Three Wines Around the Med!

A loose title for a piece on a weekend of sipping wine while still on Virtual Lockdown from the CoronaVirus, as clearly any trips to the Mediterranean this year will only be achieved via the medium of the wines, and foods coming from the countries that border on the waters.

First up on Friday evening was a bargain buy from last summer, which had snuck under the radar. a 2016 Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore from Sartori di Verona. I picked this up last year from Supervalu here in Dublin, as part of a deal, for only €8.66 a bottle. An excellent blend based on Corvina and being a Ripasso, it could be thought of as a leftovers from Amarone. But it’s much nicer than it sounds. Ripasso style takes the skins after Amarone has been made, and goes again with the Valpolicella, a second fermentation, with the word Ripasso translating as “To Go Again”, which is exactly what they do, creating a more complex Valpolicella.

Dark Red cherries were prevalent, there was spice, there was an earthiness which defied the risotto that we ate alongside, and the length was staggering for such a bargain wine. Normally I would expect a wine like this to be heading around the €15 euro mark as a starting point, so a bargain buy, and having kept it hidden (by accident) for twelve months at home, it was even better.

Saturday saw me moving from the the Veneto region of Italy to a new world for me – not in the “New World”, very much in the Old World, to some the potential cradle of grapes being made into wine. To Turkey we sailed. This came about due to a conversation with a Sommellier friend who heard I had some Bolivian Marselan in my cellar, so a deal was made to swap for something interesting he had, and so, we swapped, and I received a bottle of KAV from Doluca Wines.

Kav is a blend of Bogazkere and Okuzgozu grapes, both indigenous to Turkey, and I confess, I had never heard of either, nor can I pronounce them! Bogazkere translates as “Throat Burner”, a robust tannic grape, from Southeastern Anatolia, which is combined with the Okuzgozu from Eastern Anatolia, an aromatic red grape, with a crisp fruity character. These grapes are known as Bulls Eye Grapes, as they are far larger than one normally sees.

The blend is aged in 225 lt. French oak for 12 months before a further 2 years of bottle ageing, to acquire a full-bodied, fruit driven, fig and dried fruits abound, in a very dark coloured, but remarkably well balanced wine. Yes, the tannins were there, but the more aromatic grape certainly hit the Bulls Eye and softened the Throat Burner, to reveal an excellent wine, and one really worth seeking out, retailing at under €20 here in Ireland. We drank with a robust Venison Stew, which paired perfectly.

Sunday saw a switch back to France, and the Languedoc. For the past few months of lockdown, every weekday morning has found me logging into Instagram Live at 7.30a.m. (Irish Time), and the Vineyard Rambles of Katie Jones from Domaine Jones, in Tuchan, in the Aude department in France. Every morning, Katie takes us to one of her many small vineyards, and will be taking us through to harvest and beyond as the summer progresses, well worth checking out on InstaLive, at DomaineJones.

As a result of the rambles, I sought out the wines that Katie produces, with a diverse range of grapes, from the Languedoc faithful, Grenache & Syrah, to more interesting variatals of Grenache Gris, Carignan and even the Hairy Grenache. Unfortunately no importer here in Ireland (you’re missing out guys!), so I went direct, and purchased a mixed case direct from the winery.

The first wine from the selection to be opened was the Along Came Jones, “Difference” 2018. A Grenache heavy blend, combined with Syrah & Carignan, The very interesting cartoon of a label is worth checking out on its own, telling the story of Katie’s arrival in the region, but once opened the initial colour of the juice leapt out at me, red cherry, along with the fruit aromas which were jumping out of the glass. The wine took me straight to the Garrigue, the limestone hills of the Languedoc, and the wild vegetation that abounds. Rich herbs shone through, bay leaf, rosemary and thyme, (although, no parsley or sage!), and the Carignan spices also came through. Medium bodied, soft tannins, and a truly wonderful finish, lingering long after the swallow.

