Tag Archives: Syrah

Highlights from The Corkscrew Winter Wine Fair – Part 2

 For Part 1 – which included my sparkling and white wine choices – click here.

Looking back over my notes now I realise that I regretfully missed quite a few wines that I would really loved to have spent some time over: a tableful of Portuguese dry wines ruefully skipped; another table that held nothing but sherries, a missed opportunity to  fill in a major gap in my knowledge; the reds of Domaine La Perriere and Domaine Sagat, whose whites I really enjoyed; the first ever craft beer section; and so on.

But such is life, and these things roll around again. Anyway, below are some reds that jumped out at me on the day:

Allegrini La Grola 2010
€27.95 from The Corkscrew, Mitchell & SonWineOnline.ie

A beautifully rich and intense wine, herb-tinged and deliciously structured. Another cracker from Allegrini, and an interesting mix of 80% Corvina, 10% Syrah and 10% Oseleta, the previously ‘lost’ grape native to the Veneto recently ‘resurrected’ by Masi.

 

Rodet Bourgogne Pinot Noir
€15.99 from The Corkscrew

For me the generic ‘Bourgogne Pinot Noir’ is something of a minefield. Burgundy is the home of Pinot Noir and where the best expression of the grape can be found, albeit at a price. The more affordable bottles – simply labelled Bourgogne (i.e. Burgundy) – mostly don’t do the region any justice and tend to be thin and cheap-tasting in my experience.

But this is the best generic Bourgogne I’ve come across. It’s noticeably light but has a lovely mineral streak over some delicate savoury flavours. Refreshing and elegant.

 

Niepoort Rótulo, Dão 2012
€17.50 from The Corkscrew

Dry Portuguese reds are definitely in the ascendancy at the moment, but it’s a style I’m ashamedly not familiar with. Interestingly,  Niepoort have opted to prioritise – nay, exalt – the Dão region very prominently on the colourful label ahead of the historic and famous Niepoort name, or indeed even its given

It’s very intense, taut and concentrated but with elegant floral and dark fruit flavours; the tannin is just right and calls out for food. But I won’t event try and pronounce the grapes: Touriga Nacional, Jaen and Alfrocheir.

 

Ziereisen Tschuppen 2011
€23.95 from The Corkscrew

“This is Pinot Noir”, said the man behind the table (who I later discovered was Ben Mason of Origin Wines). “Or do you mean … Spätburgunder?” said I, twinkle in my eye. “Ho ho ho” we chuckled together, knowingly, for what fun we trade insiders have .

Seriously, this was an amazingly impressive wine, a steal at under €25. It toes the line between the New World and Old World style of Pinot deftly, taking the savoury elegance of the latter and combining it with some headonistic richness of the former. A really notable wine.

 

Château du Cèdre Heritage Malbec 2011
€14.95 from Le Caveau, The Corkscrew, TheWineShop.ie

Another great value wine from Le Caveau with fresh, juicy, ripe sweet fruit. Given it’s organically produced the value is even more impressive.

 

Chaume-Arnaud Côtes du Rhône 2012
€16.55 from Le Caveau, MacGuinness Wine Merchants

Another VGVFM (Very Good Value For Money) wine; medium-bodied, spicy and noticeable tannins that cry out for some meaty food. A traditional blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Cinsault.

 

Maison Ambroise, Cotes de Nuits Villages 2010
€28.90 from Le Caveau and MacGuinnes Wine Merchants

A delicious, fresh wine of cherry and red berries but also an underlying savoury note, light but packed with flavour, really beautiful. Again organic; chapeau to Le Caveau for sticking their neck out and producing such ethical, delicious wines for such amazing prices.

