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A visit to Josko Gravner

Josko Gravner lives in a modest house in Oslavia, in the north-eastern corner of Italy, just a few metres from the border with Slovenia. His mother tongue is Slovene and the family speak it all the time, as do many in the area. A casual visitor would struggle to understand that this modest unassuming man (proudly sporting a flat cap presented to him by his Irish importer) has been to the forefront of no less than two revolutions in modern winemaking over the last three decades.

The Gravner house & winery

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Gravner was a winemaking superstar, one of the leading modernists in Italy, particularly in the Collio region. Taking over the winery at the age of 25, following his father’s death, he pioneered the fermentation of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in barriques, sometimes 100% new. The wines were given very high scores by American critics and the influential Italian magazine, Gambero Rosso. Then two separate events forced his life and his wines to change course radically. These changes lead to a rapid fall from grace, followed by a rise in fame for a completely different kind of wine. Gravner now has almost god-like status with the natural wine movement and fans of orange wine.

Gravner comes with a reputation for being difficult with the press, possibly the result of fallout back in the 1990s, when the Gambero Rosso famously said he had ‘gone mad’. But on my visit, Josko Gravner was pleasant, open and very good company, despite a language barrier. I spent the weekend in his house, with his daughter Mateja (a qualified winemaker) and grandson Gregor both of whom work alongside Gravner, as do Pepe and Bruno, his two inseparable dogs. Jana, another daughter, also works in the family business. It was a fascinating few days, an in-depth immersion in how natural, skin-contact wines are made, from the man who invented (or reinvented) it all. As a bonus, the region is very attractive, with an absorbing mix of cultures and history.

Josko Gravner

 

Gravner’s grandparents had an osteria where the winery now stands. It was a way of selling their wine, along with snacks such as salami, prosciutto, cheese and, apparently, hardboiled eggs. They closed it down in 1932, Mateja tells me, when the fascists made it law that everyone speak Italian; they wanted to be able to speak Slovene in their own home. The grandparents were known for having a ‘clean winery’, something that the fastidious Josko Gravner has obviously inherited. Later the family had an osteria in the nearby town of Gorizia until the 1970s. His wife was born over the border in in Slovenia. Mateja told me many stories about life beside the Iron Curtain. Although there was no barbed wire, the area had many border guards, usually from other parts of Yugoslavia, to avoid fraternisation. Many of the winemakers had vineyards on both sides of the border, and had to be careful where and when they crossed. At one stage Josko had to transfer ownership of his grandmother’s house to his wife, as he stood to lose it as the Yugoslav government labeled all Italians as fascists; she held a Yugoslav passport and was therefore obviously a good communist!

The first change in Gravner’s winemaking came about as result of a trip to California in the late 1980s. He was disgusted by some of the chemically enhanced wines he tasted, and returned home determined to make his winemaking and wines healthier, cleaner and more local. Suffering from ill-health, he and his wife began eating a diet of raw food, which gradually softened to semi-vegetarian. Now they eat meat twice a week at most. As Gravner rears a few woolly Mangalica pigs, from which he makes excellent salami and sausages, this must prove difficult. He does believe that you should buy locally as much as possible. “You pay for what you eat and drink”, he says, “with your health”.

Mangalica pigs

The Amphorae (guarded by Bruno)

At the same time, Gravner wanted to improve the quality of his Ribolla Ghialla. Ribolla grows on both side of the border, more in Brda in Slovenia than Collio. It is, he argues, the only indigenous white grape of Friulli. Other local indigenous varietals, such as Pignolo, Schioppetino, and Tatsalenga, are red. “The problem with Ribolla is if you press gently you get a very neutral wine; if you press more, it becomes hard and very bitter.” He decided that the true taste of Ribolla came only with fermentation on the skins. In 1994, he made his first skin-contact wine. His research led him to Georgia, the home of skin-contact wines but also winemaking in amphorae. Gravner was smitten. “I tried to find the oldest way to work with wine; the only thing you need is great grapes. Everything a wine needs you will find in an amphora,” he says.

Used for making and storing wine for thousands of years, amphorae are clay vessels of differing sizes, from 250 to several thousand litres. Most are around 400 litres and are often lined with beeswax. Most winemakers use them buried or half-buried in the ground. You can find them in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Chile and other countries, but they have been widely used in Armenia and Georgia for thousands of years, up to the present day. Thanks to Gravner, they are ultra-fashionable today with natural winemakers, who believe they make for a steady slow fermentation, give the wines freshness, and help reflect the terroir. Gravner uses amphorae from 1,200 – 2,500 litres in size.

 

Fermenting Ribolla 2018

In 1997, he made his first amphora wine – in his grandmother’s old house just over the border in Slovenia, as he was afraid the Italian wine authorities would not allow it. The grapes, however, came from Italy. In 2000, he travelled to Georgia for the first time and bought some qvevri (amphorae). He uses only these and says they must be buried to be effective. All of the amphorae he uses are brought in from Georgia. He currently has 45 in the cellar and is in the process of burying a further 21 outside. All are lined with beeswax. By 2001 he had enough amphorae to make 50% of his wine in them, the other half in barrel.

The original amphorae, in the Gravner farmhouse in Slovenia.

His first skin-contact wines (he prefers the term Amber to Orange: “Amber is more bright, alive, concentrated”) were met with derision by some. “It was very difficult at the start; people didn’t understand what I was trying to do,” says Gravner. Other producers thought the wines were faulty. He lost many customers in the period 2009-2012, and was partly saved by Italian sommeliers who liked the wines. Over the last five years, he says, nearly all his customers have returned to the fold.