All in all, an excellent weekend haul, and a journey around the Mediterranean, where I long to return, although that looks like it will be delayed to 2021, along with other travels, In the meantime, we can explore the regions through the wonder of wine, I hope you will join me on the journey. In the meantime, tune into Katie’s Insta Live at 7.30 in the morning, and wave as you watch and listen to the rambles.

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio – The Tears of Christ.

Yes, another wine review, albeit brief. This is a wine I was totally unfamiliar with, and grapes, I confess to never having heard of. A 90/10 blend of Caprettone and Falanghina, in this 2017 edition, both indigenous grapes to the Napoli area, and rarely seen at this level. Some years the blend has additional “Greco” added, but this year saw the propensity of the Caprettone. The Italian name translates as the tears of Christ, and the producers are Cantine Matrone.

This wine came from my Italian Wine Club, Rimessa Roscioli and they have a wonderful way of sending tasting notes, videos, from the producers themselves.

Andrea Matrone

But back to my own experiences. We were having monkfish, steamed in the oven, with a spinach risotto for dinner, so the bottle was chilled in the fridge before I extracted it with 20 minutes to go before serving up the food, as is my want. The colour of the first pour was amazing. I was not expecting such a golden shade in the glass, especially on such a relatively young wine.

The nose was less striking, in fact,somewhat disappointing. Maybe it needed time to develop, and I have seen reviews which indicated that the aromas expanded on day two after opening, but I would have to make my assessment solely on a single evening. There was a distinct lack of fruit coming through on the nose, some floral notes were there, but there was an overiding sense of minerality, wet stones, and a salient hint too.

Although the nose was lacking something, on the palate, the flavours did come through. A medium plus acidity level, and a firm texture, honey like in its viscosity, gave way to the fruit. Pear and green apple came to mind, and, surprisingly, there were red fruits in there too, amongst the earthiness and mineral components noted on the nose, a touch of raspberry.

The wine did compliment the food, and certainly the savoury notes from the earthiness worked well with the monkfish, which is of course, a very full bodied fish in itself, meaty and firm, which is how I would rate this wine. A full bodied trip to the volcanic terroir of Italy, and a journey I would be happy to return to in the future.

A Gamay in the Cote d’Or

Domaine Huber-Verderau “Les Chanterelles” Cuvee No.1

Just south of Beaune are the villages of Pommard, Volnay and Meursault. An area of the Cote d’Or, well known for its Premier & Cru white wines, and where reds are concerned it is Pinot Noir that is the expectation. However, Thiebault Huber founded the Domaine Huber-Verderau in 1994 on the family estate, and he now operates four hectares of vines across the three parishes. As a biodynamic producer he works on minimal intervention, and it is with the 60 year old Gamay vines, that he cannot replace (by law!), a rarity this far north in Burgundy, that he produces this wine, an 80/20 blend with Pinot Noir.

The grapes are de-stemmed and fermented in concrete vats, before resting on lees for nine months, resulting in a elegant wine, and the vintage I was to enjoy was from 2015.

Upon opening, the aromas of fresh red fruits were prevalent, along with a farmyard funk, more associated with the Pinot’s here. I noted strawberries and raspberries, with maybe some lingering cherry on the nose. Once in the mouth the acidity was modest, as were the tannins, but there was definitely a hint of sour cherry, and although only a 12.5% alcohol level, there was a peppery spice adding to the overall complexity. The concentrated flavours lead to a lengthy finish to a smooth, well balanced, delightful wine, I enjoyed, paired with bacon ribs, pepper sauce, potatoes tossed in Olive oil, which despite the saltiness of the ribs, which fell off the bone I might add, pulled out the fruit in the glass. I finished off the evening with Comte and Shropshire Blue Cheeses, which also coupled well.

Another interesting and enjoyable wine imported by Wines Direct, to whom I am grateful for the information as the Website is lacking detail for this particular beauty. I will be tasting another of their wines later this week, the 2018 Les Constances, a more regular Pinot Noir, it will be interesting to compare notes.

