Tag Archives: Wine tasting

So it goes… This week's decent drinking

From what started out as a fairly uncomplicated pastime – you plant grapes, you harvest them, you cause them to ferment, then you run off the juice –winemaking has been historically hedged around with rules and regulations as in “You can’t add sugar to boost the quality in a poor year” or “You can’t grow this grape here” or “Unless you age in oak for two years you can’t call your wine a reserve”. Some of these dictums are adopted by consensus; others imposed by some organisation set up to govern the wine production of a land or a region. In either case, the reasons for regulation are the same – to improve quality; to enhance recognition; to ensure prices hold up. The undesirability of a ‘free for all’ is widely recognized.

Now and again, free-thinking individualists fail to conform. In the 1970s Piero Antinori, whose family had been making wine in Tuscany for more than 600 years, decided that replacing the white grapes from the Chianti formula with Bordeaux varietals cabernet sauvignon and merlot would make a richer more complex wine. “Fine”, said the rule makers, “but you can’t call it Chianti”. The result was a wine, originally labeled as a humble Vino da Tavola (table wine), which Antignori named Tignanello after the vineyard where the grapes were grown. Now feted as a ‘Super Tuscan’, Tignanello 2005 sells here for around €70 a bottle.

Judging in Portugal last year, I was privileged to meet Luis Pato, a hero of mine, as much for his nonconformity and sheer obduracy in the face of bureaucratic pressure as for the vibrant quality of his wines. In 1999, Luis Pato quit the Bairrada DOC to market his wines under the much less prestigious Vinho Regional Beiras appellation. Unlike Antinori, the decision was not made so he could introduce foreign varieties. Portugal has innumerable indigenous grapes, of one of which, baga, Luis is a huge fan. The winemaker is extremely respectful of regional tradition, homing in on bical, another local grape, for his whites at a time when it would undoubtedly have been easier to sell ‘internationals’ like chardonnay or sauvignon blanc.

There’s no doubt that, in the wrong hands, baga is capable of making joyless astringent wines. At the time the appointed authorities were conducting something of a vendetta against this grape – ‘ethnic cleansing’ is not too harsh a word. Luis believed that, given sensitive treatment, baga could make sublime wines and set out to prove it.

Luis Pato Casta Baga 2007 €10.99 (The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Karwig’s, Cork) makes an interesting change from ‘the usual suspects’. The elements brought by the baga grape are hard to describe but it reminds me of an amalgam of nebbiolo, syrah and pinot noir, probably my three favourite red grapes. The nose is all morello cherries, with a whiff of cedar wood and fragrant spice. On the palate brambles and blueberries kick in, also some lighter red cherry pinot-like notes. At around €23, Pato’s Vinhas Velhas Tinto 2005 is definitely in the ‘treat’ category, but I’d say it’s the most interesting red I drank in 2009.

For me there’s no doubt that Portugal is ‘where it’s at’ in the Really Interesting Drinking stakes. The reds have always appealed. Quality among the whites has been hiked by miles in the last few years as modern winemaking techniques; a swing against over-oaking and the dearth of that nation’s passion for near-oxidised  wines kicked in.

So it Goes… this week's decent drinking

Went to an office party in a fridge the other night. The top floor of Krystle – my nomination for the world’s daftest named nightclub – is badged as ‘The Penthouse’  leading to thoughts of sybaritic luxury, comfy button-backs and naked models reclining on tigerskin rugs. Alas it’s nothing like. Maybe the name’s not so daft after all as the sides are open to the atmosphere and the crystals were quickly forming – on nose, face, hands on on the outside of an already turbo-chilled pint of Guinness. As soon as I got the glass unstuck from my paws I switched to an old favourite, Black Bush, neat. Some compensation for the chill blast and the fact that those oh-so-ecological gas patio heaters had only been switched on minutes before our arrival. My gut feeling is that Black Bush has been tricked up over the years to make it sweeter – it’s still very palatable stuff though.

