Tag Archives: Chardonnay

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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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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Suaver Soave

Visitors to Ireland, particularly those who have travelled via the United Kingdom, frequently express favourable opinions of the quality of our wine emporia, praise often coupled with positive remarks about the knowledge of their staff. Maybe the latter is not so surprising. After all, we are an education conscious country – as a friend, a mother of five remarked “Why shouldn’t we be? Education costs an arm and a leg here, that’s why we value it so much!” Domestic economics apart, there’s no doubt that the Irish are inquisitive by nature and maybe it’s this healthy curiosity that has led to a positive plethora of wine courses, both for trade and public. It’s said that more people are taking wine classes in Ireland than in the whole of Britain, a statistic I can well believe, despite the disparity in population.
One of the more visible manifestations of the increase in wine’s popularity has been the rise-and-rise of the O’Brien Group, whose stores can now be found in almost every Dublin suburb. O’Brien’s do their buying centrally, under the caring aegis of David Whelehan, a scholarly-yet-affable young man whose father ‘T.P’ was the tutor of Irish palates during The Dark Ages. His column in The Irish Times inspired the nation to venture from saccharine sweet Germany to the slopes of Bordeaux, Burgundy and beyond.
Sheridan’s cheese shops, located in South Anne Street and Pembroke Lane, Dublin and in Galway are showcases for the breathtaking quality and bewildering variety of Irish artisan cheeses and, as such, ‘must visits’ for the gastro-tourist. Latterly they too have turned their attention to wines, unveiling, at a tasting in Dublin an array of gems that italophiles, in particular, would kill to have in their cellar. What has caused me to link O’Brien’s and Sheridan’s, the one a large retailer, the other a fledgling one, may be expressed in one word – Soave.
Soave is a white wine from Italy’s Veneto, where its delineated zone abuts that of the popular red, Valpolicella. DOC status was granted in 1968 whereupon production was immediately dominated by co-operatives who swamped the market with thin, bottom dollar wines, sold for “summer drinking”. Luckily, changing market conditions forced a rethink. With a wine lake on the horizon the Soave consortium revised the rules to supplement the foot-slogging local grape Garganega with up to 30% Pinot Blanc, Trebbiano or Chardonnay. This last, in particular has come galloping to the rescue like the cavalry in a B-pic western, enabling more interesting and substantial wines to be made. Now Soave made by the better producers – Pieropan and Anselmi in particular – oozes class.

O’Brien’s stock a delightful and keenly-priced Soave; lemony, honeyed, wholesome yet non-cloying Montresor 2002, available for under e9 and worth rather more. Sheridans ‘Ca’ de Napa’ 2003, retailing in their shops for e14.50 is an altogether more subtle and suave Soave and just about as much quality as you can get for the money in white wines from anywhere in the world.

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GUBU IV Good/Unlovable/Brilliant/Undrinkable

January 17th ushered in the Year of The Monkey which we celebrated with a Chinese Banquet chez moi, cooked by the esteemed Chung Yin who formulates all those tangy and entirely authentic Chinese sauces for Sharwoods. Chung is an amazing guy, a great chef too and produced a menu to die for including duck, beef, succulent scallops, fat muscly king prawns and a whole steamed sea bass, not to mention a dessert.
I’ll put the recipes on stove slave as soon as I have them to hand.
Six of us consumed all the above, plus ten wines (but not necessarily in the order listed below) viz:-

Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 1999, Alsace.
Lovely, beautifully bottle aged wine of some style and class. I’d like to get some more of this.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Rich Reserve 1996
An older style of Champagne, a last minute dosage giving a richly sumptuous brew that you couldn’t call sweet, more lush and decadent. I could have drunk this all through the meal.

Springfield Estate Methode Ancienne Chardonnay 2002
Thank god I’ve got another bottle, I want to let it lie. Impressive now, I suspect there’s bags of keeping in this fullsome eminently stylish and beautifully balanced Chard. One of the superstars of a stellar evening. One guest said “If you’d told me this was 70 quidsworth of Puligny Montrachet I wouldn’t have demurred!”

Vasse Felix 2002 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Margaret River W.Aust
A hard act to follow, the Methode Ancienne, but this buttery expansive Aussie from one of WA’s best producers held up nicely.

