Some Highlights from the Molloys Press Tasting

Molloys Liquor Stores is a off licence group with 10 outlets around Dublin plus their website www.molloys.com.  Their range is biased towards cost-conscious everyday bottles, but as they import many of them exclusively they can cut out the middle-man and offer good value for money.

Here are some of the highlights from their recent press tasting:

Champagne Jean Comyn “Harmonie” Brut NV (€34.99)

Champagne Jean Comyn "Harmonie" Brut NV

Champagne Jean Comyn “Harmonie” Brut NV

It’s a bakery in a bottle!  An amazing brioche nose points to extended ageing on the lees – the minimum for a non vintage Champagne is 15 months but I would guess at double that or more.  There’s fresh strawberry on the attack (from Pinots Noir and Meunier) followed by lemon (from Chardonnay), and a crisp finish.

This won a silver medal at last year’s IWC which is impressive for an unknown (to me at least) brand.  Please don’t buy Moët, buy this instead – it’s far nicer.

Botter Prosecco DOC Spumante “Extra Dry” NV (€16.49)

Botter Prosecco DOC Spumante "Extra Dry" NV

Botter Prosecco DOC Spumante “Extra Dry” NV

Decoding the label tells us that this Prosecco  is fully sparkling (Spumante) and north of off-dry – confusingly Extra Dry means no such thing, but consumers like to think that they like dry wines.  This is the most expensive of the five Proseccos that Molloys import – the extra tax on Spumante compared to Frizzante ensures it’s not one of the cheapest – but I think it’s also the best value.

I don’t mind a glass of Prosecco but I rarely fancy a second – this is an exception to that rule.  This has a grapey nose (go figure!) and then pear and red apple on the palate, wrapped in a creamy lemon mousse.  It’s not trying to be Champagne but it is a grown up drink that should please most.

Colombelle l’Original IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2013 (€8.99)

Colombelle l'Original IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2013

Colombelle l’Original IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2013

Gascony is more famous for its brandy – Armagnac – than for its wines.  Thankfully this means that they remain a relative bargain.  Colombard is usually the main grape, supported by Ugni Blanc and / or Sauvignon Blanc for a bit of extra zip.  This example comes from Producteurs Plaimont, a quality and value conscious cooperative from South West France.

And it’s wonderful!  So much fruit – ripe, round apples and peachy stone fruit – but with a crisp finish.  This isn’t amazingly complex but it’s a very enjoyable tipple – and at a modest 11.0% abv a glass or two in the week won’t hurt.  I’d serve this as an aperitif or as a match for roast chicken or a mild curry.

Beauvignac Chardonnay, IGP Pay d’Oc (€10.49)

Beauvignac Chardonnay, IGP Pay d'Oc

Beauvignac Chardonnay, IGP Pay d’Oc

In addition to various Pay d’Oc varietals, this modern producer Cave Pomerols also makes AOP Picpoul de Pinet.

Tropical fruit is the order of the day here – pineapple, passionfruit and grapefruit dance around the nose.  A touch of vanilla also becomes apparent on the palate suggesting some light oak ageing, but it’s well integrated and doesn’t jar at all.  Malolactic fermentation is deliberately blocked which gives it a crisp, fresh finish.

So many inexpensive Chardonnays taste artificial but this is a nice drop.  Would be amazing with scallops!

Heritiers Dubois AOC Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur lie 2012 (€11.49)

Heritiers Dubois AOC Muscadet 2012

Heritiers Dubois AOC Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2012

If you’ve ever shopped in a French supermarket you will no doubt have noticed a half dozen different bottles of Muscadet on sale.  You might even have tried a few – after all, they’re quite inexpensive in France.  But the odds are, you didn’t go back and buy more of the same.  Muscadet’s reputation is not the best at the moment, mainly due to low quality / high yield production which results in austere, acidic and fruitless swill.

But every cloud and all that – those producers who do care about quality are unable to command high prices due to the general reputation of the area – and that means there are bargains to be had!

Sèvre et Maine is a subregion of Muscadet but doesn’t signify that much as it accounts for 80% of all Muscadets.  Sur Lie means the wine was matured on its lees, i.e. the dead yeast cells left over from fermentation.  This gives it a creamy texture and a bit more interest in terms of flavour.

So how does this taste?  Full of lemon zest!  It’s not austere, though it is racy and lean.  It cries out for shellfish or delicate white fish.  I expected not to like this, but it surprised me!

Château Bonnin Pichon AOC Lussac-St-Emilion 2008 (€15.49)

Château Bonnin Pichon AOC Lussac-St-Emilion 2008

Château Bonnin Pichon AOC Lussac-St-Emilion 2008

Lussac is one of the four satellite villages that can suffix the coveted name of St-Emilion to their wines.  These villages don’t reach the heights attained in St-Emilion proper, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t offer some well made, drinkable wine.  2008 was a pretty-good-but-not-excellent vintage in Bordeaux; modern viticulture and winemaking means that the best can be brought out of whatever nature has presented.

As normal for right bank Bordeaux it’s Merlot that takes the lead (81%), with Cabernet Franc (15%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (4%) playing supporting roles.  Oak, fruit and tannin are well balanced now and would evolve slowly over the next five years or so.  I would guess some proportion of American oak given the flavour profile  The fruit is dark – plum , blackberry and blackcurrant.

Drink this on its own or with red meat such as beef or lamb.

Gran Passione IGT Rosse del Veneto 2013 (€14.99)

Gran Passione IGT Rosse del Veneto 2013

Gran Passione IGT Rosso del Veneto 2013

From the hinterland of Venice, this big and velvety red is perfect a perfect winter’s night. Tannin and acidity are present and correct – it is very young – so decant for a few hours if you have chance, or serve with a hearty stew.

Think of this as a baby Amarone – it weighs in at 14.5% – but less complex and certainly cheaper!  The grapes aren’t stated but I would guess at the typical Corvina / Rondinella / Molinara.

 Cellier des Princes AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (€24.99)

Cellier des Princes AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012

Cellier des Princes AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012

The world famous southern Rhône appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape perhaps faces the opposite challenge to Muscadet – its reputation is so good that pretty much any bottle carrying its name can be sold for a premium, so some producers churn out very average wine and put it in a fancy bottle.  Thus the cheapest CNDP may not be a bargain at all.

Thankfully Molloys have got it right with this selection!  It’s principally Grenache (90%), with Mourvèdre (5%) and Syrah (5%).  Weighing in at a whopping 15%, this has bags of dark black fresh and dried fruit and Christmas spice.  It’s wonderfully big and robust but velvety and smooth.  It’s really far too young to drink now – it will open up a lot more over the next five to ten years – but it’s so delicious that it would be too tempting!

