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!.

Fabulous Farmer Fizz – Grower Champagne – Part One

What is Champagne?

It’s a wine.

It’s a wine made in a certain way from grapes grown in a delimited area.

That’s it.  Yes it’s a load of fun, often a part of big celebrations, a bit of bling in a nightclub, or even launching a ship (don’t know about you but I always use Champagne when launching a ship), but for me they are secondary to Champagne’s identity as a wine.  Also, there is Increasing recognition that Champagne can play a part in accompanying many – or all – courses of a meal, as well as being an apéritif or a vin de plaisir.

Of course the luxury image of Champagne is no accident, it’s down to the marketing prowess of the Grandes Marques over the last century or so.  In their quest for a reliable, consistent wine the big houses buy grapes from all over the Champagne region, and blend them to create an ongoing house style – particularly with the non-vintage (NV) wines which are the vast majority of the bottles produced.

Maker's Mark

Thus, apart from a few ultra rare and ultra expensive select bottlings, Champagne made by the big houses doesn’t reflect a particular vineyard site.

Step up the Growers!  Despite the high capital costs of setting up, Champenois grape growers are increasingly setting up to produce their own Champagne – see RM in the box above.  They maintain a close link between the place the grapes are grown – the terroir –  and the final product in your glass.

Grapes – The Big 3 Stars

Most new areas producing quality sparkling wine will use the big three Champagne grapes, whether we’re talking Tasmania, Marlborough or Sussex.

Chardonnay (C) gives lifted lemon citrus notes, which make it the lightest grape out of the three.  All-Chardonnay cuvées need some serious ageing on the lees to gain complexity – they can be pleasant but rather simple if they are disgorged and released straight after the legal minimum ageing (15 months for NV).  Approx. 29% of total vines

Pinot Noir (PN) gives red fruit aromas and flavours – particularly strawberry and raspberry – just as you get in a still red Pinot Noir.  It also gives body and richness – sometimes even chewiness.  It’s this Pinot whose colour is used for rosé Champagne.  Approx. 38% of total vines

Pinot Meunier (PM) is often regarded as the ugly sister of the big three, and while it might be true to say that it doesn’t hit the heights of the other two on its own, it can play an excellent supporting role.  It tends to show soft fruit characteristics such as pear and lychee when young, and then a certain earthiness with more age.  Approx. 32% of total vines

Grapes – The Supporting Cast

If any of you did the maths from the three grapes above you will have noticed that the total proportion of Champagne’s area under vine represented by them is 99% – so what is planted in the remaining 1%?

These are four traditional grapes that have fallen out of favour in the area, but where they are planted the owners can keep on farming them.  Such minuscule amounts means the wines are very hand to get hold of, but if you fancy trying something different then Laherte Frères make a Champagne from all seven grapes.

Pinot Blanc is often a component of Crémant d’Alsace and Franciacorta (where it is known as Pinot Bianco.  It gives soft apple and citrus flavours.

Pinot Gris sometimes hides in Champagne under the pseudonym Fromenteau – but it’s really the same grape which does so well in Alsace and still pops up occasionally in Burgundy.  When picked early it (as is often the case in Italy) it can show high levels of acidity which of course make it ideal for sparkling wine.

Petit Meslier is an appley variety that has a flagwaver based in – rather bizarrely – South Australia’s Eden Valley!  In a region best known for dry as a bone Riesling, Irvine Wines make a varietal Petit Meslier sparkling wine which they claim was the first to be commercially bottled anywhere in the world

Arbane also has a champion, but this time in Champagne itself.  The house of Moutard Père et Fils make the only varietal Arbane Champagne.  Their vintage wine spends over 6 years on the lees so it’s the yeast rather than grape variety which are most apparent.

Home Ground

Champagne has a single Appellation for the whole region, but there are recognised sub regions within it.  They can be grouped as:

The Vallée de la Marne is the most equally balanced between the three main grapes – 24% Chardonnay, 36% P Meunier and 40% P Noir

The Montagne de Reims is the large hill (mountain is pushing it a bit!) just south of the city of Reims.  Here Pinot Meunier has the lead with 62% of the total.

The Côte des Blancs (which also has the more southerly Côte de Sezanne grouped with it for statistical purposes) is a chalky slope which majors in Chardonnay (82% overall and 95% in the central Côte itself – hence the name.

The Côte des Bar is the most southerly and highest of all the Champagne areas.  Pinot Noir is the king down here with 87% of the land under vine.

Part two will look at some specific grower Champagnes.

Groovy baby, Grü-Vee!!

Austin Powers Grü-Vee

Groovy!

Grüner Veltliner became the go-to wine for New York’s sommeliers in the late 1990s because it is an accommodating wine to pair with so many different types of food – fish, vegetables, white meat and even some red meat.  It can age beautifully and takes on a texture and richness than is comparable to the great whites of the Côte d’Or.  With a somewhat intimidating Germanic name it was given the sobriquet “Grü-Vee” or “Groovy” – and I just can’t but help think of Austin Powers when I hear that!

