Tag Archives: New Zealand

September 2005 Wines

Peppoli 2002, Chianti Classico e16.49
OB, SQ, Cana (Mullingar), RED, Harvest (Galway) Rating 15.5/20
A mid-ranger from the prolific and aristocratic house of Antinori, Peppoli’s sheer restraint may come as a surprise to those more used to swaggering new world reds and maybe all the better for it. The vanillins aren’t overdone thanks to the big Slovenian oak botti wherein the wine is matured and tannins in the 2002 were resolving nicely. 10% finds its way into American oak barrels to lend character to the finish. Nice kit, sort of ‘posh easy-drinking’ (that’s a compliment).

McPherson Basilisk Shiraz Mourvedre
O’Brien’s. e.12.99 Rating 14/20
We found this wine on a 2 for 20 promotion which might now be over (That’s the trouble with a monthly mag!) It’s a fairly big hitter, with a whack of sweet plummy fruit from the ‘Raybans and factor 40’ Shiraz, my take is it really needs the dark notes of the Mourvedre to keep things together. It also needs food. Hard going on its own, it combined beautifully with a rib of beef.
No vintage on the label, I’d guess 2002. David?

Nugan Manuka Grove Durif 2003 e15.99 SuperValu Rating 15.5/20
Durif is a black grape, originally a selection of the little known Peloursin, propagated by a Doctor Durif in SE France back in the 1880s. It has all but died out in its native land but instead found a home in California (as Petite Syrah) and in Victoria and New South Wales where it makes dense, porty full-flavoured wines with ‘earthy’ appeal that make a refreshing change from Cabernet and Syrah. We owe this fine single vineyard version to Darren Owers, Australia’s Young Wine Maker of the Year 2004. It stood up particularly well to a leg of Gary Crocker’s organic lamb swathed in rosemary, smoked garlic and sea salt. A saved dash to deglaze the roasting tin did the gravy no harm.

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC 2004 Marchetti e10.65 Wines Direct, Mullingar Rating 14.5/20
Verdicchio, classic white wine of Italy’s Marche, has been through hard times what with its largest producer coming up with a bottle that positively screams ‘kitsch!’ plus idiosyncratic oenology that put the wine out of tune with the times. On holiday in the region last year I was pleased to note that the modern style, of which this is a decent example, was drier, cleaner and altogether less demanding. Racy, lemony acidity makes the Marchetti version a perfect non-serious cold white for a warm night. Enjoy it, while the weather lasts.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2001 & 2002. OB, Redmonds, & selected independents e38.00 rating 16/20 (2001)18/20 (2002)
Two New Zealand makers have always been considered leaders of the pack when it comes to this sensuous but temperamental variety. One is Felton Road, the other Ata Rangi whose main Pinot Noir clone is said to have been imported illegally from France back in the ‘70s. The 2001 is distinctly Burgundian in tone with both dessert and morello cherries in evidence, backed by aromas of fading violets. While undeniably classy it is showing substantial garnet tints and ought to be drunk within the next twelvemonth. The 2002, altogether a more confident production, is starting to add truffly notes to the gage plums, red cherries, dark chocolate and vanilla I recorded at a tasting earlier this year. It should hold up a lot longer than its sibling but is lovely as of now. Double decant, serve at around 16° and you and your friends are on a winner.

Bauget-Jouette Grande Reserve NV around e45 BWR, BN9, CAR Rating 15/20
Champagne falls into 3 categories, well, two if you discount cheap’n’nasty. There’s the suave, subtle, elegant style favoured by wine critics, successful stockbrokers and lady fashionistas who believe it won’t muck up their diet; and the uber weighty, fruit-centric ‘glass-that-cheers’, beloved of those who’ve gained promotion, been left a small legacy or won a palimony suit. Bauget-Jouette Grande Reserve, big, bouncy, bountiful, is firmly in the latter category. Thanks probably to a big dollop of Pinot Meunier it doesn’t do subtle; what it does do is make you feel the world’s a better place.