 

 

An Impromptu Quartet

Sometimes it’s nice to plan events well in advance, as the anticipation is part of the enjoyment.  But it’s also nice to be a bit more spontaneous and do something at short notice.  At the suggestion of my better half we invited a few friends round for dinner – and of course some bottles of wine were opened to accompany her amazing dishes.

Here are a few of the whites that really stood out for me:

Château Carbonnieux Blanc Pessac-Léognan 2008

Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Leognan 2008

Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Léognan 2008

This somewhat aristocratic looking wine is from the heartland of the Graves subregion of Bordeaux.  The Pessac-Léognan AOC was carved out of the middle of the Graves AOC in 1987 to highlight the finest terroir of the area.  Although it is home to many fine reds, including the 1855 1st Growth Haut-Brion, Pessac is where the top echelon of Bordeaux’s dry whites are made.

Château Carbonnieux is in the commune of Léognan and is a classed growth under the 1959 Graves classification.  As you’d expect from a Bordeaux white it is a Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blend, but with a lovely vanilla envelope from some gentle oak ageing.

This type of wine can age gracefully for a decade or more, though for me it is à point right now.  There are still the grapefruit and hints of honey from its youth but now its pleasantly round.

Jean-Philippe Fichet Le Meix Sous Le Château Meursault 2010

Jean-Philippe Fichet Meursault 2010

Jean-Philippe Fichet Le Meix Sous Le Château Meursault 2010

Meursault is the archetypal oaked Chardonnay, though of course it doesn’t say so on the label.  Being a self-confessed oak lover – when it’s done right, of course – it’s one of the labels I gravitate towards in Burgundy.

Jean-Philippe Fichet has lots of small parcels dotted in and around Meursault – see the map on his excellent website.  This wine is from a 1/2 hectare Lieu-dit (a named area which doesn’t have Premier Cru or Grand Cru status) near the centre of Meursault itself. The vines are 50 to 60 years old which comes through in the concentration of flavour.  As 2010 was a warm vintage there are plenty of tropical notes in addition to the brioche from the oak, neither dominating.  This was a “bin-end” from The Wine Society – a definite winner for me!

Also see Jamie Goode’s report of his visit here.

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010 (Waiheke Island)

Man O'War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010

Man O’War are a fantastic producer based in Waiheke Island, a short ferry ride from Auckland in New Zealand.  Their Bordeaux blend “Ironclad” and Syrah “Dreadnaught” are big and bold reds – not for those who prefer shy and retiring types – and the whites are similarly forthright.

The 2011 vintage of this was a highlight for me of the NZ Trade Tasting at the beginning of the year.  It’s a really tropical wine which might be too much for some – but not for me!

The key to balance in this wine is that malolactic fermention is blocked, meaning it retains some zesty acidity and isn’t flabby.  Can you imagine candied pineapple that isn’t teeth-achingly sugary?  There you go!

Château Princé Côteaux de l’Aubance 2007

Château Princé Côteaux de l'Aubance 2007

Château Princé Côteaux de l’Aubance 2007

The Loire Valley wine region is actually a collection of quite different subregions which specialise in different grapes and types of wine.  Just for reds, for example, Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Malbec and Pinot Noir are all used.  There are some great sparkling wines and classy rosés plus world famous dry whites such as Sancerre and Muscadet.

But for me the real gems of the Loire are the often overlooked sweet whites.  Most are based on the Chenin Blanc grape which means they have acidity to balance the sugar and stop the wines being cloying.

The best sites are the slopes leading down to the Loire and its many tributaries, including the Layon, Aubance and Louet.

Simple map of the Coteaux de l'Aubance [Source: Wikipedia]

Simple map of the Coteaux de l’Aubance [Source: Wikipedia]

Being so close to water creates the humid conditions that encourage noble rot, which reduces the water content of grapes and concentrates the sugar, acidity and flavour.

This 2007 was among a stash I picked up several years ago from the excellent Maison du Vin de Saumur – worth a four hour round trip to Saumur on its own.  At seven years old it’s still a baby, but has fantastic concentration.  There’s honey on the nose but a whiff of funk from the botrytis – it is a fungus after all.  On the palate there are noticeable Chenin characteristics of apple and greengage with luscious tropical fruit notes.  It’s a fully sweet wine but the zing of acidity keeps it fresh and interesting.

 

Bring Da Funk – De Bortoli Yarra Valley Wines

If you think you know Australian Wine, think again!

The Yarra Valley is an Australian wine region located east of Melbourne, Victoria, and close to the Mornington Peninsula wine region.  Its cool climate – especially in Australian terms – makes it perfect for Burgundy’s main grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Proximity to Melbourne has encourage lots of visitors and investors in the Yarra.

De Bortoli Wines was established in 1928 by Vittorio & Giuseppina De Bortoli and rapidly expanded under the direction of their son, the late Deen De Bortoli. Today the company is run by the third generation including MD Darren De Bertoli and his sister Leanne, plus Leanne’s winemaker husband Steve Webber.  The main operation is based in the Riverina, central New South Wales, which is where their world famous botrytised Semillon Noble One comes from.

Leanne and Steve Webber moved state in 1989 to set up a winery for De Bortoli’s Yarra Valley vineyards that the company had purchased in 1987.  I was lucky enough to visit in 2003 including a delicious lunch at their Italian influenced restaurant “Locale”.  The Yarra is now an excellent source of mid-tier and premium wines for De Bortoli.

Steve recently gave a masterclass in Dublin.  Not only were the wines excellent and the information interesting, Mr Webber is also a highly entertaining speaker!  PendulumA few of the key themes included the evolution of wine styles over the past decade or so and choosing to make “edgy” wines.

La Bohème Act 3 Pinot Gris & friends 2013

De Bortoli La Bohème Act Three

De Bortoli La Bohème Act Three

This is a blend of approximately 87% Pinot Gris (vines from the Upper Yarra which sit in a misty hollow where a lot of the cool air from the peaks flows down to) then Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Blanc from the slightly warmer Dixon’s Creek in roughly equal proportions.  2013 was the 3rd release and 2014 the 4th.

It is taut, mineral, racy and lean – it only has 3g/L of Residual Sugar but tastes like there’s a bit more from fruit sweetness, until the finish which is almost bone dry. aromaticsThis wine has plenty of texture so is a versatile option for the table – apparently Melbourne sommeliers are going mad for it at the moment.

