Tag Archives: Shiraz

Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Rhône

The night before Ireland took on the might of the French rugby team in Lansdowne Road, I had to contend with a daunting French lineup of my own. It was a far more genteel affair in contrast to what faced our men in green, however: an evening in the famous Michelin-starred L’Ecrivain restaurant, hosted by importer extraordinaire Simon Tyrrell and featuring some of the finest wines of the Northern Rhône from Stéphane Montez and Yann Chave.

The two winemakers were by the bar with Simon when I arrived, sipping on the delicious Gaia Assyrtiko from Santorini in Greece – I suppose even the French must get tired of drinking their own wines the whole time. We exchanged pleasantries while establishing that neither of us spoke the other’s language to any notable degree, and though a flurry of arrivals meant we couldn’t probe the extent of this situation, Stéphane wittily quipped that given the quantity of wine on offer we were sure to speak the same language by the end of the evening.

Little did I know how close to the truth he was…

sometimes-you-cane28099t-make-it-on-your-rhc3b4ne-4

Chalk & (French) Cheese

Stéphane Montez is, incredibly, the 10th generation of winemakers in his family. I say ‘incredible’ not because ten generations is a long time – it is of course, but it’s not entirely unheard of in the wine world, with the Antinori family of Italy currently into their 26th generation for example.

What I found most fascinating about Stéphane’s heritage is how lightly he wore it. Other winemaking dynasties of that pedigree, though affable and generous to a fault, can over time assume a regal air about them.

Mr. Montez, however, was anything of the sort: laid-back, quick with a joke, and with an unshaven insouciance. A natural raconteur, he introduced his wines as though recounting a humorous story he heard earlier that day, punctuated here and there with the requisite nonchalant Gallic shrug and pout.

Yann Chave, on the other hand, was more reserved and professorial, most likely as a result of his previous profession: a bank fraud investigator, of all things. In 1996 Yann took over the winemaking activities of father Bernard, whose wines were apparently generally good without being exceptional, perhaps partly explained by the fact that his attention was also taken up cultivating apricots, cherries and peaches.

Yann brought a more studious and focused approach to running the domaine, certifying it as fully organic in the process and insisting on labour-intensive handpicking and no or little oak for his three wines in order to allow their pure fruits shine through – in other words a pared-back, honest, and almost reverential approach to the region and its wines.

sometimes-you-cane28099t-make-it-on-your-rhc3b4ne-11

Samsung a Little Bit Different

The venue for the evening was not to be the main upstairs restaurant of L’Ecrivain, as I had originally assumed, but instead their brand new Samsung Kitchen located just off the reception bar. It was my first time in this space that essentially acts both as a private dining room and demonstration kitchen, and where the dishes for our evening were finished off before serving. It was staffed by one or two L’Ecrivain sous-chefs, depending on requirements, although for our starters Derry Clarke himself lent a hand. The memory of a Michelin-starred chef cooking my starter in front of me is not going to leave me for some time!

We were handed a list of wines to be tasted that evening, six superb bottles in total. But in keeping with the French nonchalant air of the evening we were told to largely disregard this sheet since three of the six wines were unavailable, as it happens, and what’s more we were in fact going to be served a whopping thirteen wines in total. Mais oui!

As an aperitif we were served the superb Les Hauts De Monteillet Blanc (reviewed below), before being poured both the 2008 and 2015 vintages of Stéphane Montez’s Condrieu “Les Grandes Chaillées”, a blend of eight select parcels from this historic appellation. The 2008 was waxy and even slightly Maderized, as you’d expect from an eight-year-old white wine, while the younger and fresher vintage was much more to my taste: weighty yet elegant with some blossom and woodsmoke.

Continuing the theme we next enjoyed the 2014 vintage of a Condrieu lieu dit called “Chanson”, which was softer than the Les Grandes Chaillées blend and perfectly poised; a properly fine wine.

