Tag Archives: The Corkscrew

BeTomish: Another Irish Wine Success Story

Picture the scene: the sun is shining on the azure Mediterranean, you and your friends scoot around historic villages without a care, sailing, surfing and visiting art galleries before finally meeting up for a carefree al fresco meal in the warm summer breeze with some great, fuss-free wine.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well this is the lifestyle of Tom Gallagher, originally from Boyle in Co. Roscommon before he moved to Sitges near Barcelona in 2001 with his family.

He played rugby in New Zealand until 2014 before returning to Spain at the fresh age of 24 where he hatched a plan with his brother Eoin (29) to launch their own wine range under the name “BeTomish”, a brand name Tom was already using for some time beforehand for a number of products he used to sell locally.

The name seems odd at first but when spoken aloud and correctly pronounced it is clear what is being conveyed: not a name, but a directive … literally, you can “be Tom-ish” by enjoying his sunny take on living through carefully-selected products that reflect his way of life.

Even the logo – which has the primeval look of a man squatting – is actually a hieroglyph of his name: look closely and you’ll see the letters T, O and M making up the humanoid shape.

So it was only time then, given the location of his adopted home, that wine would become a part of the BeTomish family; and now, thanks to importers Honest2Goodness, we have both BeTomish Wines readily available on the Irish market.

And little did they know but they automatically became part of what is known as the “Wine Geese”, Irish men and women who over the centuries have emigrated and found a new life abroad in the wine trade. You might know many of them already – Lynch-Bages and Leoville-Barton in Bordeaux and Hennessey in Cognac spring to mind – and now you can add the Gallagher brothers of Sitges to this illustrious list.

The Wines

But the Gallagher brothers are not winemakers, and indeed they had little knowledge of the trade before starting out. Instead they spent six months meeting grape growers, producers and wine makers from the Priorat, Penedès and Montsant regions in Catalonia under the direction of mentor and business partner Pere Martorell, owner of De Muller Winery, in order to source their wines.

BeTomish 2

The result was finally hitting on both a red and white from organic vineyards that they felt accurately reflected both the ideals of the brand and the regions the wines were from – in other words two wines they felt were “Tom-ish” enough to package under their eye-catchingly minimalist labels. Their first vintage was destined solely for the domestic market – Barcelona and Ibiza primarily – and it sold out in its entirety, a success by any measure.

What sets BeTomish apart from other ‘lifestyle wine brands’ is the passion and drive of brothers: while Tom manages relationships in Spain, Eoin is the Sales/Marketing/Export manager whose enthusiasm for the brand is infectious. Then there’s the brand message and packaging: no family history, no over-stylised bottles, no essays on the back labels – just simple, good wine, representative of the region they’re from and cleanly presented.

So far they have just the two wines – a white from Tarragona and a red from Priorat, both reviewed below – but they have their sights set on other regions such as Montsant, where they intend on buying their first vineyards soon, and Rueda shortly after that if all goes well, with others no doubt in the pipeline.

And it doesn’t stop there – the Gallagher brothers are continuing to extend their BeTomish brand and way of life to other areas as diverse as property rentals via BeTomish Homes, which already has a number of properties in its portfolio.

Enjoying a BeTomish wine in a BeTomish home in sunny Sitges – what can be more “be-Tom-ish” than that?

TWO TO TRY

BeTomish RedBeTomish Priorat Crianza
RSP €22.95
Priorat has the tendency to be a big, taut, punchy wine, so I was pleasantly surprised by this version: it was approachably juicy and smooth but with a drying, well-integrated tannic streak at the end, the latter being an undeniable homage to the style of the area. This is an excellent introduction to the Priorat style, an approach confirmed by Eoin when he called it “Priorat for Beginners”.
A blend of 60% Garnacha, 20% Merlot, 10% Syrah, 10% Samsó, the grapes come from a 30 hectare plot in the area of El Molar, with vine age 20-30 years on average.

BeTomish Blanco Tarragona
RSP €15.95
BeTomish WhiteAn usual blend (for me at least) of 70% Macabeo, 20% Muscat, 10% Sauvignon Blanc, this is fresh a easy-drinking, but its gloriously low 11% alcohol makes it an ideal summer sipper.

Stockists
Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellars; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Donnybrook Fair; Honest2Goodness Market (Saturdays only); Daly’s of Boyle, Co Roscommon; World Wide Wines, Waterford

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.