Steve also makes a single vineyard Pinot Blanc in Dixon’s Creek

Windy Peak Chardonnay 2012

De Bortoli Windy Peak Chardonnay

De Bortoli Windy Peak Chardonnay

This is De Bortoli’s equivalent of a Macon, a mid level Chardonnay.  They want something to partner well with John Dory so strive to keep some sort of neutrality in the wine.too far

Some new oak used here (conditioning the barrels so they can be used again for the estate Chardonnay) but also older casks of different sizes and stainless steel.

Natural yeast is used rather than commercial, and no acid is added (very uncommon is Australia where Chaptalisation is seldom performed but acid is added to large commercial blends for balance.

In the Yarra, above 12.5% all the green characteristics are lost from Chardonnay, so De Bortoli like to pick while the grapes are still on the cusp.

The oak stuck out a bit for me – another year would see it nicely integrated.

Estate Grown Chardonnay 2012

De Bortoli Estate Grown Chardonnay

De Bortoli Estate Grown Chardonnay

Although Steve wasn’t setting out to compare the two Chardies, the (sensible) tasting order meant that we did just that. So what’s the difference?  As you might guess if you don’t have the memory of a goldfish, there’s no new oak in the Estate Chardonnay – yet it tastes less overtly oaky – it’s just more smooth and integrated. Again the casks are of different sizes giving slightly different results, from 225L barriques through 500L right up to 5700L foudres.  60,000 L is made of this v 400,000 L made of the Windy Peak.

Grapes are selected from 4 different plots on the “Winery Vineyard” at Dixon’s Creek with an average age into the mid 20s. The soils are a mix of sandstone, siltstone and limestone.  There is a little bit of “struck-match” reductive quality – this is especially common with screwcaps.  Steve is looking for a dry, bitter finish.  He always uses a screwcap for Chardonnay, the results are far better for consistency when ageing.  After 5 years the development would be linear, with a touch more roundness and nuttiness.

Due to the ridiculously high taxes on wine in Ireland, this premium wine is something like €28 on the shelf compared to €20 for the junior sibling – it really makes sense to trade up! 

Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2013

De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir

De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir

60% of the grapes were hand picked, the remainder machine harvested.  Hand picking is better for the fruit and still the best way to collect whole bunches.  bullshit

The Windy Peak Pinot Noir has the new oak barrels to condition them for the Estate Syrah
It shows lots of fruit on the nose and palate, particularly cherry and strawberry, but maintains savoury, with a dry finish.

Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2012

De Bortoli Estate Grown Pinot Noir

De Bortoli Estate Grown Pinot Noir

This is from older vineyards averaging around 25 years of age.  Steve calls it “a bit grubby”.  20% was whole bunch fermented so there’s some extra tannin and greenness from the stalks.  Not too much pigeage was performed  – probably only 4 punch downs during maceration and fermentation, and perhaps pumping over a couple of times.

This is very savoury with funky and wild flavours – no jam here!  It’s a grown up, interesting wine.  If you have an autumnal dish in mind then this would be an amazing partner for it.

La Bohème Act Four Syrah Gamay 2012

De Bortoli La Bohème  Act Four Yarra Valley Syrah Gamay

De Bortoli La Bohème Act Four Yarra Valley Syrah Gamay

This is a rarely seen (on front labels at least) blend consisting of 70% Syrah and 30% Gamay – 50% of each went through carbonic maceration, similar to the process used in Beaujolais for extracting fruit flavours without too much tannin from the skin. Steve compared it to wines from the Ardèche in southern France.pussy wine

So much acidity, this really makes your mouth water – it’s the Opal Fruits of wine.  Along with red and black fruit there’s a real dark chocolate sensibility and a bit of an edge. Definitely a food wine – many may find it a bit full-on by itself, but Steve doesn’t mind that!

Estate Grown Syrah 2010

De Bortoli Estate Grown Syrah

De Bortoli Estate Grown Syrah

The flavours I got from this included dark berries and graphite – what could be more mineral than that??

This is definitely a Syrah and not a Shiraz, in antipodean nomenclature – it wouldn’t look totally out of place in Hawkes Bay but it’s more Northern Rhône than Barossa. With a tasting sample in the glass it’s possible to read text through it – even at 4 years old that wouldn’t be possible with an inky black Barossa brute.brett

Plunging is done only when necessary – when it seems like it needs a little more tannin, otherwise they leave it alone and drink beer.  It has some whole bunch character – green stalkiness – though bizarrely this was less apparent in a year when 100% of the grapes were whole bunch.

Future Developments

Given the family’s ancestry it’s not surprising that Italian varieties are being put through their paces at the moment, though the team are refining their winemaking approach when dealing with them.

neglect

Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc are also believed to have potential in the Yarra – watch this space for more funky wines!

Some Highlights from the Aldi Ireland Press Tasting

Like its close rival Lidl, German discount chain Aldi has established a foothold in the wine market and is looking to broaden its range up the market.  Known for low cost wines which are technically well made but somewhat lacking in verve, they are trying to bring their customers up market by offering fancier wines, though still with an eye on the ticket.  Of course given Ireland’s ridiculous level of tax on wine it nearly always makes sense to trade up, whether it’s a few nice bottles from your local wine merchant or a bottle in the trolley with your cornflakes.

Here are a few of my favourites from the recent Aldi Ireland press tasting:

Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 (€26.99)

Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006

Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006

Aldi’s main Champagnes carry the label Veuve Monsigny and have won awards in the past few years.  While they are pleasant to drink and definitely good value as Champagne goes in Ireland, the latest addition above is a different beast entirely.

Leon Launois now makes a variety of different cuvées, but prior to their purchase by the producers of Champagne Charles Mignon in 2003 their only wine was a Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru from Mesnil-sur-Oger.  This wine maintains that tradition – it has a beautiful brioche nose (from the time spent ageing on the lees) and that follows through on the palate, with lifted lemon through the middle (from the Chardonnay).  The mousse is lovely and creamy and it has a very long finish.  Very classy.

Emozione Franciacorta DOCG Brut 2009 (€22.99)

Emozione Franciacorta DOCG Brut 2009

Emozione Franciacorta DOCG Brut 2009

Franciacorta DOCG is a traditional method sparkling wine made in the eponymous area located in Lombardy, central-northern Italy.  It’s a relatively new name as sparkling wine has only been made there in any significant quantity since the early 60s, but is a world away from Prosecco in terms of production process.  One of the main differences from Champagne in practice is that the grapes are often picked when fully (but not over) ripe, so they have more intensity of flavour and can reach higher alcohol as base wines.