Domaine des Martinelles Crozes Hermitage White 2003 e15.99
The Celtic Whisky Shop, Dawson Street, Dublin 2 Rating 16/20 You shrugged off Chardonnay ages ago but now you are getting bored with NZ Sauv B and you’ve tried it but you’re not yet ready for Riesling. Where to go next? Northern Rhône’s the answer, with this engaging Marsanne-Rousanne shandy from a small producer whose reputation grows steadily. Hints of peach and apricot overlaid with nougat flavours and enough acidity to keep things interesting; enjoy in its own right or as a stepping stone to the same producer’s utterly brilliant Hermitage Blanc if you’ve got e42.99 to shell out.

Maison Nicolas Potel Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Vielles Vignes ‘La Maison Dieu’ 2002 . Celtic Whisky Shop, Dawson Street e15.99 Rating 16/20
Time was when a party was a function to which you took your bottle of Algerian rouge, parked it on the kitchen table then set out to find where the host kept his Lynch Bages. Nowadays we like to take something we’d be happy to drink ourselves. This red, from the eclectic collection assembled by the hardworking Ali Alpine is a Pommard tastealike from the brilliant 2002 vintage, black dessert cherries merge with raspberries and redcurrants in massive concentration. Joyous, singing wine, a treat, try and keep it away from the other guests.

Unité Chardonnay 2003 Selected independents e10.99 Rating 14/20
“You’re not gonna believe this, guys. Burgundy with a twist. See, it’s screw capped and, hey, there’s more – the grape variety is listed on the label!” Once the amazement dissipates your friends will be struck by the fact that this is actually quite good gear. Well worth the asking price with more than a splash of ripe, clean, non-cloying fruit. Don’t expect PC Chablis or cut-price Meursault. This is simply honest reliable drinking, light years better than most of the identikit new world tropical fruit buckets, for around the same outlay.

Chateau Saint Florin 2004 Bordeaux Rosé. EnoWine, Monkstown e10.95 Rating 13.5
Crisp, fragrant, delicate rosé. Abundant raspberry fruit makes this wine total pleasure on a warm afternoon; no food needed. Deftly sidesteps the bubblegum flavours that trip up so many budget rosés. Chill to a degree or so lower than you’d normally cool a white wine, open and pour, put your feet up, enjoy.

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No sects, please – more toleration and an end to "isms".

