Tag Archives: New Zealand

STORING WINE – cellar, cupboard, under the stairs, you’ve got to keep those prized bottles somewhere

Alas, not my cellar

This topic has peculiar resonance for me as I’ve just spent the last couple of days logging my modest wine collection. I used to have a kid’s exercise book with ‘Cellar Book’ written somewhat pompously  in marker on the front. I was always very casual about updating and – as I have wines in 5 locations in the house  – I was always ‘losing’ bottles. As I write I’m looking at 70cls of Muscat de Riversaltes 1974, found under the floorboards. Could well be past it, methinks.

Now it’s all down on ‘Cellar’ an elegant little iphone app I’d thoroughly recommend; sorted, location coded and backed up to my PC. So everything is cool and kosher. Until next week at least!

Although most wine purchased is drunk the night it’s taken home, many wine enthusiasts do enjoy amassing wine for future drinking and need somewhere to store it. Years ago, we were renovating a room of our house, one we’d previously only used for storing junk. The process involved replacing some ancient floorboards. The builder lifted the damaged ones and my eyes popped out when I realised not only was there a potential storage space beneath but that the ambient temperature down there was on the cool side of cool. I couldn’t wait for the carpenter to arrive so I could instruct him to make a trapdoor. This is the nearest I’ll ever get to owning a real cellar and a lot nearer than most.

There are the seriously lucky few who reside in old houses with cavernous subterranean rooms. There are others who can afford the outlay and the space for a thermostatically controlled cabinet such as the Eurocave. The best the majority can hope for is a spare cupboard, a space under the stairs, a garden shed or an attic.

The four main enemies of wine in storage are light, incorrect temperature, insufficient humidity and vibration. Light is easy to keep out; insulation can help maintain a near-constant temperature; and something as simple as a large damp sponge left on a saucer can provide essential humidity. Vibration can be damped by putting a couple of layers of old carpet or rubber mats under the bottom shelves.

Remember the warmer the cellar, the faster your wine develops – or, possibly, decays! You should aim for a temperature of around 8 to 10 degrees and it’s crucial to keep it as constant as possible: a wine will suffer more from a roller-coaster ride from 10 degrees to 25 than from a steady level of 18-20. Which is why the average kitchen, with its Alaska-to-Sahara and back temperature changes is just about the worst location.

Having secured your space – be prepared to defend it against all comers –and created a congenial climate you’ll need storage. Bottles, certainly those with cork stoppers, keep better when flat – that’s why the process is called ‘laying down’. Modular Wooden self-assembly racking is inexpensive and readily obtainable. If you do have trouble with temperature fluctuation then terra cotta hoops or homemade shelving fashioned from breeze blocks provide a better answer.

You need to keep a record of what you’ve got and where to find it. A cellar book is essential, coupled with a plan showing exactly where every wine has been placed. You could, of course, use a spreadsheet or database program, which would also permit you to sort by region, vintage, cost price and ‘drink by’ date. Remember the game of ‘Battleships’ you played as a kid? An excellent way of keeping track of your wine is to code the wine racks vertically and horizontally, alphabetically and numerically, so that each ‘hole’ has a code – a11, n6, for example – so you can assign this to the wine that fills the space, entering it in your cellar book or database.

Tech heads might want the super-comprehensive PC program called ‘Cellar Tracker’ (http://www.cellartracker.com) or the elegant little iphone app ‘Cellar’ (€3.95) to keep on top of their prized purchases. Finally, remember, it’s better to drink a wine a year too early than a day too late.

This week, two Pinot Noirs, both from New Zealand at a time when that country, where I have many winemaking and food writing friends, is never out of my thoughts. The first, the gorgeous, savoury Mt. Difficulty 2005 came up from my cellar. Given that the Kiwis learn a little bit more every year about the grape some call ‘the black bitch’ the current vintage (2007, €28.50 from www.wines direct.ie, one of Ireland’s best online specialists) should, laid down, be even better. The other Pinot, Giesen 2009 (€20 Hole in the Wall, Jus De Vine, Martins Fairview), was choc-full of rich, ripe fruit and would also be suited to squirreling away in your cellar/cupboard/garden shed or whatever, for a year or two.