At first I wasn’t sure whether to include this as I think it will be quite polarising – some people will love it and some will loathe it.  But if you don’t take a risk in life you can get stuck in a rut!  The blend is 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir) and 5% Pinot Bianco (Blanc), which is actually the same proportion that those grapes are planted in the Franciacorta DOCG area.

This might sound weird but I thought this had a slightly savoury finish.  I think grilled tuna steak would be a great match.

Exquisite Collection Gavi 2013 (€7.49)

Exquisite Collection Gavi 2013

Exquisite Collection Gavi 2013

Are you surprised by this recommendation?  I certainly was!  Gavi is a light Italian white wine made from the Cortese grape, and due to fashion is often priced far higher than its intensity of flavour would suggest.  Among my friends in Dublin it has become something of a joke, so I thought I would just try this for shits and giggles.

But to my amazement it has flavour!  Lots of stone and soft white fruit – we’re talking peach, pear and apricot.  There’s fruit sweetness here but a dry finish.  Like many Italian whites it has plenty of acidity but it’s not austere or boring.  Would be great with seafood or a light salad starter.

And if you have a friend or relative who loves Italian Pinto Grigio, give them this to try as an alternative.

Edouard Delaunay Chassagne Montrachet 2000 (€24.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Edouard Delaunay Chassagne Montrachet 2000

Edouard Delaunay Chassagne Montrachet 2000

Yes you read that correctly – a 14 year old white wine from for 25 yoyos from Aldi.  This obviously goes waaay past the everyday drinking category.  Without trying to be snobby I doubt the vast majority of regular shoppers would recognise it, but bravo to Aldi for broadening their range.

On the nose there is lots of buttered toast, due to maturation in oak and subsequent bottle age.  The buttered toast continues on the palate but with some tropical fruit notes and lemon freshness.  A complex wine that deserves a big glass for contemplation.

Charles de Monteney Condrieu 2012 (€23.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Condrieu 2012

Charles de Monteney Condrieu 2012

Condrieu is in the heart of the northern Rhône and for a long time was the last bastion of the difficult to grow Viognier grape.   Viognier is now grown more widely in the Rhône and further afield in places such as California, Australia and New Zealand.  It often has more body and certainly more texture than average for a white wine – you might call it a red drinker’s white.  Some examples can have an oily viscosity to them, not dissimilar to Alsace Pinot Gris (which is a firm favourite of mine).

And so it proves in this example.  It has an amazing nose with orange blossom and orange liqueur combined – more Cointreau than Fanta.  On tasting, there’s a touch of honey, apricot (typical for Viognier) and that orange again.  Unlike many examples of Condrieu this is enjoyable on its own without food.

I think this is another polarising wine, so approach with caution, but I believe it’s worth taking a punt.

Thomas Schmidt Private Collection Riesling Auslese 2013 (€14.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Thomas Schmidt Private Collection Riesling Auslese 2013

Thomas Schmidt Private Collection Riesling Auslese 2013

From the land of the long wine name comes a sweet and fruity number from the Mosel.  At only 8.5% alcohol this is one which won’t rush to your head – in fact it’s around the strength where a small (125ml) glass is equivalent to the British or Irish official units of alcohol.

Despite encouragement from a host of wine commentators, Riesling remains unloved by the majority of casual wine drinkers, principally due to associations with sweet and flabby sugar water concoctions from the 1970s such as Liebfraumilch.  Aside from the fact that many of those contained little or no Riesling, they were cheap blends with no relation to quality wine.

Not all Riesling is sweet, but this one is – very sweet in fact, but not flabby at all.  There is a pronounced ZING of acidity balancing out the residual sugar.  This is a young wine but will develop beautifully over the next decade or more.  Who says white wines don’t keep?

Edouard Delaunay Maranges Premier Cru “Les Roussots” 2008 (€29.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Edouard Delaunay Maranges Premier Cru "Les Roussots" 2008

Edouard Delaunay Maranges Premier Cru “Les Roussots” 2008

This is real, grown-up Pinot Noir from its heartland of the Côte d’Or in Burgundy.  Whereas entry level Pinots from the new world can be jammy and confected, and cheaper French Pinots are sometimes too dry and lacking in fruit, this Premier Cru example has lots of fresh fruit but a dry, savoury edge.  Typically you’d expect red fruit from Pinot Noir – strawberry and raspberry – but this adds some black fruit as well.

At six years of age this has opened up and is starting to develop additional layers of complexity.  If that’s what you like then put a few bottles down, but it’s drinking well now.  The acidity is enough to cut through fatty meat, so if you have duck or goose planned for a fancy meal later in the year (not going to say the word) then this would partner well.

Trius Showcase Canadian Icewine 2013 (€29.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Trius Showcase Canadian Icewine 2013

Trius Showcase Canadian Icewine 2013

Vidal is a hybrid grape partly descended from Ugni Blanc which is the main grape in the Cognac area.  It was bred for high acidity (useful in brandy) and hardiness in cold weather, but has actually come into its own as the main grape in Canadian ice wine.

As with the original Eiswein in Germany, ice wine is made by pressing very ripe grapes which have been left on the vine and been frozen.  Ice crystals are separated from the remainder of the juice which is therefore more concentrated in terms of sugar, flavour and acidity.  This makes for a very sweet, concentrated wine.  As so much of the juice is subtracted as water, yields are very low and prices tend to be high.

This example from the Niagra Peninsula is not cheap but I think is worth splashing out on as a treat.  It’s sweet enough to hold its own against pretty much any dessert and has luscious tropical fruit flavours.

Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2008 (€24.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2008

Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2008

Tokaji has been a famous wine for several centuries.  Made in a delimited area in Hungary, it uses sweet botrytised grape paste to sweeten regular wine must.  The measure of sweetness is how many buckets (Puttonyos) of paste were added in to a 136L barrel – the traditional proportions.  2 putts gives something that would go with a fruit cocktail but not something sweeter, and 5 putts is probably the best overall balance (you might even want to say “the sweet spot”, ahem).

This 6 putts example is even sweeter, but I reckon if you’re going to be having lots of fancy desserts then another putt isn’t going to hurt.  What did surprise me was the toasted coconut on the nose, implying American oak barrels.   On the palate there is typical apricot and honey notes with a touch of mushroom (not as unpleasant as it sounds!)  Make sure this is well chilled before serving so the acidity isn’t lost in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

The Libertines, Part One – Liberty Fizz

Liberty Wines are a wine importers based in the UK and Ireland with an exciting range of Italian, Australian, New Zealand and other quality wines which are sold to restaurants and independent wine merchants.   As well as the quality of their wines they are renowned for the quality of their service to customers and for the representation they give to the producers.

