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‘The Graham Norton Shiraz, like his other wines, is very gluggable’

Are you old enough to remember falling in love with Aussie wine? With their easy-to-read varietal labels and easier to drink wines, they introduced an entire generation of Irish people to the joys of drinking wine. You no longer needed a degree in French or Italian and an extensive knowledge of geography to order a bottle of wine.

 For much of the 1990s and the following decade, sales increased every year until Australia became the best-selling country in Ireland, outstripping France, our traditional favourite. But then it all went a little sour. As the Australian dollar soared in value, and Australian wine producers turned their eyes to China, sales of their wines here took a battering. They were even overtaken by Chile as our most popular wine. Last year China overtook the United States as Australia’s biggest market, with sales worth some $520 million, so the Australians probably weren’t too worried.

 During the same period, the world moved away from those big fruit-filled wines that Australia excelled in, and began looking for something a little more subtle. Australia has a wide range of climates (it is the same size as Europe after all) and has always produced a diverse range of wines. In addition to Shiraz and Chardonnay, you could find low-alcohol, high quality Riesling from the Eden and Clare Valleys, and Semillon from the Hunter Valley. But over the past decade, the industry, one of the most dynamic in the world, began concentrating on other cooler climates and lesser-known grape varieties. They also began focusing on high quality wines for the premium market .

 Last month the Australian wine marketing body sent a deputation here to introduce their wines to a new generation of the wine trade. We were treated to a very impressive range of wines made from Petit Manseng, Marsanne, Arneis, Grüner Veltliner, Moscato, Dolcetto, and Touriga Nacional alongside some excellent Pinot Noir, Semillon, Riesling and sparkling wines. There was plenty of Shiraz and Chardonnay too, but they were lower in alcohol and more subtle in style, so if you still see Australian wines as a blunt instrument designed to cudgel you into submission, it is time to rethink.

Premium wine costs money to make, and sadly most of the wines were over €20 a bottle, and many were not (yet) available in Ireland. If you are a Pinot fan, the brilliant Gembrook Pinot Noir is available for €576 a case from Berry Brothers. But two of those listed below were included. The Tahbilk Marsanne is one of my favourite wines and brilliant value for money. Prosecco fans should certainly try out the ridiculously moreish frothy Innocent Bystander. The Graham Norton Shiraz, like his other wines, is very gluggable.

Bargain Bottle

Exquisite Collection Limestone Coast Chardonnay 2016, Australia

14%

€8.49

 Clean fresh textured red apple and pear fruits with a hint of spice.

 Stockists: Aldi

Choice Australians

Tahbilk Marsanne 2014, Nagambie Lakes  

13%

€16.70

 Expressive fresh pear, peach and tropical fruits. Crisp and dry with a lovely unique character all of its own.

 Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar & Arnott’s.

Innocent Bystander Moscato 2017

€13.99

5.5%

 Dayglo pink, bubbly and sweet with juicy grape and cherry fruits. Frivolous and fun.

 Stockists: Mortons, Clontarf Wines, Drink Store, Redmonds, Martins, McHughs, Mitchells, O’Donovan’s, Red Island, Red Nose Wine, Wineonline.ie

Graham Norton Shiraz 2015, South Australia

14.5%

€15

 Exuberant and showy – not unlike Norton himself, a big wine with heady ripe plums and spice.

 Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu, Centra.

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BIRTHDAY TREATS – MY DAUGHTER COMES OF AGE

BIRTHDAY TREATS

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We had a dinner last weekend to celebrate my daughter’s eighteenth birthday. Naturally, we served wines from her birth year – nearly! My bottle of 1999 Hunter Valley VAT 1 Semillon has disappeared for the moment. I’ll find it for her 21st. Instead we opened up a bottle of 1997.

As always, you take a risk storing a wine for long periods. The cork on the 1997 Semillon disintegrated, and the wine was oxidised. The Tardieu-Laurent Côte Rôtie caused a few disagreements around the table. Some thought it lightly corked. I thought it just earthy, but with a dirty element that could mean corked. The wine had some sweet stewed prune fruits, but was dominated by powerful oak flavours of caramel and vanilla – after 18 years! Certainly not my style of wine.