"Stuck in an appellation" Saint Emilion

A day in a wine writer’s life. I get up, dress, eat my porridge then phone the Guinness Storehouse to see if they have a wheelchair. Oh dear, apparently they don’t. I should maybe make it clear that my request stems not from the previous night’s over indulgence but from a knee operation. The Storehouse is The Land That God Forgot for us D4, southside wine scribes – can’t get there by public transport, there’s no parking and a cab costs a fortune. Ah, well, needs must…

I grab my crutches and limp up the road towards the taxi rank. Three traffic jams later I arrive at the Gleesons Incorporating Gilbey’s Portfoilio Tasting, bit of a mouthful? No, it’s a lot of mouthfuls, 41 tables, groaning with wines from all over the world as well as ports, sherries, brandies and beers. Here’s a flavour.

Before I kick off I’ll issue the usual caveat. This is a personal view of a tasting on a particular day. Other folk may love wines I hated or hate wines I loved. Make of it what you will.

Scanning the catalogue I find lots of old familiars, known quantities. This saves me time. For instance, while I know that, say, Les Charmes de Magnol Medoc 2008 is going to be of merchantable quality it won’t excite or surprise so I pass. The Cheval Noir Grand Vin de St.Emilion 2005 (€18.50, selected independents) on did surprise and pleasantly so, good budget claret.

Louis Latour, as usual, have quite a presence but, as ever, I find you have to get into the upper echelons of their list before thye start to charm. Louis Latour Montagny (Super Valu €19.99) is much more inviting than their Chablis. Simmonet-Febre’s Chablis (€18.99, O’Brien’s) was nicer, less steely.

On the Chateau de Sours stand I re-encounter owner Martin Krajewski, nice man. His Petit Cantenac St.Emilion 2008 (€22.50) has plenty of potential. The Bordeaux Rosé,  as always, was well up to the mark (€14.99, independents).

I’m a massive fan of the wines of JCP Malthus as people who read my Herald and the old Sunday Independent columns may have noticed! Bordeaux, Barossa, wherever there’s a roundness, a loveliness, a warmth about them and something that just shouts “Hey, this is bloody good winemaking”.  Area Manager Myriam Carrere tempts me to a vertical – 2006/7/8 – of Ch.Teyssier St.Emilion – I seem stuck in this appellation at the minute – the 2008 promises much but if you can find it, buy the ’06, it’s simply stunning. Entry level Pezat was good as ever. Seems to be some confusion as to whether this and Ch.Lacroix are the same thing. I came away none the wiser.

Can’t help thinking that Jaboulet Ainé have lost their way.Though Caroline Frey has expunged the bad winemaking of Jabs from ‘90s days the newer wines still seem to be struggling to find a house style. Maybe I just liked the big ruggery-buggery wines I remember from the 1980s? Anyhopw, I think they’ve lost something in power, shape and robustness while recovering the finesse that  went missing for so many years.

The delightful Anne Trimbach is in Dublin to present the wines of this brilliant house. Unlike some of their Alsace rivals I can’t think of one wine in their portfolio that doesn’t hack it. Everything is ‘sorted’. Trimbach Alsace Riesling 2009 (€15.99, SuperValu, O’Brien’s, independents) is a classic of the genre.  As for the Cuvée Frederick Emile 2004 (€34.99) every wine lover should have at least one bottle squirreled away for a joyous occasion.

Next table, Gruner Veltiner, Austria’s signature from ex-hippy Laurenz Moser. Named ‘Singing’, ‘Sunny’ and ‘Charming’ (€15.99-€24.99, Donnybrook Fair and independents) the wines are as beguiling as the titles. German wines, happily, are back up and bouncing, after a rocky couple of decades.

Lingenfelder’s German riesling and gewürztraminer (€13.99, independents) with their engaging bird and hare labels should be sought out and bought.

Black Tower roll on, now with added varietal choice. Stick with the Riesling, honest wine for the €9.35 ask. The sylvaner is a bit grim.