Gravner wines are fermented on the skins in amphorae; the whites spend one year on skins, the red wines a few months. This is followed by six to seven years in large Slavonian oak casks and then a few months in bottle before release. Gravner has an almost biblical belief in the number seven; he keeps his wine seven years before release, and he believes good and bad vintages come in sevens. As 2011 was the last great vintage he was hopeful that 2018 would follow suit. However, it was a difficult vintage, he says, requiring a lot of attention. 2019 however, will be very good.

Amphorae awaiting burial.

Intervention is kept to an absolute minimum; the only addition is a small amount of sulphur. ‘The most difficult thing in winemaking is to use the least amount of sulphur”, he says. A small amount is added at the start sometimes, and a little before bottling. They aim for 15-18ppm at bottling. There is no chilling, no stainless steel. “I never analyse anything”, he says, “sugar, acidity or anything else. Once you realise that you cannot add or change the wine, you know there is no point! No wine is without defects. You have to make them as good as is possible and each year you try to do better.”

The Gravner estate is just over thirty hectares, straddling Italy and Slovenia, with seventeen of those under vine. Both figures change constantly as he buys new vineyards and sells plots he doesn’t consider good enough. Originally planted with Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon, they are slowly being replanted with Ribolla and Pignolo. He has planted trees and installed small ponds amongst the vines to encourage biodiversity.

Most people assume Gravner has been biodynamic for years, but this is not the case. His son, who tragically died in a motorbike accident, was the driving force behind the conversion to biodynamic viticulture. At the time of the accident Josko was practising organic but not biodynamic viticulture. Now he has been fully biodynamic for three years, (although he says he ‘followed the moon for the last twenty’), but will never use the certification. “Biodynamics is not like homeopathic medicine”, says Mateja, who took me around the vineyards, “it is more holistic, like a doctor keeping you healthy, so you don’t need treatment unless you are really sick. You don’t always improve the quality of the wine; it is all about improving the soil. Copper has less impact on the soil; here we have problems with peronospora and oidium. But as we have 8-10 people working in the vineyards all spring and summer, we can spot any problems very early and spray very selectively. It made a huge difference to go back to biodynamic. In less than a year there was an incredible increase in the life of the soil. It can now overcome extremes, droughts and floods much better.”

Mateja Gravner

Talking to Josko Gravner later, he argues that “It is the only way to be sure the land is safe. I didn’t understand this when I first started out. Now I understand that the key to everything is to look after the land. It is difficult to say it makes the wine better, but it certainly the soil is better in difficult vintages and that makes things easier. There is no use in improving vines; you improve the soil and the vines will be more resistant. If you fertilise, you will have to use more fertiliser every year. Biodynamics is the most evolved style of agriculture, but it is like a religion, You have to believe in it. When you work with nature, you have to accept the good and the bad that nature gives you”. A friend of his argues that you have to accept that you will lose an entire harvest every seven years.

Gravner plants ungrafted American rootstocks directly into the soil, and field grafts on his own massale selection a year later. Mateja tells me that he noticed that a number of his 12 year-old plants suddenly withered and died, within a week, at 10-15 years of age. He believes this was caused by the nursery grafting. His method means the vines need five years before you can harvest, but he argues it is worth the wait.

American rootstocks awaiting grafting

Today, Gravner is revered many natural wine lovers. As the first person outside of Georgia to discover (he would say rediscover) skin fermentation and amphorae, he has obviously had a massive influence on winemaking over the last decade. Winemakers the world over now routinely use a little or a lot of skin fermentation or maceration, and amphorae have become a highly fashionable vessel to use in winemaking. Yet he dislikes travel and finds addressing large crowds a very stressful process. He produces very little wine, although they are now exported to forty five markets, the two biggest being Japan and the U.S. He is very modest man, if quietly persistent, and something of a perfectionist in everything that he does. I ask grandson Gregor, who recently started working with him in the cellar if that makes life difficult. “Not really,’ he says, “I enjoy the work very much, and when he says you have done a good job, you know that you really have”. He obviously questions everything; for instance he argues that bottles of wine should be stored standing up, as opposed to laid down. The cork has to be kept humid, not wet, he argues, so you just need the correct cellar.

I am intrigued by the Gravner wines; they have a unique personality, and flavours that you will rarely find in conventional wines. They have none of the V.A., Brett, or mousiness found in some natural wines, and after seven years in the cask, they are unlikely to start refermenting. Some are marked by noble rot, some may have small levels of residual sugar, but most are very dry. They are complex, with layers of flavours – orchard fruits, lots of orange peel, lemon zest, minerals, grilled nuts, mushrooms, earthy, and sometimes with a waxy quality. Some simply explode with a rainbow of flavours. I found it difficult to write tasting notes or to judge the wines; they taste so different that the usual descriptors – lemon zest, peaches and balance etc., are irrelevant. He would argue that his wines reflect the terroir; several critics I have talked to say they all taste the same – of Gravner.

