Wine

Midleton Very Rare 2019 released

Brian Nation, Master Distiller

Fado, fado, around this time of year I used to look forward to an early Christmas present.  The good cheer was brought to my door by a courier who, I thought, regarded at me with a respect bordering on reverence as he handed over the precious package. Boy, oh boy, I could hardly wait, tearing at the wrapping to uncover the polished wooden box. I’d open the lid and there it was, the plain-ish bottle with the understated label, the gold-to-amber liquid within. Ten minutes later, no matter what the time of day, I’d be sat in my kitchen, nosing, sipping a dram of the latest vintage of the Midleton Very Rare, King of Irish Whiskeys and raising a silent toast to the guys who made it.

Of course in those days there were only five or six of us boozehounds to plámás, distributing largesse on this scale wouldn’t have caused much of a dent in Irish Distillers’ marketing budget.  Today, with soi-disant drinks writers in every publication from The Tondragee Trumpet to Welder & Ferret Breeder I imagine the practise has been discontinued on grounds of expense. Or can it be I’ve  just lost some of the cachet I once had?

Happily,  I still get to taste the ‘V.R’. Recently I had the pleasure of attending an exclusive  tutored tasting – in the Constitution Room at The Shelbourne Hotel – curated by Master Distiller Brian Nation, the man behind the masterpiece. The Midleton Very Rare 2019, 36th edition,  has been blended from whiskeys laid down at Midleton Distillery, Co Cork, over the past four decades. and combines only hand-selected single pot still and single grain Irish whiskeys of exceptional quality and rarity within the Midleton inventory. With each whiskey in the profile having been matured exclusively in lightly-charred first-fill American oak barrels for between 13 and 34 years, 2019 marks the oldest collection of casks used to create a Midleton Very Rare since the premium whiskey’s inception in 1984. 

TASTING

Here are Brian’s tasting notes:-

Nose: Ripe fruit notes of sweet pear and apple that develop overtime, adding a delicate touch of mango. Complimented by the charred American oak, these flavours are further accentuated with additional sweet layers of brown sugar and vanilla, with a light dusting of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove spice. 

Taste: Luscious and silky texture with the orchard fruits and pot still spices coming to the fore while the grain’s soft floral notes gently linger in the background, allowing the oak to add dimensions of mild tannins and wood spice.

Finish:  The fruits and gentle spice slowly fade, giving way to the oak foundation that leaves a mild roasted coffee and nutty character to linger until the very end.

Brian also brought along a bottle of the 1989 for comparison purposes. This, I thought a very different tipple, with, even after thirty years, massive power and presence. The 2019, in contrast, seemed less ‘driven’ , lighter and altogether more poised. Brian agreed, describing the latest release as having “no shout, no roar – it’s a very modern whiskey.” He stressed the sweetness, the “dusting of spices, the cinnamon notes”  and the exotic hints of mango and mandarin. Conspicuous length of finish was a feature of both the 1989 and the 2019.

I asked him if he considered the process as evolutionary. He said “no, it’s more a matter at looking at what we’ve got in each particular year and deciding how best to showcase it.”

THE 1825 ROOM

To mark the release of its 2019 Midleton Very Rare vintage, Irish Distillers has launched the ‘1825 Room’, a members’ site to pay homage to Midleton Distillery’s outstanding influence on Irish distilling since its foundation in 1825. Offering exclusive content and features about Midleton Very Rare, the site – available to join now @ www.midletonveryrare.com will also include an exclusive online store, with five rare vintages for sale from 2nd October for one month. To celebrate the launch of the 1825 Room, members will have the opportunity to purchase a bottle of the very first 1984 vintage at the price of £40 Irish punts, which equates to €50.80. In anticipation of demand being exceptionally high, purchasers will be selected through a ballot system.

Bottled at 40% ABV, Midleton Very Rare 2019 is available globally from this month at the RRP of €180 in markets including Ireland, the UK, and the US. 

