I Know What I Like – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – Part 2

To recap from part one, a phrase often declared by novice wine drinkers is “I know what I like”, with the follow on (usually unspoken) being “I know what wine is best for me and I won’t try anything else”.  Now, I’m not going to tell those people they are wrong (as such!) – I just want to give those that are hesitant to try something other than their favourite type a path which they could explore.

Here’s a reminder of the four steps I covered in the New Zealand-centric part one:
Step 1 – Buy A Better Brand
Step 2 – Pay More! (Trade Up)
Step 3 – Same Again, But With A Twist!
Step 4 – Head Down The Road

Now we can explore alternative sources of Sauvignon Blanc from outside New Zealand.

Step 5 – Going Back To My Roots

Before the Marlborough revolution, Sauvignon Blanc was most closely associated with the Loire Valley in France – Touraine, Pouilly Fumé and especially Sancerre.  Indeed for some, the latter is still the best place to get SB, particularly for short to medium term ageing and a mineral subtlety that Marlborough often lacks.  Like many European appellations, the quality does vary significantly as some producers prioritise quantity over quality and trade off the good name of others.  Probably the best producer is Henri Bourgeois – see here for a great blog post from Confessions Of A Wine Geek.

Of course, as this is France you are expected to know the grapes belong to each appellation.  The upper Loire has a grouping of Sauvignon Blanc based whites – the aforementioned Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé (not be confused with the Maconnais’s Pouilly Fuissé) Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly (not to be confused with the Chardonnay based Rully of the Côte Chalonnaise).  The best have a distinct purity and racy acidity with subtle smoky gunflint aromas and flavours that can pair amazingly well with food.

Touraine is further towards the west and is a different proposition; it’s generally not as intense as those mentioned above but it is very reliable and very reasonably priced.  As most who holiday in France know, a few bottles of Touraine are always a good bet from the supermarché.

Step 6 – The Inbetweeners

South Africa is usually classified as a “New World” country when it comes to wine, even though Constantia’s dessert wines were imported into Europe as far back as the 18th Century.  In terms of style it lies somewhere between the stereotypical bright fruit of Australia and California and the reserved, subtle minerality of France and Italy.  Of course that’s a sweeping generalisation, but hey, wine has plenty of those!

So which should you try?  La Motte from Franschoek usually offer great value (though their organic version doesn’t taste appreciably better for a lot more money) Klein Constantia make claim to a foundation year of in 1685 (see, I wasn’t making it up) and also have a great QPR.  Jordan of Stellenbosch (known as Jardin in the US to avoid confusion with Jordan of California) make a regular and barrel-fermented SB.  Also look out for Paul Cluver from Elgin,  Springfield Estate and Graham Beck.

Step 7 – Better Than It Ever Was

As I mentioned in my favourite sweet wines of 2013, a lot of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc was actually no such thing.  Instead, it was more likely to be a mutation called Sauvignon Vert or Sauvignonasse – the pronunciation of the latter gives you an idea of its quality – a bunch of arse!

Vary rarely do I ever find a wine so unpalatable that I can’t finish it, and being a Yorkshireman I hate to see wine go to waste, but the last bottle I couldn’t finish was a cheapo Chilean SB I picked up at the corner shop.  I tried chilling it within an inch of its life, then added some crème de cassis to make a bastardised kir, but even that wasn’t enough – down the sink it went!

But such examples are becoming more and more rare nowadays; if you chose a good brand you will rarely be disappointed.  Not only are the vine types improving, but also the Chilean wine industry is continuing to explore new sites around the country.  With its envious geography, the required coolness can come from altitude (into the Andes), latitude (south towards Antarctica) or cool sea breezes near the coast.  The best is definitely yet to come!

A long-time staple for me was Errazuriz; fruity refreshing and reliable – if you find one of their single vineyard bottlings then it’s definitely worth a punt.  Viña Leyda’s single vineyard Garuma Sauvignon Blanc Valdivieso’s Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and Viña Litoral’s Sauvignon Blanc all show the rising star for SB: the Leyda Valley.

Step 8 – Over The Ditch

I’m a big fan of (good) Aussie wine, but there’s an awful lot of very average industrial plonk made in the large irrigated inland areas of NSW, SA and Victoria.  The Australian wine industry is quite jealous at the success of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc.  Much of their land under vine has a climate too warm to make good varietal SB – in particular it doesn’t cool down enough at night in summer.  SB is grown in bulk but is often blended with other grapes, especially Semillon (as the classic white Bordeaux blend), Chardonnay or Colombard.

So where is reasonable Aussie Savvy made?  A couple I would recommend trying are both from (relatively) cool parts of South Australia: Shaw + Smith of Adelaide Hills (who make the M3 Chardonnay that I rave about) and Katnook Estate of Coonawarra (who make fantastic varietal Cabernet, amongst others).

And if you are feeling slightly adventurous, try a Sauvignon/Semillon blend from Margaret River – there are several excellent producers such as Vasse Felix, Cullen, Cape Mentelle and Xanadu.

Step 9 A Tale Of Two Rivers

Bordeaux is world famous for its red wines, and to a large extent the Bordelais template for fine red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon blends aged in barriques) has been copied around the globe.  According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, white wine production has fallen significantly down to around 10% of the total – but as Bordeaux is such a large region this still means there’s a lot of white made here.

Although Sauvignon Blanc is most likely to have originated in the Loire Valley, it has been around in Bordeaux for several centuries.  Nowadays it is one of the main white grapes of the area, either as a single varietal or blended with Sémillon (and sometimes a dash of Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc or even Sauvignon Gris).  The sweet wines of Sauternes, Barsac, Loupiac and other appellations are based on the traditional blend but I will not cover them further here.

The two main rivers of Bordeaux are the Dordogne and the Garonne, and whites made in the large expanse between them can use the appellation Entre Deux Mers (calling a river a sea is somewhat hyperbolic!)  This is the origin of a large proportion of dry Bordeaux white, ranging in quality from very average to very good, though rarely excellent.  Chateau Bonnet is a mid range oaked blend which I covered here.

The best of all Bordeaux whites tend to come from the Pessac Léognan subregion, part of the Graves area to the south west of the city.  Many Chateaux make both red and white wines, and for some the whites command higher prices than the reds.  Château de France and Château de Fieuzal are personal favourites, expressing their oak maturation distinctly on the nose and palate.

One of the lesser Châteaux I discovered on my travels many years ago is located in the Côtes de Bourg.  In both reds and whites, Château de Rousselet is a great example of small producers who are modernising, and offer both oaked and unoaked versions of their wines – fantastic value.  The Château itself is really just a grand farmhouse, and the owners are more likely to be seen driving a tractor than a flash car.

 

Also check out the Sauvignon Blanc masterclass at the beginning of my post on the New Zealand trade tasting in January.

Part 3 will consider some non-Sauvignon Blanc based wines which might appeal as alternatives to the might of Marlborough.

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The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe

Well not quite (sorry Douglas), but this was the meal to end all meals.  The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that some of the wines included in my “Best Of 2013″ posts had an asterisk (one of these: * , not a Gaullish resistance warrior) by them.

