Tag Archives: Sauvignon Blanc

September Blow-ins

Saw out the month with the lunch to herald the Merrion’s game promotion. Wondeful food and though I say it as shouldn’t, nice wines – especially the Sipp-Mack Rosacker Grand Cru Riesling.

Interesting conversation with Kevin Dundon, Dunbrody House, Wexford, this morning. In addition to a TV prog and 2 cookbooks on the go he’s also opened a restaurant in Las Vegas – going a bomb apparently – and there’s me thinkking he’s away in Gambling City wagering the ancestral pile! (Joke, Kevin)

It’s been an interesting if rather hectic month on the wine front. 3 fairs, many visitors, loads of invitations, most of which alas I’ve had to turn down including a trip to Bordeaux and a fortnight’s concentrated boozing in a castle in Transylvania!
Matt “I do like a nice pint of Guinness” Thompson came over from New Zealand with a quartet of Saint Clair wines ad very decent they were too. The Sauvignon Blanc was not typical NZ for me, a bit over full – as a guy who would happily lie under the barrel tap and get the fresh blast of mineral energy, the Saint Clair was maybe a tad too civilised. Lots of people will really like it, though. I enjoyed the Chardonnay – I notice Mary Dowey thought it “bland” but I’d prefer to think of it as laid-back and stylish, distinctively New World but subtle in comparison to a lot of the Aussie offerings.
The Riesling was interesting. As I’d drunk a fair bit of Clare Valley stuff only the week before, this one seemed much less austere but still complex in a slightly brash style.
The Pinot Noir too was good. Not overly heavy, just enough weight and mouthfeel to keep things interesting – perefct summer red.
As these wines will retail for around e10.99 they represent something of a bargain.

Then Ed Flaherty of Chilean style icons Errazuriz – they joined with Mondavi to produce Sena, Chile’s most serious and expensive wine – breezed in.

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New New Zealand – and good value too

I’m a big fan of wine from New Zealand.
Trouble is, prices seem to be creeping up. The reputation of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, spearheaded by the wonderful and increasingly hard-to-get Cloudy Bay, is now sky high – in fact SB could soon overtake Chardonnay as our Preferred Grape – and makers seem to be getting a yo-yo or two more for the product.
Recently, Matt Thonpson, winemaker from an estate new to me, St.Claire from Marlborough, breezed into town and I attended a tasting and lunch that showcased four of his wines. The Riesling, I thought, was a little eccentric, though pleasant and full of character – certainly different to the Clare Valley Aus ones that have established the pattern for New World Riesling. The SB was of the full-on fruity variety, rather than the usual green apple acidity version, but none the worse for that. The Chardonnay, I thought, was an absolute stand out and I confirmed this by drinking half a bottle last night, aided and abetted by Silke Cropp’s cheese with green peppercorns on Robert Ditty’s oatcakes – about as good as it gets in the C&B combo. The Chard was very impressive indeed, quite creamy and laid back, still New World but without the unsubtle ‘can of pineapples’ savour that comes as a trademark with many of the cheaper Aussies and Chileans. Bearing in mind that these St.Claire wines, brought in by Irish Distillers so they should be quite widely available will sell for around the 11 euro mark they are very good value indeed. And – to pile astonishment on amazement there’s a pretty decent Pinot Noir for the same money.

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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
RATING: EXCELLENT

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
RATING: AVERAGE

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
RATING: AVERAGE

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
RATING: AVERAGE

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
RATING: BRILLIANT

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
RATING: GOOD+

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.
RATING: EXCELLENT

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
RATING: GOOD ++

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
RATING: GOOD

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 ???
RATING: AVERAGE

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

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
RATING: GOOD++

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.
RATING: DEADLY AVERAGE

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
RATING: GOOD +

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
RATING: GOOD++

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
RATING: GOOD +

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
RATING: BRILL

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
RATING: AVERAGE

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
RATING: GOOD

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
RATING: GOOD+

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Not much to say about wine, is there?