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2002
Decent , different drinking with some (American?) barrel age lending a touch of distinction. A bit lost by this stage, but would have made a very decent warm up – alternative to the Trimbach above

Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose
Very decent gear, flavoursome, dry, crisp, slight tayberry fruit flavours with a little herby kick. I like these guys.

Cordoba Crescendo 2000 Helderberg, Stellenbosch SA
A brilliantly balanced Bordeaux Blend varying from year to year but always majoring on Cabernet Franc, another huge hit on the night. Complex, intense figgy fruit, herbal and flowering current fragrance, lovely powdery aftertaste, massive length, everything you could wish for in a wine and for the price charged (well under e20) fantastic value for money.

Albet Y Noya Col Leccio 1999 Penedes Spain
Brilliant stuff from Spain’s kings of organic wine. Mint on the nose, blackcurrant, plums and all sorts of nice things on the palate and again, huge length.

Penfolds Bin 389 Shiraz/Cabernet 1997
The “baby Grange”, always a class act, a darling of a red wine from the guys who’ve forgotten more about Shiraz than most New World wine makers know. Elegant, dark, brooding, plummy with black coffee overtones and a fine white pepper nose this is one joyful wine.

Villa Maria Pinot Noir 2000
Middle of the road NZ Pinot. Clear evidence that they are getting to grips with this difficult grape the French call “The Black Bitch.” Some way to go before it gets desirable, though. For me, Felton Road leads by miles.

Also tasted recently

Springfield Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2003
I seem to keep plugging this but with every bottle I drink it seems to shout “World Class” in fact Springfield are making some of the best wines to come out of South Africa so I’m entirerly unabashed. Pristine SB, with that killer so-refreshing mineral zip – for me you can keep most of the Kiwi gooseberryfests if I could drink this. Bloody brilliant and only e15-ish a bottle.

Nugan Third Generation Chardonnay 2002. South East Australia.
Decent stuff, quite civilized for Aussie. Nice melon notes without diving into mango & pineapple overload. This should do very well for SuperValu

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2000
Like the above only more so, mellowed with two year’s extra bottle age. Lovely stuff, deep gold, honeyed, subtle, great melon and marzipan flavour

Gigondas Laurus 1999 Gabriel Meffre – first bottle of this I’ve had since GUBU II so maybe time for a bit of a rethink as it’s mellowing out nicely, plummy and dark morello flavours, good long finish and still quite a bit of keeping in there.

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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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September Blow-ins

Saw out the month with the lunch to herald the Merrion’s game promotion. Wondeful food and though I say it as shouldn’t, nice wines – especially the Sipp-Mack Rosacker Grand Cru Riesling.

Interesting conversation with Kevin Dundon, Dunbrody House, Wexford, this morning. In addition to a TV prog and 2 cookbooks on the go he’s also opened a restaurant in Las Vegas – going a bomb apparently – and there’s me thinkking he’s away in Gambling City wagering the ancestral pile! (Joke, Kevin)

It’s been an interesting if rather hectic month on the wine front. 3 fairs, many visitors, loads of invitations, most of which alas I’ve had to turn down including a trip to Bordeaux and a fortnight’s concentrated boozing in a castle in Transylvania!
Matt “I do like a nice pint of Guinness” Thompson came over from New Zealand with a quartet of Saint Clair wines ad very decent they were too. The Sauvignon Blanc was not typical NZ for me, a bit over full – as a guy who would happily lie under the barrel tap and get the fresh blast of mineral energy, the Saint Clair was maybe a tad too civilised. Lots of people will really like it, though. I enjoyed the Chardonnay – I notice Mary Dowey thought it “bland” but I’d prefer to think of it as laid-back and stylish, distinctively New World but subtle in comparison to a lot of the Aussie offerings.
The Riesling was interesting. As I’d drunk a fair bit of Clare Valley stuff only the week before, this one seemed much less austere but still complex in a slightly brash style.
The Pinot Noir too was good. Not overly heavy, just enough weight and mouthfeel to keep things interesting – perefct summer red.
As these wines will retail for around e10.99 they represent something of a bargain.

Then Ed Flaherty of Chilean style icons Errazuriz – they joined with Mondavi to produce Sena, Chile’s most serious and expensive wine – breezed in.

