Tag Archives: Australia

New Wines from M&S

Attended the Marks & Spencer tasting of their latest offerings, here are my notes.

The tasting took place in the cellar of WHPR/Ogilvy & Mather building in Ely Place.

Some of the whites were too chilled, some of the reds a tad soupy but otherwise the event was really well organised – spittoons, clipboards with a catalogue, logical order (mostly), loads of space and a fair bit of cunus (certainly for the early arrivals) – other organisers please take note. Kudos to Claire Guiney from WHPR who organised matters and got Ireland’s top brass tasters there without needing to promise a gourmet lunch. I could get fond of the M&S crisps, though.

At the outset I got genuinely excited over the sparklers when I thought I’d unearthed a quite decent Champagne for €17.49. Alas, the price was a misprint, but **Louis Chaury‘s blend of 40% PN/30 Chard/30PM was still great value for the, corrected, €21.50 – this has got to be one of the better budget Champagnes around.

***St.Gall Vintage Grand Cru 2002 did cost €44 but it’s stunning and worth every penny for its bravura flavours.

On to the whites and an interesting dry *2008 Pedro Ximenez from class act Alvaro Espinoza in Chile’s Elqui Valley. Unoaked, clean party wine, different and distinctive.

A couple of Chardonnays from Argentina demonstrated differing characteristics. The €6.99 Vinalta 2008 was drinkable, commendably bereft of tinned fruit and good value. The Fragoso 2006, €9.99 had some weird dark notes that spoilt the enjoyment a bit, at least for this critic. Both were preferable to the oaked Altos del Condor 2008 (winemaker with the discouraging name of Daniel Pi); described on the back label as as ‘expertly blended by Marks & Spencer’, it wasn’t that expert.

Perhaps the nicest of the budget whites was a **Gavi, Quatro Sei 2008 (€9.99). Clean, smart, modern winemaking of the highest order, I’d definitely buy this for summer drinking.

Abruzzo deserves our support at the minute but that’s far from the only reason to pick this €15.99 white. Rocco Pasettti of Contesa’s **Pecorino 2007 was, despite the name, in no way cheesy. Lemon and apple fruit in abundance, smoothed out by a touch of malo, an immensely interesting change from the usual suspects.

I wouldn’t have guessed the origin of the unoaked **2008 Macon Village from George Brisson in a blind tasting, it seemed more laid back and ‘northerly’. I actually preferred it to its neighbour, a €15.99 Chablis.

A couple of quite savvy and very different NZSBs. *Seifreid 2008 €12.49 could have been re-christened ‘Siegfried’ with its savage attack, my sort of Sauvignon Blanc, racy and mineral. *Flaxbourne 2008 €13.49 gave you some elegance and restraint for your extra euro, in the end it all comes down to what you prefer.

On to Oz, where we kicked off with M&S’s own Chardy 2008, nabbed from Brian Walsh of Yalumba where they know about these things. A quaffer, buckets of tinned fruit, but what could you demand for €6.49? The **Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2008, very traditional, up to 4 months on less then six in real French barrels produced a relaxed yet flavoursome, lean, clean €12.49’s worth. Might buy Her Indoors some of this, it’s right up her street.

The Las Falleras Rosé 2008 €6.49 was well bubblegumesque. *Le Froglet (is this ‘Franglais or what?) at €7.99 was rather better, fresh, bright and clean.

The VDP Ardeche Gamay 2008 cried out for food; the South African Maara Shiraz 2008 was slabby and slightly mucky; I don’t do Pinotage – all I can say is that the Houdamond, at €13.99 won’t attract many admirers, other than those who like the smell of burning rubber I can’t help attributing to this grape. Okay, Houdamond is well made and it’s bush vines and oak barrels (American) but, in the end, it’s still a bit Formula One.

Fellow taster Martin (Moran) asked me “Why does this cost €35?”. All I could say was “That’s what a single-estate Rioja Reserva from a reputed producer in a good vintage fetches”. That said, personally, I’d give the Contino 2004 a miss there’s better stuff around for less money. And avoid the 2003 if you see it.

The Paradiso Carmenere 2008 is ‘vibrant’ all right. Trouble is the tannins are green as your favourite rugby shirt. The new *Vinalta Malbec 2008 is a nicer drink for €3 less, a genuine bargain at €6.99.

Nicest red in the tasting for me was the ***Nebbiolo 2007 €16.49) from Renato Ratti (available from ‘major stores’ so you probably won’t see it everywhere.) Understated, a class act and full of character. You could safely squirrel this away too.

Of the two Pinot Noirs on show, I preferred the **Tasmanian 2007, a typically relaxed and mellow production by Andrew Pirie of Tamar Ridge. Worth every penny and then some of €12.49. The *Clocktower 2007 (€16.49) was a typically exuberant production from Ben Glover and the guys at Wither Hills in the “Hey, let’s set out our stall and see how much fruit, how many nuances we can squeeze out” manner. All a bit OTT really, still a tad one-dimensional like many New Zealand Pinot Noirs away from the top echelon and, to my mind, this uncompromising treatment does take a little of the unbridled fun out of Pinot in an “I Can’t Believe it’s not Shiraz” manner. Bit of an exaggeration, maybe, but I’m sure you’ll get what I mean.

To conclude, a fine and extremely good value Eiswein, big mouthful and that’s not only the name – **Darting Estate Weissburgunder Eiswein, €17.99

Not a bad stab at budget fino with a €7.99 Fino Dry Sherry plucked from Williams & Humbert – interesting pistache and smokey bacon nose; chill the hell out of it and consume at a sitting with whitebait, tapas or somesuch. The Extra Dry White Port (from Guimarens, a good house) was by no means extra dry within the context we’d understand. Tasty though. The Pink Port from the same stable won’t I fear, win many friends. Except maybe as a cocktail mixer, it takes some comprehending. What’s the point of bubblegum that you can’t blow bubbles with?

My recommendations  indicated with an *, rated * to ***

So it Goes…

john41This Week’s Decent Drinking

I make no apologies for making this week’s WOTW a wine you are unlikely to be unable to buy. The 2000 John Wade Cabernet Sauvigon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc I opened tonight I picked up at the vineyard on a visit to Denmark and Albany, at the bottom end of Western Australia in 2002.

In 1982, John Wade created the award winning Wynns – Coonawarra “John Riddoch” , a wine that was named Best Red Wine in Australia on two separate occasions..

John, a graduate from Wagga, if memory serves me right, began his winemaking career in the Hunter Valley. At Wynns, he quickly achieved promotion from assistant winemaker to winery manager, a position he held for six years. Afterwards, he worked in Western Australia, as consultant winemaker with leading Great Southern producers Alkoomi and Goundrey and was then appointed senior winemaker with Plantagenet Wines, a position he held for six years.