I enjoyed every minute of my visit, and really enjoyed the wines. I am not entirely convinced I would drink them with food though. I would prefer to sit down with a glass (Gravner has designed his own glasses, made by Massimo Lunardon) and slowly sip it over the evening. He argues that his white (or amber) wines should served at room temperature. Much is made of his white wines, but his red wines are equally enjoyable. An oak cask 2003 Merlot with a touch of Cabernet, fermented on the skins still had plenty of pure smooth plum fruits, as well as a great tannic finish. Because he has now ripped up all of his Cabernet and Merlot replacing them with Pignolo, it has not been made again. Gravner wines do not come cheap, but they are quite unique, and the result of a long complex process. One retailer said to me that every wine-lover should try a Gravner wine at least once in their life. I would agree.

 

Bianco Breg 2010

Made from a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. Floral, herbal aromas; rich tangy and full of soft complex fruits. Vibrant, mineral with a lovely taut freshness.

 

Bianco Breg 2009

Some noble rot; riper, richer and spicy, with orange peel, dried apricots and figs. Long and quite luscious, although there is still plenty of acidity.

 

Ribolla Gialla 2010

Cleaner and fresh with a strong mineral streak; smooth with subtle grilled nuts and a citrus element.

 

Ribolla 2009

Lifted aromas of dried fruit and orange peel; an explosion of fruit and flavour; marzipan, caramel, nectarines, underpinned by a fine refreshing acidity.

 

Ribolla 2008

A win with great power and complexity; rich with intense flavours of toasted nuts; waxy with layers of dried stone fruits, and a very long finish.

 

Ribolla 2007

Abundant dried apricots, candid fruit and spice – ginger and fennel, with subtle nuts and a lovely mineral streak.

 

Rosso Ruijno 2003

Mainly Merlot, a little Cabernet Sauvignon. Still a very youthful colour, broad slightly earthy nose with dark forest fruits; smooth, ripe mature damson fruits with a nice tannic kick on the finish.

 

Pignolo 2005

Not made in amphorae. Wild pithy damsons and dark cherries; smooth, concentrated with some dry tannins and a lovely kick on the finish. Excellent wine

 

Ribolla 2003

Legally, this cannot be called Riserva, but it is a Gravner Riserva, having spent seven years in cask and seven in bottle. This was bottled only in magnums, left standing up (Gravner insists this is the way to age wine, provided you have the correct humidity) A very delicate nose of rose petals and lemon peel; it has good acidity, subtle grilled nuts, and an amazing freshness for a fifteen year-old wine.

Chardonnay 1992

We finished one of our tastings with a taste of one of his barrel-fermented ‘old style’ wines that showed remarkably well; it still had aromas and flavours of new French oak, but was very much alive with good apple fruits and a long dry finish. How many Burgundies would taste as good at 25 years?

Bianco Breg 2001

Pinot Grigio; Mild earthy – damp earth, with light fruits. Not my favourite but an interesting piece of history.

 

Pinot Grigio 2007

15.5% alcohol, five months on skins. Deep in colour, rich in red fruits, with a pithy texture and quite tannic on the finish. As near as white wine gets to red? Fascinating wine.

 

Gravner wines are imported into Ireland by Grape Circus – ringmaster@grapcircus.ie

 

 

 

 

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My Top Twenty Wines from Marks & Spencer

MY TOP TWENTY WINES FROM MARKS & SPENCER

Of all the supermarkets, Marks & Spencer try the hardest; they certainly have the best and most adventurous range of wines. I think I have noticed a slight thinning out in Ireland at least, but it is still superior to all of their rivals, with an amazingly eclectic list of wines from all over the globe, with a heavy emphasis on the Mediterranean. At entry level they have a range of House Wines and other wines priced at €7.50-8.00. Some of these are very good. Below a small selection of my favourites, from €9 to €52.50 from recent tastings.

This article was first published in The Irish Times online edition.

 

 

 

SPARKLING WINES

 

 

Alcohol Free Sparkling Muscat NV

0%

€9

The alcohol is removed by a process known as reverse osmosis, leaving a fresh, juicy, fruit-filled glass of alcohol-free wine. You miss the alcohol a bit, but this would go down a treat at parties and any other get-together.

 

 

 

 

 

Rocca di Lago Spumante NV, Garda DOC

11.5%

€10.50

 

Made in the same way as Prosecco, this is a fresh, fruity, lightly sparkling wine with clean apple fruits. Not too sweet; I would prefer it to most Prosecco. Great value for money, and worth keeping in mind with the festive season ahead.

 

 

 

Champagne Delacourt NV – MAGNUM

12.5%

€81

If you are having a gang around, a magnum creates a real sense of occasion, and this one is very good. Champagne from a magnum generally tastes better too. Real depth and length, with rich creamy complex apples and brioche.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHITE WINES

 

La Fortezza Vermentino 2017 Sicily

13%

€9

Perfumed and delicate with very attractive soft floral stone fruits and citrus. Great value for money.

Vermentino, usually found on the island of Sardinia, has been planted in Tuscany, and now Sicily in recent years. It has the great advantage of retaining acidity in warm climates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken Forrester Workhouse Chenin Blanc 2017

12.5%

€13.30

 

An old favourite of mine. The current vintage is fresh and crisp, with lovely rich ripe peaches and subtle nuts and a dry finish. Try it with creamy pasta dishes or chicken. Excellent value for money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palataia Pinot Blanc 2017, Pfalz, Germany

€15

 

The Palataia Pinot Noir is pretty good and well-priced, but his was my first taste of the Pinot Blanc. It is very good, crisp and dry with very attractive pear fruits and a dry finish. A good all-purpose white to serve as an aperitif, with fish and seafood or white meats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresquito PX Vino Nuevo de Tinaja 2017

14%

€13.30

 

This is one of my all-time favourite M&S wines, and I was delighted to see a new vintage appear recently. Made in clay amphorae in Montilla-Moriles, it is an utterly delicious, vaguely sherry like (but unfortified) wine with delicate toasted nuts, green olives and plump apricot fruits, finishing dry. Amazing value for money.