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New New Zealand – and good value too

I’m a big fan of wine from New Zealand.
Trouble is, prices seem to be creeping up. The reputation of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, spearheaded by the wonderful and increasingly hard-to-get Cloudy Bay, is now sky high – in fact SB could soon overtake Chardonnay as our Preferred Grape – and makers seem to be getting a yo-yo or two more for the product.
Recently, Matt Thonpson, winemaker from an estate new to me, St.Claire from Marlborough, breezed into town and I attended a tasting and lunch that showcased four of his wines. The Riesling, I thought, was a little eccentric, though pleasant and full of character – certainly different to the Clare Valley Aus ones that have established the pattern for New World Riesling. The SB was of the full-on fruity variety, rather than the usual green apple acidity version, but none the worse for that. The Chardonnay, I thought, was an absolute stand out and I confirmed this by drinking half a bottle last night, aided and abetted by Silke Cropp’s cheese with green peppercorns on Robert Ditty’s oatcakes – about as good as it gets in the C&B combo. The Chard was very impressive indeed, quite creamy and laid back, still New World but without the unsubtle ‘can of pineapples’ savour that comes as a trademark with many of the cheaper Aussies and Chileans. Bearing in mind that these St.Claire wines, brought in by Irish Distillers so they should be quite widely available will sell for around the 11 euro mark they are very good value indeed. And – to pile astonishment on amazement there’s a pretty decent Pinot Noir for the same money.

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GUBU II – Good, Unlovable, Brilliant, Undrinkable

Domaine de Champ-Brulee, Vincent, Macon Villages 2001
A really together wine. Chardonnay with manners! Beautifully crafted with distinctive mineral tints that talk of terroir rather than the crushed fruit factory. Don’t say pineapples, melons or mangoes, say “wine” – this is complex and enjoyable and superb value for money.
e13.95 O’Briens

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2000
Well, you know what you are getting from one of the Cape’s best! Deliberately French-styled elegant wine, but florally perfumed and with a great weight of fruit which – though carefully balanced – seems to want to break out. Like a big, muscular guy stuffed into a tux but dying to rip the bloody thing off and have a game of rugby!
e25 approx. various outlets.
RATING: EXCELLENT but a lot of competition for the money

St.Hallet Riesling 2001
Pleasant enough, but a little bit ‘obvious’. Lemony, with a curious hint of toasted sunflower seeds on the palate, it was sort of “riesling with a sun tan”, over-cooked and maybe a tad lacking in character. A bit surprising because St Hallet make some really nice wines. Not my fave Aussie Riesling.
e11.99 O/Briens

Mud House Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2002
Very intense and upfront, and a bit unrestrained, it got quite cloying towards the end of the bottle. Wouldn’t rave, especially as there’s a lot of competition.
e?? James Nicholson

Torres Vina Sol 2002
Spain’s answer to Sauv B, Parellada is the grape that makes up this dull-but-worthy white. Decent winemaking but low on Wow! Factor.
e11 widely available

Mas D’Espanet Eolienne 2001 Vin de pays d’Oc
Wonderful characterful complex white. As is common in S France, no back label, so no idea about cepage except there has got to be some Marsanne in there and possibly a little Chard (guessing). I suspect there’s great keeping quality here.
Around e18, French Paradox

Bonterra Chardonnay 2001
Bonterra are getting such a profile there could be a tendency to diss their products which would be a shame for this is very nice winemaking and much more complex and interesting than a lot of the Chard coming out of Chile, Australia and South Africa for around the same money. And it’s organic and should be encouraged.
e15.79 widely available

Bourgogne Kimmeridgien Chardonnay. J.M. Brocard 2000
A beauty from a good producer. Complex, interesting, with that laid back but ‘developed’ feel that makes Burgundian whites so interesting when much of the new world stuff starts to pall. Clever winemaking.
e12 approx, O’Briens.

Villard Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Well received by dinner party guests. Surprising class and in a blind tasting we’d have marked it as a good Kiwi. Long finish.
e13 approx

D’Arenberg 2002 The Money Spider Roussane
Here they go again! The Aussie Rhone Rangers turn in a classy performance with a white. Real joyous, vibrant stuff. I don’t think there’s a deal of keeping in this but just the job for a change from Chard or SB.
Around e12

Ice Wine Vidal 2000 Lakeview Cellars, Ontario
Opened in error! Needed a sticky in a hurry to wash down some far aux pruneaux (see recipes) and plucked this out of The Hole. Miles too young, all you got was a peachy syrupy sweetness without much character. Will it develop? Dunno?
Price ???