Moving up the price scale, if you can still find Lo Zoccolaio’s Barolo 2001 for the stated €37.49 (McHugh’s had some) grab the merchant’s hand off, this is classic kit.

The Dalmau Reserva Rioja 1985 at €85 is daft money, considering you could have, as alternative, 4 bottles of the very quaffable Marques de Murieta Reserva 2005 (O’Briens, Dunnes, Molloys) and a taxi home. This wine, for me, wiped the floor with the popular Faustino equivalent.

The Bodegas Portia Prima Ribero del Duero 2007 (€25, selected independents) is currently dead sexy. Baby brother Ebeia Roble 2009, almost half the price, is good too.

Simonassi Malbec 2006 was decent for the money (€9.99).

Vergelegen Cabernet 2004 was good kit but at €29.45 I can think of a couple of dozen reds I’d rather drink or lay down. The better South African wines still impress, rather than charm.As a ‘how to’ they should look at the complexity St.Hallet are cramming into St.Hallet Old Block Shiraz 2005 (€34.95) , the 2004 of which I remember from a big Aussie seminar last year where it kicked sand in the eyes of a good few more expensive shirazes. The ’05 has all the poke of  a traditional Barossa red with lots of other nice things revolving round the glass.

Chileans Terra Andina gave us a well-priced Reserva Pinot Noir from Leyda (€10.99, Donnybrook Fair, Centra) and an electrifying, invigorating Sauvignon Blanc (€9.99) that carried more than a hint of old-style Marlborough before the Kiwis started shining it up.

More? Luscious the Lane ‘The Gathering’ Semillon-Sauvignon from Adelaide Hills (€22, independents); Hunter Estates Chardonnay from NZ, always class; and St.Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2005 (€35, O’Briens, Tesco) up there with the Barossa’s biggies.

Best of the budgets? No question. I give you False Bay Chardonnay, from South Africa’s Western Cape – classy stuff at ridiculous (€9.80, Londis, independents) money from Paul Boutinot, the Manchester maverick behind, among others, Chat en Oeuf (€9.10, Superquinn, Centra), one I’m always plugging for value. The 2010 False Bay Chardonnay is clean, non-cloying, more European than New World and altogther a worthy example of the sort of Chardy that should put noisy chavs like Pinot Grigio back in their box.

Can’t quit without mentioning the wonderful Julia Kennedy, whose organisation, as usual, was pluperfect. Great ideas of hers to get Fingal Ferguson there with mum Giana’s cheeses and his own salami, a huge quantum leap from when he started a few years back. The new mortadella, in particular, was a wondrous product.

Julia is off now to pastures new, Gleeson’s loss is Dillon’s gain.



Anyone looking at the site earlier may have seen a list of the Noffla (National Off-Licence Association) Awards. Thanks to Evelyn Jones at the admirable Vintry in Rathgar I am now advised that the press release they sent me at my request (I couldn’t make the award ceremony) contained the previous year’s winners which, in all good faith, I published. Apologies to this year’s winners, last year’s winners, forkncork readers and the public at large. Here are  the correct winners:


Specialist Off-Licence Group of the Year 2011 O’Donovans, Cork

Best First Time Entrant 2011 Next Door Swiss Cottage

Food Retailer Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Shiel’s Londis

Customer Service Award of the Year 2011 The Wine Centre, Kilkenny

Spirit Specialist of the Year 2011 Deveney’s Off-Licence, Dundrum

Beer Specialist of the Year 2011 McHugh’s Off-Licence, Malahide Road

Wine Specialist of the Year 2011 Jus de Vine, Portmarnock

Munster Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Matson’s Wine Store

Connaught/Ulster Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Dicey’s Off-Licence

Leinster Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Holland’s Fine Wines

Dublin Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Gibneys

National Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Sweeney’s Wine Merchants

On foot of the Noffla awards  came the New Zealand Wine Fair at The Radisson Golden Lane. Strange accents abounded and one winemaker was heard declaring he had “spent the summer ixtending my dick”, sounds painful. As you might expect, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were the major exhibits. I can still remember the shockwave that occurred when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc hit the Irish market back in the late eighties. Racy, instantly invigorating, I remember likening the sensation to “standing up close to the Powerscourt waterfall in full spate”. Since then, Cloudy Bay became a cult, later a fashion icon and up went the price. Luckily, other fine and lower priced Sauvignons followed hard on its heels. My particular favourites are Astrolabe, Siefried, Seresin and the ever-reliable Hunter’s, all widely available here.