 

Mouchão 2007
€38.95 from The Corkscrew

An incredible, amazing nose of smoky complexity. Outstanding stuff, deep, intense, multi-layered, meaty, taut and with tingling acidity. An outstanding heavy-hitter, made predominantly from Alicante Bouschet with a small percentage of Trincadeira

 

Château de Pierreux Brouilly Réserve 2007
€24.95 from The Corkscrew

A Beaujolais no doubt! I’m usually wary of the region, which I’m aware is a sweeping generalisation, but good examples for me tend to be few and far between, diamonds in the rough. This is one such wine, though; smooth and delicious with some gentle spice , noticeable tannin and a lip-smacking finish.

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A Murder of Crozes

I had intended this to be a sort of addendum to my last post about the Ely Big Rhône Tasting, but figured it would be long enough for its own post. Also I really needed to finish the last one in a hurry.

One of the tables at the event belonged to Nomad Wine Importers, Burgundian wine distributor of note, run by Frenchman Charles Derain. But don’t go Googling just yet, for Nomad dodoesn’t’t have a website, it’s not on Facebook, nor does it dabble in Twitter – nada – so the only contact seems to be via direct email to Charles. A pretty old-school way of doing things in the 21st century.

One of the few pictures available online of Charles Derain!

I first briefly met Charles at the Ely Big Tasting back in October where, apart from a few delicious wines, I was taken by his very Gallic, effusive nature. His passion was undoubtable, as it should be, but he had a refreshingly cheeky chappy demeanour laced with pithy, often audacious throwaway comments, all punctuated with that nonchalant shrug that seems to be the birthright of every Frenchman. He was great craic.

Charles was Head Sommelier in Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud for over 6 years and produces the critically-acclaimed Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône with wine polymath extraordinaire Simon Tyrrell, so to say he knows what he’s doing is an understatement. You can read a really good Q&A with Charles and Simon on Julie Dupouy’s new blog.

Anyway. What was most notable about the Nomad table, apart from Charles’s vivacious energy, was that he was holding a mini vertical and horizontal tasting combined (a vertical is when different vintages of the same wine are tasted, a horizontal is when different producers’ wines from the same vintage are tasted).

So what we had on the night was two vintages each of two wines, both Crozes-Hermitage: Domaine Maxime Graillot’s ‘Domaine des Lises’, and Domaine Alain Graillot’s regular Crozes-Hermitage. The eagle-eyed will have spotted the similarity of the names, and they’d be right, for Maxime Graillot is son of Alain Graillot, the latter being a big deal in Crozes-Hermitage since he set up shop there in 1985.

Maxime and Alaine Graillot (Photo: vigneronsdexception.com)

 

Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage 2012
€28.00 in good wine shops

The 2012 vintage of this wine was the first in our glass, and wow was it good. Beautifully perfumed, intense but elegant, savoury gilled meat and graphite, a subtle and reserved, quite dry palate with really lovely tannin at the end. What a fantastic start – I was salivating at the thought of how the tasting would progress from here.

 

Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2012
€29.50 from Mitchell & Son, Terroirs and Vanilla Grape

This was quite … characterful. I have three adjectives related to its acidity written on my notes: the first is “very vivid”, later it’s “electric”, before finally relenting to “aggressive”. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a bad or unbalanced wine in the slightest, but it certainly had plenty of … well, character, for want of a better word.

Charles looked on intently and seemed pleased that my expression matched his expectations. “Yes, it’s ‘very French’” he said, smiling, before going on to acknowledge that it’s quite the challenge. The nose was feral, earthy. But it’s a delight to taste something from the same region and same vintage as the previous glass, but in such a significantly different style. The joys of wine, eh?! I just wouldn’t be rushing to drink this particular bottle just yet.

 

Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage 2009

I was looking forward to this. After the stellar performance of the 2012 I couldn’t but wait to see what a few years would do to it, especially from a noteworthy vintage. But what’s this? The amazing fruit of the 2012 had faded far beyond its three years; sure enough that earthiness was now coming through, but accompanied by somewhat off-balance acidity and tannin. This wasn’t going down well at all – admittedly, it was a disappointment . A wine to drink young then it seems (but then what a wine in its youth!). A little confused, I moved on to the 2009 Alain Graillot, though with some trepidation after the almost literally shocking experience of the 2012.

