Tag Archives: Cabernet Sauvignon

Bordeaux For Beginners

Appellations d’Origine Controlée, to give them their full title, operate at 4 levels:
Generic regional AC – Bordeaux, covers red, white, rosé and sparklers from the region.
Slightly posher is Bordeaux Superior – to achieve this a grower has to squeeze out an extra half per cent alcohol.
Specific regional AC cover large areas Entre-deux-Mers, Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux, Haut Médoc for exmple.
Village ACs – Within a few of the regions a few of the notable villages have their own AC, e.g. St-Estèphe, Margaux, Sauternes.
Blending of Bordeaux wines from their consituent varieties.
Barrique (Bordelaise)
The famous 225l Bordeaux barrel that had replaced the unwieldy 900l Tonneau by the end of the 18th century. Today the word is in use world-wide.
Impressive city on the Garonne river on France’s West Coast. Total area under vines around 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) with around 12,500 producers. Centre of a huge wine trade, rising to pre-eminence in 1152 when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet, later King of England as Henry II.
Northernmost area of Bordeaux where wine is part of the mixed agrarian economy. Drink Bertinerie and Haut-Bertinerie, leave the rest alone.
Charming name for the broker who interfaces between the grower and the négotiant for a small commission. Another profit centre in the chain.
Don’t look for any castles (the literal translation). Châteaux are sometimes palatial mansions like Margaux, Lafite, Bécheville, Cos d’Estournel. More often they are simple farmhouses. Some wine estates bearing the prefix ‘Château…’ have no house at all.
Côtes de Bourg
Area of some potential on the right bank of the Dordogne where it flows into the Gironde. Good earthy wines but Bourg growers need to modernise and invest if they are to rise above the mundane.
1855 Classification
The earliest attempt to introduce a pecking order (based on market price) and subsequently revised. Important to remember it was limited to the Médoc.
Entre-deux-Mers Beguiling white and red wine area between the Dordogne and the Garonne. Gorgeous landscape but much of the wine is only of average quality and marketed under the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur labels
Neologism for smart, small-scale producers making fruit-forward wines for early-drinking or good ones for a niche market. Some have been elevated to cult status. Many started in St-Emilion where land was relatively cheap.
Grape varieties All Bordeaux wines are blends. Principally Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc for reds and Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillion for whites. Others such as Malbec, Petit Verdot, Muscadelle and Columbard crop up in small quantities to do a specific job.
Graves & Pessac-Leognan
In the north, a bank of gravel now encroached upon by the suburbs of Bordeaux, disintegrating in the South into sand and clay amid pine forests, meadows and orchards. Produces both red (including legendary Haut-Brion) and white wines. Classified in 1953 and 1959.
A monotonously flat, undistinguished-looking strip of land adjacent to the left bank of the Garonne, that hosts many of the greatest red wines of the world. To view the Médoc is to wonder why. The answer: soil, climate, tradition, all play a part. Incorporates the villages and communes of Margaux, Moulis and Listrac, St-Julien, Pauillac, St-Estèphe, Haut-Médoc and Médoc.
Negotiant (négoce)
There are 400 of them. French term for a merchant, many of whom in Bordeaux own châteaux. According to the CIVB brochure these guys have “a role of regulators with power to smooth the fluctuation prices that can be so harmful to the market” – hmm… we wonder! Some offer a technical service to poorer growers and are frequently abused by the same for bumping up prices. Not so all-powerful as in Burgundy but nevertheless an integral element in the Bordeaux wine trade that inhibits buying direct.
Noble Rot
An amazing process. The grapes shrivel after botrytis spores latch onto and weaken the skin. Farewell water content, hello high sugar, glycerol and acidity. The grapes eventually reach a ‘roasted’, totally shrivelled stage at which point they are carefully harvested and used, in Sauternes, to make dessert wines of explosive concentration.
Other Classifications
Graves had to wait until 1953 for reds and 1959 for whites. St.Emilion’s is revised every ten years. Pomerol has none.The Crus Bourgeois of the Médoc had a revision in 2003 and some are still whingeing.
Tiny, 7.5 sq mile, area NE of Libourne where Merlot is King. Rich, soft-centred wine exemplified by Ch. Pétrus, greatest and most expensive red wine in the world.
Tourist gem town SE of Bordeaux with many vineyards that restore your faith in picturesque sites. Here Cabernet Franc, called locally Bouchet, thrives on the limestone slopes. Best wines are Chx.Ausonne and Cheval Blanc.
Sauternes and Barsac
Another area classified in 1855, for its luscious sweet wines of which d’Yquem is foremost. Until recently when they have staged something of a comeback Sauternes were ludicrously underpriced. Sémillon is the main grape employed.

