Tag Archives: Sauvignon Blanc

GLEESONS-GILBEYS PORTFOLIO TASTING Feb 2011

"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.

NEW ZEALAND WINE FAIR, DUBLIN – Jan 2011

But first… the AW, WTF THESE THINGS HAPPEN AWARD

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:

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’.

New Wines from M&S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So it Goes…

john41This Week’s Decent Drinking

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

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

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

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

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

vines at Denmark, WA
vines at Denmark, WA

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

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

In The Shadow Of The Andes

“Welcome to Santiago” said Christian, the driver assigned to me by Wines of Chile. For the next six days he and I were to tour vineyards at the rate of three a day, clocking up a sniff/slurp/spit of nigh on 400 individual bottles in a mission to assess the progress made by the country’s winemakers.

Chile, a slender stick of a country, is dominated by the Andes, the South American backbone that separates it from its neighbours. It reminded me a little of South Africa’s Cape where from almost every vineyard you have a view of Table Mountain but I was unprepared for grandeur on this scale. The Cordilleras de los Andes, to bestow their proper name, are the highest mountain range outside the Himalayas.

Vinis vinifera, the wine grape was brought to Chile by the conquistadors at the behest of the army of priests who came in their wake. Initially a lacklustre red grape, the Pais, was the favoured communion variety but this has thankfully been supplanted by Cabernet and Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc, Carmenère and, latterly Syrah as Chilean producers began to emulate what their Californian and Australian counterparts had done so successfully, i.e. give the world a wealth of clean, fruity, easy-to-drink wines.

The majority of Chile’s vineyards are located in the Central Valley, a depression lying between two mountain ranges, stretching out like a three-fingered hand. Here the hot sun and the rich, fertile soil makes grape growing a picnic. The adjacent slopes give some necessary respite, ensuring the grapes don’t turn to raisins before they can be gathered. Rivers criss-crossing the valley provide water for irrigation. The high grape yields do inhibit quality however and it took some time for Chilean producers to realise this. Fortunately, a new and well qualified generation of wine makers has emerged; many have worked overseas, in France, Australia or New Zealand and all are passionate about what they do. Everywhere the talk is now of ‘green harvesting’ – thinning the crop in summer – and of ‘stressing the vines’ – making them work harder to produce less but better fruit.

Our initial destination was Errazuriz, long established as the dominant winery in the Aconcagua Valley where we were introduced to Chile’s own signature version of the Cornish pasty, the empanada, a favourite food for high days and holidays, albeit that this was a more sophisticated version than the norm, filled with corn and ricotta. We ate under a shady arbour adjacent to the impressive visitor centre. Wine tourism in Chile is, compared to, say, California or Australia is in its infancy but Errazuriz seems to have embraced the concept earlier than many of their peers.

In the afternoon we journeyed to the San Esteban winery which possesses what is almost certainly Chile’s highest vineyard. From the summit above we gazed down on new plantings of Syrah and ancient Indian rock paintings which feature on the labels of San Esteban’s top red wines, cuddled in new French oak and designated In Situ.

We drove back to Santiago as the sun was setting. Tired as I was, I succumbed to the temptation to wander abroad and was delighted to find a thriving restaurant and bar quarter a mere stone’s throw from the hotel. Enjoying a local beer I dithered over whether to patronise what looked like a stolidly traditional Chilean restaurant or content myself with a tapas or three. I decided on the latter and was soon seated in a stylish establishment owned by Torres. This enterprising Catalan winemaking family were early to spot Chile’s potential, acquiring their first property in Curico in 1979. An Torres innovation was to replace the traditional rauli (beech wood vats) with stainless steel. By the mid-nineties everyone else had followed suit, a significant factor in Chile’s progression to making clean, modern wines. Torres’ tapas proved delightful and, by Dublin standards, inexpensive, three dishes including some excellent foie gras, two glasses of wine (a red and a ‘sticky’) and an espresso for around e27 including a tip, symptomatic of the value for money I found everywhere when dining out in Chile.

I was collected at 8am next morning, further evidence, if any is needed, that a wine trip is not all sybaritic junketing. Our first visit was to Cousino Macul at Buin in the Maipo Valley. Their wines were introduced into Ireland by the Ecock brothers in the late 1980s, when their quasi-European styled Cabernet found favour with critics. Alas, standards plummeted in the mid nineties and I was not expecting a great deal but the wines I tasted went well on the way to convincing me that Cousino Macul is set to recover its reputation.

