On The First Day of Sherry Week Jerez Gave to Me…

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Today sees the start of Sherry Week- a global celebration of that most underrated (in Ireland at least) and quintessentially Spanish wine; showcasing the history, culture and creation of sherry.  Once Spain’s most important wine export, sherry is in the middle of a true renaissance.  If you think it’s purely the preserve of elderly female Downton Abbey characters, take another look at the wine lists of some of the trendiest restaurants across the globe, where a good sherry offering is essential.  And it’s no surprise, as these are hugely versatile, food-friendly wines.

If you want to get involved in sherry week, find a full offering of events in Ireland over on The Vine Inspiration blog, run by the passionate and knowledgeable sherry educator, Paddy Murphy. For those of you not on The Emerald Isle, you can get a comprehensive list of events in your area on the Sherry Week website.

One event that everyone can join is the online tasting with the Master Blender of González Byass, Antonio Flores.  On Thursday 10th November he will be giving a tutored tasting of Tio Pepe.  Find details here.  Last night I started celebrations early with a bottle of this delicious fino.

tio-pepe

Tio Pepe Palomino Fino, González Byass

Being on the market since the mid-19th century, even confirmed sherry lovers often overlook this wine in favour of more fashionable brands.  However, it remains one of the best-value mass produced wines of the world.

As with all sherry finos, the Palomino grapes for this wine come from the vineyards around the city of Jerez in the south west corner of Andalucía in Spain. Only the finest first press grape juice (must) is used, from which this style of sherry gets its name (fino= fine in Spanish).  The must is fermented like any other wine before the addition of alcohol to bring it to 15% abv.  This fortified wine is then aged for an average of four years in large old oak casks that are two-thirds filled.  During this time a layer of yeast (flor) grows on top of the wine, protecting it from too much oxidation and preserving its freshness.

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A two-thirds filled cask of Palomino Fino under its protective layer of flor, Bodegas Lustau, Jerez

This wine could not be further from the perceived sweet and cloying reputation sherry has attracted.  It is light, floral and bone dry.  On the nose it is full of aged green apple, chamomile and an attractive almond and bready note.  In the mouth it is crisp, fresh, dry and balanced, offering up those promised green apples and almonds.  The alcohol (15-15.5%) is well balanced and gives it a lovely warming touch on the long finish that offers a touch of saline minerality.

This wine should be served well chilled and is perfect as an aperitif or with fresh shellfish.  Once opened keep in the fridge and drink within a week.  Tio Pepe is available from most off-licences, supermarkets and wine shops for around €16 for 750ml.

 The Irish Wino’s Verdict: This is not the most serious or complex sherry I will try this week, but it is fabulously consistent, excellent value and tremendously food-friendly. 

 The Irish Wino’s Tip: This wine should be drunk young and fresh, so check the back label for the bottling date.  If it was bottled over a year ago, leave it on the shelf.  Independent wine shops and better off-licences should have younger, fresher stock. 

Some Easter Tipples and 15% Back at O’Briens

It has been a fortnight of celebration here in Ireland.  Last week saw the St Patrick’s day festivities and this week will see the commemoration of the Centenary of the 1916 Rising on Easter Sunday.  To help us celebrate, O’Briens Wines are giving 15% back on your Loyalty card when you buy 6 bottles of wine.  There is also a 6 For 5 deal on Irish craft beers, so below are a few recommendations to help celebrate this long weekend in style.

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Wicklow Wolf, Children of the Revolution IPA, €3.95/500ml

First up is a celebration IPA from the lads in Wicklow Wolf brewery.  This beer got some great press when some bored whingers with nothing better to do with their time accused the brew of being aimed at children due to the name.  Surely if your kids manage to get their mits on beer you have bigger things to worry about?

Keeping in style with their regular bottles the lads have subtly blended in the shadow of a Tricolour on the label to distinguish it from their Free Ranger IPA.  A deep golden colour in the glass, this beer has a warm white grapefruit and orange peel nose.  Made with a medley of 5 different hops, it unsurprisingly has a satisfying hoppy finish alongside refreshing citrus flavours.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict:  This beer is the best to come out of Wicklow Wolf yet.  Refreshing and easy to drink (possibly dangerously so!) I reckon this Centenary Celebration brew will sell out quickly, so stock up if you see it.

 

Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva 2007

Bodegas Valdemar, Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva Rioja 2007, €19.99 (down from €33.45 for Easter) O’Briens

The first wine comes from the consistently impressive Bodegas Valdemar; a family-owned winery dating back to 1889 and now boasting its fifth generation of winemakers.  Only produced in the best vintages, their Gran Reserva wines are made from carefully selected estate-grown Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graziano grapes.

