irish Wine Pricing

​Apologies to all who have followed this blog since its inception around a half year ago (which is all two dozen of you), but I’ve been very lax with my postings of late. I’m afraid to say that this one won’t exactly set the world alight either, but you have to start somewhere as they say. Normal service resumes as of now.

I didn’t mean it to be this way but this will actually be my first negative review. I don’t intend to have one of those obnoxious, intentionally offensive blogs penned by haters and trolls, mainly because I’m neither of those types and tend to avoid them like the plague, which is exactly what they are. What I do want to do, however, is be truthful first and foremost, to shine a light on the good and bad, to tell it as it is but in a balanced and considered way.

I’m not going to set out seeking the worst wines and thrash them online with glee, but instead if I feel that if a wine is getting undue coverage and popularity and better is to be had elsewhere, especially in the same price bracket, then I will feel the need to speak up about it.

So, recently I had the Volpetto Chianti Riserva which can be got currently in O’Brien’s for €17.99, its ‘normal’ price. I put ‘normal’ in inverted commas since this is one of those wines that O’Brien’s import themselves, and as such they are free to play around with its pricing and promotions since they have full control over the margins they make on them.

That’s less easy with wines imported by a third party distributor since they themselves have their own margins to worry about, and so they space price promotions on their own wines more evenly (and sparsely) throughout the year since it costs them money every time they do.

So O’Brien’s can effectively have their own-import wines on almost permanent promotion throughout the year, returning the price to its ‘normal’ RSP for a few months in order to stay legal. Another example is their lovely Monte Real Rioja Reserva, which is currently €13.99 ‘down from’ €19.99. Have you ever seen it at full price in-store? Me neither.

The thing with the Monte Real Reserva Rioja is that it’s actually quite good, and at €13.99 it’s something of a steal and easily one of the best-value wines out there. At €19.99 it’s pushing it, with a much much better example to be found in the Muga Rioja Reserva for example, but at least it’s playing in the same league, if not at the top exactly

The Volpetto at €17.99, though, is really poor value, and at its usual reduced price of €10.99 is only barely excusable. The problem I have is that consumers are sucked in by the proposition of getting a Riserva wine from a historically prestigious region – Chianti – for a ‘bargain’ price of €10.99. What they end up with though is a bland, weak, atypical red wine that shows barely if any of the characteristics that have made – and continue to make – the better wines of the Chianti region really great.

The low price is achieved by only barely adhering to the minimum requirements set out to secure Chianti Riserva status, with quality coming second to securing that all-important promotional price-point; which for the Volpetto was, before the duty increase in the Budget last December, only €9.99 – below the crucially important threshold of €10 under which the vast majority of consumers make their choice, as it happens.

So regular punters, in the belief that they are getting a top-level wine from a famous region, in fact end up with the barely-legal dregs. Chianti Riserva dregs, yes, but dregs nonetheless.

Unfortunately this is the case with many famous wine regions where consumers, ever confused by the vast array of wines available, return time and again to those regions that have for the right regions earned a reputation in the past, but now are often sullied by chancers prodcing pale imitations of what can really be achieved in those areas. Chablis is the classic example – you really shouldn’t be able to get one for €8.99, but you can.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a dig at O’Brien’s, who have done much to raise the bar for wine in Ireland and offer genuinely great deals and some fantastic wines, not to mention being lovely people to work with both from a consumer and trade perspective. But with the Volpetto I feel they’ve hit a bum note, and more worryingly they risk adversely affecting consumers’ perception of Chianti as a result.

So how do you get around this? How can you tell which wines are genuine direct-import finds and which are duds? The answer, unfortunately for most, is through research – I say unfortunately because how many consumers have the time to sit down and read through wine articles and blogs? How many of you have made it this far down this post, for example? (I’ll soon be quizzing those who claim to be regular readers…!)

Consumers want recognised names at impossible prices, so importers will always find ways of giving the consumer what they want, even if it is to the detriment of the perception of a wine region. And they all do it: Tesco, Dunnes, Superquinn, SuperValu, etc etc. Such is the wine market in Ireland I’m afraid.

