Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet Wines of 2015

I love sweet wines, whether with dessert, instead of dessert, or at any time I fancy them. They can actually pair well with savoury dishes of many types, depending on their prominent flavours, richness, acidity and sugar levels.  For example, late harvest Gewurztraminer from Alsace is amazing with foie gras, and off dry to medium wines often work well with exotic Asian fare.

There are several methods of making sweet wines, the simplest being to leave the grapes on the vine while they continue to produce sugars, and harvest them later.  A further step is to allow noble rot (botrytis cinerea) to attack the grapes and dry them out, thereby concentrating the sugars.  Other traditions involve sun or air drying to reduce water levels.

Whichever way is used, balance is the key, particularly the balance between sugar and acidity.  This means that even lusciously sweet wines can avoid being cloying, which is usually a turn off.

Here are ten of the sweet wines which really impressed me in 2015:

 

10. Berton Riverina Botrytis Semillon 2013 (€9.99 (375ml), Aldi)

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I first tried a Berton wine from Coonawarra, my favourite red wine region of the world.  It was perhaps a little less fruit forward than some from the area but had the most pronounced spearmint aromas that I’ve ever encountered in a wine (for the avoidance of doubt this is a positive for me!)

The Riverina area in the middle of New South Wales is an irrigated bulk wine producing region, and is where many of Australia’s inexpensive bottles (and boxes!) are produced. Due to humidity close to the major rivers it is also a source for excellent botrytis style stickies (as the locals call them), including the fabulous De Bortoli Noble One.

Semillon’s thin skins make it particularly susceptible to noble rot – which is why it is so successful in Sauternes and Barsac – and so it proves in Berton’s version.  I’m not going to claim that this has the intensity of Noble One but it does a damned good impression – and at a far lower price.  Amazing value for money!

9. Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardia “Nectaria” Botrytis Riesling 2009 (€19.99 (375ml) Sweeney’s of Glasnevin  and Carry Out Off-Licence in Ongar, Dublin 15)

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Familiarity with Spanish or another romance language reveals that this is a Late Harvest style, with the addition of Botrytis characters.  It was one of the stand out wines of the Chilean Wine Fair – though being different in a sea of Sauvignon, Carmenère and Cabernet probably helped.

As you may or may not know, Miguel Torres wines are the Chilean outpost of the Spanish Torres family’s operations, with quality and value both prominent.  The key to this wine is the streak of acidity cutting through the sweetness – the hallmark of a great Riesling dessert wine.  

8. San Felice Vin Santo 2007 (€19.49 (375ml) O’Briens)

Vin Santo

As someone who generally likes Italian wine and has a soft spot for sweet wines, I’ve nearly always been disappointed by Vin Santos I’ve tried. I don’t think my expectations were too high, it’s just that the oxidative (Sherry-like) notes dominated the other aspects of the wines.

This is different – perfectly balanced with lovely caramel and nut characters.  It’s made from widely grown grapes Trebbiano Toscano (75%) and Malvasia del Chianti (25%) which aren’t generally known for their character, but it’s the wine-making process that makes the difference.  Bunches of grapes are dried on mats to reduce water content then pressed as normal.  After fermentation the wine is aged five years in French barriques then a further year in bottle.   A real treat!

7. Le Must de Landiras Graves Supérieurs 2004 (Direct from Château)

Le Must de Landiras

White Graves – particularly those from the subregion of Pessac-Léognan – are in my opinion the most underappreciated of all Bordeaux wines.  Even less commonly known are the sweeter wines from the area – and to be honest the average wine drinker would be hard pressed to know when there’s often no mention of sweetness on the bottle, they are just “expected to know” that “Graves Supérieures” indicated higher sugar rather than higher quality.

Being close to Sauternes shouldn’t make the production of sweet wines a surprise, but then few people carry a map around in their head when tasting!

Simply put, this is probably the best sweet Graves I’ve ever had.  See this article for more details.

6. Longview Epitome Late Harvest Riesling 2013 (€16.99, O’Briens)

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Riesling in Australia is nearly always bone dry and dessert wines usually use Semillon for late harvest styles or Rhône varieties for fortifieds, but when done well they can be sensational.

This was such a hit at the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting that two other of my fellow wine writers picked it out for recommendation, namely Richie Magnier writing as The Motley Cru and Suzi Redmond writing for The Taste.  Imagine the softness of honey with the fresh zip of lime at the same time – something of a riddle in your mouth, but so moreish!

5. De Trafford Straw Wine 2006 (€29.50 (375ml), Kinnegar Wines)

de trafford strawwinelabel00-1_m

In its home region of the Loire, Chenin Blanc comes in all different types of sweetness, with and without botrytis.  Its natural acidity makes it a fine grape for producing balanced sweet wines.

David Trafford picks the Chenin grapes for his straw wine at the same time as those for his dry white, but then has the bunches dried outside for three weeks before pressing. After a very long fermentation (the yeast takes a long time to get going in such a high sugar environment) the wine is matured in barriques for two years.

