Tag Archives: Riesling

Wine notes July 2006 Riesling

Today’s wine drinkers are obsessed with grape varieties. Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, etc, get picked over like flavours in a box of chocs. In contrast, I’ve just been re-reading Raymond Postgate’s ‘A Plain Man’s Guide to Wine’ first published in 1953. Mentions of grape varieties are virtually non-existent. I suspect Plan Man didn’t care, he just said “Gimme! Oooh, yummy!” He does have a point.
Ask a wine writer “If there was only one grape what would it be ?” nine out of ten would say “Riesling” (pronounce it “Reece-ling”). Why? Discounting a slight elitist frisson, I’d say it’s because the grape is Mr.Versatility, capable of making anything and everything from lightweight little numbers for drinking in the sunshine to complex jobs with unlimited aging capacity. In styles that range from dry and delicate to sweet and enveloping. Almost the only thing Riesling can’t do is make red wine.
So why do drinkers diss it? Because Riesling acquired a bad press through (incorrect) association with sugar-sweet, nasty, thankfully out-of-fashion German ‘liebfraumilch’. Because certain pundits, neglecting their duty to encourage the newbie, bang on about the whiff of petrol. Who’d want to pay e15 to smell a fart from a filling station forecourt? Lastly, Riesling is undoubtedly an acquired taste. As a fan, I say “persevere.”
Riesling reaches its apogee in Germany where it makes outstanding wines at either end of the taste spectrum. But until the king comes into his own again maybe better to get acquainted via Alsace or Australia. In Alsace, Trimbach, Hugel, Sipp-Mack and Dopf & Irion produce tiered ranges where the ground floor wines (around e12-14, all readily available) give you a hint of Riesling’s greatness – a giveaway scent of crushed grapes, floral aromas, crisp apple flavours and, yes, the slight benzine nuance that you’ll eventually come to tolerate, if not quite love, as ‘characterful’. Go up a level and their wines take on a more serious aspect, offering a package I can only describe as honeyed and opulent, with a pleasing off-dry aftertaste. If you really fancy throwing money in order to get an appreciation of the grape’s potential, seek out Zind Humbrecht (e25+), huge wine of astounding quality.
Flit over to South Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys for a contrasting style: an initially surprising appley acidity segueing into pronounced lime flavours; crisp, refreshing minerality and, often, a distinctive ‘marmalade’ finish. Names to look out for include Grosset, Mount Horrocks, Pewsey Vale, Leasingham and Petaluma.

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Napa Night Out Ruined by "Flunkeys with Attitude"