Just before Crimble last year we invited four friends (two couples) round for dinner, ostensibly for my wife Jess to have a dry run at making beef wellington, but it ended up being a big night!

Aperitif & Champagne

Selection of olives and nuts with:

  • Varnier-Fannière Brut Zero NV
  • Varnier-Fannière Grand Vintage 2006

The saline quality of the Brut Zero was particularly fine with the salt in the olives and nuts

Starter & White Wine

Pea, Chili & Coriander Soup with soda bread and:

  • Sullivan’s Cove Tasmanian Sauvignon Blanc 2010
  • Zind-Humbrecht Alsace Pinot Gris “Heimbourg” 2002

Both were good, though not perfect matches; the texture of the Pinot Gris was outstanding.

Main Course & Red Wine

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Beef Wellington and roasted vegetables and:

  • Penfolds Bin 95 Grange South Australia Shiraz 1996
  • Penfolds Bin 95 Grange South Australia Shiraz 1997
  • Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

Beef with mature beefy wines?  Perfect match!

Dessert & Dessert Wine

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Dessert Wine Selection

Fresh Fruit Meringue with:

  • Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001
  • Pegasus Bay “Encore” Noble Riesling 2008
  • Arthur Metz Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles 2007
  • Domaine Engel Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Noble 2010

The phrase “gilding the lily” springs to mind – but what the heck, you don’t get to do this very often.

It will take a lot to top this!

My Favourite Wines of 2013 – The Sweet Stuff

Following on from my favourite reds, favourite whites and favourite fizz of 2013, below is a selection of my favourite sweet wines from last year.

Sweet wines are under-appreciated and undervalued.  They are expensive to make and can show intensely concentrated aromas and flavours that make you savour every last single drop.  As they are generally unfashionable at the moment they are great value for money!

So, any trends in my choices?  Of course!  Call me predictable if you like:

  1. Alsace features highly – no surprise given that it’s one of my favourite wine regions in the world, and makes some fine sweet wines.
  2. The majority are Late harvest and / or Noble Rot styles (see below) rather than using wines made using air dried harvested grapes, Icewine, fortifieds or wines sweetened after fermentation (e.g. German Süssreserve).

Domaine Bruno Sorg Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 2007

Bruno Sorg, Eguisheim

Bruno Sorg, Eguisheim, Alsace

Domaine Bruno Sorg in Eguisheim was one of the “must visit” places for our family trip to Alsace in 2013, one of the few we wanted to see again after visiting the year before.  They produce the whole range of Alsace wines, from Crémant and basic (but great value) Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner, Grand Cru wines and Marc.

After tasting our way through most of the range, I’d decided on Pinot Blanc and a variety of Rieslings as the wines to buy for home.  Almost as an afterthought we asked to try the Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles (SGN), a dessert wine made from grapes affected by noble rot (which sounds only slightly better than the scientific name of botrytis cinerea), a fungus which dries out grapes and concentrates the flavours under certain favourable conditions.  The German equivalent is Trockenbeerenauslese, thankfully known as TBA for short.

And it was pure, heavenly nectar.  When we had finished our tasting samples we almost broke the glasses open to get at the last few drops inside.  Thankfully the tasting room manager gave us a drop more while he packed our order.  He did mention that the SGN is only produced in years where quantities are abundant, in the first place, so that they have enough left over from the grape quotas required to make the regular dry wines.  Additionally, there needs to be significant humidity (e.g. through fog) so that botrytis is encouraged, but so much that it turns to grey rot which is undesirable.

At €57 for a half bottle it worked out at twenty times the price of a regular Pinot Blanc…but it was stunning, probably the best sweet wine I have ever tasted.

Pegasus Bay “Encore” Noble Riesling 2008*

Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling 2008

Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling 2008

Peg Bay’s vineyards are in the Waipara district of Canterbury, just north of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island.  As well as great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, they do several different Rieslings: Bel Canto is dry and produced every year, Aria is a late harvest made roughly two in every three years, and Encore is a botrytis style only produced in exceptional years when the conditions are right.

The 2008 Encore is full of exotic and citrus fruit on the nose, with tones of mushroom from the the botrytis.  It is fabulously concentrated on the palate, sweetly succulent and honeyed but balanced by fresh acidity which stops it from being cloying.

Oremus Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2000

Oremus Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2000

Oremus Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2000

Long time readers might remember my Restaurant Review of Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill, Dublin where I mentioned the production process for Tokaji.  The bottle above which I saved until Christmas was getting deep in colour from bottle age, but the sugar levels from 5 Puttonyos and high acidity meant it was still in the spring of youth.  It showed the classic apricot and mandarin flavours with hints of mushroom (weird, but not out of place) from the botrytis.

Oremus is owned by the Ribero del Duero house of Vega Sicilia – what a name to have behind you!


 

What’s in a name?  Variations on the name Tokay have been used for several very different wines in different countries.  Hold on to your hats, this can get very confusing…

  1. Alsace Pinot Gris – before 1994 it was referred to as Tokay d’Alsace, thereafter Tokay Pinot Gris, but that name has also been prescribed since the 2007 vintage.  Even in drier versions, this is a rich, oily wine.
  2. Tocai Friulano, meaning Tocai from Friuli (near Venice in NE Italy) is a synonym of Sauvignon Vert, (sometimes called Sauvignonasse), a mutation of Sauvignon Blanc which is responsible for a lot of the substandard Chilean swill labelled as the latter.  See also the Merlot / Carmenère labelling Snafu.  What is it with the Chileans and grape names?  Slovenia is just next door and has also had to relabel their Tocai, this time as Sauvignonasse.
  3. Rutherglen Topaque, a fortified wine made from Bordeaux’s minor Muscadelle grape, used to be known as Tokay.  Confusingly, Muscadelle planted in California is sometimes known as Sauvignon Vert
  4. Hungarian Tokaji (Anglicised to Tokay) – the real deal!

 Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001*

Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001

Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001

Vendange Tardive (VT) is the Alsace version of the German Spätlese, both meaning late harvest.  From a technical point of view VT is actually a closer equivalent to Auslese, the next rung up on the Germanic ladder.  As grapes continue to ripen on the vine their sugar content increases, meaning higher potential alcohol and thus a potentially sweeter wine, depending on when the winemaker stops fermentation.

This particular VT is suffixed with an s on each word – the plural often indicates that several passes have been made through the vineyard to pick the grapes when they are perfectly ripe.  Trimbach is one of the biggest names in Alsace, noted for their excellent dry Rieslings, but they also produce excellent VTs and SGNs when conditions allow.  Gewurztraminer is an excellent grape for making Vendange Tardive as it is naturally high in sugar.

Arthur Metz Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles 2007*

Arthur Metz Gewurztraminer 2007 Sélection de Grains Nobles

Arthur Metz Gewurztraminer 2007 Sélection de Grains Nobles

Arthur Metz is predominantly a Crémant d’Alsace specialist, but sometimes other bottlings are seen on the shelves – this was picked up at random from a French supermarché.  This SGN is made in the Grand Cru Steinklotz, the most northerly of Alsace’s Grand Cru vineyards, which gives it a lighter texture than some other Gewurztraminer SGNs.