I had the good fortune to try this delicious wine with David Trafford himself over dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar – for a full report see here.  Apricot and especially honey notes give away the Chenin origins, and layers of sweetness remain framed by fresh acidity.

 

4. Pegasus Bay Waipara “Encore” Noble Riesling 2008 (~£25 (375ml) The Wine Society

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This is the gift that keeps on giving…I bought my wife a six pack of this wine a few years ago, as it was one we really enjoyed on our honeymoon tour of New Zealand, and she is so parsimonious that we haven’t finished them yet!

This is in a similar vein to the Epitome Riesling but has more botrytis character – giving a mushroom edge, which is much nicer than in sounds – and additional bottle age which has allowed more tangy, tropical fruit flavours to develop and resolve.  A truly wonderful wine.

See this article for more details.

3. José Maria da Fonseca “Alambre” ® DO Moscatel de Setúbal 2008 (€6.45, Portugal)

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I had been meaning to try a Moscatel de Setúbal since a former colleague from the area told me about it.  A holiday to the Algarve provided the perfect opportunity, and I found this beauty in the small supermarket attached to the holiday complex we stayed in – at the ridiculous price of €6.45!

Moscatel / Muscat / Moscato is one of the chief grapes used for dessert wine around the Mediterranean – and can make very dull wines.  This is by some margin the best I’ve tasted to date!   I’m sure most people would swear that toffee had been mixed in, the toffee flavours are so demonstrative.

See this article for more details.

2. Chateau Dereszla Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2006 (€38.95 (500ml) The Corkscrew)

Château Dereszla Tokaji

Tokaji is one of the great sweet wines of the world – in fact it’s one of the great wines of the world full stop.  It’s usually a blend of a normal grapes and botrytised grapes in differing proportions, the actual blend being the main indicator of sweetness.

Apricot and marmalade are the first things which spring to mind on tasting this, though time has added toffee and caramel notes.  This is the sort of wine that I would happily take instead of dessert pretty much any time!

See this article for more details.

 

1. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2013 (Liberty, from good wine merchants)

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I first came across this wine at Ely Wine Bar on my wife’s birthday a few years ago.  After a filling starter and main course neither of us had room for dessert, but fancied something sweet; Ely is a treat for winelovers as it has an unrivaled selection of wines by the glass, so like a kid in a sweetshop I ordered a flight of different sweeties for us to try:

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All four were lovely but it was the Ben Ryé which stood out.

At a later trade event put on by Liberty Wines, I noticed that this was one of their wines open for tasting.  With a room full of hardened trade pros (and myself) it was amusing to notice how many people just dropped by the sweet and fortified for a drop of this!

My mate Paddy Murphy of The Vine Inspiration also covered this wine.

 

Don’t forget to also check out Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz of 2015 and Top 10 Whites of 2015!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz of 2015

As I wrote several articles for Glass Of Bubbly Magazine in 2015 I had an understandable focus on fizz during the year, and I was fortunate to be invited to a number of excellent sparkling wine tastings.

Here are ten bottles of bubbles which impressed me during the year:

10. Cordorníu Anna Blanc de Noirs (€10, Madrid airport)

Cordoniu Anna Blanc de Noirs NV

Cordorníu Anna Blanc de Noirs NV

There is so much ordinary Cava around, especially in supermarkets, that’s it’s easy to look past the category completely.  The market is dominated by two large players, Freixenet and Cordorníu, whose everyday bottles are…everyday quality, at best.  Part of this is due to the indigenous grapes usually used, which are rarely seen in a bottle of fizz outside their homeland.

Cordorníu’s Anna range is a significant step up in quality, using Chardonnay for a Blanc de Blancs and Pinot Noir for a Blanc de Noirs.  In my Francophile eyes, using the two most renowned Champagne grapes for superior bottlings is no coincidence.  Pinot gives it some lovely red fruit flavours, and time on the lees adds beautiful brioche notes.  I was lucky to receive this as a present and shared it with wine blogger friends in early 2015.

9. Man O’War Tulia Blanc de Blancs 2009 (€37, O’Briens)

Tulia

Because of the importance attached to time spent on the lees in Champagne and other quality sparkling wine regions it is easy to forget that there is an alternative – time maturing in bottle after disgorgement.  It doesn’t give the same results, but here is an example of a delicious fizz which has had only nine months on the lees but a further five or more years in bottle.

Chardonnay is often lean and clean when used in fizz but Man O’War’s Waiheke Island grapes give Tulia sumptuous, ripe exotic fruit flavours.  This often sells out soon after a consignment arrives, so grab it while you can.

8. Champagne Oudinot Brut NV (€39, M&S)

Oudinot

One of the plus points of 2015 was getting much better acquainted with Marks and Spencer’s wine range, as I’ve only had the odd bottle from them previously.  This is their house Champagne (though not a private or own label) but deserves to be taken seriously as a wine.