Unlike most other countries, Spain has imposed a legal definition on the terms Reserva and Gran Reserva appearing on wine labels.  This wine is aged in oak barrrels for 26 months before being left to develop in bottle for a further 4-5 years.  Even then the wine is subject to the strictest of standards and only the crème de la crème will achieve the Conde Valdemar label (the 2008 vintage fell at this final hurdle).

The care and attention that go in to making these wines means they are capable of ageing incredibly well and tend to develop a rich meaty and balsamic character with time.  Last year I tasted a number of older vintages, dating back to 1973, and they were still deliciously vibrant.

 

The 2007 above has a lovely perfumed and floral nose, helped by the small dash of Graciano in the blend.  The oak is still quite evident (spice, coconut, vanilla), but is balanced by ripe cherries and deep black fruits, as well as an attractive fresh tobacco aroma.  In the mouth the wine really packs a punch of bramble fruits and sweet spices; as well as a more savoury character on the finish from the long ageing.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict This wine is a perfect match for an Easter Sunday roast beef.  If you have the patience (and dosh!) grab a few at this price and lay them down for a few years; they’re a great addition to any budding wine cellar.  If you like this, try rooting out Bodegas Valdemar’s excellent Maturana- a long-abandoned Rioja grape variety that is being rejuvinated by a couple of pioneering wineries.

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Château Les Auzines, Hautes Terres Rouge Corbières 2011, €12.95 (down from €14.95 for Easter) O’Briens

The second wine has a suitably Irish connection.  It is made by Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife, Neasa, in their organic estate high in the hills of Corbières, in the south of France.

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The picturesque village of Lagrasse in Corbières

On the nose this wine has deep red fruits- cherry and overripe strawberry- from the Grenache, as well as some darker bramble fruits and black pepper from the Syrah.  In the mouth it follows through with the bramble fruits, sour cherry and some balsamic notes from the ageing.  It has a long, pleasant finish.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict:  This wine is screaming out for a nice rack of lamb and mint sauce.  At €12.95 this is a very good value wine from a top producer.

O’Briens Christmas Value Crackers

 

With Christmas only a week away, many of us will be suffering from significantly lightened wallets and stretched credit cards.  So, with the presents wrapped and the Turkey picked, it’s time to look for some good value wines to lighten the financial burden of the festive season.  This weekend I will conduct a Supermarket Sweep to bring you some of the best affordable wines available across the country.

After bringing you some of O’Briens’ offerings from their Fine Wine Sale last week, today I pick a selection of their best value wines to help toast the festivities on a budget.

La Rosca CavaCatalunya, €14.99 (down from €17.99)/ Craigies Dalliance 2013 (37.5cl), €4.75 (included in 6 for 5 Craft Drinks promotion)

Many of us like to start our Christmas dinner with a drop of bubbly and there are some fabulous offers on Champagne in O’Briens, such as the excellent Lanson Black Label NV (€34.99).  But to stick to a budget I recommend La Rosca Cava.  Produced in the heart of Catalunya by one of the great Cava houses, Cordoniu, it is made in the same laborious method as Champagne, so shares some characteristics with its better-known French counter-part; at a fraction of the price.  This wine is fresh, fruity, with a little bit of bready complexity.  Easy-drinking and a lovely round mouth feel from the soft mousse of bubbles, this is a great alternative to Champagne or Prosecco.

Alternatively, why not try a quality sparkling cider and support a local industry.  Craigies Dalliance 2013 is a lovely dry Irish cider, whose refreshing zest and creamy texture resembles a sparkling wine more than a traditional cider.  Made from bitter cooking apples it offers a lovely medium-light body and great complexity from 15 months ageing on the lees.  Terrific and complex, it’s time to take a good look at quality Irish ciders again.

Bellow’s Rock Chenin Blanc, South Africa, 2014, €10.99 (down from €15.99)/Bougrier Sauvignon Blanc, Loire Valley, 2014, €9.99 (down from €15.49)

O’Briens are offering a terrific range of styles across their value white wines this year and this list could have taken a full post by itself, but I managed to limit myself to the two wines above on the basis of greatest quality for money.

The Bellow’s Rock Chenin Blanc is my go-to everyday white wine at the moment and would still be good value at the original €15.99.  The grapes for this wine come from the cooler southern coastal region of South Africa, which keeps the natural acidity and balance in the wine.  Fresh citrus and tropical fruits give a wonderful food-friendly wine, with great balance and a long, satisfying finish.  If you are entertaining a crowd this Christmas, this wine is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

If you prefer something more classic, the family-produced Bougrier Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley is a lovely, easy-drinking wine with all the hallmark flavours of a cool-climate Sauvignon.  Produced in stainless steel to retain freshness, it offers lemon, lime and grassy notes, along with some pear and enticing minerality.  A solid, good value wine.

