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Bordeaux For Beginners

A STARTER GUIDE TO THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS WINE REGION
Appellations
Appellations d’Origine Controlée, to give them their full title, operate at 4 levels:
Generic regional AC – Bordeaux, covers red, white, rosé and sparklers from the region.
Slightly posher is Bordeaux Superior – to achieve this a grower has to squeeze out an extra half per cent alcohol.
Specific regional AC cover large areas Entre-deux-Mers, Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux, Haut Médoc for exmple.
Village ACs – Within a few of the regions a few of the notable villages have their own AC, e.g. St-Estèphe, Margaux, Sauternes.
Assemblage
Blending of Bordeaux wines from their consituent varieties.
Barrique (Bordelaise)
The famous 225l Bordeaux barrel that had replaced the unwieldy 900l Tonneau by the end of the 18th century. Today the word is in use world-wide.
Bordeaux
Impressive city on the Garonne river on France’s West Coast. Total area under vines around 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) with around 12,500 producers. Centre of a huge wine trade, rising to pre-eminence in 1152 when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet, later King of England as Henry II.
Blaye
Northernmost area of Bordeaux where wine is part of the mixed agrarian economy. Drink Bertinerie and Haut-Bertinerie, leave the rest alone.
Courtier
Charming name for the broker who interfaces between the grower and the négotiant for a small commission. Another profit centre in the chain.
Château
Don’t look for any castles (the literal translation). Châteaux are sometimes palatial mansions like Margaux, Lafite, Bécheville, Cos d’Estournel. More often they are simple farmhouses. Some wine estates bearing the prefix ‘Château…’ have no house at all.
Côtes de Bourg
Area of some potential on the right bank of the Dordogne where it flows into the Gironde. Good earthy wines but Bourg growers need to modernise and invest if they are to rise above the mundane.
1855 Classification
The earliest attempt to introduce a pecking order (based on market price) and subsequently revised. Important to remember it was limited to the Médoc.
Entre-deux-Mers Beguiling white and red wine area between the Dordogne and the Garonne. Gorgeous landscape but much of the wine is only of average quality and marketed under the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur labels
Garagiste
Neologism for smart, small-scale producers making fruit-forward wines for early-drinking or good ones for a niche market. Some have been elevated to cult status. Many started in St-Emilion where land was relatively cheap.
Grape varieties All Bordeaux wines are blends. Principally Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc for reds and Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillion for whites. Others such as Malbec, Petit Verdot, Muscadelle and Columbard crop up in small quantities to do a specific job.
Graves & Pessac-Leognan
In the north, a bank of gravel now encroached upon by the suburbs of Bordeaux, disintegrating in the South into sand and clay amid pine forests, meadows and orchards. Produces both red (including legendary Haut-Brion) and white wines. Classified in 1953 and 1959.
Médoc
A monotonously flat, undistinguished-looking strip of land adjacent to the left bank of the Garonne, that hosts many of the greatest red wines of the world. To view the Médoc is to wonder why. The answer: soil, climate, tradition, all play a part. Incorporates the villages and communes of Margaux, Moulis and Listrac, St-Julien, Pauillac, St-Estèphe, Haut-Médoc and Médoc.
Negotiant (négoce)
There are 400 of them. French term for a merchant, many of whom in Bordeaux own châteaux. According to the CIVB brochure these guys have “a role of regulators with power to smooth the fluctuation prices that can be so harmful to the market” – hmm… we wonder! Some offer a technical service to poorer growers and are frequently abused by the same for bumping up prices. Not so all-powerful as in Burgundy but nevertheless an integral element in the Bordeaux wine trade that inhibits buying direct.
Noble Rot
An amazing process. The grapes shrivel after botrytis spores latch onto and weaken the skin. Farewell water content, hello high sugar, glycerol and acidity. The grapes eventually reach a ‘roasted’, totally shrivelled stage at which point they are carefully harvested and used, in Sauternes, to make dessert wines of explosive concentration.
Other Classifications
Graves had to wait until 1953 for reds and 1959 for whites. St.Emilion’s is revised every ten years. Pomerol has none.The Crus Bourgeois of the Médoc had a revision in 2003 and some are still whingeing.
Pomerol
Tiny, 7.5 sq mile, area NE of Libourne where Merlot is King. Rich, soft-centred wine exemplified by Ch. Pétrus, greatest and most expensive red wine in the world.
St-Emilion
Tourist gem town SE of Bordeaux with many vineyards that restore your faith in picturesque sites. Here Cabernet Franc, called locally Bouchet, thrives on the limestone slopes. Best wines are Chx.Ausonne and Cheval Blanc.
Sauternes and Barsac
Another area classified in 1855, for its luscious sweet wines of which d’Yquem is foremost. Until recently when they have staged something of a comeback Sauternes were ludicrously underpriced. Sémillon is the main grape employed.

