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MR. AMARONE

Mr. Amarone

A range of great Amarone going back twenty three years.

Mr. Amarone, Sandro Boscaini, president of Masi, specialists in all things appassimento, put on a great tasting this afternoon. It was Sandro’s father who first dreamt up the idea of Ripasso in the late 1950’s, making the first commercial vintage in 1964. Some years later, he offered the name to the local Chamber of Commerce, thus allowing other producers to use the term. He is not entirely happy with the current standards (some use the dried grapes three times – the result he says is a bit like a teabag; it gets lighter each time). However we were tasting Amarone. We tried eight wines, including six of the Masi Costasera, their ‘standard’ Amarone, and two vintages of Serègo Alighieri Vaio Amaron, from the ancient estate of the family of Dante Alighieri. It was a really good reminder that high alcohol wines can be perfectly balanced; also that Amarone, a much abused name, is a great wine. Some really good, and two absolutely stunning wines.

 

 Masi Costasera Amarone 2007

Young, intensely fruity wine, plums, baked fruit and spices. Good acidity, good length; a very good young wine. 14.5/20

 

Masi Serègo Alighieri Vaio Amaron Amarone 2005

Deeper in colour with pure dark chocolate, coffee and intense ripe dark fruits and vanilla; tannic and long, hugely concentrated. A very impressive young wine, which will only improve. 17.5/20

 Masi Costasera Amarone 2000

Starting to show some mature notes of tea and prunes, but still has some very attractive primary cherry fruits too. Savoury, long and very stylish wine. 16.5/20

 Masi Costasera Amarone 1998

Brown sugar on the nose; soft savoury liquorice flavours – tea, prunes and chocolate too; the alcohol stuck out a little at first, but it opened out very nicely, with a good bitter finish. 16.5/20

 Masi Costasera Amarone 1995

A slightly dirty nose initially, which blew off after a bit. Old woody, mint and figs, but a little vegetal too. Good, but not my favourite. 13.5/20

 Masi Serègo Alighieri Vaio Amaron Amarone 1995

A stunning wine of great power, complexity and balance. Big savoury plums soy, liquorice, cassis and hints of mint; changes all the time in the glass. Huge concentration, a lovely long bitter finish. 18.5/20

 Masi Costasera Amarone 1993

Hard to follow the wine above, and this was fine, but probably starting to fade a little; stewed tea, herbs, some soft prunes and a leafy note. Elegant and enjoyable. 16.5/20

 Masi Costasera Amarone 1988

I thought this was past it at first, but it opened out beautifully to reveal wonderful mature flavours of grilled hazelnuts, stewed fruits and raisins. Lovely sweet-sour flavours. 17/20

 

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A FEW TREATS AT ELY WINE BAR

Just returned from a cellar tasting at Ely Wine Bar, run mainly for the various sommeliers who work there, plus a few wine scribes. We tasted 20 wines, including a number of 2006 Bordeaux; Cos d’Estournel and Pape-Clement both outshone Léoville-Lascases for the moment, two excellent wines still in their youth. Also, a brilliant Bollinger Vieilles Vignes 1998. However the stars for me were two Burgundies, one red, one white and a quartet of Rhônes.

 Beaune Blanc ‘Aigrots’ 2005 Domaine Lafarge €69 in Ely

Wonderful white wine, reminiscent of a really good Hautes Côtes, rather than a Côte d’Or, with grilled nuts, whiteflowers and wet-stones. Lovely firm acidity and excellent length. 16/20

 

Volnay 2005 Domaine Lafarge €75 in Ely

A beautiful subtle fragrant floral nose; very firm and acidic on the palate, with a green touch (from the stems?) allied to lovely maturing red cherry fruits, and great length. Lovely wine that will develop a further 5 years or more. 16/20

 

The two red Châteauneuf were poles apart; a big meaty, earthy, tarry Domaine Pegau 1998, and a wonderful pure elegant Clos des Papes 2008, 15% alcohol but perfectly balanced, very long and intensely flavoured.