Domaine Engel Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Noble 2010*

Domaine Engel Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Noble 2010

Domaine Engel Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Noble 2010

Labels have to be studied carefully in Alsace as there are many common family names among vintners, sometimes closely related and sometimes distant branches of the family tree.  For example there are both Louis Sipp and Jean Sipp in Ribeauvillé plus Sipp Mack a few clicks away over the hill in Hunawihr.

Similarly, this is made by Domaine Fernand Engel et Fils of Rorschwihr rather than Domaine Engel Frères Christian & Hubert of Orschwiller – and it’s wonderful.  Hopefully someday I will get to do a multiple Alsace family taste-off!

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My Favourite Wines of 2013 – Fizz

Following on from my favourite reds and favourite whites of 2013, here are a few of the sparklers which grabbed my attention last year.  There are a few patterns you might discern:

  1. They are all traditional method sparkling wines – I’ve had a few drinkable Proseccos, but nothing that has ever made me want to go and buy another bottle.  Although it appears on the face of it to be an inefficient production method, second fermentation in bottle seems to be the best way of making quality fizz.
  2. They are heavily weighted towards Champagne – this reflects that region’s preeminent standing in the world of sparkling wine and the fruits of several visits in person.  Franciacorta and decent Cava are on my 2014 Wine Resolutions.

Dom Pérignon 1999

Dom Pérignon 1999

Dom Pérignon 1999

Possibly the most famous Champagne in the world, and definitely the biggest production of any prestige cuvée Champagne, Dom Pérignon is a byword for luxury.  However, behind all the razzmatazz, it’s still a wine (though not a…erm…still wine, obviously).

1999 was only the second time in the history of DP that three consecutive vintages were declared (I’m looking forward to a mini-vertical of 02/03/04 someday!)  It’s relatively full bodied in the mouth, almost a meal in itself (well it did replace bacon butties on Christmas morning!) but still with a citrus spine to the exotic fruit body.

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2003

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2003

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2003

I finally supped my last bottle (for now) of this tropical wonder.  If you cast your mind back a decade or so, 2003 was the summer of heatwaves across Europe.  In some parts of France, the heat was such that vines just shut down.  In Champagne, the extra ripe grapes made for a very different vintage – if indeed a vintage was declared at all.  Bollinger called their release “2003 by Bollinger” instead of the usual “Grande Année” and Krug only decided to release a vintage at all last month.

So how did the 2003 heatwave affect the sprinkling of vines in southern England?  In pretty much the same way, but because the climate is slightly cooler, the resultant wines still held on to some acidity.  The Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2003 is of course 100% Chardonnay, which tends to be on the lemon and lime side of the fruit continuum™, but here it also gives delicious tropical notes of pineapple, grapefruit and mango – almost like Lilt Champagne! (and yes that’s a good thing in my eyes.)

Louis Roederer Cristal 2005

Just a glass of this was enough to confirm why the luxury cuvée created for Tsar Alexander II is still so highly regarded.  The name comes from the flat-bottomed, transparent lead-crystal bottle – it has been suggested that this design made regicide by poison more difficult, though the lack of a punt underneath means that the bottle has to be made of thicker glass to withstand the pressure, and when on display Cristal is often wrapped in a decorative cellophane wrapper which blocks harmful ultraviolet light.

The 2005 vintage is still a baby – after all it has spent over five years maturing on the lees and a further eight months resting in bottle post disgorgement before release – so expect it to evolve for another five to ten years.  When tasted at the Dublin Wine & Fizz Fest hosted by Deveney’s of Dundrum, it showed lots of chewy brioche character with fresh lemon through the middle – a consequence of time on the lees and a little more Chardonnay (45%) than usual in the blend.

Varnier-Fannière Brut Zero NV*, Grand Vintage 2006* & Cuvée St Denis NV

Varnier-Fannière Grand Cru Brut Zero NV

Varnier-Fannière Grand Cru Brut Zero NV

Three wines from my favourite grower in Champagne, Denis Varnier, based in Avize on the Côte des Blancs.

The staple of any Champagne producer is their non-vintage (NV) Brut, which should be fairly dry.  The Brut Zero is made in exactly the same way as the regular Brut NV but without any sugar dosage in the liqueur d’expédition, the top up of wine after the dead yeast sediment has been expelled from the bottle.  This is a very fashionable style at the moment, dubbed “skinny Champagne” by some because of the lack of residual sugar, but it doesn’t always work; there has to be enough flavour from the underlying fruit and / or some autolytic character from the yeast to make it interesting, otherwise a Brut Zero can be table-grippingly acidic without anything to balance it.

Thankfully Denis has got it right!  This was served as an aperitif with olives, and was a perfect match; it didn’t feel it was lacking anything without added sugar.  It is pure and linear, with delightfully fresh citrus from the 100% Chardonnay grapes.

Varnier-Fannière Grand Vintage 2006

Varnier-Fannière Grand Vintage 2006

So what’s the difference here?  The most aromatic grapes from old vines are selected when the overall quality is good enough to make a single vintage wine.  After the second fermentation the minimum ageing is 36 months, though this is exceeded.  Production is much smaller than the NV and so allocations are limited to a dozen bottles per customer each year.

And finally, the Cuvée St Denis which is a non-vintage, though Monsieur Varnier probably regards it as a “multi-vintage”.  It is made exclusively from the first (and best) pressing of 65+ year old vines in a single vineyard in Avize called “Clos du Grand Père”.  However, the Clos is apparently is being ripped up and replanted (possibly because yields have fallen so low) so there won’t be any more Cuvée St Denis produced for the next decade or so – get it while you can!

Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV

The precise blend of grapes in this Champagne method sparkler is a secret, but it most probably has a majority of Chardonnay (allowed in AC Crémant d’Alsace but not AC Alsace) plus a splash of Pinot Blanc.  It is thus a blanc de blancs, but a very different BdB from the Pierre Gimonnet below – it is fresh, floral and citrus-driven, and so could be a perfect aperitif.  At €39.75 for three bottles direct from the winery it is also something of a bargain!

Those of you familiar with French wine may notice the “Cave de” at the beginning of a winery name, meaning cellar but nearly always signifying a cooperative.  The wine from some coops can be dreadful, just made with volume in mind and very little attention paid to quality.  The Cave de Turckheim (and several others throughout Alsace) have much more rigorous standards, with several quality levels ranging from basic everyday drinking (just one or two glasses, of course!) to Grand Cru stunners.  Furthermore, they produce different cuvées based on the type of soil in the vineyards that contribute grapes, whether it’s granite, clay and calcium or sand and pebbles.  You can test the effect of terroir for yourself!

