Tag Archives: Pinot noir

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!

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’.

So it goes…

This week’s decent drinking

“Red Sancerre?”  my dinner guests chorused.

Life’s full of surprises, they thought it was Sauv B, I gave them Pinot Noir. This wine saved the night as yet another two bottles of expensive Aussie red suffered the Ernesto thumbs down for cork taint. No wonder wineries are going over to Stelvin faster than you can say ‘TCA’.

Was the period 1997-2000 a particularly bad period for the cork industry? Did a batch of floor tile grade stuff get sent to the stopper factory by mistake? That’s 3 in a week, out of 12 bottles opened.

dezat-sancerre1Simon and Louis Dezat, fourth generation Loire winemakers, have produced this smart pinot noir, lovely nose combining morello cherries, violets and almonds yielding to joyful red cherry and redcurrant fruit on the palate.It would be hard to find a New Zealand or Chilean equivalent for the same money here in Ireland and impossible to find a Burgundian one. Pinot Noir from the chilly Loire, if this is global warming, bring it on. (only joking, my PC friends!)

André Dezat Sancerre 2006 €18.95, Berry Bos & Rudd.

Gilbeys Portfolio Tasting – Oct 14 2006 – REDS, FIZZ and STICKIES

As tastings go this one was pretty good. Some decent whites, some nice surprises and even the big Burgundy houses didn’t entirely disappoint though they face stiff competition these days.
So it was on to the reds and here, in amongst the average ‘it’ll do’ wines and the occasional duffer I did find some really thought-provoking stuff…

*Santana Tempranillo, Vino de la Tierra, Bodegas Castillianas e7.99
A bit unrefined but definitely robust, cheerful and value for the money.

Wild Coast Shiraz-Cabernet, SE Australia 2004 e.7.99
A bit jammy. The above Tempranillo is better.

Louis Latour Bourgogne Pinot Noir La Chanfleur 2005. e14.99
The Burgundians are finding it inmcreasingly hard to deliver for this sort of money. This one is no exception.

Joseph Drouhin Rully 2003 e19.99
A wee bit metallic but, overall, a good demonstration of what Burgundian Pinot can do without costing an arm and a leg.

Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny 2001 £47.50
A bit ‘bretty’ for my taste but definitely off the pace for the money.

*Goats do Roam Red, Western Cape 2004 £9.99
Used to be excellent. Now has become more stylish and refined but maybe a tad less interesting as a consequence.

**Navraro Correas Coleccion Privada Malbec, Mendoza 2004 e9.99
Exclusive to Dunnes Stores
Cheerful, characterful wine with lashings of fruit. Not much you could get better than this for under a tenner.

**Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release, Valle Centrale 2005 e.11.99
On special at SuperValu/Centra at e.7.99
….and worth every last cent. This is what Chile does so well, budget cabernet. Quite French in style, mellow and surprisingly delicate.

***Pezat Bordeaux Superieur, Jonathan Malthus 2005
It was only a barrel sample but the third I’ve tasted in recent weeks and I’m going to say what I said when I tasted the first one at the winery. IF THERE’S A BETTER BOTTLE OF RED IN IRELAND FOR E15, PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IT IS!
packed with rich, joyous, vibrant rich fruit, caressed and carefully handled – a total class act – see my Sunday Indo column Oct 28th

**G ‘Le Garagiste’ Gilbey Commemorative St.Emilion Grand Cru 2004 e26.99
Had a hard time following the luscious Pezat but a retaste proved it to be elegant and well made and it will certainly improve in bottle. The merlot shines through.

Chateau Laforge Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2003 e58
Has what I consider the drawback of a lot of the 03s – schizophrenia! Huge hit of ripe fruit upfront and, as it quietens down, a dilute quality in mid-late palate.
Doesn’t cut it for the money.

Moulin de la Lagune Haut Medoc 2000
Second wine of La Lagune, pre the arrival of vinobabe Caroline Frey. Again, my views on claret are running contrary to the flow but I’m finding that once the fruit starts to dissipate many of the 2000s don’t have a great deal to offer (despite all the hype). This is one such.