Couldn’t believe the prices that The Marine Hotel in Sutton charge for their wines at a function. €28 for Santa Rita 120 Sauv B. That’s 3 x retail and latterly I’ve seen it on special for €6.95.

Tesco have a rather fine albarino at the minute –   Pazo Serantellos 2008 (€9.45) .  Lovely stone fruit on the nose, following through to mid palate, leavened with citrus and crisp apple, with a spiky, energising lime lift at the back end. I’m also scouring branches of Superquinn for the remants of Paul Boutinot’s rather fine ‘Chat en Oeuf’ (groan!), a grenache/syrah blend that kicks ass for the modest price of €9.

Came across a great idea for a last minute Chrissie prezzie – Mc Hugh’s Off-Licenses have slashed the prices of two of the world’s most lauded dessert wines. Between now and Christmas and, of course, while stocks last, South Africa’s Klein Contantia 2004 Vin de Constance 500ml bottles and Canada’s Inniskillin 2006 Riesling Ice Wine 375ml bottles will be at a special price of €25 per bottle. These normally retail for €70 and €60 respectively. Both come in attractive gift boxes. They are an ideal gift for wine enthusiasts, especially oneself! I’m not a big fan of the Klein Constantia – though I know many who love its upfront unctuous richness – the Inniskillin is in a different league, spicy and subtle and I’m going to grab some of this if you guys don’t get there before me.

25e Malahide Road, Artane, Dublin 5. Tel: 8311867.
57 Kilbarrack Road, Dublin 5. Tel: 8394692.

WINE: Keeping New Year resolutions – how did I fare?

Just done my annual piece on vinous New Year resolutions for The Sunday Independent. I looked back at the corresponding article this time last year, to make sure there were no (or anyway, not too many) duplications. Here are the ones I made – with my notes on how well I managed to keep them.

1. Numero uno is the usual – “be nicer to my friends and more merciless to my enemies.”  I do this one every year. The rest are all drink inspired. Feel free to adopt all or any.

Didn’t quite manage this too well. As usual I’ve let some, well, a few, good friends down and worse, I’ve let a lot of total tossers off the hook. This year I’m going to declare war on anyone described in a press release as ‘celebrated’ or ‘renowned’ see how that goes!  Observance Rating 4/10

2. Drink more widely. There are some 5,000 grape varieties in the world. Many of us drink the same ones every week, equivalent of eating chicken every night and how exciting is that? So I’m going to devote more time to exploring the likes of Greece, Portugal, Hungary and other nations who are making sound but not, as yet, overly popular wines.

Done quite well on this one thanks to trips to all three of the above, plus Sicily. Came away with real respect for agiorgitiko, greco di tufo, fiano, touriga nacional, baga etc, etc. Observance Rating 8/10

3. Drink less but better. Stop knocking the top of a bottle of wine on a Monday night “because it’s there.” I’ll get as far through the week as I can without drinking and then treat myself to a really decent drop towards weekend.

Yeah right. Surprising how many crises occur on a ,Monday, necessitating the uncorking of a bottle  of wine. Observance Rating: 1/10

4. Rediscover beer. An evening spent recently at The Bull and Castle  with my buddy Channel 4’s “beer chef” Richard Fox made me recall just how good beer is and how varied once you’ve realised there’s a world beyond stout and fizzed-up draught lager. I reckon the flavour spectrum exceeds that of wine.

Spent a lot of time on beer this year, acquiring some new favourites. Made a conscious effort to go out and buy a dozen bottles every so often and work my way through them. Not really what you’d call ‘work’ is it? Observance Rating 8/10

5. Widen the sharing circle. I’ve always saved my very best bottles to share with folk I’m absolutely certain will appreciate every nuance. What elitist crap! This year I’m going to share these wines with more casual wine drinking friends.