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Napa Night Out Ruined by "Flunkeys with Attitude"

September heralds the season not of mists and mellow fruitfulness but of blisters and blackened tongues as wine scribes hustle to accommodate a “double shifts and Sundays too” routine of tastings. A veritable host of Spaniards, French, Italians, Kiwis and Aussies flock to town to tout their wares. Argentina and Chile empty as winemakers head for Europe. Raymond, Mary, Martin, John, Tomas, Myles, Liam and the gang spend more time with each other during this month than they do with their spouses.
I suppose the most pleasurable affair of the whole shebang is the annual visit of the winemakers of Napa, a region of California rightly hailed as the USA’s number one location for the noble grape. These worthies arrived under the banner of a Fall 2004 Trade Mission, en route for Hamburg and London. The last two destinations I can understand. Why they come to Dublin, however, is unclear in the main, though some were seeking representation. Napa wine can never be cheap as the microeconomics of the region militate against bulk sales. Real estate is expensive and labour costs high. There’s a fdeal of investment in technology. Ageing and oak casking also bump up the eventual bottle price as does the cost of transatlantic transportation. What’s more the market for premium wines here is not huge and what punters there are tend to be conservative, favouring Burgundy and, particularly Bordeaux.
So it’s an uphill struggle but nevertheless they come and they love coming. I went out to dinner with a group of them, to a private dining club on Stephen’s Green. Ah, I thought, as I climbed the steps, this place must be one of the last bastions of courtesy and civility, pluperfect venue for showing our American friends lashings of Old World charm. In a pig’s eye!
From the concierge who was loath to let me across the threshold until I could be vouched for, through the waiters who confiscated Californian cameras with the zeal of cold war cops, to the charming man who hurled invective at our host (who had contributed 75% of the dining room revenue that night), these were Flunkeys With Attitude.
The wines we drank with the meal were Clos du Val, at the Stag’s Leap end of the valley. The vineyard has an interesting history. In 1970 American businessman John Goelet commissioned winemaker Bernard Portet to find an unmapped territory with potential to make world class wines. Two years and five continents later, Portet wound up in Napa, sampling the microclimate intuitively by driving with his arm out of the window. Taken with the undulating terrain and cool evenings, he persuaded the tycoon to purchase 150 acres. Thus was Clos du Val – ‘a small estate in a small valley’ founded in 1972.
The first vintage of limited release handcrafted wines was one of five Californian Cabernet Sauvignons selected for the now legendary ‘head-to-head’ tasting in Paris, in 1976, an event widely regarded as the coming-of-age of Napa wines. The same wine featured in the rematch ten years later.
Clos du Val wines come in three flights. At present only the entry level Classic range is available in Ireland, via O’Brien’s although the Estates and Reserves, the last made only in years of exceptional quality, are scheduled to follow. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 is balanced and distinctive, the tannins resolving nicely to imbue the wine with smooth, rounded flavours, a good introduction to the house style.
A favourite, again at the affordable end of Napa is St.Supéry who produce an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc and a fine Bordeaux blend, Meritage. Other names to look out for include Far Niente, Duckhorn, Oakville Ranch (gorgeous Chardonnay) and one new to me, Trefethen, whose Riesling particularly impressed. Joseph Phelps are a premium producer and their Bordeaux blend, Insignia and vibrant Chardnnay, Ovation are a tribute to their painstaking methodology. Heitz, another top dog, exhibited several vintages of rich and ripe Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet. Finally, if you have a small legacy to spare, you could do worse than lay down the exquisite Shafer Merlot., good value for what it is at around e50.
A whistle-stop tour of Greater Budapest sandwiched between tasting bouts served to remind me what a great wine Tokaji is. I also found an interesting herbal digestif, Unicum which, for it’s medicinal purposes as well as for the big square cross on the label we christened ‘Ambulance’. Teaming it with with the local dark beer brought new meaning to the term ‘ambulance chaser!’. The trip also convinced me that the standard of erudition amongst wine writers in Ireland is second to none. One Buda bluffer, a Dutch scribe, insisted that Pinotage was the third grape in a particular Tokaji alongside Furmint and Muscat; what’s more, no one seemed to cotton on that Rhine Riesling and Olasz Riesling are not the same thing or even related, though several tasters mentioned that the wine under review was“untypical.” Surprise, surprise.

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Wine Update August

Ch. de BASTET 2003 cotes de Rhone
Cuvee St.Jean
Another winner from Mary Pawle. Lovely fresh flavours. No info on the label but presumably mainly Viognier. Entirely non-cloying & lovely.