Pierre Gimonnet Premier Cru Cuis Blanc de Blancs NV

Pierre Gimonnet 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs

Pierre Gimonnet 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs

I bought a case of six from The Wine Society as a relatively inexpensive fizz as it was on a case discount.  However, despite its modest price it turned out to be excellent fizz – it showed very well at a Sweeney’s-On-Tour summer barbecue and was one of the stars of the 2013 Glasnevin Fizz Fest.  The winery is in the premier cru village of Cuis where Didier Gimonnet’s family has been growing grapes since 1750, though they also own vines in other grand and premier cru villages.  As always with France, if there’s a blend of different quality levels then the lower level is what goes on the label.

This is unmistakably a 100% Chardonnay such is the streak of lemon and lime through it, though it has obviously spent more than the minimum of fifteen months ageing on the lees as there are lovely bready characters as well.  A typical Non-Vintage cuvée can contain as many as five different years’ wines; reserve wines are stored ready-blended in bottle to make future assemblage easier.

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My Favourite Wines of 2013 – The Whites

A long overdue follow up to my favourite reds of 2013.  See also my favourite fizz of 2013.

Zind-Humbrecht Alsace Pinot Gris “Heimbourg” 2002*

Zind-Humbrecht Heimbourg Pinot Gris 2000

Zind-Humbrecht Heimbourg Pinot Gris 2000

When you have your first taste of wine, and it’s good, you might nod appreciatively or even exclaim “mmm, that’s nice” (which my Mum says to everything from JP Chenet to Grange). But when we tasted this fine, fine example of Alsace Pinot Gris the reaction was an astonished “oh…” around the room as everyone stared at their glass and wondered how much depth of flavour could possibly come from a glass of wine.  It was almost like being told an age old secret about life, it was a moment I will never forget. Like many Alsace Pinot Gris this was off-dry, very rich and almost oily in viscosity.  It wasn’t a perfect match for the starter it was paired with, but that didn’t matter – it was happy by itself.  Zind-Humbrecht is one of the most quality-conscious houses in the region, run on biodynamic practices by the brilliant Olivier Humbrecht MW.  It has plots within several of the best Grand Cru vineyards, though this is a simple “lieu-dit”.

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011

One of the top few Chardonnays from New Zealand and a personal favourite; I try to taste one bottle of every vintage, but sometimes I don’t succeed – it’s several!  This wine featured in my post on the New Zealand Trade Tasting – I make no apologies for repeating myself, it deserves the plaudits.  Open a bottle from the fridge and see how it evolves over the next hour or so, if you are able to resist drinking it quicker than that.

Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Valley Semillon 2000

Tyrrell's Vat 1 Hunter Semillon 2000

Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Semillon 2000

When Neil McGuigan, 2012 International Winemaker of the Year in the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC), gave a tutored tasting at the pop-up vineyard in Temple Bar, he stated that Hunter Semillon is one of the two wine styles original to Australia and not reproduced elsewhere in the world.  The other is the less well known liqueur Muscat from Rutherglen (perfect with Xmas pudding!)

I agree with him there, though he also provocatively called Sauvignon Blanc a “second rate grape” (I think there’s a lot of jealousy of Marlborough’s success with savvy).  The beauty of Hunter Semillon is that it can be drunk young as light, fresh and citrus, but it also ages and develops magnificently over time.  Often light in alcohol but not the worse for it, it develops toasty notes with time in bottle.  For me, it’s a waste to drink it young.

The originator of the style is Tyrrell’s, one of the big names of the Hunter.  Almost causing a family feud, the head winemaker of the time kept back a batch of the company’s best Semillon and released it at six years of age.  Thankfully (for us all) it was a success, and now Vat 1 has a claim to best varietal Semillon in the world.

I opened this bottle at the end of last year, so it was over thirteen years from harvest – and it still tasted young and fresh, though with plenty of toast and honey coming through on the nose and palate.  I think this would continue improving for another five to ten years.

Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2010

Despite all the ABC (“Anything But Chardonnay”) naysayers, Aussie Chardonnay goes from strength to strength.  It has moved with the times, so more (relatively!) cool regions are used, picking is earlier, malolactic fermentation can be partially blocked and the use of oak is more judicious.  Margaret River has the Leeuwin Estate Art Series and Cullen Kevin John superstars, Penfolds maintains a multi-regional blend for its “white Grange” Yattarna and Victoria’s Giaconda produces fabulous Chardonnay near Beechworth.  This is the star of the Adelaide Hills and comes from a family firm

Trimbach Cuvée Frédérique Emile Alsace Riesling 2004

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling 2004

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling 2004

Trimbach are one of the oldest houses in Alsace, and also one of the biggest.  Like many of the larger producers they offer different quality levels at different price points.  The undisputed heavyweight champion is Clos Ste Hune Riesling, from a single walled vineyard within the Rosacker Grand Cru, up on the hills overlooking Ribeauvillé (probably my favourite town in Alsace).  This is a contender for best dry Riesling in the world and is “indestructible” according to Finian Sweeney of Sweeney’s wine merchants in Dublin.  This is a wine for the long haul, and has a pretty eye-watering price compared to most Alsace Riesling, though looks somewhat reasonable next to any Grand Cru Burgundy. Much more accessible and better value is the Riesling from the next tier down, the gold labelled Reserve Personnelle range’s Cuvée Frédéric Emile.  This is made from ripe low-yielding 45+ year old vines in the Geisberg and Osterberg climats, fermented to full dryness.  It has a mineral edge and an acidic backbone, but much more body and citrus flavour than the standard yellow label range.  This 2004 example was bought with birthday wine vouchers (you see mes amis, I am not that difficult to buy for!) and was showing plenty of development – the colour had deepened, the nose had started showing diesel notes on top of the citrus, and the palate opened out.  Friends who tasted this with me called it “the best Riesling they had ever tasted” – and I’d have to agree (so far).  Great value for money!

Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Casablanca Valley Chardonnay 2011

This is an old-fashioned premium Chilean Chardonnay.  I’m a sucker for the style in general, as long as it’s well executed.  The 2011 is still very young, and it would benefit from a couple of years so the oak and fruit integrate more.  This is a polarising wine.

Interestingly on Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages it receives two very differing reviews:

  1. Oaked like its going out of fashion. Which it is. Old fashioned new world Chardonnay – all tropical fruit and sweaty oak.  (15/20) [Richard Hemming]
  2. Sweet and spicy. Quite substantial but very satisfying. Finishes slightly suddenly after a great start. (16.5/20) [Jancis Robinson]

So, like a lot of issues in wine, it comes down to taste (sorry!) and personal preference.

State Of The Nation (Part 2): The Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin

Part 1 covered the big 3: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Now we turn our attention to the other varieties grown in the country of the Long White Cloud.

Riesling

As a self-confessed Riesling lover and fan of NZ wines, I find Kiwi Riesling a bit unsure of what it wants to be.  Acidity and flavour are never in doubt, but the residual sugar levels vary significantly from producer to producer – often without explanation on the front label – and don’t always result in a balanced wine.  For zing and purity stick to Clare Valley in South Australia, but there are some NZ gems out there.