The info from M&S states that it is 100% Chardonnay, though to me it tastes quite a bit richer than I’d expect if that were the case.  It does have crisp acidity and bright citrus notes which make it versatile and very drinkable.

7. Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-sec NV (N/A in Ireland)

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One of the surprises for me at the Grandes Marques Champagne tasting held in Dublin was the number and quality of the sweeter styles of Champagne.  So much so, in fact, that it inspired me to write a Glass Of Bubbly article titled “Sugar, Sugar – The Divergence of Sweetness in Champagne” (you know how I like a cheesy title).

Piper-Heidsieck’s offering in the sweeter category is dubbed “Sublime” – and it’s an apt moniker as it’s probably the best sweet sparkling I’ve ever tried.  Cuvée Sublime is assembled from over a hundred different base wines, aged and blended over four years. There’s something of a Danish pastry about it – candied fruit, pastry and sweet vanilla, just sumptuous!

6. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010 (Liberty)

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010 (credit: Nyetimber)

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010 (credit: Nyetimber)

The 2009 vintage was hailed as the best yet for Nyetimber, especially since the wife and husband team Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix took charge of winemaking.  Hearing that 2010 was even better still made me a touch wary of hype, but on tasting it I had to agree!

This is delicious now but I’m looking forward to tasting it with a little more age behind it.

5. Drappier Brut Nature Sans Soufre (POA, The Corkscrew)

BrutNatureSansSoufre

The Côtes des Bar is sometimes looked down upon by the Champenois of the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs, but in the hands of a great producer the vines down here can create magic. Champagne Drappier is one such producer, and although they have a majority of Pinot Noir vines, they also specialise in making Champagne from some of the almost forgotten – but still permitted – grapes of the region, including Arbane and Petit Meslier.

Furthermore, they have much lower sulphite levels than most other producers, requiring extremely fastidious handling and hygiene.  This bottle goes even further – it has no dosage, so is bone dry, but also no sulphur added at all.  Wonderfully aromatic on the nose, it is fresh and dry – though not austere – on the palate.  Brut zero Champagnes are often slightly out of kilter, but this doesn’t miss the sugar at all – the true sign of a great Champagne that lives up to the motto of “Vinosity and Freshness”!

4. R&L Legras Cuvée Exceptionelle St Vincent 1996 (€147, BBR)

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As Champagne vintages go, the debate over whether 1995 or 1996 was the better still continues.  This wine makes a strong case for the latter!  Old Chardonnay vines help produce intensely concentrated citrus flavours and aromas – and although it is now 20 years old it still tastes youthful – it should see out another 10 years without a problem.

R&L Legras is a small Grower based in the north of the Côte des Blancs, probably my favourite subregion of Champagne.  The quality of the wines is reflected in the number of Parisian Michelin starred restaurants which list them – the purity of the fruit is incredible.

3. Gusbourne Estate Late Disgorged Blanc de Blancs 2007 (Gusbourne Library)

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Although its first vintage (2006) was only released in 2010, Gusbourne Estate of Kent is already part of the top echelon of English sparkling producers, and is gradually expanding the range of wines it produces.  In addition to the regular Blanc de Blancs, Rosé and traditional blend, they also put aside a few bottles of their 2007 Blanc de Blancs for later disgorgement, i.e. it spent an additional three years in bottle on the lees on top of the normal three year ageing period.

Tasting it alongside the regular 2008 BdB showed the additional time made a huge difference to the wine – softer in acidity and sparkle, yet more textured, and oodles (technical term that!) of brioche character.  It was obviously still a sparkling wine yet had transcended that, just like mature Champagne does in its own way.

I feel privileged to have tried this and I look forward to more “experiments”!

2. Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2005 (€150, O’Briens, Mitchell & Sons)

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Bollinger La Grand Année Rosé 2005 standing out from its stablemates (Credit: R Magnier)

Even fans of Blankety Blank fizz like myself can’t help but love Bollinger with its richness and red fruit.  It has a fantastic reputation and image, yet unlike some Grandes Marques it delivers on those promises.  The non vintage Special Cuvée is probably the best big name NV you can get without spending silly money, and the prestige vintage La Grande Année (LGA) measures up well to the likes of Dom Pérignon at less than two thirds the price.

The Irish launch of LGA 2005 was held at the trendy Marker Hotel in Dublin.  To my surprise the LGA was actually outshone by another wine – its rosé counterpart!  I don’t normally choose rosé Champagne but this was outstanding – gingerbread, spice, strawberry and lemon plus toasted brioche.  Just a fabulous wine!

1. Krug Grande Cuvée NV

Krug

Krug is possibly the most prestigious sparkling wine in the world.  No ordinary NV this – Krug prefers the term “multi-vintage”.  In fact, this wasn’t even an ordinary bottle of Krug – it was one that I had been keeping in my wine fridge for several years and decided to crack open to celebrate my second blogaversary – I had been writing for two years to the day – just before the opening of new wine bar The Cavern.