Undoubtedly classy, but lost a bit of its zip. Getting away from where I want SB to be, but most people will absolutely love this.

CHABLIS 2002 Domaine William Fevre
The bog-standard base Chablis from a very smart wunderkind, Didier Seguier.
Superb stuff and knocks spots off certain other peoples’ PC and GC. Fragrant, fresh, refreshing, I could drink 3 botts with or without food!

MEDOC 2002. Not much else on the label.
Someone brought this to my party but I’ll get them back one day! Mean as gnat shite, all that’s bad about anonymous Bordeaux chemical plants. Simply awful.

After the previous wine a big hooray for this surprisingly elegant Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Pays Catalan. Oak aged, proud and worthy of it, the tannins have resolved to give firm, supple wine with an abundance of cassis fruit. Great value for the money – better than many a Frenchie.
e13.99, Le Caveau, Kilkenny

Fellow ‘Roamin’ Goats’ Petanque Team member Sean Bennett generously sent me this one in an attempt to convince me that 1999 Bordeaux isn’t totally pants. Okay, Sean, you’re right – up to a point. Nice weight of fruit, some complexity, but still a bit green and stalky and personally I don’t think it gets any better than this. My advice for what it’s worth is, if you have a cellar full of ’99 Claret start drinking it now. John D Rockefeller, when asked how he made his fortune, said “By always selling short” – a philosophy wine collectors should try and emulate.

Managed to locate a few bottles of this gem at a supermarket in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan. Wonderful, honeyed, elegant, complex, nuts, nutmeg, cinnamon all sorts of Christmassy things going on as well as spring flowers. Yet with a bone dry finish. Substantial mouthfeel, altogether brilliant wine making and so different and distinctive. I love this style, this wine.
e19.19 and worth every damn cent.

Top dollar price for non “Cru” Chablis but this one is rather good and puts many a Premier Cru to shame. It says “Vendanges Manuelles” , presumably hand-picked. Full, lemony and zesty it would repay keping a year or two. Liked a lot.
e20.99 , The Vintage and various indeps.

e17 from those hardworking lads at Dunnes Stores and worth every penny and a bit more. Weighty, substantial, serious.
Mary’s said it, Raymond’s said it, I’ve siad it. J.M Brocard is A Good Thing.

LABOURE-ROI Chablis 1er Cru 1998
In contrast, all the tired fady nonsense I’ve come to expect from this negotiant-eleveur who needs a bloody good shaking imo. Unsound and unenjoyable. 3/10 could try much harder. Can’t remember where I got it, don’t much care.

Citrus, mangoes and yes…pumpkin pie benefitting from oak ageing. Complex, stylish, all I’ve come to expect from this engaging company who are definitely listed among the talented mavericks of the Aussie wine establishment. In the words of the sage Kevin Keegan – “Simply love it!”

“What!” you say. That’s right a Borgundy, or is at a Burdeaux. No matter, it sort of works, because the wine making’s restrained enough to let the fruit shine through and they had the good sense to call at halt at 12.5% ABV. I’ve learned to expect a lot from Albet i Noya and this combo in no way disappointed, it was soft, sunny and utterly user-friendly. Another organic tour de force from my hero Mary Pawle, available at around e11.50. Try Quay Co-op, Cork; Connemara Hamper, Clifden or Listons, Camden St, Dublin.

An attempt to make a ‘terroir’ wine by selecting grapes fom various plots in the vineyard. A good idea from a top Chilean maker. Unfortunately the grape is “here today/gone tomorrow” Sauvignon Blanc so as it’s four years old it lacks a bit of zip. I’d love to taste the 2003 version. Still, at around e13, very decent winemaking. Oddbins

BON COURAGE NOBLE LATE HARVEST 2002. One of a brace of stickies I picked up at the vineyard in Robertson, SA. Probably drunk a bit young but Paolo Tullio and I both thought it gorgeous. As well as decent Syrah, Bon C make rather good dessert wine. Look for the ‘Weisser Riesling’ too.

Chilean winemaking at its best. Skilful, thoughtful, elegant berry fruit, cassis, mint, violets all fusing nicely as the holding tannins recede. Keeping properties too, I’d say.
Should be readily available, I’ll check price.

