The Monthly Wine Club !

When I started out on the Learning Curve, to discover new wines from new regions, new varieties of grapes I had never experienced, I was in a slight dilemma. While I could look up grapes, regions, and wines, I would be tempted to stick to places I knew, grapes I was slightly familiar with. I needed a way to get out there and find new wines, within a reasonable budget, and without any preconceived ideas of what to buy.

Looking around, I discovered a Wine Club run by an online company here in Ireland, Wines Direct. They do have a physical presence out in Mullingar, and also an outlet in Arnotts, one of Dublin’s iconic department stores, but the Wine Club caught my eye, with their Explorers Club. It was exactly what I was looking for:

Are you getting bored of the same old wines? Join the Wine Explorers Club and get 6 exclusive wines delivered to your door every month. Just choose your level and whether you want a red, white or mixed case. Then we scour the globe to find new artisan wines for you to explore. Every month, 6 carefully curated bottles will appear; each with its own tasting notes, food pairings and information about the winemaker.

And so, some two years, and over 150 bottles of wine from all four corners of the planet, later, my latest arrivals were delivered yesterday. They have three levels of membership of the club, and I plumped for the top line, hoping that this would give me the chance to explore wines I would not have gone for on the shelf. In these two years, I have yet to be disappointed, aside from the fact maybe that I didn’t have a full case of some of the excellent wines I have received. Having said that, if required, you can always order more of any of the wines from the store, or online.

I thought it would be interesting to showcase this months delivery, to share what I have in store in the next while. This months selection arrived yesterday, and, as ever, the eclectic range of three whites, and three reds, was spread across different countries, with this month seeing three Italian, two French plus a trip down under to Australia. Each month sees different arrivals, never duplicated, a tour de force of the Wines of the World – A True Exploration.

(For more information, click on the highlighted areas).

Domaine de L’Hortus Grande Cuvee 2018 by Martin Orliac – Val de Monteferrand IGP

First up being a trip to the Languedoc, and Domaine de L’Hortus, and a blend of Chardonnay (40%), Sauvignon Gris (30%), Viognier (20%), and finally Petit Manseng (20%), with a mix between the barrel fermented Chardonnay and the steel used for the others. From the cool climate area of Pic Saint Loup, a Grand Vin in the making, and one for a special occasion I feel.

Cantina Marilana “Sketta” 2018 by Marilina and Federica Paterno – IGP Terre Siciliane

Next up, a trip to Sicily at the foot of Italy, and Cantina Marilana, for a wine made with very little intervention, concrete tanks for fermentation of the Grecanico grapes, extended maceration on the skins, and with six months in tank to fine naturally, before a further three months in the bottle before release, the sisters who run the family 60 hectare winery, in the southeast of Sicily, have come up with a winner here.

Coriole Redstone 2017 by Mark Lloyd – McLaren Vale

To the other side of the world next, and a trip to the McLaren Vale for a New World Shiraz, from the deep red soils of the region, and the Coriole Vineyards. Hence the name of the wine, with the grapes aged in old French oak for twelve months, and with some of the vines dating back to 1919, this results in a Shiraz, or Syrah as the grape is known in Europe, richly coloured, and packed full of flavours. As in most of the Clubs vineyards, organic practices are carried out, showcasing the wines.

Chateau Fongaban 2015 by Pierre Taix – Puisseguin-St Emilion AOC

Back to Europe and Chateau Fongaban, with a trip to the cradle of wine in France, Bordeaux for this Merlot domninated/Cabernet Franc blend from the St Emilion Satellite appellation of Puisseguin, a name with a Celtic connection, with Puy being the Celtic word for The Hill of the Powerful Wine (see, you learn something new everyday!). Aged in old oak, I expect to find powerful aromas of dark cherry and spice when I open this, although I think I will put this one away for a few years.

Stefano Accordini Classico 2018 by Stefano himself – Valpolicella Classico DOC

The last two bottles see us back in Italy, with first a trip to the north east, on the hillside close to the River Adige and Lake Garda to Stefano Accodini. As is always the case with the Club, a family business, produces this blend of Italian grapes, Corvina (65%), Rondinella (30%) and Molinara (5%), a luscious red full of Morella cherries and red berries. Hand harvested, with a week on the skins, before four months resting in tanks before bottling and release. One to drink young.

Castellari Bergaglio 2018 by Marco Bergaglio – Gavi DOCG

Last, but by no means least, and to the north west, between Piemonte and Liguria, the Gavi DOCG area, and the Cortese grape produced by Castellari Bergaglio. Another white that benefits from the careful hand of the winemaker, keeping the juice on the lees after a soft press, with fermentation taking up to 20 days, before a short maturation in bottle, and again a wine to be drunk young, although with the body here, it will keep for a few years, and retain its honeyed flavours of melon and figs without losing quality.

So, there we have it, a tour of my Explorers case this month. Over the two years, the Club has taken me on a journey of discovery, form Argentina and Chile in South America, via Australia and New Zealand, to the traditional European Classics of Spain, Italy and France, with trips to Germany, Austria, Portugal and Greece along the way. Traditional grapes we all know and love, to new varieties I have trouble pronouncing, especially the beautiful indigenous grapes of Greece, such as Xinomavro and Thrapsathiri (yeh, go on, you try!). I look forward to continuing the journey.

NB. I would stress that this is purely my thoughts on the Wine Club I joined, I have not been paid to promote the Club, or any of the wines described.

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.