While all this was going on we were first served a crab meat amuse bouche followed by incredible roast scallops with Jerusalem artichoke. Scallops are one of my favourite dishes but need to be ultra-fresh and deftly handled, which of course they were in the hands of Derry Clarke (did I mention he cooked them right in front of me?!), and served alongside some of the Rhône’s most famous whites they were, obviously, superbly paired.

 

sometimes-you-cane28099t-make-it-on-your-rhc3b4ne-8

The Best Things Come in Two

From there it was on to the reds, starting with a pair of Yann Chave’s “Tradition” Crozes-Hermitage wines. First there was the 2003, an infamous year which saw an extreme heatwave rip through Europe, though you wouldn’t have noticed it in Yann’s bottling, which was superb and still ripe with an aged smoky minerality and black olive flavours. The 2015, one of my recommendations below, was a younger version and equally outstanding.

We progressed then to the next level of Chave’s Crozes-Hermitage, “Le Rouvre”, and again we had to vintages to compare and contrast. First was a complex, minty-cool black fruited 2007, followed by a magnum of its spicier, ‘hotter’ younger brother 2011 which needed a little time yet to knit together.

It seemed by this point that the French were intent on killing us with kindness: we were presented, yet again, with two vintages of yet another wine, this time a 2006 and 2014 of Montez’s St Joseph “Cuvée du Papy”. It comes with a lovely backstory too: it has been produced since the 1989 vintage when Antoine, Stéphane’s father became a grandfather. To celebrate he chose “his best sites, his most beautiful vines and his most select grapes, selected his best barrels and put all his love and know-how into the development of an exceptional vintage: Cuvée du Papy.”

sometimes-you-cane28099t-make-it-on-your-rhc3b4ne-6

Stéphane was eager to draw the distinction that the 2006 was “Bordeaux in style”, while the 2014 was “Burgundy in Style”, which I agreed with wholeheartedly. In truth my preference was with the 2006, which was quintessentially aged Rhone with crunchy blueberry fruit and violets, while the 2014 was more funky and a touch ‘bretty‘, and indeed lighter and earthier in style.

Oh, and of course there was the food. Amongst all this incredible wine were some fantastic dishes, with my choice falling firmly on the sika deer on offer (it didn’t take much to predict that stone bass wouldn’t pair so well with punchy Rhône reds!)

Finally, we came to the last two red wines, both the apogées of Stéphane and Yann’s efforts. First was Montez’s 2009 Côte-Rôtie “Fortis”, a supremely elegant, deep and beautiful wine just showing a touch of bottle age through some smoke and coffee notes, followed by Chave’s 2009 Hermitage, a more serious and concentrated, herbal, long and complex wine.

Apologies to anyone looking for more extensive reviews of these two iconic wines: my notes weren’t exactly extensive at this point, since at this stage in the evening I was reeling in the hedonistic pleasure of drinking some of the world’s most prestigious and finest wines and enjoying the fantastic company.

We finished off then with what was a surprise for most of us there: a sweet Condrieu, a rarity in itself these days. Specifically, it was Stéphane’s 2007 Condrieu “Grain de Folie”, made 50% with botrytised grapes and 50% with grapes that raisined on the vine. The result was stratospheric – my more extensive review is below.

The evening was so enjoyable that next day when Ireland bravely defeated the French side I almost felt sorry for Stéphane and Yann, given how generous, humorous and memorable they were the night before.

Well, almost.

sometimes-you-cane28099t-make-it-on-your-rhc3b4ne-3

 


 

THREE TO TRY

Les Hauts De Monteillet Blanc 2014, Domaine du Monteillet
€24.95 from Searson’s, Monkstown

stephane-montez-domaine-du-monteillet-les-hauts-du-monteillet-blanc-igp-collines-rhodaniennes-france-10371422A blend of Viognier, Rousanne and Clairette, this proved to be incredible value for money.

Beautifully mineral and herbal characters (white pepper and fennel in particular) provide foil for a toasty, buttery creaminess.