Done pretty well on this one. Opened a few people’s eyes to the benefits of spending more on wine and got a lot of pleasure from doing so. Observance Rating 8/10

6. Kick  expensive bottled water into touch, especially in restaurants.

Yes! Haven’t bought a bottle of water all year except in London and Paris where the tap water is absolutely vile. Observance Rating  10/10

7. Avoid the temptation (and it’s considerable)  to shop over the border. Yes, wine here costs roughly twice as much as  in the UK, someone’s ripping us off for sure. But if it wasn’t for the existence of your local independent wine merchant you’d still be nipping out for a bottle of Pedrotti on a Friday night. These guys give good service, know their stuff and deserve our support.

Feel mega virtuous about this one, even though sorely tempted at times.  Will Brian Lenihan’s “sixty cent’s worth” really make a difference to folks’ attitudes? Observance Rating 10/10

8. Don’t drink and drive AT ALL. I made this resolution a couple of years ago but seem to have regressed. Somehow I’ve convinced myself a couple of glasses is okay. It’s not.

I’d be lying if I said I complied 100% with this one but I’ve done pretty well in 2009. Taxi spend has gone up. Room for improvement, though.  Observance Rating 10/10

9. Dining in a restaurant, consult the sommelier. That’s what they’re there for.

Found more restaurants this year that are concentrating on improving their wine offer. Most of the time you get respectable advice but now and again a sommelier lets you down, pushing a wine that proves disappointing (Presumably they are under instruction – the boss probably has shedloads of Ch.Obnoxious 2004  in the cellar and needs to get rid). Observance rating 6/10

10. Enhance my wine vocabulary. Keeping my tasting notes terse helps me avoid the clapped-out shibboleths many wine writers trot out. But looking back through last year’s I find I’m still overdoing the likes of “vibrant”, “unctuous” and other tosh. What we need, as Sam Goldwyn said, are “some new clichés”.

Thought I was doing all right until this week when I find I’ve used”nice” 3 times in one article! I plead pressure of work plus a bout of the Giant Hairy Mastodon Flu – the one that makes Swine Flu feel like a spot of mild sinusitis. Observance rating 5/10

COMPLIMENTS OF THE SEASON

Ten things you really shouldn't eat with wine

I’m sure this will get me slaughtered by my food and wine matching buddies but, sod it, here goes!


Think back, long before the days when you started drinking wine. When you slurped Coke along with your beefburgers or Marmite soldiers did you pause to consider whether the combo worked? Did you, for tastebuds’ or ritual’s sake switch to Fanta lemon when the mammy served up fish fingers? Did you hell.

So why is it that a lot of mature citizens go trembly at the knees when asked to pick a bottle from a restaurant wine list? How come so many of us get ulcers agonising over whether we should drink sauvignon blanc or chardonnay with our breast of chicken supreme?

The answer is most likely because those wine drinking friends who have gone further down the track are reading the back labels of wine bottles or listening to wine writers and lecturers laying down the law about the exactitudes of wine and food matching. Some of the former have made a good living spouting about it.

I’ve maybe said it before. The marriage of wine and food is like any other marriage. Ten per cent are made in heaven, ten in hell and the other eighty per cent bumble along in between. So rather than say what wine you should drink with what foodstuff, I’m going to give you ten things that I consider shouldn’t be consumed under any circumstances while drinking wine and declare open season on everything else.

First and foremost of these is artichoke, the globe variety at least. One sip of wine and this delicacy will turn to metal in your mouth. If you are perverse enough to enjoy sucking on ball bearings, go ahead.

The next is ice cream, particularly the non-dairy variety we’ve come to regard as the ‘standard’, though it’s really sub-standard. Ice cream is too cold to harmonize with any wine and the fat in non-dairy ice cream quickly turns to tasting rancid.

Crisps, or indeed anything else with lashings of salt, like anchovies or strong blue cheeses murder the taste of wine.

Asparagus. Many sommeliers say it’s the hardest wine match of all and they are pretty spot on. You’ll find many suggestions, from Loire sauvignon to late-gathered riesling. Nothing works for me.

Raw tomatoes. It’s amazing how much acidity they contain. Nothing makes good pinot noir taste like paint stripper so rapidly.