Although it is difficult to select only a few of their wines – as the average quality level is so high – below are my favourite sparkling wines shown at their February and October tastings.

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

If you’ve read much of my blog before you might have gathered that I’m quite a fan of Nyetimber – not (just) for patriotic reasons but because I really rate it as a sparkling wine.  And thankfully, I’m not in a minority, as the increasing quality level has been recognised in several competitions – and the 2009 is the best yet.

55% Chardonnay then 25% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier gives it a balanced assemblage of the classic (!) Champagne grapes.  It really is fresh and creamy with a bit of soft flesh behind it.  I can’t wait to try the Tillington Single Vineyard bottling from the same year!

Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011

Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011

Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011

A relative newcomer to the English sparkling wine scene.  71% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, 9% Pinot Meunier.  Spent time in old Burgundy barrels – though fairly young so obviously not that long!

Very fresh and zesty lemon flavours from the Chardonnay, with a creamy finish.  Would be great as an aperitif but could partner well with white fish and seafood.

Champagne Devaux Range

Champagne Devaux Range

Champagne Devaux Range

Champagne Devaux is a new producer for me, hailing from the Côte des Bar.

Champagne Devaux Grande Réserve NV

70% Pinot Noir from the Côte des Bar and 30% Chardonnay from the Côte des Bar, Côte des Blancs and Vitry.  Only the first pressing juice is used and 20% of the reserve wines were kept in large oak casks.  Malolactic fermentation (MLF) was blocked for a third of the base wine to preserve freshness.  It spends three years minimum on the lees, more than double the stipulated period.  The key tasting note for me was apples – all manner of apples – stewed apple compote, baked apple pie, fresh apples off the tree. Just delicious!

Champagne Devaux “D de Devaux” La Cuvée NV

60% Pinot Noir from Côte des Bar and 40% Chardonnay from Côte des Blancs and Montgueux.  This is a more prestige cuvée but still not from a single vintage; at least 35% of the reserve wines was aged in large oak casks.  Spends a minimum of five years on the lees then a further six to nine months post disgorgement.

Although a fairly similar assemblage to the Grande Réserve NV this is a step up in quality and is a different style – altogether more sumptuous and rich, decadent almost. Hell, if you can’t be decadent drinking Champagne now and again, what has life come to?

Champagne Devaux Vintage 2004

97% Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs and 3% Pinot Noir from the Côte des Bar – so this is almost a blanc de blancs.  It spent 7 to 8 years on the lees (gives it a lovely creamy character) and then a further year post disgorgement before release (which helps it settle down and integrate properly).  Fantastic lemon citrus flavours come through from the Chardonnay.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV

Founded by the original “Champagne Charlie”, this house is now one of the most respected in the whole of Champagne – Tom Stevenson gives them rapturous praise. The Brut NV is one of the strongest on the market this side of luxury cuvées such as Krug.  Since coming into common ownership with Piper-Heidsieck (originally founded by an uncle of Charles) a few years ago, quality continues to rise.

40% of the blend is made up of reserve wines (the maximum permitted amount) of up to ten years old.  The precise assemblage isn’t disclosed but is undoubtedly Pinot heavy given the richness.  Three years maturation on the lees gives some lovely brioche notes.

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995

As much as I love the quality sparklers above, mature Champagne is in a different category entirely.  This  is 100% Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs – 4 Grands Crus and 1 Premier Cru village.  The nervy acidity it had at bottling served to preserve it as it took on new aromas and flavours over the years.  Simple lemon has been replaced with brioche, nuts and candied fruit.  It has the voluptuous texture without sweetness of salted caramel.

This is a complete Champagne which doesn’t need anything else with it, and in fact is so satisfying that it doesn’t need anybody else with it – I’d want to drink it all by myself!

White and red selections to come in future posts!

The Oak Yoke – the Top 10 Facts about Oak in Wine

Do you like oaked wine?  Do you just slip it into your trolley at the supermarket, and hope that no-one sees it?  Or do you buy it from your local wine merchant and ask them to wrap it in a brown paper bag to hide your shame?

Oaked wines are still pretty unfashionable in the main, though perhaps judicious use of oak is becoming acceptable again as the race for clean, ever-cooler climate wines comes back from the edge.

Fashion aside, what are the different variables in play when it comes to oak in wine? There are lot of them as it turns out, so let’s have a look:

1. Format

Oak flavours in wine come from different levels of “naturalness”.  Oak was first used because of its suitability as a storage vessel – we’re talking barrels here.  Barrels come in lots of different sizes (see below) and are quite expensive.

The next level down, and significantly cheaper, is to use a few oak staves – just chuck them into the wine as it ferments or matures.  Apparently, this is what gives Diemersfontein’s “Coffee & Chocolate” Pinotage it’s funky flavours.

Diemersfontein Pinotage

Diemersfontein Pinotage

Cheaper still is the use of oak chips, sometimes in a permeable bag. This teabagging (steady at the back there!) can often result in bitter flavours leaching out of the wood into the wine.

The final, least natural and authentic method is to use oak powder.  This really is scrapping the barrel (erm sorry) in terms of quality, but if you’re buying the cheapest bottle on the shelf this is probably all that the producer could afford.

So now we know the importance of the format, we can assume that it’s barrels we’re talking about…

2. Age

In general as barrels get older they impart less flavour to the wine they hold.   Some winemakers like the impact of new oak, particularly if there is a lot of fruit and tannin (for whites) to match. Others prefer the micro-oxygenation that oak barrels can bring, but don’t want the flavour to dominate, so they use older barrels.  For example, Steve Webber of De Bortoli Yarra Valley uses new oak barrels on his standard wines so they are “seasoned” to be reused on his premium wines.

White wine producers in cool climates have another factor in play.  When the temperature of their wines drops during winter translucent tartrate crystals precipitate out of the wine.  Over several years of use these harmless crystals build up as a lining on the vessel and prevent any contact between the wine and the actual wood.

For the most expensive “Icon” wines, it is not unknown for 200% new oak to be used – that is, the wine spends a year in new oak and then it is racked off into an entirely new set of barrels for another year.  Doesn’t make for easy drinking on release, but does make for a long life.

3. Size

A rule of thumb is that smaller barrels have a more marked impact as the ratio of volume to surface area is lower.  The standard barrel of Bordeaux is the 225L (300 bottle) barrique, and this has become the default.  Burgundy’s tradition encourages the use of the slightly larger 228L pièce or 300L Hogsheads; these are more common where a producer is trying to create something akin to Burgundian Chardonnay.