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Bollinger – A Visit to the Legendary Champagne House

Emerging from the forested hilltop of Montagne de Reims, the heartland of the Champagne region unfurls itself before you. The reveal is gradual and, as you’d expect from this most famous of wine regions, not without elegance.

However when I visited the region in March it was not lush undulating green hillsides that greeted me but the rather more sobering sight of heavy, leaden grey skies over bleak fields of skeletal vines – the area had not yet fully emerged from its winter dormancy and so was distinctly lacking in any vegetation or colour.

I was in Champagne to visit Bollinger, the famous House known to anyone with even a passing interest in sparkling wine. Having worked with the brand for years it was akin to meeting one of your heroes, though in contrast to the old saying I couldn’t imagine this encounter to be in any way disappointing.

Descending from Montagne de Reims we hung left before Épernay in the direction of Aÿ, home to Bollinger as well as other notable names such as Ayala, Deutz and a small boutique brand known as Moët et Chandon. Aÿ itself came upon us quite suddenly and without the fanfare I was expecting from such an eminent address. I also found it difficult to comprehend its size: with a mere 4,000 souls or so, I didn’t expect Aÿ to be, well, a village.

Overlooking Clos St Jacques in Aÿ

More surprising was how we came to find ourselves outside the House of Bollinger itself: instead of a gilded avenue lined with cypress trees and cherubs heralding our arrival, we approached the château via what seemed to be a back lane behind some houses, pulling up outside the iconic polished brass nameplates with absolutely no ado.

That’s not to say the House of Bollinger itself is very impressive however: a very typical château in that much French style, with two sweeping staircases leading to a doorway beneath a wrought iron balcony and surrounded by white shuttered windows. It features a lot in the Bollinger iconography, and rightly so.

We started by having a gander at Bollinger’s back garden – literally. Behind the House is a walled vineyard, and a very rare one too as it’s one of the few in France that wasn’t devastated by the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out most vineyards across Europe in the 1860s onwards. Indeed, it’s one of only two in Champagne that wasn’t affected by the devastating louse – the other, Clos St Jacques, is literally across the road and also owned by Bollinger. Needless to say this rarity is fully exploited via an extremely limited-production Champagne called Vieilles Vignes Françaises which is made exclusively from these two plots; a bottle of this – if you can find one – will set you back at least €500, if you’re lucky.

The cooperage in Bollinger

From there we made our way down the deserted streets on foot to Lily Bollinger’s house where, across a modest courtyard, there was a small cooperage where they still maintain their oak barrels to this day, the last company in Champagne to do so. Hanging haphazardly on the walls were a handful of movie posters from past Bond films, the only obvious connection here to the world’s most famous spy, for whom Bollinger has been the Champagne of choice since the 1970’s. Oddly, the posters they chose were all from the Pierce Brosnan era – none from before, and none since. I wonder if the coopers of Bollinger have a particular affinity for the man from Navan?

Next to the cooperage was a door leading down into the cellars of Bollinger: dark, dank tunnels hewn from the chalky earth for which Champagne is famous. Here, thousands upon thousands of dusty cobwebbed bottles line the walls that snake for an incredible five kilometres underneath Aÿ. It’s mind-boggling to think that the  residents of this sleepy village have literally millions of Euros of the finest Champagne resting beneath their feet.

One of the many stretches of underground cellars

Established in 1829, Bollinger is one of the few Champagne Houses left under full family ownership. The beefy “Bollinger style” is famous worldwide and owes no small part to the predominance of Pinot Noir in its blends, but their dogged commitment to traditional (read: expensive and time consuming) methods also play their part, for example their habit of fermenting a high proportion of their wines in wood, their use of a large amount of Premier and Grand Cru wines in the blends, and ageing for well beyond the legal minimum, amongst others.

‘Attention to detail’ is a term bandied about a lot, and mostly erroneously so, but for Bollinger it really is an underlying philosophy of what they do, preferring as they do to prioritise quality, tradition and craftsmanship over profit and margins – an enviable situation made all the easier by being family-owned.

The result is expensive, yes, especially in light of €20 Champagne in the likes of Aldi and Lidl, but you really do get what you pay for with Bollinger.

When Bollinger says they lay down their Champagne for years they ain’t lying!