***Chateau La Lagune Haut Medoc 3eme Grand Cru Classe 2001 e45
Beautiful, accessible claret and, like many of its ’01 counterparts, drinking delightfully as of now. They make fantastic restaurant wines. Classy and classical gear.

*Fortius Tempranilo Navarra, Bodegas Valcarlos2003 e7.99
Uncomplicated cherry fruit kick. People will love this for the price.

*Fortius Reserva, Navarrra, Bodegas Valcarlos 1999, On special e9.99, down from 15.99
Nicely made wine for ‘now’ drinking especially at the lower price.

Faustino Seleccion de Familia Rioja 2002 e13.99
On special at Carry-out group and others at 9.99
Unremarkable stuff from Ireland’s favourite consistently under-performing Rioja house. Buy the Fortius instead.

**Portia Ribera del Duero 2003 e17.99
Solid, impactful, dignified stuff from the sexy ‘new Spain’. Good weight of fruit; liked this a lot.

**Fairview Pinotage-Viognier Coastal Region 2003 e14.99
Take the grape that should have been strangled at birth; blend in 10% of another grape I habitually detest and what do you get? Bloody good wine, actually. All the skidmark rubber smell of pinotage, all the icky blowsiness of viognier gone, gone, gone. I take my hat off to Charles Back. You should try this!

**Fairview Pegleg Carignan, Swarrtland 2003 e19.99
Delicious delicate cherry and Victoria plum fruits. Smashing stuff.

**Domaine Ferrer Ribierre Empreinte du Temps Carignan, Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalan 2005 e14.99
Oh dear! An interminably lengthy, nigh-unpronounceable name, a self-effacing grape, an unknown area and a naff monochrome label will prevent this wine, made from 128 year old vines, from having an audience.
A pity, because it’s only delightful. Do get to a good independent and seek this one out.

Santa Rita 120 Reserva Especial Shiraz, Valle de Maipo 2005. e11.50
A worthy attempt by Santa Rita to hike upo the lacklustre 120 collection. Solid, but a tad boring.

Santa Rita 120 Limited Release Petite Syrah-Syrah 2004 e1.99
Curious. A reversal of the Fairview P-V above. They’ve taken two nice grapes and made something akin to old-style pinotage. If you like licking warm tarmac it might be for you. Otherwise, hard to take.

***Envoy Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre, Barossa Valley, Colonial Estate 2004 e19.99
For me another Jonathan M superstar. Courageous, stonking winemaking worth every penny and more of the asking price.

**L’Explorateur Barossa Valley Shiraz, Colonial Estate 2003 e19.99
Big,chunky, in-the-tradition Barossa shiraz whose extrovert character masks a lot of class. Drink now or will improve if laid down.

Crozes-Hermitage Selectionne par Louis Jaboulet, Paul Jaboulet Aine 2002 e10.99
Crozes of this nature used to be really good value but this one (probably the vintage that’s in it) is hard and unlovely.

Hermitage La Chapelle, Paul Jaboulet Aine 2001 e95
Shame on you! What used to be one of my all-time favourite wines is now a pale shadow of itself. What seems to be a combination of apathy and neglect seems to have set in and La Chapelle no longer has the capacity to excite. Let’s hope things improve when The Fair Maid of La Lagune gets down there to sort the compacent buggers out!


*Gratien & Mayer Saumur Brut Rose NV e17.50
Honest, well made fizz for the money. Nice refreshing attack.

*Champagne Laurent Perrier LP Brut NV e39.99
Pleasant, well made, crisp clean appley acidity. Good value.

***Champagne Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut NV e55
Wonderful! Outstanding champagne in its price bracket. Clean, lean and refreshing, tinged with excitement – an element many of the others in this price range leave out.

*Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut NV e65
Good, but unless you can’t live without the rose tints, buy the Ultra Brut and save yourself a tenner.