Rosé de Landoc Frisant Moulin de Gassac
Pleasing petillance from a good producer. Nothing serious, garden wine really but skilfully made

Marques de Casa Concha 2000 Merlot
I have to say I really love this wine. it drinks big in the best possible sense. It’s, huge but soft and lovely and very complex, I think it could be mistaken for a Pomerol if met in a blind tasting. Killed two bottles a couple of days apart and the second was no less impressive. Huge violets and chocolate nose and v.long finish. Chilean winemaking at its best. Contemplative, doesn’t need food but would be great with lamb and lashings of garlicy things.
Around e14 widely available

Gigondas Domaine Raspail-Ay 2000
Saw this Gigondas, which I’d enjoyed in earlier vintages had fallen a bit flat in Raymond Blake’s FOOD & WINE Magazine tasting, so couldn’t wait to try it. Hmm, yes, tasters got it right, it’s curiously flat and unwelcoming. Grenache with its terrible unstructured elements, flabby puffy fruit and none of its unbridled joy and no backbone. Such a pity, still many a good producer makes a cock-up now and again. here’s to a return to form.

La Vielle Ferme 2001
Grenache, Syrah, Cinsaut, Mourvedre – all the sunny south of France in a bottle that’s the little brother of the Perrin Nature of GUBU I fame. Uncomplicated enjoyable wine made by guys who really know their business and great value for money at under e10.
Widely available

Mas Mouris Coteaux de Languedoc 2001
Stylish, steely red that’s worth opening a few hours ahead of drinking time. Small Languedoc producers are still a bit hit-and-miss, but this one’s a winner.
Around e18 French Paradox

Gigondas Laurus 1999 Gabriel Meffre
Decant, decant, decant. When first opened it seemed a bit flabby and characterless. After an hour or so the plums on the palate and pepper on the nose really came through.
Around e18

Valpolicella Classico Zenato 1999
If you thought Valpol was the bottle you take to a party and leave on the table while you quaff the host’s St.Emilion, think again. This guy Zenato is hot, a winemaker on a roll and everything he does is worth drinking. Nice weight of fruit and absolutely perfect balance – the acidity isn’t used as a cop out to kill cloying fruit, everything’s in total harmony. Hugely recommended.
Around e12, fairly widely available

Sierra Cantabria 2001 Rioja
Fairly average stuff, not one of O’Brien’s better buys to my mind. Straight up and down Rioja, sort of cut-price Faustino (which means a lot of people in Ireland will like it) easy drinking but I found it wearying after a bit. Disappointing, especially after their dabbles in Borja and Abadia Retuerta have produced such exciting drinking.
e9.99 O’Briens

Montepulciano d”Abruzzo Vigna Corvino 2000
Stonking big wine with some style, almost like a ripasso wine. Great weight of dark morello fruit with unresolved tannins that tell me this might even be worth hanging on to.
Under e10, O’Briens

Gigondas Domaine Machotte Père Amadieu 1998
Another Gigondas that hid its charms until the second half. While I liked the fragrant, violet bouquet this wine didn’t really register on the palate. Guests preferred the humble CduR that preceded it. I went back to it when they’d gone and thought it was terrific. Long finish, very nice stuff indeed.
Around e19

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Not much to say about wine, is there?