 

Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2009

And what’s this? The jarring, aggressive punk-rock characteristic of the 2012 was gone, and in its place was a softer, smoother, more supple drop. True enough its acidity was still significant but it had relaxed to give way to some actual noticeable fruit now, though more in the blackberry and plum region than savoury meatiness. It would be great to taste this in a  couple of years again; definitely the winner of the 2009s.

 

 End Result

I was quite relieved to discover that my thoughts were in line with Charles’s – it’s always flattering to know you’re on the same  page as a former 2 Michelin star sommelier! It was a fantastic experience that showed how you can take two quite different approaches to much the same grape juice from the same area: a more youthful, fruit-forward style that’s excellent when young but doesn’t age well, versus the old guard approach where the wines can often be undrinkable young but grow old gracefully. With some panache Charles not only managed to succinctly highlight this in a few glasses, but worked in a father and son angle too. Chapeau!

 


 

Postscript

This is the first of a new section I’m going to establish for posts like these. One of the great things about doing this blog is the research behind wines I come across that I like, and comparing and contrasting my experiences with certain wines against others out there on the internet. So this will be a piecemeal section where I’ll link to other articles on the topic for further reading, recommend select reviews on a wine I’ve reviewed and other related bric-a-brac I think would be of interest.

  • Here’s a great write-up by New York sommelier Victoria James on her visit to the Graillot winery. In it she mentions that the Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage in general, “in its youth, the wine is abrasive but very appealing, though the finished product holds such longevity it can seem a shame to drink it young.” Yep, abrasive is another word for it! More specifically, she said of the 2012 that “while [it] held less intensity [than the 2013] its aggressive structure transmitted power and a robust energy.”
  • I’m finding it difficult to find a retailer for the Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage online, though Terroirs and Vanilla Grape do have the next bottle down called “Equinoxe”. I recall having it in The Cellar Restaurant under The Merrion a couple of years back and really quite liking it, so I’ll have to pick up a bottle again soon.
  • John Wilson of the Irish Times didn’t seem to find the acidity of Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage too much, not that he could say in the handful of words he’s permitted at least (2011 vintage notwithstanding).

The Ely Big Rhône Tasting 2014

Though a little late in the posting – given this is based on a tasting conducted on the 6th November – if you’re reading this before Christmas Day then in theory this is actually perfectly well timed for the festive season. That’s how I’m validating the delay to myself anyway.

Last month I popped in to the Big Rhône Tasting that took place in the atmospheric subterranean vaults of Ely CHQ to get my chops around the wines of the famous southern French wine region.

This is the second iteration of Rhône Wine Week, organised by Rhône experts and general all-round lovely people Tyrrell & Co. (Wine Importers) Ltd with a little help from Inter Rhônes. It’s heartening to see the love and support Simon Tyrrell et al receive from the wine community before and during this week, all of it absolutely warranted.

Events are run up and down the country in the shape of everything from light and fun intro evenings to serious tastings and brain-churning quizzes that would make the most expert wine buff sweat.

Throw in radio spots, dinners and lots more besides, and you have an amazingly well-assembled and comprehensive paean to a region Simon Tyrrell feels is under-loved; at this rate there no fear of that being a reality for much longer.

You can read more about the week on the Rhône Wine Week website, as well as Jean Smullen’s Wine Diary and plenty of other places if you Google it.

 


The Findlater Selection

My first port of call was the Findlater Wine & Spirit Group stand to call in on some friends and former colleagues who on this occasion were showing a nice broad range of wines from renowned – and sometimes controversial – Rhône producer M. Chapoutier. I’ve written extensively about the living legend that is Michel Chapoutier and his company which you can swot up on again here.