Tasting

M & S Tasting - Autumn/Winter 2019

Things I do for my readers! A tasting of over 100 carefully sourced wines. Took up a whole morning. After a deal of deliberation  I’ve picked six that will yield up enjoyable drinking and exceptional value for money for now and during the festive season. There were others that could have made the cut, most notably the broad-shouldered Sicilan Nero d’Avola, a snip at €9.50.

M & S Cava Brut NV

8.7/10
Way-hey! Only just taken my coat off and I've got my nose in an absolute cracker. The first wine in the line-up is a hugely enjoyable Cava. Bone-dry but with bags of stonefruit and russet apple and none of the meanness that characterises a lot of budget fizz. Slaughters (most) prosecco. I can see M&S shifting shedloads this side of Christmas. Price is a steal.
Cheers!
Ernie

Rating 87/100 ABV 11.5% €10.50

Stockists

M & S

Balfour Classic Rosé

9/10
English 'traditional method' sparking wines have rightfully garnered high praise in recent years but, my God, some of the proprietors are charging like wounded rhinos. Here's one with a sense of perspective. Of their two wines in the tasting I preferred the rosé for its 'prettiness' and delicacy and beautiful floral bouquet. It's no shy, shrinking violet though; this one punches well above its weight.
Cheers!
Ernie

Rating 90/100 ABV 12% €29.50

Stockists

M & S

Terre di Chieti Pecorino 2018

8.8/10
That's right, pecorino is a cheese but also a grape variety. Nothing cheesy about this one and nothing fancy either. 20 days in stainless steel is al the cossetting it gets. In Italy Pecorino has got quite trendy, with plantings, particularly in Le Marche, increasing year-on-year. This one's from Abruzzo and exhibits high aromatic concentration and bold peach and apricot fruit, beautifully balanced with keen acidity. Class act for the money.
Cheers!
Ernie

Rating 88/100 ABV 12% €12.50

Stockists

M & S

Chablis - Domain Pierre de Prehy 2017

9.2/10
From the snatches of conversation around the tasting table, I'd say this wine would be short odds for the title of consensual favourite. Elegant, lean-but-not austere, classic (unoaked) Chablis from the reputable Jean-Marc Brocard. Remarkable depth of flavour, too and that trademark pierre à fusil (gunflint) character to boot. Nice.
Cheers!
Ernie

Rating 92 /100 ABV 12.5 % €22.00

Rioja Perez Burton 2017

8.9/10
From high altitude vineyards in La Rioja Alavesa and made by Telmo Rodriguez who probably knows more about the temper of tempranillo, Rioja's signature grape, than anyone else around. A split personality, it's a very modern wine, buckets of bright juicy fruit; at the same time it's a 'serious' wine with dark notes that call to mind the old-style Riojas that Ireland fell in love with, back in the day.
Cheers!
Ernie

Rating 89 /100 ABV 14 % €18.00

Stockists

M & S

Earth's End Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017

9.1/10
Good New Zealand pinot noir can't usually got at this price. The downscale stuff is usually quaffable but the enjoyment is of a simplistic nature, a hit of cheery cherry fruit and that's about all. This one has poise, subtlety and complexity. The buzzwords of skilful , careful winemaking are all in its making - hand-harvesting, de-stemmed fruit, wild yeasts and minimal extraction play a part. Fining, filtration and additives are all proscribed as the winery eases its way towards organic status. Really good kit for an entry level price.
Cheers!
Ernie

Rating 91 /100 ABV 13.5 % €22.50

Stockists

M & S

Days in A Taster’s Life: 4

“I’m not into crosswords, or what’s it called, suduko? Nevertheless, I do recognise the importance of keeping one’s brain exercised so I occasionally invent some form of mental gymnastics for that very purpose. A few weeks ago I decided I would write down, in ten minutes flat, all the aromas and flavours I had ever found in a glass of wine. For the record the total was 158 and included such exotica as arbutus berries, oatmeal, mown grass, green sap, chicory, tobacco, eucalyptus, balsam, beeswax, quinine, soy sauce, molasses, sawdust, burnt toast, mildew, gun smoke, diesel, wet dog, soap, fish, steel, sauerkraut, sticking plaster, marigold, geranium, liquorice, ginger, bacon, offal, leather and, yes, shit, in addition to the usual suspects.”

