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.
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…
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.
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.
There 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
Château 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.
Château 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.
Château 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
Domaine 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.
L’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.
Tour 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.
Saint-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.
Serabel 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.
Yes yes, I know what you’re thinking: why in God’s name am I writing about this fair almost two months after the event, and in “Dry January” and everything? Well, as regular readers of The Motley Cru (all dozen of you) will know, I’m not exactly the most expedient when it comes to writing up my blog posts, and this annual fair is too significant and has too much going on to just simply leave slide. So better late than never.
Yes, this annual gathering held by wine retailer of note, The Corkscrew, is for me at least one of the highlights of the wine year in Ireland, providing as it does a fantastic opportunity to overview the Irish wine trade in one fell swoop (and a woozy one at that).
I first experienced the fair all the way back in 2008, my first year in what was then Woodford Bourne, when I myself stood behind one of the tables serving wine to an increasingly inebriated public who, by degrees, came over just to taste “your most expensive wine.”
Back then our “most expensive wine” on show was iconic Super-Tuscan Ornellaia‘s second wine Le Serre Nuove, which today retails for €55. But over the years I saw the quality of wines on offer drop somewhat: a product of that perfect storm in the wine trade involving both the recession and successive, punitive increases of alcohol duty in the Budget.
Last year, though, I thought I sensed a glimmer of hope, and this year I was glad to see that confidence was finally returning to the trade, at least as far its the public face was concerned. Not that we were showering ourselves in Dom Pérignon, of course (we’re not the Sunday Independent Life Magazine after all), but the fact that suppliers weren’t afraid once again to show bottles in the €30-€40 range and above was heartening, and a testament to the returning confidence in both consumers and wine importers/retailers in this country.
My recurring difficulty of successfully tasting wines from each table at events like this was very much to the fore once again here (as it was for Ely’s Big Rhône Tasting), and as I was also with a few friends at the time my notes were a mess of mostly incomplete scrawls squeezed into the margin of the accompanying booklet, so this is far from being a comprehensive review of the fair. But from what I can decode from these scribbles, and recall from memory, below were my favourite sparkling wines and whites of the day:
This is a really lovely, biscuity champagne, very fine, delicately balanced and deliciously moreish. I couldn’t but help draw comparisons to the Bollinger style, with its toasy brioche, albeit a little less bombastic. Enrobed (as I’m sure they’d like me to call it) in a new bottle and label, this is a serious Champagne both in and out. (Jamie Good has a more detailed article on Charles Heidsieck for wine nerds here.)
I was informed that this was a Blanc de Blanc (i.e. 100% Chardonnay), which was news to me as they didn’t specify it on the label, which itself I identified immediately since it’s been popping up on various social media outlets this last year or so (especially Frankly Wines, who reviewed it not once, not twice, but thrice).
This was a really very lovely Champagne in a nicely contrasting style to the Charles Heidsieck from earlier, a point I relished elaborating to my friends (for all of, oh, 12 seconds or so before they got bored).
Delicate, poised and creamy, it had an unmistakable citrus streak but finished with a softened almost bready finish. A really delicious, artisan Champagne, and highly recommended.
I always enjoy visiting the Le Caveau table at these fairs, but unfortunately I was a bit rushed on this occasion time as my friends had moved on elsewhere, partly given the awkward location of the table in the far corner of the room. In what time I had I found the offerings at the lower to be most noteworthy and great value, a fact most likely down to the fact the more expensive bottles all needed to have stories to be told and their styles explained, a luxury not afforded by my time constraints.
So this Rueda was one of those I marked “GVFM” – a handy acronym I now use regularly which I ‘borrowed’ from Kevin Ecock. Much more subtle than the sprightly, lively Ruedas available, this provides a nice counterpoint to ubiquitous the ultra-fresh style. Unmissable in its acid-green labelling also.
Saget La Perrière, Petit Perrière Sauvignon Blanc 2013 €13.95 from The Corkscrew
A pretty straight-forward wine, nice and inoffensive, but when I realised the price I was very impressed. Wine made to this quality for this price is a rarity, most especially in France. Excellent value for money and one to buy by the case.
Le Domaine Sagat, Pouilly Fumé €22.95
Very clean, precise, deliciously fine wine. Sorry, I don’t have more notes, but i do remember it being delish, so take that as you will.
Rully (“roo-yee”) is a region in Burgundy that produces whites which are a great example of Old World and New World Chardonnay styles combined, hot-skipping between the former’s buttery oakiness and the latter’s fresh tropical fruit to give a chameleon-like wine. The Jean Chartron’s ultra-rich buttery nose belies a really clean, fresh palate with a fantastic, refreshing mineral streak. Balanced and beautiful.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Marqués 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.
Marqués 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.
Marqués 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.
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. Antinori, Hugel, 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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
MC: 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!