 

St. Joseph Cuvée du Papy, Domaine du Monteillet 2008 €59 in Ely

Wonderful fragrant, almost Burgundian nose; elegant delightful pure sweet/savoury dark cherry fruits. A special wine to seek out. 16.5/20

 Cornas ‘Brise Cailloux’ 2006 Domaine du Coulet

A superb just-ripe savoury nose of plums; masses of tight, concentrated ripe dark fruits, a mineral streak, and excellent length. Needs a year or two, but brilliant wine. 17/20

 

 

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AUSSIE RIESLING

AUSSIE RIESLING

I helped host a Riesling/Pinot Noir class yesterday afternoon, part of a course Wine Australia are running for sommeliers. The idea is to boost knowledge and therefore sales of Australian wine in our restaurants. As John McDonnell put it to the class, one out of every four bottles of wine sold inIreland is Australian, but we lag behind in restaurant sales. Apparently the same is true almost worldwide. Do we all change our drinking habits once we enter a restaurant? Do we become more conservative, or is it that few restaurants offer the comfort of a well-known brand?

I was partnered by Dave Palmer of Skillogalee winery in theClareValley. For me, and I think for most there, the Rieslings were the highlight of the night. The 2010 Skillogalee Riesling was a wonderful young wine, brimming with crisp ripe fruits, and a fine mineral edge. I can see how it beat 100+ other Rieslings in a recent Decanter tasting. The other highlight was a 2004 Clare Valley Riesling from O’Leary Walker (available from Thomas Woodberry in Galway, and others probably too) a super example of how this variety can mature. I also really enjoyed the youthful Plantaganet Riesling from Great Southern region and may stash away a couple of bottles. The bargain of the night was the Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling, beginning to show some maturity, with excellent concentration, and available for around €10 in Tesco. Overall, it confirmed to me that the ClareValley produces some great Riesling (although EdenValley isn’t bad either), all exhibiting a real terroir, and capable of ageing. They all come in screw-cap too, great for reliability.

We only tasted five Pinots; I was impressed with the De Bertoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir, which has improved no end over the last few years. However, I am not sure it would stand up to wines of a similar price from Chile or New Zealand though. The same goes for the Innocent Bystander Pinot. Ozzie Pinot is still a work in progress.

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CUVEÉ FRÉDÉRIC EMILE

Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 2004, Alsace

12.5%

€36.99

Trimbach is one of the very best producers of Alsace; their greatest wine, Clos Sainte Hune is virtually impossible to get hold of these days. However, savvy wine-drinkers know that the Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling is also a brilliant wine and at a third of the price, a bit of a bargain. Certainly it ages more reliably than most serious white Burgundy, and again is cheaper. I had the opportunity to taste a half-dozen vintages with Jean Trimach last year, and bought a case of the excellent 2002. The current vintage, the 2004, will probably be every bit as good. It has a perfect balance of sophisticated green fruits, mineral acidity, and a wonderful lingering finish. On my last visit, Greenacres in Wexford had ½ bottles on sale, perfect for two with a starter. 18.5/20

 

Stockists: Mitchell & Son, IFSC and Glasthule; Gaynors, Dublin 8; Kellys, Clontarf; Sweeneys, Glasnevin; Greenacres, Wexford; Cheers, Stillorgan; Superquinn ; Ardkeen, Waterford.

 

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Argentina

Argentina

ARGENTINA

I am frequently asked what the next ‘big thing’ in wine will be. I do think that we in this country are slowly moving back towards the old world in terms of style, but there is one giant that has yet to really make it in Ireland and elsewhere. Argentina is the world’s fifth largest wine producer. Largely populated by Italian and Spanish immigrants, it has a wine culture going back almost five hundred years. Until recently, it had its own individual style of wine, aged in oak for long periods, which was distinctly lacking in fruit to European palates. However, it was very popular at home, where over 90% of the market lay (Argentina is still the world’s eighth largest consumer of wine). It was only in the late 1980’s that the wine industry began to look seriously at the export market, and helped by the devalued peso, began producing high quality richly fruity wines that made the world take notice.