So rant over. Caveat emptor as they say. The best way to get around this is to go to your friendly local independent off-licence and add for a really representative wine, one full of terroir and regionality. You’ll get so, so much more bang for your buck, get some excellent service and most likely always come out happy – and if not go back again, give then some feedback, learn a little more and come away with something even better.

Either that, or for a few quid more skip the Volpetto and pick up a bottle of Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classic Riserva instead.

Window of Opportunity

People ‘in to wine’ are guaranteed to have one or more valuable bottles languishing at the bottom of their cellars which were either gifted to them, were forgotten about until recently, or bought on a whim. Either way there is something lacking, and that’s full knowledge of the wine and thus, to the wino at least, some anxiety regarding its drinking window.[singlepic id=21 w=320 h=240 float=right]

A wine’s drinking window, to the uninitiated, is the ideal time in which a wine is to be enjoyed. It may come as a surprise to some but wine doesn’t last forever, and in fact it starts rapidly deteriorating after a point, its ‘peak’. The drinking window is the period just before and after (to an extent), the zenith whereby the wine is at its utmost expression.

A wine’s drinking window is massively dependent on a variety of things; but the biggest factors, of course, are the producer, the grape and the way its made. At least you can estimate those elements to some degree; supermarket wines (those under €15 for example) don’t really age because they’re meant for immediate consumption, so if you’re buying a wine to age then the intent ensures that you’re half way there already.

The problem, though, are the other variables that play a part that are more, well, variable. These include the vintage (the year in which it’s made), the particular area the wine is from, how the producer handles such considerations (it’s still very possible for a good producer to produce bad wines) and even storage conditions of the wine since bottling.

So that means that, despite how educated you are about wine, you’ll never find out how it’s drinking until you actually open the bottle. This provides ample fodder for debate amongst wine lovers everywhere and even major wine writers can disagree completely over how long a wine can be expected to improve/last.

So back to the original point: the fact that some will have a bottle or two for which they have little or no prior knowledge and as such are at a disadvantage about its drinking window, as opposed to someone who does a little research before committing to a particular bottle. It’s like getting a car without a test drive or its service history .

And so it was that I had a bottle of Marqués de Riscal “Baron de Chirel” Reserva 2001, which was gifted to me a few years back. Baron de Chirel is one of the top top wines from Marqués de Riscal, so you’d expect it to last decades. But should I? I don’t know. Will it drink now, or should I keep it? What’s the point in keeping wines for too long anyway, and shouldn’t I carpe that diem and drink it now? The finest moments in wine are often experienced on a whim, so I should open it now and feck it. I should, I should … but would the whim be best experienced now or next year? And so on.

So I opened it. It was delicious. Lots of big dark fruits like plums and blackberries, and after a while the gamey savoury-ness  and leather notes you often hear about regarding aged Tempranillo (from which Rioja is made) and then, of course, lots of chewy vanilla.

This comes from the extended aging in oak which imparts vanillin characteristics to the wine – Rioja Reserva wines are required by law to age at least three years before release, of which one full year must be in oak, and in the case of Baron de Chirel 2001 it’s 21 months. I’m not mad into that vanilla thing that almost all Reserva Riojas are guaranteed to have, but it’s part of the package so I just learn to put up with it.

What’s more the wine was delicious all evening, and even into the next day, where I took a sip the following morning, all in the name of research of course. The tannins were nice and subtle and the length was fab. All in all, a good decision to open.

But did I time it right? The internet is ambiguous in this regard. Cellar Tracker, a social-media approach to wine where wine lovers post their own views on thousands of wines, tells me the drinking window ended in 2008, which is what Wine Spectator said too. nicofisher, one of its users, assured me that it still has five years ahead if it. The grande dame of the wine world Jancis Robinson says it’ll last to 2020. So I hope you can understand why this is not a straightforward issue.

As for me? Yeah, whatever. But I wonder what it would have been like in five years’ time…

Marqués de Riscal “Baron de Chirel” Reserva 2001
As it was a gift I’m not sure how much it was, but expect it to be around €50
Rioja, Spain
85% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
www.marquesderiscal.com