His work is not limited to Australia. John has undertaken vintage work in France – at Chateau Senejac in Margaux and Chateau Pontet-Canet in Pauillac. In 1995 he worked as winemaker at the new Tenuta di Trinoro estate in Southern Tuscany.

In 1986 John founded the Howard Park Winery and in 1992 established the Madfish Bay label, currently popular in any number of Irish restaurants thanks to importers, Nicholson’s. After leaving Howard Park he has worked as a wine industry consultant. When I met him in Denmark, WA in May 2002 he was making wine for a number of vineyards in the Great Southern region and was also tending his own vines. All the grapes in the wine we drank last night were grown on the estate.

vines at Denmark, WA
vines at Denmark, WA

I opened John’s 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot/ Cabernet Franc last night and pretty impressive it was too. The stellar, fragrant and uber powerful nose struck a chord with everyone at the table. Denmark’s cool climate enabled the wine to tip the scales at a mere 12.5% ABV giving the wine a definite Left Bank Bordeaux feel and allowing the herbal notes of the Cab Franc to escape from the fruit and shine. Lovely!

To return to something you CAN buy, the Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc 2008, less minerally aggressive than many Marlborough NZ examples, is well worth the asking price, especially at the ‘on special’ €10.99. I’m always looking for decent whites around a tenner since The Dark Lady of My Sonnets gave up drinking red, and this one sure fits the bill. From O’Briens.

Gilbey's Portfolio Tasting Feb 2009 – 10 that impressed

Trekking to the Guinness Storehouse, with sleet whacking down like stair rods wouldn’t be my favourite occupation but Gilbey’s Terry Pennington and Lynne Coyle  have assembled one hell of a portfolio, with smart niche producers alongside mainstream brands like Blossom Hill, Yellow Tail, Bargton & Guestier etc and venerable favourites of the ilk of Louis Latour, Trimbach and Jaboulet. And so, along with the rest of the ‘vinerati’ I had to be there. Anyhow, here are a few of my own highly idiosyncratic choices to give you a flavour of the day.


Borie de Maurel Nature Blanc 2007

Even discounting the romance, this is a very smart little French white, for not too much money. Organic it is, biodynamic it may be – though not officially certified as such. What the hell, the wine is good enough to stand on its own merits without the feelgood factor. Did I say romance? Okay, try this: Michel Escande works the land with horses, not tractors. And as if that isn’t enough, the wine is shipped to Ireland by sailboat. Ain’t that nice.

12,99 Jus de Vine, selected independents

Hunter’s Estate Chardonnay Marlborough 2007

As the old adage goes, “many are called, but few are chosen”. From the Cape to Casablanca (Chile) wineries are trying to take the rampant tropical fruit out of their Chardonnay and construct something more laid back and stylish. Not many succeed. Hunter’s Sauvignon Blanc is a regular award winner; there is a deal of noise being made about their Pinot Noir; for me, the engaging Chardonnay is the best wine they make.

19.49, selected independents

Knappstein ‘Three’ Gewurztraminer-Riesling-Pinot Gris, Clare Valley 2008

Me, Tomas, Raymond, Martin, JW, we’ve been banging on at readers for longer than I care to think, trying to persuade them to drink Riesling. I’m coming to think we’re flogging a dead horse, sad, but it’s just too austere, too difficult for the average punter. I’m backing off a bit but I’d still like you to try this – a fantastically full-bodied bundle of joy and an absolute steal for the dosh.

14.79, selected independents

Laurenz V ‘Charming’ Gruner Veltliner 2007

So sexy, innit? Gruner Veltliner, gru-vee, groovy, current darling of the posh restaurants. Almost single-handedly this ‘sauvignon-without-tears’ grape has rehabilitated the Austrian wine industry.The blurb in the catalogue tell us that the ‘Singing’ and the ‘Sunny’ are ‘more accessible’ than the flagship ‘Charming’. They are also considerably cheaper -by about €8, but there’s a massive quantum leap when you get to the top product and there can’t be many more enjoyable wines for the dosh involved. No stockists yet. I expect this one will end up in restaurants.


Trimbach Alsace Pinot Gris Réserve 2005

‘Way to go’ for what is currently the world’s most abused grape varietal! The Italians, the Aussies, the Chileans should drink this until they start to ‘get it’. Just superb, beautifully-crafted, elegant, food-friendly wine borne out of 12 empathetic generations. It sings! And, if you can’t afford it, do the Pinot Blanc at a value €13.99

19.59, Tesco, Superquinn, Dunnes, selected independents


Pézat Bordeaux Superieur 2007

Jonathan Maltus, Ch Tessier & Colonial Estates
Jonathan Maltus, Ch Tessier & Colonial Estates

My enthusiasm for the wines of Jonathan Maltus in general and this wine in particular have not gone unnoticed for I found an attributable quote in the catalogue. Whenever I encounter a Bordeaux Superior, the occasion begs the question “superior to what?” in this case, the answer is “ superior to almost any red wine you can find for under €25.” Pézat really is a beauty; rich, rounded, mellow, satisfying. Though the RRP has escalated since my first sip it’s still fine value for money. It’s also a plea in mitigation as to why the Merlot grape should be allowed to exist; don’t buy New World Merlot soup at a tenner a throw, save up and buy this.

19.59, selected independents


Costacielo Cabernet-Aglianico, Campania 2007

On the outskirts of Sorrento there’s a rather good wine merchants. The owner, a man I respect, was raving about a local winemaker called Genarro di Maggio. And, guess what, now he’s here. With a food-friendly white and this classy, sassy red which employs the stiff backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon to balance up the big, smirky-smile bestowed by Aglianico (rough translation: the alien). As Paul Simon nearly wrote – “Here’s to you G.diMaggio…”

18.89, selected independents.

Paul Jaboulet Ainé, Crozes-Hermitages ‘Les Jalets’ 2006

Caroline Frey, Ch La Lagune & Paul Jaboulet Ainé
Caroline Frey, Ch La Lagune & Paul Jaboulet Ainé

First vintage from Jaboulet that Caroline Frey laid her hands on and the wine is all the better for it. Standards that had been dipping since the late 1990’s have been reversed and while it’s still dark-fruited, dense and meaty it’s much less ‘agricultural’ than of yore. The more expensive ‘Domaine-de Thalabert’ 2006 still needs a bit of work, imo.

17.99 O’Briens, SuperValu, selected independents

Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2007

Smart, keenly priced red from a Sicilian producer who’s been getting a lot of plaudits of late. Soft, joyful, no-nonsense everyday drinking.

