Tag Archives: Searson’s

There’s an Alp for That…

As I began to write this piece on wines from the Alps it struck me that, rather neatly, the topography of the region was as good an analogy as any for the wines it produces.

The Alps are difficult to get to. They’re not easily accessible, a little inconvenient you might say, and a visit there is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s not cheap either. But for many, the effort is so worth it. Once you taste the Alpine air you can never go back; once you experience the headiness of the snow-capped vistas then many other landscapes pale in comparison.

Likewise, wines from the Alps – be they French, Swiss, Italian or otherwise – share similar characteristics. They’re hard to find, made from varieties you’ve likely never heard of, and often taste like nothing you’ve had before. Whether that’s a good thing or not is – of course – down to personal preference. But to those with a keen curiosity and open mind, they’re a revelation.

I was lucky to be allowed to dip my toe into the world of Alpine wine thanks to a small informal tasting in Ely Wine bar recently, hosted by two fantastic wine importers, Nomad and Tyrrels, who plied their Alpine wares from France and Switzerland respectively.


SWITZERLAND: DOUZE POINTS

You may not have come across Swiss wines here in Ireland before, and likely for good reason. Wines imported into Switzerland were subject to stringent tariffs until the 1990s and finally abolished in 2006; that means that until 10 years ago it was easier and cheaper for the Swiss to buy their own wine rather than Chilean or Australian imports, leaving little left over for the rest of us to enjoy. There simply wasn’t really a need to export.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

Other factors conspire against Swiss wine. For one the ownership structure is highly fragmented: the Valais region for example, from where our wines below are sourced, counts 5,137 hectares of vines owned by 22,000 people in 80,000 parcels or plots. That sort of set-up requires a lot of time and effort to pull together commercially-viable quantities of wine, let alone enough to make exporting worthwhile.

Then there’s the geography: the slopes are so steep in places that elaborate monorail systems are needed to transport equipment and grapes. Sometimes they need helicopters. The gradient means that grape picking usually needs to be by hand. And to top it all off the Swiss authorities limit how many grapes each vine can yield. Cheap and easy it ‘aint.

But, like all good things in life, the effort is always worth it. Swiss wines – or at least the ones I tasted that day in Ely – can be electric, exciting and intriguing, not to mention cerebrally stimulating given their history, provenance and hyper-locality.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

FRANCE: SAVVY SAVOIE

Comparatively, Alpine France – in particular the Savoie region – has an easier time of it than Switzerland. Yes, their vineyards can be similarly steep and awkward to access, but the gentler run-in from the French side is somewhat easier to manage than the almost persistently elevated nature of the Swiss wine regions.

But oddly, wines were rarely exported from Savoie until recently, a situation similar to Switzerland, but for a very different reason: the dramatic countryside is such a popular, year-round attraction that the constant flow of tourists usually drink the stocks dry.

Savoie has an admirable roll call of local grape varieties rarely found elsewhere, which many attribute to the fact the region only actually became part of France in 1860. For whites they’ve the likes of Jacquère, Altesse, Malvoisie and Mondeuse Blanche; while for reds they’ve Persan and Mondeuse Noire. Nope, I hadn’t heard of any of them before either.

Given the slightly off-piste location and abundance of local varieties, Savoie is riddled with small, passionate, boutique wine producers with many practicing organic or biodynamic principals and old-school winemaking. Many may call them ‘artisan’ or even ‘hipster’ winemakers – in truth they’re just passionate and returning to a more honest and lo-fi way of making wine. Either way, the results are rarely uninteresting.

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THE EU CONVENTION AT ELY

That day in Ely, Irishman Simon Tyrrell held court behind four wines – two white and two red – from Domaine René Favre et Fils of Chamoson in the Valais region of Switzerland, nestled between the borders of France and Italy, run by brothers John & Mike Favre.