Champagne Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Alexandra Brut Rose 1997 e150
Near-exquisite but the Taittinger equivalent, the Comte de Champagne Brut Rose knocks it for six for equivalent money, in my opinion.


**Thomas Barton Reserve Sauterne 2005 e19.99
Impressive rich Sauternes. Great wine for silly money. Look out for the chunky bottle.

Paul Jaboulet Aine Muscat de Beaumes de Venise Le Chant des Griolles 2003 e23.99 or (37cl) e12.99
Unless you have a very very sweet tooth and a shot palate buy the Sauternes above.

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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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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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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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Wine Notes June/July 2005

Craggy Range Te Muna Rd Sauvignon Blanc 2004 15.50 16.5/20
Smart as paint bristlingly mineral Sauvignon Blanc with heavyweight apple and citrus fruit framed by the gravelly aftertaste. Distinctive, interesting, hugely enjoyable Cloudy Bay chaser.
Redmond’s Ranelagh,Claudios Georges St Arcade, Thomas’s Foxrock

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot 2002 c28.99 18.5/20
Hard to imagine that this sensuous, serious wine was made from grapes from vines only a couple of years old! Rich, fragrant, decidedly Bordeaux-busting Merlot made with love and care. Violets, mint and herbs on the nose and subtle silky fruit on the palate plus that star-spangled magic powder aftertaste that copperfastens the authenticity. I could drink this every night.
CGA; BN9; GEL; Bradleys, Cork; RED; LYN

Château de Bastet Côtes du Rhône 2003, ‘St. Nelly’. e11.50 13/20
More organic/biodynamic wine from the sure-footed Mary Pawle. It was only after I’d given this wine a private road test that I noticed it in this month’s tasting. Unabashed, either I got it wrong or I got a much better bottle than the panel! Delicate, beguiling and not too bucolic or ‘in your face’. Excellent value, too.

Oaky Toasty 2003 Bordeaux Blend enot yet available 13/20
Hard on the heels of a stelvinned white Burgundy, of which more anon, came this further example of La Nouvelle France. A bottle that could hold Cologne or posh olive oil; brash, funky labelling and a cosy back label, revealing that this wine was casked in AMERICAN oak. Well, Bordeaux’s Grange it ain’t but it was well-made quaffable stuff, loaded with vanilla, herbs and ripe fruit. I await the price with interest.

‘Vinifera’ Gamay 2004, Touraine AC e16.50 16/20
Henry Marionnet is perhaps the finest Touraine producer and this lovely Gamay, made amazingly from ungrafted vines (how brave is that?), is the sort of wine you could give to a visiting Martian and expect him to return enchanted. Vibrant, rich cherry flavours, so enjoyable and, of it’s kind, unique
Le Caveau, kilkenny

Château de la Negly La Cote, Coteau du Languedoc AC 2003 e12.45 17/20
Grapes from old Carignan vines married to an equivalent quantity of prime Grenache, this stellar wine would eat the face off 9 out of every 10 Châteauneuf du Papes we’ve come across lately. Great meaty whack of fruit augmented by wrinkly black olive overtones and a whiff of clean white pepper. So enjoyable.
LE CAVEAU, Kilkenny

Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru AC ‘Morgeot’ Viellle Vignes 2001 e41.50 19/20
The rise-and-rise of Vincent Girardin continues! Normally I wouldn’t dream of featuring a wine this pricey and esoteric but I just had to tell you about the trippy experience which I see from my notes involved ‘the feeling of sitting in a lemon grove eating freshly-cooked pork crackling’. And that’s only the nose! Huge WOW factor in this wine.

Thelema Ed’s Reserve 2003, SA e21.95 15/20
Gyles Webb was in Europe when we called at his Stellenbosch estate. But we did meet his wife Barbara and her mum Ed – possibly the only mother-in-law ever to have a wine created in her honour! And what a good wine too. Barrel-fermented Chardonnay in a brisk, non-cloying style. At the price, the poor man’s Hamilton Russell and that’s by no means a put down.