Back at Aÿ we emerged blinking from the cellars to face what was perhaps the highlight of the highlights: tasting the fruit of all this effort. The full range of non-vintage and vintage wines were laid before us in white and rosé versions, and even a rare still red wine called La Côte Aux Enfants.

But before we finish, no article on Bollinger is complete without the famous quote by Lily Bollinger, a tour de force who ran the company on her own for four decades in which she revolutionised the company, doubled sales, expanded production, and all the time adhered resolutely to the tradition that made the Bollinger name famous:

I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.


TWO TO TRY

Bollinger Special Cuvée
RSP €65 and widely available from good independent off-licences

The benchmark, and not for the faint hearted: full, rich, toasty, buttery, this is bruising but nevertheless elegant – a contradiction of sorts, yes, but true nevertheless. A properly posh Champagne.

 

Bollinger La Grande Année 2002/2004/2005
RSP €120 from Mitchell & Son, O’Brien’s, The Corkscrew, Redmond’s of Ranelagh and other fine wine retailers

This is the vintage Champagne from Bollinger and any one of the years above may be on the shelves of your local fine wine retailer at the moment. I’ve recently had the 2002 and for me it’s the best vintage Champagne I can recall, and from (vague) memory the 2004 and 2005 vintages are up there too. It’s more refined than the Special Cuvée, more delicate and mineral, and though more toned down in volume is nevertheless still rich and complex with incredible length. A true treat Champagne.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.

Some Valentine’s Day Sparkling Rosés

This post originally appeared on TheTaste.ie


I think many people are unduly harsh about Valentine’s Day; where others see a day where they’re ‘forced’ to jump through hoops, I simply see another excuse to enjoy myself. Think about it: what are the clichéd components on Valentine’s Day? Posh chocolates, flowers, a nice meal and some good wine, all shared with your loved one … if you find cause to dislike any of the above then I think you’re missing out on one of life’s pleasures.

And yes, it’s been over-commercialised, but what hasn’t been nowadays? As Alfred Wainwright famously said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” So change your mind-set about Valentine’s Day: grab someone you love (whether romantically or platonically), pick up one of the delicious bottles of wine below, put together some gorgeous food, and enjoy the fact that you’ve been given another excuse to experience some of the finer things in life.

 

Jacob's Creek Sparkling RoseJacob’s Creek Sparkling Rosé

RSP €18.49, but currently on offer in O’Brien’s Wines for €17

I’ll readily admit that, in my early years in the wine trade, I ensured that I volubly turned my nose up at Jacob’s Creek in order to reassert the fact that I was now a wine professional.

However, when I actually tasted the stuff I was surprised – then delighted – to find that it’s actually quite tasty stuff. Not complex, not life-changing, but very tasty and quite enjoyable indeed. It has simple strawberry and cranberry flavours, nice lively bubbles and a touch of sweetness to help it all slide down easily.

If you’re just looking for enjoyable pink fizz, then you can’t go wrong with this old reliable.

 

Graham Beck Vintage Brut RoseGraham Beck Vintage Sparkling Rosé
RSP €29.99 from The Corkscrew, Dublin; WineOnline.ie; and other good independent off-licences nationwide.
Currently on offer for €24.95 from Mitchell & Sons, Dublin

South African winery Graham Beck is famous for their sparkling wines, with the company’s efforts often being held up as the very definition of the Methode Cap Classique, South Africa’s version of the traditional Champagne method.

Their regular Graham Beck Sparkling Brut has been enjoyed by Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama, Prince Harry, and Bono, amongst many others and here they apply the same care and attention to a single-vintage rosé which has been lauded by critics worldwide.

This is basically rosé Champagne in everything but name: made with two of the traditional Champagne grapes – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – it’s produced via the traditional Champagne method and has the typically light yeasty aromas and creamy complexity with strawberry pastry all the way to the long finish. A very fine example of the style.

 

Devaux RoseDevaux Cuvée Rosé

RSP €59.99 from Fallon & Byrne; Clontarf Wines; Thomas’s of Foxrock; Terroirs, Donnybrook; WineOnLine.ie; and Miller and Cook, Mullingar

If you’d like to impress your loved one with a slightly more obscure Champagne, this rosé offering from a lesser-known Champagne House is a must, especially when it over-delivers on flavour given the price.

Expect strawberries and raspberries of course but I got lots of hazelnuts and white pepper from this very delicate wine too, a richness that belies Devaux’s location at the region’s sunnier southern location. A really fine treat and a rare find.