Maipo is home to much of Chile’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon and a whole lot more besides. Carmen and Santa Rita, both well known brands in Ireland, are under the same ownership and share the same valley but with their own delineated plots. Among both feature plantings of Carmenère – from ‘carmine’, red, nothing to do with the winery although it happily espoused the grape – which has come to be regarded as Chile’s ‘signature’. The story of its rise to fame is an interesting one; Carmenère is an old variety of Bordeaux where it is also known as Grand Vidure and now largely extinct in its homeland. The grape was identified in Chile in 1994 by a visiting French viticulturist in the middle of a patch of Merlot. Further investigation brought the conclusion that most of what was thought to be Chilean Merlot was, in fact, Carmenère. It’s hard to see why the confusion occurred. The leaves look nothing like each other and Carmenère is a tardy ripener whereas if Merlot was a spud it would be a ‘first early’. However, confusion there was. It is generally accepted that Carmen’s Alvaro Espinosa, one of Chile’s pioneering modern winemakers was the prime mover in transforming Carmenère from a thin, harsh, aggressively capsicum-scented varietal into the fragrantly aromatic charmer can be today by introducing the concept of drastically thinning the vines to allow full ripening.

In late afternoon, we transferred our presence to Santa Rita on the other side of the valley. The company, owned by a giant conglomerate headed up by Don Ricardo Claro, has a luxurious hotel, set amid 35 acres of landscaped parkland. Alas for the lay tourist, accommodation is restricted to guests of the winery.

I tasted Santa Rita’s wines in the company of export manager Andres Barros. Later, before dinner, I found Andres talking to a distinguished-looking gentleman who turned out to be non other than Don Ricardo himself. After a brief introduction, the Don turned to us and said “I wish to do the tasting. And I wish Ernie to tutor my friends in my wines.” How could I refuse? I had to swallow hard before telling him I didn’t think Chile ought to grow Merlot.

Next morning I was at Cono Sur where I first glimpsed the efforts that Chilean viticulture is making to get to grips with organic and biodynamic methods, particularly when a flock of geese, employed to eat burrito grubs, scurried out from beneath our wheels. The winemaker told me of the war waged on the rapacious red spider by its otherwise benevolent white cousin. Encouraging this ecological conflict obviated the use of a poultice of chemicals on the vine stems. It amused me to see that vineyard workers, many of them elderly, had full-suspension mountain bikes as their preferred mode of transport. The wisdom of this could be seen later that day at Luis Felipe Edwards’ estate as we whizzed up and down precipitous slopes in a 4X4 truck to view vines planted in spots you’d think were impossible to harvest.

Besides Torres, other significant European families play a role in Chile’s wine industry and there is no doubt that much of the quality hike has derived from their involvement, as exemplified by Lafite Rothschild at Los Vascos whose wines are definitely French-styled with a striking degree of ‘backbone’ and Marnier-Lapostolle whose flagship, Clos Apalta now has, at Colchagua, its own ten million dollar’s worth of purpose-built winery-cum-architectural statement, one of the wonders of the wine world.

Ireland is an important market. Mont Gras has its European export manager based here. To my delight, when I visited the winery I found Hans Liebrand newly-arrived from Dublin and we enjoyed catching up on the craic during a memorable hilltop barbecue.

The final part of my trip was spent visiting Leyda, Casablanca and the San Antonio valley. These areas, nearer the coast, enjoy the benefit of being cooled by the winds that blow over the Humboldt current. The white wines, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in particular, have a restraint, elegance and delicacy exceeding that of their inland cousins. At Vina Leyda I found an exuberant experimental blanc de blanc made by the method generally accredited as being the best for sparkling wine (nudge, nudge, wink, wink!).

In San Antonio I enjoyed a reunion with Maria Luz Marin whom I’d last met in Dublin on a damp autumn day. Maria Luz was one of Chile’s first female winemakers, an inspiration to the many talented young women following in her wake. Her Pinot Noir is, for me, one of Chile’s flagship wines. Other masterpieces include her Laurel Vineyard Sauvigon and a new Riesling.

Conclusions? The primary one is that Chilean wines are upwardly mobile. Everywhere I found an intent to pursue the holy grail of quality. Yields are being reduced (though they are still too high); rows are being re-aligned; cooler areas are being explored and planted – watch out for Bio-Bio in the far South. Wine tourism is being initiated – the fine restaurant at Vina Morande to which people take the two hour drive from Santiago for lunch will serve as a role model for others. I can’t wait to go back; though, next time, I will extend my stay. I want to see more of this gloriously diverse country.