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La Rioja

It is difficult nowadays to imagine the impact that Rioja had on the wine drinker when it burst into our consciousness some forty years ago. Let me set the scene. For starters, Bordeaux and Burgundy, our favourite tipple, had started to escalate in price. Whereas in the 1960s the difference in cost between a merely respectable and a good bottle was only a pound or two, the gap had started to widen, putting the better wines beyond the reach of the average drinker. Then there were the great scandals – the revelation that, in a poor year, some of our hallowed names had souped up their wines by a judicious admixture of grapes from The Midi impacted on our confidence. The humorous magazine Punch summed it up rather well with a satirical guide to wine labelling that included ‘Mis en bouteille au chateau – there is a picture of a castle on the label’.
Rioja was undoubtedly given a boost by the well-propagated myth that its wine industry had been started by the French – ‘myth’ because wine had been made in the upper Ebro valley by the Romans. The French connection came about because of an outbreak of mildew in Bordeaux vineyards in the 1840s. Bordeaux wine brokers went south in search of reliable supplies and hit upon La Rioja. Wine makers and French technology followed in their wake although, remarkably, and with one exception, they did not bring with them their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines, being content to work with the local variety, Tempranillo. With the devastation caused by phylloxera in the 1860s, the procession South intensified. Rioja gained an unprecedented boom which lasted until the turn of the century when the dreaded louse arrived in the region to cause the same havoc it had earlier caused in France. This and the loss of a lucrative market as Spain’s colonial interests dwindled sent the industry into decline.Then, in the late 1960s, Rioja was rediscovered, re-born as “affordable claret-style wine.” Boom time once again.
Though Rioja was the first and is still the most highly regulated area in Spanish winemaking, the regulations haven’t always worked in the region’s favour. The emphasis on barrel maturation has led to some faded, heavily oxidised wines – if you are subjecting a wine to extended barrel ageing then the base product has to be pretty good and that hasn’t always been the case. Nevertheless, the best reds are sublime and you have a choice between the old-style, matured in American oak, silky, aromatic and medium bodied and the new upfront ‘fruit bombs’ made in that international style that the market seems to demand. Names to try include my favourite, Muga; Monte Real; Olarra; the two Marqueses, Murrieta and Riscal; also that runaway commercial success and Ireland’s choice, Faustino.

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SOLE SEARCHING – pairing wine with fish

No subject causes diners so much angst, or wine writers so many headaches, as the pairing of wine and food.