If it was difficult to limit this post to two whites, the reds picked themselves.  This is not because O’Briens don’t have a great selection at the value end: they do.  And an honourable mention must go to Marcus Eguren’s Protocolo from Spain and Bellow’s Rock Shiraz from South Africa, but the two wines below offer unbeatable value for money.

Réserve De Bonpas, Côtes du Rhône, 2013, €10.99 (down from €14.99)/Luna Argenta, Puglia, 2013, €12.99 (down from €18.49)

The Réserve De Bonpas is a classic Southern Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  The Grenache is dominant and offers up delicious crunchy red berries to complement the black fruit, spicy pepper and cinnamon from the Syrah.  There is very little oak and the soft, accessible tannins means this wine is dangerously easy to drink.  There are many Southern Rhône Crus selling at twice this price that couldn’t hold a candle to this wine.  Superb value.

The second red is an interesting offering from Puglia, in the far south of Italy. Luna Argenta is made from Negroammaro and Primitivo grapes, some of which are left on the vine long enough to begin to raisin. This loss of water concentrates the flavours (and alcohol) in a similar way to the Amarone I recommended last week, but at €12.99 offers superb value.  Full bodied, but silky smooth this wine is full of rich black fruits, cherries and vanilla; a delicious and very moreish wine.

 

Longview Epitome

Longview Epitome

Longview Epitome, South Australia, 2013 (37.5cl), €15.99 (down from €16.99)

Dessert wines are some of the best value, not to mention underappreciated, wines in Ireland. Labour intensive and expensive to produce, sweet wines are the perfect accompaniment to desserts and cheese boards. The sweet wine above hails from the Adelaide Hills in South Australia and is only produced in favourable years from low-yielding Riesling vines, whose fruit is left hanging on the vine long in to the growing season. This extended ripening period allows the fruit build up sugars, whilst retaining the natural acidity of the Riesling grape. Rich and sweet, this terrific value wine offers honey and candied orange, overripe citrus fruits and floral notes. The luscious sweetness is balanced by a lovely acidity to ensure the wine does not feel cloying; a perfect way to round off your Christmas dinner.

Wines of the Week- O’Briens Fine Wine Sale

The beginning of December sees the calm before the Christmas storm for drinks retailers.  Many offer enticing discounts in an effort to lure in the early shoppers; so it’s a great time for savvy consumers to pick up a few bargains.  Today sees the beginning of O’Briens Off Licence Fine Wine Sale, with over fifty of their premium wines getting discounted by up to 40%.  Over the coming weeks I will do a post about the best bargain Christmas Cracker wines in each major retailer, but today is all about that special Christmas Day dinner wine.

The key to matching wines with Christmas dinner is not so much the meat served, but the accompanying sauce.  If you lean towards a rich red wine gravy and cranberry sauce over your turkey and ham, match it with a wine of similar stature, such as an Amarone.  These are big bruiser reds from the north-east of Italy, made by partially drying the Corvina and Rondinella grapes; a method known as appassimento.  Raisining the grapes concentrates their flavour and richness before fermenting them into a rich, dry, powerful (and high alcohol!) wine.

Due to the long, expensive production process, these wines are never cheap but there are a number of great quality Amarone wines included in the Fine Wine sale.  At €24.99 (down from €34.99), the Rizzardi 3 Cru Amarone 2010 offers terrific value and is a great introduction to the Amarone style.  However, if your budget can stretch to the Musella Amarone Riserva 2009, you will be well rewarded.  At €40 (from €52) this is a big outlay for one bottle of wine and may not be to everyone’s taste.  But if you like a highly concentrated wine with massive body and lashings of deep, dark fruit, balanced with a rich elegance you will not do better than this superb wine.

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Castillo Ygay

Sticking with big reds, the Spanish are represented in the sale by one of Rioja’s great houses: Marqués de Murrieta.  Founded in 1822, this is one of the stalwarts of the Rioja region and continues to make wines in the classic style; expect plenty of oak ageing and complexity from time in the bottle.  The daddy of the Bodega is Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva 2005.  Made from Tempranillo and Mazuelo grapes from their premium 80-year-old La Plana vineyard, this wine is left in predominantly American oak barrels for over 2 years, before ageing in bottle.  It is full of cherry and bramble fruits, toasty and complex, with a long spicy finish; still surprisingly youthful for a 10-year-old wine. Delicious.