Tohu Single Vineyard Riesling Awatere, Marlborough 2013

Zing!  Made in an Alsace, bone-dry style from the cooler Awatere part of Marlborough.  Very clean and linear on the palate, it might be a little too limey and intense for some on its own (though not for me!)  Would be fabulous with shellfish.

Yealands Estate Riesling Marlborough 2012

This is their slightly more premium Riesling, the junior range being “Peter Yealands”.  It tastes even drier than its 6g of Residual Sugar would suggest – that’s the acidity coming through.

Greywacke Riesling Marlborough 2011

This is made in an off-dry style not unlike Kabinett examples from Germany; it has 22g of residual sugar.  I got a strong flavour of chalk – more pleasant than it sounds – along with citrus and honey.

Siegfried Winemakers Collection Sweet Agnes Riesling Nelson 2012 

This full-on dessert style has nearly ten times the residual sugar of the Greywacke above.  It’s a heavenly liquor with luscious stone fruit, mandarin and buttered brioche – all balanced by ample acidity so it’s never cloying.  So moreish!

Syrah

Touted by some observers as the future of New Zealand red wine, Syrah grows best in the warmer parts of the country (Auckland, Waiheke, Hawke’s Bay) and is closer to the northern Rhone than the Barossa in style – very perfumed and elegant, restrained rather than powerful.  Although Syrah likes the heat is it more tolerant of different temperatures than Cabernet Sauvignon, for example.  Some producers are now experimenting with Syrah in Marlborough, watch this space!

Tinpot Hut Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2009

Fiona Turner hails from Hawke’s Bay, so it was natural that she would look to her home region for a source of Syrah.  The fruit is grown in the Dartmoor Valley and Gimblett Gravels sub-regions, vinified separately then blended together.  This is an elegant, supple and refined Syrah with plum and spice on the attack followed by notes of crisp bacon – very much Northern Rhône style.

Man O’ War Dreadnaught Syrah Waiheke 2010

This is the Waiheke outfit’s top Syrah, from the warmest and steepest slopes.  Fairly dense and intimidating at first, it gradually opens up to reveal plum, blueberry and pepper with a savoury edge.  This might benefit from food right now, but it will soften and develop over the next ten years – a keeper!

Trinity Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2011

Trinity Hill’s winemaker John Hancock is a big fan of the Northern Rhône, Syrah’s spiritual home, after working under Gerard Jaboulet in Côte-Rôtie.  Following the practice of that region, a small amount of Viognier is often blended in to soft the palate and add more interest on the nose.  This is the entry level Trinity Hill Syrah, with Gimblett Gravels and “Homage” above it, but it acquits itself very well

Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay 2011

This was the only wine I noticed that wasn’t available for the consumer tasting that followed the trade tasting, with a very good reason – the price!  Craggy Range are all single vineyard wines, but this is getting towards “super-premium” territory.  This does everything the other Syrahs above do, but more so.  The youngest vintage that Craggy Range recommend drinking now is 2002 – so although this Le Sol can be drunk now, it won’t do itself justice until at least 2021 – then it will sing.

Pinot Gris

Sometimes spelling makes a big difference.  Usually, a wine labelled as “Pinot Gris” will be similar to the Alsace style, intense and often off dry.  Those with “Pinot Grigio” are more likely to be light and almost neutral in flavour like the thin, acidic Italian wines which clog up pub winelists everywhere (did I just say that out loud?)  For the most part, New Zealand is closer to the Alsace style – even when called a Grigio as the first wine below.

Brancott Estate Pinot Grigio Marlborough 2013

This is round and supple, a very pleasant easy-drinking style.  Would partner well with lots of Asian dishes.

Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris Martinborough 2013

As Craighall is to Chardonnay, Lismore is to Pinot Gris.  Both ripe pears and pear drop sweets feature on the round palate.  It’s very rich and just off-dry – both flavour and sweetness would stand up to Thai food.

Ostler Lakeside Pinot Gris Waitaki Valley 2012

The only wine (I noticed) at the tasting from the Waitaki Valley – a marginal (even for NZ) new wine making region by the South East coast of the South Island.  Marginal areas sometimes produce poor wines in bad vintages, but can excel in better vintages – it’s all about taking risks.  This wine is off-dry to medium-dry with 15g of RS; it’s not a dessert wine but would be fine with spicy food, or at a push fruit salad.  The 2012 is only the second vintage ever made, so vine age should lend even more complexity.

Grüner Veltliner

This variety has a lot of potential, in Marlborough (in particular), where nights are cool like its home in Austria.  Usually made dry, it is an aromatic alternative to Sauvignon and Riesling, and some (I’m looking at you, Tara!) even prefer it.  Grüner is generally medium-bodied and very food-friendly.

Tin Pot Hut McKee Vineyard Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2012

As the name suggests this is made from grapes grown in a single vineyard, located in the Blind River sub-region of Marlborough.  The acidity keeps it dry, clean and crisp, with a fabulous texture that makes you want to roll it round your mouth.  This is a subtle wine combining peach and pear with gentle peppery spice.

Siegfried Grüner Veltliner Nelson 2011

One of Nelson’s top producers (see their Sweet Agnes dessert Riesling in part 1) who also make New Zealand’s only Würzer, a white German wine grape variety that is a crossing of Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau.  The winery’s founder Hermann Siegfried hails from Austria so he naturally looked to introduce Grüner to Nelson, after the regulation quarantine process.  This is a typical example of the grape, with white stone fruit and white pepper (better than it sounds, honestly) from a young vineyard.

The Best of the Rest

A selection of the other wines I found interesting…

Yealands Estate, Awatere Valley Single Vineyard PGR Marlborough 2013

Pinot Gris (50%) Gewurztraminer (15%) Riesling (35%) not unlike an Alsace Edelzwicker blend. It’s so new that it doesn’t even yet feature on the Yealand’s website or even in the tasting catalogue. The small proportion of Gewurz means that it doesn’t dominate – the nose isn’t overwhelmingly floral. If you like the sound of this then also consider Te Whare Re (TWR)’s Toru.

Brancott Estate Letter Series “R” Sauvignon Gris Marlborough 2013

This is the first Sauvignon Gris I have tasted from New Zealand; there are some reasonable examples of the variety from Chile and it sometimes finds its way into white Bordeaux (both dry and sweet). This is a powerful wine with 14.0% abv and the 6.9g/L residual sugar gives it extra body and a hint of sweetness on the finish. Stylistically this is closer to a Pinot Gris than a Sauvignon Blanc. Brancott are hoping that this will help them diversify away from reliance on the latter.  Interestingly, they have launched the variety with a premium rather than everyday version.

Hunters MiruMiru Reserve Sparkling Marlborough 2005

This has the traditional Champagne grape blend: Chardonnay (56%) and Pinots Noir and Meunier (44% together) and is made in the traditional method.  Apparently this only had eight months on the lees before disgorgement, but it tastes like it was more.  Obviously lots of bottle age which has allowed lots of complexity to develop – a class fizz.