September heralds the season not of mists and mellow fruitfulness but of blisters and blackened tongues as wine scribes hustle to accommodate a “double shifts and Sundays too” routine of tastings. A veritable host of Spaniards, French, Italians, Kiwis and Aussies flock to town to tout their wares. Argentina and Chile empty as winemakers head for Europe. Raymond, Mary, Martin, John, Tomas, Myles, Liam and the gang spend more time with each other during this month than they do with their spouses.
I suppose the most pleasurable affair of the whole shebang is the annual visit of the winemakers of Napa, a region of California rightly hailed as the USA’s number one location for the noble grape. These worthies arrived under the banner of a Fall 2004 Trade Mission, en route for Hamburg and London. The last two destinations I can understand. Why they come to Dublin, however, is unclear in the main, though some were seeking representation. Napa wine can never be cheap as the microeconomics of the region militate against bulk sales. Real estate is expensive and labour costs high. There’s a fdeal of investment in technology. Ageing and oak casking also bump up the eventual bottle price as does the cost of transatlantic transportation. What’s more the market for premium wines here is not huge and what punters there are tend to be conservative, favouring Burgundy and, particularly Bordeaux.
So it’s an uphill struggle but nevertheless they come and they love coming. I went out to dinner with a group of them, to a private dining club on Stephen’s Green. Ah, I thought, as I climbed the steps, this place must be one of the last bastions of courtesy and civility, pluperfect venue for showing our American friends lashings of Old World charm. In a pig’s eye!
From the concierge who was loath to let me across the threshold until I could be vouched for, through the waiters who confiscated Californian cameras with the zeal of cold war cops, to the charming man who hurled invective at our host (who had contributed 75% of the dining room revenue that night), these were Flunkeys With Attitude.
The wines we drank with the meal were Clos du Val, at the Stag’s Leap end of the valley. The vineyard has an interesting history. In 1970 American businessman John Goelet commissioned winemaker Bernard Portet to find an unmapped territory with potential to make world class wines. Two years and five continents later, Portet wound up in Napa, sampling the microclimate intuitively by driving with his arm out of the window. Taken with the undulating terrain and cool evenings, he persuaded the tycoon to purchase 150 acres. Thus was Clos du Val – ‘a small estate in a small valley’ founded in 1972.
The first vintage of limited release handcrafted wines was one of five Californian Cabernet Sauvignons selected for the now legendary ‘head-to-head’ tasting in Paris, in 1976, an event widely regarded as the coming-of-age of Napa wines. The same wine featured in the rematch ten years later.
Clos du Val wines come in three flights. At present only the entry level Classic range is available in Ireland, via O’Brien’s although the Estates and Reserves, the last made only in years of exceptional quality, are scheduled to follow. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 is balanced and distinctive, the tannins resolving nicely to imbue the wine with smooth, rounded flavours, a good introduction to the house style.
A favourite, again at the affordable end of Napa is St.Supéry who produce an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc and a fine Bordeaux blend, Meritage. Other names to look out for include Far Niente, Duckhorn, Oakville Ranch (gorgeous Chardonnay) and one new to me, Trefethen, whose Riesling particularly impressed. Joseph Phelps are a premium producer and their Bordeaux blend, Insignia and vibrant Chardnnay, Ovation are a tribute to their painstaking methodology. Heitz, another top dog, exhibited several vintages of rich and ripe Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet. Finally, if you have a small legacy to spare, you could do worse than lay down the exquisite Shafer Merlot., good value for what it is at around e50.
A whistle-stop tour of Greater Budapest sandwiched between tasting bouts served to remind me what a great wine Tokaji is. I also found an interesting herbal digestif, Unicum which, for it’s medicinal purposes as well as for the big square cross on the label we christened ‘Ambulance’. Teaming it with with the local dark beer brought new meaning to the term ‘ambulance chaser!’. The trip also convinced me that the standard of erudition amongst wine writers in Ireland is second to none. One Buda bluffer, a Dutch scribe, insisted that Pinotage was the third grape in a particular Tokaji alongside Furmint and Muscat; what’s more, no one seemed to cotton on that Rhine Riesling and Olasz Riesling are not the same thing or even related, though several tasters mentioned that the wine under review was“untypical.” Surprise, surprise.

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South African Wines


Stopped quite a few wines from going bad on our trip, and sniffed, slurped, spat many more. Here are a few random musings on a country where the quality’s getting better year by year.

Agusta Chardonnay 2001. Franschhoek.
Smart, quite classy Chard with lime and grapefruit notes and sensitive use of oak; still developing. Rated: VERY GOOD

Backsberg Estate Chardonnay 2002 Paarl
Sensitively-oaked example, with marzipan and toast flavours contrasting with lemony notes. Rated: GOOD

Bartho Eksteen Sauvignon Blanc 2003 Hermanus
Rich, dessert gooseberry on the palate, almost NZ-ish in its intensity. One of SA’s best. Would have liked to have tasted the Premier Choix but alas couldn’t find it. Rated: VERY GOOD

Beaumont Chardonnay 2001
Fat grassy Chard of some class from unfashionable Bot River. Though it carries a punch at 14% there are no heavy vulgar tropical fruit flavours. Good winemaking. Rated: VERY GOOD to EXCELLENT

Beaumont Chenin Blanc 2001
Nicely ageing example of what’s rated as one of SA’s classier “Steens”. Herby, lemony flavours with a slight hint of marzipan. Not Savennieres but very nice. Rated; GOOD, WELL MADE