11.99, selected independents

Bylines Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon , South Australia, 2003

A collaboration between ex-City gent the affable Martin Krajewski of Chateau de Sours and Australia’s David Fatches. They’ve managed to persuade John Duval, formerly winemaker of Penfold’s Grange to stir the cauldron. The result is a big, sexy red capable of ageing for aeons. Loads of competition at this price point of course but it’s well up to scratch. One thought – how come Shiraz-Cab blends work, whereas Cab-Shiraz ones almost invariably don’t? Strange.

€45.29, selected independents

Hunter Valley and Barossa with Orlando

ern_0070 I’m not into crosswords, or what’s it called, suduko? Nevertheless, I do recognise the importance of keeping one’s brain exercised so I occasionally invent some form of mental gymnastics for that very purpose. A few weeks ago I decided I would write down, in ten minutes flat, all the aromas and flavours I had ever found in a glass of wine. For the record the total was 158 and included such exotica as arbutus berries, oatmeal, mown grass, green sap, chicory, tobacco, eucalyptus, balsam, beeswax, quinine, soy sauce, molasses, sawdust, burnt toast, mildew, gun smoke, diesel, wet dog, soap, fish, steel, sauerkraut, marigold, geranium, liquorice, ginger, bacon, offal, leather and, yes, shit, in addition to the usual suspects.

There comes a time in our life with wine when we cross that great divide between drinking and tasting. Most of those who reach the promised land say “I get more enjoyment from wine now”. Some, and I’m inclined to that view, think education (in any sphere) just makes you unhappy because it enables you to glimpse a potential you’ll never realise. I really don’t think life has improved since I fell out of love with bruising Bulgarian red but I’m here now and can’t go back.

ern_0207Wine tasting is an old and honourable occupation. One of the earliest references comes from 3rd century Egypt – “The wine taster has declared the Euobean wine to be unsuitable”. Unfortunately he didn’t opine as to whether the wine in question was gut-rot, corked or simply the product of a crappy vintage. Not that I’ll ever get the chance to taste the AD320. Shame!

The last two weeks have been ‘back to school’ for me. A lightning Australian trip coupled a visit to Wyndham Estates’ Black Cluster Shiraz plot in the Hunter Valley with with a tour of Jacob’s Creek’s extensive vineyards in the Barossa.

We went up to the Hunter via an amazing helicopter flight over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and on up the ern_00643New South Wales coast. When we cut inland we flew over an ugly scar on the landscape that proved to be an open-cast coal mine.

I was reminded of my grandfather’s lot – dust and grit, strikes and poverty, explosions and emphysema – and made a mental note to kick my own arse whenever I complain that an excess of tasting has given me a mouth like the floor of a budgie’s cage. Dammit, who has the better deal, him or me?

Trekking round the vines in company with winemakers like Wyndham’s Ben Bryant and JC’s Bernard Hickin told me once more that the best wines are the ones made in the vineyard. Nowadays, there is a temptation to think of wine as a branch of chemistry. To a degree it is; but when push comes to shove the quality of the wine is determined almost exclusively by the quality of the grapes, called ‘fruit’ by those who grow them. Grapes like cabernet sauvignon and shiraz make excellent eating, that is if you discount the thick skins and enormous pips relative to the size of the grape and filter the juice through your teeth. By selective munching I learned to tell the difference between fruit, good fruit, prime fruit and the sort of fruit that makes winemakers punch the air and shout “Yes!”

They gave us a couple of leisure days, packing us off to Kangaroo Island, scene of Australia’s first settlement where we walked among seals, swam with a shoal of dolphins and had one of the most memorable meals of my life. A table on a secluded beach, beautifully laid with good linen, cutlery and glassware. ern_0174

Nearby, self-taught local chef, Tony Nolan was treating freshly-caught South Australian rock lobster with the love and care it deserved. We gave it due reverence, properly “oohing and aaghing” and saluting its rampant flavours with Riesling, including some aged vintages. It struck me once more that the Jacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling, like its Shiraz equivalent, over-delivers considerably for the money asked.

We discovered, during the trip, that Jacob’s Creek the creek actually does exist, it’s not just a madey-uppey name. I spent the morning in Jacob’s Creek’s sensory appreciation facility under the direction of Kate Laitey. ‘Scary Kate’, as we christened her, is a winsome and good-humoured Kiwi lass among Aussies, with a string of impressive qualifications, who recruits and directs a consumer tasting panel and analyses the results, object being not only to ensure quality and consistency (important for branded wines) but to isolate those elements in wine that consumers perceive as either desirable or off-putting. As I said, scary. A far cry from the old “I make what I make” approach but, nevertheless, all in pursuit of better wine.

Then came another highlight – standing on the heights of the Steingarten vineyard, with the sun going down, the beautiful Barossa spread out below. Scuffling some of the stony soil with the toes of my boot I thought “What crackpot would plant vines up here!” Later, tasting the wine, I understood Mr.Gramp’s reasons.

As always when I visit Australia, I made lots of new friends and received hospitality galore.


As if all this ‘edification’ wasn’t enough, on my return to Ireland I was pitched, jet lag and all, into a condensed version of the Australian Wine Research Institute’s wine judging course. Of which, more anon.

In The Shadow Of The Andes

“Welcome to Santiago” said Christian, the driver assigned to me by Wines of Chile. For the next six days he and I were to tour vineyards at the rate of three a day, clocking up a sniff/slurp/spit of nigh on 400 individual bottles in a mission to assess the progress made by the country’s winemakers.

Chile, a slender stick of a country, is dominated by the Andes, the South American backbone that separates it from its neighbours. It reminded me a little of South Africa’s Cape where from almost every vineyard you have a view of Table Mountain but I was unprepared for grandeur on this scale. The Cordilleras de los Andes, to bestow their proper name, are the highest mountain range outside the Himalayas.

Vinis vinifera, the wine grape was brought to Chile by the conquistadors at the behest of the army of priests who came in their wake. Initially a lacklustre red grape, the Pais, was the favoured communion variety but this has thankfully been supplanted by Cabernet and Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc, Carmenère and, latterly Syrah as Chilean producers began to emulate what their Californian and Australian counterparts had done so successfully, i.e. give the world a wealth of clean, fruity, easy-to-drink wines.

The majority of Chile’s vineyards are located in the Central Valley, a depression lying between two mountain ranges, stretching out like a three-fingered hand. Here the hot sun and the rich, fertile soil makes grape growing a picnic. The adjacent slopes give some necessary respite, ensuring the grapes don’t turn to raisins before they can be gathered. Rivers criss-crossing the valley provide water for irrigation. The high grape yields do inhibit quality however and it took some time for Chilean producers to realise this. Fortunately, a new and well qualified generation of wine makers has emerged; many have worked overseas, in France, Australia or New Zealand and all are passionate about what they do. Everywhere the talk is now of ‘green harvesting’ – thinning the crop in summer – and of ‘stressing the vines’ – making them work harder to produce less but better fruit.

