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Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Azienda Ampeleia ‘Un Litro’ Costa Toscano (IGT) 2016, 12.5%, €21.95 Le Caveau
Vines in the Wild
This relatively new estate - Ampeleia is the Greek for wine - is certified organic and biodynamic; it is biodiverse with the vineyards interspersed with chestnut and cork oak forests as well as scrub.
This particular wine comes in a squat green one litre bottle - hence the name - and is a blend of Alicante (Grenache), Carignan and Alicante Bouschet which has spent 6 months in cement tanks. It is unfined, unfiltered and has no added SO2.
Colour is between a deep pink and a pale ruby. Aromas, say Le Caveau, have balsamic notes, plus wild herbs and spice hints and I find no reason to disagree! It is juicy, light and youthful on the palate with an engaging purity of fruit, a light mist of spice and then a dry yet fruity finish. Highly Recommended.
Mas Igneus FA206 Priorat (DOG) 2005, 15%, €21.75 Mary Pawle Wines
Mas is a traditional farmhouse found in the Provence (eg Mas de la Dame, winemakers in the Vaucluse) and Midi regions of France, as well as in the Catalan regions of both France and Spain. And FA206 means six months in second year barrels. Agricultura Ecologica is the method use by Mas Igneus, one of the newer wineries in the Priorat region. The blend is Garnacha, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
It is a deep ruby and you also note the long legs, slow to clear. There are beautiful aromas of ripe dark fruits, a touch of vanilla. It is smooth, concentrated, spice also, a warming mouthfeel, plus a long and rounded finish. Quite a superb wine, an oldie but goldie, and Very Highly Recommended.
Henri Nordoc Cabernet Sauvignon Pays d’Oc (IGP) 2014, 12.5%, €11.75 Le Caveau
No blending here, just 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The colour is a rich ruby. There are intense aromas: dark fruits, vanilla and toast. Dark fruits follow on the palate, fresh and juicy, spice and tannins also in play but neither prominent. This Highly Recommended wine finishes well and is good value also.
The great concentration and purity comes from vines that are well cared for; they aim for a low yield. Later, the wine spends 8 months on its fine lees. The back label promises a wine “characteristic of the Languedoc terroir which produces rich wines bursting with flavour”. I reckon Henri and the Languedoc have delivered.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Top Olive Oils at Bradley’s
|Three very young oils|
Bradley’s of North Main Street, Cork, are well known for their selection of fine wines. And, where there’s wine, there’s olive oil. Indeed, quite a few of the oils available here are made by top wine-makers including a few from Tuscany and Spain’s Torres.
Speaking of Tuscany, a wine and olive oil producer there once told me that the best way to make olive oil is to immediately cold press the just picked grapes. In his place, it was done in the cool of the night as the Olive Press was too hot during the day, which it was. I tried it and you could hardly stand there for a minute.
He was scathing about the big companies who dragged in olives from all over the Med and were still able to claim that the oil was on a par with his. The longer the olives are hanging around (or in transport) the more the acid is a factor. Some big producers filter out the acid but also much of the goodness.
Tuscany is more or less on the northern edge of the kind of climate in which the olive tree grows and so is very susceptible to changes in the weather, especially the frost which has been known to more or less wipe out the olive rows.
The one in 1985 was a disaster. The trees had be severely pruned to ground level and it took all of ten years to get a good crop again. So the arrival of the new season’s oils in Tuscany is a big event. It is like a fete and the restaurants mark it by putting on special menus. It is very important for Tuscan cuisine and they always cook with good oil.
Fontodi Extra Virgin Olive Oil: a richly coloured oil from Tuscany, very delicately balanced. Fine aromas of artichoke leaf and an elegant peppery flavour come together in a fragrant lingering finish. The organically raised olives are picked by hand and carefully pressed the same day in order
to keep the fragrance. Read more here.
The River Cafe I Canonici 2016 EVOO: also from Tuscany, this is an almost luminous green in its youth (as many of them are!); this bright oil is fragrant and very spicy with lovely fresh grass and green olive characters. Clean and bright it has tremendous depth of flavour right through to the long peppery finish.