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O'Brien's Christmas Portfolio Tasting 2006

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

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

WHITES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gilbeys Portfolio Tasting – Oct 14 2006 – WHITES and ROSE

The Gilbeys Portfolio press tasting was one of the best organised and most enjoyable tastings of recent memory – hats off to Julia Kennedy, Lynne Coyle and Mary Dowey – despite the worst efforts of the Guinness Storehouse staff who did their best to sabotage the event by mopping the floor of the adjacent restaurant with Jeyes’ Fluid!

These boys are big – one in every seven bottles of wine retailing at over ten euro is a Gilbeys bottle. The portfolio contains many hallowed names – Trimbach, Drouhin, Louis Latour, Jaboulet to name but four.

Anyhow, here are my impressions:

Wild Coast Chardonnay-Semillon, South-East Australia 2006. e7.99
Good, honest, pleasant, non-cloying quaffer, excellent value for money

*Santa Rita 120 Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda 2006, e11.50
The base Santa Rita wines have,m in my opinion, underperformed in recent years. This one is well back on track with a nice minerally crackle at the front end and smooth luscious fruit at the back. From the recently-exploited cool (for Chile) region of Leyda. There’s hope for Chilean SB yet!

**Santa Rita Riesling Limited Selection, Valle de Casablanca 2006, e11.99
On special at SperValu and Centra for 7.99, this is daft money for a nicely-balanced, delicate riesling that comes without the ‘characterful’ benzine intrusion.

**Hunters Marlborough Riesling 2004, e19.99
Very smart stuff. Lovely minerally prickle folowed by a tangy weight of citrus and stone fruit, with a hint of herbs and beeswax. Classy.

***F.E.Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Frederick Emile 2003 e35
Benzine is back! All the characteristic of non-palate clogging classic riesling. Trimbach describe their gear as ‘Protestant Wine’. Don’t take this the wrong way, folks, this is no tub-thumping Lambeg drum pounder; they mean modest and understated but in reality this wine has nothing to be modest about. Lean, spare, suave, elegant, a total class act. One of the best food wines in the world and that’s the truth.

Next, two Burgundies from Louis Latour, both at 37.50.

The Meursault Premier Cru Chateau de Blagny 2003 had a huge hit of fruit and a decidedly long finish but was, for me, on the unsubtle side of unsubtle.

The Puligny-Montrachet Hameau de Blagny 2002 was leaner, maybe even a tad unapproachable but should mellow.

The Biodynamic Joseph Drouin Meursault 2003, e40, was, a huge, vastly OTT wine with immense oaking. You’d need a hunk of roasted veal or similar to get this down. Not one for a quiet night by the fire.

**In contrast, the Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet, e40, was a more quiescent proposition. Still fat but with more elegance and a generous, lingering finish.
To be honest, there is probably better value in white Burgundy out there than this quartet.

Navarro Correas Coleccion Privada Chardonnay, Mendoza 2005, 10.99
All the plusses and drawbacks of budget chardonnay. On the one hand, uncomplicated and easy-to-drink. On the other, uncomplicated and easy-to-drink . Bit boring, really.

*Fairview Viognier Coastal Region (South Africa) 2004. e14.99
At last! A low-mid priced viognier that doesn’t clog the palate. Very decent and would make a nice change from the usual suspects.

Paul Jaboulet Aine Crozes-Hermitage Mule Blanche 2001. e21.99
Quite refined and stylish, but not a wine I’ll ever be fond of. Lot of competition at the price too.

**L’Expatrie Barossa Semillon, Colonial Estate 2003 e19.99
Lovely lemony well-integrated fruit, smartly judged fruit-acid balance, non-clying, long finish all the hallamrks of Jonathan Malthus. Love it!

***Clos Nardian Saint Aubin de Brannes, Bordeaux Blanc 2003 e75
Oustanding exposition of white Bordeaux style from JM again. Utterly gorgeous, but the price!

ROSE

**’G’ Saignee des Anges Bordeaux Clairet 2005 e12.99
Gold star winner in the Noffla Awards ’06. Far better than the over-trumpeted, over-blown Domaine Ott Bandol at twice the money. Clean, fresh, enjoyable entirely non-cloying.
The sheer weight of clean fruit comes as a nice surprise. As good as it gets, especially when the sun shines and you can drink it in the garden, poreferably with a bucket of Wexford strawberries.

*Chateau de Sours Bordeaux Rose 2005 e14.99
Benchmark stuff from a really good producer. Quite a big hit and hard to put down a second bottle, for me, a slight minus point in a rose but otherwise very impressive.

Santa Rita120 Reserva Especial Rose Shiraz , e11.50
Hasn’t managed to shed the spearmint overlay common to most Chilean rose. Not bad, but needs more work.

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Sunday Independent Wine Columns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEEK 2

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

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

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Wine notes March 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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