 

Bollinger Rose╠üBollinger Rosé

RSP €85 from O’Brien’s Wines, nationwide; Fresh Supermarkets, Dublin: Joyce’s of Galway; Ardkeen Superstores, Waterford; and other good independents nationwide.
Currently on offer from Mitchell & Sons for €65.95.

When all the stops are being pulled out, then really you need look no further than Bollinger Rosé. Like Devaux above, Bollinger are proud of and famous for their Pinot Noir, using a substantial proportion of it in all of their Champagnes which gives them that distinctive Bollinger body and character.

But it wasn’t until 2008 that Bollinger decided to create the Rosé to let their Pinot shine more brightly, and it’s a wonder why they waited so long. It has a distinctive, deep strawberries-and-cream flavour topped with cinnamon and spice. Really, this can’t but be enjoyed with the most decadent, fine foods, like oyster, scallops and even red meats delicately done, such as beef carpaccio.

TheTaste.ie: Sweet Wines for Christmas (and Beyond)

At the moment I’m sipping postprandially on a very nice glass of Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port, which reminded me to re-post my current piece on TheTaste.ie, which, incidentally, concerns sweet wines.

It’s the perfect time of year for this underestimated category of wine, of course, but sweet wines shouldn’t be confined to just this festive period, which is the current situation.

You can read the piece on TheTaste.ie here, or, of course, below:


I’m not sure why, but here in Ireland we seem to have a dislike for sweet wine, which is a great shame as I think we’re missing out on such a great style of drink.

The most common explanation seems to be that the wines are “too sweet” for many people; however if we examine the sugar content of some of our favourite soft drinks on the market, you’ll find that we actually like sweet drinks more than we realise.

For example, Innocent Smoothies have between 100-140 grams per litre (g/L) of sugar, depending on the flavour, while Tropicana Original Orange Juice also has 100 g/L. Coke, meanwhile, has 106 g/L, Red Bull has 110 g/L and Club Orange, amazingly, has a whopping 130 g/L of nothing but refined cane sugar.

For comparison, the suggestions I’ve given below range between 82 g/L for the Banyuls to 166 g/L for the Tokaji, so they’re much in line with – or not far off – many of our everyday drinks. (I’m giving special exemption to the 400 g/L Pedro Ximenez however!)

Alcohol, admittedly, can also give the impression of sweetness, which may explain why some may find dessert wines to be more saccharine than they actually are. The better examples, however, should have everything in balance and the sweetness should never be too dominant and cloying.

Below are some delicious sweet wines in a variety of styles. I’ve given the alcohol and sugar contents too so you can compare between then, but also so you can see that many dessert wines aren’t much sweeter than our favourite soft drinks.

And remember, you’re not likely to drink 500ml of sweet wine, so the relative sugar intake will be much lower than a bottle of pop while the return on flavour will of course be exponentially greater.

Be sure to enjoy sweet wines slightly chilled, and unlike dry wines they’ll last a week or more in the fridge after opening.

Longview ‘Epitome’ Late Harvest Riesling

Alcohol: 11% | Sugar: 155g/L
€15.99 down from €16.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (375ml)

We’ve been seeing more and more ‘late harvest’ wines appear on Irish shelves in recent years, which can only be a good thing. ‘Late harvest’ simply means that the grapes are left on the vine long after they’d usually be picked for dry wines, meaning the grapes gradually start drying out. This natural reduction in water means that the sugars, flavours and acidity of the grapes are intensified, giving a lusciously decadent wine.

Longview, from Australia, has some excellent dry wines and this “sticky” (as the Aussies call sweet wines) is equally as impressive: it has delicious flavours of quince, preserved lemons & limes and acacia honey.

Château Dereszla Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos

Alcohol: 12.5% | Sugar: 166 g/L
€34.99 from Mitchell & Sons, Baggot Street Wines and The Corkscrew (500ml)

If you haven’t tried Tokaji yet then you really must. Tokaji (pronounced “toke-eye”) is one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, enjoyed for centuries by the great and good: Russian tsars, Polish kings, Austrian emperors and even Louis XIV of France are amongst its roll call of admirers.

It’s made by allowing a mould nicknamed ‘noble rot’ to infect the grapes, which – like the late harvest method above – desiccates them and again concentrates the sugar and flavours.