 

 

 

 

 

Rabl Grüner Veltliner 2017, Kamptal, Austria

12%

€13.30

 

Attractive brisk gingery green apple fruits and a crisp dry finish. Well-made, easy-drinking and good value for money.

It is rare to find any Austrian wine at his sort of price, and this is a pretty good example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craft 3 Chardonnay 2017, Adelaide Hills, Australia

12%

€15

 

From the cooler Adelaide Hills, a very nicely crafted crisp dry Chardonnay, with no obvious oak; just ample apple and pear fruits, with a solid backbone of acidity. Light enough to partner seafood, and enough body to accompany chicken. Very good value for money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Val de Souto 2017, Ribeiro

12.5%

€17.50

 

Galicia produces some fantastic white wines, including Albarinho from Rîas Baixas and Godello from Valdeorras. This wine, made mainly from the unpronounceable Treixadura grape, is well worth trying; very lovely plump apricots, a subtle saline touch, finishing dry. Nice wine. With scallops or prawns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Denbies Bacchus 2017, Surrey, England

12%

€20.50

 

Very floral and aromatic, with racy acidity and attractive refreshing fruit. Nice wine. Is this how an Irish wine might taste in the future?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RED WINES

 

Madiran Terres de Moraines 2014

14%

€14

 

Madiran can be tannic and chewy, but this version is very accessible with good smooth ripe blackcurrant fruits, and light savoury tannins on the finish. Perfect with a steak or grilled duck breast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craft 3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Maipo Vally, Chile

13%

€15

Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile covers all bases, from great structured wines to soft and sweet. This hits the mid range with decen structure and very good fruits.

A very fine Cabernet, with clean blackcurrants and cassis, a refreshing seam of acidity and a good dry finish. Roast lamb or beef.

 

 

 

 

 

Pisan Cisplatino Tannat 2017, Uruguay

13.5%

€15

 

Marks & Spencer has a track record for listing wines from lesser-known countries; this time it is Uruguay, producer of some very good wines, with the South-west French variety Tannat being their specialty. This version is ripe with soft dark fruits, sprinkled with spice and wood smoke. One to try with barbecued beef.

 

 

 

 

 

Dominio del Plata Terroir Series Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Argentina

13.5%

€18.50

 

Intensely aromatic, all violets and dark fruits, with delicious fresh, lightly spicy plums, dark cherries and mint on the palate. Belly of pork or lamb chops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ebenezer & Seppeltsfield Shiraz 2016, Barossa Valley, Australia

15%

€22.50

 

An Australian classic, of a style that is not easy to come across these days. Big, powerful hedonistic sweet ripe dark fruits, lots of spicy vanilla oak, and a very good finish. Not for the faint-hearted, but perfect with all sorts of red meats dishes on a cold winter evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Levantine by Ch. Musar 2017, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

14%

€24.50

A cuvée of80% Cinsault and 20% Grenache from the legendary Lebanese producer.

Juicy dark cherries and raspberries with a lovely spicy touch. Very tasty wine. With a lightly spicy lamb tagine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contino Rioja Reserva 2014

13.5%

€35.50

 

Contino was the first single-vineyard Rioja, created in 1973. The wines are always impeccably made. An excellent young Rioja with very concentrated blackcurrant fruits, firm structured tannins and great length. Ideally you would stash it away for a few years. If serving now, decant before serving. Perfect with roast lamb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volnay 1er cru Le Blondeau 2015 Hospices de Beaune 2015

€52.50

This was bought by Marks & Spencer at the annual auction at the Hopsices de Beaune. Expensive but good Burgundy is not cheap. A relatively young wine that will improve further with a little age. Youthful piquant ripe dark cherry, with a touch of smoky new oak, underpinned by good acidity. If you are having it for Xmas, decant ½ hour before dinner. Perfect with the Christmas turkey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTIFIED WINES

 

Very Rare Palo Cortado Premium Sherry ½ bottle

19%

€12

 

Made by Lustau, this is the perfect Christmas treat for the Sherry lover in your life. Intense, bone dry and wonderful, this has masses of toasted nuts, dried fruits, orange peel and much more besides. Drink with a plate of hard cheese, crackers and walnuts.

 

 

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My Favourite Festive wines from O’Briens

O’Briens has some nice wines, as usual, this season, some very keenly priced, others quirky and interesting. These offers run throughout Christmas. These wines are from two tastings I attended recently. A shorter version of this article appeared in the online Irish Times on 16th November, 2018.

 

 

Júlia Florista Branco, Portugal, NV
€9.95, down to €7.95 for November and December
Decent, slightly sweetish plump fruits with good acidity. At €7.95, very good value.

Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2017, Romania
€13.95, down to €8.95 for November and December
Attractive, plump, ripe melon and green-apple fruits. Perfect party wine, or with lighter salads. At €8.95, a steal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Côtes de Gascogne 2017, Duffour Père & Fils

€9.95

The 2017 vintage of this wine is very good: subtle fresh zesty wine with lovely green apple fruits. Great value for money; the perfect party white?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellow’s Rock Chenin Blanc 2018, South Africa

€10.95

A very tasty crisp dry white with fresh peach and apple fruits.