The two stars of the dinner were:

1999 Bollinger Grande Année Champagne

Entrancing developed aromas of toasted hazelnuts and white fruits. The palate was equally good, a gorgeous mix of peach and dried fruits, toasted nuts, a little brioche and a firm dry finish. Exquisite champagne; I wish I had a few more in my cellar.

Côte Rôtie 1999 Domaine André François

This was given to me by a very generous ex-customer when I visited him in Boyle, Co. Roscommon earlier this year. He travels to the Rhône every year, visits his favourite producers, and returns with a car full of wines to ay down. This was drinking perfectly. ‘Olives’ according to my daughter, ‘smoky’ said my mother-in-law. Both were correct. This was a wine delicate and fully mature with mellow elegant savoury dark fruits, plus olives and wood smoke, and a nice long finish. Memorable wine.

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A Suitcase of Claret

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½ bottles can be very useful if dining à deux. However they are not easy to find and you will usually be charged a hefty premium. From tomorrow until the 19th April, select Centra stores nationwide will offer a six-pack of ½ bottles of Bordeaux, in a handy wooden suitcase, for a reasonable €30. I haven’t tasted all the wines yet, but the first two, Chants de Faizeau 2015, Montage St.-Emilion and Ch. de Courteillac 2015 Bordeaux, were very decent wines and good value for money at €5 each. The pack would also make a very nice gift for someone.

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BIODYNAMIC BORDEAUX – THE DELICIOUS WINES OF CH FALFAS

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CH. FALFAS

Côtes de Bourg

I have been enjoying the wines of Ch. Falfas for a few years now, and was delighted to receive an email from Terroirs in Donnybrook, mentioning that proprietor and winemaker Véronique Cochran would be showing her wines in their shop.

Véronique is originally from Saumur in the Loire, where her father Francois Bouchet, was the very first biodynamic grower. Given her upbringing it is not surprising all of her wines are biodynamic as well. ‘I could never do it another way’, she says. Their 20-hectare holding is split into two holdings, the largest part surrounding the very attractive Château. She is based in the Côtes de Bourg on the right bank of Bordeaux, and an area that can offer excellent value for money. They have around 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon co-planted with 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec, all traditional in the area.

I tasted each of her three separate cuvées. The wines were of a very high quality, and well-priced too. Véronique was both charming and knowledgeable. A great way to get the weekend started.

Les Demoiselles de Falfas 2015 €23.50

Made with very little maceration, this is a delicious forward, extrovert wine with bright fresh ripe dark fruits and a good easy finish. Lovely wine and very good value. Vêronique suggests trying it with lighter foods, including tomato-based dishes. This is named in honour of her two daughters.

 

Ch. Falfas 2012 €29.50

Light elegant nose, refined blackcurrant and plum fruits, good acidity and a lightly tannic finish. Classic Bordeaux just starting to drink very well.

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Ch. Falfas 2010 €39

Excellent maturing nose and palate with leafiness, developing sweet red and black fruits, good concentration and finish. Nice wine.

 

Ch. Falfas 1995 No longer available.

Made by her late husband in a more extracted style, this had a lighter nose, showing real development, a minty, herbal character, and light red fruits. Drinking nicely now, but unlikely to improve further.

 

Le Chevalier de Ch. Falfas 2011 €59

Made from 750-780 year old vines. Super wine, with everything you look for in a young Bordeaux. Concentrated blackcurrant fruits, a lovely backbone of acidity, structured and firm with excellent length. You could drink this now, preferably decanted, but I would love to try it again in another five years.

 

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St. Patrick’s Day wine weekend

Nothing green here, but a few nice wines.

dscf7402Clos Windsbuhl Gewurztraminer 2000, Domaine Zind Humbrecht

This had been languishing in my stash for a long time, probably because I am not a huge fan of gewurz, nor of white wines that are 15% alcohol (unless its sherry of course). I took a coravined glass, and it was just as I imagined it would be; big, rich textured and sweetish, with plenty of length.