Impressionism, cubism, fauvism, expressionism, surrealism. What a lot of ‘isms’ the art world has been through. Many painters have passed from one movement to another; rejecting old notions and, often, old colleagues and friends as they espoused new theories, becoming disagreeably didactic as they embraced the new, the one true visual religion.
So too with music. I remember with utter clarity my own Damascene conversion from ‘Mouldy Fig’ to ‘Modernist’ – eight bars of Dave Brubeck Octet’s ‘Love Walked in’ and out went the hairy sweater, the sandals and the banjo-fuelled 78s. In came the sharp zoot suit, the silk polo neck, beret and shades. Not, alas, the Thelonius Monk goatee which failed to sprout on an 18 year-old’s chin!
Wine also has its own partisan sects. Terroirists – hard-nosed bigots who believe the most important thing about a wine is that the grapes squeezed into the bottle can be traced back to a specific windswept quartz-encrusted plot on some godforsaken hillside. Abvists – those who condemn any bottle marked 14% or over as the work of The Devil. The flagellant Blanchistas who’ll drink nothing but white wine, or if they do scourge themselves. Attributing Monday morning’s lack of wellbeing to the consumption of a glass or two of Aussie Shiraz on Saturday night they get out the old whip and hairshirt. Nothing to do with the thirty fags, three G&Ts and the litre and a half of Chardonnay of course, it’s all satanic red wine’s fault.
Picasso and Braque initiated the Cubist movement when they followed the advice of Paul Cézanne, who in 1904 said artists should treat nature “in terms of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone.” The Cubists were mega-analytical and I suppose their vinous equivalent would be the Anorakists who have persuaded themselves that wine (as distinct from the making of wine) is a subject fit for serious academic study. Maybe it is but give these boys a soapbox and they can bore for Burgundy. Many Anorakists are charming, even fascinating people and to hear a real expert lecture on the evils of reductivity is not to be missed. Trouble is, like all charismatic movements, Anorakism attracts a fringe element of pedants, bluffers and utter chancers.
The Anorakists do have an achilles heel however; a romantic nature that set them at odds with The Technocrats, an austere cult who stole the Anorakists’ clothes while the latter were gazing, misty-eyed at Le Montrachet. Technos are wine’s Futurists, the Italian-based largely Fascist art movement that embraced and enobled the machine. The Technocrats believe, to put it at its most basic, that the guy who owns the chemistry set rules the world – of wine, at any rate. I have many friends among the Anos but the Technos, I’m afraid, are utterly unlovable.
Sandwiched between the Impressionists and the Cubists were the Fauves, the “Wild Beasts”, so called for their unrestrained slap-it-on approach and their wild use of colour. Wine’s parallel would be The Untouchables, the guys who buy utter crap at e5.99 a pop and spend Saturday night talking it up. The same people lurch northwards in their MPV on a mission to buy crates of Budweiser. Living proof that vinegary wine and sugary beer rots the brain. Another mob, The Flat Earthers are convinced that if you venture beyond Gibraltar in search of a bottle you fall off the edge of the world. Then there are Nihilists, who hate every wine you serve them at dinner parties and who pass on the bottles you take to theirs to the local church fête.
Lately a new strain has emerged, the Ambientists who have issues with the temperature at which you serve your wine. They dwell cocooned in padded cells with the central heating turned up full bore – this they call ‘room temperature’ and when they come to dine chez toi they expect the reds to reach this daft peak of perfection. Between mouthfuls they stoop over the glass, which they cup in both hands, willing the Pomerol to metamorphose into lukewarm soup. In contrast they drink their whites at temperatures that would rip the enamel off your teeth. And, though they don’t actually stone you to death for it, the admission that you’ve never actually owned an ice bucket provokes howls of derision. Though the ones I’ve outlined represent mainstream Wineism there are various minor sects. Like the Evangelists who take backlabelspeak for holy writ and, given a captive congregation, never pass up the opportunity to preach “We should all love Mogadon Vale Chardonnay because it’s fresh, fruity, full-flavoured, blessed with the kiss of oak, has complex layers of butterscotch and marmalade and teams well with red meat, pork, chicken and fish.” And the Negativists who say “I don’t like Port – as though there were no difference between ’63 Fonseca and the bottle of ruby Auntie Mary gets out every Christmas.
Where do I fit into all this? Well, there’s a touch of the Anorakist in me. There must be, I own more wine books than I can sensibly house and I’ve read most of them cover-to-cover and dipped into the rest. I’ve done the tours, even before I got paid for so doing. I can’t join the Technos. You see, faced with yet another row of stainless steel fermenting vessels my eyes start to glaze over. Hence I failed the entrance exam.
I’m not a Negativist, nor a Blanchista, I’ll drink anything. Even Pinotage. My sworn enemy is the Ambientist. We drink red wine too warm and white too cold, in my opinion. I’m certainly not a Flat-Earther, given my insatiable appetite for Aussie Shiraz and, latterly New Zealand – you must try try the Felton Road Pinot Noir, by the way.
Anyhow, for 2005, a bit less dogma, please. And if, like me, you recognise yourself in any of the foregoing, a lot less.

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Aussie Rules?