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Gran Reserva

However, as their flagship wine, the Castillo Ygay is still €63.75 (from €85) in the Fine Wine Sale.  As this falls well outside most of our budgets, you can pick up the excellent Marqués de Murrieta Gran Reserva 2007 for a more reasonable €24.99 (usually €34.99).  This offers a very similar palate to its illustrious older-brother without the price tag.  With deep, rich black and red bramble fruits; spice, vanilla and toast from the oak barrels.  As the world moves in the direction of more fruit-driven, fresher red wines, I remain a huge fan of well-made classic Rioja Gran Reserva and this is a big, classic Rioja at its best.

Capellanía

Capellanía

Although not in the Fine Wine sale, I would like to give an honourable mention to Marqués de Murrieta’s Cappelanía; a classic oak-aged white Rioja.  With roughly 18 months in wood (depending on vintage) these wines are a rare gem as the wine world becomes more homogenised.  Although they will certainly not be to everyone’s taste, these wines offer notes of over-ripe pear, Christmas spice, toast and vanilla alongside a distinct fino sherry-character from the intentional slow oxidation.  These white wines age extremely well and there are a few vintages to be found around Dublin for the intrepid Bacchant.  The 2010 is currently available in O’Briens and the 2005 is available from Sweeney’s on the Finglas Rd.

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The pick of the French is Chateau Kirwan 2012: reduced by €26 (from €65 to €39).  This elegant Cabernet-dominated Margaux offers rich black fruits and a spicy finish; although drinking very well now, it would be even better if put away for next year.

The O’Briens Fine Wine sale ends Sunday and store limits apply, so be quick. Happy Drinking. HB.

Wine Tour From Barcelona

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

Newlogolandscape

As the third most visited city in Europe last year, Barcelona needs no introduction; in 2014 over 7 million people enjoyed the modernist architecture of Gaudí set amongst the old world charm of this thriving city. There are sufficient guide books espousing the grandeur of the architecture and dark histories of the gothic Born to satisfy the most ardent culture vulture: but Barcelona also offers a myriad of opportunities for the enthusiastic wine traveller.

If you are planning a wine holiday from the city, start off on the right foot and base yourself in the wine-themed Praktik Vinoteca. This hotel offers tastings and events during the week that will keep any wine lover satisfied. It is located a short walk from the elegant Passeig de Gràcia, where you will find La Vinoteca Torres. This beautiful restaurant and wine bar offers every Torres wine by the glass, as well as some classic, rare vintages.

However, Barcelona’s Ace Card for the dedicated wine traveller is its proximity to some of the best wine regions in the world. Catalunya boasts ten Denominaciones de Origen, as well as being the traditional home of Cava. Take a break from the city to discover some of the best wines in Spain.

Penedès & Cava DO’sDO-PENEDES
Right on Barcelona’s doorstep is the premium wine region of Penedès. The main town is Vilafranca del Penedès, which is served by the local train service. This bustling town is well worth a visit and is the closest to the Torres family’s impressive winery. Book ahead at reserves@torres.es and they will arrange bus transfer out to their immaculate winery where you can enjoy a tour of the vineyards in a solar-powered train. Well worth the trip.

Penedès can also boast the best quality sparkling wine in the country. Cava is produced using the same laborious, slow method that produces Champagne; and the best can compete with their illustrious French counterparts.

DO CAVA

Although Cava can be produced across Spain, its traditional heart beats in the small town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. A 45 minute train journey from Barcelona, Cava cellars jostle for space amongst the tapas bars and restaurants of this vibrant town.

Cava Cellars to Visit
Codorníu: Located a short walk from the town centre, this is the oldest winery in Spain, dating back to the sixteenth century. In 1872 Codorníu began making the first Cava and are still the second largest producer. From the cathedral-esque modernist visitor centre, to the endless miles of ageing tunnels dug 30 metres into the rock below the winery, the scale of Codorníu is jaw-dropping. http://www.codorniu .com

P1090318Recaredo: Inspired by the premium Champagne houses, Recaredo is meticulous about quality. Practicing extended lees ageing, biodynamic viticulture, and hand remuage and disgorgement, they produce some of the finest sparkling wine in Spain from local and international grape varieties. This small family business is a wonderfully intimate winery set in the centre of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. http://www.recaredo.com

Further information can be found at http://www.turismesantsadurni.com

Priotat DOQ
The jewel in Catalunya’s viticultural crown, Priorat is one of only two regions in Spain (the other being Rioja) to achieve the premium DOC/DOQ classification. This arid, remote region is a relative newcomer to the world of fine wines, but has quickly garnered a reputation for its powerful, rich reds, grown on the unique llicorella soils.