I thought I detected a sea change in Pinot Noir winemaking – a trend towards lower oaking, more developed fruit and blacker tannins – maybe a concerted attempt to escape from the (unjustified) charge that Kiwi Pinot Noir is a one-trick pony. At a dinner at Ely – special mention for the wonderful lamb – Matt Thompson of Tinpot Hut disagreed. What I might have been tasting, he reckoned, were the flavours common to the 2008 vintage. 2010, he opined, will be a fantastic year for New Zealand Pinot.

There was an interesting table of ‘oddities’ – wines from grape varieties outside and beyond ‘the usual suspects’. I wish the Trinity Hill Arneis, a real charmer, were available here. Another beguiling beauty was the Pyramid Valley Vineyard Pinot Blanc. Felton Road Vin Gris – not a Pinot Grigio but a free run Pinot Noir, vinified as a white wine, was interesting. A couple of producers, why I’m not sure, were flirting with Montepulciano. Even in Italy this grape ranks among the ‘also rans’.

Must make a mention of Lawson’s Dry Hills whose dry Riesling, in particular, continues to amaze and delight. Sad that the engaging Ross Lawson is no longer with us, he was one of wine’s nicest people.

And so to what was billed as ‘The One to Watch’. Syrah, they tell us, will be the next sensation from The Land of the Long White Cloud. A tasting of a dozen or so convinced me this could be true. The wines will be more European, more Rhone-like than their Aussie counterparts. The Trinity Hill offering impressed but this wine is listed at around €70 in the UK and at that price, sorry, it’s a non-starter. Two wines stood out: one, of course, was Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels 2008. I’d stand over any wine made by the uber-talented Steve Smith. The other was, for me, ‘wine of the day’. Man O’War Dreadnought Syrah 2008 (O’Brien’s, €29.99) hails from Waiheke Island, a mere 11 miles by ferry from the city of Auckland. The Dreadnought is a ‘big’ wine, in the nicest sense. Enveloping without overpowering; with none of that ‘prickly heat’ you sometimes get from wines of 14 degrees ABV and above. The bouquet was of intense, blueberries with a trace of spice, aniseed maybe. On the palate the blueberries were subsumed by ripe, dark plums offset by gamey flavours with, at the back end, a whiff of fragrant pepper, so often a trademark of wines like Cote Rotie. I’d be pretty sure this is 100% Syrah, too; no hint of Viognier. Good Northern Rhone wines years ago, cost buttons compared to their Bordeaux and Burgundy counterparts. Now they’ve got expensive. I’m going to play a hunch and lay a few Dreadnoughts down.

Went off afterwards to a dinner at Ely with Matt Thompson of Tinpot Hut and the celebrated Kevin Judd, the wine maker who put Cloudy Bay on the map, who is also a superb photographer. Kevin now has his own label, Greywackie whose wines were showcased on the night. People were split on the merits of the Pinot Noir 2009. I loved it, whilst other preferred Matt’s darker, more brooding Delta Bay Hatters Hill 2008. Tinpot Hut’s Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007 was developing nicely. Winemaker Fiona Turner made the wine and most of the fruit comes from her estate at Blind River.

I told a story of an unscrupulous Dublin wine merchant who (back in the days when Cloudy Bay SB was on quota) was asked by an American gent “Got any Cloudy Bay”. “Last two cases” he replied. “Okay I’ll take them”. I stood open-mouthed as the merchant loaded them into the Yank’s car. He had the grace to wink at me. Kevin Judd said “I’d have preferred to have the Chardonnay, anyway.” Funny, he might have told us at the time!

New Wines from M&S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So it Goes…

john41This Week’s Decent Drinking

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

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

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

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

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

vines at Denmark, WA
vines at Denmark, WA

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

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

O'Brien's Christmas Portfolio Tasting 2006

At the Four Seasons, O’Brien’s had assembled a collection of what many of us will be drinking this festive season and invited the wine scribes to preview same.

