Wines Worth Talking About

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Wines Worth Talking About

To Hugh Johnson, editorial adviser for The World of Fine Wine magazine, a fine wine is one that is worth talking about. But in the snobish world of the fine wine trade, a rather different opinion might reign, and much reduced idea of what a fine wine might be.

Bordeaux’s left and right sides of Gironde river, Burgundy, Champagne, Portugal’s Vintage Port, the Rhône, Italy’s Super Tuscans, Brunello, and Barolo/Barbaresco, top Californians, elite Australians, and a select group of Germans, are the “fine” wines which might not reflect how the wine world has changed over the last decades.

The New Fine Wine

They have been called “new fine wines” — wines from outside the classic regions, made without undue intervention in the cellar from privileged vineyard sites that are farmed well and picked at the appropriate time. This concept challenges the idea that all the great terroirs have already been discovered, and a combination of open-mindedness, viticultural skill, and a sensitive approach in the cellar is creating some very exciting wines from regions that some fine wine brokers have never heard of.

One of the factors that has helped the emergence of these new fine wines is the wine world’s interconnectivity, but wines like these won’t be made without the determination, skill, and vision of the winegrowers. As I travel the wine world I keep meeting others who share this taste for fine wines — old and new — who are also open-minded enough to be able to recognize it even when these wines come from unexpected places. This is not so much a top down process of producers being anointed by an influential critic (which is so very 1990s). It’s more of a bottom-up or middle-out phenomenon. And that’s what D’Agos have being trying to do: to find small producers who make great wines!

It’s not a revolution

So we are seeing the emergence of the new fine wine, but nothing is being overthrown, luckily. The old fine wine will carry on, and the new fine wine will grow alongside it. There will be the odd clash of aesthetic systems, but that’s only to be expected. It really is an exciting time to be a wine drinker, especially a curious, open-minded one.

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BiB? You’d be surprised!

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People usually think about boxed wine as low quality wine – and they might be right most of the time, but not always the case anymore. Boxed wine can be just as good as wine that comes out of a bottle. As bottled wine, boxed wine can be of poor quality or great quality. The major problems I see are offer and availability – both quite poor in Ireland.

Follow, follow the sun
And which way the wind blows
When this day is done.

– But Ireland is not a wine producer country, is it?
– Well, actually it is(check here) – but let’s say it is not. So, you need to follow the sun – I should say the wines – and visit wine making countries.

I was recently in Portugal for holidays. I drove there, with the clear intention of bringing some wines in the trunk – 90 liters allowance per person, for personal consumption. Not for trading, of course. With little space left among the luggage, countless toys, beach buckets and shovels, tend and camping stuff, I had to be creative in order to find – and fight for – some space for the wines… so NiN came as the best option!

Quality Check
Without knowing much about BiB myself, the only way I had to try to get quality wine was to look for the ones with appellation: Protected designation of origin (PDO), Protected geographical indication (PGI), like Douro DOC, Alentejo DOC, Vinho Verde DOC, etc. I tried some – as the one in the picture above – and they were good quality wines, good to my taste.

Apart from saving a lot of space, another advantage is the durability. The airtight polyethylene bags used in box wines keep oxygen sealed out, thus allowing the wine within to stay fresh for up to six weeks after opening

! The 3L box are equivalent to 4 750ml bottles – one bottle per week. Sounds quite right, doesn’t it?

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Tastin’ France ~ Dublin

Yesterday I was in the 12th edition of the French Wine Trade Show that Business France organizes every year. It is a trade tasting gathering wine companies from all French wine regions. They presented more than 300 wines, giving tthe attendees a unique opportunity to discover and taste wines from a wide range of appellations of France!

I had the opportunity to get some samples, which I’ll post my notes here and on twitter.

Dame de Boüard

Clos de Bouard Montagne St. Emilion, Dame de Boüard 2016

This  vivid red wine is a blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Medium bodied, soft, silky and fresh, the wine is perfect for early, supple, drinking pleasure with all its charming. On the nose it brings ripe fruit aromas, and in the palate is quite balanced and offers velvety tannins, with lovely fruit flavours. Quite elegant for the second wine of the house.