To his right was Frenchman Charles Derain of Nomad Wine Importers and in front of him were six wines from Domaine Des Ardoisières, a winery that sources its grapes entirely from only two single vineyard sites in the Vin des Allobroges designation of Savoie: Cevins and St. Pierre de Soucy.

Cevins is perhaps the more notable of the two sites, if not because of its history. The domaine encompasses a steep hill rising above the town which was planted with vines during Roman times, before passing through the hands of Tamié monks and eventually into private ownership. But the infamous phylloxera louse that devastated much of Europe’s vineyards in the mid nineteenth century took its toll here too, and shortly afterwards the two World Wars the country had to contend with spelled the end of winemaking on this awkwardly steep hill.

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But in 1998 a group of enthusiasts began clearing the site and reinstated the old Roman terraces that helped put structured order on the slope. It was a huge effort to unite no less than 400 landowners for an area of less than 10 hectares, an unusual display of selflessness for a common good. They planted mostly the local grape varieties mentioned earlier and farmed using only biodynamic principals, with the first vintage harvested in 2003.

St. Pierre de Soucy, meanwhile, is 50 kms down the valley and a little lower in altitude. This area is farmed organically instead of biodynamically but still provides the clay (or “argile”) soil that so intrigues Domaine Des Ardoisières winemaker Brice Omont.

With the humour and generosity typical of both Charles and Simon, we got to taste through some amazing examples of the region from two fantastic producers; here are a few of my picks…


THREE TO TRY FROM THE SWISS ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine
€28.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Jancis Robinson calls this grape variety “the finest of the indigenous grape specialities of the Valais in Switzerland.” I haven’t tasted any other indigenous white varieties from Switzerland but I do have to say this was damn good. It has a beautiful texture that was almost creamy, despite being tank fermented (maybe some contact with the lees?), followed by a razor sharp, precise acidity and minerality.

A delicious wine and a fantastic experience.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine ‘Grande Année St. Pierre’
€42.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

And if the Petite Arvine wasn’t good enough, along came its ‘big brother’. Fermented and aged in oak, this was beautiful and Burgundian in style.

Think crisp green apple coated in butter. It was textural, fresh, rich and long, all at once. Transcendental.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Humagne Rouge
€29.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Humagne Rouge is a relatively rare variety from Valais which I found to be wild and rustic with its slight vegetal notes (think green pepper) diffusing into smoke and black pepper.

The palate was surprisingly soft and smooth and juicy with nice acidity at the end. Again another fantastic experience if you’re keen to try obscure grape varieties.

 

THREE TO TRY FROM THE FRENCH ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Blanc
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Chardonnay & 30% Mondeuse Blanche.

This is beautifully crisp and clean and pure, though for me there was also an interesting, slightly funky, earthy undertone – call it terroir if you will.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, Cevins, “Schiste” Blanc
€50 from select off-licences

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Roussanne & 30% Malvasia. A wilder wine with fennel, yellow apple and artichoke aromas. Again a feral note but much more noticeable this time.

Fresh and lively, its acidity is razor-sharp but it all softens to a slightly buttery finish from its time in barrel. A remarkable wine.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Rouge
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64Wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 80% Gamay (Beaujolais is just 50kms away after all) and 20% of the local Persan grape. A very characterful wine, light but complex, bursting with juicy fruit and a very distinct twist of black pepper.

Black forest fruit and black cherry abound, and it has a slightly bitter, dry twist at the end. Wonderful.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.

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“Hanging Out” with Tyrrells and Tindals on Google

Earlier this month, Tindals Wine Merchants held another of their very-21st-century tastings on Google Hangout. The last time I partook in one of these high-tech events was last October when Craggy Range of New Zealand was the winery in question (which you can read by clicking here), but this time we jumped across the pond to the historic, family-run Australian winery Tyrrells.

The premise was the same once again: at a predetermined date and time we would all log on to Tindals’ page on Google Hangout and – hey presto – we would all, in our very disparate locations and situations, be audio-visually connected to partake in a virtual (yet very real) tasting of some very nice wines.