 

Il Forte Gavi 2017
€15.95, down to €11.95 for November and December
I’m not a Gavi fan, but this has all the classic Gavi slightly bitter quince and green apples, at a very competitive price.

 

 

 

 

 

Pazo de Señorans Albariño 2017, Rías Baixas

€22.95

Very fresh and lively with floral aromas, and intense lemon zest on nose and palate, balanced out by pear and apricot fruits. Perfect with shellfish or smoked salmon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domaine Olivier Santenay Blanc Clos des Champs 2015

€29.95

Refined crisp dry white Burgundy with lightly smoky oak, lemon zest and subtle concentrated nectarine fruits.

 

 

 

Wildflower Pinot Noir 2017, Romania
€13.95, down to €8.95 for November and December
Light, with sweetish plum and red-cherry fruits and a tannin-free finish. You won’t mistake it for fine Burgundy, but this would make a great party wine.

Porta 6 2016, Portugal
€12.95, down to €9.95 for November and December
Understandably one of the most popular wines at O’Briens, this is an easy-drinker with a decent concentration of dark cherry fruits, a nice earthiness and just enough acidity to balance the ripeness. A great all-purpose wine, for wet-Wednesday dinners or large parties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellow’s Rock Syrah 2016, South Africa

€9.95

Rich powerful spicy dark fruits, with a nice seam of acidity running through. Great value at €9.95. With grilled or barbecued red meats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tandem Immune 2016, Navarra

€15.95

A pure unoaked Garnacha/Grenache that is one of my favourite wines; powerful (14.5%) with concentrated supple dark and red fruits with a lovely freshness.

 

 

St Hallett Gamekeeper’s Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2015
€19.95, down to €14.95 for November and December
Powerful, with rich, ripe red fruits and a touch of spice. At €14.95 a steal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domaine Olivier Santenay Rouge 1er cru Beaurepaire 2016

€39.95

Very fine dark cherry and damson fruits, with a subtle spiciness and a good long finish. Lovely elegant Burgundy. Christmas dinner?

 

 

 

Croser Rosé Sparkling NV, Adelaide Hills, Australia
€24.95, down to €21.95 for November and December
A very classy pure Pinot Noir, with crisp strawberry and red-cherry fruits, and subtle brioche. Good concentration and length.

Granzamy Brut NV Champagne
€34.95, down to €29.95 for November and December
A Blanc  de Noirs, made from Pinot Meunier. Stylish, lightly creamy, with subtle red fruits. This has real character and a snappy dry finish.

Château Mauvesin Barton Moulis-en-Médoc 2014
€28.95, down to €24.95 for November and December
Classic, elegant claret with a lovely fragrant nose, and smooth blackcurrant fruits that glide across the palate, finishing dry.

Disznoko Furmint Late Harvest 2016, Hungary
€16.95 per half-bottle
Most at an O’Briens tasting were wowed by the Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2005 below. So was I, but it costs €60. This late-harvest Furmint at €16.95 is deliciously fragrant and fresh, with notes of orange peel and good acidity; sweet but never cloying.

Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2005
€60 (500ml)
If you have the money and enjoy sweet wines, this is an amazingly good Tokaji, with a huge intensity of grilled nuts, marzipan and orange peel, perfectly balanced by the acidity and excellent length.

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny, Australia
€24.95, down to €21.95 for November and December
This is very good, warming tawny port, with ripe raspberries, raisins and toasted nuts, plus a sprinkle of spice. Christmas in a glass, if it’s not too early. Great value for money, too.

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Forthcoming Signings & Tastings for Wilson on Wine 2019

Forthcoming Signings & Tastings for Wilson on Wine 2019

Sunday 25th November – Green Man Wines Christmas Fair, St. Joseph’s Parish Hall, Terenure 4-7pm

€20 for tickets, see Greenmanwines.ie

 

Saturday 1st December – Mitchell & Son, Avoca, Kilmacanogue 12.00-3.00

Sunday 2nd December – 64 Wines, Christmas Fair (ticket only – call 01 280 5664 for details)

Sunday 9th December – The Irish Times Christmas Fair (ticket only, see Irishtimes.com for details)

 

 

 

 

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Tasting at Terroirs

Terroirs in Donnybrook held a tasting of a selection of their wines recently. The boutique wine and food shop import all of these directly from the producer, so they are only available from Terroirs (including online), and a few select restaurants. The line-up included a wide range of wines, primarily French. Françoise and Séan Gilley have scoured every corner of France, seeking out small, interesting quality producers. Some make well-known wines, others use lesser-known, indigenous grapes. A great many are organic or biodynamic.

This was one of the best tastings so far this year. There were some thrilling wines, sadly very few under €15, and a plenty for €30 and over, but the standard was incredibly high, and many offered great value for money. If I ever win the Lotto, this will be one of my first ports of call.

 

Champagne Agrapart & Fils Les 7 Crus Brut NV, Avize €69.50

100% Chardonnay. Superb, refined relatively full-bodied Champagne with ripe bruised strawberry fruits, subtle brioche, and lemon zest, finishing very dry. Excellent Champagne.

 

 

Jacquère 2016, Savoie, Domaine de Chevillard €29.50

Sappy, limpid, snow-like with fresh green apple fruits, real concentration and very fine crisp acidity, finishing bone dry. A counter to those who dismiss Jacquére as a grape; this a is delicious refreshing wine with real character.