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La Rioja

It is difficult nowadays to imagine the impact that Rioja had on the wine drinker when it burst into our consciousness some forty years ago. Let me set the scene. For starters, Bordeaux and Burgundy, our favourite tipple, had started to escalate in price. Whereas in the 1960s the difference in cost between a merely respectable and a good bottle was only a pound or two, the gap had started to widen, putting the better wines beyond the reach of the average drinker. Then there were the great scandals – the revelation that, in a poor year, some of our hallowed names had souped up their wines by a judicious admixture of grapes from The Midi impacted on our confidence. The humorous magazine Punch summed it up rather well with a satirical guide to wine labelling that included ‘Mis en bouteille au chateau – there is a picture of a castle on the label’.
Rioja was undoubtedly given a boost by the well-propagated myth that its wine industry had been started by the French – ‘myth’ because wine had been made in the upper Ebro valley by the Romans. The French connection came about because of an outbreak of mildew in Bordeaux vineyards in the 1840s. Bordeaux wine brokers went south in search of reliable supplies and hit upon La Rioja. Wine makers and French technology followed in their wake although, remarkably, and with one exception, they did not bring with them their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines, being content to work with the local variety, Tempranillo. With the devastation caused by phylloxera in the 1860s, the procession South intensified. Rioja gained an unprecedented boom which lasted until the turn of the century when the dreaded louse arrived in the region to cause the same havoc it had earlier caused in France. This and the loss of a lucrative market as Spain’s colonial interests dwindled sent the industry into decline.Then, in the late 1960s, Rioja was rediscovered, re-born as “affordable claret-style wine.” Boom time once again.
Though Rioja was the first and is still the most highly regulated area in Spanish winemaking, the regulations haven’t always worked in the region’s favour. The emphasis on barrel maturation has led to some faded, heavily oxidised wines – if you are subjecting a wine to extended barrel ageing then the base product has to be pretty good and that hasn’t always been the case. Nevertheless, the best reds are sublime and you have a choice between the old-style, matured in American oak, silky, aromatic and medium bodied and the new upfront ‘fruit bombs’ made in that international style that the market seems to demand. Names to try include my favourite, Muga; Monte Real; Olarra; the two Marqueses, Murrieta and Riscal; also that runaway commercial success and Ireland’s choice, Faustino.

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Burgundy – Hospice de Beaune & Chablis

I promised the full story of my trip to Burgundy for the Auction at The Hospice de Beaune. Here it is…