Certain subversive elements in the Irish wine biz threatened to turn up at Croke Park for the Australia Day Tasting clad in rugby jerseys and football shirts of the non-Gaelic variety but, for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Perhaps as well, for there’s no doubt that ‘Croker’ is a superb venue for what’s become an annual shindig, one we wouldn’t want to put in jeopardy.
For the critic, the event provides a valuable opportunity to assess current trends in the Australian Wine Industry; to get a handle on progress over the last twelve months; and to find wines that you haven’t tasted before. This year’s event performed well on all three counts.
Trendwise, there’s no doubt that Verdelho is making a bid to become ‘Australia’s Sauvignon Blanc’. Grown in cool climates – the Loire, New Zealand’s South Island – Sauvignon has an appealing lemon acidity and mineral zip that refreshes drinkers as quick as if they’d stood naked under a waterfall. From a warm locale it can be cloying, even sickly, and its appeal fades faster than a e5 pair of jeans. I’ve never waxed lyrical, or anything like, over an Aussie Sauvignon Blanc. Nepenthe, from Adelaide Hills is about as good as it gets, in my opinion. Verdelho, in contrast, offers winemakers the opportunity to deliver a pleasant easy-drinking alternative to budget Chardonnay, whilst at the same time enabling them to side-step the trap of making alcoholic fruit salad. If you haven’t tried Aussie Verdelho, Houghton’s, from WA, and probably the progenitor of the species, is the one to start with.
Australians, of course, are the world’s prime marketeers of wine, role models for the rest. Therefore an essential element in the tasting is to check out the ‘brands’, the household names which they’ve taught us to buy instead of Château Unpronounceable and its ilk. This will probably get me assassinated, but it has to be said: the quality of those brands at entry level or just above has stagnated. The challenge of competing with the ‘New New World’ seems to be taking its toll. This isn’t just an Australian problem by the way – some of the base level stuff coming out of California (which has now displaced France as the 2nd top importer into the UK) is truly gruesome. From this criticism I will exempt Hardy’s Nottage Hill whose quality is consistently impressive right across the range.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of what the Australians do with Shiraz and in this respect the Croke Park tasting did not disappoint. Initially, I made for the d’Arenberg and Penfolds stands because between them these guys have forgotten more about Shiraz than many have learned. They present a fascinating contrast in style – D’Arry’s, a cross between European sophistication and Down Under exuberance; Penfold’s, all balance and subtlety, rampant fruit kept in check by very smart winemaking. What later became evident was that distinct regional styles have emerged – big, bruising Barossa that starts to throw punches the minute it comes out of the bottle (Peter Lehmann); feminine, sweet-fruited McLaren Vale; the lean, laconic Westerner – exemplified by Plantagenet’s classy Mt. Barker. There are still ones that don’t fit the pattern – Brokenwood from Hunter Valley, a compromise between the first two styles; the self-consciously European Capel Vale; restrained Setanta ‘Cuchulain’ from Adelaide Hills and St. Andrews from the Clare Valley. ‘Find of the show’ was La Testa 2000 from McLaren Vale. I wasn’t alone on this one; many people were talking about a Grange competitor at less than half the price but they were rather missing the point. La Testa is a wizard Shiraz, capable of being judged on its own merits; made from premium fruit, aged in top-dollar French oak and cuddled and fussed over by a guy who really knows what he’s doing. Like The Armagh, like Hill of Grace, what good purpose does comparison serve? Setanta and La Testa are distributed by Inis Wines of Burtonport, Donegal and anyone who hasn’t browsed their exciting little portfolio is missing a treat.
Best budget wines by a mile were the Gnangara Shiraz and Chardonnay from Evans & Tate in WA which I found on the Clada Group stand. While we’re on the subject of Chard, it was good to find that the Aussies seem to be listening at last. There are less tropical fruit stalls around than ever before and even Rosemount Show Reserve, flag-waver for the old big-and-buttery style, while still pretty uncompromising seemed somehow leaner, more lemony. The Aussies are struggling a bit with entry-level Chardonnay, frequently putting dollops of Semillon or Sauvignon in to keep acidity levels up. I really don’t think it’s the answer.
Other highlights? Two superb 2003 Rieslings, Watervale and Polish Hills adjacent to Clare Valley I think. The Watervale in particular was hard as nails, needing putting away for a year or two but the class was overt. The Evans & Tate Margaret River Chardonnay was as pleasing as when I last tasted it in situ. Château Reynella’s version impressed too. A very smart Shiraz-Mourvèdre in the McPherson Basilisk range was complemented by a genuinely exciting Marsanne-Viognier. I sampled an elegantly restrained Cabernet made in Coonawarrra by Balnaves, a name new to me. Pinot Noir did not have a great presence; Tamar Ridge from Tasmania was among the best.. Brown Brothers were full of interest as usual – loved their Barbera, not very Piedmontese but great food wine, I thought.
Were I to chose a ‘Best of Show’ – an invidious task – the Polish Hills Riesling would have come very close, as would the La Testa Shiraz. But, when push came to shove, a blend of sense, sensibility and sentiment took over.
Di Cullen who died in March last year was a pioneer of Margaret River winemaking and fervent advocate of Bordeaux grape varieties. Though she handed over the reins to talented daughter Vanya in the late ‘80s, Di retained daily involvement with the wines and what great wines they are. The Cullen production is always a byword for class and the 2001 Cabernet/Merlot is no exception; glorious aromatics, complex flavours, mellifluous mouthfeel, stonking length; altogether, bliss in a bottle. Vanya has bestowed the soubriquet ‘Diana Madeline’ on this, their flagship. What an ‘in memoriam’ for mum it is. The spirit of Di Cullen lives on.

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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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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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