Overall the quality was outstandingly high and the rise-and-rise of this progressive chain seems set to continue, thanks chiefly to the efforts of the buying team, skilfully led by David Whelehan and, it has to be said, the high standards of service in O’Brien’s outlets, improved out of all recognition in the last 5 or 6 years.


Novas Chardonnay 2005, e11.99
An initial tropical fruit festival to delight the Man from Del Monte subsides to leave stylish citrus and apple flavours at the back of the palate. Good clean finish. Organic too.

Andes Peaks Sauvignon Blanc e7.99, will be on Christmas promo at 6.49
No mineral refreshment, simply ‘travel sweets meet tinned fruit’ but hey… for the money!

Kelly’s Patch Unoaked Chardonnay 2005 e7.99
Fresh, clean, tasty wine and good value for money. Delivers.

Pazo de Senorans 2005 e16.99
Decent enough but there’s plenty of competition at this price point.

** Fritsch Gruner Veltliner 2005 e13.99
Smart, mineral, plus bit of fatty bacon, nose segues into rich, dark, complex mysterious flavours. Loved it. Great value too.

Schloss Schonborn Gutswein Riesling Trocken 2005 e11.49
** Ignore the tongue-twisting name, go seek it out. You won’t be disappointed. Extremely good value for money.

**Fritsch Riesling Wagram 2005 e13.99
More good stuff from these smart-as-paint Austrians. Gorgeous honeyed flavours, pointed up by just enough acidity to keep it from cloying and a fantastic weight of fruit.

Sparr Riesling Reserve 2005 e12.99 Christmas Promo 11.99
Good work, ruined by a curiously stark after taste. I much preferred the ‘Gutswein’.

***Schloss Shonborn Erbach Marcobrunn 2004 e23.99
Not, at the price, for casual drinking but if you can afford it, buy with confidence. Massive weight of fruit but not a big alcohol hit; honeyed tones and a long, long finish should please.

Chanson Macon-Villages 2005 e9.99
A slightly ‘pastey’ finish robs this wine of some of its allure but undeniably good value.

***Pierre Andre Rully2004 e14.99
Simply lovely. Budget burgundy at its best.

** Brocard Chablis Grand Crus Bougros 2002 e45.
Delicious, firm fruit and a classic Chablis GC finish, long and lingering. Look for it in O’B’s Fine Wine Sale and grab it at the promo price (under e30)

***Roger Belland Santenay 1er Cru Beauregard 2004 e23
Belland’s Santenay is highly regarded and it’s easy to see why. Much of the essence of top-dollar white burgundy for less than half the money.

Domaine du Salvard Cheverny 2005 e11.99
Off-putting nose leaves you unprepared for the lovely, clean appley fruit that follows. You might like this, you might not. I did, sort of.

*Delheim Sauvignon Blanc 2005 e10.89
The sort of clean, refreshing but not-too-tart Sauvignon that’s replaced Chardonnay in the hearts and minds of Dublin 4 demoiselles. Gets a * for value.

**Vatan Sancerre 2004 e22.95
Silky and superb. Great winemaking.

Henry Bourgeois Porte du Caillou Sancerre 2005 e17.99
Decent and good value for money but suffered in comparision to the Vatan

*Delheim 3 Springs 2006 Sauv/Sem/Chard e8.99
Decent quaffer at a good price, much better than most for the money.

**Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc 2005 e15.99
If you like NZ Sauv B (and I do) this is one of the very best around. Unless you are into labels, give Cloudy Bay a miss and buy two of these for the same money.
At the promised Christmas promo price, a steal.