Sipping it in the sun, watching people go by, was one of the most relaxing experiences I could imagine.  I managed to interpret the serial numbers on the bottle to find that it was bottled at least four years previously, which was reflected in the more mature notes coming through.

I love mature Champagne, and now I can say that I love mature Krug!

 

Also check out the Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2015.

 

 

 

Lidl French Reds for February

As well as their permanent range which has an emphasis on good value bottles for everyday drinking, discount supermarket Lidl also offer limited quantities of slightly more upmarket wines at different points during the year.

22nd February 2016 will see the Ireland launch of their special French wines, only available while stocks last – and some will be so limited that you’ll have to strike up a friendship with someone from Lidl Customer Services!

Here are 5 reds which impressed me, all from Bordeaux:

Château de Francs, Francs-Côtes de Bordeaux 2011 (€12.99)

Ch de Francs Francz-Côtes de Bordeaux 2011

Of the five I’ve chosen this is perhaps the most traditional in character, coming from a cooler year.  However, the producer has obviously gone to great lengths to make a fruit forward wine – blackcurrant, blackberry and plum compete for your palate’s attention, along with classic notes of pencil shavings and cedar wood.  Of the wines I’ve picked this has perhaps the most noticeable tannins, so it would shine with a steak!

The label shows 14.0% which is significantly higher than the vast majority of Bordeaux was when I cut my teeth on it in the early 90s – though that’s a story for another day.  It does give you an idea of the body and power this wine has – not for shrinking violets!

Fronsac Château de Carles 2008 (€17.99)

Ch de Carles 2008

Fronsac is close to St-Emilion and while it doesn’t have its neighbour’s cachet it is capable of producing some excellent wines, often priced favourably.  2008 was a good but not great year in general, but is often overlooked as the following 2009 and 2010 vintages were excellent.  Predominantly Merlot fruit gives big ripe plum and blackberry flavours; the tannins are very soft making this very drinkable indeed.  Would keep for several more years but at its peak now.

Château Cos Fontaine Francs-Côtes de Bordeaux 2010 (€12.99)

Ch Clos Fontaine Francs Cotes de Bordeaux 2010

Ripe fruit – mainly plum and blackberry – suggest a majority of Merlot in this right bank red.  At just over five years of age it is showing some development, so tannins have softened and fruit is settling in.  Being from the fantastic 2010 vintage helps to make it seriously drinkable, and a great bargain at that.

Josephine de Boyd Margaux 2009 (€24.99)

Josephine de Boyd Margaux 2009

Margaux is probably the most celebrated appellations of the Médoc, at its best producing silky feminine reds based on a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon but with a good proportion of Merlot and other minor players.  This is the second wine of Château Boyd Cantenac which was awarded Third Growth status in the 1855 Classification – obviously some time ago but still has some relevance today.  In a great year like 2009 it makes sense to go for a second wine as there is so much quality fruit on each estate that the second wine gets plenty rather than just whatever is left over after making the Grand Vin.

This is a great example of Margaux, silky and seductive, well structured and classy with a very long finish.

Fleur Quercus Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2010 (€24.99)

Fleur Quercus Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2010.jpg

Wow!  Another beauty from 2010, but this time a few rungs up the quality scale.  Saint-Emilion is a world famous part of Bordeaux (and a lovely little town to visit if you ever get the chance), which means some producers can cash in on the cachet.  Not here though, it is fully deserving of the appellation.

Intense black berry fruit is complemented by anise and other spices.  It’s soft, seductive and dangerously easy to drink – even at 14.0%.

Money no object, this was my favourite red of the whole tasting!

Also check out my Top 5 Whites from the same tasting.

Lidl French Whites for February

As well as their permanent range which has an emphasis on good value bottles for everyday drinking, discount supermarket Lidl also offer limited quantities of slightly more upmarket wines at different points during the year.

22nd February 2016 will see the Ireland launch of their special French wines, only available while stocks last – and some will be so limited that you’ll have to strike up a friendship with someone from Lidl Customer Services!

Here are 5 whites which impressed me:

Ernest Wein Alsace Pinot Blanc Pfaffenheim 2014 (€9.99)

Ernest Wein Alsace Pinot Blanc 2014

An underrated and understated grape; round in the mouth and very pleasant drinking, lovely apple and lemon fruit.  Great to drink on its own or with white fish or poultry.  A versatile wine that should please nearly everyone – and a steal at a tenner!

Roesslin Alsace Riesling 2014 (€9.99)

Roesslin Alsace Riesling 2014.jpg

If the Pinot Blanc was round then this is spiky – lots of fresh acidity with zippy lemon and lime fruit.  It’s not the most intense Riesling I’ve come across, but it’s a great introduction for newbies – and it’s varietally true enough to keep Riesling lovers (such as myself) happy.

