Tag Archives: Chile

So it goes… Chilean press tasting, Dublin

I’d be failing in my duty if I failed to say that the recent ‘Good Value Wines from Chile’ tasting at the Radisson Golden Lane was a smidge short of whelming.

I tasted the guts of a hundred wines, culled from all the major regions and found fewer than a dozen to excite me. I should have maybe prefaced this by saying, to the public, that most of the wines on show were very competently made, with simple, primary fruit characteristics that might well appeal. None of these wines will do you harm and the over-sulphiting that used to be a feature of many Chilean wines is now a thing of the past.  Neverthess, aficionados – and I don’t mean wine snobs – may well find that the ‘Wow!’ factor may be easier bought from some other region of the globe.

The Sauvignon Blancs were almost universally lamentable. The principal virtue of this largely ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ grape is its capacity to refresh, to wake up the senses with minerality and green fruit sensations. Amazingly, some unnamed Chilean winemaker found a way to make Sauvignon Blanc that tastes like unoaked Chardonnay and everyone seems to have followed suit. Of those meriting a mention Secreto 2009 (€13.99 Redmonds, Mitchells, Drink Store, The Goose, Next Door, On the Grapevine) was decent kit; Casa Lapostelle 2008 (€12.99 O’Briens, Nolans, D6, Jus de Vine, Wine Well, Sweeneys) gave me a little more than ‘nice’. Torres Santa Digna 2009 (€11.99 Donnybrook Fair, Kingdom Hall (Tralee), Oscars, Gourmet Shop, Mitchells, Redmonds) stood out like a shining beacon with the fruit/acid ‘balanceometer’ quivering properly towards the right – best of the bunch by some way.

The Chardonnays were, in the main, tinned fruit, albeit quality tinned fruit. An unusual blending with Carmenere put much-appreciated vivacity into Oveja Negra 2009 (10.99, Stacks, Fresh, Nolans of Kilcullen, Cahills of Cork). When I tasted the familiar Montes Classic 2008 Chardonnay (pretty widely available, €11.49) I was jolted out of my comfort zone. This wine used to be ‘mainstream’. Now it stood out as a rock in a calm sea. Hey, I thought, this is actually pretty well-made wine. Old fashioned, yes, but solid and substantial in a style that winemakers, in their quest for modernity, marketability and ‘easy-peasy drinking’ have largely rejected.

I thought there would be more fizzers. The one that was there, the Cono Sur Sparkling, a NV from Bio Bio was brilliant value for the money, capable of taking on some decent Aussies and wiping out 90% of Prosecco. (14.99, Bunch of Grapes, Egans, Savages, Brooks, Joyces, Wine Well, Redmonds, Next Door, SuperValu, Dunnes).

The reds, by and large, were in like vein. Big, upfront, rounded, with nothing the wine newbie could take exception to. But the majority were boring as hell. As with the whites, there were some shining exceptions. Morande had a bloody good shot at making budget Pinot Noir which said all the right things. A tad one-dimensional but at €12.99 (World Wide Wines, Bin No 9, 1601 Kinsale) what the hell. There are quite a few one-dimensional NZ Pinots at nearly 3 times the money come to think of it. Cono Sur’s 2008 Pinot, too, represents remarkable value for the niggardly €9.49 ask.

I’m not a big fan of Carmenere singles but I did like the 2008 Carmen Reserva (Redmonds, SupeValu). A hard sell at €15.99, though.

Most of the Merlots were baked like jam tarts. I do believe the French should have made the taking of cuttings beyond the boundaries of Bordeaux a guillotining offence. The Torres Santa Digna 2008 (€11.99 Ardkeen, Micthells, Redmonds, Jus de Vine, Cork’s Terenure) just about passed muster.

Estampa, with their 2006, made a pretty creditable stab at making a pleasing blend of Carmenere, Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc) and Petit Verdot (€12.99, independents). Many of the producers preferred to vinify their varietals separately, a policy I’d question, though maybe, as a marketing proposition that’s ‘way to go’.