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Wine notes July 2006 Pinot Noir

When I started this column I cautioned against over-emotive language. Well, now for a grape that’s inspired more exuberant metaphors than you’d find in the complete works of James Joyce. Wine writers laud it to the skies. In Burgundy, where it first gained fame, vignerons also lavish choice epithets on pinot noir. Among other things, they call it “the black bitch”.
Thin-skinned, sulky, liable to catch any epidemic that’s going, endlessly picky about sun, scenery and soil, you have to wonder “Why do they persevere?” When you pay e25 and get a mediocre bottle you wonder twice.
The answer, of course, is that when pinot noir is on form there’s simply nothing to touch it. Seductive aromas, complex flavours, silky texture; it’s also the perfect accompaniment to feathered game and soft smelly cheese, of both of which I’m inordinately fond.
I used to lay down burgundy to tease out those hazelnut and truffle nuances, as was the fashion when I was finding my feet in wine. Older I get, the more I adore primary fruit, particularly the exuberant cherry flavours that good pinot yields. I’m happy, now, to quaff the night I buy.
Sending someone out to buy a bottle of e15 pinot noir is wine’s equivalent of rugby’s ‘hospital pass’. After a few bruisings I scored with “Les Maisons Dieu” 2001 (Fallon & Byrne, e14.95), from a reliable producer, Moissenet-Bonnard. I wouldn’t mind betting that some of you who followed my dictat ended up thinking “Bloody hell, I could get a nicer Shiraz (or Cabernet or Merlot) for the same money.”
But that’s pinot; never cheap, seldom a bargain. Things are better than they used to be. Market forces have made Burgundians less complacent and it’s now hard to find a real bummer. Nevertheless, given the investment level, it’s wisest to squirrel out the names of the smart lads and stick with them. Or go New World. New Zealand (Ata Rangi, Felton Road, Craggy Ranges etc), Tasmania, South Africa, Oregon and California (Marimar Torres) are also making reliable, occasionally fantastic pinots.
Recently I encountered a Chilean stunner. It costs e40-odd a throw so I won’t be drinking it that often. Perhaps this is the best way to think of pinot noir – as a treat, a wine lover’s alternative to taking in a match, a play or a concert. Two hours of passionless Eagles or 6 glasses of coruscating 2003 Casa Marin “Lo Abarca Hills” (Wines Direct, Mullingar)? No contest.

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Sunday Independent Wine Columns

Napoleon said “Every soldier carries a marshal’s baton in his knapsack.” Not that I was ever a military man but if I was he’d have found a cook’s knife and a corkscrew in mine. I started cooking at an early age. I was a ‘latchkey kid’, though the term had not then been invented. My parents both worked what have come to be labelled ‘anti-social hours’. Supper was taken at midnight, by which time mum had finished putting waitresses through their paces and dad had come home from the pub. It followed that if I wished to eat at other times of the day I had to cook for myself. I learned fast.

My culinary skills were honed by various aunts who ran hotels, pubs and guest houses the length and breadth of Britain. From the age of twelve I was loaned out every Christmas, Easter and Summer holiday to work in their kitchens, starting as an unpaid toast burner (white, brown and melba). By the time I left school I had graduated to unpaid commis chef. I owe my interest in wine to my Auntie Ethel. In those days it was considered vulgar to open bottles in front of diners. Probably hazardous, too, given the amateur status of wine waiters then. Shortly after my fifteenth birthday my aunt handed me a glass containing a minuscule amount of of red wine abstracted from a bottle about to go to table. “Try this” she said, “It’s called Newits.” The next night she handed me another glass, saying “This one’s Bone. Is it nicer than the Newits I gave you?” Thus I became an (unpaid) wine critic, at least of good red Burgundy. Five years later, taking a girl to a restaurant, I discovered how much it cost to buy the sort of tipple I’d grown up with. I nearly took the pledge on the spot!

Fast forward twenty years. I’m working on a provincial newspaper. The editor was not a man for plugging the trendy or even topical, preferring to peddle nostalgia. We ran regular supplements on World War II, so much so the journalists nicknamed him ‘Captain Dunkirk’. One day we were gobsmacked when he opened an editorial meeting with “My son-in-law tells me wine’s the coming thing. Who knows anything about wine?” I recovered first and put my hand up. “Fine,” he said. You might as well review restaurants as well.” I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