A concentrated and elegant wine that punches well above its weight. Delicious.

 

Crozes-Hermitage ‘Tradition’ Rouge 2015, Domaine Yann Chave
€27.95 from Searson’s, Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

yc03_crozes_hermitage_bis_rouge_2012_yann_chave_bdwebA fully organic wine, this provided a fresh fruity, very typically young Northern Rhône nose of blueberry, blackberry and black pepper.

The palate took a different tack and instead provided cool-climate Syrah’s distinctive smoky, mineral and savoury streak with some fantastic tannin. Poised and elegant, this is a fantastic wine.

Condrieu ‘Grain de Folie’, Domaine du Monteillet
€40 from Searson’s, Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

condrieu-domaine-du-monteillet-les-grandes-chailleesAlmost an afterthought, Stephane Montez’s sweet wine was stunning, and a refreshing coda to the serious flight of reds that came before it.

Being a botrytised wine it had the style’s distinctive marmalade character, but with supreme elegance, concentration, and refreshing acidity.

I’m a fan of sweet wine and this is up there with the best I’ve ever tasted, if not the best I’ve tasted. Superb.

 

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

Advertisements

The Aldi Wine Lover’s Sale, August 2017

I was grateful to be invited to the Aldi Wine Lover’s Sale preview last week, a first glance at a range of wines the German discounter has brought into Ireland for a limited run.

There wasn’t a massive offering, which made the tasting gloriously concise. On a similar note, this post will be similarly as brief, highlighting some of my picks rather than detailing every wine tasted.

These are available in all 129 Aldi stores nationwide from yesterday, Thursday 3rd August, while stocks last. For other opinions on the sale, check out these

Tom Doorley
John Wilson
Carol from Gin & Griddle
John from ProperFood
Cathal from Glass of Red Wine


My Top Red Pick
El Casatero, Old Vines Garnacha, Spain. €9.99

I’m not the only one to single out this wine as either the best of the bunch, or at least very close. Old vines tend to give more concentrated and ‘serious’ wines, and El Casatero is an exemplar of this.

For a cent shy of a tenner you’re getting ripe, concentrated strawberry and blackberry fruit, with a density and length you wouldn’t expect for this price. Excellent – grab a few bottles if there’s any left this weekend.

 

One To Impress Your Friends
Uva Pirata, Petit Verdot, Spain. €11.99

… if your friends like edgy, alternative packaging that is. The bottle is undoubtedly an eye-catcher, but thankfully the juice lives up to the promise too.

This has bright and crunchy red and blue fruit flavours, with a warm and spicy body and even a nice light bite of tannin coming through. It’s a great package, and sure to impress.

 

The High-Octane One
The Restless Wine Merchant, Shiraz, Australia. €10.99

There is a significant market out there that enjoys nothing more than full-throttle, chunky, balls-to-the-wall red wines, and this one would hit the spot nicely for them. Thankfully for everyone else, it’s heavy but not overbearing, meaning it won’t be a struggle to get it down your gullet.

It’s a full-on, typically Aussie shiraz, with tons of distinctive menthol and lush blackberry fruit. Definitely one for the barbie. Strewth!

 

The Contemplative One
Punta de Lobos, Carménère Gran Reserva, Chile. €9.99

It’s the bouquet on this one that most appealed to me: there was attractive lavender, blueberry and herbal tinges in this fragrant and calming wine. The palate was soft and juicy and dense, appealing to richer tastes, and though the palate didn’t quite match up to the nose it was a pleasant all-round experience nevertheless.

 

The Party Wine
Grand Sud Merlot, France. €8.99 for 1 litre (equates to €6.74 for a regular-sized bottle)

It looks cheap, it is cheap, but it’s great value for the price. It’s nothing more than pleasantly drinkable, which is far more than you’d expect at this price. Perfect for glugging at parties.