Capazzana 2016: Organic and another Tuscan. Quite a bright green in colour, soft and fruity with a light spice and great delicacy, perfect for drizzling over freshly baked bread and using in dressing for salads.
Alpha Zeta 2015 EVOO: Golden-green in colour with a light delicate perfume of fresh grass and ripe olives. Light and delicate on the palate with a fresh grassy taste, medium body and a smooth ripe finish. Excellent for drizzling over more delicate dishes. This comes from the hills outside Verona where cool breezes come down from the Dolomites.
Torres Silencio: Sourced from the estate of Los Desterrados in Lleida, Catalonia, from centuries-old Arbequina olive trees. The olives are harvested and cold-pressed on the same day, and only the oil from the first pressing is used. The resulting extra virgin olive oil is rounded and well balanced with aromas of artichoke, unripened almonds and fresh-cut grass. And Miguel A. Torres Senior requests it at every meal when travelling (where available).
West Cork Olives: Bradley’s also carry oils marketed by West Cork Olives and imported from Spain and Greece. I haven’t had a chance to sample these yet.
Suggestions On Olive Oil In Cooking
1 - How about delicious Pumpkin and Farro Soup with a topping of Parmesan and a good oil?
2 - A lovely plateful of local scallops with lemon, chilli, coriander and oil. Needless to say, plenty of bread (with oil on it) with these two dishes.
3 - Slow Cooked (15 hours) shin of beef with red wine (Italian or Spanish!), thyme, garlic and black pepper, served with braised winter greens and an olive oil potato mash.
If you prefer fish why not try this Fenn’s Quay dish that I came across a few years back: Grilled plaice, with braised leeks, olive oil crushed potatoes and onion puree. The first three dishes were served at an olive oil tasting in Ballymaloe.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Albet i Noya
Classy Wines from Catalonia
The Albet i Noya family vineyard is situated at Can Vendrell near the village of Sant Pau d'Ordal. They cultivate 44 hectares of vines on the slopes of the Ordal mountain range in the Penedes region of Catalonia, and have held Organic Certification since the 1980's. The brothers Josep Maria and Antoni are steadfast in their pursuit of excellence and innovation, and their range of still and sparkling wines are synonymous with high quality.
It was Scandinavian influences, staring in 1978, that led to the vineyard going organic. Josep Maria Albet i Noya decided to try one of the vineyards, despite doubts from friends and family. But it worked out well and encouraged him to extend the practice. Healthier vines and healthier wines are the result.
Albet i Noya, Lignum, Penedes 2013, 14%, €16.00 Mary Pawle Wines
This is a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon / Garnatxa negra (Grenache) / Merlot / Syrah / Ull de llebre (Tempranillo). The grapes are “from the highlands of the region” and the wine has spent 10 months in barriques.
I had been looking for some help after opening the bottle but my timing wasn’t good: “It’s red, smells like wine and it’s nearly time for East Enders!” In fairness, after the show, I did get a more considered opinion and we both were very happy with the Lignum.
It is a ruby red, bright. Aromas are an inviting mix of dark red fruits, especially plum. You have the same bright mix of fruit flavours on the palate, spice, smooth tannins. It is warm and supple and dry with a long lasting finish. Very engaging. Could well be a long term relationship! Well made, no loose ends here, a more or less perfect wine and Very Highly Recommended. Good value too.
The winemakers say it can be enjoyed straight away, although it will evolve favourably in the coming years if stored between 10° and 15° C. “We recommend serving it at 17°C.”Albet i Noya, El Fanio, Penedès 2010, 13%,€15.90 Mary Pawle Wines
Pale straw is the colour and there are white fruits, honey and herbal notes in the aromas. Seven years it may be but still lively, stone-fruit flavours, touch of melon too. The mouthful is close to succulent - it has spent some seven months on lees. Hints of sweetness but all well balanced by a vibrant acidity and then there’s a decent mid-length finish to follow. Highly Recommended. Would be interesting to compare with a more recent vintage.