There are three schools of thought on wine and food pairings. There are the people who say “drink what you like to drink” and I have some sympathy with this view. The second school follows the ‘rules’ developed by wine writers over many years which lay down specific matches – red wine with red meat, white wine with fish. Unfortunately by the late-20th century these rules had become set in stone, offering no solution to a diner seeking wines to complement the vibrant international cuisine rapidly becoming commonplace in restaurants and homes. The third school, to which on balance I belong, takes pains to find elemental matches while, at the same time, stressing that there are no perfect pairings and few imperfect ones, or in a nutshell “anything goes, but some things go better than others”.
The emergence of ethnic and that much abused word, ‘fusion’, cooking liberated wine writers from having to expound the conventional wisdom and caused them to focus instead on the food on the plate. At the same time the new availability of hitherto ‘undiscovered’ or neglected varietals presented further oportunities to re-write the canon. Nevertheless, we cannot discount entirely the old truisms. White wine is undoubtedly the perfect foil for white fish and it would be a brave wine or food writer indeed who would challenge the classic pairing of wild salmon and Chablis.
The first rule, if there is a rule, must be ‘look to the region’ and a brief scan of a topographical map of France will reveal that the upper reaches of many of that nation’s most notable salmon rivers run either through the Burgundy region or close to its fringes. Go to the Vendee or to the Charente Maritime and suss out what the locals are drinking with their oysters and you’ll find it’s invariably Muscadet, made a mere thirty or so miles inland around the lower reaches of the Loire. It applies in the New World too. Although New Zealanders are far less zealous about ‘what they drink with what’, the Taupo fisherman, celebrating the landing of a monster trout, invariably wolfs the monster down accompanied by a glass or three of Sauvignon Blanc.
Here’s the next clue – acidity. After years of experimentation I’ve come to the conclusion that wines with a high acidity level suit fish, simply cooked, to perfection. And before anyone writes in to say “that’s so obvious” I’ll agree, yes it is. But before I came to these conclusions I went down many a false trail – New World Chardonnay and Riesling to name but two. Okay, so why don’t we drink Muscadet, better still Gros Plant – wine’s equivalent of battery acid – with everything? There are two reasons: the first being that these are not terribly satisfying wines in their own right. More important is that super-sharp acidity has its own natural counterbalance – salt. Which is why Muscadet goes so well with oysters, Fino Sherry with anchovies and Vino Verde with sardines. Reduce or take away the salt factor and lean, austere, high in acid wines taste… lean, austere, high in acid.
So cool climate Chardonnay, not over-oaked, with your wild salmon – I won’t eat farmed salmon anyway so I’m not going to comment further. Although Pinot Noir from one of the less serious appelations can work if you’d prefer to drink red – the Burgundian thing again! And a good Sancerre, perhaps, with your unsullied cod, haddock, hake or black sole. Lovely. But let’s stress again the lack of dogma and say if you like to play with Pinot Grigio or Gavi, fine.
Add a sauce, the kaleidoscope gets shaken up and the picture changes. Although to me anyone who puts more than a plain hollandaise with salmon, or a beurre blanc with a few strands of fennel and the odd shrimp with a fine hunk of white fish, is nothing short of a vandal. Alsace Riesling, ultimate all-purpose food wine, and, perhaps, that fine grape Gruner Veltliner become possibilities. The Sauvignon can be New World. Or you could go for broke and drink one of the more full-bodied Champagnes.
Mackerel always presents me with a problem. Fresh caught, I love this fish. But I love it most in summer accompanied by a puree of beetroot and horseradish or wasabi; or by a sauce made from my own gooseberries, a dessert variety, not too tart. Provocative stuff when it comes to matching; and the answer is… oak! Here’s where New World Chardonnay starts to do it for me. Not the currently fashionable unoaked ones but the big old traddies. Hunter Valley Semillons work fine too. Smoked food can do weird things to wine. Nevertheless, for me, smoked Irish salmon (note the wording) and Alsace Pinot Blanc are food and drink’s equivalent of Rodgers and Hart.
I love fish (and shellfish) cooked in Asian styles – Goan curries for example, Thai ways with prawns – chili, lemongras, galangal, palm sugar coatings; or the crab or sea bass baked with ginger and scallions that the Chinese do so well. With onion-heavy curries tannins help counteract the richness suggesting, against all the odds, Cabernet Sauvignon. Any sweetness in the food, I counterbalance with big, soft rounded flavours – Semillon, Viognier or Gruner Veltliner perhaps in whites and Merlot, Grenache or Zinfandel in reds.
Scientists say the tongue’s taste receptors can detect five aspects of flavour: sweetness, sourness, salinity and bitterness, plus the umami, best described perhaps as a kind of ‘feel good factor’. Similarly, when seeking wine to go with Asian food I like to separate the food into its components. Chilli, ginger and coriander in particular, are hard to deal with. Zinfandel used to be my preference but latterly I’ve come to believe that Riesling is your only man with Thai food, particularly fish dishes.
Chinese food, goes well with Gewürztraminer, pundits tell you and the match of the aforsaid baked sea bass and a decent Alasce Gewurz (and there are few bad ones) is one made in heaven. However, not everyone appreciates this highly spiced and perfumed grape and as alternatives I would suggest maybe a Viognier, Rousanne or Marsanne.

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South African Wines


Stopped quite a few wines from going bad on our trip, and sniffed, slurped, spat many more. Here are a few random musings on a country where the quality’s getting better year by year.

Agusta Chardonnay 2001. Franschhoek.
Smart, quite classy Chard with lime and grapefruit notes and sensitive use of oak; still developing. Rated: VERY GOOD

Backsberg Estate Chardonnay 2002 Paarl
Sensitively-oaked example, with marzipan and toast flavours contrasting with lemony notes. Rated: GOOD

Bartho Eksteen Sauvignon Blanc 2003 Hermanus
Rich, dessert gooseberry on the palate, almost NZ-ish in its intensity. One of SA’s best. Would have liked to have tasted the Premier Choix but alas couldn’t find it. Rated: VERY GOOD

Beaumont Chardonnay 2001
Fat grassy Chard of some class from unfashionable Bot River. Though it carries a punch at 14% there are no heavy vulgar tropical fruit flavours. Good winemaking. Rated: VERY GOOD to EXCELLENT

Beaumont Chenin Blanc 2001
Nicely ageing example of what’s rated as one of SA’s classier “Steens”. Herby, lemony flavours with a slight hint of marzipan. Not Savennieres but very nice. Rated; GOOD, WELL MADE

Bellingham Chardonnay Spitz series 2002 Wellington
Smart stuff from this modern winery; oaked, natural ferment, keen attention to acid balance so while its opulent with marzipan and oriiental spices it’s in no way fatiguing to drink Rated: EXCELLENT

Bloemendal Estate Semillon 2002
Quite liked this, especially as a change from SB and Chard. Rich and refined, pointed up by zippy acid that I’m sure will soften over time Rated: INTERESTING

Bon Courage Chardonnay Prestige Cuvee 2002 Robertson
Worthy attempt at a Euro-styled chard with great attention paid to acid balance and a certain mineral elan.Rated: EXTREMELY LIKEABLE, SOME CLASS

