Friday 19 October 2018

A moment's thought for California

Grapes ready for harvest
Grapes ready for harvest
Bonpas Côtes du Rhône
Murphy Goode Chardonnay
Domaine de la Belle Estelle Cairanne

Like to hear a bit of good news about Californian wine? Well, here's a report from the ground. I was in California wine country at the time of the fires, but in the south, which thankfully was totally unaffected. On my final night there, I had dinner in San Francisco with a number of vintners from Napa Valley, where the fires hit hardest. The fires were still burning but coming under control, there was a sense that the worst was over and the winery owners had one message which was loud and clear: The wine industry in Northern California is okay.

Despite the ferocity of the wildfires that swept across the area, just 12 wineries were completely destroyed and most of the 650 wineries suffered no damage at all.

This is not to negate in any way the tragic loss of life and the damage sustained to properties across more than 210,000 acres, but the fear is that because of the extensive global news coverage, people may think that the Sonoma and Napa regions have been wiped out. Which is certainly not the case.

Most of the wineries are open and welcoming visitors in their tasting rooms. The region depends on tourism as well as wine sales, so the message is: "Please, please come and visit. We're open for business." One of the vintners I met was Steven Burgess of Burgess Cellars. His winery had not been affected, but, like many of the people there, he volunteered for firefighting duty. He showed me pictures of the raging flames, the houses they had saved and said that, remarkably, most of the vineyards are fine. The green foliage is hard to burn, and in many cases it acted as firebreaks.

Perhaps luckiest of all, most of the grapes had been harvested. Charlie Matthews, the European area manager of Opus One (one of the most expensive and highly acclaimed wines in the Napa Valley), who was in Dublin for a tasting the day before I headed off to California, explained that when the power went down in their locality, they switched to a generator to ensure the correct temperature was maintained for the winemaking that was already under way.

As a joint venture between two of the world's most famous and acclaimed wine figures, Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Opus One reflects the true potential of Californian winemaking and its ability to compete at the premium level with Bordeaux.

The wines that I tasted on the day were a real treat and the hope is that 2017 will be another good vintage.

As well as supporting Californian wines, there is some interesting imbibing planned in Ireland for the coming week.

Rhône Wine Week kicks off today, which means there is a series of tastings and dinners happening around the country, which feature the Syrah-dominated wines of the Northern Rhône from regions such as Crozes-Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, and the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blends (often called GSM) of the Southern Rhône, which include familiar regions such as Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas.

Free events include a Southern Rhône tasting, which is in Dublin at Blackrock Cellar from 3-5pm today; in Baggot Street Wines from 5.30-8pm on Friday, and in Searsons Wine Merchants on Saturday October 11 from 12-6pm. The Big Rhône Tasting in Dublin's Ely on Thursday at 6pm is spectacularly good value for €20; while in Greenes restaurant in Cork, Leslie Williams will host a Wine Pairing Dinner featuring the wines of Château Pesquié. More events: rhonewineweekireland.com

3 wines to try

Murphy Goode Chardonnay, €17.95 (reduced from €19.95)

13.5pc, from O’Briens and obrienswine.ie

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Murphy Goode Chardonnay

With a ripe Californian style, this easy-drinking wine is for Chardonnay lovers who enjoy a full palate of tropical fruit balanced with lemon acidity, rounded out with light oak and a touch of vanilla.

Domaine de la Belle Estelle Cairanne 2016, €10.99

14.5pc, from Aldi

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Domaine de la Belle Estelle Cairanne

A blend of predominantly Grenache with 20pc Syrah and 10pc Mourvèdre, this juicy wine has plenty of ripe black fruit, with a soft touch of spice and vanilla. Will go beautifully with warm winter classics, stews and casseroles.

Réserve de Bonpas Côtes du Rhône, €11.95 (reduced from €14.95)

13.5pc, from O’Briens

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Bonpas Côtes du Rhône

Juicy and inviting, this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre from old vines that are 40-plus years, is an easy-drinker with ripe berry and cherry flavours and a touch of cinnamon spice.

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