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The Permanent Selection…

… is Gone!

It’s been some time since I post here… the Permanent Selection is gone since the end of 2017! Those lovely wines from Terra Personas and Solpost… they’ll be missed!

During 2018 I didn’t embrace new adventures towards wineries. Instead, I just travel for the enjoyment of the wines – Portugal, Spain, France, Italy… my classic route.

Last year I spent more time in Portugal, so I had the chance to get into the Portuguese mood – with all that blues fado as a plus! As D’Agos Fine Wines is not trading anymore, yet Friends of D’Agos Wine Buyers Club can dig into some lovely wines and find real good deals for the Club! Here are some:

Mula Velha Reserva
– Made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Syrah, this vivid rubi colour wine has intense red berries aromas with a hint of wood, and quite bodied palate. It might go well with hard cheese, and red meet. Might be drunk now or kept for up to 3 years.

Vinha Da Valentina Premium – This awarded wine made of Syrah, Aragonês, Castelão & Alicante Bouschet grapes, has a deep dark red colour and an aroma well conjugated with the wood, showing notes of compote and very mature red fruits. It took fermentation in stainless steel tanks and staged for 12 months in new French and American oak barrels.

This Pera Doce Premium from Alentejo was vinified in small stainless steel vats, and after the malolactic fermentation, rested for 8 months in French oak barrels. The blend of Syrah, Trincadeira, Aragonês and Alicante Bouschet grapes gives this wine a ruby red colour with lovely notes of oak, with a full-bodied and long finishing palate.

This is just a sample of the 12 different wines I found for the club… and all at €4,99 or bellow – plus freight!

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Red German Wines

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I’ve recently been to Berlin for the wedding of a great friend. As I always do when visiting wine-producer countries, I explore their wines, and although it was a short trip exclusively for the wedding, I managed to try some wines…

We were lucky to have a nice Sekt at the wedding, instead of the usual Prosecco for the bubbly drink. German Sekt has suffered some bad press for being cheap and lacking in quality, considered by many to be nothing more than carbonated fruit juice, which is not fair at all! Most Sekt uses the Charmat method for secondary fermentation, similar to Prosecco, and are usually sweeter and lower in alcohol than other sparkling wines. Sekt can contain aromas of apples, pears and white flowers, and when purchased correctly, can be a real treat!

Still in the wedding we got a lovely trocken (dry) Riesling – lots of fine wineries are producing more dry Riesling recently – but surprisingly the red was French. I asked why to the bartender, and she answered that German red wines were not good! Another unfair statement for German wines…

Germany’s red wines may not get the same reputation as their famous white wines, but they are really good! Food-friendly, fresh, and lively as their dazzling white wine counterparts, German red wine expectations should be set towards more delicate wine, lighter in body, high in acidity, and usually very aromatic.

The most widely planted red grape variety in Germany is Spätburgunder (literally “late Burgundian”), better known as Pinot Noir in the rest of the world, and it is considered to give the most elegant red wines of Germany. Other reds are Dornfelder and Trollinger.

As I couldn’t get a genuine German red at the wedding, I got a nice Dornfelder at the airport on my way back. A dark-skinned grape variety, Dornfelder is the second most grown red wine grape variety in Germany. It was initially bred (cross from Helfensteiner and Heroldrebe grapes) in 1955, to serve as a blending wine to improve the colour of pale reds. It only received varietal protection in 1979, and was then released for cultivation. Today it is prized on its own as a fragrant, full-bodied, complex wine with a fairly tannic acidity, and when fermented or aged in oak, it might fetch high prices.