Barriques in the barrel hall of Château Mouton Rothschild

Barriques in the barrel hall of Château Mouton Rothschild

Port was traditionally shipped in a pipe – a pipe of Port was a traditional gift bought for a (presumably well-to-do) child around the time of their birth so that it would be ready for drinking upon their majority.

In some parts of Europe, much larger formats are used, particularly for aromatic whites where oak flavours are considered undesirable.  In Alsace the term foudre is used (usually with an oval end) whereas the Italians are proud of their botti.

Alsace Foudre

Alsace Foudre

4. Timing

There are two distinct stages in the wine-making process where oak can be used, fermentation and maturation.  Makers can use oak during either, neither or both, all down to their preferences.

5. Time

This is a biggie – the longer wine stays in oak, the more of its flavour it will take on.   In Rioja, for example, the length of time in oak is enshrined in the quality classification, though of course the age of the wood is not specified.

6. Proportion

Another way that producers temper the use of oak is by only putting a certain proportion of their wine into oak for maturation – the remainder usually being in stainless steel or concrete vats.  All the vessels’ contents are blended at the end so that the resulting wine is moderately oaky.

7. Geographic Origin

Oak from different places gives different flavours and allows different levels of oxygen to get to the wine.  The main sources are below.

French oak is generally regarded as the gold standard, and is often the most expensive – mainly down to the fact that staves have to be split out manually with the grain rather than sawn into shape.  Within France there are several areas with oak forests used for wine barrels, with Limousin, Tronçais and Nevers the most renowned.  French oak often gives subtle, smoky flavours.

American oak can be sawn across the grain and still remain watertight, and hence is cheaper to use in barrels.  It is a different species from European oak (there are actually hundreds of different species, of which only a few are suitable for barrels.  American oak is traditionally used in Rioja and other regions of Spain as well as in the USA.  It gives smooth vanilla tones.

Slavonian oak is confusingly from Croatia rather than Slovenia which it sounds so much like.  It has long been the oak of choice in Italy, and tends to be hand sawn which allows lots of tannin to leech out into the wine; Sangiovese and Nebbiolo can handle the tannin but larger formats help.

Portuguese cork trees are a species of oak, but obviously have a different role to play.  The oak more suitable for barrel making is grown in the greener north and is cheaper than the more prestigious French sources.

8. Toast

Once the staves have been seasoned by drying in the open air or a kiln, they are ready to be assembled into a barrel.  Part of that process is the toasting, or charring of the inside over an open fire.  The amount of toasting has a significant impact on the wine which is then put into it – both on the aromas and flavours.

9. Cooper

Now this is the really geeky bit – some wine producers are so particular that they will even specify a particular cooper (barrel maker) as well as the source of the wood and the toasting it receives.

10. Other woods

So after all that, are there any other woods which get used instead of oak?  Yes: chestnut, cherrywood, pine, acacia and even redwood have been used.  The vintners of the Veneto sometimes use cherry to accentuate the cherry flavours in their wine.  Some of the other woods are used for cost reasons, and because they impart undesirable flavours they are coated inside before use.

Gazing wistfully at a glass of fizz…

Wiston Estate RoséAn Englishman, an Irishman and a Frenchman walk into a bar….

…sounds like the beginning of a corny joke, but I recently tasted a producer’s wines for the first time that marry England, Ireland and France.  “How did that happen?” you may ask.

Wiston Estate in West Sussex, southern England is a relative newcomer to the nascent English wine scene, and like the majority of the quality wines made there it owes its choice of grapes and production techniques to Champagne.  The Irish connection is the winemaker Dermot Sugrue, formerly of Nyetimber and with experience of vintages in Bordeaux and Champagne.

Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Camel Valley and now Hattingley Valley are among the top producers of English Sparkling, and as Le Caveau recently added Wiston Estate to their portfolio I jumped at the chance to see how it measured up.

Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs NV

Very fresh, like lemon sherbet, with tropical fruit notes and creamy bubbles – enough autolysis character to keep it from being lean in any way. This is top drawer fizz; it would be great served as an aperitif or with seafood, but it’s actually very enjoyable just on it’s own.  Do I sound like a dipso when I say I could happily polish off a bottle by myself?

Wiston Estate Rosé Vintage 2011

Much rounder in the mouth as you’d expect from a majority of Pinot Noir. Fresh but seductive, strawberry is to the fore with citrus from the Chardonnay in a supporting role.  The mousse is terrifically persistent – it just goes on for ages.  This is a fantastic effort and another nail in the coffin for those who don’t like sparkling rosé.  It won a Gold medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards, if you’re interested in such things, but if it’s available where you live then you owe it to yourself to try it.

 

Parallel Lines – Torres Mas La Plana 40th Vintage

For those familiar with a little of the recent history of wine, this description of a wine’s genesis may sound somewhat familiar:

  1. It was first made by a “Black Sheep” working at a wine producer founded in the 19th century
  2. Its creator aimed to create an equivalent in terms of quality and longevity to Bordeaux’s First Growths
  3. It was a new style of wine for the period, with a focus on quality and using newer oak
  4. The wine was named after a small rural building
  5. The head of the winery didn’t approve of the new wine so it wasn’t released at first
  6. It was initially a blend but then tended towards being a varietal
  7. The name of the wine changed a little over the years
  8. The wine is the winery’s flagship, even if it is now not necessarily the most expensive its portfolio

So were you thinking of Penfolds Grange?

I wouldn’t blame you – Max Schubert’s experimental creation of 1951 certainly matches the description, though another also fits the bill from closer to (my) home – Torres Mas La Plana (MLP).

Mas La Plana

Mas La Plana

The original home of Torres is Penedès in Catalonia, and although remaining family owned they have grown to be the largest producer in Spain.  Outposts in Chile and California have grown their presence in the New World.  Continental climate means hot days but cool nights which allow the vines to rest, so acidity is retained and the resulting fruit does not have a confected quality.

And as for point 2 above?  Under its previous moniker of Gran Coronas Black Label in 1970 Mas La Plana won the Gault-Millau wine olympiad in Paris, with higher marks than top Bordeaux such as Chateau Latour or Chateau Haut-Brion.

Evolution in winemaking and style

When the vineyard was first planted in 1970 there was a little Tempranillo and Grenache along side the Cabernet Sauvignon.  The majority of the Penedès region is still planted with white grapes for Cava, though of course they fall under their own separate DO.