Only joking. Well, sort of. Judging by the number of books written on the subject, from scholarly biochemical treatises to the ‘aroma of petrol with overtones of ripe mango and wet slippers’ gush, there’s quite a lot to be said. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that there are really only four questions you need to ask when confronted with an unfamiliar bottle.
These are:
• Is the smell agreeable?
• Do I like the taste?
• After I’ve drunk the wine, does it leave me with any lasting impression?
• How much does it cost and would I buy it if I could afford it?
A touch simplistic, I know. but wine is like any other hobby. You can sit back, quaff and enjoy or you can don your anorak and gown and take the pursuit of knowledge to Professor of Trainspotting levels. The choice is yours, but, along the way, don’t be misled by pontificating pseudo-pundits or by reputations. Be wary of domineering bluffers. Trust your tastebuds and learn to make your own judgements. In my former capacity as a wine critic, I was privileged to attend a vertical tasting of one of the First Growth Medoc wines. (A vertical tasting is where you compare different vintages of the same wine, as opposed to a horizontal tasting, where you compare different wines made in the same year, nothing to do with drinking to excess). Albert, the host, had found some bottles of the ’68 in his cellar and thought it might be interesting to throw them in among the majestic ’75s and ’78s. 1968 was one of those vintages that turn up now and again to remind man that he is still a long way from conquering nature so it came as no surprise to find that the ’68 didn’t measure up the grower’s reputation. Nevertheless, I wasn’t prepared for how throat-clutchingly bad it was. I wrote one word in my tasting notes. That word was ‘undrinkable’. One of my fellow tasters was looking over my shoulder at the time. Affronted as if I’d written ‘the guy behind me is an ugly bugger’, he spun me round to accuse me of heresy.
‘You can’t say that. It’s Chateau Bombast. How can you say Chateau Bombast is undrinkable?’ I stood my ground, inviting him to taste some more. He declined, instead going off to drum up reinforcements for his standpoint. He returned with a friend. ‘Algy’, he said, ‘here’s a man who says the ’68 Bombast is undrinkable’. ‘You can’t say that’, said Algy, ‘it costs forty one quid a bottle’. If there are two worse reasons for declaring a wine to be of merit, I’ve yet to hear them.
When matching wine to food, be wary of the exotic imagery school. If the bouquet of New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay Chardonnay reminds you of green bananas, almonds, Oil of Ulay and old rugger boots, well and good; but if what you really need to know is ‘will this wine do the business with my Black Sole Bercy?’ A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice. Speaking of emotive language, a wine merchant friend lucky enough to possess one of the world’s most discerning palates had but three categories in which to place wine. These were, in order of merit, ‘crap, sound and fucking sound’. In ten years of tasting with Paul I never found a reason to doubt his judgment.
The old sages of cookery used to dictate ‘red wine with meat, white with fish’, good advice in the days when people, if they drank wine at all, drank awful Liebfraumilch. These days, it’s a more complex affair with every grape variety known to man on the supermarket shelves. I’d rather advise that you:
• ignore the above red/white dictum
• remember Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are not the only grapes. There is a good deal of enjoyment to be had in exploring varietal wine made from Grenache, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo not to mention Syrah (Shiraz), Sauvignon Blanc and blended wines. Live a little.
• drink complex, heavyweight wines with rich foods and light, fragrant wines with delicately flavoured dishes.
• don’t waste money drinking really expensive wines with red sauced Italian food, especially pasta dishes.
• drink a counterpunching wine with Chinese food. Like the robust Piedmontese reds, Barolo or Barbaresco. Or old-style Aussie shiraz. If you prefer white wine drink Gewurztraminer or a big, oaked Chardonnay.
• drink beer, water or lassi (spiced yoghurt) with curry.

Oh, what the hell. If you favour champagne or Johnnie Walker Black Label with filet de boeuf en croute, or with Bangalore Phal for that matter, then go for it. But try to have on hand something a bit more mainstream for your guests.
Any bottle of wine is only as good as your memory of it. And no palate is perfect. I used to reckon mine was pretty good. Until I got into the finals of a competition, held by The Observer newspaper, to ‘Win Your Own Weight in Wine’ *. The twelve finalists had to undergo an ordeal in which we were each presented with twenty four glasses of wine, grouped in threes, and asked questions about each group. As befitting a serious affair, spittoons and palate neutralising nibbles were provided. By the end of the evening I could tell a Bath Oliver from a Carr’s Table Water Biscuit, blindfold. And nothing more.

* about six and a half cases. Winner got claret; runner up, champagne; third place, burgundy. The rest were given one mixed case each. My cunning suggestion that we pool all the prizes, i.e. we depute the three heaviest contestants to make a serious stab at the questions (one fat guy was worth a conservative nine cases), while the rest of us treat the night as a piss up, was turned down by the misery guts who eventually finished twelfth and serve him bloody well right.

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