 

Chapoutier ‘Belleruche’ Rouge Côtes du Rhône 2013
€15.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; The Vintry, Rathgar, Dublin; Molloys Off-Licences, Dublin; Martins of Fairview, Dublin; Next Door Off-Licences nationwide; Mitchell & Son, Dublin
Soft and sweet but still some nice drying tannins at the end; cherry and coffee with some of the expected spiciness, but not excessively. Quite good value for money and another wine that dispels my quickly-fading fear of generic Côtes du Rhône.

 

Chapoutier Gigondas 2011
€25.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; WineOnline.ie
A really lovely wine with a much more floral nose than expected, underlaid with some herbal characteristics and leather. The palate is light and silky but has a slightly bitter, tannic finish that cries out for food. Great tasting on its own at a table but would be amazing with some meaty fare.

 


Chapoutier ‘Les Meysonniers’ Crozes-Hermitage 2012

€20.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; Millésima
This wine was much more the ‘typical’ Rhône style I had come to expect with noticeable spice and a kick of heat over savoury, leathery flavours and dark red fruit. Despite this the palate was again much lighter and silkier than expected, with tannins nice and integrated.

 

Chapoutier ‘La Bernardine’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012
€34.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; The Vintry, Rathgar, Dublin; WineOnline.ieMillésima
Much more deep and concentrated this one, with brambly fruit, damson and blackberry with some grilled meat notes too. The palate is taut with only a gentle lick of black pepper spice – again another food-hungry wine.

 

Chapoutier Rasteau 2012
€19.99
I’ve written “more tactile than flavoursome” in my notes, but that’s not in a negative way: apart from some nice but general savoury, blackberry, slightly spicy characteristics, for me the wine was better enjoyed for its silky, taut, brooding palate. At this price it’s really good value for money, a sort of little brother to the ‘La Bernardine’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape perhaps. Really good value for money.

 

 


 

Best of the Rest

It’s incredible in retrospect, but I didn’t get to taste any white wines, most definitely a loss on my part as I rarely (correction: ever) get to taste white wines from the Rhône normally. But given the tight timing (I had to rush off to a dinner with friends) and the fact I was with a friend who was definitely a ‘red’ guy, then the whites had to be sacrificed in order to prioritise those wines that the region is most noted for. Next year I’ll be sure to sample some whites!

 

Simone Joseph ‘Les Vignes Paralleles’ Côtes du Rhône 2012
€13.45 from TheWineStore.ie; TheDrinkStore.ie
I had to do a double-take at the price of this wine – at €13.45 it’s incredible value for money. Though hardly the most complex wine of the evening, understandably, for some decent change out of €15 you get a lightly pleasant, interesting wine from Simon Tyrrell’s own négociant business.

 

Domaine Brusset Cairanne Côtes du Rhône Villages ‘Les Travers’ 2010
€19.99 from Mitchell & Sons, Dublin
Initially I got some worryingly ‘green’ aromas on the nose, which thankfully faded quickly enough to give way to deeply brooding, interesting, dark fruit aromas, and a taut, rich, long and spicy palate of black fruit and dried currants. Really quite excellent, another excellent value for money wine.

 

Domaine La Monardière Vacqueyras 2010
€22.85 from JNwine.com and WineOnline.ie
Another wine with little by way of tasting notes, but this time due to chatting away to the affable Jonathan Tonge of JN Wines. What I do have recorded, however, is that this was a delightfully light wine but with a palate that defied its weight with taut, heady, savoury flavours and a long delicious finish.

 

Domaine Brusset Gigondas ‘Tradition Le Grand Montmirail’ 2012
€25.99 from Mitchell & Sons, Dublin
A really good wine made somewhat unapproachable by its immense tannins. Paired with some intensely meaty dishes – an/or a little time – this would soften out to be a really notable wine.

 

Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012
€45.99 from Mitchell & Sons
One of the highest of highlights of the evening. I remember it taking my breath away, but evidently it took away my ability to write also as I simply have one word scrawled beside it in the booklet: “Wow!”