Despite the popularity of the wines, Priorat’s mountainous isolation has seen a slow uptake in tourists, offering the intrepid wine traveller a glimpse of unspoilt, rural Catalunya. Although there is a public transport system, it is infrequent and unreliable; instead rent a car and drive the two hours from Barcelona.

The remote, sleepy white villages are the perfect antidote to the bustle of the city, so why not stay a couple of nights in the picturesque village of Gratallops. The wonderful family-run Hotel Cal Llop offers terrific views across some of the finest vineyards in Spain.

Wineries to Visit
Torres Priorat: As Torres looks to expand its family business in to each of the quality wine regions of Spain, it was inevitable they would build a winery in Priorat. Perched above the tiny town of El Loar, Torres’ modern winery offers samples of their complex, powerful wines from the tasting room that boasts unparalleled views across the vineyard-strewn Priorat landscape.

Burgos Porta: On a smaller scale is the boutique winery of Burgos Porta. Only accessible by a narrow, steep dirt goat track through the hills, this isolated winery is a terrific example of biodynamic viticulture. Their winemaking philosophy is simple; work hard to respect the grapes in the vineyard and the wine will need minimal intervention in the winery. I appreciated how difficult that must be as I struggled up the unforgiving, steep terraced vineyards in the June heat to drink from one of the precious natural wells. It’s all worth it when you taste their superb wines in the splendid isolation of the old converted winery. http://www.massinen.com

Further information and a full list of wineries can be found at http://www.prioratdoq.org

These regions only scratch the surface of Catalunya’s wine offering, so on your return to Barcelona try out your new found knowledge with a trip around some of the city’s local wine bars, of which there are plenty. Not to be missed is the tiny, atmospheric Zim bar. With irregular opening hours and room for no more than 10 people, it is a hidden gem in Barcelona. For dessert, head to El Diset in the Born district for one of their local sweet wines and a Catalan cheeseboard.

Four To Try

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Planets de Prior Pons Priorat DOQ 2010. O’Briens €21.99
Dominated by Cariñena and Garnatxa (Grenache- see grape of the month) from old vines, this wine comes from a small Priorat producer. A deep violet colour, it has terrific overripe red berries, liquorice and floral notes, held together by the classic llicorella minerality before a long peppery finish.

Morlanda Blanc Viticultors Del Priorat DOQ 2013. Cases Wine Warehouse €19.95
Although the region is better known for its powerful reds, Priorat also produces fantastic, complex white wines. Made from Garnatxa Blanca (White Grenache) and Macabeo this wine is aged in oak to give it a full body and more than a hint of toast and coconut over orange peel and ripe pineapple. This will not be to everyone’s taste, but a fabulously unusual and well made wine.
Rimats Gran Reserva
Rimarts Gran Reserva 40 Brut Natur. Redmond’s of Ranelagh €27.95
Made using the traditional Cava grapes of Xarel.lo, Macabeu and Parellada, as well as a dash of Chardonnay, this wine is aged 40 months on the lees to give rich pastry and almond alongside fresh citrus and floral notes. With its fine bead of bubbles, this is very dry and a terrific food wine; match with a goat cheese and strawberry salad, or fresh oysters.

Single Estate Vintage Blanc de Blanc Cava 2010. Marks & Spencer €23.50
For the Champagne lover looking for something different, this vintage Cava is single estate Chardonnay sourced from top producer Segura Viudas. Elegant, with a creamy mousse, ripe lemon, fresh herbs and a touch of stone fruit.

Sunny Saturday Reds

The forecast says today is set to reach 20 degrees across parts of our fair isle (cue thunderstorms and egg on my face!). So if you plan on taking advantage of our 24-hour window of summer with a BBQ, here are a few suggestions to match your grub.

O’Briens have a fantastic summer sale at the moment, so if you’re in the mood for a juicy BBQ steak I recommend these two great reds. The first is from my favourite red wine region in Spain, Ribera del Duero, by one of its top producers, Torres.  Celeste Crianza is a staple on Miguel Torres’ lunch table at his private Mas Rabell restaurant; if it is good enough for him, surely it’s good enough for us mere mortals!

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.  O'Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.
O’Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Unlike the over-oaked behemoths that we sometimes find in northern Spain, this Tempranillo is full-bodied but fresh, delivering juicy blackberry fruit and a long peppery finish.  This is a great price for a terrific wine; I was in Catalunya last week and it was the same price in the supermarket there.  Considering Ireland’s scandalous wine taxation I would consider this a bargain.

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

For something a little lighter on the pocket and the palate is Porta 6, from Portugal.  A blend of Tempranillo (called Tinta Roriz in Portugal) and local varieties, this offers plenty of warm forest fruits and floral notes.  Like the Celeste above it has lovely freshness and acidity to balance the weighty tannins and spicy finish.  Excellent value and worth grabbing a few bottles at this price.