Wow! At last a wine with real chutzpah. Pizzaz even! The 2006 Vina Maipo Limited Edition Syrah 2006 ticked every box,vibrant, complex, savoury. Then I saw the price – €29.99 in Dunnes Stores. If this came down to under €20, I’d buy it.

The Montes Limited Edition Cabernet/Carmenere (€13.99 Next Door, Unwined (Swords)) gets my vote for Best Value on the day. Cracking, complex proper wine and affordable to boot.

Best of the ‘around a tenner’ reds was the 2008 Santa Rita 120, honouring the patriots who helped win the revolution. Maybe Guinness should knock out a ‘Devalera Limited Edition’?

And so it goes… maybe I’ve painted a bleaker picture than it warrants. My feelings are tinged with disappointment that this nation, with its army of keen young winemakers and variety of terroir, doesn’t seem to do ‘complex’ reds, at least not until you fork out twenty euro, sometimes not then. Contrast ‘the new’ Spain, for instance, where there are so many exciting wines here in Ireland  for around €15. As for the whites, how much nicer are, say, the Rueda Verdejos than the Chilean Sauv B’s for around the same wedge.

One last thing. How on earth could the Decanter people give the 2007 Indomita Reserva a trophy? They must surely have had a different bottling for ours (cork not screwcap, by the way) was evincing what you could only call ‘reduction ad absurdum’.

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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Three top tips for getting more bang from your bottle

This week, my top three tips for getting more enjoyment out of wine.

One of the first things rookie wine writers feel obliged to do is to point out that the e9 bottle you are drinking only contains 37 cents worth of wine. I wish they wouldn’t. Nothing’s more certain to sunder the harmonious marriage of Chilean Chardonnay and Bombay Pantry take-away than the revelation that the wine exudes a bouquet of packing cases, airplane fuel and the taxman’s greasy suit. Still, spending a few euro more does get you a nicer gargle. I’m often approached by ladies who say “My husband likes wine. What can I give him that will enhance his enjoyment?” They mention a sum, invariably not enough to build a cellar so I end up intoning “Lever corkscrew, decanter, thermometer…” What a cop out! Absolutely the best advice would be “Money. Give him a fiver a week, help him drink better.”

Get some decent glasses. First, try putting 6 odds-and-sods in a row, pour the same amount of wine into each glass and sample. I guarantee you’ll be amazed, sometimes you wouldn’t believe it’s all the same wine. Afterwards, the temptation to head for Mitchell’s and buy six of every Riedel grape-specific glass will be nigh irresistible. In reality all you need, unless you are going to get very, very anoraky, is a set of stem glasses you can fill a third of the way up with wine and still leave twice that amount of head space for the bouquet to come whuffing up. Bowl shape? Imagine a big egg with the top cut off. Nice thin glass, no horrible rolled rims. Buy Riedel if you must – their Vinum Chianti glass at around e20 a throw is a great all-rounder – but there are perfectly adequate glasses to be found in Dunnes or Roches.

Adopting Tip Number 3 won’t cost a cent unless you’d care to make a donation to the Ernie Whalley Fund for Penniless Wine Scribes. Golfers talk about the ‘inner game’ by which they mean adopting the psychological karma that will enable them to swing smoothly from the lst tee and progress to the 18th, coping along the way with bad shots and bad luck. Likewise the confident wine drinker will have shucked off prejudices; be well able to assimilate new experiences; be capable of coping with wine snobs, aggressive bluffers and the odd corked bottle. Get the ‘inner game’ sorted and you’ll feel more comfortable with a glass of wine in company.

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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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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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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
RATING: EXCELLENT

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
RATING: AVERAGE

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
RATING: AVERAGE

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
RATING: AVERAGE

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
RATING: BRILLIANT

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
RATING: GOOD+

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.
RATING: EXCELLENT

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
RATING: GOOD ++

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
RATING: GOOD

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 ???
RATING: AVERAGE

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

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
RATING: GOOD++

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.
RATING: DEADLY AVERAGE

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
RATING: GOOD +

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
RATING: GOOD++

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
RATING: GOOD +

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
RATING: BRILL

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
RATING: AVERAGE

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
RATING: GOOD

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
RATING: GOOD+

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