Our initial destination was Errazuriz, long established as the dominant winery in the Aconcagua Valley where we were introduced to Chile’s own signature version of the Cornish pasty, the empanada, a favourite food for high days and holidays, albeit that this was a more sophisticated version than the norm, filled with corn and ricotta. We ate under a shady arbour adjacent to the impressive visitor centre. Wine tourism in Chile is, compared to, say, California or Australia is in its infancy but Errazuriz seems to have embraced the concept earlier than many of their peers.

In the afternoon we journeyed to the San Esteban winery which possesses what is almost certainly Chile’s highest vineyard. From the summit above we gazed down on new plantings of Syrah and ancient Indian rock paintings which feature on the labels of San Esteban’s top red wines, cuddled in new French oak and designated In Situ.

We drove back to Santiago as the sun was setting. Tired as I was, I succumbed to the temptation to wander abroad and was delighted to find a thriving restaurant and bar quarter a mere stone’s throw from the hotel. Enjoying a local beer I dithered over whether to patronise what looked like a stolidly traditional Chilean restaurant or content myself with a tapas or three. I decided on the latter and was soon seated in a stylish establishment owned by Torres. This enterprising Catalan winemaking family were early to spot Chile’s potential, acquiring their first property in Curico in 1979. An Torres innovation was to replace the traditional rauli (beech wood vats) with stainless steel. By the mid-nineties everyone else had followed suit, a significant factor in Chile’s progression to making clean, modern wines. Torres’ tapas proved delightful and, by Dublin standards, inexpensive, three dishes including some excellent foie gras, two glasses of wine (a red and a ‘sticky’) and an espresso for around e27 including a tip, symptomatic of the value for money I found everywhere when dining out in Chile.

I was collected at 8am next morning, further evidence, if any is needed, that a wine trip is not all sybaritic junketing. Our first visit was to Cousino Macul at Buin in the Maipo Valley. Their wines were introduced into Ireland by the Ecock brothers in the late 1980s, when their quasi-European styled Cabernet found favour with critics. Alas, standards plummeted in the mid nineties and I was not expecting a great deal but the wines I tasted went well on the way to convincing me that Cousino Macul is set to recover its reputation.

Maipo is home to much of Chile’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon and a whole lot more besides. Carmen and Santa Rita, both well known brands in Ireland, are under the same ownership and share the same valley but with their own delineated plots. Among both feature plantings of Carmenère – from ‘carmine’, red, nothing to do with the winery although it happily espoused the grape – which has come to be regarded as Chile’s ‘signature’. The story of its rise to fame is an interesting one; Carmenère is an old variety of Bordeaux where it is also known as Grand Vidure and now largely extinct in its homeland. The grape was identified in Chile in 1994 by a visiting French viticulturist in the middle of a patch of Merlot. Further investigation brought the conclusion that most of what was thought to be Chilean Merlot was, in fact, Carmenère. It’s hard to see why the confusion occurred. The leaves look nothing like each other and Carmenère is a tardy ripener whereas if Merlot was a spud it would be a ‘first early’. However, confusion there was. It is generally accepted that Carmen’s Alvaro Espinosa, one of Chile’s pioneering modern winemakers was the prime mover in transforming Carmenère from a thin, harsh, aggressively capsicum-scented varietal into the fragrantly aromatic charmer can be today by introducing the concept of drastically thinning the vines to allow full ripening.

In late afternoon, we transferred our presence to Santa Rita on the other side of the valley. The company, owned by a giant conglomerate headed up by Don Ricardo Claro, has a luxurious hotel, set amid 35 acres of landscaped parkland. Alas for the lay tourist, accommodation is restricted to guests of the winery.

I tasted Santa Rita’s wines in the company of export manager Andres Barros. Later, before dinner, I found Andres talking to a distinguished-looking gentleman who turned out to be non other than Don Ricardo himself. After a brief introduction, the Don turned to us and said “I wish to do the tasting. And I wish Ernie to tutor my friends in my wines.” How could I refuse? I had to swallow hard before telling him I didn’t think Chile ought to grow Merlot.

Next morning I was at Cono Sur where I first glimpsed the efforts that Chilean viticulture is making to get to grips with organic and biodynamic methods, particularly when a flock of geese, employed to eat burrito grubs, scurried out from beneath our wheels. The winemaker told me of the war waged on the rapacious red spider by its otherwise benevolent white cousin. Encouraging this ecological conflict obviated the use of a poultice of chemicals on the vine stems. It amused me to see that vineyard workers, many of them elderly, had full-suspension mountain bikes as their preferred mode of transport. The wisdom of this could be seen later that day at Luis Felipe Edwards’ estate as we whizzed up and down precipitous slopes in a 4X4 truck to view vines planted in spots you’d think were impossible to harvest.

Besides Torres, other significant European families play a role in Chile’s wine industry and there is no doubt that much of the quality hike has derived from their involvement, as exemplified by Lafite Rothschild at Los Vascos whose wines are definitely French-styled with a striking degree of ‘backbone’ and Marnier-Lapostolle whose flagship, Clos Apalta now has, at Colchagua, its own ten million dollar’s worth of purpose-built winery-cum-architectural statement, one of the wonders of the wine world.

Ireland is an important market. Mont Gras has its European export manager based here. To my delight, when I visited the winery I found Hans Liebrand newly-arrived from Dublin and we enjoyed catching up on the craic during a memorable hilltop barbecue.

The final part of my trip was spent visiting Leyda, Casablanca and the San Antonio valley. These areas, nearer the coast, enjoy the benefit of being cooled by the winds that blow over the Humboldt current. The white wines, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in particular, have a restraint, elegance and delicacy exceeding that of their inland cousins. At Vina Leyda I found an exuberant experimental blanc de blanc made by the method generally accredited as being the best for sparkling wine (nudge, nudge, wink, wink!).

In San Antonio I enjoyed a reunion with Maria Luz Marin whom I’d last met in Dublin on a damp autumn day. Maria Luz was one of Chile’s first female winemakers, an inspiration to the many talented young women following in her wake. Her Pinot Noir is, for me, one of Chile’s flagship wines. Other masterpieces include her Laurel Vineyard Sauvigon and a new Riesling.