Radishes, likewise raw onion and pungent horseradish. The bitter compounds, acidity and secreted oils play hell with your taste buds. The strong smell destroys the ‘nose’ of an accompanying wine.

Strawberries. Few agree with me on this one but despite experimenting with everything from Champagne to ‘stickies’ I’ve never found a satisfactory match.

Anything pickled, gherkins,walnuts, whatever cause wines of all kinds to turn sour and metallic. Pickled herring is great with schnapps, though.

Milk chocolate, good job I’m not fond of it. I can find wines aplenty to drink with good dark chocolate but the high fat and sugar content of the pale sort makes any wine a turn-off.

Lastly, coffee. It plays hell with the taste buds for a good half hour after consumption, which is why it’s best enjoyed solo or at the end of a meal after the wine’s finished.

So it goes… This week's decent drinking

Sibella is out to dinner with her golfing chums. Which is why I’m tucking into bacon ribs, cannellini beans (no butter beans down the local deli) and Savoy cabbage, the sort of fare I always find for myself when milady is absent as she’s far too ‘refeened’ to partake of that good ole peasanty grub. That or it reminds her of school!

Anyhow, to accompany same I hauled up a bottle of D’Arenberg ‘The Custodian’ Grenache, 2002. This was one I mislaid from a limited edition trio produced by Chester – same grapes,  different soils – I reviewed them in F&W some years ago. This particular wine was fettled from grapes grown on ‘sand on clay’ soil – I remember at the time that it was by far the most tannic of the three. Now the tannins had resolved nicely, pointing up the dark sweet fruit that came through in abundance. The influence of oak was not particularly overt (2nd and 3rd fill American and French barrels were used) though some vanilla and spice came through.

All in all, pretty impressive and aging gracefully.

Otherwise than that it was Dom Perignon week, starting with a tasting at the Abbey of  Hautvillers where the good monk perfected the techniques that turned Champagne into a world beater. I liked the 2000 very much, totally different in character to the rich, rumbustious 1995 that gave up its charms to the accompaniment of a fanfare of trumpets. The 2000 was fragrant, delicate, almost an ‘I can’t believe it’s…’ sort of wine with less of a family resemblance than the others in the tasting. In Proustian terms this was the beautiful sister, home for the holidays, sat quiet but serene amid the big, noisy huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ siblings.

The event culminated with a night on the 1976 in Louis XIV’s dining room at Versailles (about which, more anon). This wine impressed with its freshness – still light in colour and spicy and zesty on the nose. A more substantial body than I remembered from that vintage too. What a good food wine  – although I would have killed for a Cornas or a Cote Rotie with the pheasant and hare dishes half way through the 20-courser. Where’s Simon Tyrell when you need him?

So it Goes… this week's decent drinking

SQ French Wine Sale shows they’re back on track

sq-botts-0909When I saw the press release (it was some time ago) proclaiming that Richard Moriarty was installed as the new wine buyer for Superquinn I was wholly euphoric. “Yes!” I said, “strange appointment, but the man does have his own winery, I suppose that’s the connection.” Imagine my chagrin when I realised that what was Ireland’s most niche supermarket (until the Celtic Tiger ushered in the like of Fallon & Byrne and Donnybrook Fair) had appointed as their new vinous supremo, not the Newport Beach, CA-based bon viveur, the guy responsible for the notorious ‘Pimps, Hookers, Drug Dealers and Lawyers Ball’ and other bacchanalian affairs, not the man who nailed a whole Lamborghini to his living room wall but some other Richard Moriarty. Dammit, I was looking forward to the press gigs!

Superquinn made a bright start with wine back in the late eighties, exhibiting a representative selection from Europe that extended beyond the classic regions – they were probably the first people to tell us that there was a world of Spanish wines beyond Rioja. An initial aversion to centralised buying brought some personality to the wine shelves of individual branches. Their French collection was, for a long time, impeccable.