Alpha Zeta Corvina 2015

Light easy refreshing glugger, with dark cherry fruits.

Anthill Farms Tina Marie Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River, California

A present from my sister who lives in California. This might be part of the new wave of lighter more elegant Californian wines we read about. It was very good; light slightly candied ripe cherries, but with a good acidic core, and nice length. Opened out beautifully to reveal a good depth of damson fruit. 13%.

Crozes- Hermitage 2015 Yann Chave

One of my favourite wines for many years, and one that ages very well too. A bit riper and rounder than usual, probably the vintage, but very stylish elegant dark cherry and damson fruits. Will improve with time. €27.95 – will feature in the Irish Times soon.

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado 2015 Dao, Portugal

An oaked aged Encruzado? It works really well, with subtle oak, lovely refreshing acidity and plenty of fruit. Not cheap at €29.99 but very nice wine.

 

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The delicious white wines of Rafael Palacios

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Regular readers will know that I am a fan of both the Godello grape and Valdeorras, the region where most of it is grown. The white wines are amongst the best, if not the best being produced in Spain at the moment (with the obvious exception of sherry). In style, with their mouth-filling fruit and excellent acidity, they have a certain resemblance to Burgundy, although usually without the oak-ageing. The quality of the wines has been recognized over the last few years, and they are now starting to take their place alongside Rías Baixas on discerning wine lists in Ireland. Yet back in the 1970’s, the grape had almost disappeared, replaced by Palomino and Alicante Bouschet. It was largely thanks to a small number of local activists, and two men from Rioja, that Godello was saved from extinction. One of those was Rafael Palacios.

Rafael Palacios is youngest of nine children. Most of the Palacios Remondo family are based in the Rioja region where they run an eponymous wine company, a restaurant and a hotel. Brother Alvaro Palacios is famous for being part of the quintet that revived the Priorat region in Catalunya, and now produces Finca Dofi and l’Ermita, two of Spain’s most revered (and expensive) wines. A nephew runs a joint venture with Alvaro in Bierzo close to Valdeorras. Rafael Palacios was always interested in white wine. On the family estate in Rioja, he pestered his father to allow him produce one; ‘I was young, I was insistent, says Rafale, ‘My father eventually allowed me to do Placet’. The white wine of Bodegas Palacios Remondo quickly became one of the most admired in Spain. ‘Then’, says Rafael, ‘In 1997 or 1998 a bottle of Godello passed my mouth. I found it completely unique as a Galician wine, a balance of Atlantic influences and richness, glycerol and body. With an altimeter in my hand I looked for the highest vineyards in Valdeorras.’

Valdeorras means Valley of Gold – the Romans mined gold here. They planted grapes when they had exhausted the mines. Over the last decade, the area has been completely revived. New plantings and new wineries abound. There are now some 2,000 growers, and 45 wineries. 90% of the wine is consumed in Spain. The climate is mainly continental but does have some Atlantic influences. The best vineyards are high up on the slopes at 500 metres, where the soils are granite and slate. The Palacios vineyards are largely in the granitic soils of Val do Bibei, one of three valleys in the D.O. They now own or farm over 100 separate parcels of vines.

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All three Palacios wines are aged in oak barrels, usually 500 litres, but any oak influence is very much in the background. Louro has some Treixadura (another local grape with real potential) blended in. Sadly the entry-level Bolo which sold for a bargain €17, is no more. Reading between the lines of what Palacios said, prices are rising and growers are increasing yields as Valdeorras becomes more popular. It is difficult for him to source good quality grapes (Bolo was partly made from bought-in grapes) at a reasonable price. The 2016 Sorte Antiga is the first vintage of this wine.

Louro 2016, Valdeorras

(tank sample) Made from 17 parcels of vines, vinified separately. Nicely aromatic, with a delicious balance of fresh, lively citrus acidity and fat pure green fruits. Lovely wine. Around €22.

 

Sorte Antiga 2016, Valdeorras (Cask Sample)

Made from a small plot of ungrafted, gobelet-trained vines planted in 1920. It took Palacios ten years to bring the vineyard back to production –‘a very emotional wine for me’ he says. There was some skin contact in the winemaking. A quite stunning wine, with grippy, slightly pithy skins, a very saline intense mineral backbone and amazing length.