Man O’ War Ironclad Waiheke 2010

This is a Bordeaux blend with virtually the full house of black grapes permitted in Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  The grapes are picked and sorted separately from 45 different parcels on the warmer hillside sites, then blended together.  As might be expected it tastes something akin to an Haut-Médoc from a warm year, blackcurrant and plum fruit dancing against a background of supple tannins.  This is lovely to drink now but will easily keep (and keep developing) until the end of the decade.

Craggy Range “Sophia” Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay 2004 & 2006

Finally, two different vintages of Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux blends from Craggy Range, and older than you might often see available.  The Gimblett Gravels sub-region lies over a former riverbed – hence the gravel – and so is very well drained (most quality grapes don’t produce quality wine if they have too much access to water).  The 2004 consists of 92% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the 2006 was made with 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec – a perfect example of adjusting the blend depending on the vintage, as is the norm in Bordeaux.  Both of these examples were maturing but not fully mature; there was still plenty of cassis and plum on the palate but cedar and tobacco notes starting to creep in – complex and very drinkable.

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State Of The Nation (Part 1): The Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin

The New Zealand wine industry is in rude health.  It is still a minnow compared to many other countries, even its close neighbour Australia, but the commitment to quality is unmatched.  A few years ago there was a small dip as large amounts of dilute Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from excess production were offloaded cheaply though UK supermarkets.  That imbalance seems to have been corrected and hopefully we have seen the last of that swill.

Last month I attended the Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin (with thanks to Jean Smullen for the invitation!) including the Sauvignon Blanc masterclass.  I got to taste virtually all the wines there, though of course there were lots of wineries not represented.  This post (and part 2, to come) reflect my views on the wines I particularly liked, or at least found interesting.

A brief recap as to the wine regions of New Zealand (with the major ones in bold):

  • Wairapa & Canterbury
  • Martinborough & Wairarapa
  • Central Otago
  • Marlborough
  • Nelson
  • Hawke’s Bay
  • Waitaki
  • Auckland, Matakana, Waiheke & Kumeu
  • Gisborne
  • Northland
  • Waikato & Bay Of Plenty

Sauvignon Blanc Masterclass

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L-R: Matt Thomson, Kevin Judd, Jamie Marfell

I got a spot on the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Masterclass, given by Matt Thomson (Saint Clair), Jamie Marfell (Brancott Estate) and the “godfather of Marlborough Sauvignon”, Kevin Judd (with Cloudy Bay for maaany years and now running his own label Greywacke). Not only did we get a tutored tasting of eight different wines, but there was also lots of interesting information: SB accounts for ~66% of wine production in NZ but ~84% of exports; therefore the the High Commissioner of New Zealand to the UK was probably right that the UK doesn’t get the best NZ Chardonnays see article.

Although the first Sauvignon vines were planted in 1973, the vast majority of current vines were planted in the last decade or so; not only is this due to expansion in the area under vine, Phylloxera hit Marlborough in 1990 so existing vines had to be pulled up and new vines plants (presumably on American rootstocks). Vintage does matter in New Zealand due to the marginal climate – even for whites. It was so cold in 2012 that the grapes were nowhere near ready around the normal harvest time, so winegrowers just had to wait and wait. As Marlborough is dry and windy there is little risk of botrytis.  2012 wines often have green gooseberry flavours rather than the more common tropical and passionfruit characteristics.

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So much Sauvignon, so little time…

In Hawke’s Bay (and to a less extent Wairarapa and Nelson), SB is picked earlier to maintain acidity; hence, flavour is usually less intense than in Marlborough. In particular the cool nights in Marlborough mean the growing season is a long one, and thus more flavour and sugar develops while the acidity slowly drops. As the wines are fermented until technically dry (< 3g RS) they tend to have slightly higher alcohol than other regions. The vast majority of SB is machine harvested so that it can be picked very quickly and at night when temperatures are low (sometimes as cool as 5C). Winemakers are continuously experimenting with the techniques used for the standard, well-recognised style of Sauvignon and are also making alternative styles (see below).

Selected Wine Highlights

I’ve grouped some of the wines I liked best (or found most interesting) by grape rather than producer or importer.

Sauvignon Blanc (An asterix * indicates the wine was part of the Masterclass)

Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2013*

The majority of the fruit comes from the Southern Valleys, a different microclimate from the Wairau “Plains”.  Kevin likes to have a fairly open canopy so that sunlight gets to the grapes.  90% fermented in stainless steel with cultured yeast, 10% fermented in old oak barrels with wild yeast.  Smooth and balanced.

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012

Partially hand picked, and fermented in (mainly) old French oak barrels with naturally occurring yeast.  Occasional batonnage and two thirds go through MLF for softness (this is usually avoided for regular Sauvignons) and additional maturation on the lees for creaminess and complexity.  Note the current release is usually a year later than the standard Sauvignon.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 18 Snap Block Sauvignon Blanc, Wairau Valley, Marlborough 2012*

This was one of the most successful 2012s shown at the tasting.  Sourced from a single vineyard, it was pressed quickly in small presses and 100% fermented and matured in stainless steel.  Just lovely.

Hunter’s Kaho Roa Wairau Valley, Marlborough 2012*

OK, this is where it gets complicated: 25% was fermented in new French oak barrels, 75% fermented in stainless steel.  Of the latter, half (37.5%) was transferred into barrel for maturation and the remainder was left in stainless steel.  Nice and round in the mouth with subtle oak/vanilla notes. Tohu Mugwi Reserve Awatere Valley, Marlborough 2012* The most subtle of the alternative style Sauvignons.  Being from the cooler Awatere Valley it has pronounced minerality.  80% goes through MLF to soften it out, but it remains so zesty that if I was told there was 10% Riesling in the blend I would have believed it.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2013

The original premium Sauvignon that created such a buzz about Marlborough is still a fine drop, though it has plenty of competition nowadays.  The 2013 is smooth in the mouth and has mouth-watering acidity without being sharp.

Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Possibly the most alternative of all the alternative Sauvignon offerings.  The grape variety isn’t even mentioned on the front label so that consumers don’t pick it up thinking it’s a regular style.  Another winemaker mentioned that their oaked Sauvignon “doesn’t think it’s a Chardonnay” – which could reasonably be levelled at Te Koko – but I love it!

Villa Maria Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Clifford Bay 2012

This is one of my personal favourites (it was the white wine served at my wedding), it really punches above its price point.  The 2012 is turning slightly vegetal with asparagus notes but remains delicious.  I’d be very interested to try the latest vintage as a comparison.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is really coming on in New Zealand, especially as vines attain ten years of age or more.  For a detailed review check out Jamie Goode’s New Zealand Pinot Noir e-book.  Martinborough has been the pioneer of excellent Pinot in New Zealand, and some of the older vineyards are producing lovely wines.  Central Otago makes a very different style of Pinot – although the temperature can be very low at night, the region gets lots of sunshine so the grapes get thicker skins and high potential alcohol, adding to the colour and body.  Marlborough Pinot is also on the up as vines are now planted on more appropriate sites, rather than just where convenient or next to Sauvignon vines.