Ambeloui Miranda MCC 2001/2/3 Hout Bay
MCC stands for “Method Cape Classique” the approved term for what was called “Method Champenoise” until those stern lads from France came in with their big boots. This absolute pearl, from a tiny property just outside Cape Town gets my vote for one of SA’s top three fizzers – lovely full bouquet, bubbles to burn and that lovely toasted fresh bread taste you get from sparklers where the fruit (pinot and chard) has been generously bestowed. Increasing the percentage of new oak each year means it should get even better. Yum! Rated: BRILLIANT

Avondale Les Pleurs Merlot 2000 Paarl
Class act with a good deal of subtlety, tannins relaxing nicely, well endowed with full, soft fruit but enough acid to prevent it from getting lush and OTT. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bartho Ekstein Shiraz 2001 Hermanus
Liked this a good deal – perfumed, spicy, whopping wine, amazed to find it was only 13.5 ABV – a huge mouthful, still developing. Rated: GREAT POTENTIAL

Beamont Shiraz 2001
Hefty, muscular Shiraz with smoky bacon overtones coupled with the paprika-based spiciness of authentic goulash. Interesting stuff. Rated: EXCELLENT

Beyerskloof Synergy 2001 & 2002
Amazing Pinotage/CS/Merlot blend and even a bit of Shiraz sneaks into the 02. Straightforward, honest wine of some complexity from Beyers Truter, king of Pinotage. )I felt the 02 was already much more approachable than its elder brother. Rated: INTERESTING

Beyerskloof Pinotage 2002 If you have to drink Pinotage this is the one. Not for me, though, I can get the same buzz from licking newly tarmacked roads on a hot summer’s day. Rated: OF ITS KIND, GREAT

Bloemendal Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 Durbanville. Hinted at qual but still very hard and green. Will it soften? Dunno but apparently Bloemendal have a reputation for slow-burners. Rated: MAYBE

Boekenhoutskloof Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2001 Franschhoek.
Like the name, a big mouthful at 14.2%, packed with dark plummy fruit and the sweaty saddle thing – my god how I hate that description. Rated: HUGE BUT LACKS CLASS

Bon Courage Syrah Inkara 2001 Robertson
Going to be great I think, but heavy going as of now. Cold steel feel, like young Cote Rotie. But did enough to hint at potential. Rated: VERY PROMISING, INTERESTING

Bon Courage Shiraz 2002
Curiously the one that’s matured only in French oak is called “Shiraz”. Lighter style, more approachable now. Smart stuff. Rated: GOOD, WELL MADE

Bon Courage Cabernet Sauvignon Inkara 2000 Limited release.
Middle of the road Cab Sauv of no particular distinction. Rated: FAIRLY ORDINARY

Bonnievale Shiraz 2002 Bonnievale, Robertson
Easy drinker of no particular distinction. Muted nose. Rated: AVERAGE

Avontuur Above Royalty Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2001 Stellenbosch/Helderburg
The excellence of the stickies came as a major surprise on this trip and this was one of the best. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bon Courage Noble Late Harvest 2002. Lightweight (10%) classy Riesling sticky already showing luscious dried fruits, apricots and figs, great balance. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bon Courage White Muscadel 2002 Really interesting and weighty sticky with floral aromatics. Liked this a lot. Really good winemaking with added pizzazz from fruit acids. Rated: EXCELLENT, ORIGINAL


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Brilliant Red Wine

I make no apologies for singing the praises of this wine, one of the top five reds I’ve driunk this year so far.
Mas Igneus 2000 comes from Priorat in NE Spain – from a local cooperative lent a hand by stylish producers Albet y Noya.
The wine is a joyous, singing, complex red – brilliant stuff – Garnacha/Carinena with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon to lend backbone and keeping quality.
It’s organic, too and costs around euro 18 from importer Mary Pawle and other suppliers I’ll add in as soon as I have them. Recommended

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Cellar Restaurant game fortnight

The Cellar Restaurant at The Merrion Hotel in Dublin are holding a game promotion in October.
Chef Ed Cooney has devised some superb dishes. I was asked to select wines (chosen from the Merrion’s wine list) to accompany them. Here are my choices, and the reasons for making them:

“It’s a mistake to imagine that game is all about aggressive flavours. Partridge, in particular, can be wonderfully delicate and fine. And when it comes to finding wine to go with it I’d say that farmed deer is more versatile than beef. On the other hand, venison, grouse and wild mallard with their rowdy intensity do cause problems when it comes to finding wines to go with them. To give you a ‘for instance’ I love hefty, old-style Chateauneuf du Pape, Vieux Telegraphe, say, or La Nerthe; I also love venison, slow-roasted with aromatic herbs, juniper berries and bay leaves somewhere in the mix. But if I bring the two together, it’s not a match; it’s a mismatch, with only one winner – the wine gets floored, somewhere around the third mouthful.”