So I’ll have to refer you to Frankie Cook – who liked it also – who noted that, “it’s a delicious wine that showcases some of the best that Rhône Syrah can do.  There is bacon and black olives, pepper and spice, but above all refined power from the fruit.” Read the full review here.

 

Domaine M. et S. Ogier d’Ampuis Côte-Rôtie 2010
€74.95 from TheWineStore.ie
Wow wow wow – incredibly alluring and multi-faceted aromas above a saline, gorgeous palate of coffee, dates, cassis; long and luxurious, a stunner.

Marqués de Riscal: 156 Years in 156 Minutes (Part 1)

The title is roughly true – give or take an hour – but never let the truth get in the way of a catchy headline.

This is the next in my series of blog posts titled “Clearing Accumulated Crap Off My Mac Desktop” (click here for the previous cathartic ramble) comes this one on iconic Rioja producer Marqués de Riscal.

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!

Old-school Riscal winemaking (Image: marquesderiscal.com)
Old-school Riscal winemaking (Image: marquesderiscal.com)
The Company

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.

That famous Riscal gold wire netting
That famous Riscal gold wire netting

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.

Throw in an outlandish, futuristic, award-winning hotel and winery complex and you’ll probably more clearly understand that “nothing stands still for long at this traditional, but consistently innovative bodega”, as Tim Atkin remarks in this immensely helpful and concise article.

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.

 

The Whites

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.

Marques de Riscal Sauvignon Blanc copyMarqués 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.

 

Marques de Riscal Rueda copyMarqués 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.

 

Marques de Riscal Rosado copyMarqués 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.

 

 

Click here to read part two.

Fac et Spera: M. Chapoutier

I love Maison M. Chapoutier, to give the company its full and proper title, though I’ll admit that it was the aura around the company itself and not its wines that attracted me first, in particular its colourful figurehead Michel Chapoutier; you may remember him from my first Wine Wisdom posts in fact.

Michel Chapoutier

Though I’ve never had the chance to meet him, Chapoutier seems to me to be a fantastically idiosyncratic and colourful character: opinionated, deliberately and consciously contrarian, proud, stubborn, revolutionary, arrogant, bombastic, narcissistic, and so much more. He seems to be a person that some love to hate, and others hate to love. He’s ruthless and cold on one hand then generous and emotive on the other, noted for his hyperbole and grand pronouncements, and talking effusively at length about minutiae others often overlook, whether for better or worse. Love him or hate him, you can’t but be captivated by this man and, by extension for me at least, his wines too.

I originally began this post as a review of one of his excellent wines, but ended up spending a couple of happy hours picking over the details of this fascinating man and his company. Here’s a little review of it all – enjoy!

Chapoutier: The Company and the Man

The story of how the M. Chapoutier business as we know it today came about is like something out of House of Cards.

Michel Chapoutier’s grandfather, Marc, handed over the reins to the family winery to Michel’s father and brother in 1977, though only nominally. In what may be seen as a foreshadowing of his grandson’s own ambitions, Marc still maintained control over vinification – i.e. growing the grapes and making the wine itself – leaving his son and grandson the relatively demoted tasks of bottling, ageing and distribution.

In 1987 a 23-year-old Michel returned from a few years working in other wine regions to join his grandfather in the vineyard,  and immediately set about impressing his own stamp on the Chapoutier brand. But as his brother and father were responsible for the finishing of the wines then they were never going to be “his” wines in their entirety, a troubling situation for the obsessive Michel.

Taking his grievances directly to his grandfather, he was offered the chance of assuming the head role of the family business ahead of his own father, an opportunity that itself should have been conceited enough to keep him happy. But still this wasn’t enough for the driven young Michel, who didn’t fancy sharing the spoils of his hard work with what he saw as his lazy and therefore undeserving family members.

So, in 1990, at only 26 years old, Michel Chapoutier bought the company outright from his grandfather, firing all family members involved in the firm soon after. In my mind this plays out like the final scene of The Godfather, where the heads of all the rival families are toppled in one fell swoop. Ruthless doesn’t quite cover it.