Argentina has a lot to offer, so it is surprising that it has not had a greater impact on our tastes. The quality of wine has improved dramatically, and prices are very competitive. Yet my local supermarket has only a few shelves devoted to Argentina compared to a huge array from Chile, Australia and South Africa. One problem it does have is a lack of Sauvignon, currently the most fashionable grape variety. There are a few decent examples on the Irish market, but the hot sunny weather in Mendoza, where over 80% of the countries wine is produced, is not ideal for this cool-climate grape. Instead, Argentina can offer its own indigenous aromatic white grape, Torrontés. There are some very tasty wines, the best of which tend to come from the cooler vineyards in Salta to the far north, or more recently from Patagonia in the deep south. Think of a cross a cross between Sauvignon and Gewürztraminer, aromatic and refreshing with succulent ripe fruits. In addition to Torrontés, there has been some success with Chardonnay and Viognier in particular.

The country also has a few special red varieties; most of you will be familiar with Malbec, a French grape variety that Argentina has made it’s own in recent years. The less expensive versions have lovely supple ripe dark fruits; the more expensive are full-bodied and powerful, packed with explosive meaty dark fruits. Provided they aren’t too heavily oaked, I am very fond of both camps. The Bonarda grape was thought to be related to the Barbera grape of Piedmont, and was assumed that it had been brought over by Italian immigrants. More recent studies show it to be the Corbeau of Savoie, also known as Charbono in California. Bonarda is usually full of colour, with plenty of acidity and tannins too. If the winemaker succeeds in taming the tannins, it can be a very attractive refreshing red. Together these two semi-indigenous varieties make up almost 50% of red plantings. But with all the noise about Malbec, it is sometimes forgotten that Argentina makes some very good Cabernet, and increasingly, some very stylish Syrah too.

I am slightly mystified why Argentina has not been more successful as it appears to have everything going for it. Perhaps 2010 will see a real breakthrough. In addition to the wines below, Trapiche, Alamos, Argento and Pascual Toso are both widely available and reliable.

ARGENTINA 2

Michel Torino Torrontés 2009, Calchaqui Valley
13.5% €9.99 Michel Torino are based in the cooler northern vineyards of Cafayate. Their wines usually have an elegance and freshness about them. This is a very perfumed Torrontés, with aromas of honeysuckle and a lovely light but concentrated fresh palate with succulence and zip.

Stockists: The Wine Boutique, Ringsend; Dunnes Stores; Matsons, Bandon; Sandyford House, Dublin 14; Deveneys, Dundrum; Redmonds, Ranelagh.

Tesco’s Finest Argentina Shiraz 2009, San Juan
14.5% €5.99 The Callia winery in San Juan, a few hours drive north of Mendoza makes some impressive Syrah. This has savoury chewy liquorice and dark fruits, plenty of power and surprisingly good length. Tesco have this at €5.99 on promotion for August and September, so snap it up as it represents a fantastic bargain.

Stockists: Tesco
Luigi Bosca Bonarda 2009, Mendoza

13.5% €10 A nicely aromatic juicy red with very attractive succulent tangy blackberry fruits and a smooth finish. Perfect on its own but better with cold meats and charcuterie. Serve cool but not chilled.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Ardkeeen, Waterford; Swan’s, Naas; Mac’s, Limerick; Fahy’s, Ballina; Market 57, Westport; Next Door, Salthill; Next Door Kilkee; Red Island, Skerries The Vintry, Rathgar; Sweeneys, Glasnevin; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Next Door, Thomastown; Gibney’s, Malahide; Next Door, Enniscorthy.

Doña Paula Los Cardos Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Mendoza
14% €9.99 A fragrant svelte velvety Cabernet with a sweet new oak and ripe cassis fruit, and good value at €10. Try it with roast lamb.