P. de Marcilly Chablis 2014 (€12.99)

P de Marcilly Chablis 2014

WOW!  One of the best  AOP Chablis that I’ve tasted in a long time – it’s an appellation that often disappoints as bulk producers trade on the famous Chablis name, but this really delivers – textbook minerality with citrus fruits, and a little more body than I’d expect. Excellent value for money!

Chablis Premier Cru 2014 (€19.99)

Chablis Premier Cru 2014

This has all of the above and more – more concentration, more minerality, more body, more fruit…altogether a superior wine – it’s up to you whether you think it’s worth the €7 premium over the baby brother – if possible you need to try both at the same time to arrive at an informed decision.

André Saujot Pouilly-Fumé “Les Grandes Chaumes” 2014 (€14.99)

Andre Saujoy Pouilly Fume LesGrandes Chaumes 2014.jpg

So now to the Loire, and one of the most celebrated areas for Sauvignon Blanc. Gooseberry, grapefruit and grassiness are the dominant notes, with some stony minerality at the core. It doesn’t have the passionfruit tropical notes of a Marlborough savvy, but it’s tangy and delicious in its own right.  A great example of Loire Sauvignon.

 

Also check out my Top 5 Reds from the same tasting.

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2015

2015 has been an excellent year for wine in Dublin, especially from a personal perspective.  As well as the usual trade tastings, which one can never take for granted, I have been lucky enough to be invited to several excellent wine dinners and receive samples from many new suppliers and retailers – thanks to all.

Here are ten of the white wines which made a big impression on me during the year.  The order is somewhat subjective – this is wine tasting after all – and I’m sure the list would look a little different on another day.

10. Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC “Alchimie” 2014 (€14/€10, SuperValu)

Coteaux du Giennois Blanc-Alchimie

Coteaux du Giennois Blanc Alchimie 2014

A fruit driven Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, just outside Sancerre, which is just so damned drinkable. It has some of the explosiveness of a Marlborough savvy but more restrained, so it wouldn’t be out of place at the table. It’s well worth the regular price but is a total steal when on offer.  See more here.

9. Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.99, Honest 2 Goodness)

Domaine de Maubet

Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014

Whites from South West France continue to impress me with their intense, but balanced, flavours from mainly indigenous grapes – and all at keen prices.  This is one of the best I’ve ever tasted from the area.  See more here.

8. Château Mas “Belluguette” Coteaux de Languedoc 2012 (€20.95, Molloys)

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A premium white wine from the Languedoc, but without a silly price tag. This was one of the biggest surprises of the year – I just hadn’t been expecting such an exuberant white wine from the Languedoc.  The blend is: Vermentino 40%, Roussanne 30%, Grenache 20%, Viognier 10%, with each grape variety is vinified separately in oak barrels for a month.   50% of the blend goes through malolactic fermentation and it is blocked for the remainder. The final blend is then aged in 2/3 French and 1/3 American oak for 4 months.

Molloy’s wine consultant Maureen O’Hara dubbed this a “Dolly Parton” wine – I’d have to say it’s got a lot of front!

7. Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling, Central Otago (€19.99, Curious Wines)

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Although owned by a famous actor, this estate does not make “celebrity wine”. Pinot Noir is the speciality of Two Paddocks, with excellent premium and single vineyard bottlings, but they also make a small amount of Riesling, benefitting from the cool (almost cold!) climate of the southerly most wine region in the world.

“Picnic” is their more accessible, everyday range, for both Pinot and Riesling, and here we have the latter.  It’s just off-dry with lots of Golden Delicious apple, honey and citrus, with a fresh streak of acidity through the middle.  It actually reminded me of a still version of Nyetimber’s 2007 Blanc de Blanc, one of my favourite English sparklers!

6. Argyros Estate Santorini Atlantis 2013 (€15.49, Marks and Spencer)

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Argyros Estate Atlantis Santorini 2013

An excellent Assyrtiko based-blend from the Greek Island of Santorini, linked to the legend of Atlantis.  Old vines and steep slopes contribute to excellent intensity, with lemony flavours and floral aromas.  Such a drinkable and versatile wine.

See more here.

5. Soalheiro Alvarinho Reserva DOC Vinho Verde 2012 (€35.99, Black Pig, JN Wine)

Soalheiro

Soalheiro Alvarinho Reserva 2012 (Credit: Via Viti)

Yes you read that correctly, this is a €35 Vinho Verde!  However, although it shares geography and grape variety with many Vinho Verdes, it is made in a totally different style.  It retains the central fresh core of Alvarinho (aka Albariño in Galicia) yet has a creamy complexity from oak and lees stirring.

In one of the first DNS tastings of 2015 this was tied neck and neck with Rafael Palacios’ famous As Sortes – it’s that good.  See the full article on The Taste here.