 

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As Sortes 201, Valdeorras

Ripe rich melon and peach fruits, subtle grilled nuts, with a lovely elegant minerality and nice grip on the finish. Around €50

 

As Sortes 201, Valdeorras

The current vintage, and one of the stars. It has a brisker, more mineral feel than the 2015 at the moment, but still has plenty of voluptuous melon and stone fruits to back up the vibrant acidity. A great wine. Around €50

 

Sorte O Soro 2015, Valdeorras

A single-vineyard wine, north-facing and very windy, with vines planted in 1978. A herbal nose, hugely concentrated rich succulent fruit, backed up by that minerality finishing with a real flourish. Exceptional wine.

 

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My wine weekend – Babette’s Feast and more

Two bottles at home over the weekend, but scroll down for the wines we consumed at my mother-in-law’s version of Babette’s Feast.

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Occitania Mauzac Blanc 2015, Limoux, Ch. Rives-Blanques is made by a very nice Dutch-English couple, the Panmans, who have now been joined by their son. The wines were shipped by Febvre & Co for years, and James Nicholson I think. Now it is with Alken Brothers, a firm set up by Anthony & Gregory Alken. Not sure of price yet, but a delicious wine and quite unusual to see a pure Mauzac. Most of it goes into blends or the local fizz, Blanquette de Limoux. Floral, herbal nose, quite rich tropical fruits with yellow apples too, and some peach. All held together very nicely by good acidity.

La Bruja de Rozas is made by Commando G,  three young winemakers who each work in different wineries, but come together to produce a series of wines. They argue that Garnacha, as traditionally grown in the Vinos de Madrid region, south of the capital, can have something of the perfume and elegance of Pinot Nojr. It does, with plenty of alcohol and body too. This is a single village wine, from granite soils at 850 metres. Lovely wine, violet aromas, strawberry fruit, excellent mineral backbone and good tannic length. 14.5% Around €25 I think.

Babette’s Feast – in the late 1980’s, my mother-in-law, who is Danish, entertained guests to a re-creation of the menu of Babette’s Feast, a short story by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). It was made into an Academy Award winning film in 1988; if you haven’t seen it, it is well worth doing so, especially if you like food. My mother-in-law recently offered to cook the menu once more, and I volunteered to provide the wines. It was a hugely enjoyable evening, with excellent food. I’ll do a full blog on it shortly, but the menu runs as follows: Mock turtle soup with Amontillado sherry, blinis Demidoff (with caviar and sour cream) served with vintage Veuve Cliquot; quail en sarcophage (stuffed with foie gras, and encased in puff pastry with a truffle sauce) accompanied by Clos Vougeot. Then follows Baba au Rhum with Sauternes, and fruit and cheeses with port. It all finishes with coffee and Hine Grande Champagne Cognac. As you can see from the lineup below, I allowed myself a certain latitude with the wines, Clos Vougeot Louis Latour 1845 being scarce on the ground, but we were served excellent renditions of every dish on the menu.

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My (alcohol free) Elixir of Life

My (alcohol free) Elixir of Life

New season extra virgin olive oil.

For the last couple of years I have been given, or bought, a few bottles of new season Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. It has become one of my favourite seasonings at this time of the year.

In the past, most wine producers in Chianti Classico and elsewhere in Tuscany produced both wine and olive oil. More recently David Gleave of wine importers Liberty encouraged a handful of top estates to make high quality oil; Liberty then release the new vintage every November or December (The River Café in London are huge fans, and even have their own bottling). In some ways, it is a pity that it cannot be released freshly pressed the following summer when the salad season is in full flow. However, it is a great addition to the store cupboard in winter and spring. I have been come quite addicted to it and drizzle it at the last minute on a variety of foods, from beans, pasta dishes with courgettes, cauliflower, peppers or on plain pasta with Parmesan, roast vegetables, steak and a host of other dishes. It brightens up just about everything, adding a slightly bitter peppery kick and a pure fruity richness. With a sprinkle of pepper and salt, it becomes a perfect dressing for any winter salad too. I am sure I remember reading that extra virgin live oil is full of anti-oxidants and all sorts of other good things, so it could be classified as the most delicious of all health foods.