Then, as happens, they lost their way. Around the turn of the millennium the other supermarkets had caught up good style. Superquinn, always a little tardy in latching on to the excitement coming out of newer regions, seemed to retrench and get stuck in a time-warp. About five years ago you’d find their shelves stuffed to glory with the produce of minor French chateaux, frequently from dodgy vintages. Every day you opened your mail Superquinn were holding a French sale to clear stocks. Untrue, of course, but that’s what it seemed like.

It’s heartening to be able to report that, since the appointment of the other Monsieur Moriarty, a young wine trade professional, the Superquinn star is on the ascent again. Indeed, the impact made by this guy could hardly have been exceeded by his Californian namesake, except maybe the press tastings would have been a tad hairier and maybe more fun.

Last week I received five samples. Four of them spoke of the new SQ. Starting with the cheapest, the Superquinn Cotes du Rhone 2007 is a complete and utter steal for €7, as my good buddy Martin Moran has already mentioned elsewhere. Les Vignerons des Esterzargues are one of the better co-ops and here, to order, they’ve produced a syrah/grenache blend with a vibrancy and a full-on fruit flavour that would skittle an assortment of New Worlders at nearly twice the price. At the same time they are bang in the idiom – this is a Rhone wine.

Even nicer, for another euro, to my mind is the (dreadful pun) ‘Chat en Oeuf’ 2007, €8, zippy and mellifluous at the same time, with a deal of joyous Grenache and a wee top-up of Syrah for backbone. Chateauneuf it’s not – quite. But, like it’s Syrah-based cousin it’s right on the money and a smidge more. I wasn’t surprised to glom the back label and see the steady hand of my old Mancunian mucker Paul Boutinot. We have a mutual friend, Paul Rook, last seen flogging dog food from a market stall, alas. In his wine trade days he had a spectacularly sharp palate and a vinous vocabulary that extended to only four words. Wine, he avowed, was either “crap; sound; or fucking sound” and if Rooky said a wine was “fucking sound” you could order a case in the certainty that it would delight. Well, Chat en Oeuf is fucking sound.

The third and fourth wines were both whites, again French. Ch. Cabannieux 2007 is a Graves, a Semillon/Sauvignon blend, a style currently about as fashionable as a denim boiler suit. God only knows why. This wine has been knocked down to nine euro in Superquinn’s sale and for that price would see off any of the tarnished pennies I tasted at the Chilean extravaganza the week before last. Decent gooseberry and citrus fruit and a total absence of horrid green pepper. Good, easy drinking and greaty value at €9, sale price..

The other white, a Pouilly-Fuissé (ah, there’s the bloody acute key combo!) is, for me, a bit of a star. Just to show you that France isn’t all 80 Gauloises-a-day horny-handed sons of toil, the savvy producers of Domaine du Roure du Paulin have hung a natty label round the bottle’s neck; this tells you the grape is Chardonnay, in fact it says CHARDONNAY – traditionally produced and partially matured in oak barrels’, all the buzzwords. Rounded, surprisingly sophisticated, this sample stayed to dinner. €14 in the Sale, steal!

The last wine, alas, seemed in contrast, a bit of a lemon. I have a soft spot for red Graves, or Pessac-Leognan as you must call it these days. Ch Haut Brion was the first first growth I tasted and I have fond memories of rescuing bottles of Smith Haut-Lafite from the river that was, only the day before, the high street during the East Molesey floods in 1968. So shame that Ch.Haut Lagrange 2004 doesn’t cut the mustard. The essence of this region is that, at best, it produces wines that are extravagantly perfumed, that have the schnozz quivering with anticipation. On the palate, you trade off a little body for a lot of elegance. The aftertaste remains with you, powder dry in the mouth, with a hint of rose petal. That’s what I get, anyhow. The 2004 vintage was uneven in quality and even the best wines I found lean, ‘interesting’ rather than ‘opulent’. This one was thin on fruit, not particularly tannic but… what’s the word? Ah, yes, “boring”? Not quite. ”Joyless, then”. Spot on. If Sibella has to wrestle the sample off me in case I drink the whole bottle it’s good wine. Here I wasn’t even tempted.