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EU Excise Rates and VAT on Wine

Country Still wine Sparkling VAT
Austria Nil Nil 20.00%
Belgium €0.43 €1.46 21.00%
Bulgaria Nil Nil 20.00%
Cyprus Nil Nil 19.00%
Czech Republic Nil €0.68 21.00%
Denmark €1.11 €1.43 25.00%
Estonia €0.61 €0.61 20.00%
Finland €2.54 €2.54 24.00%
France €0.03 €0.07 20.00%
Germany Nil €1.02 19.00%
Greece Nil Nil 23.00%
Hungary Nil €0.42 27.00%
Ireland €3.19 €6.71 23.00%
Italy Nil Nil 22.00%
Latvia €0.48 €0.48 21.00%
Lithuania €0.43 €0.43 21.00%
Luxembourg Nil Nil 15.00%
Malta Nil Nil 18.00%
Netherlands €0.66 €1.91 21.00%
Poland €0.28 €0.28 23.00%
Portugal Nil Nil 13.00%
Romania Nil €0.26 24.00%
Slovakia Nil €0.60 20.00%
Slovenia Nil Nil 22.00%
Spain Nil Nil 21.00%
Sweden €2.01 €2.01 25.00%
UK €2.51 €3.21 20.00%


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Australian Day Wine Tasting in Dublin

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I was in the Australian Day Tasting Dublin (#ADTWine) this week (thank you Jean Smullen for the invitation) and it was fantastic! Great atmosphere, nice people, good wines… what else would you want?

Just because I was a bit in a hurry doesn’t mean I didn’t taste everything! Well, I missed one or 2 tables, I confess, but I got into the spirit! I started from producers looking for distributors – even some of them already sell in UK – then the producers already represented in Ireland, and I found some nice gems!

Ochota Barrels "The Fugazi Vineyard"

Ochota Barrels “The Fugazi Vineyard” McLaren Vale Grenache 2015: light cherry, with notes of fresh berries, sweet spices and something floral in the back. Long finishing and firm tannins.

Kangarilla Road “Terzetto” McLaren Vale Sangiovese Primitivo Nebbiolo 2013: Red berries, sweet spices, full-bodied. Good value for €18.

Luke Lambert Yarra Valley Nebbiolo 2015: Fresh and aromatic, red cherries, plums and spices with subtle citric and herbal. A real fine wine, exploring the beauty of Nebbiolo!

Grosset “Gaia” Clare Valley Blend 2013: Light purple, blackcurrant, plums, woody. Velvety, silky, long finishing. Lovely blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc!

That’s all for now…I might post other notes later.

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DO Montsant Fine Wines

The Permanent Selection

Terra Personas Red

In appearance the wine has a beautiful cherry colour with violet highlights. On the nose the wine displays a pronounced intensity of wild raspberries, cherry and herbs. On the palate is rich and dull bodied, with hints of spices forest fruits, and a long mineral finish.

Terra Personas White

Attractive pale straw in colour. Clear and bright with a green tinge and some viscosity. The nose displays pronounced notes of white flowers, fresh cut melon, and tropical fruits with creamy background tones. Subtle notes of lemon, vanilla and toast in the mouth, with a fresh and crisp yet mouth-filling and a long mineral finish.

Solpost White

Solpost Blanc is all about Garnatxa Blanca (White Grenache). This Garnatxa allows Mas d’en Rafel’s soil to speak for itself, and provides an exuberating and refreshing white wine. It is intense, filled with aromatic flowers together with citric and tropical fruit.

Solpost Red

Solpost Negre has a lively, shining red colour. The aromas of fruit
and flowers predominate and are very pleasant in the nose and the
palate. Fresh and balanced, Solpost Negre seduces by its youth!

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Know your Bubbles – part 2: Beyond Champagne

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(See also Know your Bubbles – part 1: Méthode Champenoise)

The méthode traditionnelle (or traditional method) has been adopted throughout France and worldwide as the most successful approach to quality, ageworthy sparkling wine production. While the exact aging requirements and grape varieties may change, and the limit on pressing is less strict, the traditional method mirrors the méthode Champenoise and has at its heart the principle of a second fermentation in the bottle.

