Paul Hotker of Bleasdale: James Halliday’s Winemaker of the Year for 2018
THE FIRST BOTTLES of Bleasdale Wines in Ireland landed into our small (and constantly freezing cold!) warehouse in Bandon in late 2009. We were just over a year old and planning our first direct shipments from Australia the following Spring.
This historic, fifth generation family winery was a coup for two guys still getting their wine business off the ground. Two years later Bleasdale reached the benchmark for Australia’s top tier of wineries when they received 5 star accreditation from James Halliday, a status they’ve held onto ever since.
This year, the winery’s bagged one of Halliday’s very top gongs with winemaker Paul Hotker being named Australian Winemaker of the Year for 2018!
It’s the first time a winemaker from the Langhorne Creek wine region has been selected for the coveted award and we’re chuffed to bits for Paul, one of the most talented but modest and affable people you could ever meet.
Michael Kane, Curious Wines with Paul Hotker, Bleasdale
Halliday, who named Langhorne Creek the “most underrated region in Australia”, has been a strong supporter of Paul’s winemaking talents for several years, recognising his “extraordinary skill” in nurturing high quality fruit into outstanding wines. The 2018 edition of the Halliday Wine Companion sees a swag of Bleasdale wines rated 95 points or above.
To celebrate, we’ve 20% off the entire Bleasdale range for April and May, including fine wines, sparkling and fortified, all normally excluded from headline price promotions.
We’re still so proud to represent Bleasdale in Ireland. Now you can taste Australia’s very best for 2018.
Douro’s Quinta do Judeu: The Wise and Ancient Valley
Quinta do Judeu’s grape wielding watchman
There is a story which has weaved its way, like old gnarled vine itself, into the history of the Alves de Carvalho family’s spectacular Douro valley winery, Quinta Do Judeu. It centres around the Judeo-Roman statue from which the winery takes its name, an imposing figure who stands watchful, safeguarding the estate and beyond to the verdant valley below. The ceramic original, an inhabitant since before the family’s arrival in 1932, was stolen during a period of abandonment and decline but the family had the statue redesigned and remade in stone during the estate’s restoration. The new soldier’s sword was replaced by grapes, a nod to the promise of peace, great winemaking and continued harmony under their ownership.
The Judeo- Roman statue on the roof – from an original family photograph
Ancient legend whispers that the Jewish – Roman figure once stalked the land amongst the vines protecting them from unknown hostilities and the older generation in Peso da Régua talk of the warnings they received as small kids ‘to be good, or face the wrath of the soldier’ passing the statue on the school bus as it made its dusty, winding way home. They lived in fear of the statue coming alive and paying them a visit..
The 1930’s Douro landscape from an original photograph
Nowadays the only living and breathing ‘guardian of the vines’ seems to be the family’s black labrador, Pinga, the unofficial mascot of the operation.
Pinga taking solace from the heat under vine curtain
André Marinho Pinto and his wife Claudia are the current vineyard managers and he lovingly re – tells the stories of his grandfather, Mr Manuel Carvalho, who used to talk to the Corgo River, winding its way past the winery in the valley below, during times of reflection. Glass of wine in hand he would ask the river and its surroundings for guidance. His grandfather’s silent contemplation of, and with, the abundant natural beauty of the area inspired the epithet used in literature and on the wine labels of Quinta do Judeu;
“The ancients used to say ‘wise corgo river’. The corgo seems to reply ‘wise ancients’”
Andre’s father in law left Peso de Régua at a very young age and travelled to Brazil where he made his living and started his family but on his return to Portugal, with a renewed vision and passion to produce wines from his land, he bought Quinta do Judeu from his brother and two additional neighbouring properties comprising the 27 hectares of vineyards of which the estate now proudly boasts.
The day to day running of the winery is logistically challenging in terms of geography as the three properties Quinta do Judeu Corgo (Baixo Corgo sub region), Canelas and Covelinhas (Cima Corgo sub – regions) sit a distance from each other linked by what Pinto terms as ‘adventurous’ roads. This disparity and geographical individuality works ingeniously in terms of blending however, as the very best attributes of each region can be utilized; the freshness and elegance of the grapes gathered from the Baixo, the concentration and sublime power of the water – stressed Cima Corgo grapes and and the fresh aromatic style of highest altitude Canelas.
As the third generation of the family to manage the property, the weight of responsibility to fuse the old and traditional with new, modern techniques rests with Andre and although acutely aware of the need to evolve, he retains many of the original viticultural techniques first employed by his ancestors.