Stop and Smell the Rosé

L’Hortus de Bergerie Pic Saint Loup 2019

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This wine came to me last week as part of my Wine Club Tasting evening, carried out Zoom. Due to the fact that I wasn’t planning to drink all the bottle in the following days, my Coravin was used, and the wine placed back on the rack at the end of the evening,

At the tasting, it scored highly, on flavour, acidity, body, and length, although we didn’t take a vote as such, it was probably the highlight of the night. So, last night I returned to the shelf, and pulled the cork on this. I’m glad I did,

I have a confession to make – Rosé has never been my go to wine, even in the warm summer days, sat out on the balcony enjoying the airs. My prejudice would always have been for a light red, a Pinot or a Gamay, or maybe a chilled white, Rosé would have come a poor third in the past. That changed last year, as I was introduced to a number of excellent Rosés at a tasting event, and my views have softened towards the style.

This particular wine comes from Domaine de L’Hortus de Bergerie in Pic Saint Loup in  the Languedoc region of France. I have enjoyed their Syrah and their Syrah/Mourvedre blended Reds before now, excellent wines in their own right, so my expectations were high that this would be a worthy entry to my Rosé list. It didn’t disappoint.

The wine is a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache and is pressed lightly and vinified in much the same way that a white wine would be, before spending some four  months in steel tanks, before bottling at the end of winter, and released to the world.

The wine is a healthy shade of salmon pink, quite deep, and the nose displayed red berry fruits, with a hint of something spicy awaiting the taste buds. Fresh and crisp, chilled to to 20/20 rule I apply to Light Reds & Whites (Reds twenty minutes in the fridge before opening, whites in the fridge for the day, and taken out 20 minutes before drinking) – In this case I treated it as a White, so nicely chilled…

The initial acidity was medium in strength, delivering a tang to the mouth without being overpowering, subsiding to produce those red fruits, strawberries, raspberries and the tang reminiscent of red grapefruit. The spiciness was likely emanating from the relatively high level of alcohol for a Rosé at 14%, and added to the length of the finish, and left a lasting impression on me.

Overall, an excellent example of Quality Rosé – Criticisms of some Rosé wines tend to comment that the wine was watery. This is certainly not the case with this wine, certainly medium bodied, leaning towards a full roundness in the final assessment. We finished the bottle with dinner of simple grilled port steaks, with an apple sauce and potatoes tossed in olive oil and black pepper, and the wine held up well across the food. 

Highly Recommend: –  

Domaine de l’Hortus. The Montagne Massif de l’Hortus mountain cliff. Pic St Loup. Languedoc. Mourvedre vines facing south. France. Europe. Vineyard.

It Never Rains – It Pours

There are times of drought and times of surplus.

In these troubled times we have been living through in recent months with the onset of Covid19 and the restrictions placed upon us all, with an inability to browse at the myriad of bottles on display in our local retailers, many of us have gone to the internet and used the power of our plastic cards and index fingers, to click on purchases.

I succumbed to the Finger clicking and this week past saw arrivals every day to keep my cellar from looking bare, in truth, overfilling it by the time the weekend arrived. No less than 5 cases arrived this week, that’s 30 bottles, and as I usually drink around 3 bottles a week, I should be OK for a while!

First to arrive was a very special case that I had ordered from Priorat in Spain. This was a pot luck case created by the DOQ Priorat to assist wineries in the Region, with over 70 suppliers coming together to supply the wines, at €60 per case, and a superb value for money offer, with €6 per case going to support research into Covid19, so winners all round.

Next up came a case from Clos de Figueras winery. I listened to an excellent InstaLive Chat on #WineSocial with the owners of this winery, and clicked that purchase order for a mixed case of their wines. From their Serras del Priorat, their Blanco Y Tinto Font de Al Figuera, and their Clos Figueres 2016 top of the range, with a Sweet Wine to round of the case.

On Wednesday my purchase to lay away arrived. Last summer, we visited the Il Palazzone winery in Montalcino on the very day they were bottling the 2015 Brunello di Montalcino Wine, so agter chatting with Laura from the winery a couple of weeks ago, it was very easy to order a case for the future – All things being well, this will turn out to be a perfect vintage.