For this popular Tokaji, expect marmalade, dried apricots, caramel, butterscotch and honey, while its deliciously refreshing acidity prevents it being too cloying.

Gérard Bertrand Banyuls
Alcohol 16.5 % | Sugar 82 g/l
€19.99 down from €23.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (750ml)

This is a ‘vin doux naturel’, which means that alcohol is added to stop the fermentation before it’s finished, resulting in some sugar being left behind (a method made popular by Port producers, in fact).

Gérard Bertrand’s Banyuls is a lush, coffee-and-chocolate version with subtle Christmas cake spice flavours thrown in the mix, and great value in O’Brien’s this festive season.

(TheTaste.ie chatted to Gérard Bertrand himself recently – click here to see it)

Graham’s ‘Six Grapes’ Reserve Port
Alcohol: 20.0% | Sugar: 104 g/L
€21.99 down from €28.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (750ml)

They call this the “everyday Port for the vintage Port drinker”, though the thriftier among us can read into the subtext that this is a vintage Port for a quarter of the price!

It doesn’t lack in quality or complexity though: the grapes come from the same vineyards as the Graham family’s famous vintage Ports and it’s treated in much the same fashion.

Expect big, heady, ripe black fruit flavours and some serious depth. If you like serious Port then this is a bargain.

Valdespino ‘El Candado’ Pedro Ximénez

Alcohol: 18.0% | Sugar: 400 g/L
€15.99 from Donnybrook Fair and other good off-licences (375ml)

OK, so the sugar is getting a bit stratospheric here, but hear me out. This is a really unique sherry style made by laying out Pedro Ximénez grapes to dry in the sun, resulting in the wine being made, essentially, from raisins.

This gives a product that’s almost closer to treacle than wine, and in fact the Spanish often treat it as such: “PX”, as it’s commonly abbreviated, can often be found drizzled over ice cream for a decadent and adult treat.

Valdespino’s ‘El Candado’ PX is an excellent example of this style. It tastes – unsurprisingly – of raisins and figs, with some chocolate and coffee too. Enjoy with dessert, both on its own (in small amounts) and as a condiment for desserts.

A Foray into Niepoort

I was lucky to be invited to a preview of  Niepoort wines the night before the Wine Mason portfolio tasting a short while back (though I could not make the portfolio tasting itself, unfortunately).

I must admit that, apart from a brush with one or two of their famous ports, I was completely unfamiliar with Niepoort until recently. As mentioned, Niepoort is perhaps most famous for its Ports, but the last couple of decades have seen this shipper place much more focus on its dry reds. In particular, it’s the 5th generation of this famous wine family, Dirk Niepoort, who has made it his particular goal to expand the expertise of this historic wine family beyond the fortified.

Exchequer Charcuterie
Charcuterie … lots and lots of charcuterie

The Niepoort family has been creating Port wines since 1842, but it wasn’t until 1991 when Dirk Niepoort started a new era in the company with the creation of their first red dry wine, “Redoma”. What followed was a white in similar vein, then an alternative red – all receiving exalted praise. The rest, as they say, is history.

Indeed, Hugh Johnson has high praise for this sea-change, noting in his famous Wine Companion that, “With restless energy [Dirk] Niepoort continues to acquire small estates and parcels from which he produces an expanding portfolio of table wines of remarkable character and individuality, and usually steering clear of the massive, oaky styles that are coming to dominate the region.” High praise, then.

In recent years Niepoort have looked to Dão and Bairrada, completing what they call “The Niepoort Triangle” of different terroirs: Schist  in the Douro, Limestone in Bairrada and Granite in Dão, creating a range of wines vinified to best represent these areas and their particular characteristics.

And so it was that I found myself amongst a small group of esteemed wine trade colleagues within the big and bright front window of The Exchequer Wine Bar in Ranelagh. Paulo Silva, export manager at Niepoort, was on hand to provide the background info for each wine, though if I’m to be absolutely honest I was a little too distracted by the mountains of gorgeous charcuterie laid on by The Exchequer to fully take in everything he said. Below are my thoughts nevertheless…

 


 

Dócil Loureiro, Vinho Verde 2014
€16.95 from Searsons, The Corkscrew, and Hole in the Wall

Vinho Verde carries with it something of a bad rep, if it’s known at all. This huge, expansive area – Portugal’s largest wine region – is most famed for producing easy, quaffable wines that offer simple transient pleasure and nothing much else.