In 1981 yields were reduced, mainly by abandoning the use of nitrogen based fertiliser, and cluster thinning (“vendange vert” in French).  Maceration time was extended up to four weeks and American oak was complemented by French oak.  The proportion of French to American was gradually increased so that the latter was absent by 1990.

40th Vintage Celebration Tasting At Brookwood Restaurant

John Wilson (Irish Times), Liam Campbell (Irish Independent), Frankie Cook (Frankly Wines)

John Wilson (Irish Times), Liam Campbell (Irish Independent), yours truly, all deep in comtemplation

1981 (from Magnum)

This was a surprise addition to the tasting.  The Irish importers Findlaters had found a magnum from way back in 1981 in their treasure cave, but weren’t sure of its condition until it was opened on the morning of the tasting.  Even the Torres winery don’t have any 1981 left in magnum so we were very privileged to taste it.

It was beautiful!

Obviously, being a magnum meant that it had developed more slowly than a standard 75cl bottle would over the same time.  In my opinion it was right at its peak – still plenty of fruit, though more dried than fresh.  This could have kept for several more years, but was perfect there and then.

1989

Gran Coronas Mas La Plana 1989

Gran Coronas Mas La Plana 1989

Even just by looking at the bottle you can notice a few salient things about this era of Mas La Plana.  Firstly, the vineyard name was a sub-brand, Gran Coronas was the principal brand.  Nowadays, Gran Coronas is the next step down from MLP; in vintages where the fruit is not considered good enough to make MLP the grapes are blended in as a component of the Gran Coronas.

Secondly, the term Gran Reserva appears at the bottom of the label.  The criteria in Penedes are not quite as strict as in Rioja or Ribera del Duero, but there is still a considerable minimum period of ageing in oak barrels.  Gran Reserva used to be very important as a signifier of quality, but it also denotes a woodier style – and nowadays Mas La Plana is more about the fruit than the wood, so the term is not used.

Finally, the alcohol – only 12.5%!  Compare this with the 2010 vintage’s stated 14.5% and the evolution of style over time is very apparent.  Some of this is down to the actual heat in each year, as more sunlight energy is turned into sugar by photosynthesis. Some is also down to the yeast used – if commercial rather than ambient strains are used this can give a significant boost to alcohol levels.  And of course, picking the grapes at a high level of ripeness in a particular year also gives more alcohol.

2005

Toni Batet from Torres

Toni Batet from Torres

2005 is widely regarded as an excellent vintage in Bordeaux, but was also good in Catalonia.  This was my favourite of the current millennium vintages – still loads of blackcurrant and blackberry primary fruit but already some interesting cedar and tobacco notes.  The 2005 is in full bloom but has the structure to last until the end of this decade at least.

The charming Toni Batet from Torres (pictured) explained that sorting tables are used to ensure only the best grapes go into Mas La Plana, and if the vintage isn’t deemed good enough then the grapes from the vineyard go into Gran Coronas.

2008 & 2009

Vertical tasting of Torres Mas La Plana

Vertical tasting of Torres Mas La Plana

For me these two vintages were quite similar – and being so close together that’s understandable.  It just shows that there aren’t bad wines made nowadays – at this level of quality, anyway.

2010

Mas La Plana 2010

Mas La Plana 2010

And so to the 40th Vintage itself.  This is such a baby, but amazingly already drinkable.  It deserves to be laid down for another five years at least, but if I had to drink it now then decanting for a couple of hours would help it open out and soften the bold tannins.

Conclusions?

For all the apparent similarities with the Grange story, Mas La Plana is its own wine and a worthy flagship for Torres.  My personal preferences on grapes place Cabernet Sauvignon at the top of my red wine rankings (don’t say that too fast!), so it’s a winner in my book.  And for a flagship wine, it’s not stupidly expensive, under €50 in Ireland compared to five times that (or more) for Grange.

Get some today and drink it when it’s ready!

Evolution

One of the things I really enjoy about wine is how it changes between pour and finish — the evolution of wine.  This might be as simple as a bit of air opening up the fruity flavours of something simple, or observing a tightly wound young red unfurl its wings.

For this reason, when I know I’m going to have more than a single glass in a bar or restaurant, I will order several different wines at the same time.  With whites, temperature is key…as a wine warms up its flavours become more expressive, acidity slowly takes a back seat, and any residual sugar will become more apparent.

If you love Alsace Riesling as I do, the difference between a producer’s standard offering and one from a Grand Cru vineyard will become more obvious.  If the wines are too cold eg straight from a domestic fridge – then you might not think there’s much of a difference.  “Why the fuss?” you might ask.  Once they get to 10℃, you’re thinking “Now I see the difference”.  And a few more degrees higher, “Wow, I’m over the regular stuff, Grand Cru is where it’s at!” is what you’re saying.

In my imagination, anyway.

For dry wines, obviously sweetness doesn’t come into it – actual sweetness doesn’t, that is; some wines can taste sweet if they are particularly fruity.  Where a wine has been oaked in some way (see upcoming post on oak in wine), then if served too chilled it can taste bitter.  For me, 10C is too cold, but if it gets poured at that temperature then the changes in the glass can be thrilling.

Here are 3 fantastic Chardonnays sold by the glass at Ely Wine Bar in Dublin:

  • Domaine Marc Colin et Fils Saint-Aubin La Fontenotte 2011
  • Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills M3 Chardonnay 2012
  • Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2011

image

 

For reds, temperature is also very important, but so is exposure to oxygen.  If you have a decanter, or even a basic glass jug, you can get so much more taste (and therefore value) out of a full bottle if you decant it.

Of course, if you’re at an establishment which has a great selection by the glass, you won’t have to do that – pouring into a glass is sort of a mini version of decanting anyway.

Tasting wines at the same time gives you the opportunity to see how they evolve side by side – give it a try!

Fabulous Farmer Fizz – Grower Champagne Part Two

Part One introduced the different types of producer, the grapes and the main areas of Champagne.  Now we look at different grower Champagnes from different subregions of the area.

Wine Workshop Grower Champagne Tasting

In mid August I ventured again to The Wine Workshop in Dublin for a fab tasting of Grower Champagnes, hosted by Morgan VanderKamer.  Thanks to my friend Una who helped with the photos!

Réné Geoffroy “Expression” Cumières 1er Cru NV (Vallée de la Marne)

Réné Geoffroy Expression 1er Cru NV

Réné Geoffroy Expression 1er Cru NV

Champagne Réné is now run by Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, son of Réné and grandson of Roger who first moved from just producing grapes to making Champagne.  Although they have an elegant maison in Aÿ, 14 out of their total 17 hectares under vine are in the Premier Cru village of Cumières, in the heart of the Vallée de la Marne.  The family can trace their roots in the same village back to the 17th century.  Production volume is 9,000 cases per year of which 500 are vintage.