Stockists: Tesco; Next Door; Nolan’s Clontarf; Eurospar, Dalkey; The Carpenter, Carpenterstown; Fagan’s, Phibsborough.

Altos las Hormigas Malbec 2009, Mendoza
14% €14.99 A fresher style of Malbec with a generous amount of fresh juicy dark fruits, good acidity and a lingering finish. Going slightly towards Europe in style, this would go nicely with medium-bodied red meats.

Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule; Red Island Wine, Skerries; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St.; Wine Cellar, Sandyford Business Park; J M Vintners; Next Door Enfield; Drink Store, Manor St; Donnybrook Fair; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Simply Wines and Martins, Fairview.

Bodega Lurton Malbec Reserva 2008, Mendoza
14.5% €18.00 A meatier style of Malbec, but beautifully done; masses of rich swarthy dark fruits overlaid with some spice, and excellent length. A wine of immense power and depth that calls out for a steak.

Stockists: Redmonds, Ranelagh; Thomas, Foxrock.

 

 

 

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Pouilly-Fumé 2010, Jonathan & Didier Pabiot

Pouilly-Fumé 2010, Jonathan & Didier Pabiot

12.5%

€19.50

 

Pouilly-Fumé is one of those ubiquitous wines, available in every shop and restaurant, usually fine, but never likely to get you excited. Yet from the right source, it can be one of the great wines of France. I served this at dinner to a few friends in West Cork recently, and it silenced the room for a few minutes. Delicious balanced clean limpid subtle green fruits, perfectly balanced, long and dry, leaving you longing for another sip. In a sea of average wines, this stands out as exceptional. 17.5/20

 

Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook, online from www.terroirs.ie

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Tahbilk Marsanne 2008, Central Victoria

Tahbilk Marsanne 2008, Central Victoria

Tahbilk-Marsanne-2008

13.5%

€12

This has featured several times in the Irish Times, before but I really would love everyone to try this wine. It is well-known to all in the know, and remains one of the best-value white wines available in this country. Lovely ripe melon fruits with a lovely mineral streak on the dry finish. It also ages wonderfully – I have a few bottles of 1994 which is gorgeous.

Stockist :Wines Direct www.winesdirect.ie Low call 1890579579

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The Hidden France – A Holiday Snapshot Part One

The Hidden France – A Holiday Snapshot Part One

My wife, for reasons I cannot fully understand, generally insists that we holiday in places not noted for producing wine. As she is part-Danish this means Denmark every few years, interspersed by visits to France, and occasionally San Fransisco, where my sister lives. Her efforts to avoid vineyards are not always very successful. Last year in a summer house on the north coast of Denmark, we visited the farm shop a kilometre up the road to buy the evening’s veg. On arrival I spied a field full of vines! The farmer grew no less than twelve different varieties of grape. Sadly, most of the wine had sold out, so I cannot tell you what it was like. The two Danish wines I have tasted have been interesting, but expensive.

This year we went to two lesser-known regions of France. I love rural France; for me it has a special atmosphere and usually an interesting history. Both the Aveyron and the Ariège are picturesque regions, sparsely populated, but with plenty to do. Naturally I managed to dig out a few interesting wines too.

French Holiday

Marcillac & Gaillac
We spent the first week in the Aveyron, an hours drive north-east of Toulouse. Parts of the region are stunningly beautiful; rolling green and gold hills, a mixture of maize, sunflowers, pasture and deciduous forest, with the occasional medieval bastide town sitting on top of a steep mountain. Some parts, such as the town of Cordes-su-Ciel, are fairly touristy, but the rest is wonderfully peaceful. The weather is generally cooler than the coast, a perfect (for me) 20-30°C, with gentle breezes.