In France, there are seven AOP regions for crémant wines produced by the traditional method: Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Loire, Crémant de Limoux, Crémant de Die, Crémant du Jura, and Crémant d’Alsace. Other appellations in France producing traditional method sparkling wines include Vouvray, Montlouis-sur-Loire, and Saumur in the Loire; and Vin de Savoie and Seyssel in Savoie. Fully sparkling wines from the aforementioned appellations will be labeled mousseux, whereas lightly sparkling wines are labeled pétillant. Blanquette de Limoux AOP wines from the Languedoc region are also produced by the traditional method, from a minimum 90% Mauzac, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc.

Spanish Cava (mostly in Catalonia but also in other regions such as Valencia, La Rioja, Aragon, Extremadura) is a white or pink sparkling wine produced mainly in the Penedès region in Catalonia, 40 km to the south west of Barcelona. Under Spanish Denominación de Origen laws, Cava can be produced in six wine regions and must be made according to the Traditional Method with second fermentation in the bottle and uses a selection of the grapes Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel·lo, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Subirat.

In Italy, sparkling wines are made throughout the whole country but the Italian sparkling wines most widely seen on the world market are the Franciacorta from Lombardy, Asti from Piedmont, Lambrusco from Emilia and Prosecco from Veneto. Though Franciacorta wines are made according to the traditional method, most Italian sparkling wines, in particular Asti and Prosecco, are made with the Charmat method (see below).

Portuguese Espumante (sparkling) is produced in throughout Portugal. While Spain has one regulating body, DOC Cava, spread across several different political regions, quality portuguese Espumante is produced solely in DOC Bairrada, located just south of Vinho Verde. In order for a wine to be certified as a quality Espumante from DOC Bairrada, it must be made in the traditional method (indicating the year of harvest) and stamped with the VEQPRD (Vinho Espumante de Qualidade Produzido em Região Determinada) certification. Other certifications are VFQPRD, a regional sparkling wine made in the traditional, charmat or transfer method in one of the following determined regions: Douro, Ribatejo, Minho, Alentejo or Estremadura. VQPRD is a sparkling wine that can be made by injecting the wine with gas in the traditional champagne, charmat or transfer method anywhere in Portugal. Espumosos is the cheapest and lowest level of sparkling wine, made by injecting the wine with CO2.

Quality sparkling wines are made on USA West Coast, in Carneros, Napa Valley, Anderson Valley, Willamette Valley, and Washington. Traditional method sparkling wines are also made in New York and Canada. Graham Beck is at the forefront of traditional method “Cap Classique” sparkling wines in South Africa. Major Champagne houses have established outposts in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Ukraine, and even Brazil!

Other Sparkling Winemaking Methods

The Charmat Process (aka Cuve Close or Tank Method) is quicker, cheaper, and less labor-intensive than the traditional method. After the wine undergoes primary fermentation, liqueur de tirage is added to the wine, provoking a second fermentation, which occurs in a pressurized enamel-lined tank, or autoclave, over a matter of days. Once the appropriate pressure is reached (usually 5 atmospheres), the wine is chilled to arrest fermentation. Some appellations require the wine to remain in tank for a minimum period of time, such as one month for Asti DOCG. The wine is then filtered and bottled, usually with a dosage. The lack of extended lees contact in the tank method is not suitable for making quality wines in the style of Champagne. The bubbles in tank method wines will be larger and coarser, and the wine will have a less uniform texture than wines made by the traditional method. However, this method is appropriate and even preferred for sparkling wines emphasizing fruit and varietal aromatics rather than the flavors derived from autolysis. Mousseux (French for “sparkling”) wines, most Italian Asti DOCG and Prosecco are produced in this method.

Continuous Method (aka Russian Continuous Method), is similar to the tank method, but the base wine is pumped through a series of interconnected (continuous) tanks while undergoing the second fermentation. Liqueur de tirage is constantly added to the wine, and lees accumulate in the first several tanks, offering a higher degree of autolyzed flavors than the standard tank method. The majority of German Sekt is produced by either the tank method or the continuous method.