The Wines

Unusually, unlike Burgundy and Bordeaux, the Rhône doesn’t have an official cru (vineyard) classification system, despite the region’s wine being some of the most renowned and diverse in the world.

There are, however, lieux-dits, “named places” or place names that denote vineyard sites and plots within each appellation which have been recognised – either historically or via more recent investigation – as producing wines of a distinct quality or character.  Chapoutier has been voracious in his appetite for snapping up these lieux-dits and now is one of the largest holders of some of the most rare and exclusive plots of land in the Rhône, including most notably a large swathe of the fabled Hermitage hill.

Chapoutier is also famous for his production methods. Most of his wines are certified organic, with the top wines going one step further by being produced biodynamically. Biodynamic winemaking is like organic farming on speed: not only are synthetic sprays banned in their entirety, but soil treatments such as natural sprays and manure are treated with certain ‘preparations’ such as “flower heads of yarrow fermented in a stag’s bladder” and “oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal.”

Not only that but certain key vineyard jobs such as pruning, picking and the aforementioned spraying are performed according to the phases of the moon. I kid you not. There are more winemakers than you’d think around the world practicing biodynamics at the moment, with many transitioning to the practice. I won’t try and cover this weird and wonderful way of making wine in this blog, but Jamie Goode (again) has an excellent and comprehensive explainer here should you wish to know more.

M. Chapoutier Crozes-Ermitage ‘Les Varonniers’ 2003

So, on to the wine. This one comes from Crozes-Hermitage in the northern Rhône, which is the largest appellation in the region and can produce some nice if ordinary wines.

But this is a Chapoutier wine, and not only that but Les Varonniers is from his ‘Sélections Parcellaires‘ top tier of wines, so you can fully expect it be anything but ‘ordinary.’

The wine is sourced from a lieux-dit known as Varognes; originally it was blended with wine produced from another Crozes-Hermitage lieux-dit called Les Meysonniers, with the resulting contraction of the two names giving “Varonniers.” Now, however, it is completely sourced from the Varognes plot alone, which boasts vines with an average age of 65 years and an esteemed placement at the fringe of Hermitage hill.

Chapoutier Les Varonniers 2003The wine was very reductive and funky on initial opening and needed a bit of air to blow this off before some gamey, barnyard aromas revealed themselves before moving on to very savoury, meaty notes. Eventually some dried fruits such as redcurrants and raisins were evident, overlaid with some typical spice. And I may be crazy, but I thought I detected some lavendar – but that’s sure a more South of France thing?

Anyway, that gamey characteristic appeared again on the palate again, with layers of leather and a little liquorice too. It had lovely acidity and tannin – enough to warrant good food, but not so much not to be able to enjoy on its own. A gentle long finish completed this delightful wine.

M. Chapoutier Crozes-Ermitage ‘Les Varonniers’ 2003
www.chapoutier.fr
Approximately €40 from Millesima and specialist off-licences
100% Syrah

(Thanks to Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak site for providing much of the detail for this post)

The Penfolds Ultra-Premium Experience: Part 2 of 3

For part one of this three-part Penfolds Ultra-Premium Experience, click here.

Next up was Penfolds’s own take on the Rhône signature blend commonly referred to amongst wine folk as “GSM”, or Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre.

Nothing in wine is ever simple however, with one pertinent example being wine grape names which can vary quite differently depending on the country in which it is being produced; bear in mind that wine growing far, far precedes transnational uniform agreements on naming and standards, so differences in grape naming can cary widely. Not good news for newcomers trying to get their heads around the wine game, unfortunately.

So when it comes to GSM, the French name Grenache may be translated into the Spanish Garnacha, but not usually in this case; Syrah may cast off its French yoke and take on the blasphemous Aussie ‘Shiraz’ moniker, which is quite common nowadays; and Mourvèdre may, rarely, become turncoat and turn its back on its (again) French heartland to rechristen itself as Spanish Mataró, though this is less widespread.