Next up was a Tasting Selection from my Wine Club. Normally, we would meet up on the First Thursday of the Month, with a themed tasting, but given the restrictions, we came up with the idea of supplying everyone with the same case, and Zoom Tasting the Wines. This week we tasted three of the selection, the Rose from L’Hortus de Bergerie, an Albarino from Fillaboa, and El Maximo Crianza from Guerinda, which you might have spotted before.

And the final case that arrived on Friday was my Wine Explorers Selection from Wines Direct. Each month, I receive a case of 6 wines, selected by the Club, with a complete range of styles, giving me the opportunity to try out grapes, regions, etc., that I may never have ventured near. An excellent way to expand knowledge and enjoy great wines along the road.

So there we have it, five cases, thirty bottles, and full wine racks. The courier services certainly knew the way to my door by the end of this week, but I can promise them a rest now, as I have nothing on order until next month’s Explorers Club, at least …………………………

not yet anyway!

A Weekend of Wine

A Holiday Weekend here in Ireland, and three bottles opened and consumed over the period. An Italian sandwiched between two from Spain, with varying degrees of success.

Neleman Nucli Blanco 2019 – Valencia DO

First up on Friday was this blend of Macabeo and Sauvignon Blanc from Derrick Neleman from Godella in the Valencia DO. A fully organic, vegan friendly wine, where the grapes are grown around 600 masl, with the cooler nights and warm days leading to a long ripening season, before seeing the inside of stainless steel tanks and three months on the lees.

The colour of the wine is straw yellow, and the nose shows significant features of Sauvignon Blanc, or at least Southern Hemisphere SB, with tropical fruit, hints of melon and grapefruit being dominant. I am not aware of the mix in the blend, but clearly Sauvignon is dominant, as the nose did not resemble White Rioja, where the Macabeo is known as Viura, far more stringent.

The first taste was puckering, as the acid bit into my palate, before mellowing somewhat and the fruits developed in the mouth. Citrus fruits, the tropical melon and pear where there, and a hint of newly cut grass was hanging around the nose as I drank. The finish was medium in length, with a 12.5% alcohol level not leaving too much to savour.

All in all, whilst I wouldn’t rank this above a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume from the Loire Valley, it compares with New Zealand SB’s, and if you enjoy those old favourites from Marlborough, such as Cloudy Bay or Greywacke, this might appeal. Nothing outstanding in my book, but with the right, light seafood, on a summers day, this would be very pleasureable.

2015 La Palazzola Umbria Rubino

Saturday night swung around, and we were having a second helping of the Venison in Red Wine that I had made earlier in the week, while clearly cooking enough to emulate Feeding the 5,000! As this was a very rich dish, it was time to open up a strident Italian, a hearty Bordeaux Blend from Umbria. With 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Merlot I knew I was in for a kicking of Tannins. This Umbrian Rosso comes in under the IGT , rather than the DO, given its International Grape make-up, but don’t be deceived that quality suffers classified as such, far from it.

The nose was full of fruit. Plums, black cherry, blackberries, they were all there, and not overpowered by the vanilla and tobacco from the 12 months ageing in barriques that this wine undertakes. My first thoughts were that this may have been uncorked a little early in its life, being a 2015, and I know that this wine will appreciate over time, bringing out more secondary and tertiary aromas as it develops, but that doesn’t take away from the excellent aromas coming my way. I should point out that I did indeed decant for an hour before serving, and it was clearly nicely opened up when I tasted.

On the palate, the tannins were not as strident as I had expected, with a medium level of acidity balancing out the tannic qualities, and allowing the flavours to be the key factors as I explored. Dark fruit was in abundance, those plums, black cherries, blackcurrants, all to the fore. There were spices trying to get out, some pepper, black rather than white, with a fiery element, not really from the alcohol, which only came in at 13.5%, and hints of an earthiness, those tertiary notes, which will no doubt come to the fore in the future as the wine extends. There was certainly a good length to the finish, and the wine worked wonders with the remains of the Venison, another perfect paring of game and wine.

