Tag Archives: Tempranillo

Last-Minute Christmas Wine Help!

So it’s Christmas eve-eve, and you haven’t picked up wine for the coming days yet.

No worries, there’s still time, and to help I’ve picked out some favourites from a few importer/retailers around the country, so that hopefully some of my suggestions below shouldn’t be too far from where you live.

Please not though that for the sake of brevity I’ve picked out only a tiny selection of wines I’ve sampled recently from importers that have invited me to their tastings, so obviously this is by no means a definitive or exhaustive list.

As such the best default course of action – as I’ve always strongly recommended – is to go into your local independent off-licence (not supermarket) and tell someone there what you’re looking for; you’ll almost always end up with something exactly what you’re looking for and usually something better than expected, as well as supporting local businesses. Win win.

There are a couple of whites and a couple of reds from each supplier that I think will be pretty fail-safe for the coming days, covering both party wines and special bottles.

Good luck and merry Christmas!


NATIONWIDE: O’Brien’s

Wth outlets now in Cork, Limerick, Galway and lots of other places, you’re not too far from an O’Brien’s and their great range of wines.
Open Wednesday 23rd & Thursday 24th: until 8pm or 9pm (click here to check your local store)
Brocard Chablis – now €18.99
I covered this recently in my post about the recent O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale, and I’ve no problem recommending it again: simultaneously steely, mineral and generous, this is textbook Chablis at a great price.

Château Fuisse Saint Veran – now €19.99
Though I would normally choose the more expensive wines of the Château Fuisse range – such as the Pouilly Fuissé ‘Tête de Cru’ I reviewed in the O’Brine’s Fine Wine Sale post, for €20 this is a great introduction to the brand and a fantastic white Burgundy in general. Zingy and refreshing but with some of that creamy oak influence underneath, this is perfect for those recovering from the oak overload of old.

Bellow’s Rock Shiraz – now €9.99
A consistently very good wine that’s always excellent value, this has all you’d want from Shiraz but without the usual blowsy, over-cooked characters: weight, balance and drinkability. An above-par party wine.

Monte Real Rioja Reserva – now €13.99
I continue to be perplexed as to how O’Brien’s continue to source this wine at this price. Rioja Reservas usually start around the €20 mark, but Monte Real often appears well below €15, which shouldn’t be possible given the quality. Still, take advantage while you can and buy a case or two then this comes on sale: it has all the trademark Rioja characteristics of dark fruit with vanilla and leather over a silky supple palate. A real Christmas winner.

 

KILKENNY: Le Caveau
An award-winning Burgundy specialist, it would be remiss of me not to feature some of my (slightly) more affordable favourites from the iconic region
Open Wednesday 23rd until 10pm, and Thursday 24th from 10.30am – 4.30pm

Olivier Leflaive, Bourgogne Blanc – €20.40
And excellent basic Bourgogne from an iconic producer, this ticks all the boxes and comes in at barely a shade over €20. Really highly recommended.

Vincent Girardin, Savigny-Les-Beaune ‘Vermots Dessus’ – The 2011 I tasted is €28.70, but the last bottles of 2006 are currently on sale for the silly price of €15 Complex and creamy with excellent length, this is a really excellent, characterful Burgundy.

Louis Boillot, Bourgogne Rouge – €26.50
Beautifully fragrant and smoky, with sweet red fruit and a herbal tinge. Soft and generous and surprisingly complex for a basic Bourgogne.

Maison Ambroise, Cotes de Nuits Villages – €28.90
My tasting notes say that this tastes of Christmas, so no better time to grab a bottle then! Clove and baking spices are overlaid by brambly red fruits and a lush expressiveness.

 

GALWAY: Cases Wine Warehouse
A great outlet run with passion, yet not lacking in some great-value finds
Open Wednesday 23rd until 7pm and Thursday 24th from10am to 3pm

Autoritas Reserva Viognier – now €9.95
I had this marked as “Very Good Value for Money” when it was €11.95, so now it’s Excellent Value for Money at the discounted price for Christmas. A surprising treat for the cost, it’s full and rich with peach and honey, though beware the 14% alcohol!