Only joking. Well, sort of. Judging by the number of books written on the subject, from scholarly biochemical treatises to the ‘aroma of petrol with overtones of ripe mango and wet slippers’ gush, there’s quite a lot to be said. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that there are really only four questions you need to ask when confronted with an unfamiliar bottle.
These are:
• Is the smell agreeable?
• Do I like the taste?
• After I’ve drunk the wine, does it leave me with any lasting impression?
• How much does it cost and would I buy it if I could afford it?
A touch simplistic, I know. but wine is like any other hobby. You can sit back, quaff and enjoy or you can don your anorak and gown and take the pursuit of knowledge to Professor of Trainspotting levels. The choice is yours, but, along the way, don’t be misled by pontificating pseudo-pundits or by reputations. Be wary of domineering bluffers. Trust your tastebuds and learn to make your own judgements. In my former capacity as a wine critic, I was privileged to attend a vertical tasting of one of the First Growth Medoc wines. (A vertical tasting is where you compare different vintages of the same wine, as opposed to a horizontal tasting, where you compare different wines made in the same year, nothing to do with drinking to excess). Albert, the host, had found some bottles of the ’68 in his cellar and thought it might be interesting to throw them in among the majestic ’75s and ’78s. 1968 was one of those vintages that turn up now and again to remind man that he is still a long way from conquering nature so it came as no surprise to find that the ’68 didn’t measure up the grower’s reputation. Nevertheless, I wasn’t prepared for how throat-clutchingly bad it was. I wrote one word in my tasting notes. That word was ‘undrinkable’. One of my fellow tasters was looking over my shoulder at the time. Affronted as if I’d written ‘the guy behind me is an ugly bugger’, he spun me round to accuse me of heresy.
‘You can’t say that. It’s Chateau Bombast. How can you say Chateau Bombast is undrinkable?’ I stood my ground, inviting him to taste some more. He declined, instead going off to drum up reinforcements for his standpoint. He returned with a friend. ‘Algy’, he said, ‘here’s a man who says the ’68 Bombast is undrinkable’. ‘You can’t say that’, said Algy, ‘it costs forty one quid a bottle’. If there are two worse reasons for declaring a wine to be of merit, I’ve yet to hear them.
When matching wine to food, be wary of the exotic imagery school. If the bouquet of New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay Chardonnay reminds you of green bananas, almonds, Oil of Ulay and old rugger boots, well and good; but if what you really need to know is ‘will this wine do the business with my Black Sole Bercy?’ A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice. Speaking of emotive language, a wine merchant friend lucky enough to possess one of the world’s most discerning palates had but three categories in which to place wine. These were, in order of merit, ‘crap, sound and fucking sound’. In ten years of tasting with Paul I never found a reason to doubt his judgment.
The old sages of cookery used to dictate ‘red wine with meat, white with fish’, good advice in the days when people, if they drank wine at all, drank awful Liebfraumilch. These days, it’s a more complex affair with every grape variety known to man on the supermarket shelves. I’d rather advise that you:
• ignore the above red/white dictum
• remember Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are not the only grapes. There is a good deal of enjoyment to be had in exploring varietal wine made from Grenache, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo not to mention Syrah (Shiraz), Sauvignon Blanc and blended wines. Live a little.
• drink complex, heavyweight wines with rich foods and light, fragrant wines with delicately flavoured dishes.
• don’t waste money drinking really expensive wines with red sauced Italian food, especially pasta dishes.
• drink a counterpunching wine with Chinese food. Like the robust Piedmontese reds, Barolo or Barbaresco. Or old-style Aussie shiraz. If you prefer white wine drink Gewurztraminer or a big, oaked Chardonnay.
• drink beer, water or lassi (spiced yoghurt) with curry.

Oh, what the hell. If you favour champagne or Johnnie Walker Black Label with filet de boeuf en croute, or with Bangalore Phal for that matter, then go for it. But try to have on hand something a bit more mainstream for your guests.
Any bottle of wine is only as good as your memory of it. And no palate is perfect. I used to reckon mine was pretty good. Until I got into the finals of a competition, held by The Observer newspaper, to ‘Win Your Own Weight in Wine’ *. The twelve finalists had to undergo an ordeal in which we were each presented with twenty four glasses of wine, grouped in threes, and asked questions about each group. As befitting a serious affair, spittoons and palate neutralising nibbles were provided. By the end of the evening I could tell a Bath Oliver from a Carr’s Table Water Biscuit, blindfold. And nothing more.

* about six and a half cases. Winner got claret; runner up, champagne; third place, burgundy. The rest were given one mixed case each. My cunning suggestion that we pool all the prizes, i.e. we depute the three heaviest contestants to make a serious stab at the questions (one fat guy was worth a conservative nine cases), while the rest of us treat the night as a piss up, was turned down by the misery guts who eventually finished twelfth and serve him bloody well right.

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