This wine came from my Italian Wine Club at Rimessa Roscioli in Roma, and I wouldn’t hesitate to pick more of this up, maybe putting some away for some time to see how, and if, it would appreciate with age. While on the subject of Rimessa Roscioli, they have just set up a wonderful new, (free), Wine Community, consisting of Videos, Fora, Classes, and an open Community of like minded wine fans, focusing on Italian Wines, obviously, but a wealth of information, really worth checking out – Here’s the link.

2017 Guerinda El Maximo Crianza

Last, but not least of the Trio over the weekend, saw me heading back to Spain, and a trip to the Guerinda Mountains in Navarra, and to Bodegas Maximo Abete and the wine names after Maximo, the founder of the winery, The Maximum! A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and of course, Garnacha (Grenache), sourced by my “other” Wine Club here in Ireland, Wines Direct, who also supplied the Nucli Blanco. The vines grow on the very steep hillsides of the Guerinda Mountains, at an elevation of 700 masl in Vallervitos.

Maximo passed away a few years ago, but his two daughters, Yoanna and Maria Abete, along with Yoanna’s husband Juanma Lerga, are continuing the legacy created by their father, and this wine certainly does justice to the founder. A deep, black lagoon of wine cascaded into the first glass I poured, the Cabernet and Merlot hiding the more subtle shades of the Garnacha, and on the nose, dark fruit was prevalent, with a peppery spice element, plummy and hints of violets.

However, on the palate, the Granache came back to the fore. While it may have lost the battle on the colour front, it won the taste test, pushing the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot back behind it, and bring its juicy fruits, raspberries and cranberries to the front, while allowing the blackberries to linger a while, passing through. The high alcohol content of 14.5% (hard to find Garnacha much lower), gave that warmth as the juice slipped down the throat, and with a medium acidity level and the low tannins dominant from the Garnacha, there was a hint of almost sweetness in the aftertaste.

Certainly the last wine of the weekend didn’t disappoint. We paired it with Turkey Meatballs in a peppery sauce, over gnocchi, and in truth, this wine would have gone well with the Venison on Saturday night, but it worked perfectly with the Meatballs, and again, a wine would I would be happy to add more off to the cellar. Perhaps more an everyday wine, rather than one to lay away a while like the Rubino, but certainly comparable, and worthy of the table.

Conclusion:

A good weekend at home, still under relative lockdown thanks to Covid19, although we can get out and about locally, shopping, exercise etc. One of the positive sides of being confined to quarters, so to speak, is the ability to try out new wines, and new recipes to match. The three wines we had over the weekend were perfect examples of this, and I would recommend all three.

Book Review – In Vino Duplicitas by Peter Hellman

In Vino Duplicitas

One of the few positive things about being confined to quarters since the middle of March thanks to the Covid19 pandemic, is that more time has been available to catch up on reading. The last eighteen months or so, much of my reading material has been a form of study material as I progressed through the WSET exams, and while the subject matter of this book may still be wine, the story is one of greed, naivety, gullibility by many, and laced with hints of serious crime lurking behind the scenes. A Wine Thriller, which is actually a true story!

The take revolves around a young man, Rudy Kurniawan, who, in 2002 appeared on the wine scene in the US, blessed with an exceptional palate, an engaging personality, a seemingly large bank account, and an extraordinary array of fine wine. Over the next six years and more, he climbed the ladder of success in the US Wine World, becoming a major buyer, and seller of fine wines, a friend to all the high rollers who collect Fine Wine in much the way that children collect Panini Football Stickers.

You may have seen the Netflix Documentary, Sour Grapes, which covers the story, but this book is written by the journalist Peter Hellman, who covered the mysteries of Rudy Kurniawan for US Wine mag, Wine Spectator, and the suspicions that started to rise as apparently counterfeit wines started to appear at auctions supplied by Rudy. The book, in a slightly disjointed style, tells how Rudy’s life started to unravel, culminating in the FBI raiding his Aladdin’s den in California and discovering all the signs of illegal wine faking.