During this period I went to a vertical tasting of Chateau Latour. For the uninitiated, a vertical tasting is one where you taste different vintages of the same wine. As opposed to a lateral tasting (same vintage, different wines). A horizontal tasting is one where you forget to spit! Anyhow, the organisers had thrown in a few bottles of the 1968, a Bordeaux vintage that should have been sponsored by Domestos, or maybe Paraquat. I had just written ‘undrinkable’ when a fellow taster, a posh geezer, buttonholed me, saying “You can’t write that, it’s Latour.” “I don’t give a damn,” I said, “It’s crap.” He called for reinforcements. “Algy,” he said, to another chinless wonder, “Algy, this man says the ’68 Latour is undrinkable.” Algy had a different take. He said “You can’t write that, old man. It cost forty-seven quid a bottle.”

Coming to live in Ireland in 1987, I had few contacts. I did know one guy who edited a business magazine and who asked me to call when I arrived. Ushering me into his office, he said “Thank God you’ve turned up. No one in town is speaking to me today.” As reward he granted me a wine column in addition to other freelance commissions. At my first tasting I enquired after a spittoon and was told “Young man, we are not going to spit. We shall drink our eight glasses manfully after which we’ll go to the pub, drink Guinness and discuss what we’ve experienced.”

During my seven year stint with Food & Wine Magazine the demands placed on nose and palate have intensified. Spitting, thank goodness, is now de rigueur. It wouldn’t be unusual nowadays to be invited to attend four tastings a week, nor be faced with a hundred or more wines at a session. I’ve learned a lot. Things like ‘Don’t wear a tie unless it’s paisley-patterned’ and ‘Get the ‘duty wines’ done first then reward yourself with a happy hour on the expensive stuff’.

I’ve inherited this column from the excellent Ronan Farren who has a deserved reputation among his peers as a man who ‘tells it as it is’. I mean to continue the tradition. You won’t find too much of the ‘hints of kumquats, dog roses, Ethiopian tobacco and three-year old Footjoy golf shoes’ here, I’m afraid. Mates of Algy should bale out now.


In the movie, Butch Cassidy and Sundance are hounded by a posse. Butch, irritated beyond belief, demands, “Who are these guys?” I was put in mind of this recently when a young friend who has just joined his family’s wine business asked, “Wine writers, who are they, where do they come from, are they any good?” To answer parts one and two of this conundrum, when it comes to getting any writing gig, ‘right time/right place’ sure beats paper qualifications. Part three is more difficult. The short answer is “Some are, some aren’t.” I’m not going to name names. If I did I’d have to kill you. In brief, the wine scribes who wear white stetsons and ride white horses are the ones who entertain you; the ones who give you Value Added, some “Gosh, I’d never have thought of that”; the ones whose recommendations consistently hit the spot. And the ornery guys in black hats? The dogma-floggers who preach accepted shibboleths; the wine bores who read like the puffery on a back label; the axe-grinders with a vested interest.
Now for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. What a singular style, pea pods, asparagus, maybe grass on the nose. Rakish acidity married to pungent green gooseberry and lime. Top producers manage to squeeze in mango and lychees too, without making liquid fruit salad. Most people believe the cult started with Cloudy Bay but it was Montana, in 1989 hailed ‘World’s Best Sauvignon’(helped, it has to be said, by a run of iffy vintages in the Loire) that put NZSB on the world stage.
Kiwi wine writer and me-lookalike Bob Campbell reckons Sauvignon should be ‘picked, pressed and p*ss*d within a twelvemonth’ which is why I suggested you buy 2005. I have Kaimera 2003 in front of me and while the fruit is glorious, Sauvignon’s revitalizing capacity has gone, the wine is like a copper coin that’s losing its sheen.
Of the others, Montana (e11.99) is decent-but-dullish. Whitehaven (O’Brien’s, e12.49) has a bracing zip whetting the palate’s edge but maybe a tad too lean. Winemaker Simon Waghorn’s own Astrolabe (O’Brien’s e15.99) has equivalent minerality with better developed fruit. Cloudy Bay is hard to find as a brass rubbing of Batman. A good alternative is Lawson’s Dry Hills (e17.95) where maturing a small percentage in French barriques before blending back does no harm. Hunter’s (e18.95) is perfumed, voluptuous, an eyelash-waggling vamp in the Cloudy Bay idiom for a tenner less. Wines widely available unless otherwise stated.