 

Domaine de Montbourgeau Étoile 2015 €29.50

Elegant clean walnuts and baked apples with a subtle fino sherry notes (I’m guessing some was aged under a voile or veil of flor) and a long dry finish. Delicious wine with plenty of character and style.

 

Chablis 2015, Domaine Laurent Tribut €29.50

Classic, structured Chablis, with relatively ripe orchard fruits, lots of green apples vivid crisp mineral acidity and great length. Certainly a match for many Chablis 1er cru.

 

Maison Emmanuel Giboulot Côte de Beaune 2016, Bourgogne €29.50

Biodynamic

From the man who risked ruin and jail for his biodynamic principles, a classic Côte de Beaune, brisk and crisp with white flower aromas, hazelnuts and wet stones, alongside some precise green apple fruits.

 

 

Domaine Guiberteau Clos des Carmes 2014, Saumur Blanc €59.50

Organic

A wonderful tightly bound wine with a core of delicious rich orchard fruits, honey and nuts, with a laserlike seam of saline minerality. Expensive, but superior to many white Burgundies at the same price; this is exceptional wine. Drink now, but it will develop for years.

 

Domaine Saint Georges d’Ibry, Côtes de Thongue Cuvée des Amis  €13.95

Bubbling over with lovely lively fresh crunchy dark forest fruits. Light tannins on the finish. Perfect with charcuterie or grilled meats. A Merlot / Syrah blend that works very well.

 

 

Domaine Les Goubert, Côtes du Rhône 2017 €16.95

Very easy-drinking supple medium to full-bodied wine with sweet soft ripe fruits edged with subtle spice

 

Élian da Ros, Le Vin est une Fête 2016, Côtes du Marmandais €16.95

Biodynamic

The Abouriou (€29.50) is a great wine, but I have always had a real liking for this wine, a delicious light (12.5%) summery red with smooth delicate dark fruits, that grow on you with every sip. Great value for money too.

 

Domaine des Païssels Le Banel 2017, St. Chinian €17.95

Belies its 14.5% alcohol, with some deft elegant herby dark fruits underpinned by good acidity and freshness. A very attractive clean easy-drinking Carignan / Grenache blend with a touch of class. Serve with braises of beef.

 

Fleurie ‘Les Garants’ 2016   Pierre-Marie Chermette        €23.50

Gorgeous unputdownable wine filled with vibrant crunchy pure dark fruits, all blackcurrants and dark cherries, with real length and concentration. A true Fleurie that will last a few years, and very good value given the quality.

 

 

Domaine Arretxea Tradition 2015, Irouléguy €29.50

Biodynamic

Don’t bother trying to pronounce it (unless you speak Basque); just enjoy the wonderful pure blackcurrant and plum fruits, the subtle, maturing leafy edge, and the lightly tannic austere finish. Try with grilled Toulouse sausages.

 

La Porte Saint Jean Vieilles Vignes 2015, Saumur, €39.50

Not cheap, but this is a stunning wine, a perfect balance of ripe brambly blackcurrant and blackberry fruits, a brisk minerality, a touch of pencil shavings and a long dry finish. The flavours are intense but there is real finesse to this wine. I would dearly love to have a case in my cellar.

 

Ch. Mille Roses 2015, Margaux €39.50

Organic

Classic Margaux fragrance of cigar box and violets; a wonderfully elegant silky plush palate of cassis and blackcurrants, structured and long. Drink now or keep up to five years

 

 

 

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New Wines & Bargains from O’Briens

O’Briens held a press tasting recently to highlight their offers for the coming season, and a few new wines too. As usual some nice wines, some very keenly priced, others quirky and interesting – including an Orange wine from Marc Kreydenweiss. Most of the offers don’t begin until November and run through the Christmas season. Below, a dozen of my favourites from the tasting – white, red, sparkling, sweet and fortified!

  1. Júlia Florista Branco, Portugal, NV

€9.95, down to €7.95 for November/December

Decent slightly sweetish plump fruits with good acidity. At €7.95, very good value for money.

  1. Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2017, Romania

€13.95, down to €8.95 for November/December

Attractive plump ripe melon and green apple fruits. Perfect party wine, or with lighter salads. At €8.95, a steal.

  1. Il Forte Gavi 2017

€15.95 down to €11.95 for November/December

I’m not a huge Gavi fan but this has all the classic Gavi character – slightly bitter quince and crisp green apples- at a very competitive price.

  1. Wildflower Pinot Noir 2017, Romania

€13.95 down to €8.95

Light, with sweetish plum and red cherry fruits and a tannin-free finish. You won’t mistake it for fine Burgundy, but this would make a great party wine.

  1. Porta 6 2016, Portugal

€12.95 down to €9.95 for November/December

Understandably one of the most popular wines in O’Briens, this is an easy-drinking wine with a decent concentration of dark cherry fruits, a nice earthiness and just enough acidity to balance the ripeness. A great all-purpose wine – for wet Wednesday dinners or large parties.

  1. St. Hallett Gamekeeper’s Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2015

€19.95 down to €14.95 for November/December

Powerful with rich ripe red fruits and a touch of spice. At €14.95 a steal.

  1. Croser Rosé Sparkling NV, Adelaide Hills, Australia

€24.95 down to €21.95 for November/December

A very classy pure Pinot Noir, with crisp strawberry and red cherry fruits, and subtle brioche. Good concentration and length.