4. Hugel Pinot Gris “Jubilee” 2000 (€52 in West Restaurant @ The Twelve Hotel)

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Hugel Pinot Gris “Jubilee” 2000 (Credit: Hugel)

 

One of the highlights of 2015 was a trip away to The Twelve Hotel in Barna, just outside Galway City, to celebrate my wife’s birthday.  It’s our favourite hotel in Ireland, and one that we choose for special occasions. Check out their full wine list here.

Hotel Restaurant wine lists can often be very dull / safe / boring, depending on your point of view, so it warms the cockles of this wino’s heart to see such a well put together list.  It was General Manager & Sommelier Fergus O’Halloran who first got me into Pecorino (see here), but on this occasion it was something else which was really worth writing home about.

Hugel is one of the two large and well-known family producers in Alsace, the other being Trimbach which also sports yellow labels on its bottles. Both are located in achingly pretty villages and have excellent ranges. Jubilee signifies Hugel’s premium range, made from fruit in their Grand Cru Sporen and Pflostig vineyards.  As a general rule I like Pinot Gris to have some sweetness to go with the distinctive apricot & honey flavours and oily texture – this doesn’t disappoint!  Getting a fifteen year old wine of this quality for €52 in a restaurant is amazing!

3. Albert Bichot Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru “Moutonne” Monopole 2012 (€109.95, The Corkscrew)

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This was the highlight of a focused burgundy tasting given upstairs at Stanley’s by Ben and Barbara of WineMason. As a big fan of Chablis, especially Premier and Grand Cru, I was excited to taste the area’s famous “eighth Grand Cru”.  There are seven Grands Crus recognised by the French national appellations organisation (INAO), though those names appear after “Appellation Chablis Grand Cru Contrôlée”.  La Moutonne is recognised, however, by the Chablis (UGCC) and Burgundy (BIVB) authorities.

The majority of the Moutonne vineyard (95%) is in the Grand Cru Vaudésir with a small part (5%) in Grand Cru Preuses, so you’d expect it to taste almost identical to Albert Bichot’s Grand Cru Vaudésir, which is made in the same way – but it doesn’t!  This is put forward as a reason why Moutonne deserves its own Grand Cru status – but equally it might indicate that several Chablis Grand Crus are not homogenous across their climats.  An interesting debate which needs further research – and I volunteer!

Whatever the nomenclature, it’s a stunning wine – beautifully intertwining minerality, citrus, floral notes and a light toastiness from 25% oak.

2. Gulfi Carjcanti 2011 (€35 – €38, JN Wine and others)

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From South east Sicily comes something unlike anything you’ve tasted before – at least, a single wine containing all the flavours and aromas expressed by this wine.  Tasted with family member Matteo Catani, this is a truly remarkable wine – it showed anise, almond, citrus, apple, and a hint of oxidation which added interest but did not detract from the fruit.

When many producers are churning out identikit Cabernets and Chardonnays, wines that are different and interesting like this really grab the attention.

 

and finally….

1. Craiglee Sunbury Chardonnay 2011 (€33.95, winesdirect.ie, also available by the bottle and by the glass at Ely Wine Bar)

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If you read my favourite White Wines of 2013 or 2014 then the fact that my favourite white tasted in 2015 is a Chardonnay shouldn’t be a surprise.  I might be predictable, but it’s my favourite grape so I won’t apologise.

From a less well known part of Victoria, it shows butterscotch and toasty vanilla round a citrus core.  It’s not the most expensive wine in my listing, and probably not the “finest”, but it is beautifully balanced and the one that I would most fancy opening at anytime!

Make Mine A Double #11 – Keep up your pecker with Pecorino!

Offida (Credit: Pizzodisevo)

Offida (Credit: Pizzodisevo)

It’s no secret that I don’t like cheese – in fact I hate the damned stuff – so it should come as no surprise that a wine with the same name as a prominent cheese was waaay down the list of new tipples for me to try.

Thankfully, Pecorino doesn’t taste of its namesake cheese, though there are unconfirmed rumours that they happen to go well together.  I took the plunge a few years ago after I noticed it on the by-the-glass list at West (the restaurant of The Twelve Hotel in Barna, near Galway), which has an excellent list all round, put together by General Manager & Sommelier Fergus O’Halloran.

Since then I’ve tried many Pecorinos? Pecorini? Pecorino-based wines that I’ve liked. The majority come from the Marche region of Italy which doesn’t get as many wine column inches as Tuscany, Piedmont and others, but has its unique charms.  As an interesting alternative to the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio the white wines of the area are popping up in more and more merchants, supermarkets and restaurants.

Here are a couple of contrasting examples that I’ve tried recently:

Umani Ronchi Terre di Chiete IGT Pecorino 2014 (€14.99, Marks and Spencer)

Terre di Chieti Pecorino

Terre di Chieti Pecorino

{Disclosure: sample kindly provided for review on request}

This is a relatively straightforward example of the grape,which sports a modest 12.5% alcohol.  Healthy grapes are cold fermented in stainless steel tanks to retain fresh fruity flavours.  It doesn’t go through “malo” (malolactic fermentation) so keeps zippy acidity, but does spend four to five months on the lees for additional texture and flavour.