Carbonation is the cheapest method of sparkling winemaking, and involves a simple injection of carbon dioxide into still wine. The bubbles do not integrate into the texture of the wine at all, and fade quickly upon opening. This method is not used for quality wines.



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Know your Bubbles – part 1: Méthode Champenoise

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(See also Know your Bubbles – part 2: Beyond Champagne)

The techniques of sparkling winemaking did not originate with the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon, nor was the first purposely sparkling wine produced in the region of Champagne. Regardless, through centuries of refinement Champagne has become the world’s leading sparkling wine and the vinous embodiment of luxury and celebration.

Méthode Champenoise is the labor-intensive and costly process whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles. All Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wine is made by this process. Also known as méthode traditionnelle or metodo classico.

Méthode Champenoise begins in the press house. Black grapes must be pressed especially quickly after harvest, lest they colour the must. Extraction is limited to 102 liters from 160 kg of grapes. The extracted juice is then divided into the vin de cuvée (the first 2,050 liters) and the vin de taille (the following 500 liters). The vin de taille is usually richer in pigment and tannin. The must, which is often chaptalized, will then undergo primary fermentation, which may occur in either stainless steel or oak barrels. The base wines often undergo malolactic fermentation, although this is not a universal practice. After both the primary and malolactic fermentations have concluded, the base wines will generally be clarified, through fining, filtering, or centrifuge. The clarified base wines remain in either stainless steel or barrel until late February or March of the year following the harvest. At this stage the blender will taste the lots of base wine, and determine a house’s hallmark blend, drawing on reserve stocks from previous years to provide complexity and richness. After the assemblage and cold stabilization, the blend will be racked and bottled with the addition of liqueur de tirage, a mixture of still wine, yeasts, sugar, and fining agents that will serve to ignite the second fermentation.

The second fermentation is the heart of the méthode Champenoise. Each bottle is affixed with a crown cap after the liqueur de tirage is added, and yeast begins its work. The secondary fermentation lasts up to eight weeks, as the yeast slowly converts the additional sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide creates a pressure inside the bottle of five to six atmospheres. During the second fermentation, the bottles are usually stored horizontally. Autolysis, the breakdown of dead yeast cells, forms sediment, or lees, in the bottle as second fermentation occurs. The wine will be aged on the lees for a minimum of 12 months prior to their removal from the bottle through dégorgement.

In preparation for dégorgement, the sediment must first be trapped in the neck of the bottle. Producers proceed to remuage, or riddling, which manipulates the sediment into the neck and bidule through sharp twists and inversion of the bottle. The widow Clicquot’s breakthrough involved the development of the pupitre: two large wooden planks fastened together in an upright “A” shape, with sixty angled holes cut into each plank of wood. A remuer would fractionally turn and tilt each bottle over a period of about eight weeks, slowly inverting the bottles with the neck pointing downward. Despite the fact that a top remuer is rumored to handle upwards of 70,000 bottles a day, Champagne is an industry, and more efficient methods are required. The modern remuage operation is shortened to a week or less through the use of a Spanish invention, the gyropalette, an automated device that holds 504 bottles. The gyropalette has replaced hand-riddling at all of the major houses, although some prestige cuvée bottlings are still handled manually.

Once the sediment is successfully collected in the neck of the bottle, the bottles remain in the upside-down vertical position for a short period of time prior to dégorgement. The modern method of dégorgement à la glace involves dipping the neck of bottle in a freezing brine solution. The bottle can then be turned upright. The force of internal pressure will expel the semi-frozen sediment (and a small portion of wine) as the crown cap is removed. As the wines are fully fermented to total dryness, the bottles are then topped off with dosage, a liquid mixture of sugar syrup and wine. Rarely, bone-dry non-dosage styles are produced. The amount of sugar in the dosage is determined by the desired style of the wine. Brut is the most common sweetness level and the level at which most houses bottle vintage and prestige cuvées.