We had visited here before, but this year, I tried to discover a little more about Marcillac, a small little-known wine appellation spread out over a dozen or so communes to the north-west of the town of Rodez. There are a mere 150 hectares of vines there now, although in the 19th century, there were over 5,000 hectares. In the town of Villefranche-sur-Rouergue, I bought a couple of different bottles in a fois gras shop/museum near the city-centre. A few days later, I popped in to Domaine du Cros, a small estate about which I had heard good things. Philippe Teulier was on his lunch-break, but his mother kindly gave me a quick tasting. I bought a mixed case of the wines. The winery, built on several levels, and attached to the house, is fairly basic, but has a spectacular view out over the valley.

Marcillac is made from Fer Servadou, or Mansois as it is known locally. Entry-level Marcillac is delicious juicy, thirst-quenching wine, light in alcohol, with lip-smacking fresh summer fruits, some acidity, and no real tannins. Served cool it goes really well with charcuterie and lighter meat dishes. Locally it is served with Aligot, a rib-sticking mashed potato and cheese dish, and the local lamb. I tasted my way through half-a-dozen Marcillac. The basic wines were as described above, but the more expensive wines had real intensity and quality, whilst retaining that lightness of touch. See below for tasting notes.

Later in the week, I paid Domaine Plageoles in Gaillac a visit, and tasted the entire range of wines with Florent Plageoles, son of Robert. This estate has been a major force in rejuvenating Gaillac, producing high quality wines using almost entirely local grape varieties, many of which were in danger of extinction. Robert’s father Bernard, who worked as a researcher on grape varieties, founded the estate in the early 1980’s. I was greeted by a rather fearsome-looking Boxer, but it turned out all he wanted to do was lick my toes. I bought a mixed case of wines, including some real finds, such as the Mauzac Nature and a Vin de Voile, a sort of Sherry-style wine (actually more like a Vin de Paille from the Jura), and really enjoyed them over the holiday. They were bigger richer than the Marcillac, with relatively high levels of alcohol, often 14-14.5%.

All of the wines bar four are fermented and aged in cement tanks, the remainder in old oak. Plageoles has two estates, with different soils. Around the winery they are limestone and clay. Four kilometres north, around Bernard’s house they are marl and clay with silica, better suited to reds. See HERE for tasting notes.

French Holiday 2

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Dom Perignon & Grange Tasting

Dom Perignon & Grange Tasting

This promised to be one of the tastings of the year; mature vintages of two of the world’s great icon wines, known to just about anyone with even the vaguest knowledge of wine. Apparently Dom Perignon and Grange have held tastings such as this before in New York and other locations. Both producers did the ‘6’s – vintages ending in a six. Apparently they are usually lucky for Grange.

Dom Perignon
It is not every day that I get to taste DP, but in the past, on the few occasions I have managed it, I have never been over-whelmed. Is it the anti-corporate part of me, the bit that doesn’t trust the large multi-national corporations? Dom Perignon is part of LVMH, the French company that owns just about every luxury brand in France. I know I shouldn’t let my prejudices affect my tastings, but maybe I should plead guilty.

In any case, on the day, I was very pleasantly surprised; there were some truly great Champagnes, and no duds at all. Oenothèque is a special release of Dom Perignon, made from limited quantities of the same wine as the regular cuvée, but aged for a further period on the lees before release. Dom Perignon is aged for seven years prior to release, DP Oenethèque for fifteen to twenty years on the lees before bottling. These were stunning wines, a glorious mix of fine but rich mature fruit, with excellent acidity. I tried the current regular (2002) release of DP later that day. It too was excellent, and will I think reward a couple more years in the cellar. See below for tasting notes.

DOM-PERIGNON-TASTING

Grange
Grange is possibly less well-known in this country, but has a massive reputation in wine circles. Most critics see it as the greatest Aussie red. It was the brainchild of Max Schubert, the winemaker at Penfolds for many years. He returned from a visit to Bordeaux in 1950 determined to make a top-quality Australian red wine that could last for twenty years or more. He picked Shiraz (or Hermitage as it was then called) as the mainstay, sometimes adding a percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. The first vintage was 1951. Legend has it that Schubert was forced to hide his new wine from the then owners, who would not have approved.