‘Our red wines are still traditionally foot trodden in the same lagares (granite tanks) as we had in 1932. We also ordered a panel made of traditional portuguese tiles, painted by hand by the same artist that sculpted the [new Jewish – Roman soldier] in the cellar’
Traditional stone ‘lagares’
Respect the Elderly (Covelinhas vines)
In the past, all varieties were planted together but several hectares of vineyards have been replanted making them fit for the use of tractors and other modern machinery. There are no international varieties permitted at Quinta do Judeu and each native variety, among them predominantly, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Amarela, has been painstakingly matched to the most beneficial spot for its continued health according to altitude, soil and sun exposure.
He is also rightly proud of the proportion of old vines retained by the property and talks of the care that has to be taken of these deep rooted ancient vines. In as dry and severe a place as the Douro is, it is important to achieve concentration, which they are able to achieve due to the depth their roots have found. The cultivation and harvesting is more labour intensive but their uniqueness goes some way towards avoiding the ‘homogenization’ that can befall other vineyards in the Douro.
Touriga Nacional vines
Vinification at Quinta do Judeu is the one area where scrupulous modernity of technique is adhered to. All grapes are vinified as separately as possible so that the winemaker has the greatest degree of flexibility when deciding upon the blend. In Andre’s words;
‘the final goal is to achieve what they always look for: balanced wines that scream out loud the place that they come from: The Douro!’
The artistry is in capturing, in particular, the stony, harsh, lush unique ‘terroir’ of the valley and the deep and magical Corgo river that winds on past under the omnipresent eye of their aged stone sentry. This landscape has provided the family with their inspiration and will continue to do so for generations to come.
Taming the wild beast: In search of the gorú in his Jumilla spiritual home
LAST WEEK during a trip to Cartagena I decided to make, along with my small daughters Este (3) and Tilly (1), the 150km pilgrimage across Murcia to the wine region of Jumilla, to visit one of our most popular suppliersEgo Bodegas. Ego is the stylish manifestation of the blending of old Monastrell vines and rugged tradition with ultra modern vineyard techniques and sharp branding resulting in a jaw dropping visual gallery of viticulture imbued with nature at its finest. Ego Bodegas’ signature wines, Gorú, Fuerza, Marionette, Talento and Infinito can be recognised by their modern artistic branding and the depth, character and value of these expert blends.
Armed with my camera and two (thankfully sleeping) children I hit the open road of the N344 north east of Murcia and before long the grey motorways and industrial estates unfurled to reveal the magic of La Floración in all its splendour. During the latter part of February and March La Floración is the sweet moniker given to the spring flowering of the peach, nectarine and plum trees which punctuate the landscape and carpet the mountain ranges with a velvety hue of pink and warm orange. As the basin extends outwards and the sky swallows the land these bright splatters of colour bring a warmth to the arid and barren naturescape of winter and bring the promise of fruitfulness in abundance.
Passing the medieval town of Jumilla, in former glorious days famed for being a geographical and cultural crossroads, with its castillo sitting proudly above the town, it is another few kilometres before we reach the huge old gnarled tree on the roundabout which marks the winding mountainous road up to Ego Bodegas.
The winery itself, when it comes into view, is a stark architectural structure which sits regally at high altitude overlooking the valley floor of 25 hectares of low, head pruned, bush trained or ‘gobelet’ vines. On calcareous sandy and stony fertile soil some of the vines are in excess of 40 years old and the predominantly (80%) Monastrell fruit they produce is concentrated, rich, tannic and requires expert care to be harnessed and restrained to reveal its strong yet silky nature. The landscape at this time of year is softer and more yielding, the pink of fruit trees set off by the dazzling white of the almond trees which frame every view. It is difficult to envisage how desolate and barren the region must look in winter, when temperatures can fall to -10°C. And with highs of 45°C in summer it is a region of natural extremes.
We arrive to be greeted by Antonio Di Marco, the Vineyard Manager who is happily unfazed by two freshly rejuvenated toddlers ready to explore. Huge panoramic floor to ceiling windows provide the most awe inspiring canvas to appreciate the rugged landscape of the Valley de La Hoya and its neighbouring undulating rolling mountain ranges of Sierra de la Cingla and Sierra Los Gavilanes.
Antonio immediately points to a small ramshackle stone cottage, an isolated fally-downy dwelling house at the foot of the valley, and reveals that the inspiration for the ‘Mad Hairy Fella,’ the enigmatic ‘outcast’ who stares defiantly out at us from the signature Gorú wine, lived there.