 

The Top White Pick
The Forgotten Row, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand. €9.99

Yawn. Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc – I’m pretty tired of the style at this point, despite its unprecedented and ongoing popularity generally.

But what’s this? An inexpensive Savvie from NZ that not a tropical fruit-bomb? Yes please!

OK, so it’s still quite ripe and flavoursome, but in the herbal, pea-and-asparagus style that nods to the grape’s European roots. A nice refreshing alternative for any Kiwi Sauv Blanc lover.

 

The Sparkling One
Gardo & Morris, Sparkling Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand. €19.99

It’s Sauvignon Blanc passed through the commercial winery’s version of a Soda Stream, basically. If you love Savvie, you’ll love this. Quite fun and interesting, though at near €20 there are a few Cavas I could recommend in it’s place. A curiosity.

 

Penfolds: A Liaison with a Legend

Wine regions are often classified as either “Old World” or “New World”, a convenient, if blunt, dichotomy that in reality means Europe and everywhere else, respectively.

But many “New World” producers are quite uncomfortable with being called ‘new’, given a lot of them have been around for over a century. They’re also wary of the negative connotations the label has with most regular consumers, where it is often thought that the ‘new’ can’t ever be as good as the ‘old’.

But until a more satisfactory and snappy categorisation can be agreed on, then the old Eurocentric terminology will be with us for some time yet. That doesn’t stop New World producers understandably raising the issue in exasperation every now and then, however.

Once such occasion was in 2013, when Australian winery Penfolds was named Best New World Winery by the respected Wine Enthusiast magazine in the US. At the same time the publication also named the famous Spanish producer Marqués de Riscal as their European Winery of the Year, colloquially known to all involved as the ‘Old World Winery of the Year Award’.

penfolds-collage-1

Peter Gago, the Penfolds Chief Winemaker, accepted the award in New York on behalf of the winery, and though he was truthfully very honoured he couldn’t help but raise the old bête noire in his acceptance speech.

Gago pointed out that the ‘historic’ Marqués de Riscal was founded in 1858, a full fourteen years after Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold established a small winery at Magill Estate, near Adelaide in South Australia, in 1844.

So, effectively, the best “New World” winery that year was older than the best “Old World” winery. And though Gago didn’t labour the point, the inference was crystal clear: the hackneyed terminology we so casually use is not only condescending and potentially damaging, it’s also simply factually incorrect in many cases.

Though it was generous of Gago to raise the flag once again for the “New World”, he personally didn’t need to fret as his winery has perhaps done more than most to take on the big boys of the “Old World”, often winning out in many cases. For Penfolds is one of those wineries that induce misty-eyed admiration from all creeds of wine lovers, given their history, prominence and aspirations – and now thanks to a new innovation by their Irish importers we’ll have a chance to ‘Experience’ Penfolds more easily this Autumn.

In The Mix

Sam Stephens, European Brand Manager for Penfolds, relayed the above anecdote to us this August while he was in Dublin to launch for the first time a set of four mixed cases of wine dubbed The Penfolds Experience Collection.

Tackling the range of Penfolds wines can be a bit daunting, it has to be said. Apart from their critically acclaimed Koonunga Hill range at the introductory level, the vast majority of their wines are known by their ‘bin numbers’, which historically indicated where in the warehouse they were stored.But there isn’t any hierarchy nor any obvious pattern to the numbering, so getting your head around the Bin Range can often be a case of rote learning rather than deduction.

penfolds-collage-2

This is where this new collection of mixed cases comes in. Bringing “learning by doing” to a new context, Irish consumers now have the opportunity to taste through themed cases of Penfolds wines rather than choosing one – often at random – from your off-licence shelf.

 

A Journey of a Thousand Sips…

The experience begins with The Explorer’s Collection, a set of five wines that serve as a wide-ranging introduction to the rarefied world of Penfolds’ Bins, allowing a glimpse of Penfolds’s blending prowess, a taster of a number of grapes they’re adept at producing, and a side-by-side comparison of two takes on that most Australian of grapes, Shiraz.