Compared to many Italian whites, especially though of the 1990s, this is a well made wine which can still do the main job of accompanying seafood, but has enough about it to be enjoyed on its own.  If you’re having smoked salmon anytime soon (you know the season to which I’m referring) then this would be a perfect partner!

Le Caniette ‘Io Sono Gaia Non Sono Lucrezia’ Pecorino, Offida DOCG 2012 (€29.95, Honest 2 Goodness)

Io Gaia Sono La Canietta

Le Caniette ‘Io Sono Gaia Non Sono Lucrezia’ Pecorino

Recognisably the same grape, but in a different style, this Pecorino is unlike any of the others I’ve tasted.  It’s oaked!  This might seems a strange thing to do to a fresh zippy grape, but then this approach has been followed for Sauvignon Blanc (Cloudy Bay Te Koko, Torres Fransola) and Godello (Rafael Palacios As Sortes) among others.

Whereas the Umani Ronchi above is an IGT, this is a fully classified DOCG.  Ripe grapes are hand-picked and collected in small boxes for minimal bruising under their own weight. The gentle treatment treatment continues in the winery, followed by 12 to 14 months ageing in barriques, plus 4 months bâtonnage.

This wine first came to my attention at an Honest 2 Goodness tasting attended by a large contingent from DNS Wine Club – it was the standout bottle from the whole tasting in my view.  Further reflection with a full bottle reinforced this – the oak is in no way dominant, and adds another dimension to the flavour profile rather than riding roughshod over the tangy citrus fruit.  This DOCG wine’s alcohol is a couple of notches higher than the IGT at 13.5% which matches the texture and mouthfeel well.

So how do the wines compare given their disparity in price?  Both are great wines, and great value for money.  For me it just depends on my mood, and what / who I’m drinking the wine with, which would determine which of them I popped open on any particular day.

 

Further reading: Make Mine a Double Index

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #04 – Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009 (#MWWC20)

Q: When is a variety not a variety? Bear with me, for I have an answer…

Having unexpectedly won Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #19 (#MWWC19) with this entry on choosing a Burgundy, I was given the winner’s prerogative of choosing the theme for #MWWC20.  The least I could do is enter myself – and it has pushed me into finally starting on a topic I have been meaning to explore for nearly two years – clones. In the fullness of time I will get into more detail (and that article will of course be called “Attack of the Clones”), but for now here’s an introduction.

“Variety” has lots of different meanings, even within the sphere of wine. The most common usage is for a type of grape, cépage in French. Thankfully, Jeff the Drunken Cyclist has already dealt with my bête noir of confusing variety (grape type) and varietal (wine made from a particular grape). The most technically correct term is actually cultivar, as pretty much all wine is made from cultivated grapes, but variety works for me.

Why is variety so important? Overall, it’s the single most important factor affecting the taste of a wine.  Yes, terroir can be very important, but that’s actually shorthand for a whole host of factors.  Additionally, (and subsequently), the way many wine drinkers outside Europe express their vinous preferences is by grape – and a fair share of those within Europe as well.

However, there are different versions of most grape varieties, and they are known as clones. These clones have subtly different characteristics, often adaptations from centuries of growing in particular places. Sometimes grape growers assist in this process by taking cuttings from the best performing vines and propagating them.

The last few decades have seen an increasingly scientific approach taken, with institutions and nurseries classifying existing and developing new clones which will thrive best in different soils and climates, or give a particular style of wine at the end. For example, producers aiming to make a richer, buttery style of Chardonnay might often chose to plant Mendoza Chardonnay clones, as their thicker skins and smaller berries make them suitable for a Meursault style.

So now for a varietal wine which involves a lot of variety from within a single grape variety (it will make sense, I promise):

Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009 (€23.99, jnwine.com)

Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009

Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009

Quinta da Falorca is one of four vineyards which are part of the larger Quinta Vale Das Escadinhas in the Silgueiros sub-region of Dão in central Portugal. It was established on south-facing steep banks of the river Dão over a century ago by the Costa Barros de Figuerido family.

The Dão wine region in central Portugal (Credit: Elapsed)

The Dão wine region in central Portugal (Credit: Elapsed)

The Dão is home to dozens of indigenous grapes varieties, with the most popular being Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen, Alfrocheiro Preto and Encruzado.  Indeed, the region is actually the original home of Touriga Nacional which is so vital in the Douro.  To honour this fact the Dão DOC regulations require a minimum 20% of Touriga Nacional in red wines.  

Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009

Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009

So it’s a good producer, but what’s so special about this bottle?  The name “T-Nac” gives us a clue that it’s made from Touriga Nacional, but that’s just the start.  It’s made from 100% Touriga Nacional, but 31 different clones of that variety!  It says something of the history of the area that over 30 clones of a single grape have been identified, and a lot more about a producer that can grow and vinify them!