He was reputedly quite the narrador back in the day with a reputation for illicit behaviour and Don Juan-esque libertine ways. The legend of him seemed to me to be akin to the living embodiment of the Monastrell grape, hard to tame, knowing, ancient and a little bit dangerous. His emblem is a strong one and anchors the vineyard firmly in its region and terroir. As Monastrell is a phenolically-challenging grape, high in tannins and late ripening, the skill of the modern winemaker is to gently cajole the grape to optimum ripeness, while avoiding jammy, baked flavours through careful control of fermentation. The key is learning how to tame the wild character of the grape through blending with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot in various different manifestations, making the wines more fruit forward while still retaining the earthiness and depth … and the beating wild hearted nature of the Gorú himself, as it were.
As the girls devoured orange squash and explored the beautifully artistic and tasteful gallery-tasting room with gusto we began a micro-tasting of four of Ego Bodegas’ best selling and most iconic wines, Gorú, Gorú 38 Barrels, Fuerza and Marionette, and Antonio explained a few of the principles behind the winery and of its vision. A marriage of new and old, innovation and tradition, light and dark, Ego Bodegas perfectly encapsulates the exciting possibility of Spain’s wine regions gaining recognition for their unique terroirs such as Jumilla and Yecla, and brings wines which are varietally recognisable and stylistically intriguing to the export market.
We took a look downstairs in the temperature controlled modern and spotless cave (cellar) and discussed new innovations at the winery such as experimentation with Romanian and Russian oak to see what if any effect is had on the wines which generally spend between 12 and 24 months in American and French oak. My youngest girl Tilly particularly enjoyed the bottling and labelling plant and kept returning, mesmerised by the robotic machine as it twirled and filled the bottles and fulfilled its quota.
All in all it was an incredible opportunity to put a wine in context, to see its lowly ancient vine beginnings and witness the metamorphosis the fruit goes through to become this thoroughly modern liquid imbibed by today’s savvy consumer. And if nothing else it proved that children and wineries can sometimes mix!
THE 2015 HARVEST was the last year seen by Gassac patriarch and Languedoc fine wine pioneer Aimé Guibert, who died last summer aged 91. Fittingly, the gods smiled on the vintage – which was unbelievable – and nearly all the wine sold out within a month, before it had even been bottled. Decanter reported at the time that “merchants and clients hoovered up all 8,500 cases via the en primeur system in near-record time.”
Despite some fairly drastic cuts to allocations due to over-subscription, we got our share of both the 2015 Rouge and 2016 Blanc, and are delighted to offer you a one-time opportunity on these sold out vintages. Just a word of warning though – if we sell out on this pre-order offer, it will be first come, first served – and there won’t be any more.
Adored by the world’s wine critics, Mas de Daumas Gassac has been described as “The Grand Cru of the Midi” (Hugh Johnson), “one of the 10 best wines in the world” (Michael Broadbent) or, simply, “exceptional” (Robert Parker). The absolute crème de la crème!
The 2015 Rouge (Cabernet-based) has completed its élevage and is set for bottling and release in April, along with its younger sibling, the 2016 Blanc (Chardonnay, Viognier, others). We’re giving you the chance to snap some up at a big saving on the normal shelf-price of €540-per-dozen (€45/bottle), at just €399-per-dozen (€33.25/bottle) – all red, all white or half/half. Both wines will age majestically over the coming two decades but may also, in grand modern style, be enjoyed young – even this year!
BUY NOW and the wines will be with you by the end of April, free delivery included. Offer ends 9pm Sunday 5th March.
THIS MONTH’S MUST-HAVE MIXED CASE features a March medley of sun-kissed stunners from Spain and Australia (with a top-end Kiwi thrown in for good measure); countries loved by Irish wine lovers for their smooth, fruit-driven reds and full, flavour-packed whites.
Top billing goes to Bleasdale’s boisterous, blackcurrant-packed Bremerview Shiraz, John Quarisa’s hedonistic Treasures Coonawara Cab-Merlot, Jules Taylor’s gold medal-winning Marlborough Sauvi and the hugely popular Abadia de Seixo Albariño from Spanish centre-of-excellence Rias Baixas. Throw in red hot-spots Rioja and Ribera del Duero, and white hot-spots Rueda and Adelaide Hills, and you’ve got your very own wine centre-of-excellence in a box.
There’s a glass-clinking €39 off the lot, just €140 for your choice of mixed, all-red or all-white – that’s less than €12 per bottle for some seriously big-hitting wines – and we’ll deliver for free.