A Vinho Verde can be a blend of a number of grapes in varying proportions; can be red, white or rosé; can range from dry to slightly sweet; and may or may not be slightly spritzy. Oh, and often they don’t bother declaring the vintage either. No surprise then why the region isn’t often taken seriously.

The most popular, or at least well-known, grape here is Alvarinho – better known by its Spanish name Albariño and the Rías Baixas region in which its produced – though other grapes used are Loureiro, Trajadura, Arinto/Pedernã, Avesso, and Azal Branco. No, I’ve never heard of any of them either.

But as it the trend worldwide, some serious wines are being made in historically less-than-serious places, with Vinho Verde one such example and Niepoort one such producer.

The wine has tropical fruits, peach and pear drops on the nose; the palate is fleshy and long with a touch of a slight bitterness at the end. Very good quality and a great alternative white for the summer.

 

Niepoort Rótulo, Dão 2013
€16.95 from Green Man Wines, Redmond’s, Corkscrew, Gibney’s, Blackrock Cellar, Terroirs, Drinks Store, Hole in the Wall, Donnybrook Fair

I’ve written about this before and it’s quickly become one of my favourites for a number of reasons: the flavour being one of course, but the price being another, and the surreal labelling a feather in the cap of this remarkable wine.

However on this occasion the wine seemed different to me: more vivacious acidity and brambly, juicy sweet fruit versus the taut intensity I’d experienced at The Corkscrew Wine Fair. This perplexed me until later I discovered it was the 2013 that was poured and not the 2012 as per the tasting sheet (and the fair), which would explain things somewhat. Either way this is still a very recommended wine.

 

Niepoort Lagar de BaixoLagar de Baixo, Bairrada 2012
€23.95 from Baggot Street Wines

This is 100% Baga, for which Dirk Niepoort has a “huge passion” apparently. This is something he’s had to keep in check for some while now, grabbing some small parcels of the grape whenever he could from various disparate estates. But finally in 2012 Dirk was able to acquire Quinta de Baixo and its 25ha. of Baga vines, and thus resurrect the Lagar de Baixo brand.

A meaty nose with dark cherries over a spicy peppery palate that’s nevertheless medium-bodied. Just the right amount of acidity and fruit; delish. Paulo admitted that this is made in a “modern, reductive” style, so accordingly could do with a little airing out beforehand … or let the bottle breathe naturally as you drink it all over the course of an evening with friends, which is the far more Portuguese way of doing things.

 

Niepoort PoeirinhoPoeirinho, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 from The Corkscrew

This is also 100% Baga, and was a really beautiful and elegant wine, with a floral characteristic and violets evident. The palate was light but expressively juicy and refreshing – this was very, very good, with my notes stating that it was a ‘contemplative wine’ – Paulo concurred, mentioning it was “expressive, a wine for smelling”, and that characteristically it was “between Pinot and Nebbiolo”. A really excellent wine, my star of the evening.

 

Niepoort ConcisoConciso, Dao 2012
€39.95 but not available in Ireland, though Wine Mason say they may be reconsidering this

A mix of 40% Baga, 30% Jaen, and 30% of “others”, this, I found, has a more funky, feral characteristic with heat and spice more to the fore. It had very lovely, dark, damson fruit elements to it and the acidity was just right, with a grippy yet light finish. Many will love it, but for my money the more elegant Poeirinho for the same price was more to my taste.

 

Syrah, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 but not available in Ireland

Another funky, reductive nose blew off after a short while of swirling to give a more approachable, chunky, chocolatey characteristic. The palate, though, was very surprisingly light and elegant, with an almost saline element to it; I noted white pepper and black olive too – in other words a Northern Rhône style, which is exactly what they’re aiming for (and a region for which Dirk has great affection, apparently. He’s full of affection, Dirk is).

Indeed, Paulo noted that this was “atypical of the region, a winemaker’s wine” which was originally meant to be Merlot, but since that didn’t work out to plan they tried Syrah instead, given they’d a 1ha. plot of 20+ year old Syrah vines hidden in plain sight at Quinta de Baixo.

A winemaker’s wine indeed: it’s aged for 20 months in one single 2500L barrel of Austrian oak, is a variety that should be nowhere near Portugal and is produced biodynamically … in other words a fantastic, caution-to-the-wind experiment for which we are all grateful beneficiaries, for I found this to be really excellent. Hopefully it’ll be available in Ireland soon!