Albet i Noya say: Planted on small terraces of 2 or 3 rows and treated with Biodynamic preparations to heighten the expression of the terroir, the wine is vinified traditionally. It is left on the lees in the porous cement eggs that let it breath and constantly dynamises the wine due to their shape, bringing out the mineral character of the Costers de l'Ordal.
To read more about the varieties of the Penedes region, please click here
Monday, May 18, 2015
Miguel Torres: Message in a Bottle
“We are very much into organic viticulture, being so aware of global warming. Today's decisions will have to be dealt with down the line.”
Then we went down to Chile for the next red, the Cordillera Carignan 2009 from the Maule Valley. By the way, Miguel advised going to the south of Chile if you do get a chance to visit. The original Carignan vineyards had been abandoned but Torres pruned them and started producing again. This is a very good example, fresh fruit and acidity, tannins, a little spice with a good finish. “Not heavy, but fresh!”
The more we care about the earth, the better our wine.
Climate change pops up in conversation and some people switch off - nothing to do with me. That’s not the way the Torres wine family see it. With the opening sentence above as motto, they are doing something about it with a programme called Torres and Earth.
Miguel Torres, one of the family’s fifth generation, was in Dublin's Westbury Hotel last week for a tasting but first he spoke of the family and the threats from climate change that it is seeing “more and more”. “Vineyards are very much at risk. Hailstorms are an example.”
Torres are well known for their concern for “the earth and its resources, not only for this generation, but also for future generations”. Climate change has heightened their concern and led to a continuing drive for improved sustainability. For instance they have devised a method of turning vine cuttings into a source of energy, are using solar panels for much the same purpose and have a 2020 target of reducing CO2 emission per bottle by 30% by comparison with 2008.
|The Torres family|
Fair Trade has long been a Torres concern, beginning soon after their 1979 start in Chile. Miguel explained that Fair Trade was good for their growers there and also for the company itself. If they hadn’t paid a fair price for the grapes, the children of their growers would have left for the cities as has happened elsewhere. Now, seeing their parents fairly paid for their work, enough children stay behind to ensure the future. Torres was the first private company in Chile to be designated Fair Trade.
Back to their base in Catalonia and here they have “recuperated ancient Catalan varieties, 38 in all. Not all are good but six are top quality, very well adapted to a hot and dry climate”. Torres are also experimenting with growing vines at higher levels.
And then there is the never ending problem of disease. Indeed some diseases, particularly fungal, may be due to modern machinery which are rough on the vines. I think we in Ireland have seen that in the way modern machines “batter” the roadside hedges in the process of trimming them. Miguel detailed some trunk diseases, possibly facilitated by the rough "handling" by machines, and said they were working towards a cure. Obviously others are too and he said “one treatment to cure all would be in great demand!”.
Miguel said that while Torres “have lots of vineyards, it is the people that are important. We have 1300 people, a team". The family are of course part of that team. He also said that people buying wine should rely more than the winemaker rather than the appellation. “An appellation can produce some great wines but also some terrible ones’.
|Torres in Chile|
Torres are not interested in expanding beyond what the family can handle. “We want to continue as a family, pass it on to the next generation”. One of the benefits of this, at least in the Torres case, is that no less than 95% of profit is re-invested, much of it in research.
They are of course a Spanish family. “Penedes is our hometown and by the way, watch out for a new wine from here next year. It will be called Purgatory, not because we are sinners!”
|Torres in California|
He called his aunt Marimar an inspiration. She helped boost sales in the US from 1975 and now runs the 57 hectare Marimar Estate in California's Russian River valley, producing mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, all organic with a focus now on biodynamic.
“Chile is an ideal country for wine,” said Miguel. “All our vineyards, total 400 hectares, are organic.” They began here in 1979. His father and grandfather brought in the first stainless steel tanks, along with the first new oak casks in over forty years, to revolutionise the industry there. In recognition of that and their long-term commitment, the Chilean government presented Miguel A Torres with the Order of Bernardo O’Higgins in 1996.