Pressed wood pigeon and venison terrine with apricots and sage
Sipp-Mack Rosacker Grand Cru Alsace Riesling 2000
This exceptional Riesling has had its fair share of attention from FOOD & WINE’s wine colunmists, me included. Goes beautifully with this colourful terrine that’s much more subtle than the ingredients suggest. Heightens the sweetness of the apricots without in any way cloying.

Prosciutto-wrapped rabbit leg with mustard mash and marjoram jus
Chianti Classico La Selvanella 1998
There’s a natural affinity between Chianti and rabbit, especially when you wrap it in prosciutto and cloak it with a marjoram jus, very nostalgic for me. A good producer and some bottle age puts some backbone behind the morello cherry flavours.

Breast of mallard duck, with confit leg, roast shallots, madeira jus and pommes Anna
Plaisir de Merle Chardonnay 2001 South Africa
I thought it would be wonderful to find a white wine to accompany this dish and looked long and hard before choosing the Plaisir de Merle. It’s quite a big mouthful but much more intelligent and restrained than many of its Australian cousins and stands up well to the slight sweetness in the roast shallots and Madeira jus.

Roasted red leg partridge with walnut mashed potatoes, chicory candied onions with its own juices
Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2001
Any wine drunk with this dish has quite a bit to do for the flavours are complex.The safe route would be to put a right bank Bordeaux in there. Instead I went for the rounded delicacy of this new world charmer that’s rapidly becoming one of my favourites.

Braised haunch of red deer with celeriac puree, roast root vegetables and kummel cream
Chateau Ramage la Batisse, Bordeaux, 1998
Chateau Grand Puy Ducasse, Pauilac 1997
Two choices for this mighty dish in which Ed has allowed the glorious choir of gamey flavours to sing hallelujah with only muted background sha-la-las. Good Bordeaux with well-resolved tannins but with some presence is a must. Ramage is an old flame, ‘humble’ it’s not and I do like the ‘98s. Upscale, the ‘97s are drinking well, so the GPD is the ‘spoil yourself’ option. Lovely.

Salad of tea-smoked mallard breast with rosy grapefruit, peanuts and pickled wallnuts
Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc 1998
Casillero del Diablo Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
A couple of rugby analagies: Mondavi’s classic marketing ploy ‘Oak and smoke’ sells the dummy to the sweet-and-sour accompaniment while making room for the subtly-smoked mallard to play. In contrast, Chilean cabernet, of which this is a better-than-average example, is fruit-laden and combative, able to tackle the grapefruit and pickled walnuts head on.

The game promotion starts on 9th October

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Terroirism… a scary scenario

Talking to young sommeliers is very character-building, I’ve decided. These shining early twenty-somethings, armed with the questing mind and capacity for absorbing complex information I used to pride myself on, are a constant reminder to me not to take anything as set in stone. Having clocked up 40-odd years drinking wine (from the sublime to the diabolical ) there’s a tendency to think “been there; done that; worn out, never mind worn the t-shirt” and lapse into a kind of elder statesman cynicism. Which is a shame.

So when something or someone comes along and jogs you out of your complacency that’s A Good Thing. When Michel Chapoutier breezed into town like the mistral earlier this year saying “Don’t worry overly about the nose. Wines with huge upfront noses often don’t give you much at the other end” it caused me to revise my tasting technique. Subsequently, I’ve got much more laid back. In the past, if a wine’s given me little on the nose I’ve noted it as ‘muted’ or ‘dumb’ or, worse, ‘anonymous’ or ‘boring’. It’s consequently been harder for that wine, no matter how complex the favours, impactful the mouthfeel or extended the length, to climb back into my esteem. These days I adopt a ‘wait and see’ policy that’s altogether fairer on the wine.

But altogether the most debate-provoking stuff I’d heard since a certain Spaniard told me, back in the eighties, that in his opinion he made better wine than Latour or Lafite came in the shape of a 90-minute lecture on terroir given by Ed Flaherty of Errazuriz. Ed’s talk and visual presentation was punctuated by a tasting of 24 wines, in flights of 2 or 3, all, save one, Cabernet Sauvignon. The first pair we were presented with were identical, other than that one had been made from grapes picked from a vine that had been trimmed back to 8 leaves per shoot, whereas the other was made from grapes picked where the shoot had been pruned to 16 leaves. The wines were totally different, exhibiting aromas and flavours from opposite ends of the spectrum. Next, a flight of three, from grapes harvested at different times, all else being equal. Again, the wines were spectacularly diverse. And so it went on. We were presented with another flight of three, made from grapes harvested in different plots of the same vineyard – one yielded a blockbuster, originally clocked at 15.4% ABV before dilution to 14.8, the other two fairly ‘normal’, if that’s the word, but diametrically opposed in style. Fascinating thought provoking stuff.