Unique amongst most fine wines, Grange (the Hermitage was dropped in 1990 following objections from the Rhône Valley) is made not only from a variety of vineyards, but also several regions. Most fine wines (with the exception of Port and Sherry) are the produce of a single vineyard. Typically the grapes are sourced primarily from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, with Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra, McLaren Vale and other regions. The amount of Shiraz used varies each year, but is generally around 90%, the remainder being Cabernet Sauvignon. Grange is always aged in 100% new American oak barrels.

The tasting was lead by Peter Gago, the irrepressible head winemaker at Grange/Penfolds. A former maths teacher, Peter is a brilliant speaker, and a great ambassador for both Penfolds and Grange worldwide. His wife is speaker of the upper house in the Australian parliament, so I would imagine they meet up once every few months. See below for tasting notes.

Dom Perignon Oenothèque Tasting Notes

DP OEnothèque 96, Disgorged in 2008, this had a big rich nose, leesy rich peach fruits, rounded and subtle with excellent acidity (the hallmark of the 1996 vintage), and very good length. Still needs time, but a wonderful Chamapagne. 17/20

DP Rosé OEnothèque 86, There was no Oenothèque Blanc made in 1986, so we tasted the rosé instead. Lovely crushed sweet strawberry fruits, a touch of honey and orange peel, with a very dry finish. Very good. 16.5/20

DP OEnothèque 76, A wine that explodes with flavour. It has a deep gold colour, light mushrooms on the nose, and a superb seductive honeyed, developed palate  that goes on and on. Lower in acidity than the 1996, but still very linear, yet powerful 18/20

DP OEnothèque 66 in magnum This had a wonderful nose, all brioche, toasted nuts and mushrooms; on the palate it was full and rich with grilled hazelnuts, buttery with lots of sous-bois and mushrooms, finishing dry. It is possibly fading a little, but a very ipressive wine. 18.5/20

GRANGE TASTING NOTES

Grange 2006 A pup of a wine. Deeply-coloured, not hugely forthcoming on the nose at first, and very closed and tight on the palate. It opens up to reveal a youthful nose of plums, blackcurrants and dark chocolate with toasty new oak. On the palate there is a massive concentration of dark plums, cassis, coffee and spicy new oak. It finishes very well with impressive length and very firm un-evolved tannins. A great wine in the making but needs time. Lots of time. 18/20

Grange 1996 This still has a very youthful colour, but has started to evolve wonderfully on the nose and palate. Forward ripe cassis and plum aromas, with some spicy new oak. The palate is loaded with seductive smooth ripe sweet cassis, dark fruits and dark chocolate, finishing very well. This is young, and will continue to evolve but is irresistible now. A great combination of power and intensity, but perfectly balanced. 19/20

Grange 1986 Full, forward aromas of plum, spice and cedarwood; on the palate it is rich, sweet, ripe and velvety, almost hedonistic at times, with dark chocolate, spice again and a firm long finish. Drinking perfectly now, but will improve further. 17.5/20

Grange 1976 Two bottles opened and sadly neither were in good condition.

Grange 1966 This was a lovely fully mature wine with mint and caramel on the nose; gentle leafy sweet ripe fruit, old leather, truffles and milk chocolate. Not going anywhere but a beautiful wine. 18/20

Grange 2003 Served at dinner later that evening; rich, with very concentrated broad sweet plums and spicy American oak. Powerful and full of flavour, but not quite as impressive as some of the earlier vintages. Maybe it just needs more time? 15.5/20

 

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McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2005, Hunter Valley

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2005, Hunter Valley

MAY-2011-0361

12%

€9.99 (down from €19.99)

 

A warning; this wine may be difficult to find if you live in south Dublin, as most of my fellow wine scribes scour every branch of Tesco to buy up whatever they can find. I can see why; light and zippy, showing a lovely touch of mature fruit, with a crisp dry finish. Leave aside any reservations you may have about Semillon; this is an outstanding bargain at €10, and well worth buying in quantity at that price.

 

Stockist: Tesco

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