Come d’Incanto Blanc de Noir – Cantine Carpentiere

An intriguing surprise on every shelf when it comes to wine in Puglia.
We found this lovely white, obtained from the off-the-skins vinification of Nero di Troia grapes.
The complex bouquet combines citrus and slight brambly notes, maybe the only clue that this wine stated life as a red grape. A vibrant, quite assertive, initial flavour – Sauvignon Blanc without tears – soon segues into a rich honeyed palate with hints of quince and russet apple.

A ‘must try’ if you are in the region.
€12 in the offie, €16-18 i a restaurant.

87/100

Days in a Taster’s Life: 3

Liberty, Fraternity…

Equality? Not quite. Cheapest wine in the line up was a Grenache Blanc from a modest IGP in the south of France (estimated r.r.p €14.99. Most expensive – and here I’m hazarding a guess – the iconic Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino ‘Annata’ 2013 (item 226 in a selection of close to 250, if you include Port, Vermouth and Saké)  might leave you enough change out of €180  for a pint of plain and a pack of Tayto. 

Fraternity? Well, this is the annual Dublin tasting of Liberty Wines, a company that originally gained credence on account of the perceptive palate of its founder, David Gleave, incidentally one of the nicest people in the business. A  wine scribe can go to this tasting secure in the knowledge that the palate wont be assaulted  by any universal nasties – although there will be wines in the extensive line up you might not like, it’s almost a given that someone else will.  Liberty’s is the tasting that the motley shower of old comrades, the dad’s army of Irish wine writing, hate to miss. As well as a chance to sample wines one couldn’t possibly ever afford to buy, the day represents a reunion of the heroes who’ve stood shoulder to shoulder, bravely sampling eighty sauvignon blancs in a single day; toiled under a Sicilian sun during a route march around umpteen hectares of vines; or starred in faked wonderment as yet another bottling line is put through its paces by a proud owner who tells you “It cost even more than my wedding.”

So I retrieve my nose from a snifter of Bordeaux Supérieur in order to greet Mary, Raymond, John, Leslie, Tomas or whoever; indulge in a smidge of bibulous and football football banter with high street wine merchants; and (a major bonus) chat with a few of the delightful young folk, currently reviving the art of the sommelier with their knowledge and passion. In between, though, there’s work to be done. This year, I divided the day into two sessions. I essayed the hard yards in the morning, starting at 10am when nose and palate are awake. At 11.45 I called a halt and went for a haircut, a spot of lunch and to clatter the keys in order to earn a crust. Late in the afternoon, I returned to Fallon & Byrne where the tasting was being conducted and gave myself an hour of unalloyed pleasure. I shall reveal that, among other delights  I lingered over glasses of David Morey’s magical Meursault, sublime white burgundy, truly a gift from the gods and also got well reacquainted with a perennial favourite, Bruno Rocca’s brilliant Barbaresco, a masterpiece that, year on year, manages to squeeze every possible nuance out of my beloved Nebbiolo grape.

Anyhow, impossible to mention all the wines I tasted, but here are a few that impressed.

Sparkling

Couple of favourites here. The Bellavista ‘Alma’ Franciacorta Gran Cuvée Brut continues to excite as well as kick the butt of more than a few low-to-middle Champagnes. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée Multi-vintage still has that spare elegance, although a few hard heads are beginning to ask if, like many English fizzers, it’s overpriced. Not sure, but I like it anyway. Going upscale, at the around  €75 mark, Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve is still, for my money, in pole position.