Matua Lands & Legends Pinot Noir Central Otago 2012

This is real Central Pinot, darker in colour and bigger in the mouth than Marlborough Pinot Noir; not as subtle but a very enjoyable wine – a Pinot Noir for winter.

Delta Hatters Hill Pinot Noir Marlborough 2009

A step up from the regular Pinot, this is grown on the slope of a hill (hence the name!) rather than in the valley.

Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir Marlborough 2012

On top form with this vintage, fabulously perfumed red fruit on the nose.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Martinborough 2011

The Daddy!  One of New Zealand’s top Pinot Noirs, powerful but silky smooth.  My favourite Pinot of the tasting.  For a less expensive taste try Ata Rangi’s Crimson, made from younger vines and so not quite as intense.

Te Pā Pinot Noir Marlborough 2011

A relative newcomer, made in a minimal-intervention way, and sulphur only added just before bottling.  Grapes are sourced from the Wairau and Awatere Valleys.  Matured for 10 months in large new French barrels.  Pinot Noir can often taste of tinned strawberries and raspberries, but this tasted of fresh fruit – just so alive.

Te Pā Rosé Marlborough 2013

After seven days of soaking the crushed grapes, 20% is bled off as a rosé.  This is just delicious – who needs insipid, off-dry rosés when they can drink a real wine?  A secondary effect of making this is of course to concentrate the colour and flavour of the juice that’s left – the full-blown 2013 Pinot Noir will be something to look forward to!

Chardonnay

Although it will never be loved by some, I believe Chardonnay is New Zealand’s best variety; some fine examples are grown in every wine region of significance, from Kumeu and Waiheke near Auckland down to Central Otago.  Kiwi Chardie is often oaked, with a medium to high toast on the barrel, but even the more tropical versions possess a mineral streak and plenty of acidity which make them interesting and fresh.

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011

Recently compared by Anthony Rose in the UK Independent to a Meursault, this is made from 28 year old Mendoza clones (look out for a forthcoming post on clones) which gives a forward, ripe and buttery flavour.  This could be kept for up to two decades – who says New World whites don’t age?

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay Marlborough 2012

For me this has long been the best wine produced by Cloudy Bay, especially in the periods when the quality of the Sauvignon has wavered slightly.  For a Euro or two more it offers far more complexity and will develop nicely over several years.

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay Waiheke 2011

Being so far north, and therefore closer to the equator, gives added intensity to the tropical fruit; being on an island helps produce refreshing acidity at harvest.  Alcoholic fermentation is with wild yeast and malolactic fermentation is blocked.

Greywacke Chardonnay Marlborough 2011

My tasting note for this wine was unprintable – it’s that good!

Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay Hawke’s Bay 2011

Relatively restrained compared to some of the other Chardies mentioned here; poured by the son of winemaker John Hancock.

Tohu Chardonnay Rapaura Marlborough 2013

If I had tasted this blind then New Zealand would have been way down the list of countries I’d have guessed at. Fermentation and maturation in neutral stainless steel means there is no oak influence. It goes through full malolactic fermentation and then batonnage (lees stiring) twice weekly for six weeks, adding complexity and body. If you like really good 1er Cru Chablis, give this a go!

Riesling, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Cabernet and others will be covered in Part 2

The American Dream – Highlights of The Wine Society Tasting in Dublin

The Wine Society is a mutually-owned wine buying club based in Stevenage in England.  Since its inception in 1874 as The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited its aim has been to buy wines direct from growers to ensure their authenticity and quality and to offer them to members at fair prices.

The Society has over 120,000 active members in the UK and Ireland which gives it great purchasing power and a licence to list more unusual bottles.  They run various tasting events throughout the UK and one in Dublin most years.  The most recent one focused on wines from the Americas, and below are my personal highlights.  Our hosts were the charming Simon Mason and the lovely Isobel Cooper.

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Viña Litoral Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Chile 2013

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Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Leyda is situated close to the Pacific coast (as you might guess from “Litoral”) with its cooling sea breezes and thus is well suited to Sauvignon Blanc.  This example has ripe grapefruit and gooseberry balanced by refreshing acidity.  The 13.5% abv gives it a generous roundness in the mouth.

Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Riesling (Chile) 2013

From a very cool, top vineyard in western Casablanca, this is a
medium-dry riesling with about a third of the harvest affected by
noble rot, overlaying a lovely light honeyed aroma and flavour
over a bright, fresh palate. Drink now to 2018. 12%

Primus Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile) 2011

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Primus Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon

A textbook example of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, not terribly complex but bursting with fruit and the beginnings of cedar and tabacco notes.  Drinkable on its own mid week or with a medium rare steak.

Faldeos Nevados Torrontés (Argentina) 2013

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Valdeos Nevados Torrontes

Torrontés is Argentina’s signature white grape, with aromas and flavours somewhere between Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Viognier.  At 14% abv it has plenty of body to match the bold grape and stone fruit flavours.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Unfiltered, Ontario (Canada) 2011

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Norman Hardie Chardonnay

The first Canadian wine I have tasted that wasn’t an Ice Wine.  The aim here is more Burgundy than California – it has a modest 12.5% abv and a streak of minerality through the middle.  It reminded me most of Premier Cru Chablis.  In my view a little less oak would let the fruit shine more.

Weinert Carrascal (Argentina) 2008

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This is a blend of 40% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, all Bordeaux varieties, although of course Malbec is mainly reduced to a minor supporting role in Bordeaux nowadays.  No shrinking violet, this is a big, rich, in-your-face wine with a velvety finish.  Great for cold nights or with red meat.

Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel (USA) 2011

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Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel

Ravenswood make some fantastic Zin; big, bold and very gluggable. Their Lodi Old-Vine is slightly more expensive but more concentrated, higher in alcohol and will live for longer.  It’s a world away from “blush” white Zinfandel.

Ridge Geyserville (USA) 2011

Ridge is almost legendary among Californian producers.  This is a Zinfandel-Carignan(e) blend based on some of California’s oldest vines; the youngest are 10 years old, the oldest over 120 years, with 60% 40 years old or more.  It is very dense at first – takes a while to open up in the glass – then the powerful dark black fruit comes through, wrapped in vanilla.  This will surely continue to develop over the next 10 years.

Quartet Anderson Valley Brut Roederer Estates (USA) NV

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Quartet Anderson Valley Brut, Roederer Estate

For me this was the star of the whole event.  It is a traditional method sparkling wine from Mendocino County in California. The grapes are sourced from four separate vineyards (hence the name) in the northern Anderson Valley, cooled by the proximity of the Pacific Ocean.  On the palette the 30% Pinot Noir initially gives lots of soft strawberry flavours and then the 70% Chardonnay comes through as bright citrus.  The finish has classic brioche richness from ageing on the lees.  Wonderfully balanced and put together.

My Favourite Wines of 2013 – The Reds

Here are some of my favourite and most memorable red wines I tasted (or mainly) drunk in 2013

Penfolds

For me, 2013 was the year I finally dug in to my stash of premium Penfolds wines.  Penfolds make a wide, seemingly ever-increasing, range of wines in different styles and at different price points; but there are a few that wine lovers will instantly recognise the name of.  Wine geeks should seek out The Rewards Of Patience which gives the full history of Penfolds.