Call me a conspiracy theorist but this wine is bog standard yesteryear Superquinn. Do they have a deal of it still to shift? Ah yes, it’s half price in their sale, €25.99 down to €13. I’d warrant the well-made Medoc, Pey du Pont 2006, is nicer for €12.

Still, four out of five ain’t bad. In fact it’s very good. Young Mr.Moriarty’s sophisticated palate and obviously smart buying skills have put SQ back on track. And in their French Wine Sale Catalogue I spied a whole heap of further goodies. A really tasty Cairanne for €9, The SQ Sancerre, €13, if you favour  this style it can’t be beaten for the money. The Alain Grangeon Chateauneuf… now that is a wine.

SQ Autumn French Wine Sale runs from Sep 16th – Oct 13th.

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’.

'Rising Stars' – Spanish Wine Tasting

Like football, the wine-tasting season is back in full swing. Today Spain, tomorrow, the Adelaide Hills. I do hope everyone planning to organise an event this year poked their head through the door of The Great Room at The Shelbourne during the Spain ‘Rising Stars’ tasting, which was simply the best-organised tasting in the history of ever. The comprehensive catalogue, sent to wine writers by post ahead of the event, contained prices (retail, hooray!) and stockists. Better yet, when I got there the tables and by-and-large the wines on them were laid out in catalogue order.

Factor in plenty of room, masses of spittoons, a constantly refreshed supply of water and nibbles – sensibly, just water biscuits and Spanish artisan cheeses, matching the seriousness of the event and you have a tasting to be reckoned with. To put the membrillo on the queso there was an early doors hour-and-a-half ‘quiet’ period reserved for the wine press. Could probably have done with at least two-and-a-half as unfortunately I didn’t have time to get round to the half dozen or so tables at the back which were reserved for wineries seeking representation here.

Anyhow, take a bow and several encores, the Embassy of Spain and event co-ordinator Justine Adam.

Billed as ‘rising stars’ the spotlight was on the regions we’ve come to call ‘the New Spain’ thanks to John Radford’s seminal book. That said, the purist could assert that, in particular, Penedes, Rias Baixas and Ribera del Duero are more ‘risen’ than ‘rising’.

Quality wasn’t quite a given but, generally, wine lovers can be confident that buying into Spanish wine will provide both interesting drinking and value for money. Here are just a few of the many I liked. Paco & Lola’s gorgeous Rias Baixas albarino 2008 (€14.99) was, I thought, the nicest of the many examples of this grape variety on show. Affectionately known as ‘Spotty Bottle’ it should stick out a mile on the shelves of The Celtic Whiskey Shop, Superquinn and some independents. CWS also had some fine sherries from Hidalgo, including a PX.

Quintessential Wines of Drogheda had many interesting wines on their stand, including those of Bodegas Naia from Rueda. The K-Naia Verdeho, with its refreshing minerality is well worth the €14.75 ask (Quintessential, Power & Smullen). The barrel aged Naides 2007 (€31.50) was an absolute gem and I’d rather drink it than many a PC Chablis. La Rousse’s Prius de Morana Rueda 2007 was a steal (Fallon & Byrne; The Storehouse, Naas) at the €10 ask.

On the Approach Trade stand I found another likeable verdeho, this one laced with viura and sauv B also, called Basa 2008 (€13.95). Ace winemaker Telmo Rodriguez’s name on a bottle is usually a guarantee of quality. I’m a big fan of Dehesa Gago 2007, a balanced and beautiful red from Toro (€13.50, stockists nationwide). The big brother, Gago Crianza 2006 (€23.25) was absolutely ace. Approach Trade who import them also bring in Alvaro Palacios’ Les Terrasses 2005 (€31.35), which I waxed lyrical over when I wrote about Priorato in the Sunday Independent earlier this year.

Clada Group had a vibrant red from Toro, Eternum Viti (ho, ho) 2006 (€14.95, Woodberry’s Galway & The Corkscrew, Dublin). Also a big ripsnorting bugger from Ribera del Duero called Neo Sentido.