A Quick Tokaji Comparison

Things have been a little quiet on this site of late, so I thought I’d quickly jot down an impromptu Tokaji comparison I conducted after lunch one day (such are the joys of working from home!) while a larger, weightier piece I’m looking forward to writing soon is brooding in the background.

I really like sweet wines, but my experience of them to date has been very restricted for a number of reasons, the over-arching one being that very few people – or nobody that I know at least – seem to share my love of these golden elixers. This doesn’t seem to happen with regular dry wines: even if someone isn’t a fan of a style or variety that you open for them over dinner the likelihood is that they’ll drink it anyway, or the bottle will somehow magically empty itself over the course of the evening one way or another.

But this doesn’t happen with sweet wines, which seem to have a Marmite effect on people, especially here in Ireland. If you decide to round off a nice dinner with friends by opening up that bottle of stickie that you’ve been saving, the chances are you’ll be the only one enjoying it, save perhaps one other curious friend.

And unlike dry wine, emptying half the bottle – or most of one if your liver’s up to it – simply isn’t an option, unless diabetes is a disease you’re particularly fond of. So to date I’ve had to keep my sweet wine affection in check, except for the odd time I would get it by the glass in a restaurant.

But this has now all changed thanks to my trusty Coravin, a very generous Christmas present from my family and something with which I have absolutely fallen head-over-heels in love with since. It allows me to take measures of wine from a bottle without it spoiling, opening up the possibility of enjoying the same bottle over the course of years rather than days. Watch this space for a more extensive write-up on this magic device at a later date…

Tokaji

So, after lunch one day I got the notion to have a small glass of sweet wine, specifically a Tokaji, and upon opening my fridge I remembered I had two available, both bought in Budapest airport on the return leg of a holiday in said capital city (which I would highly recommend).

Tokaji (pronounced “toke-eye”) is one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, enjoyed for centuries by the great and good: Russian tsars, Polish kings, Austrian emperors and even Louis XIV of France are amongst its roll call of admirers.

Tokaji wines consist mostly of an indigenous grape called Furmint which are allowed to be inflicted with ‘noble rot’ (botrytis cinerea to the geeks out there). This is where a benign mould dessicates the grapes on the vine, increasing their sugar levels (since there’s now less water) but also increasing acidity, giving a happy coincidence of a wine that’s both simultaneously sweet and refreshing when done right.

This is usually about it as far as many other styles sharing this process are concerned, Sauternes included, but Tokaji differs in that this syrupy sweet wine – called aszú and which sometimes in the form of a ground up paste of grape musts – is effectively added back into vats of regular dry wine.

Traditionally the grapes were collected in 20 litre wooden tubs or hods called puttonyos, and the end style and sweetness of the wine was demarcated with how many of these puttonyos were added to each barrel of regular wine. On a scale of one to six: the more puttonyos, the sweeter, richer and rarer the Tokaji.

Mouldy grapes in a puttonyo – yum!

The two Tokaji wines I had were both “5 Puttonyos”, one click off the top of the aszú hierarchy (there is though a fabled Essencia categorisation above this). Obviously, in today’s winemaking world, “number of tubs in a barrel” isn’t exactly the most accurate or encouraging categorisation, so they’ve shifted to the more scientific measurement of grams of sugar per litre – in this case,  5 Puttonyos equals 120g/L, and where the aszú grapes account for approx. 70% of the final blend.

So, how were the wines?


 

Grof Degenfeld Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2004
Approx. €40-€45, not available in Ireland

Surprisingly light with a little tartness, redolent of pear drops and apricot. It has a zingy fruity sweetness that I couldn’t put a finger on until I did a quick search online to clarify the name and came across a tasting note that mentioned marmalade, which sums it up nicely. Fresh and flavoursome and deliciously moreish, with a depth and complexity befitting its (still relatively young) years.

 

Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2008
€34.99 from Mitchell & Sons and The Corkscrew

Much more on the caramel and butterscotch end of the spectrum but still nicely balanced nevertheless, and not too cloying. Maybe lacks the complexity of the Grof Degenfeld but then again it’s four years younger, so it’s not a fair comparison. There are apricots again, but more of the dried variety and blended with a fresher, honeyed characteristic that marks it apart from the Grof Degenfeld.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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