Harriet Tindal was in her kitchen in Wicklow, fellow blogger Frankie Cook was at home in north Dublin, and I was here in my home office, and at various points we were also joined by the Searson’s team in their shop – though technical issues cut their involvement short – and a chap called Marco and his group of friends. The microphone of the latter wasn’t working unfortunately, but judging by their very animated expressions they were all having the craic.

Joining us on this IT adventure was Chris Tyrrell himself, fifth generation of the family and assistant winemaker at the winery, who had risen at an ungodly hour to entertain the whims of a bunch of Irish winos on the other side of the world.

We had all hoped that on this occasion Chris could take us on a live wander of the Tyrrells vineyards, but a slight miscalculation of the time it would be in Oz meant that it wasn’t possible on this occasion unfortunately – for all that Australia has going for it, the sun does not shine at 4am, no matter how much we willed it.

Tyrrells Hangout

A screengrab of the live Hangout. That’s Chris Tyrrell in the main image with (l-r) Frankie, Marco (and friends), Harriet and me (looking smug!)

Tyrrell’s Wines – a Brief History

Tyrrell’s are based in the Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest wine region located 160kms north of Sydney. I must admit that I had no prior knowledge of Tyrrell’s or their wines before the tasting, apart from a vague appreciation that they were somehow part of Australia’s historic firmament.

A cursory look at Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion confirmed as much, informing me that Chris’s grandfather Murray Tyrrell was a key figure in the revival of the Hunter Valley in the 1970’s. Not only that but their Vat 47 Chardonnay was the first commercially available Chardonnay to be produced in Australia, something which not only took the world by surprise but also the Aussies themselves, and as such it can be credited with helping kick-starting the meteoric rise of Aussie Chardonnay in the 1980’s onwards.

They’re also known to be one of the best producers of Semillon in Oz (“Australia’s greatest”, according to Johnson), and Oz Clarke calls them “top notch”. Douze points all round, then.

Tyrrells
The wines ready for tasting

The Hangout

There were four Tyrrell’s wines to be tasted, with mine very kindly sponsored by Tindals and delivered straight to my door a few days in advance. There were three varieties from the Lost Block range – Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz – with their Rufus Stone Shiraz providing gravitas to the proceedings.

I really loved the Lost Block’s packaging: cartoonish caricatures of an Aussie winemaker looking perplexed and in perpetual search of something. The winemaker is, in fact, not a Tyrrell but Cliff, their vineyard manager who, in the midst of the 1993 harvest, was with his team of 60 pickers working feverishly on a plot of Semillon.

Suddenly Murray Tyrrell pulled up in his 4×4 and instructed them to drop everything and tend to their prized plot of Chardonnay 10 minutes up the road as there was a storm coming; the less resilient Chardonnay was to be given priority over the Semillon, and so off they all went.

It was two weeks later when Cliff remembered that they forgot to finish picking that Semillion plot, so with a small team he went out to finish the job. Given the grapes had two weeks extra hang time on the vines the resultant wine was considerably softer, richer and more approachable – a style considerably at odds with their traditionally more lean and acidic ‘traditional’ Semillon – and in a decision that was years ahead of its time they decided to continue to produce a small portion of Semillion in that style.

The vat in which the wine was originslly fermented was jokingly labeled “Cliffy’s Lost Block” by a young apprentice, and the rest as they say is history. The range has now been expanded to include Shiraz and Chardonnay – which we were about to taste – as well as Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, all from either Hunter Valley, Heathcote, Limestone Coast or Orange.

The actual Rufus Stone

The Wines

We started with two whites – Semillon and Chardonnay, both from the Hunter Valley – and then two Shirazes – the Lost Block and Rufus Stone – which were both from Heathcote, north of Melbourne in Victoria, some 1,000kms away from the Tyrrells home in Hunter Valley.