S KPenfolds have placed a foot in each camp with a French-Spanish-Australian triumvirate it calls its Shiraz/Grenache/Mataró blend:  Bin 138 2011. But that’s SGM and not GSM you’ll note, and to make matters more confusing they refer to Mourvèdre and not Mataró in their supporting material in direct contrast to what it says on the wine’s label on the facing page, but there you have it. Best not force the issue.

Anyway, this was the joker in the pack as far as this event’s lineup was concerned: all the other reds consisted of either Shiraz, Cabernet or both, yet here was a mongrel of a wine seldom referred to in the usual Penfolds schtick. With a cherried, pomegranite and rhubarb nose and a candied cranberry palate, I found it to be a bit two-dimensional and not terribly exciting, though it did retain just enough tannin to keep the structure sound. Best move on then in other words.

4. Bin 28 Kalimna ShirazThe intense and concentrated Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2010 came next,  a multi-region blend with the Barossa featuring strongly, a single plot in which the Bin 28 was originally sourced and from which it takes its name. I have to admit that this was already a favourite of mine coming into the tasting so I have to say I’m prejudiced. It didn’t disappoint though: deep, concentrated and intense, it’s perhaps a little too tightly wound and maybe needs to loosen up a little, though for al the better. Some coffee and black pepper on the nose with a touch of liquorice leads a tautly mineral palate. There was a flash of unwanted heat from the alcohol, which confirmed the need to leave it be for a few years, but then there was coffee, mocha, blackberry… it was powerful and full-bodied but elegant, tight tannin and fantastic length. Incredible in other words, one of my favourites of the day, and given the royalty on show this is very good value at €30.

S KInterestingly it was then straight on to another Shiraz, the Bin 150 Marananaga Shiraz 2010, which provided an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast styles. The Bin 150 is Penfolds’ experimentation in sub-regional expression, sourcing its fruit entirely from the Marananga vineyard in the Barossa valley. I thought it was strange to place the Bin 150 straight after the Bin 28 however, since the former was more lifted and forthcoming than the dark and brooding Bin 28. That’s not a bad thing though, of course, it’s just different. Again some black pepper on the nose, though this time with some dried cranberries and juniper I thought, and a livelier, lighter palate that unfortunately didn’t have the length of the Bin 28 but was nevertheless noteworthy. Still, I may have appreciated it more had it been served before the Kalimna, and given it’s exactly twice the price I know which one I’d choose.

6. Bin 407 Cabernet SauvignonThen it was on to the first Cabernet of the day, the Bin 407, which ticked all the boxes of good Cab with blackcurrant and cedar dominating,  but as I’ve never had it before: fresher, more floral, softer, but still maintaining the touches of cassis, green pepper and pencil shavings typical of the style. This wine has class. A fantastic palate, smooth and silky, a tingle of tannin, excellent length, a real quality drop. A beautiful wine.

7. Bin 389 Cabernet ShirazFinally (for now) it was on to the distinctly Australian blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon in the form of Bin 389. I find Shiraz/Cab blends to be somewhat hedonistic, offering up lots of ripe, lush, varied fruit in an easily-approachable style. In this case it was no different: an absolutely beautiful nose in which, surprisingly, the Cab was dominant with its cassis and pencil shavings with some Shiraz pepper underneath. The palate was tight and tingling and surprisingly unforthcoming with the fruit – in fact it was a little closed and may need a couple of years, and some time in the glass suggested this as it opened up to a silky, classy, yet still restrained drop. Another winner for Penfolds.