Domaine de Saint-Lannes 2002 Cotes de Gascogne e8.99 14/20
Another example of O’Brien’s new-found ability to unearth delicious wines from hitherto unregarded corners of France. Made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat it yields dark brambly fruits with cinnamon and coriander notes and at a nowadays modest 12% ABV it’s as easy on the head as it is on the wallet

Champagne Duval-Leroy ‘La Fleur de Champagne’
e34-35 17/20
With a platoon of relatives arriving from foreign parts the last month has been a bit of a Champfest. Cream and quality biscuits, almonds, hazelnuts and clean fruit, everybody loved this one.

Dry, delicate, delicious with only the faintest high octane whiff by way of signposting the variety, Speckled House Riesling 2001 hails from Australia’s Adelaide Hills. Weighing in at a stripling 10.5% ABV, it won’t have you on your ear while exuding charm and class in every mouthful. The 2002, tasted on Australia Day was just as good. It’s available from the excellent Inis Wines – Tel: (074) 954 2940 and from good independents, guide price e19.49. Rating 16.5/20.

‘Delicate’ is not a word that describes the Paul Osika 2001 Heathcote Shiraz from Victoria. This big, bouncing boyo tips the scales at a colossal 15% ABV. Yet it proved once again that, if the winemaker is skilled enough, particularly with New World Shiraz, humungus alcohol levels are no bar to enjoyment. It has to be said that the two old friends who shared this bottle with me had no sense that the wine was so pokey. Me, I loved it. Karwig Wines (021) 437 2864, around e26. Rating 17.5/20.

From what could prove to be one of the landmark tastings of 2005. Argenina’s Cafayete, the region of origin. has the benefit of high altitude and hence a long ripening season, so this Cabernet, aged a year in new French oak, is not the usual New World blackcurrant fool, it’s a proper wine, subtle and understated with the tannins resolving nicely and all the leather, spice and other tricky bits you can handle. A tasting begged two questions: (a) Why can’t the New World make Cabernet with this much character and restraint? And (b) Why can’t the French give you Cabernet anywhere near as good as this for anything approaching the money? Michel Torino Don David Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, around a heartwarming e12 from Mitchells and good independents (importers Classic Drinks, a new company, appropriately enough from The City of Culture – 021 451 0066). Rating 16/20

Not that the French are sat on their butt smoking Gitanes. A deal of hard work by the guys from Mouton-Rothschild (and a tad more Semillon in the blend) has placed Mouton Cadet Blanc 2003 a lot more class, placing it firmly in the Good Value table. For about e12 it’s more than a match for many of the New World fruitgum fests. Widely available. Rating 13/20

Now for the Holy Grail, drinkable wine for e6.99. At amazing new “that’ll do nicely” contemporary wine palace Eno in Monkstown, Co Dublin, I found Zohak Mendoza the name – the red’s a rough party quaffer, the Chardonnay, in contrast, is quite polished. Rating, Red 10.5/20, White 12.5 I believe it’s a one-off, though, so step on it.

Going upscale, I encountered a lemon-refreshing Piemonte white, San Silverno 2002 that certainly won’t disappoint at e9.99. Rating 13.5/20. In the same emporium, surprise, surprise, I came across a well stylish Italian Pinot Noir. There is a middle path between a bag of over-ripe Southern soft fruit and the vapid offerings of Burgundy in a bad year and these guys have found it. At e29 I won’t be drinking it every night but Bressan Fruili Pinot Nero 2000 will make a pleasing occasional treat. Rating 16.5/20.

I love vertical tastings. Recently we sampled 6 vintages of Zuccardi Q Tempranillo from Argentina. The diversity was immense: the ‘97 all spice, cracked white pepper, morello cherry and orange peel; ‘98, more fragrant, apple and bramble hints coming through; my favourite, the 2000, a broad-shouldered muscular, developed wine of great length. Worth grabbing a few bottles of the hefty 2002 and putting them aside, especially as the suggested rrp of around e18.99 looks a king-size bargain. rating 17/20.

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