Travelling in Toro DO

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

 

Toro

Sitting high on the central plateau of Spain, north-west of Madrid, Toro has a viticultural heritage dating back over two millennia when the Greeks spread vines across the Mediterranean. The modern DO is named after the largest town in the region and spreads across the gently undulating boundary of the Zamora and Valladolid provinces, at an altitude of 620m to 750m.

Roman bridge over Rio Duero as seen from Toro

Roman bridge over Rio Duero as seen from Toro

This region is steeped in the history of Spain. Its important strategic location, straddling the banks of the Duero River saw it play a key role in the Christian reconquest of Spain, subsequent wars of succession and later Napoleonic wars. Toro boasted the court of kings, the capital of the province and its strong wines filled the holds of the Spanish ships that conquered the New World. When phylloxera devastated most of the vineyards of Europe, Toro’s dry, sandy soil inhibited the spread of the louse and its wines were in huge demand in France.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, Toro was overshadowed by its more prestigious near-neighbours, both politically and vinous. Zamora became the political capital of the province while nearby Ribera del Duero became the benchmark for the red wines of Castilla y León. Today Toro peacefully sits atop its promontory quietly surveying the surrounding fertile plains, its skyline dominated by the Romanesque tower-domes of the twelfth century Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor.

Declared a Conjunto Histórico town, Toro is the biggest in the region and has the best options for eating and accommodation so should be the base for a wine trip. Getting there by public transport is difficult and unreliable, so I suggest flying to Madrid and renting a car from there. Toro is only a two hour drive on very good roads. Once you get to the region, you will certainly need a car to visit the diffuse wineries, as public transport is non-existent.

Wines
For much of the last century Toro produced too many overly extracted, heavily-oaked, rustic wines of little interest. Wine that was once coveted by Kings was brought low by lack of investment and antiquated winery techniques. Toro DO was founded in 1987 with only four members.

However, the potential was obvious for many to see. The region’s extreme continental climate is tempered by high altitude and the presence of the Duero River, creating a diurnal range (temperature difference between day and night) that keeps freshness during the dry, hot growing season. The local clone of Tempranillo, Tinta de Toro, is a thick-skinned, early-ripening variant that offers ageworthy, powerful wines.

This attracted investors from nearby wine regions, including Vega Sicilia and Marcus Eguren. Modern techniques were married to ancient vines to create wines of unique character and complexity that has attracted much attention from wine critics. The influential Robert Parker gave Bodega Numanthia’s wine, Termanthia 2004, a perfect 100 pts.

Where to Visit
The future for Toro wine looks bright, so now is the time to visit this wonderful region and explore its welcoming bodegas. There are over fifty wineries in the region now, but many have not yet fully embraced wine tourism, so make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment and ensure a guide in English if required.

NUMANTHIA Bodega Numanthia helped put Toro back on the wine map and should be included in any wine tour. Representing the tenacity of the Tinta de Toro grape in this inhospitable region, the winery is named after a Spanish town that refused to submit to Roman occupation for a century. Sold by the Eguren family to the premium LVMH group, it boasts a new state of the art winery and some of the best wines in Toro. Bookings must be made in advance. http://www.numanthia.com

bodegatesoFollowing the sale of Numanthia, Marcus Eguren set up Teso La Monja in the nearby hills. This is a stunning classical winery built around a wide colonnaded patio of local stone that is well worth a visit.  Tours need to be booked in advance. http://www.sierracantabria.com

logo Dominio del Bendito As good as the wines are in these premium wineries, they are not the reason I love wine tourism in more remote areas. To really experience the passion for terroir and the true potential for the wines of Toro, I recommend you organise a visit to Dominio del Bendito. Founded by a young passionate, eccentric Frenchman, Antony Terryn, Dominio del Bendito is a small production garage winery located in the centre of Toro in an old monastery. Having worked in many of the premium wine regions in the world, Antony bought a number of plots of old vines and settled in Toro.

The tour was an impromptu trip up to his ancient vineyards in his old 3-door Peugeot hatchback. Surrounded by rock and soil samples, we were serenaded by the potential of Toro wines. Back in the rustic winery we were treated to wines that were anything but rustic. Powerful and fresh with jammy forest fruits, these wines typify what modern Toro can offer. I highly recommend you get in contact before commencing your trip. http://www.bodegadominiodelbendito.com

Where to Stay
Although only recently opening up to foreign tourism in the last few years, Toro offers good quality accommodation to suit any budget.