A lot of Rioja on Barry & Fitzwilliam’s table. I did like the 3 Ribera del Dueros from Bodegas O.Fournier. The entry level, curiously named Urban Oak (€14.99) represented value for money. Pago del Oro 2006 (€14.99, Classic Drinks, independents) a cheerful, uncomplicated red from Toro. Classic had an unusual red wine, Pittacum 2005 (€16.95) featuring the little-known Mencia grape, big mouthfeel balanced by just the right touch of acidity.

Finally, if it’s organic wine you’re after, look no further than Mary Pawle from Kenmare (www.marypawlewines.com), who’s been doing organic longer than most or maybe any. I couldn’t separate Albet y Noya’s 3Macabeus 2008 and Lignum Negre 2007 for quality.The ’07 is drinking better as of now. Both represent heroic value for money. Wine of the show? The utterly absorbing Clio 2006 (Quintessential Wines, Power & Smullen). But at €44.95 I won’t be drinking much of it, alas!

There were many more that impressed but the fingers are dropping off me; might add more later.

So it goes….

This week’s decent drinking

mime1Ask any wine buff what the name Henschke means to them and it’s odds on that they’ll come up with the words “Hill of Grace”. This top dollar shiraz is truly an Australian icon, one of the few that gets mentioned in the same breath as Penfold’s Grange. ‘Hill of Grace’ is a fabulous Barossa shiraz made from vines nearly a hundred years old; complex, powerful, elegant and fully deserving of the hype. Another Henschke notable is ‘Mount Edelstone’ shiraz, named for a hill in the Barossa originally christened ‘Edelstein’ – precious stone – by the German immigrants, including Stephen Henschke’s ancestors, who populated the valley five generations ago. It’s long been a particular favourite of mine.

We tasted these classics, along with other Henschke wines at L’Ecrivain in the company of the amiable Stephen Henschke and his wife Prue, winemaker and viticulturist. Though Henschke is best known for it reds, initially it was the whites that dazzled. The 2007 ‘Coralinga’ sauvignon blanc from Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills was as complex as this essentially workaday grape can get, kept fresh with brisk though not overwhelming acidity. Better still was the 2006 ‘Julius’ riesling with all the bracing minerality and lime refreshment you find in Eden Valley wines. There was also a pinot grigio that contained an unusual element – flavour.

Of the reds in the tasting I particularly liked the vibrant, powerful Johann’s Garden grenache and the smart Henry’s Seven shiraz/viognier which, for around €30 gives a massive hint as to the sheer class of Henschke when you go upscale.

We drank the 2001 Hill of Grace over lunch. It was everything I expected. In 2002 Stephen put the flagship wine under screwcap. Yet, unlike most Australian winemakers, he’s not entirely convinced that the screwcap is the best closure around. Latterly he’s been trialling the German glass-to-glass Vinolok closure about which I wrote in my Sunday Independent column last year. It’s both effective and beautifully aesthetic. Alas it’s expensive as the bottle neck has to be tailored to fit the stopper and because not many producers are using the system, economies of scale do not apply compared to conventional closures. The cost of bottle and closure is currently about 2 Australian dollars (about the cost of a top notch cork) which effectively prohibits its use on all but premium wines.

Prue and Stephen are working towards their organic certification, which they should receive next year. They are also farming biodynamically. Pru believes that the essence of biodynamics is about improving the organic matter of the soil. She makes her own compost using cow manure, grape skins and green waste. She also uses the specified biodynamic preparations and plants, in the accredited manner, according to the lunar phases. Many sceptics dismiss these aspects as of the lunatic fringe of winemaking but, as long as class acts like Oliver Humbrecht, Michel Chapoutier, Vanya Cullen and the Henschkes are burying the cow horns, you won’t find me numbered among the knockers of ‘bio’.

The Henschke ‘Julius’ riesling is available from The Corkscrew, Chatham Street and On The Grapevine, Dalkey, price €29.99 and worth every last cent.