This is the top cuvée made by Geoffroy, always made from a blend of two different years.  The assemblage is given as 50% PM 30% C 10% PN – though that would leave me feeling a little short-changed.  All the grapes are hand picked and a traditional “Coquard” press is used.  Parcels are fermented separately to help decide on the blend furether down the line.  Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) is blocked to retain fresh acidity. A proportion of the reserve wines are aged in oak to add texture.

Compared to many sparkling wines this tasted a little less fizzy – more like a Perlé style, which used to be known as Crémant before that was appropriated for traditional method sparkling wines from other French regions.

Roberdelph NV Charly-sur-Marne (Vallée de la Marne)

RoberDelph NV

RoberDelph NV

All because…the lady loves…RoberDelph!  This was my friend Una’s favourite of the evening.  The most Pinot Meunier-biased Champagne of the tasting (the assemblage of the current bottling is 75% PM, 16% C, 9% PN, though it may fluctuate a little), it had a certain earthiness…it would be amazing with Mushroom risotto.

As a NV it is usually based substantially on one year with around 30% reserve wines from three previous years.

RoberDelph have just 5 1/2 hectares under vine round the village of Charly at the western end of the Vallée de la Marne (the Marne of course being the river after which the Département is also named).  Their vineyards are composed of 20 different small parcels with different soils and are farmed using “lutte raisonné” methods – think similar to organic but pragmatic rather than dogmatic.  They are now run by the 5th and 6th generations of the Robert family.

Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Cuvée Cuis 1er Cru NV (Côte des Blancs)

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Cuvée Cuis 1er Cru NV

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Cuvée Cuis 1er Cru NV

Olivier and Didier Gimonnet are the grandsons of Pierre Gimonnet who expanded the family business from grape growing to producing their own Champagne in 1935.  They have been growing grapes in Cuis since 1750.

They have 28 hectares of Chardonnay within the Côte des Blancs (plus a couple of small plots of Pinot Noir elsewhere):

- Cuis and Vertus Premiers Crus
– Cramant, Chouilly and Oger Grands Crus

They make a single non vintage (for which they use the more romantic term Sans Année) and five different vintage cuvées which aim to maintain the house style while showcasing the great terroirs of the Côtes des Blancs.  Above all they value elegance, finesse, minerality and freshness, with everything in balance.

The high percentage of old vines at this estate sets it apart from many others.  There is always a trade off with vine age – yields tend to decline with age, but the resulting juice becomes more and more concentrated – it’s quantity versus quality.

This NV is a personal favourite – it showed very well at the Glasnevin Fizz Fest last year.

Watch out for their Spécial Club bottlings which are Gimonnet’s flagship – grapes are selected from their oldest vines, go through MLF and then over five years ageing on the lees.

Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Cru NV, Avize, (Côte des Blancs)

Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Gru NV

Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Gru NV

I’ve been a fan of Denis Varnier’s Champagnes since I first visited him in Avize in early 2012. I sneaked this into the tasting and it threw some of the tasters.  It had much more body and texture than usual for a blankety blank.  Oak?  No, that would be the five years (minimum) on the lees.

Denis eschews oak and blocks MLF to keep the wines as fresh and pure as possible. The grapes for this bottling are grown in a walled vineyard in Avize called Clos du Grand-Père, named after Denis’s maternal Grandfather Jean Fannière who became a Champagne producer when already in his 50s.

V-F produce another premium Chamapgne called Jean Fannière Origine – it’s a similar style and quality level to St-Denis but made with grapes from Cramant and a lower dosage.

Jacquinot et Fils Blanc de Noirs NV (Cote des Bar)

Jacquinot & Fils Blanc de Noirs Brut NV

Jacquinot & Fils Blanc de Noirs Brut NV

The Côtes des Bar is a Pinot Noir stronghold – it accounts for 87% of the vines there. This is a 100% Pinot Noir so it has some real guts – layers of red fruit with enough body to accompany the main course of a meal.

The Jacquinot estate dates back to the French revolution. Pierre Jacquinot expanded the family vineyard holdings just after first world war, at the same time becoming a grape broker and Champagne wine merchant, adding his own pressing centre  in 1929 and starting to make wine.  In 1947 with his 2 sons Jacques and Jean-Guy he created the brand Champagne Jacquinot et Fils.  Jacques looked after sales and Jean-Guy developed the vineyard.  Jean-Manuel Jacquinot, Jean-Guy’s son, Oenologist in charge of production since 1998 is now running the Estate with the help of François Nicolet, Jacques’s son- in-law.

Other Jacquinot wines of note include the  White Symphonie which has 10 years on the lees and their top bottling Harmonie which has 14 years!

Dravigny-Godbillon “Cuvée Ambre” NV, Ecuille

Dravigny-Godbillon Cuvée Ambre NV

Dravigny-Godbillon Cuvée Ambre NV

What a delightful label! *cough*  But hey, if people aren’t going to buy it because of the cover then there’s more to go round for those of us who value the contents!  The good folks at Ely Wine Bar in Dublin obviously share the same opinion as it’s on their list next to the big guns of Taittinger and Bollinger.  As it’s a small producer they only export to two countries – Denmark and Ireland!

The blend is 70% PN, 25% C, 5% PM, so there is plenty of strawberry goodness but wrapped in a lemon envelope.  The Chardonnay keeps it fresh enough that it doesn’t tire after a few glasses.

Guy Charlemagne Le Mesnil-sur-Oger Grand Cru 2004 (Côte des Blancs)

Guy Charlemagne Mesnillésime 2004 Grand Cru

Guy Charlemagne Mesnillésime 2004 Grand Cru

Did anyone else get the pun?  Mesnillésime is a portmanteau of Le Mesnil sur Oger, the Côte des Blancs village where Champagne Guy Charlemagne is based, and Millésime, the French word for vintage.  Krug’s super-premium single vineyard vintage Clos Le Mesnil comes from the same village – it’s probably the best source for Chardonnay in the whole of Champagne.

This is the firm’s top bottling, being 100% Chardonnay from having spent spends six years maturing on the lees before disgorgement, and gets a light dosage of 4g/L so qualifies as extra brut.  The mousse is more persistent than Jeremy Paxman…it’s so creamy and goes on and on.  Lemon meringue, crème fraîche, the flavour keeps on coming.

Although this was by some distance the most expensive Champagne at the tasting, in the not-so-humble opinion of this taster it was the best value of all!.