Tasting highlights at Gilbeys

A trade highlight of each year, the Gilbeys tasting delivers even more treats than usual, writes Helen Coburn

At a time when big tastings have become rather thin on the ground, the one held by Gilbeys recently seemed more than ever to be a trade highlight of the year – not to talk of its always convivial social side. This was helped along this year by a corner counter filled with delicious Gubbeen foods, ranging from cheeses and meats to relishes and some seriously tasty cheesy oatcakes. The goodies, I’m glad to say, were dispensed liberally, offering a very helpful cushion to those trying to get through a tasting which, in all honesty, could be spread over two days and still keep its visitors occupied.

Since last year, Gilbeys has come into the ownership of Gleeson Group, who acquired it from Diageo last September for a price believed to be €6m. That brought the group to a share of around 15% of the Irish wine market, up from 2% for Gleeson’s alone.

Spanish particularly good value

The Gilbey portfolio has tended to centre around a steady core of classic brands, with new labels appearing, and sometimes disappearing, depending on sales and consumer reaction. As usual, the classics drew some of the biggest crowds this year, with Spanish wines being particularly good value for money, allowing for quality and style. Faustino is often decried by wine buffs as being a mere brand, but few Rioja labels are more consistent in delivering soundly at their price points. Crianza 2008 (€84 per 12) showed a nice bit of class for the money, while Rioja Reserva 2005 (€132) is drinking very well now and has lovely aromas. Gran Reserva 1999 (€189) is pleasant but not especially concentrated; other vintages have shown better for Faustino in this category.

Marques de Murrieta is a legend in Rioja but many of its wines are, thankfully, still affordable, at least as a treat. Oaky white Rioja is considered old fashioned now but Capellania Blanco Reserva Rioja 2005 (€91 per six) was delicious. Made from viura, aged in French oak for 18 months, it had lovely beeswax and spice notes and a subtle trace of oxidation under nicely balanced yellow fruits.  Red Reserva 2005 (€84 per six) still had lots of primary fruits with hints of strawberry and soft plum; it would make a great Easter or gift wine.

High price for French Classics

Some red Bordeaux and Rhone wines tended to be expensive for what was on offer. The level of pricing for French classics is driven very largely by producer demands, rather than by big mark ups on the part of importers or retailers, but that’s not something consumers always understand. Chateau Loudenne 2006 is ready now and very enjoyable but not hugely concentrated for €173.82 trade per 12. Chateau La Lagune Haut Medoc 2007 (€540) betrays the limits of that vintage but it’s tasty if the price were right. Its cadet label Madmoiselle L 2007 (€73 per six) has some pleasant lead pencil character and classily evolved fruits; it’s not hugely concentrated but it is pleasant. Chateau Richmont Bordeaux Rouge 2009 (€97 per 12) isn’t the most classic production but there’s an enjoyable chunky tastiness to the plummy fruits and it’s fair value for this category.

B&G owned Chateau Magnol 2007 (€195) had smoothly evolving blackcurrant and plum fruit and is one of the few mid range Bordeaux labels delivering soundly on the money: a lovely wine for a special roast. Its cadet Charmes de Magnol 2008 is also decent for its €124 per 12.

White Burgundy offers better value than red

Finding a good red Burgundy at the right price poses even more challenge than in Bordeaux. For example, Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos de Mouches Rouge 2008 (€519.32 per 12) had classic summer fruit aromas and flavours and was nicely balanced but it would have been hard to convince a New World fan to pay the price for the level of complexity and structure here. On the other hand, white Burgundy is at present delivering lots of quality at prices which, while not always exactly cheap, offer classic style with sufficient length and weight to render most purchasers satisfied with their choice. This is especially true in Chablis and amongst village labels and the wines of less glamorous producers of the Cotes. Simmonet Febvre Chablis 2008 (€140) had lovely nerve and fine acidity with decent length of fruit. Simmonet Febvre Premier Cru Mont de Millieu 2008 (€157) had complexity, with a solid weight of fruit and, again, good length.

Classic Alsace

A French classic region which seldom disappoints and which, in general, also has a realistic perception of what the market is able to pay nowadays, is Alsace. Gilbey’s star in this region is Trimbach and, as usual, the range left one with little to say expect that, equally as usual, each wine was characterful, and generally well worth its price. Pinot Blanc 2008 (€109) was, like most wines from this perennially underrrated grape, best value of all and would be lovely with an Easter roast of turkey, chicken or pork. Riesling 2009 (€127) had a lovely, zingy intensity and tasty green apple and grape flavours, while the Pinot Gris Reserve 2007 (€155) was lush and exotic and would be perfect with a block of blue cheese.

A whole New World

Moving to the New World, there were quite a few stand outs. Waterkloof Circumstance Stellenbosch South Africa Merlot 2008 had well defined blackcurrant and plum with nicely supporting tannins (€89 per six). False Bay Western Cape Shiraz 2010 (€36.50 per six) showed what South Africa can do with this variety; it had tasty, spicy fruit and great length for the money. Tindall Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir 2004 had good varietal character, with summer fruits on nose and palate, and is perfectly mature now. Chile’s Terra Andina is always a bargain buster and its Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (€67) was tasty and very well balanced for the price. Moving up the price scale, Grant Burge Filsel Shiraz Barossa 2007 (€213) was a red very typical of its region, with lots of plummy fruits and touches of coconut. Exuberant stuff but well balanced and elegant: a good beef or game wine.

Details from Gleeson Gilbeys www.gleesongroup.ie.  Prices above are approximate trade price per 12, except where otherwise stated.

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