Conclusions? The primary one is that Chilean wines are upwardly mobile. Everywhere I found an intent to pursue the holy grail of quality. Yields are being reduced (though they are still too high); rows are being re-aligned; cooler areas are being explored and planted – watch out for Bio-Bio in the far South. Wine tourism is being initiated – the fine restaurant at Vina Morande to which people take the two hour drive from Santiago for lunch will serve as a role model for others. I can’t wait to go back; though, next time, I will extend my stay. I want to see more of this gloriously diverse country.

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Gilbeys Portfolio Tasting – Oct 14 2006 – REDS, FIZZ and STICKIES

As tastings go this one was pretty good. Some decent whites, some nice surprises and even the big Burgundy houses didn’t entirely disappoint though they face stiff competition these days.
So it was on to the reds and here, in amongst the average ‘it’ll do’ wines and the occasional duffer I did find some really thought-provoking stuff…

*Santana Tempranillo, Vino de la Tierra, Bodegas Castillianas e7.99
A bit unrefined but definitely robust, cheerful and value for the money.

Wild Coast Shiraz-Cabernet, SE Australia 2004 e.7.99
A bit jammy. The above Tempranillo is better.

Louis Latour Bourgogne Pinot Noir La Chanfleur 2005. e14.99
The Burgundians are finding it inmcreasingly hard to deliver for this sort of money. This one is no exception.

Joseph Drouhin Rully 2003 e19.99
A wee bit metallic but, overall, a good demonstration of what Burgundian Pinot can do without costing an arm and a leg.

Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny 2001 £47.50
A bit ‘bretty’ for my taste but definitely off the pace for the money.

*Goats do Roam Red, Western Cape 2004 £9.99
Used to be excellent. Now has become more stylish and refined but maybe a tad less interesting as a consequence.

**Navraro Correas Coleccion Privada Malbec, Mendoza 2004 e9.99
Exclusive to Dunnes Stores
Cheerful, characterful wine with lashings of fruit. Not much you could get better than this for under a tenner.

**Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release, Valle Centrale 2005 e.11.99
On special at SuperValu/Centra at e.7.99
….and worth every last cent. This is what Chile does so well, budget cabernet. Quite French in style, mellow and surprisingly delicate.

***Pezat Bordeaux Superieur, Jonathan Malthus 2005
It was only a barrel sample but the third I’ve tasted in recent weeks and I’m going to say what I said when I tasted the first one at the winery. IF THERE’S A BETTER BOTTLE OF RED IN IRELAND FOR E15, PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IT IS!
packed with rich, joyous, vibrant rich fruit, caressed and carefully handled – a total class act – see my Sunday Indo column Oct 28th

**G ‘Le Garagiste’ Gilbey Commemorative St.Emilion Grand Cru 2004 e26.99
Had a hard time following the luscious Pezat but a retaste proved it to be elegant and well made and it will certainly improve in bottle. The merlot shines through.

Chateau Laforge Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2003 e58
Has what I consider the drawback of a lot of the 03s – schizophrenia! Huge hit of ripe fruit upfront and, as it quietens down, a dilute quality in mid-late palate.
Doesn’t cut it for the money.

Moulin de la Lagune Haut Medoc 2000
Second wine of La Lagune, pre the arrival of vinobabe Caroline Frey. Again, my views on claret are running contrary to the flow but I’m finding that once the fruit starts to dissipate many of the 2000s don’t have a great deal to offer (despite all the hype). This is one such.

***Chateau La Lagune Haut Medoc 3eme Grand Cru Classe 2001 e45
Beautiful, accessible claret and, like many of its ’01 counterparts, drinking delightfully as of now. They make fantastic restaurant wines. Classy and classical gear.

*Fortius Tempranilo Navarra, Bodegas Valcarlos2003 e7.99
Uncomplicated cherry fruit kick. People will love this for the price.

*Fortius Reserva, Navarrra, Bodegas Valcarlos 1999, On special e9.99, down from 15.99
Nicely made wine for ‘now’ drinking especially at the lower price.

Faustino Seleccion de Familia Rioja 2002 e13.99
On special at Carry-out group and others at 9.99
Unremarkable stuff from Ireland’s favourite consistently under-performing Rioja house. Buy the Fortius instead.

**Portia Ribera del Duero 2003 e17.99
Solid, impactful, dignified stuff from the sexy ‘new Spain’. Good weight of fruit; liked this a lot.

**Fairview Pinotage-Viognier Coastal Region 2003 e14.99
Take the grape that should have been strangled at birth; blend in 10% of another grape I habitually detest and what do you get? Bloody good wine, actually. All the skidmark rubber smell of pinotage, all the icky blowsiness of viognier gone, gone, gone. I take my hat off to Charles Back. You should try this!

**Fairview Pegleg Carignan, Swarrtland 2003 e19.99
Delicious delicate cherry and Victoria plum fruits. Smashing stuff.

**Domaine Ferrer Ribierre Empreinte du Temps Carignan, Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalan 2005 e14.99
Oh dear! An interminably lengthy, nigh-unpronounceable name, a self-effacing grape, an unknown area and a naff monochrome label will prevent this wine, made from 128 year old vines, from having an audience.
A pity, because it’s only delightful. Do get to a good independent and seek this one out.

Santa Rita 120 Reserva Especial Shiraz, Valle de Maipo 2005. e11.50
A worthy attempt by Santa Rita to hike upo the lacklustre 120 collection. Solid, but a tad boring.

Santa Rita 120 Limited Release Petite Syrah-Syrah 2004 e1.99
Curious. A reversal of the Fairview P-V above. They’ve taken two nice grapes and made something akin to old-style pinotage. If you like licking warm tarmac it might be for you. Otherwise, hard to take.

***Envoy Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre, Barossa Valley, Colonial Estate 2004 e19.99
For me another Jonathan M superstar. Courageous, stonking winemaking worth every penny and more of the asking price.

**L’Explorateur Barossa Valley Shiraz, Colonial Estate 2003 e19.99
Big,chunky, in-the-tradition Barossa shiraz whose extrovert character masks a lot of class. Drink now or will improve if laid down.

Crozes-Hermitage Selectionne par Louis Jaboulet, Paul Jaboulet Aine 2002 e10.99
Crozes of this nature used to be really good value but this one (probably the vintage that’s in it) is hard and unlovely.

Hermitage La Chapelle, Paul Jaboulet Aine 2001 e95
Shame on you! What used to be one of my all-time favourite wines is now a pale shadow of itself. What seems to be a combination of apathy and neglect seems to have set in and La Chapelle no longer has the capacity to excite. Let’s hope things improve when The Fair Maid of La Lagune gets down there to sort the compacent buggers out!


*Gratien & Mayer Saumur Brut Rose NV e17.50
Honest, well made fizz for the money. Nice refreshing attack.

*Champagne Laurent Perrier LP Brut NV e39.99
Pleasant, well made, crisp clean appley acidity. Good value.