The case contains the Bin 8 Cabernet Shiraz, their approachable version of the famous “Aussie Blend”; the Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre, Penfolds’s take on the famous trilogy of grapes that call the Rhône their home; the Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvedre, originally released in 1960 and again recently reinstated after hiatus of a few decades; and finally two ‘straight’ Shirazes: Bin 128 which is sourced exclusively from Coonawarra, and Bin 28 Kalimna which is a multi-regional blend.

As the name suggests this is the perfect set from which to start your Penfolds exploration and, despite being from the same producer, offers a wide range of styles to enjoy. Ideal for Christmas, if I may be allowed to mention ‘The C Word” this early!

penfolds-collage-3

A Good Year

Things start to get serious pretty quickly from then on in. Next up is The 2013 Vintage Collection, a set of three pairs of wines retailing at €350 which – you guessed it – were all harvested three years ago.

But it’s not a random assortment, thankfully, and it’s clear some thought has gone into the wines that make up the mix: a 100% Cabernet in the guise of Bin 407, the 100% Shiraz Bin 150 Marananga, and then a Cabernet / Shiraz blend via the famous Bin 389.

This innovative assembly not only allows the chance to hold your own ‘horizontal tasting’ – that is, sampling wines across a common vintage – but it also allows the opportunity to experience two 100% varietal wines before seeing what they taste like blended together. It’s almost like being a winemaker for the day. Almost.

 

The Wine from Dr. Penfold’s Back Garden

If you were paying attention earlier then the name ‘Magill’ will ring a bell – yes, it’s where Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold established his winery in 1844, so these wines are literally from where it all started.

I’d highly recommend searching for “Penfolds Magill Estate Winery” on Google Maps to witness the unusual sight of what is today a fully-fledged vineyard and winery in the suburbs of a major city, an oddity resulting from the city gradually extending out to – and eventually around – the original Magill Estate vineyard.

The Magill Experience Collection contains three pairs of vintages of the eponymous wine – 2008, 2010 and 2011 – allowing the superb opportunity to taste through the seasons of this tiny walled vineyard that is a mere 8kms from Adelaide city centre.

It’s truly the serious collector’s case and a chance to taste 170 years of history.

 

The Wine at the End of the Earth

The pinnacle. The zenith. The wine that was initially made in secret, such was its revelatory approach. The wine that is only one of a handful in the world to ever achieve 100 points in both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator for the same vintage. One of the most collectible wines in the world and the only wine to be listed as a Heritage Icon by the South Australian National Trust, such is its prominence.

fg-cr17628-copy

So Penfolds Grange is an important wine, to say the least; a legend in the truest sense. Many wine lovers would consider themselves lucky to even taste Grange, let alone get their hands on a flight of three different vintages.

But that opportunity is a distinct possibility today, thanks to The Grange Experience Collection. Though not cheap at a hearty €3,000, to buy a single bottle on its own can cost roughly €700-€800, depending on the retailer. If you can find a bottle, that is.

The 2009 is best enjoyed first with its generous lush fruit. Then you can argue over whether to sample the concentrated and intense plum and baking spice of the 2010, or the supple eucalypt tinge of the 2011.

Or, indeed, get the Coravin out and enjoy a tasting glass of each over the course of a decade or more. Either way, these wines are in for the long haul.


THREE TO TRY

The Explorer’s Collection
€180 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn.
This really is an excellent intro to the world of Penfolds.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

The 2013 Vintage Collection
€350 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn
I really enjoyed the thoughtful, straight-forward approach of this case, from the rich but elegantly balanced Bin 407 Cabernet to the heady and opulent Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz, finishing at the famous “Baby Grange” that is the decadently delicate Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

The Magill Experience Collection
€600 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn
A real collector’s case, offering three different styles of wine from three distinctly different vintages. Start with the austere, maturing 2008 then move on to the fuller but still restrained 2011 vintage, before finishing on the opulent 2011 tinged with baking spice and blackberry.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

 

This post originally appeared on TheTaste.ie

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.