It’s not giving anything away to write that Rudy was convicted of fraud, and is still serving his sentence for the crimes he committed. What is also not given away, is how this all began. Rudy wouldn’t talk, or explain his wealthy start, the investigations by the author, and many others, has still failed to discover the full story behind the story.

A book that raises more questions than answers, but one which goes at some length to try and unravel the mystery of the Greatest Wine Fraud to date. Read the book, watch Sour Grapes, and make your own mind up – Was Rudy always out to defraud people, did he ingratiate his way into the US Wine Cognoscenti knowing full well he planned to rip them off, or was he simply a pawn fronting up a wider conspiracy – We may never know!

2015 Silvano Bolmida Barolo Bussia

Under normal circumstances, most people wouldn’t be looking at opening a Barolo at only 5 years. Barolo is a wine that develops with age, and for many, 10 years would be a minimum before taking the corkscrew to the bottle. However, Silvano Bolmida, the winemaker, insists that his wines can be drunk on release, and while they will change over time, they are ready now, and you will enjoy them in their youthful state.

The Nebbiolo that goes into this wine are grown at high altitude in the small village of Bussia in Monforte d’Alba, biodynamically, and the maceration process lasts up to 50 days. This combination, along with the small oak barrels used for maturation on the lees, and the 14 months bottle ageing, helps to smooth out the tannins to an almost velvet like texture, more in tune with a much older wine.

The colour is ruby red, with a complex combination of aromas, red fruits, cherries and strawberries, a smokiness, hints of coffee, and violets permeating through. In the mouth the acidity is apparant, but the expected tannic grip familiar to Barolo is more textured, softer, silk like in many ways, and the flavours of prunes and mocha combine with the cherries and strawberries to give a very satisfying flavour profile, and a lengthy finish, a warmness associated with a 14.5% alcohol level.

I had prepared a dish of Venison, slow cooked for 8 hours in red wine, stock, with celery, bacon, mushrooms, a rich dish, which needed a bold wine, but not one that would overpower the meat, and this hit the exact right spot, a perfect match.

Overall, although youthful, it is drinking well now, but, no doubt, it will extend further over time in cellar. As any Italian will tell you, wines such as this, (in fact Italians will tell you every wine!), are to be drunk with food that perfectly balances – a meaty wine, needs a meaty dish – I have more of my Venison, sadly, at this moment I don’t have more of the Barolo – That will have to change…..

Laugh Out Loud About Wine!

 

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The Third Installment…

Last year I was turned onto a couple of books by an “author” I was unfamiliar with, Peter Stafford-Bow. The reason the books were recommended to me was that the subject matter was wine, at least the story-lines were set in “a” world of wine, not a million miles away from the reality of it all. And the central character, Felix Hart, could even exist in either worlds – Or does he?

Yes, the books are satire, and satire at its best. Both are hilarious, laugh out loud titles, set in that World, with a cast of characters, no doubt drawn from the authors own experiences in the real wine world over many years.

Corkscrew Cover

The First Book, Corkscrew, sees our hero, Felix, set sail on his adventures after being expelled from school, and heading for a career in wine. He treads on toes on his way up the ladder, and has more than his fair share of adventures, many of them in the bedroom, and naturally things don’t always go according to plan. One tremendous deal he delivers, is too good to be true and it is! People-smuggling, the Mafia, and the Corporate World of Wine combine to keep us laughing all the way through.

Brut Force Cover

The sequel, Brut Force, carries on the adventures, as Felix is a little more mature, in age at least, but has he bitten off more than he can chew when he crosses the path of Lily Tremaine, and the romps continue!

And now – The Third Installment has arrived in my post box, Firing Blancs, courtesy of the author and Felix’s adventures will continue, no doubt finding new ways to get into trouble, and new conquests to make, as he heads to South Africa to deal with problems afoot!

Looking forward to spending the next week, or maybe less, in fits of laughter as Felix Hart sets off on his new adventures –  Full review to follow……….