***Champagne Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut NV e55
Wonderful! Outstanding champagne in its price bracket. Clean, lean and refreshing, tinged with excitement – an element many of the others in this price range leave out.

*Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut NV e65
Good, but unless you can’t live without the rose tints, buy the Ultra Brut and save yourself a tenner.

Champagne Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Alexandra Brut Rose 1997 e150
Near-exquisite but the Taittinger equivalent, the Comte de Champagne Brut Rose knocks it for six for equivalent money, in my opinion.


**Thomas Barton Reserve Sauterne 2005 e19.99
Impressive rich Sauternes. Great wine for silly money. Look out for the chunky bottle.

Paul Jaboulet Aine Muscat de Beaumes de Venise Le Chant des Griolles 2003 e23.99 or (37cl) e12.99
Unless you have a very very sweet tooth and a shot palate buy the Sauternes above.

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Wine notes July 2006 Riesling

Today’s wine drinkers are obsessed with grape varieties. Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, etc, get picked over like flavours in a box of chocs. In contrast, I’ve just been re-reading Raymond Postgate’s ‘A Plain Man’s Guide to Wine’ first published in 1953. Mentions of grape varieties are virtually non-existent. I suspect Plan Man didn’t care, he just said “Gimme! Oooh, yummy!” He does have a point.
Ask a wine writer “If there was only one grape what would it be ?” nine out of ten would say “Riesling” (pronounce it “Reece-ling”). Why? Discounting a slight elitist frisson, I’d say it’s because the grape is Mr.Versatility, capable of making anything and everything from lightweight little numbers for drinking in the sunshine to complex jobs with unlimited aging capacity. In styles that range from dry and delicate to sweet and enveloping. Almost the only thing Riesling can’t do is make red wine.
So why do drinkers diss it? Because Riesling acquired a bad press through (incorrect) association with sugar-sweet, nasty, thankfully out-of-fashion German ‘liebfraumilch’. Because certain pundits, neglecting their duty to encourage the newbie, bang on about the whiff of petrol. Who’d want to pay e15 to smell a fart from a filling station forecourt? Lastly, Riesling is undoubtedly an acquired taste. As a fan, I say “persevere.”
Riesling reaches its apogee in Germany where it makes outstanding wines at either end of the taste spectrum. But until the king comes into his own again maybe better to get acquainted via Alsace or Australia. In Alsace, Trimbach, Hugel, Sipp-Mack and Dopf & Irion produce tiered ranges where the ground floor wines (around e12-14, all readily available) give you a hint of Riesling’s greatness – a giveaway scent of crushed grapes, floral aromas, crisp apple flavours and, yes, the slight benzine nuance that you’ll eventually come to tolerate, if not quite love, as ‘characterful’. Go up a level and their wines take on a more serious aspect, offering a package I can only describe as honeyed and opulent, with a pleasing off-dry aftertaste. If you really fancy throwing money in order to get an appreciation of the grape’s potential, seek out Zind Humbrecht (e25+), huge wine of astounding quality.
Flit over to South Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys for a contrasting style: an initially surprising appley acidity segueing into pronounced lime flavours; crisp, refreshing minerality and, often, a distinctive ‘marmalade’ finish. Names to look out for include Grosset, Mount Horrocks, Pewsey Vale, Leasingham and Petaluma.

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Wine Notes June 2006

La Rose du Monbousquet 2005 e11.99 O’Brien’s Rating 14.5/20
As a change from my usual Chateau de Sours I’ve been drinking this blushing beauty – O’Brien’s. Rose, in my opinion, is one of the hardest wines to get right. Too much acidity and you may as well go suck a lemon. Too much fruit and you are bored after a glass. Not with this one. Fragrant aromas of watermelon, rose hips and strawberries assail the nose. Juicy, round and fruity it makes an excellent aperitif.

Craggy Range New Zealand Pinot Noir Te Muna Road 2004 e28.99 RED, BN9, TOM and selected independents Rating 18/20
We’ve waxed lyrical about Craggy Range before and we’ll probably do it again. Now the 2004 is in town I was able to do an interesting comparison with the 2003, one of my favourite Pinots. The 2004, if it’s possible is even more elegant and restrained. Te Muna means ‘special place’, pretty appropriate as the wine, in my opinion, is one of New Zealand’s top 3 pinots, the others being Ata Rangi and Felton Road.
The Te Muna Road story is an interesting one. Craggy Range Vineyards bought this patch of land for a song. It was prone to drought in summer and was some way south of the accepted good winemaking area that had attracted many premium producers. Early moves towards an ‘appellation’ delineated a crescent shaped edge of the river terrace formed by the Ruamahunga and Huangarua Rivers on the northern side of the township, about 1000 hectares of deep gravelly, free draining soils that once formed the old river bed and with the low rainfall and similar temperatures and wind patterns, it was thought to be homogenous from a viticultural point of view. Rules and regulations were defined by the new ‘Martinborough Terrace Apppellation Committee’ and in 1991 the ‘Martinborough Terrace Appellation of Origin’ system was adopted. Vineyards not on the delineated land were not considered part of the appellation. Where the gravels stopped, the appellation stopped and if the soil change ran through the middle of an existing vineyard, well too bad. Alas for the bureaucrats, Craggy Range were too big to offend and when winemaker Steve Smith sought to prove that the Te Muna region was in fact an outcrop of the main terain it was ‘game, set and match’. Today the appellation is simply called ‘Martinborough’ and everyone is happy, especially as the wines are gaining international acclaim.

Le Chardonnay de Pesquie Vin de Pays de France 2004 e11.99 Rating 13.5/20
Albarino Dona Rosa Rias Baixas e13.95 Rating 15.5/20
Both from Donnybrook Fair
They say in my part of South Dublin that you have to get dressed up if you want to shop in Donnybrook Fair. Well, maybe because when it comes to ‘smart’ the wine department is certainly getting it together. The restraint and class of the Chardonnay came as a bit of a surprise, for a co-op made wine bearing a simple VDP label. It’s no tropical fruit orchard so might not appeal to fans of Australia and Chile but it has charm in abundance.
The Albarino is quite another matter. This grape has been taken up by wine writers looking for the next big thing. Inspired by the quality of the Martin Codax, importers too, started to put their shirts on Albarino. Sorry to say, but recent tastings don’t bear out the early claims and two out of every three are real dull duffers. This one is good vibrant kit and well worth the money, particularly if you are looking for a change from the usual suspects.