Lady Sauvignon – €11.95
Another bargain from Chile. Though it’s typically expressive and flavoursome in the New World style, I found the acidity to be a little less aggressive than we come to expect from the style. Everything else is in place, such as the grassy pea characteristics. One to buy in bulk.

Mister Shiraz – €13.95
Yes, you guessed it, Mister Shiraz is the partner to Lady Sauvignon above. But I’m not featuring it just to complete the pair: I found this to be much lighter than expected, which is a pleasant surprise as New World Shiraz at this price tends to be over-blown. Still, it’s deep and satisfying with blueberry and blackberry flavours.

Bagante Mencia – €13.95
One of my favourites from the Cases tasting a few months back, and again great value for money (a running theme from Cases it seems). I wrote about this for TheTaste.ie before, and I’d recommend it again: juicy, fresh, lively and all pleasure, it’s fun and sun in a glass.

 

BORDER COUNTIES: JN Wine
The famous JN Wine company has its wholesale business both north and south of the border and offer a mail-order service to match, but as it’s too late to avail of the latter then you’ll have to hop over to their store in Crossgar, Co. Down, to grab some of the bottles below.
(For more you can read a recent profile on James Nicholson – the JN of the company name – in the Irish Times here)

Sartarelli Verdicchio Classico – €14.99
I found this to be very good value for money: fresh and easy with approachable tropical fruit, but the palate still has some weight and seriousness to it. I’d say this would be a very versatile choice at the Christmas table.

Weingut Salwey, “Salwey RS” Weissburgunder – €21.99
Weissburgunder is the German name for Pinot Blanc, and this is a fine, rich example of the variety: it straddles the line between freshness and creaminess, giving sprightly citrus fruits over a lightly waxy palate. I’d recommend reading this post by Frankie Cook, where he gives a more detailed post on the background of this wine.

Bodegas Paco Garcia, Rioja Crianza – €18.99
Ah yes, where would Christmas be without Rioja? This is a younger Crianza style though, and as such is fresher and livelier than the Reservas we’re usually used to drinking. I thought the texture of this wine was excellent to, giving an all-round, crowd-pleasing quality drop.

Domaine Fournier, Bourgogne Rouge – €24.50
Yes, another Bourgogne Rouge, but when done well it really is excellent and the ideal Christmas wine in my opinion. Fournier produce another excellent example, with the texture of this wine the first thing to catch my attention, followed by some clove and Christmas spices. A really delicious wine.

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The “Wine Days” of 2015

Here’s an interesting graphic sourced from the www.americanwineryguide.com: a guide to all the “wine days” that we can look forward to this year.

Though a few are obviously American-centric – I can’t see myself raising a glass to Michigan Wine Month any time soon – it still provides a nice focus and a good excuse to crack open a bottle of something you wouldn’t normally reach for.

I won’t need any convincing to enjoy Champagne Day, but the days allocated to Moscato, Grenache, and even Sauvignon Blanc (which I normally avoid) will hopefully provide enough excuse for me to finally buy a bottle of that variety and, in the case of the latter at least, set aside ingrained prejudice and give peace a chance.

Here are the days most relevant to us in Ireland:

9th May: Moscato
15th May: Sauvignon Blanc
21st May: Chardonnay
2nd August: Albariño (Spain) / Alvarinho (Portugal)
27th August: Cabernet Sauvignon
18th September: Grenache
23rd October: Champagne
7th November: Merlot
12th November: Tempranillo
19th November: Zinfandel

And here’s the full chart:

See you on Moscato Day…!

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


Read part one of this feature by clicking here.

The Reds

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Jose Luis

A Bit of Banter: Screwcaps and Milking Cows

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 


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

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.

The Vagaries of Irish Wine Pricing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Window of Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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