During harvest it takes refrigerated trucks packed with grapes approximately 12 hours to travel from Heathcote to the Tyrrel’s winery in Hunter Valley. Chris has obviously been questioned on the environmental impact of doing this ad nauseum in the past as, unprompted, he very quickly defended their reasons for doing so: we’re all very used to buying apples from New Zealand and grapes from Chile which have been frozen for weeks and flown by plane around the world, so sending a fleet of trucks 12 hours up the road once a year is small change in comparison. Fair point.

The Rufus Stone, lest we forget, is a small range encompassing their “top non Hunter red wines” – in other words just two Shirazes, one from Heathcote and one from McLaren Vale. The Rufus Stone takes its name from a story dating back to the year 1100 when the English King William II, known colloquially as Rufus, died unexpectedly on a hunting trip.

He was with his friend Sir Walter Tyrrell, and though official records state that it was a stray deflected arrow shot by Sir Tyrrell that killed the king, his immediate and unexpected flight to France straight afterwards spurred rumours about whether it was an accident at all. Either way, the Rufus Stone (pictured above) now stands at the site where the king was found dead.

 

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Semillon 2014
100% Semillon, Hunter Valley
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This improved considerably after a little time in the glass – I had it too chilled initially which killed much of the nuance of the wine. When a little warmer there was some slight herbal notes and white stone fruit on the nose before leading to a lovely creamy palate that ended with a nice citric kick. Would be amazing with seafood and especially with shellfish. Apparently Semillon used to be known as “Shepherd’s Riesling” in Australia before they discovered what it was – not that that makes a contribution to this note, but it’s a nice trivia factoid nonetheless.

 

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Chardonnay 2014
100% Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This was a really lovely, toasty, very Aussie Chardonnay that made me smile on first sniff. Though many recoil at the thought of oaked Aussie Chardonnay, I’m young enough to have avoided the excesses of the style in the 1990’s and so I can approach these wines without any baggage. That said this is still a nicely balanced wine that’s both fresh and rich, with some tropical and lychee flavours over the creamy toastiness. This opened up in the glass later too, softening out over the course of the evening and making it dangerously more drinkable as the night went on.

 

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Shiraz 2013
100% Shiraz, Heathcote
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This was surprisingly lighter than expected, though I do have the habit of approaching every Aussie Shiraz as if it’s going to be a chocolatey spice bomb. Medium bodied and fragrant, it alternates between sweet and savoury notes with kirsch, black cherry and spice noticeable. This was a real joy and very good quality – another excellent companion to an evening chatting with friends (which is exactly what happened after the Hangout)

 

Tyrrell’s Rufus Stone Shiraz 2010
100% Shiraz, Heathcote
€30.00 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

Considerably more intense, this is concentrated and brooding, and I couldn’t but help feel this needed more time to shine through. Smoky and dark, I tried it again the next day where softer, more savoury flavours were evident. The quality is unmistakable, but I’d love to revisit this in a few years’ time.

 

Conclusion

It was a real joy to be part of another Tindal Hangout, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the novelty of chatting with a winemaker who is literally on the other side of the world while sipping his wines in the comfort of my own home here in Ireland.

Soon after the Hangout finished a friend called over to ensure that the rest of the wine would not go to waste. The overall conclusion was that, though I was impressed by the power and seriousness of the Rufus Stone, I found myself reaching for both the Lost Block Chardonnay and Shiraz more and more, alternating between the two throughout the evening.

But then again the situation suited the wines I think: the Lost Block is perfectly at home at an informal chat late into the evening; if this had been a serious dinner or more special occasion it might have been more of an occasion for the Rufus Stone, given a couple of years. Still, they were all excellent wines and I’m delighted to have finally been introduced to Tyrrells.

Now, how do I get my hands on a sip of that famous Vat 47?

VIEW THE ENTIRE HANGOUT ON YOUTUBE BY CLICKING HERE

 

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!

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Craggy Range: The Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Craggy Range family
The Google Hangout

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

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

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

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

 


 Craggy Range: The Wines

So, how did they taste on the night?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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