Unlike some traditional style Dão wines it isn’t chock full of tannins from over-extraction, nor is it sullied by oak like some of the more modern style wines.  Instead it plots a happy medium course with excellent juicy black fruit fruit and fine-grained tannins that give it a real savoury edge.  This is a wine to pair beautifully with a steak or a hearty beef stew – in fact, a small glass in the stew would be perfection.

My thanks for the sample to JN Wines who will be showing this (and many other wines) at their Portfolio Tasting:

Time: Friday 6th November 18.00 – 20.00

Venue: Smock Alley Theatre, 6-8 Exchange Street Lower, Dublin 8

Tickets €15 online from Smock Alley

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #03 – Salwey RS Weissburgunder 2013

Pinot Blanc grapes (Credit: themightyquill)

Pinot Blanc grapes (Credit: themightyquill)

As I frequently say, to those who will listen (and even those who won’t), Pinot Blanc is an under-rated grape.  It is most widely produced as a varietal in Alsace, Northern Italy (as Pinot Bianco) and Germany (as Weissburgunder), though often plays an unheralded part of blends there as well.  Even the English are getting in on the act (yes Stopham Estate, I’m looking at you!)

When made in a sympathetic way, Pinot Blanc can be both fruity and fresh, with a little bit of body, making it very versatile at the table.  Unfortunately, the powers that be in Alsace (primarily the CIVA and INAO) don’t allow Pinot Blanc wines to be granted Grand Cru status when made on the best sites, yet Muscat (in my opinion not as good a grape in Alsace) based wines are permitted under Grand Cru appellations.

Might other Pinot Blanc regions have an answer to this quality dilemma?

In advance of their Meet the Winemaker Portfolio tasting on Friday 6th November (also more details here), JN Wines kindly sent me a bottle of German Pinot Blanc, labelled of course as Weissburgunder (the white grape from Burgundy).  It’s quite simply the finest example of the grape I’ve ever tasted!

Salwey RS (Reserve Salwey) Weissburgunder 2013 (jnwine.com, €21.99)

Salwey RS (Reserve Salwey) Weissburgunder 2013

Salwey RS (Reserve Salwey) Weissburgunder 2013

From the Kaisterstuhl (the “Emperor’s Chair”) hills in the wine region of Baden comes Weingut Salwey, producer of several Burgundy varietals.  The Reserve Salwey range is made with fully ripe grapes from older vines, vinified to dryness (Trocken is helpfully stated on the back label).  White wines are matured in a mixture of large vats (80%) and barriques (20%).

Salwey

Salwey

The oak ageing is perceptible on the nose, but doesn’t dominate the apple and citrus aromas.  These all flow through to the palate, which is given additional weight by the micro-oxygenation from time spent in wood.  It’s a lovely wine which is very enjoyable on its own (just don’t drink it too cold!) or paired with lighter fish and poultry.

Considering the quality, this is an absolute bargain!

Upcoming Public Wine Events in Dublin

[Updated 12th November]

There are lots of upcoming wine events in Dublin that are open to the public – let’s spread the love and spread the word.  Here are some of the bigger events that I recommend:

O’Briens Winter Wine Fair 

Times: Friday 13th November 18.00 – 21.00, Saturday 14th 13.00 – 16.00, 17.00 – 20.00

Venue: Round Room, Mansion House, Dublin 2

Tickets €20 / €15 / €20 on the O’Briens website

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They say: This year there will be over 50 of the world’s most renowned wineries represented and you will have the opportunity to meet the winemakers, and taste up to 250 wines.  All proceeds from the ticket prices go towards our charity partners Jack & Jill Children’s foundation.

I say: Fantastic event, so many great wines to taste that it pays to plan out in advance which ones you want to try.  The tables get busier towards the end of the evening so it’s good to get there on time and start tasting!

Honest 2 Goodness Christmas wine tasting

Time: Thurs 26th November 19.30 – 21.30..

Venue: H2G Café, 136a Slaney Close, Dublin Industrial Estate, Dublin 11

Tickets €30 (Wine Club members) or €35 (Non-Wine Club members) book by email

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They say: Our Christmas Wine Tasting will take place on Thurs 26th of November, where you will be tasting unmissable Christmas Wines carefully selected by us to ensure that whatever you are planning to have over the Christmas, we will have some great suggestions for the wines to match, from party wines to the one special bottle for that Christmas Day dinner!

We will also be serving H2G Canapes and nibbles.  We hope to have our usual Jazz Band with us for the Christmas Tasting evening, they haven’t confirmed for sure just yet…

I say: H2G import a fantastic selection of wines, mainly from Europe, and often family producers who follow organic or sustainable practices.  If the Jazz Band play you won’t know whether to sip your wine or tap your feet!  See my write up of the big tasting last summer here.