Hotel Juan II is good value and offers spectacular views over the valley floor as well as the storks nesting in the nearby towers of the Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor. Make sure you request a room with a balcony to fully appreciate this little gem. http://www.hotelesentoro.es

For those on a tighter budget Hotel Zaravencia is basic but clean and comfortable and overlooks Plaza Mayor in the centre of the town. http://www.hotelzaravencia.com

Valbusenda Wine and Spa Resort

Valbusenda Wine and Spa Resort

If you are looking for something more luxurious, the five-star Valbusenda Hotel Bodega & Spa is 9 kilometres outside the town. Although quite isolated, Valbusenda offers absolute luxury in its deluxe rooms and spa, as well as unrivalled dining room views over the local valley floor. Enjoy breakfast while watching birds of prey hovering over the golden, sun bathed landscape. http://www.valbusenda.com

Where to Eat
Why not do as the Spanish and go on a tapas and wine trail? Begin in Plaza Mayor and continue towards the clock tower. There are plenty of good quality local bars that open until late. But remember the siesta, as most close during the middle of the day.

For something a bit more substantial, enjoy good quality, local fare on the patio of Hotel Juan II with its views across the plains below.  Or with a terrific wine list and a Gin and Tonic only setting you back €5, come for a perfect sundowner after a busy day on the wine trail.

Patio Hotel Juan II with view of Rio Duero

Patio Hotel Juan II with view of Rio Duero

 

Information
A list of all wineries can be found on Toro DO website:
http://www.dotoro.com
Toro Local Government:
Plaza Mayor 1, Toro
http://www.toroayto.es
TORO DO Quick Facts
GRAPES:
Red (majority)/Rose: Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo), small amount of Garnacha
White: Malvasia and Verdejo
WINERIES: 54
PRODUCTION: 12,147,920 litres/yr
SOIL: Limestone/ Stony Alluvial

 

Wines to Try

 

 

 

 

Coravin Launch

Coravin 1000

Coravin 1000

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to be invited to the eagerly anticipated Irish launch of the Coravin wine preserver.  And yes, that eager anticipation really only applies to gadget-gawping anoraks such as yours truly. I have to admit, new wine toys hold me in a similar thrall that a piece of tin foil will lord over a magpie on a sunny day.  Corkscrews and preservers, aerators and stoppers, gizmos and gadgets; you name them, I have them.  If I spent as much money on wine I’d drink nothing but First Growths!

The launch was hosted by Greg Lambrecht, the brain behind Coravin.  Educated as a nuclear physicist at MIT, Greg’s background is in the medical field- inventing precise instruments to improve surgical techniques.  He brought these same skills to a problem he perceived with wine preservation.  Namely, once a cork is pulled on a bottle of wine, it has to be consumed relatively quickly or oxidate.  This became a particular problem when his wife was pregnant and he simply wanted a glass over dinner.  How can you have one glass of wine without wasting the rest of the bottle?

Other preservers do exist, but they all necessitate the pulling of the cork, so don’t work indefinitely.  Greg believes cork and glass are ultimately the best preservers, so in 1999 decided to work on a wine preserver that leaves the cork in place, allowing the wine to develop naturally.  After much trial and error and over 2,000 bottles of wine later, he released the Coravin 1000.

The Coravin works by inserting a small, teflon-coated non-coring needle through the cork and forcing inert Argon in to the bottle.  The pressure exerted by this gas forces wine back up through the needle and in to your glass.  The natural elasticity of cork means the hole will close quickly once the needle is removed and the Argon, which is heavier than air, will prevent oxygen from coming in contact with the wine.  It’s a wonderful piece of engineering, but I did have one major reservation.

As you are forcing gas in to a closed system, what are the chances of the bottle bursting in your hand?  Apparently there have been a few cases of this happening and caused Coravin production to be suspended.  However, each bottle that did shatter was already damaged and we were told the chances are roughly 1 in 70,000 of this happening.  Not perfect, but considering they are longer odds than being killed in a workplace accident, I suggest you swiftly quit your job and stay home drinking wine!

I have to admit I was hooked by the engineering and relative simplicity, as well as ease of use, of this nifty little gadget.  But before you go running out to buy one, make sure you have €299 in your back pocket.  And that’s just the initial cost. Once the Argon gas canister expires, after about 15 uses, they are €10 each to replace.  As well as the cost, it does not work on screw cap or sparklers and has limited effectiveness with synthetic corks.  So, it does have limitations for home use.

However, in the on-trade it should prove a game changer.  It will allow restaurants and bars to offer a much wider range of wines by the glass.  A decent selection of dessert wines, an area where Ireland is sorely lacking, should become more prevalent on lists also.  Since its launch in Britain in September, over fifty bars and restaurants in London alone have adopted its use.  And here, The Shelbourne Hotel and Chapter One have already embraced the Coravin.  Hopefully the rest of the Irish trade will see the potential and quickly follow suit.