Next week, Chianti. Buy two bottles, one a Riserva. See if you think the quantum leap is worth the money.

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Wine Notes June 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wine notes March 2006

Chateau La Grave Rose 2005, Minervois e10 Rating 14/20
At certain times of the year, wine tastings, large and small run back to back, like buses when you don’t need one. February is one such month. A tasting most of the wine scribes are loath to miss is that organised annually by the Searsons – a long-established, family owned wine merchant blessed with a great portfolio. Among the aristocratic Vega Sicilia Unicos, the Yquems and the ageing Crus Classes put out to lure us to attend I sniffed out some lesser known gems. Like this lustrously vibrant and intense rose that, for my money knocks spots off many dearer alternatives.

Cotes de Duras, Sauvignon Blanc, Honore de Berticot 2005 e10 Rating 14/20
From a tiny and unfashionable appellation south of Bordeaux, this Sauvignon has more in common with smart Sancerre than with the New Zealand style of rakish acidity over dessert gooseberry fruit.
Quite subtle, fat without being fatiguing and a lot of class for the money.

Rueda, Eylo 2005 e11 Rating 15/20
The rise-and-rise of hitherto unknown parts of Spain continues. A blend of Verdejo, Sauvignon Blanc and Viura maintains interest on the palate. The intense flavours eventually transmute into a long lime-and-grapefruit finish. This is exciting wine.

Chateau de Navailles Jurancon Sec 2003 13.75 Rating 15/20
One to impress your friends for many of them won’t have heard about Gros Manseng. This essentially Basque grape doesn’t make it much further north than Gascony. Jurancon was one of France’s earliest Appelations Controllees and it was here, as far back as the 14th century that the concept of a cru was first introduced. Henri IV and the writer Colette were both big fans of the region’s wines. This one is hefty and generous with a style all of its own.

Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett, RvK 2002 18.00 Rating 18.5/20
Charles Searson will kill me! “Even if you talk it up,” he says “Hardly anyone buys German wines.” I got the feeling he’d rather I devoted space to something else. All I can say to you wine lovers out there is: get over the throat-clearing name; put aside all your prejudices. Okay it’s ‘off-dry’ there’s no racy acidity but but so what? This wine is simply sensational and, for the money, an absolute steal.

Rasteau, Domaine St Gayan 2003 e14.75 Rating 16/20
Domaine St.Gayan’s 2000 Gigondas was huge, bourgeoning, exquisite. The violet-and-cracked-pepper nose was alone worth the asking price. The 2002 I tasted was lovely, more laid back and the ’03, not out yet, promises the extrovert tendencies of earlier vintages. Meanwhile, the Rasteau, its baby brother gives you shedloads of dark plummy fruit, hints of dark chocolate and cinnamon and a sophistication elsewhere unattainable at the price. Buy.

Mas en Gill, Priorat Coma Vella 2002 e32 Rating 18.5/20
A winemaking revolution in the 1990’s after 400 years of ‘same as was’ made this remote Catalonian sub-region upwardly mobile. Terroir is all the rage and these guys have some of the best. Grenache, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah combine to make a stunningly intense, unbelievably smooth, myriad-flavoured red, delicious now but, I reckon, of great longevity if laying down wines is your thing. Could become an icon.

Heartland Wines Director’s Cut Shiraz, Limestone Coast 2004 e22.50 Rating 17/20
Heartland Wines was started in 2001 by a group including Ben Glaetzer, Vicky Arnold, Grant Tilbrook and Geoff Hardy, savvy people all. I’ve previously praised Ben’s The Bishop Shiraz in this column. The Director’s Cut seems more laid back, a staging post between the lean elegance of the Northern Rhone and the exuberance and lust-for-life of the Barossa, if that’s not too contrived (it was a long day!). And though I’m not generalk a fan of Shiraz-Cabernet mixes I found myself loving the heather, mint and cornstalk nose and the opulent mouthfeel of Glaetzer’s new Godolphin 2004 e38 Rating 18.5/20

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