One conclusion, the obvious one, was that terroir works – the time-honoured combination of soil, aspect and climate, especially when juxtaposed with the new sciences like canopy management and modern maturation techniques does dramatically influence the aroma/taste/quality/character of the finished wine, QED.

Reflecting after the event, I became aware of a slightly sinister sub-text. I imagined a scenario where, given the appropriate grape variety (“Please no Merlot” screams Ed Flaherty “It’s wholly unsuited to Chile”), these techno-savvy Chileans could make whatever style of wine they please – easy drinking or big hitting; light and user-friendly or dark and mysterious; for instant gratification or long keeping; right or left bank-style; the technology is in place. All it needs is a Machiavellian mastermind to bend terroir, Svengali-like, to his will. So if tastes change and the mass market begins to tire of huge fruit bombs… Got it? Look out, Bordeaux and Burgundy. And don’t say I didn’t warn you!

News just in on a bilateral agreement between Canada and the EC. The agreement marks the culmination of four years of negotiation and a happy, backslapping time was had by all. EC Commissioner for Agriculture Franz Fishler highlighted the decision by Canadian winemakers to adopt
the “VQA” system of quality standards applied to winemaking as crucial. “This reflects the European approach and enabled substantial progress on the sensitive issue of winemaking standards.” Apparently the decision by Canadian winemakers to turn their backs on use of European names was the key breakthrough needed for an agreement. “No more ‘Chablis’, ‘Port’, ‘Sherry’ ‘Sauternes’, ‘Claret’ or ‘Champagne’ we promise.” Or ‘Grappa’ or ‘Ouzo’ two years hence.

So what do the Canucks get out of it? Well, Rye Whisky will be protected in Europe as a distinctive product of Canada. Doesn’t seem much of a trade off, does it, one concession for so many? Apparently the two sets of negotiators are still locking horns over ‘Highland Whisky’.

Nearer home, in a Dublin wine merchants, we saw a range of what could once legitimately be sold as South African Ports listed as ‘Orts’!

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Good Stuff from Spain

To understand Spanish wine it’s necessary to understand two things. One is that near everyone in the country, North to South, East to West drinks it. By the mid 1980s it had more land under vines than any other country in the world yet in production terms it only ranked fourth, trailing behind France, Italy and what was then The Soviet Union. So, lowish yields then, which in itself is no bad thing. The second is that the viticultural tradition goes back a long way – to the Phoenicians and Greeks of the 5th and 4th centuries BC.
The region most familiar to us is Rioja and for this we have to thank, if that’s the word, the phylloxera bug that devastated French vineyards in the 1860s. As Bordeaux became infested, so winemakers moved south and re-established themselves in Rioja, introducing their winemaking methods and, in particular, maturation in oak barrels.
The great heyday of Rioja came in the 1970s when French wines became expensive and drinkers, particularly in UK and USA sought an alternative with some class for less money. Then as Rioja itself got expensive and as over-production led, with some honourable exceptions, to a lowering of standards, other regions of Spain came to prominence.
Today names such as La Mancha, Valdepenas, Penedes and Navarra are common on wine labels. They have recently been joined by the like of Priorato, Ribiero del Duero, Rias Baixas and others, offering excellent wines for reasonable money and even the odd superstar.

The label’s pretty austere. Just a small golden key and the words Cabernet Finca Antigua 2001 surrounded by “white space”.
On the reverse, you are told that the wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, from La Mancha and that it matured in stainless tanks before getting treated to 6 months in new American oak. Where’s the aromas of mint and blackcurrant, where’s the fresh’n’fruity I hear you say. Well, don’t worry the lack of verbose crap on the label is no barrier to enjoyment because, quite the reverse, this wine speaks for itself. One of the best reds I’ve had for ages, it’s abundantly joyful, with background tannins evident but not destructive. Morello cherry and plum flavours, a midweight polished mouthfeel and a stayer’s finish make for a decent drop indeed and I’d venture to suggest it will get better if you can keep your hands off it for a year or two.
Cabernet Finca Antigua 2001. Brechin Watchorn, Claudios and other good independents, real value at e11.49

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