Bellingham Chardonnay Spitz series 2002 Wellington
Smart stuff from this modern winery; oaked, natural ferment, keen attention to acid balance so while its opulent with marzipan and oriiental spices it’s in no way fatiguing to drink Rated: EXCELLENT

Bloemendal Estate Semillon 2002
Quite liked this, especially as a change from SB and Chard. Rich and refined, pointed up by zippy acid that I’m sure will soften over time Rated: INTERESTING

Bon Courage Chardonnay Prestige Cuvee 2002 Robertson
Worthy attempt at a Euro-styled chard with great attention paid to acid balance and a certain mineral elan.Rated: EXTREMELY LIKEABLE, SOME CLASS

Ambeloui Miranda MCC 2001/2/3 Hout Bay
MCC stands for “Method Cape Classique” the approved term for what was called “Method Champenoise” until those stern lads from France came in with their big boots. This absolute pearl, from a tiny property just outside Cape Town gets my vote for one of SA’s top three fizzers – lovely full bouquet, bubbles to burn and that lovely toasted fresh bread taste you get from sparklers where the fruit (pinot and chard) has been generously bestowed. Increasing the percentage of new oak each year means it should get even better. Yum! Rated: BRILLIANT

Avondale Les Pleurs Merlot 2000 Paarl
Class act with a good deal of subtlety, tannins relaxing nicely, well endowed with full, soft fruit but enough acid to prevent it from getting lush and OTT. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bartho Ekstein Shiraz 2001 Hermanus
Liked this a good deal – perfumed, spicy, whopping wine, amazed to find it was only 13.5 ABV – a huge mouthful, still developing. Rated: GREAT POTENTIAL

Beamont Shiraz 2001
Hefty, muscular Shiraz with smoky bacon overtones coupled with the paprika-based spiciness of authentic goulash. Interesting stuff. Rated: EXCELLENT

Beyerskloof Synergy 2001 & 2002
Amazing Pinotage/CS/Merlot blend and even a bit of Shiraz sneaks into the 02. Straightforward, honest wine of some complexity from Beyers Truter, king of Pinotage. )I felt the 02 was already much more approachable than its elder brother. Rated: INTERESTING

Beyerskloof Pinotage 2002 If you have to drink Pinotage this is the one. Not for me, though, I can get the same buzz from licking newly tarmacked roads on a hot summer’s day. Rated: OF ITS KIND, GREAT

Bloemendal Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 Durbanville. Hinted at qual but still very hard and green. Will it soften? Dunno but apparently Bloemendal have a reputation for slow-burners. Rated: MAYBE

Boekenhoutskloof Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2001 Franschhoek.
Like the name, a big mouthful at 14.2%, packed with dark plummy fruit and the sweaty saddle thing – my god how I hate that description. Rated: HUGE BUT LACKS CLASS

Bon Courage Syrah Inkara 2001 Robertson
Going to be great I think, but heavy going as of now. Cold steel feel, like young Cote Rotie. But did enough to hint at potential. Rated: VERY PROMISING, INTERESTING

Bon Courage Shiraz 2002
Curiously the one that’s matured only in French oak is called “Shiraz”. Lighter style, more approachable now. Smart stuff. Rated: GOOD, WELL MADE

Bon Courage Cabernet Sauvignon Inkara 2000 Limited release.
Middle of the road Cab Sauv of no particular distinction. Rated: FAIRLY ORDINARY

Bonnievale Shiraz 2002 Bonnievale, Robertson
Easy drinker of no particular distinction. Muted nose. Rated: AVERAGE

Avontuur Above Royalty Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2001 Stellenbosch/Helderburg
The excellence of the stickies came as a major surprise on this trip and this was one of the best. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bon Courage Noble Late Harvest 2002. Lightweight (10%) classy Riesling sticky already showing luscious dried fruits, apricots and figs, great balance. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bon Courage White Muscadel 2002 Really interesting and weighty sticky with floral aromatics. Liked this a lot. Really good winemaking with added pizzazz from fruit acids. Rated: EXCELLENT, ORIGINAL


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GUBU II – Good, Unlovable, Brilliant, Undrinkable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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