Two New Aussies Hit Irish Shores

Australian wine can often be misunderstood here in Ireland, with many (maybe most?) people directly equating all output from this immensely diverse country – nay, continent – with the cheap and nasty stuff with pretty animals on the labels.

The real truth is that Australia has an incredible array of wines: from cheap to ultra-expensive; simple quaffers to multi-layered and complex bottles; from old reliable grapes to new and exciting plantings of obscure varieties. Really, Oz wines are amazing nowadays, but that’s for another day’s blog post.

But lest we forget what Australia does best, two new wines have come to the Irish market to remind us of the characteristics that made us fall in love with Aussie wine in the first place.

Barossa Valley Estate (or BVE for short) have recently launched both a straight shiraz and a blend consisting of grenache, shiraz and mourvèdre. The latter is an age-old, traditional blend from the Rhône valley in France which is often abbreviated to its acronym, GSM. So you could call it a “BVE GSM” if that kind of thing takes your fancy.

As if the name wasn’t already a giveaway, the estate is based in – you guessed it – the Barossa Valley, perhaps the most famous quality wine region in Oz that holds some of the oldest vines in the world, with some amazingly over 150 years in age.

Coincidentally, the same week I received the two bottles of BVE I spotted the same said Barossa Valley Estate on the cover of The Tasting Panel magazine. If you’d like to read more I’d highly recommend clicking the link or the image below for the full run-down on the brand – they’ve said it much better than I ever could (plus copy-and-pasting isn’t my thing).

The Barossa Valley Estate Shiraz is made in the reliable, beefy, rich, soft style that we’ve come to love from Oz. Supple and rich, it has choc-loads of plummy dark fruit and toasty vanilla oak, and is sure to be a hit with anyone who loves big Aussie shiraz or similar chunky wines such as Argentine malbec.

The Barossa Valley Estate Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre, meanwhile, consists of 45%, 41% and 14% of those grapes respectively, and is a touch lighter than the straight shiraz though still on the beefier side of this style. The fruit flavours are more on the red berry end of the spectrum with strawberry more evident, and to be honest I preferred this style which was a little more balanced and poised.

The two wines are available from SuperValu for €16.99 (down to a fantastic €13 at the moment), while the straight shiraz is available in O’Brien’s for €16.99 also. Both will be loved by anyone who tends towards the bigger, richer, more unforgiving style of wine.

And in this weather at this time of year, something hearty and warming may just be the ticket.

Disclaimer: I was offered these bottles as free samples, but I was never asked to write a review, whether positive or negative. As always all opinions are honest and completely my own.

TASTING PANEL November
Click here to read more about Barossa Valley Estate

“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

 

The Penfolds Ultra-Premium Experience: Part 3 of 3

This is the third post of three – click here for the first post, and here for the second.

As if the preceding flight of Bins wasn’t mind-blowing enough for one day, we still had the heavyweights ahead of us, what Penfolds call their ‘Icon and Luxury Collection.’St Henri Shiraz

First up was the St Henri 2010. Made without any new oak, instead opting for 14 months in old 1,460 litre vats (as opposed to the popular 225 litre barriques, for example), this is a 97% shiraz with barely a spit of 3% Cabernet. It was gorgeous on the nose,  deep and soft with some kirsch, white pepper and raisins, but the palate was a little hot I felt, which outed its gob-smacking 14.5% alcohol. Beyond this it was deep but restrained, with a solid core of tannin. I felt overall that it was still unresolved and needed time to allow the heat and tannin to die down and integrate more fully.