 

8.   Granzamy Brut NV, Champagne

€34.95 down to €29.95 for November/December

A Blanc de Noirs, made from Pinot Meunier. Stylish, lightly creamy, with subtle red fruits. This has real character and a snappy dry finish.

9. Ch. Mauvesin Barton, Moulis-en-Médoc 2014

€28.95 down to €24.95 for November/December

Classic, elegant claret with a lovely fragrant nose, and smooth blackcurrant fruits that glide across the palate, finishing dry.

  1. 10. Disznoko Furmint Late Harvest 2016, Hungary

€16.95 per ½ bottle

Most at the tasting were wowed by the Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Putonyos 2005 below. So was I, but it costs €60. This late harvest Furmint at €16.95 was deliciously fragrant and fresh, with notes of orange peel and good acidity; sweet but never cloying. Very nice wine.

Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Putonyos 2005

€60 per ½ litre bottle

If you have the money and enjoy sweet wines, this is an amazingly good Tokaji, with a huge intensity of grilled nuts, marzipan and orange peel, perfectly balanced by the acidity and excellent length.

  1. Bethany Old Quarry Tawny, Australia

€24.95 down to €21.95 for November/December

This is very good warming Tawny with ripe raspberries, raisins and toasted nuts with a sprinkle of spice. Xmas in a glass, if its not too early! Great value for money too.

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Mary Pawle Wines

Mary Pawle Wines

Mary Pawle and her husband Ivan are far to nice to say it, but they must look on the current fashion for organic, biodynamic and natural wines with a wry smile. They are certainly far too nice to complain. Mary Pawle Wines was set up by the couple twenty one years ago with the sole purpose of importing organic wines. Back then organic wines were seen by most in the business as undrinkable and of no commercial interest, bought by a small group of hippies who knew nothing about wine. ‘A lot of people thought it was a very silly notion,’ says Mary ‘and some were very confused. They thought I was going to make gorse wine or something like that.’ How times have changed! Now it seems every importer is trying to seduce us with their range of low or no-sulphur, non-interventionist organic or biodynamic wines made according to the phases of the moon.

It’s great to see’, says Mary, I’ve always wanted to keep ours as a small business but now I have competition from all sides. To be honest, in those days a lot of those organic wines, made by well-intentioned people were undrinkable. But it became very clear early on, in France in particular, that consumers were very taken with the idea.’

They have lived in Gortnamullen near Kenmare since for 40 years. This is not a fast-moving, marketing-driven company, seeking plaudits from journalists and social media. In fact it took a gentle reminder from a friend and colleague to remind me of their existence. But I have been meeting the couple at the occasional tasting every year since their inception. I have always received a genuinely warm welcome and have always enjoyed the wines too.

Once I made contact with them, I received a case of samples. Since then I have been working my way slowly through an intriguing selection. All of the wines so far have been well-made and interesting, and all pretty good value for money. Probably the best-known supplier is Ch. Feely, the biodynamic producer, also known for the books on the subject written by Caroline Feely. The emphasis is on France, and exclusively European.

They do sell wine directly to the public , but not online; you need to send an email (although their coverage is not always reliable). Alternatively you could give them a call, and receive some friendly advice. See their website, marypawlewines.com. Some of their wines are sold through independent retailers; Clontarf Wines and Morton’s in Ranelagh both stock a range. All four wines below are organic.

Foto ALR_verdeAir Vinho Verde 2016, Antonio Lopes Ribeiro

€16.60

A mere 10.5% in alcohol, this would make a great summer wine, with its light tangy fresh pear fruits and a very slight spritz. Perfect on its own or with seafood dishes. An organic wine made from three local grapes – Loureiro, Avesso and Arinto.

 

 

 

 

L’Air Innocent 2015, Vin Nature, Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine sur Lie, Domaine de la Fessardière

€18.60

Some no sulphur wines, particularly white wines, can be difficult to like., A small dose of SO2 at bottling . This sulphur-free, organic wine however, is very good indeed. A mere 12% in alcohol, with plump apple and white peach fruits, underpinned by a refreshing acidity, it is a joy to drink. Try it by itself, with shellfish, or salads. We enjoyed our bottle with a bowl of mussels with pasta.

 

curios_negre (1)Curíos 2016 Tempranillo, Albet y Noya, Penedès, Organic

€14.95

 

I am a big fan of lighter Tempranillo and this is my kind of wine; fragrant and juicy with good pure dark cherry fruits and a mineral touch. Very approachable and enjoyable, and great value for money too.

 

 

 

Pure Pinot NoirDomaine de Brau Pure Pinot Noir 2014, VDP d’Oc

€16.60

Domaine de Brau have been organic for many years. They are based in the Cabardès region of the Languedoc, where the unique climate is responsible for some unusually elegant wines. This is very palatable, a touch earthy, with plenty of concentrated pure dark cherry fruits; more burly than earthy, but attractive and very good value at the price.