White

Sauvignon-Chardonnay blends don’t usually do it for me but I must say I found the Sebastien Vaillant Valençay 2108 (€20) rather endearing (plenty of people disagreed, so maybe a ‘Marmite’ wine. The Dreissigacker Organic Rheinhessen Riesling 2017 (€24) was a right little charmer as was the Axel Pauly ‘Purist’ Mosel Riesling Kabinnett Trocken 2018  (€24). A lot of effort is going into reducing alcohol levels, especially in whites. The Château du Rouët ‘Estérelle’ Côtes de Provence 2018 (€23) was quite a smart little number, destined, I’d say, to be featuring on quite a few restaurant lists.

Upscale, Greywackie confirmed to me that the 2019 version of their Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (€28), delicious as ever, is the benchmark for NZSB. Rich, rounded, not a trace of methoxypyrazine (the bell pepper aroma) or other nasties, Greywackie is, no doubt about it, the one to emulate, if not to beat. Space says “got to call a halt somewhere” so maybe no better place than the Domaine Corrine Perchaud Chablis 2017 (€32), clean, lean, nicely ‘old style’ and one of my favourite wines on the day.

Reds

If you eat out quite a bit I’m sure you would be familiar with a  number of the reds on show – the Willunga 100 Maclaren Vale Shiraz/Viognier, the a Mano Primitivo di Puglia, the Izadi Rioja Reserva. The Vetus ‘Flor de Vetus’ from Toro in particular always seem to turn up as “well-priced go-to’s”. One that’s snuck largely under the radar is the 2018 Nero de Troia ‘Lama di Pietra’ from Cantina Diomede (€18). As I type, I’m drenched in sunshine in Puglia, getting plenty of this wonderful grape down my neck. When (if) I come back I might do a piece on why Nero de Troia is the Southern Italian equivalent of the Golden Wonder potato. A wine that really impressed me is the Boulevard Napoléon ‘Laberadou’ Pur Cinsault de Schistes IGP Pays d’Hérault 2016 (€24), big, soft, cuddly and – a special bonus – that lovely man restaurateur Fergus Henderson is one of the owners  of the estate. Going up in the elevator, there’s a full-on and fruity Spanish red ‘L’espressió de Priorat’  (€29) that gave me genuine surprise when I found it was 15% ABV. Not for the faint-hearted but the fruit manages to subsume the alcohol burn good style.

Up country, Steve Pannell’s ‘The Vale’ McLaren Vale Shiraz 2016 (€39) showed what can be done with this great grape in the way of civilised, plummy, bang-in-style wine. Donnafugata ‘Sul Volcano’ Etna Rosso 2016 (€40), Nerello Mascalese – pretty sure you’ve never tasted this Sicilian grape – shows to perfection the strengths of what’s currently Italy’s sexiest wine region.

I could go on. In fact I could produce another list, equally seductive, maybe two or three. Keep an eye on this site, in particular my tasting notes. Over the year many of these wines are sure to feature.

Days in a Taster’s Life 2

“Picasso and Braque initiated the Cubist movement when they followed the advice of Paul Cézanne, who in 1904 said artists should treat nature “in terms of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone.” The Cubists were mega-analytical and I suppose their vinous equivalent would be the Anorakists who have persuaded themselves that wine (as distinct from the making of wine) is a subject fit for serious academic study. Maybe it is but give these boys a soapbox and they can bore for Burgundy. Many Anorakists are charming, even fascinating people and to hear a real expert lecture on the evils of reduction is not to be missed. Trouble is, like all charismatic movements, Anorakism attracts a fringe element of pedants, bluffers and utter chancers.
The Anorakists do have an achilles heel however; a romantic nature that set them at odds with The Technocrats, an austere cult who stole the Anorakists’ clothes while the latter were gazing, misty-eyed at Le Montrachet. Technos are wine’s Futurists, the Italian-based largely Fascist art movement that embraced and enobled the machine. The Technocrats believe, to put it at its most basic, that the guy who owns the chemistry set rules the world – of wine, at any rate. I have many friends among the Anos but the Technos, I’m afraid, are utterly unlovable.”

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