There have also been major honours for the family in Catalonia. It seems they contribute wherever they are. The earth could do with more companies like this.
Frustration ran high in the Torres stronghold of Penedes in the late 70s. They were producing what they thought were great wines but where was the recognition?
Then came the breakthrough, in Paris of all places. Torres entered their Gran Coronas Mas la Plana into the 1979 Gault-Millau blind tasting Wine Olympiad and it won, leaving wines like Chateau Latour and Chateau Haut-Brion behind. The win gave Torres the recognition it craved and the confidence to take on the world.
And from that same 29 hectares vineyard, we had the Mas la Plana 2010, a 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, full of freshness, fruit and spice. Miguel said this was a great wine to celebrate its 40th anniversary - the wine that won in Paris was from 1970.
You could taste why Miguel would be proud of this one but perhaps he was just that little bit prouder of the next, the final red of the tasting. This was the Grans Muralles 2004 and the extra pride was because this was composed of Spanish varieties, including two of those “recuperated”. The two are Garró and Samsó and the other varieties are Monastrell, Garnacha Tinta and Carińena, all of them planted within the walls of this single vineyard, dating from the Middle Ages. The wine is full of character and complex. “Still young with a long life ahead”.
Before these two, I had more or less settled on the Salmos 2012, from their Priorat vineyards, as my favorite. Priorat is one of the smallest appellations and the wine is named after the psalms the original monks sang (they weren’t allowed to talk).
It is a blend from two vineyards, one at 200 metres, the other at 500 (for the Carińena). The other varieties are Garnacha Tinta and Syrah.
Carińena is becoming increasingly important and, for its contribution to colour and acidity, is being used in this particular wine in “increasing proportion and could be a key variety in the future of Priorat.” Just loved its fruit, spice and acidity, suited me very well indeed.
We had started the reds with quite a lovely Tempranillo, the Celeste 2012 from Ribera del Duero. It is made in a Rioja style but is less acidic. It is a light red yet quite complex and “delivers the fruit very well, tannins yes, but quite elegant”.
|Miquel in the cellar|
While we sampled the final white, the Jean Leon Vinya Gigi Chardonnay 2013 (Penedes), Miguel revealed that the first Chardonnay vines were “smuggled” into Penedes and, after a struggle, were eventually recognized for appellation purposes. Aromas of tropical fruit with an unctuous creamy palate and a long finish makes this a little bit special.
Another Chardonnay, from the Limari Valley in Chile, had preceded this one. It has been aged for 7 months in French oak (30% new, 70% second year). They are decreasing the oak though. “In Chile, the nicest thing you have is the fruit - no need for make-up!”, said Miguel. “We are trying to keep the acidity and freshness”. And it is fresh with good acidity, great flavor and a little spice. I think I may have a slight preference for this over the Jean Leon.
We had started with two grapes that I enjoy: Verdejo and Albarino. First up was the Verdeo 2014 from Rueda. No wood used here at all. The vintage had been “cool”. This was very aromatic and beautifully fresh.
The 2013 Albarino came from Pazo das Bruxas (bruxas means witches!) in Rias Baixas where the grape “is a key variety”. Some grapes for this come from close to the coast (for better acidity), some from a little bit inland (for the body). “You can get red apple here; it has good density and finish”. He told us that Albarino can age well, 7 or 8 years, and can get more complex. This is excellent as it is, with great freshness and flavour.
I know I've picked Salmos as a favourite but to be honest I wouldn't like to leave any of these behind me. It was a great set from Torres. So muchas gracias to Miguel for the talk and the wines and to Findlaters for bringing it all together.
Verdeo 2014 (Rueda)
Pazo das Bruxas 2013 (Rias Baixas)
Cordillera Chardonnay 2012 (Limari Valley)
Jean Leon Vinya Gigi Chardonnay 2013 (Penedes)
Celeste 2012 (Ribera del Duero)
Cordillera Carignan 2009 (Maule Valley)
Salmos 2012 (Priorat)
Mas la Plana 2010 (Penedes)Grans Muralles 2004 (Conca de Barbera)