 

 

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PRODUTTORI DEL BARBARESCO 2013

barbaresco pic

PRODUTTORI DEL BARBARESCO 2013

Thanks to Jürgen Karwig of Karwig Wines, I had the opportunity to taste my way through nine 2013 single vineyard releases from one of the most respected co-ops in Europe, the Produttori del Barbaresco. It was a fantastic, if slightly nerdy tasting, with some amazing wines. If you are a fan of Nebbiolo (and I am) these are wines to seek out at the addresses below. Quantities, sadly, are limited. All of the wines had been opened the day before and sealed by Vacuvin. The Reservas sell for €50-55 a bottle, very reasonable compared to rival offerings. Interested retailers and restaurants should contact Karwig Wines.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2015

A rich, relatively ripe full-bodied Nebbiolo, with plenty of fleshy fruit. Very good value for money, for drinking over the next 2-3 years. 14.5% alcohol, whereas all of the other wines were labeled 14%. 14/20

Barbaresco 2013

Fresh fragrant aromas, with violets and firm but elegant fresh red cherry fruits. Nice length too. Classic Barbaresco and very well-made wine. 15.5/20

Barbaresco Riserva Pora 2013

Wonderful lifted rose petal aromas, and a solid core of elegant sweet/sour damson and red cherry fruits and a good solid tannic structure. 16/20

Barbaresco Riserva Rio Sordo 2013

A stunning fragrant nose with lavender, rose petals and violets; supremely elegant with real depth, and refined delicate fruit and excellent length. Not the biggest, but very refined. 17.5/20

Barbaresco Riserva Ovello 2013

Excellent concentrated meaty dark pure fruits, closed yet still fragrant on the nose, with a lovely quality of concentrated red cherry fruits, and a savoury edge. 17/20

Barbaresco Riserva Muncagota 2013

Medium-bodied, with some good muscular cherry fruits, peppery spice and a solid tannic structure. Very good wine with all the right components, but somehow I couldn’t warm to it. 16.5/20

Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja 2013

Not a great bottle. Possibly it had not been sealed properly – all of the wines had been Vacuvined the previous day.

Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano 2013

A quite brilliant wine, full rich muscular, with a massive concentration of succulent dark fruits, finishing on a sweet/ripe note. Keep. 18/20

Barbaresco Riserva Asili 2013

Brilliant wine that opens out over an hour or so. Succulent elegant pure red cherry fruits, no obvious tannins, but they are there. And lovely sweet length. Excellent and a keeper. 17.5/20

Barbaresco Riserva Paje 2013

A very stylish perfectly balanced Nebbiolo. With tobacco and flowers on the nose, really lovely elegant red fruits, and a beautiful finish. Hard to resist now but will keep. 17/20

Barbaresco Riserva Montefico 2013

Distinctive nose and palate that could only be Nebbiolo, with a floral nose and deeply etched dark fruits; muscular and very long. Another keeper. 18/20

 

Stockists.

Nebbiolo Langhe €26-30: Terroirs, Donnybrook; Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Grapevine, Dalkey; Karwig Wines, Cork.

Barbaresco DOCG (Various vintages) €40: Terroirs, Donnybrook; Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Grapevine, Dalkey; The Parting Glass, Enniskerry; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Power and Co., Lucan.

Single Vineyard Riserva Wines: Currently being distributed. The following shops will have stocks of previous vintages; 1601 Off lIcence, Kinsale; Terroirs, Donnybrook; 64 Wine, Glasthule.

 

 

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Three Great Weekend Wines

weekend

I drank three sensationally good bottles of wine over the weekend. When you can drink wines as good as this, it makes ‘damp’ (as opposed to dry) January so much more bearable!

Bodegas Cotas 45 UBE Miraflores 2016 VdT de Cadiz

A single-vineyard unfortified Palomino Fino that has been aged in old sherry casks, this is a quite unique and compelling wine; light, fresh, toasty, bready, with delicate apple fruits and a beguiling saline finish. Brilliant wine. €23 from Green Man Wines, Terenure & 64Wines, Glasthule.

Crozes-Hermitage 2015, Grand Classique, Cave de Tain

Last week I did an unusual thing for a wine journalist; I went out and bought a case of wine! I receive so many samples, I am rarely short of wine to drink. The opposite is usually the case. However, this is an exceptionally good wine at a great price. Possibly not a surprise, as 2015 was a great vintage in the Northern Rhône, and the Cave de Tain one of the best co-ops in France. Elegant, perfectly ripe dark fruits, just enough acidity and nicely integrated tannins. Yum!

Moulin-a-Vent 2009 Les Trois Roches, Domaine Vissoux

I bought six bottles of this six years ago; the 2009 vintage was very highly touted back then and time has proved the critics right. This is a gorgeous wine, soft ripe and rounded with intense perfectly ripe dark fruits, and a great finish. A bit riper than most vintages, but a hedonist’s delight. Terroirs in Donnybrook list the 2013 for €29.50.

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Nicolas Reau Clos des Treilles Anjou 2015

Nicolas Reau Clos des Treilles Anjou 2015

Nicolas Reau Clos des Treilles Anjou 2015

clos des TreillesHaving tasted some very strange natural wines, I have to admit I put off tasting this for a while; my mistake!  This was amazingly good – it had the lightly honeyed touch of Chenin Blanc, a lovely quality of soft nuanced pear and quince fruits, well-balanced by a subtle mineral freshness. A seductive complex elegant wine that evolves with every sip.

Drink with lighter fish dishes. It went nicely with our Danish fishcakes – Fiske Frikadelle – boiled potatoes, peas and a homemade Remoulade.

Ex jazz player Nicolas Reau makes natural wine, intervening in the process as little as possible. This Chenin Blanc, from clay soils with some flint and limestone, is made from organically-grown grapes. Natural yeast are used for a fermentation without any temperature control; the wine is neither fined nor filtered, and only a small dose of sulphur is added prior to bottling.

€24.95 from Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Green Man Wines, Terenure; 64Wines, Glasthule.

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