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The oils are expensive – €20 or more for a bottle of half-bottle, but they last a while. Not too long though; they will last a year or more but I reckon they should be finished by early summer. Check the back label for a harvest date – 2016 is what you want.

Earlier this year, David Gleave of Liberty gave a group of us an olive oil tasting in Jamie’s Italian in Dundrum. The names included Alpha Zeta, Capezzana (delicious) Petrolo, Fèlsina, and Fontodi. My favourite was the Fontodi, an organic oil, and I have a ½ bottle of that in my kitchen, but to be honest I would have been happy to have a bottle of any of these.

They are available from Fallon & Byrne; Jamie’s Italian; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Lotts & Co, D4; Thomas’s ,Foxrock, Jus De Vine, Portmarnock; Clontarf Wines; Blackrock Cellars; Terroirs, Donnybrook; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Ballymaloe Garden Café; Red Island, Skerries; Grapevine, Dalkey; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; Hole in the Wall, D7; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Cirillo’s, Baggot Street.

 

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Tasting Dao & Friends to Dinner – the weekend in wine

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Trimbach Reserve Riesling 2010 – this featured in my wine guide this year. A great mature waxy, nutty bone dry Riesling that retails for €23. Went very nicely with prawns and a Japanese cucumber and seaweed salad.

Four wines from Dão, part of a tasting for an Irish Times article. The region produces some lovely refreshing red and white wines.

Santenay 1er cru Clos Rousseau Les Fourneaux VV 2013, Bachey-Legros – around €30 from Le Caveau, this was quite closed with spicy dark cherries and a savoury edge. Good but not great – I suspect it will improve over the next year or two, and I probably should have decanted it. Nice wine though.

Castello di Fonterutoli 2004, Chianti Classico,  Mazzei – I bought six bottles of this ten years ago. You’d need 20/20 vision to read the vintage. It was very good, medium to full-bodied, with a good tannic backbone and dark chocolate and slightly earthy very ripe dark fruits. Went well with roast lamb.

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Burgundy, Cava, Garnacha, low alcohol wine and others – the weekend in wine.

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Villa Maria Lighter Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin 2016, Marlborough

Lighter (9.5% alcohol) but still quite rich and a little sweet. It does capture the flavours of modern-day Marlborough Sauvignon. My daughter served it at her first dinner party and it went down very well. €14.99, €11 on promotion.

Segredos de Sâo Miguel, VR Alentejo

Portugal makes some very good value inexpensive red wines; this has attractive cool nicely damson fruits and a tannin-free finish. His will certainly feature again.

Agustí Torelló Mata Reserva 2011 Cava

This is the best cava I have tasted in a long time. An excellent, elegant complex glass of fizz. Not trying to be Champagne, but with a unique character all of its own. €29 from Sheridans and Mitchell & Son online only.

Marsannay ‘en Clémengeots’ 2011 , Sylvain Pataille

Given to me by Pataille on a visit there a few years back. It took a while to open out, but lovely cool savoury dark fruits, good acidity and an excellent finish. A world away from the lush ripe wines of Vosne-Romanée, but excellent Marsannay.

Vidal Reserve Syrah 2013, Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay

I raved about this wine a year ago, so I was interested to see how it has developed. The answer is very well. Lovely piquant savoury dark fruits with a very attractive slightly grainy texture. Available for €17.35 (Barry & FitzWilliam), which is fantastic value.

El Reventon 2010, Cebreros Jiminez-Landi, Vdt de Castilla y Léon

Brought by a friend to dinner, a brilliant single parcel wine, combining perfectly ripe elegant dark fruits with a fine backbone of acidity. One of the first wines made by Daniel Gomez Jiminez-Landi, a member of the Commando G gang, who make some stunning wines to the south of Madrid.

To finish, two beers to taste while watching the rugby. Could have dome with another bottle.

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