RWTThen on to another 14.5% alcohl behemoth: the RWT 2010. Penfolds are noted for blending wines across regions, but the RWT is their single-region wine, being sourced exclusively from the shiraz heartland of the Barossa Valley. RWT stands for “Red Winemaking Trial”, which was its moniker when it was still an initial concept back in 1995. Being 100% shiraz, I was taken by its surprisingly Cabernet-like characteristics of blackberry initially on the nose, before leading into some more typical blueberry and black pepper territory. It had a gorgeous, silky palate, especially following from the St Henri, though heightened tannin and acidity here suggested that this also needs some time to lie down. With excellent length finishing with some damson and mocha, this was a big, intense wine which will be superb in years to come.10. Magill Estate Shiraz

The fabled Magill Estate 2010 was up next. Proper old-school – or at least as old-school as a relative newbie such as Australia can get – this is a single-vineyard, basket-pressed wine sourced from the famed Magill estate from which the iconic Grange was once made. The dizzying 14.5% alcohol was the only thing it shared with the two wines above as we were treated to another take on Aussie shiraz. A beautiful and much more fragrant nose had some alternating spice and savoury notes, before leading to a delicate palate with a fantastic mineral streak which was a surprise and a delight. Deep and concentrated with the tannin not as aggressive as the other two, this proved to be an ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ of a wine, both excellent now and deeply promising.

Bin 707The room was then introduced to Penfold’s flagship Cabernet, the Bin 707 2010. Up to now it was all about the shirazes, except for a brief fling with the Bins 407 and 389, so judging by the silence, punctuated only by gasps of delight and murmurs of approval, it was clear that before a sip was taken that this was something to sit up and take notice of. For me, it was somewhat reserved for now, with a pure core of blackcurrant and cedar typical of Cab which I found was overpowering and blocked the way to detecting anything more subtle in there, though some other scents such as sandalwood did do a burlesque show-and-tell whenever I returned to the glass before quickly subsuming under the Cab.

Again though the acidity and tannin a little heightened which will hopefully resolve itself after some time in the bottle. In all this was a tasting of a still too young wine which was volatile and aggressive though showing huge promise. Still, I’ve tasted a few good Cabs recently and wouldn’t rate this above them I’m afraid to say.

GrangeFinally, it was on to the most iconic of them all: the Grange 2008. The word ‘iconic is often thrown about with abandon, but in this case it’s very much relevant: this vintage of Australia’s most commended wine has recently achieved a “double century” of two perfect 100 scores in both Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator, the eleventh wine ever to do so and the only New World wine to gain the accolade.

Massive, intense, complex yet balanced and surely only to get better with time, the Grange was an incredible and electric wine that had the audience enthralled. It was really intense. Did I mention that it was massive too? Oh, and also very intense. A punch in the gob by Tyson would only just about match it. It was beyond words.

I bet you expected a better tasting note for a €700 wine, and so did I. But ask anyone who has bungee-jumped for example to describe their experience and they likely can’t, resorting instead to a smile, a sigh, and the declaration that to know one must experience it. Unfortunately not everyone will get to experience a wine like Grange due to its stratospheric pricing: assuming the liquid in my glass amounted to, say, 100ml, then my sip of this icon cost a mere €93. So not many would have the money for a glass, let alone the €700 for a bottle, and I count myself extremely lucky that my line of work leads me to these situations.

So my overall impressions? Penfolds have just recently been awarded Best Winery in Australia and I don’t think anyone can refute that. Their wines are immense but, more crucially, really quite varied given they’re mostly made from the same two or three grape varieties. If only you didn’t have to re-mortgage the house to experience them – even their “mid range” – then many more would be able to experience their beauty.

St Henri Shiraz 2010
ww.penfolds.com
€100 approx. from good specialist off-licences
97% Shiraz, 3% Cabernet

RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010
ww.penfolds.com
€155 approx. from good specialist off-licences
100% Shiraz

Magill Estate Shiraz
ww.penfolds.com
€140 approx. from good specialist off-licences
100% Shiraz

Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon
ww.penfolds.com
€325 approx. from good specialist off-licences
100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Grange
ww.penfolds.com
€700 approx. from good specialist off-licences
98% Shiraz, 2% Cabernet