Why all the fuss? A question I asked myself as the TGV sped southward.
Size wise it’s insignificant, comprising as it does a mere 02% of the earth’s surface that’s covered by vines. What’s more, the fêted Grand Crus make up a mere 1% of the region’s total output and the Premier little more than a tenth. The bulk of the production, entitled only to the name of Burgundy tout court, is honest but unremarkable wine. Yet the region carries an undeniable charisma, an attraction exceeding even that of the Medoc.
Partly, of course, it’s that aristocrat of wine words, terroir. Nowhere else in the world do you find, in the midst of an otherwise unremarkable array of vineyards, hallowed patches where the grapes yield up wine of exquisite quality. Where even the vinously literate search in vain for clues, getting down on their knees to turn over handfuls of soil or gazing down from the crest of the slope in utter bewilderment.
Much is made of the terrain. The buzz word is ‘Kimmeridge’ or ‘kimmerigien’. But beware, there’s more bollocks talked about Kimmeridge than even politics or football.
I’ve been told, by those who should know better, that it’s a corruption of an old French word for ‘high ridge’; that it’s the name of an American professor of geology. Truth is Kimmeridge is actually the name of a village in Dorset, England where the substrata and soil is remarkably similar to that of Burgundy – limestone blended with fossilised rock and sprinkled with marl overlaid in parts by other clay pocked with bituminous shale; a topography that took shape during the Jurassic era.
History is another aspect to Burgundy’s appeal. Its wines were patronised in turn by Louis XIV, Napoleon and General de Gaulle, not a bad trio of endorsees. Some claim viticulture in the region stemmed from a colony of Greeks settled in Marseilles, some of whom ventured north. Others date the process to Caesar’s conquest of Gaul in 52BC. What is certain is that medieval religious orders, Benedictines and Cistercians, advanced matters, the latter by being the first to cultivate the back-breaking inclines of the Côte d’Or. Much of the credit, though, must go to that Duke of Burgundy who, in the late 14th century, supervised the wholesale ripping out of the common weed-vine Gamay and its replacement by the aristocratic Pinot Noir.
Temperamental Pinot Noir and ever-complaisant Chardonnay are the real glory of Burgundy, the former making red wines that, while wholly enjoyable when young, develop a patchwork quilt of nuances given some bottle age; the latter achieving its world-wide apogée on the sacred slopes of Montrachet just south of our destination, the town of Beaune.
All this flashed through my mind on the journey. We changed trains at Dijon, capital of the region and took the stopper. I was pleased to halt at Nuits-St.Georges, home of the first wine I ever drank. If Dijon is the Duchy’s capital, Beaune is undoubtedly the wine capital, especially in November when it plays host to the world. Norwegians and Koreans, Americans and Japanese and other poles apart pairings crowd the streets, either as invitees of the merchant houses or as independent travellers with a common aim – to attend the great annual wine auction at the Hospices de Beaune and enjoy the remarkable gastronomic accompaniment. Some arrive, chequebooks at the ready, to bid for a barrel or three. Others, merely to spectate and join in the festivities. These blow-ins are catered for by a hundred restaurants, from bistro to temple of gastronomy, remarkable in a town of only about 27,000 people. It’s said that Paris is the head of France, Champagne the heart and Burgundy the stomach and after four days there I can confirm that it’s a very full stomach indeed. Burgundians, like me, are food-obsessed and it’s not uncommon to receive a lecture on how to buy or how to cook the andouillettes or poulet de Bresse when you’re standing in front of an open market stall contemplating purchase. Such advice could come from the vendor, a fellow-shopper or a mere passer-by. Meet the locals and five minutes later they’ll be telling you who’s the best butcher in town. The food shops are crowded too; twice a day there are queues outside the bakers.
Importers, merchants, journalists from a veritable league of nations took lunch chez Bouchard Père et Fils in the delightfully elegant orangery across the road from the château that serves as the company HQ. Bouchard are big in Burgundy, owning 12 hectare of Grands Crus and 74 of Premiers, the names of which sparkle like diamonds: Chambertin, Clos Vougeot, Echezeaux, Le Corton, Corton Charlemagne and an array of Montrachets shine from their portfolio.
After lunch we went off to Meursault to taste, pausing on the way at Le Montrachet to genuflect. I look back at my notes as I write and find my terse cyphering that’s gaining notoriety in wine writing circles is speckled with exclamation marks. The Meursault Genevrières 2002 “affords genuine excitement”, it seems. The Corton-Charlemagne of the same year was “tense and weighty, sea salt and Cox’s apples framed by delicate but insistent peachy flavours”. The Chevalier Montrachet “still a kit of parts but the class is undeniable”. I want to come back and taste the same wines in 5 and 10 years.
In the evening we returned to the Bouchard château for dinner in the cellars. The cooking was rich, classically Burgundian from the etherial gougères, “like eating cheese-flavoured clouds” as someone said, to the marbré de canard, to the cepes-stuffed suprême de volaille fermière, to the marc-soaked roast figs. The wines, Chevalier Montrachet 1997, Nuits St.Georges Les Cailles 1998 and the Beaune Teurons 1964, still standing up to be counted, were magnificent. Only problem was to prevent falling shards of limestone falling from the cellar roof from tainting the precious liquid.
The auction itself is, I have to say, totally underwhelming for those not in possession of the wherewithal to buy. You queue to get in, this year in teeming rain; once inside you stand or sit, mute and motionless, afraid of nodding your head or scratching your ear for fear you might be called upon to stump up for a pièce, a lot, consisting of around 300 bottles. The numbers roll on the electronic ‘scoreboard’ in euros, yen, pounds, dollars etc, the vendors grunt and groan and then it’s on to the next lot. They have a curious, time-honoured way of ending the bidding but when you’ve seen one guttering candle you’ve seen ‘em all. Ten minutes of this and you’re ready to roam the streets, buying Epoisses and the gorgeously named Ami du Chambertin cheeses, bargaining for truffles and watching the side shows – the cork-pulling contest and the demonstration of the cooper’s craft were the pick of them.

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Wine Report 2004

A humdinger of a pocket book with masses of inside track and purest nitty-gritty from a bevy of regional specialists. Essentially, it’s a hard-hitting ‘state-of-the-wine nation’ report, into which top producers, greatest wines, investment possibilites, etc are twined. A must for the aficionado.

Wine Report 2004
By Tom Stevenson
Dorling Kindersley GB£9.99

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South African Wines

STOP PRESS: 23 WINES TASTED AND TESTED AND NOT EVEN THROUGH THE “B”s!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE FOLLOWS

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Brilliant Red Wine

I make no apologies for singing the praises of this wine, one of the top five reds I’ve driunk this year so far.
Mas Igneus 2000 comes from Priorat in NE Spain – from a local cooperative lent a hand by stylish producers Albet y Noya.
The wine is a joyous, singing, complex red – brilliant stuff – Garnacha/Carinena with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon to lend backbone and keeping quality.
It’s organic, too and costs around euro 18 from importer Mary Pawle and other suppliers I’ll add in as soon as I have them. Recommended

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Bond Gone

Another martyr to Dublin dining economics!