Nipozzano Riserva 2001 Chianti Rufina e?? Take Home and good independents Rating 16.5/20
Volpaia Chianti Classico 2002 e18.99 Wines Direct e17.85 Rating 16.5/20
I’ve had something of a Chianti fest of late. It’s a nostalgia kick I think, putting me in mind of warm days on the terrace at Villa Mangiacane looking over the valley to the Duomo in the distance. Two Chiantis in particular struck me as worthy representatives of the old and new styles. The Volpaia is in the modern idiom, warm, approachable, huge somehow, in spite of the modest (13%) ABV. The Nipozzano is a Rufina, not to be confused with Ruffino, a producer. Rufina is a separate zone to the North East of Florence, well away from its siblings. For one reason or another it was included when Chianti was defined as a specific wine region several hundred years ago. Rufina’s long, warm and dry summers and particular terrain produce well-structured wines that stand up particularly well to ageing. The 2001 was holding back some of its elegance I felt and would benefit from putting away for another couple of years. Good job I’ve got another bottle.

La Vi Canevel Colli Trevigini IGT Prosecco e14.95 Sheridans, Galway and Dublin Rating 16/20
About as much fun as you can get for the money with its elegantly bulbous bottle and rough-hewn cork held down with string in the traditional fashion. The wine’s good too. Prosecco is sombre and serious wine, you don’t need an excuse to open it. The Charmat method makes some of the world’s worst sparklers but, employing the aromatic Prosecco grape, the guys in the Veneto achieve a liveliness and charm that budget Champagne just doesn’t have. Smart, summery, highly recommended.

First Rosé of summer
Prosecco Raboso e11, Marks & Spencer Rating 14/20
Good fizz is always welcome, good cheap fizz even more so and when you get good cheap pink fizz, well… This smart and very different sparkler gets its hue from blending a proportion of red Raboso grapes with the Prosecco. The informative back label tells you to drink within three months and that’s what you should do; else it will fade like a racehorse with my fifteen stone aboard. As of now it’s showy and extrovert, one for the garden on a summer’s day.

Friendly monster
Verget Bourgogne ‘Grand Elevage’ 2004 e38 (check price), good independents (Woods Wines) Rating 18.5/20
A very long time since I’ve come across such a whopping concentration of flavours in a 13% wine.
What is this stuff, declassified Meursault or what? Behind the plain label there’s every nuance of flavour a Chardonnay lover covets – the melons, the creme fraiche, the lot. Everyone should drink at least one bottle of this, not cheap but probably the cheapest way of finding out what great, nay, exceptional Burgundy is all about. Jean Marie Guffens, aka The Mad Belgian, is the driving force behind this dynamic Burgundy negociant firm. He’s irreverent, irascible and iconoclastic. Upon hearing that the Wine Spectator had declared one of his 1997 white Burgundies one of the best of the vintage he avowed “I went down into the cellars and told some of my assistants, ‘We must be doing something wrong.’” He’s not.

Subtle Charmer
Cookathama Riesling 2004 SV e11.49 Rating 16/20
First-rate Aussie Riesling from the unlikely area of Victoria’s King Valley. Less astringent than the Clare, Eden Valley or Adelaide Hills brigade, this bargain makes superb food wine, sublime with those shelfish and creamy sauce pastas that seem so appropriate at this time of year. Smart kit for not too much money.

Gentle giant
Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Syrah, Vin de Pays d’Oc 2003 or maybe 2004, E9.99 Dunnes Stores Rating 15.5/20
I was pleased to see this one make it into John Wilson’s excellent ‘101 Great Wines for Under e10’ for it’s been a favourite of mine for a few years. Made by a talented young winemaker with Irish connections, it’s big without being brash and soft without being sentimental. Getting on towards being the ultimate summer red.

Lay one down
Archidamo 2001 Rei di Sparta Primitivo di Manduria DOC, e11.99 O’Brien’s Rating 15.5/20
Lord knows when I received this sample but I’d put it down in the cellar and the label was almost worn off. I drank it last night, as accompaniment to clapping away on the keyboard. It was superb, the tannins still holding the wine together and myriad nuances of flavour leaping out of the glass – raisins, plums, violets, nuts, all sorts of things. It could have stayed down there anothr couple of years, too. The savvy Aussies do this all the time – buy two, put one away, that is – even with moderately-priced wines. They like to surprise you by dragging up the 1998 Woollyback Creek Shiraz and love to hear your grunts of appreciation. Try it on your friends, but not with aenemic Bordeaux from a bad year please.

Love in a cold climate
Banfi Le Rime 2005, e13.99 RED, TOM, BN9 and selected independents Rating 14.5/20
If you are looking for a white wine you can chill nigh unto death without it going all steely on you, try this. Another surefooted winner from the Tuscan giants, a lovely balanced pairing of un-mucked about with Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. Aromatic, fruity with refreshing acidity, you could make this your summertime ‘house wine’ it’s so easy to drink.

Time Traveller
Katnook Founder’s Block Shiraz 2003 e12.99 MCC, MOL Rating 14/20
Coonawarra is better known for its Cabernet than for Shiraz. Nevertheless this sassy, savoury wine stands up to be counted, delivering solid, impactful fruit backed by spice and pepper. I was intrigued by the perky gold top (reminded me of the ‘Ernie’ song though…. aaaagh!!!) which I first thought was one of the new Zork closures. This would certainly keep for a further few years.

Tesco Finest South African Chenin Blanc 2004 e8.99 Tesco rating 13.5/20
Tesco have gone through more changes over the past few years than a stripper working three shifts! UK driven they came up very fast to oust J.Sainsbury as the poll-topping supermarket wine shop. Then, just as fast, they endured a pperiod in the dolldrums. Now they are back on the up, leading the charge with some smartly-sourced wines to grace their ‘Finest’ range. This is one, a good example of the strides South Africa has made with Chenin since they stopped dunking the grape in oak. Tangy and full-bodied, but in no way cloying.

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Ten Ways to Get More Enjoyment Out of Wine

My friend and fellow food and drink fanatic Paulo Tullio once observed over dinner “You know, Ernie, there’s nothing so boring as reading what someone else ate last night”, one reason why as a critic I try and give readers a little ‘value added’; though maybe not as much as the Sunday Times’ A.A.Gill who only mentions the meal in the penultimate line!
It was a long time before it dawned on me that the same could be said about
wine writing. We wine scribes are prone to waxing lyrical about the last
stellar bottle we encountered, wrapping it in emotive language before
presenting it to the reader. Sometimes and I’m as guilty as anyone, we lose
the run of ourselves in extolling the virtues of a wine that costs a small
fortune and is about as available as an opera date with Victoria Beckham.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to take a day off from the ‘aroma of mint, mangoes, green peppers and three-year-old Adidas trainers’ scene to outline 10 ways in which you could, for little or no outlay, get more enjoyment out of your glass of wine.