Phew! And if you though that was a rush of exhilarating fine wine, we’re not even on to the top flight yet…

Penfolds Bin 138 Shiraz Grenache Marató 2011
ww.penfolds.com
€32 approx. from good specialist off-licences
65% Shiraz, 20% Grenache, 15% Marató

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2010
www.penfolds.com
€30 approx. from good specialist off-licences
100% Shiraz

Penfolds Bin 150 Maranaga Shiraz 2010
ww.penfolds.com
€60 approx. from good specialist off-licences
100% Shiraz

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
www.penfolds.com
€58 approx. from good specialist off-licences
100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2010
ww.penfolds.com
€61 approx. from good specialist off-licences
51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 49% Shiraz

A Rhône Revelation

As I have shouted about before, I don’t like to be prejudiced when it comes to wine. That said there are some styles, regions and grapes that I either just don’t “get” or that don’t suit my palate, or both, so I cannot help but avoid certain wines as a general rule simply because past experience has lead me in that direction.

Unfortunately Southern Rhône wines fall into this category, and I say ‘unfortunately’ as this rather large area encompasses quite a number of prestigious regions and producers beloved by wine aficionados the world over. I have often read of that Châteauneuf-du-Pape or this Gigondas that carry with them exalted superlatives, amongst others. More often than not I hear of yet another boutique little ‘generic’ Côtes du Rhône that defies the general appellation it’s lumped in with and produces something well beyond its price point and which is simply a ‘must have’.

But, alas, I have always been on the outside looking in, since I find most Southern Rhônes to be too, well, hot and spicy for my liking. Maybe it’s the predominance of Grenache in Southern Rhône blends which throws me off, as I tend to find this grape a little hard to handle when it’s from hotter climates unless it’s aged or from old vines due to the reasons given earlier.

[singlepic id=28 w=320 h=240 float=right]That is until I came across Clos Bellane Côtes du Rhône 2010, recently picked up at the lovely On the Grapevine wine shop in Dalkey. Everything I feared from usual Côtes du Rhône – the hot spiciness, the one-dimensionality – was absent from this bottle, which also floated my boat with its minimalist labelling. A quick peek at the blend strongly suggests, however, a likely reason for my liking it: the 50% Grenache is balanced out by 50% Syrah, the other Rhône stalwart. Some further reading gives even more away: the vineyard is located on a plateau 400m above sea level (the cooler temperatures lead to more restrained wines) and the vines are 85 years old on average (older vines normally mean more complex wines).

Black pepper and blackberry predominate, with a lovely depth and concentration that has you coming back repeatedly to the glass. Some nice supportive tannin make this – to use a cliché flung at so many French wines – a good ‘food wine’ too. It’s deep and intriguing, constantly evolving subtly, but also approachable and easy-going. It’s a steal at €14.99 from one of the nicest independents in Dublin’s south side, and finally it’s a Côtes du Rhône that I can stand over. Many talk about ‘the bottle’ that changed them, and for me and ‘CdR’, this is it.

Imagine my surprise, then, when another Côtes du Rhône threw my preconceptions out the window once again only a couple of weeks later; and not only that but it’s currently only €9.99 on sale in O’Brien’s, with its ‘full retail price’ of €12.99 (see my last post for an explanation of these inverted commas).

The Ortas Reserve Côtes du Rhône 2011 had an amazingly fragrant nose, floral and enticing, and not what I expect from a CdR at all. The palate, however, was lacking: a bit rough and harsh, and a disappointment after the wonderful fragrances it opened with. But, all said, for under a tenner it’s a decent drop which would be perfect in bulk for a barbecue – simply sniff away at it for the evening and soften out the palate with some chunky BBQ meats. At €12.99 though you’re miles better off with the Clos Bellane.

So, Côtes du Rhône, where have you been all my life?!

Clos Bellane Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2010
www.clos-petite-bellane.com
€14.99 from On the Grapevine, Dalkey, and also direct from Cabot & Co. who import it
50% Grenache and 50% Syrah from Côtes du Rhône

Ortas Reserve Côtes du Rhône 2011
Ortas (Caves de Rasteau) page on www.rasteau.com or their Facebook
Normally €12.99 but on sale currently at €9.99 from O’Brien’s
70% Grenache, 20% Cinsault and 10% Carignan from Côtes du Rhône