I bought a six bottle case of 1995 Grange back in 2000 when I popped to the local Tesco near work for a sandwich. Pretty expensive sandwich! I’d just signed a contract for a new job and was over the moon when I noticed that Tesco had 25% of Australian wine when buying six or more. I was friendly with the wine section manager Gavin as he was actually in to wine as opposed to being a glorified shelf-stacker, so he gave me the nod that the store’s annual allocation of two half cases of Grange had just arrived in. As Grange is released 5 years after vintage it was the 1995 being offered; unsurprisingly, it wasn’t out on the shelves with the Hardy’s Stamp and Nottage Hill. Being a qualified bean counter I worked out that the 25% saving on a bottle would pretty much cover five more modest bottles – they would effectively be free! But then it occured to me that 25% discount on six bottles would save me even more money! I’m sure that logic works for some other people as well…. The shocked look on the lass at the till as the price came up for a bottle was hilarious.

I added to my collection when the same offer was on the following year for the 1996 vintage and then in 2002 buying the 1997 vintage, all with a 25% discount, but I gave up when the 1998 vintage was released at a much higher price. I found out why when visiting a neighbour of Penfolds in the Barossa in late 2003 – it was just a great vintage that cases were selling for double the release price in the car park just outside the cellar door!

I did, however, get a sixer of Penfolds Bin 707 (their top Cabernet Sauvignon) from the 1998 vintage. It generally retailed at 40% of the price of Grange, and this seems to hold true today.

So from 2000 to 2009 these cases of wine moved house with me a few times but remained unopened. Finally, when I got married in 2009 I gave a bottle of 1995 Grange to each of my four groomsmen (and the brother-in-law who stepped in to do the video at the last minute) as a thank-you, leaving me with the last for myself.

Just before Christmas 2013 we hosted two of my wine drinking mates and their wives; partially to give my wife a chance to make beef wellington for the first time in advance of Christmas day, but also a chance to catch up in a more relaxed atmosphere than some of the bigger tasting events. And it also gave me an excuse to open a few nice bottles! We had two bottles of Champagne (see forthcoming post on best Fizz of 2013), two bottles of white (ditto best White of 2013), four half bottles of dessert wine at the end and the following bottles of red:

Penfolds Bin 707 1998

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Penfolds Grange 1997

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Penfolds Grange 1996

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They were all maturing, with light red to orange rims, but still a dense dark core. There was lots of black fruit to the fore and the tannins were quite mellow, though unmistakably present. The 97 Grange was marginally preferred to the the 96, but the Bin 707 was astounding. Far from being a poor relation, its shone out, still bursting with cassis and blackberry. Definitely my red wine of the year, and a bargain to boot. Was it a better wine or just an excellent vintage? Who knows, but I need to taste some more to find out.

The beef wellington went down a storm at the meal, and also on Christmas day itself.  And what did I open to go with it the second time?  My last remaining bottle of Grange 1995!

So was the Aussie Icon Grange worth it? In my opinion, the bottles I had weren’t worth their current price of £200 – £250 retail – but definitely worth the £75 I originally paid!  The reward for patience…

Domaine de la Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape 2009

I had a spot of luck at the end of October (well two, actually, but I won’t mention the other one here!) as I was given a bottle of Rhône wine as part of the Rhône Wine Week promotions with the proviso that I write a short review. Expecting a generic Côtes du Rhône I was happily surprised to receive a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, probably the most prestigious AC in the southern Rhône.

Due to the widespread renown of the appelation (which was the first ever AC), and despite the fairly high standards demanded by the INAO (French wine regulators), some of the wines produced in the area are not worthy of the name. These are generally easy to spot as they are the cheapest on offer – especially if they are “50% off”. Other villages in the Rhône offer much better value, particularly Rasteau and Lirac.

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So I opened the bottle with moderate expectations. And boy, was I wrong! My faith in Chateauneuf was restored anew. It showed deep black fruits and spice from the Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre (GSM) dominated blend, and a luxurious round mouthfeel with a velvety long finish. It had such power (I was gobsmacked by the 15.5% abv, not obvious at all) but also finesse.

My wife asked for a sip and immediately demanded a glass, it was that good.

A profound wine which I will be looking out for again.

Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2003

I managed to swing an invite to a 4-decade vertical tasting of Errázuriz’s premium Cabernet blend Don Maximiano. Cabernet Sauvignon usually makes up around 85% of the blend with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot making up the rest, though the precise proportions vary depending on the vintage. “Don Max” is a definite contender for Chile’s best red wine.

The 1989 and 1994 were more like mature Haut-Medoc than something from the new world. The 2001 and 2003 were blockbusters, not a style everyone likes, but the 2003 was absolutely fabulous in my eyes (and those of most others I spoke to). Lots of deep cassis and plum with fine tannins and acidity still hanging in there. The 2008 was also very good though perhaps not yet of age. The 2010 was a more modern Cabernet, not picked quite as late and not quite as long in oak so the wine remained fresher. All four wines from this millenium were drinking beautifully.

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Gaec François et Fils Côte-Rôtie 2011

This beauty was party of a Côte du Rhône tasting hosted by Jean Smullen, and was the finest Northern Rhône wine I have tasted for years.  As is the norm in the North the wine is based on Syrah (95%), but with 5% of Viognier added for suppleness and fragrance.  After tasting lots of Grenache blends with 14%+ alcohol this was more elegant and refined, medium in weight and only 12.5% abv – it didn’t drink like it was missing any oomph.

So how do they make it so elegant?  Firstly, the Viognier is cofermented with the Syrah (i.e. the black and white grapes are fermented in the same vessel at the same time) which is a long standing practice in the area.  Secondly, 400 litre oak barrels are used rather than the smaller Bordeaux barrique of 225 litres, and only 30% of them were new.  Interestingly the soil in the Côte Brune is said to be similar to that of Coonawarra in South Australia, another high quality red wine area.

I will also be posting up my favourite whites, fizz and stickies of 2013, watch this space!

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Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #6 (Mystery)–Time to Vote!

frankstero:

Get reading and voting folks!

Originally posted on the drunken cyclist:

MysteryWell, the time for submissions is now over, and I have to say I am thrilled with the number and quality of entries this time around! The previous “record” number of entries was 15 and this month we had 25 (a 67% increase). Now comes the hard part–choosing the top post. Here are links to all of the posts submitted (in order of submission), and they also can be found over at the “official” website of the challenge: www.mwwcblog.wordpress.com

Please let me know if your post is not listed–I Googled MWWC6 every night to make sure I was not missing any, so hopefully each post is below!

Wine Ramblings        An Edible Quest          Confessions of a Wine Geek

Michael’s Wine       Oenophilogical        renenutet13       Wayward Wine

foodwineclick        Julia Bailey        sweetempranillo        Duff’s Wine

My Custard…

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