1. Buy some decent glasses. Nothing improves the taste of wine so much as a glass of the right size and shape. Masters of the art are the Austrian firm Riedel, who have devised a specific wine glass for any grape variety you could name. This is maybe a bit extreme but their glasses are very good and their Chianti Classico pattern which we use for our regular tastings at FOOD & WINE Magazine are an excellent all-rounder for white and red wine. They make three ranges, the expensive hand blown Sommelier series, the machine cut Vinum series, still a great glass, plus a cheaper range specifically for restaurant use. No need to spend top dollar, these will do fine. Mitchells in Kildare Street, Dublin are the principal Riedel stockists and Brown Thomas also have them, as do many wine merchants nationwide. Other glassware manufacturers are now jumping on the bandwagon. Tipperary Crystal launched a range recently in conjunction with Michelin-starred restaurateur Patrick Guilbaud, of a quality similar to the Riedel Sommelier glasses. Waterford Crystal are about to follow suit. No matter whose glassware you buy make sure the glass is thin and the rim is clean cut, not rolled. And please don’t drink wine from chunky cut crystal, it will taste only horrid. Choose a reasonably large glass; when ‘filled’ (which means the wine should come no more than a third the way up) it should have a good head of air space to allow the wine to ‘breathe’.

2. Try spending a little more on your regular bottle of wine. Wine writers are over fond of airing the old saw that six euro’s worth of bottle only contains about twenty cent’s worth of wine but it’s true enough. If you normally buy a ten euro bottle to consume with dinner at home on a Friday night, up your spend to twelve. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes to the quality of the wine.

3. Open your mind. What’s the wine writer’s favourite grape? In nine cases out of ten it’s Riesling. There must be some good reason why. When was the last time you tasted Riesling? Not for a long time, I’d bet. And no, ‘Riesling’ doesn’t mean ‘German’, it doesn’t mean ‘sickly sweet’. Go on, give it a go, buy an Alsace Riesling or one from Australia’s Clare Valley. And while you’re in the mood to experiment, try a Chilean Carmenere or a Malbec or Bonarda from Argentina.

4. Do less glugging and more tasting. Wines reward contemplation. Sniff the bouquet, savour the mouthfeel and, when you put the glass down, relax and relish the aftertaste. At first you’ll probably feel like an eejit especially when all around you are downing the wine like the world is about to end. But who’ll get more enjoyment out of the glass, them or you?

5. Make a friend of the staff in your local wine merchants. Confide in them, tell them what kind of wine you like and what you don’t. They�ll be only too pleased to give you advice and, with at least 350 lines in the shop they�ll have no problem in finding something new and delicious for you to try.

6. Another way of widening your vinous horizon is to find a wine writer whose prose style doesn’t make you gag and follow their recommendations. Myself, Tomas Clancy, John Wilson, Raymond Blake, Martin Moran, Blake Creeden and the rest lay our livers on the line on a daily basis, each of us sampling several thousand bottles a year in order to find ones for our readers that are reliable/tasty/exciting/sensational. Tapping into all that research, free gratis, has got to be worthwhile, surely?
7. Don’t buy wine by the case unless you’ve tried a bottle of it first. Case discounts are attractive but you could get stuck with eleven bottles you hate, after you’ve poured half the first one down the sink or consigned it to tomorrow night’s gravy. What’s more the mixed cases offered by wine clubs, newspapers and magazines are often trumpeted and tricked up to sound like the bargain of the century but they rarely are. Buy in ones and twos for the time being.

8. If you are new to wine, get away from the big brands as soon as you feel confident enough to do so, at least for the time being. I’m not being snotty, I�ll happily relax with a bottle of Penfold’s Koonunga Hill, Mont Gras Cabernet, Wolf Blass President�s Selection Shiraz or Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Rose. But drinking branded wines won’t help you develop your palate or assist you to gain knowledge of wine’s many facets in the same way as an encounter with wines made by individual specialist producers will. Generally speaking, small producers make wines with character and personality; not necessarily ‘better’ wines please note but certainly ones that will give you a wider spectrum of aromas and flavours for your nose and palate to experience and maybe give you a clue as to why wine writers are always banging on about that word ‘terroir’ (by which they mean the interaction of soil, aspect and microclimate in which the grape is grown, the main factor in giving a wine its own individual character). Again, your local wine merchant is the place to start and in Ireland we are lucky because the ‘wine shop on main street’ is generally of a much higher calibre than its counterpart over the water.

9. How about a little, non-too-serious vinous education? Great for whetting your appetite for wine. Go buy a wine book, one that’s easy-to-read, doesn’t ‘talk down’ and introduces you to wine in an intelligent and light-hearted manner. One I’d recommend is ‘Thirsty Work’ by the young Australian sommelier and pal of Jamie Oliver, Matt Skinner. To be picky, there are more than a few inaccuracies but it’s written in a lively, pacy style that will maintain your interest. Or anything by Oz Clarke. Use the web, too, it’s very wine-friendly. Jamie Goode’s ‘The Wine Anorak’ (www.wineanorak.com) is very educational and easy to assimilate, as is Robin Garr’s ‘Wine Lover’s Page’ (www.wineloverspage.com ). Take a look at Martin Moran’s www.winerepublic.comAnd, dare I say it, my own ‘Forkncork’ contains some unstuffy articles on wine. “Google before you gargle”, that’s the motto! You might even want to go on a course. The Wine Development Board (www.wineboard.com) organises structured courses, the higher echelons of which are aimed at people working in the trade. Many wine merchants run less formal, more funky events, from one-off tastings to courses over a number of weeks.

10. Have fun. Try this: organise your own blind tasting. Persuade five friends to bring a bottle each round to your house, ideally of the same style or grape variety, maybe start on South African Chardonnay, say, or Aussie Shiraz. Don’t forget to buy a bottle yourself. When they arrive, grab the bottles off them and Sellotape paper bags over them so the labels are obscured. Then get someone else to rearrange them in a different order and taste away. Have on hand a packet of water biscuits, a jug of tap water, glasses and an improvised spittoon � someone’s bound to be driving. If you are self conscious about spitting, practise in advance, with a glass of water in the privacy of your own bathroom. I’m not ashamed to say that I did this when I first got into the wine writing game, 30 years ago. Some pro tasters can hit the head of a pin at five paces but I’m afraid I�m still not in the slightly messy league! Get everyone to write down their thoughts; after a relaxing glass they won’t be afraid to air them and nor should you. Don’t worry if you think it sounds naff. Certain white wines are often said to taste ‘flinty’ but tell me, who, wine scribe or no, has ever tasted flint? It might be naff but it’s great craic and that’s what’s important. So, enjoy.

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