I had a phone call from Karl Purdy yesterday to tell me that Bond, his innovative restaurant with low mark-ups on wine has closed.

A shame, for I thought Karl and his colleagues deserved to succeed. I reviewed Bon for F&W last year. The food was enjoyable and, helped by sommelier Julien, I selected two excellent bottles that set me back e50 to drink in the restaurant. These same bottles would have cost me e90 elsewhere.

Incidentally, it’s one of the restaurants where tips and service charges (only on large parties) have always gone 100% to staff.
Like everyone else, I never went there often enough so must share some of the guilt – alas, pressure on my dining out committment is immense and I probably don’t get to any restaurant more than twice a year unless it’s for a corporate jolly.

Bond, sadly missed. I do hope the essentially decent Karl doesn’t emerge too financially savaged and that staff find new billets soon.

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The French Paradox

How do you define ‘style’ and ‘class’? Hard to say, except by giving examples. An artefact, a watch, say, or a handbag may be deemed “stylish” at a given time in its life cycle. But sometimes “modish” is a more accurate word – last year’s megabuck platform heels are all too often this years church fete lucky bag give-away. Yet some stylish things endure and the reason is not always obvious – the original Porsche 911, for example. This nightmare drive with its abysmal rear vision and skating rink cornering has always been drop-dead stylish in a way that its overblown Nader Age successors with chunky rubber, turbocharged sixes and Noddy-in-Toytown bumpers can never hope to emulate. So is it with ‘class’. Audrey Hepburn had class in a way that Victoria Posh-Beckham couldn’t assimilate if she lived to be as old (and as rich) as the Queen Mum.
Let me say from the outset that The French Paradox, down Shelburne Road on the cusp of the Ballsbridge dining strip, simply exudes class. And style. Their smoked duck breast salad with rocket, tiny grapes and quail’s eggs, elegantly presented, should be cryogenically frozen and preserved for future generations to admire, in case Tania and Pierre Chapeau ever delete it from the menu.
Curiously, the only criticism I have heard of Paradox comes not from friends I have taken there, many of whom had only previously encountered quail’s eggs via the TV version of Brideshead Revisited, but from well set up locals who like their style and class served up in gargantuan helpings. Which is not the point of the place.
Essentially, it’s a wine bar with food, tastefully bedecked Scandinavian fashion in plain wood, befitting the intention of T & P, who saw it as a showcase-above-the shop for the excellent wines they source. The food thing “just grew” to meet demand and because I and they are happy with the way it is and because an extension is planned I hope the dining concept never expands to the point where it will embarrass them.
There’s a heartwarming story attached. The building, a family heirloom if buildings can be ‘heirlooms’, was Tania’s mum’s surgery. That lady, one of feminism and modern Ireland’s unsung heroines, was a GP of the progressive sort at a time in the nation’s history when medical advice to women consisted of “take two of these, twice a day, get back to the sink/cooker, keep having the babies.” Tragically Dr.Legg was killed in a collision with a bus, just before Christmas, back in the late eighties. Over a decade later Tania and Pierre, wine trade professionals both, came up with the germ of an idea that would lead to the opening of the French Paradox last summer, both as memento mori and as a wholehearted celebration of life’s going on.
Five of us did our own celebrating there last week. Minerva and Diana with the smoked duck; Ariadne with the “sublime” – her words – savoury fish platter, while Bacchus and I crossed forks over the ‘Assiette des Plaisirs’, subtitled Four Ways With Foie Gras – warm, mi-cuit, and as parfait and terrine. I think I preferred my description – “the ultimate venial sin” to Bacchus’ cruder, more graphic “heart attack on a plate.” We consumed this gourmet fantasy with the aid of a bucket of fresh French bread (baked on the premises), two bone dry manzanilla sherries, a bottle of Mas Eolienne, a brilliant white from Languedoc, a round of Evian, far-and-away the best still water, and four coffees, two of which were espressi that kicked with a capital K, a nice change. No one was gauche enough to point out that we could have had a three-course lunch elsewhere for around the same money which proves how well I choose my dining companions and how stylish, classy and unique The French Paradox is.

2 x duck breast salad 25.00
1 x fish plate 12.50
1 x Assiette des Plaisirs 35.00
2 glasses manzanilla sherry 10.00
4 x Evian water 8.00
Bottle Mas d’Espanet Eolienne 2001 28.50
5 x coffees 12.50
Total 131.50

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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