I was kindly offered my own Coravin to try at home, so will test it over the coming months and write up a report on my findings.

The Coravin 1000 is distributed by Findlater Wine and Spirit group and is stocked in select O’Briens off-licences.

 

Masi Wine Tasting

 

masi

Who you drink wine with is a lot more important than where you drink it.  Wine is made to be enjoyed with friends and one of my best memories is tasting wine in a garage winery in Toro, using the concrete floor as a spitoon!  However, sometimes a location suits the occasion, and tonight’s Masi wine tasting in The Adam’s Suite of The Shelbourne Hotel was a fitting venue to try their elegant Italian wines.

 

Hosted by Findlater and O’Briens, the president of Masi, Sandro Boscaini, was the guest of honour, giving a talk and guided tasting to a room full of eager wine lovers.  Making wines in the romantic setting of the Veneto region, the stunning landscape bounded by Lake Garda and the Alps, Sandro is the sixth generation of his family to make wines.  And from one evening in his company, it is obvious to see his passion for wine making.  This passion for food is ingrained in the Italian psyche and I’ve no doubt Sandro would be as equally passionate making bread as he would making Amarone.  As he says himself, the land is the most important factor in food, followed by the ‘magic of fermentation’, be it a cheese or a fine wine.

 

Appassimento

Masi pride their wines on being a marriage of tradition and innovation.  In the strictly controlled DOC system of Italian wines, it can be difficult to make an innovative wine, but Masi have consistently pushed boundaries and marry new techniques with traditional methods.  Leading from the front in this fashion sees some of their wines fall in to the second tier of Italian wine classification (IGT), but is a refreshing attitude from such a well-established winery.  One of the methods Masi are particularly adept at using is appassimento.  This is a traditional wine-making technique whereby fruit is partially dried on mats to remove some of the water, leaving shrivelled, raisined grapes that offer much higher concentration of sugar and flavours.  This method is traditionally used to make Amarone and Ripasso red wines in the Valpolicella region.  Masi, not content with simply making red wines, have utilised this technique to produce a stunning rosé and white wine.  Falling outside the top DOC tier, but widely acknowledged for their elegance and innovation, these wines are known as Supervenetians.  Surely this slightly comical name alone is enough to give them a try!

 

Wines

Producing world renowned, quality red wines- Masi have been shipping here to Ireland for 25 years- many of you will know how good (and often expensive) their reds are.  Instead I want to concentrate on their rosé and white, as these were the star of the show for me.

 

Rosa Dei Masi, 2013

Rosa Dei Masi 2013. O'Briens €19.49.

Rosa Dei Masi, Venezie IGT, 2013. O’Briens €19.49.

This wine is made with Refosco, a grape usually high in tannin and acidity- not suited to making elegant rosé wines.  Undeterred, Masi used appassimento to lightly dry a small quantity of the grapes, helping to bring down the acidity and soften the austere nature of Refosco.  The resulting wine is elegant and smooth, full of ripe raspberries and cherries.  It is lovely and dry with a very long, pleasant finish of red berries.  This is excellent on its own, but would be even better with food.  Pretty much any Italian fish or meat dish would do nicely.  It’s a little expensive, but for a special occasion wine, on a nice sunny evening (if we get any more!), this is absolutely perfect.

 

Rating: EXCELLENT 4.5/5

 

 

 

Masianco, 2013

Masianco, Venezie IGT, 2013. O'Briens Was €19.49 Now €14.99

Masianco, Venezie IGT, 2013.
O’Briens Was €19.49 Now €14.99.

Masianco is a blend of Pinot Grigio and Verduzza.  As with the rosé above, Sandro wanted to improve on the Pinot Grigio grape, believing it to be a bit too light on the finish.  To give it a bit more body, Masi use Verduzzo grapes that have undergone appassimento.  Usually reserved for sweet wines, this process gives the Verduzzo a lovely honeyed complexity and creaminess.  The wine has a lovely balance of sweet wild honey and fresh acidity alongside fresh peach and pear leaving an incredible finish.  Again this is a great wine and is reduced in O’Briens at the moment if you wanted to spend a little more on a special weekend wine.

 

Rating: EXCELLENT 4.5/5

 

It was a great night and for only €15 each (through DiningRoom.ie) including a €10 O’Briens gift voucher to spend on Masi wines, it was terrific value.  Grazie Mille to Sandro and all involved.

 

‘Wine is the companion of life, companion of friendship’.

-Sandro Boscaini, President Masi Agricola.