Since the 90s Grüner has fallen out of fashion somewhat in the big apple, but this doesn’t really upset the producers in its homeland of Austria as they can sell as much as they produce in the domestic market.  It accounts for around a third of all vineyard plantings in Austria and is particularly valued given its status as the signature variety of the country.  Riesling can produce profound wines in Austria, perhaps even more than Grüner, but Austrians don’t have the same sense of ownership (after all, the Germans and Alsatians have something of a claim to Riesling as well!)

Origins

The name actually means Green grape from Veltlin, which is in Lombardy.  In the days before passport controls when borders were fluid it was difficult to say where was Germanic and where was Italic.  Indeed a village called Tramin in the northern Italian region South Tyrol is thought to have given its name to the grape Traminer which is one of the parents of Grüner Veltliner.  The white version of Traminer is also important as Savagnin in the Jura, and the pink version is also known as Klevener when grown in the northern Alsace village of Heiligenstein.  A further mutation and it became Gewürztraminer “Spicy Traminer” – even more expressive.

The other parent of Grüner is the almost-extinct St. Georgener-Rebe which is just holding on in the village of Sankt Georgen am Leithagebirge in the Burgenland.  If you can find a bottle of that you are a true wine geek!

Outside the Eastern Kingdom

Grüner is known as Veltlinske Zelené in Slovakia where it is the most widely planted grape.  It also flourishes in the Czech Republic and just over the border from Austria into Italy.  Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria also have a small amount planted.

In the New World it also has a foothold in the cooler regions of the USA (Finger Lakes, Oregon…), Australia (Adelaide Hills), New Zealand (Gisbourne, Marlborough) and Canada (Okanagan Valley, BC).

Vineyard location

Grüner often does best on loess - silt, sand and a bit of clay mixed together.  Other sites with loam tend to produce more full-bodied The sunny days and cool nights of Austrian summers are perfect for ripening with enough sugar and flavour but maintaining lively acidity.

So, is now the time to say “Anti-Freeze”?

For those (like me) old enough to remember, Austrian wine was enveloped in an adulteration scandal in 1985.  Though the facts were slightly misconstrued, the damage stuck and the Austrian wine industry all but collapsed.

When trying to rebuild out of the scandal, super-tough regulations were announced so that no-one could doubt the quality of the product.  Like many other wine producing areas, Austria set up an “Appellation Contrôlée” type system, using the Latin “Districtus Austriae Controllatus” or DAC for short.  Interestingly (for geeks like me), instead of using Brix or Oechsle as measures of must weight (and therefore potential alcohol), the common measure in Austria is KMW.  That’s one for the memory bank.

The drawback of having a DAC for a region is that wines must be made in an prescribed style to carry the name, otherwise they don’t have the right to use their home region’s name at all.  This is one of the regions why the Wachau has stuck to its own classification system:

  • Steinfeder for wines up to 11.5% alcohol level
  • Federspiel for wines between 11.5–12.5%
  • Smaragd must have a minimum of 12.5%

The D6 Wine Club Grüner Veltliner Tasting at Wine Workshop

And so to the event that prompted this post in the first place – a tasting at Dublin’s newest wine shop, The Wine Workshop, focused solely on “Austria’s Golden Child”.  Our host(ess)-with-the-most(ess) Morgan Vanderkam will be writing her own blog on the event sometime soon, so I will link into that when published.

Ingrid Groiss Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel DAC 2013

Ingrid Groiss Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel 2013

Ingrid Groiss Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel DAC 2013

Ingrid Groiss is a talented and passionate young winemaker from the Weinviertel.  The Hare on the label represents the fertility of the land and harmony with Mother Nature (yeah OK, it does sound a bit hippyish!)  Her vineyards are located in the Pulkautal at Haugsdorf and at Fahndorf near Ziersdorf – google maps is your friend! – and mainly have loess soils.

Weinviertel has a DAC designation for white wine only, and currently only for Grüner Veltliner.  It was the first DAC to be created in 2003, effective for the 2002 vintage and onwards.  This example has the secondary designation Klassik, which means it is made in a clean, un-oaked style with no botrytis apparent.  If you like Alsace Riesling, give this a try.

Birgit Eichinger “Wechselberg” Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal DAC, 2013

Birgit Eichinger "Wechselberg" Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, 2013

Birgit Eichinger “Wechselberg” Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, 2013

Birgit Eichinger is another star from Kamptal.  This is a single vineyard wine – that vineyard being Wechselberg.  Although this is technically dry (2.1g/L of RS) it would still be a good match for spicy dishes – the fruit flavours make it taste sweeter than it actually is.

Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner “Tradition” Reserve, Kamptal, 2010

Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner "Tradition" Reserve, Kamptal, 2010

Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner “Tradition” Reserve, Kamptal, 2010

Schloss Gobelsburg is a major producer in Kamptal, and thankfully (given the quality) it appears on several wine merchants’ shelves  in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere.

This “Tradition” is a clean, racy example that starts to show plenty of fruit a little while after being poured, with just a little of Grüner’s signature white pepper on the finish.

Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010

Schloss Gobelsburg "Lamm" Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010

Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010

This was probably my favourite wine of the tasting!  Tasted blind I might have guessed an an Alsace Pinot Gris – it has the same oily, rich texture.  Acidity isn’t forgotten, there’s a streak running through the middle of the richness that keeps it fresh and balanced.

Gritsch “Smaragd” Loibenberg Grüner Veltiner, Wachau, 2007

Gritsch "Smaragd" Loibenberg Grüner Veltiner, Wachau, 2007

Gritsch “Smaragd” Loibenberg Grüner Veltiner, Wachau, 2007

If you were paying attention above you will see that this is the biggest, boldest type of Wachau wine.  From a single vineyard site, it is made in a fruit forward style but is robust enough to even pair with beef.  Fermented to dry, it can reach 14.0% abv – that’s pretty robust in a white wine!

 Claus Preisinger Grüner Weltliner, Weinland, 2012

Claus Preisinger Grüner Weltliner, Weinland, 2012

Claus Preisinger Grüner Weltliner, Weinland, 2012

A very modern label for a post-modern wine – a natural, orange wine.

Let’s tackle Natural first: The vineyard is certified Biodynamic and the wine is made with as little modern technology and intervention as possible.  Zero sulphur is added at any stage, even bottling.

And Orange?  Red wine is generally made with black grapes, and white wine is generally made with green grapes – in a different way, mainly in that the juice is pressed out of the skins then taken off quickly before colour and tannin leach into the juice.  Now imagine green grapes given the red wine process – then you have orange wine!  This has more colour than a typical white and noticeable tannin.

It’s not for everyone, but if you want to step out onto the ledge of wine’s high-rise, here it is!

 

 

To The Bat Caveau – Let’s Go!

Earlier in the year I was invited to the trade and press tasting held by Le Caveau in the function room at Fallon & Byrne in Dublin.  When I say invited, I sort of invited myself, but they were a very welcoming bunch.

Originally starting out with a retail outlet in Kilkenny in 1999, Le Caveau specialises in importing artisan wines directly from small, family-operated vineyards from around the world.  The following year they added a wholesale arm to supply the on- and off-trade throughout Ireland, and of course they have a website.

As you might see from my selection, the husband and wife team of Pascal and Geraldine Rossignol take great pride in the “hand-made” aspect of small producers, though they offer a few bigger brands here and there to broaden out their range.

So let’s begin at the beginning – it’s the fizz!

Meyer-Fonné Crémant d’Alsace NV

Meyer-Fonné Brut Extra Crémant d'Alsace NV

Meyer-Fonné Brut Extra Crémant d’Alsace NV

Meyer-Fonné are one of the many excellent family vineyards in Alsace.  Having tasted a couple of their wines a Sweeney’s Wine Merchants in Dublin, when I organised a family holiday to Alsace in 2012 I made sure I included them in the itinerary.  And they were incredibly warm and welcoming – without any pressure to buy the poured me a taste of every single wine they make – so we’re talking over fifteen here.  Thankfully my wife could drive us back to our gîte – and I did buy a fair few bottles anyway!

So how is their fizz?  This would never be mistaken for Champagne – but it’s not trying to be Champagne so why should it apologize?  Like many Alsace Crémants it is predominantly made from Pinot Blanc, though apparently it also contains some Pinot Meunier (the third of the traditional Champagne grapes, though very unusual for Alsace!) and Pinot Noir.

As a Crémant it is made in the same traditional way as Champagne, though without the “C” word on the label it comes in at around half the price of some well known marques.  It has been such a success in France that it is now the second best selling type of sparkling wine after Champagne.

Meyer-Fonné Crémant has lovely fresh citrus and apple notes, with just a touch of balancing residual sugar apparent – it would make an excellent aperitif or partner well with white fish and seafood.

Philipponat Royale Réserve Brut NV

The predominance of red fruit (strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, red cherry…) over citrus (lemon, lime…) and the chewy texture made me think that Pinots make up the majority of the blend.  And so it transpires…it’s made from the first pressing (the cuvée) of Pinot Noir (usually 65%), of Chardonnay (30%) and of Pinot Meunier (5%).

The Pinot Noir mainly comes from Philipponnat’s own vineyards, located in Ay (sounds painful in French!) and Mareuil-sur-Ay.  As a non-vintage Champagne, each bottling is based on a particular year’s harvest but with reserve wines added from previous years – depending on the quality and style (this is very important) of the vintage, between 25% to 40% of the total is made up of reserve wines.  These are blended again every year in a “solera” fashion in order to incorporate older wines without loosing freshness.

The aromas and flavours are definitely reflective of the blend; citrus and red fruits plus fresh bread on the nose. In the mouth the there’s a dash lime on the attack and then softer red fruits and apples – sumptuous!

Champagne Gobillard Grande Réserve 1er Cru NV

Champagne Gobillard Grande Réserve 1er Cru NV

Don’t mind the battered label – that’s what happens when a bottle is left in an ice bucket and lots of winos help themselves to a taste!

Only 44 out of the 319 Champagne villages are classed as Premier Cru (1er is the French abbreviation).  A further 17 are classed as “Grand Cru”, though the luxury cuvées that the grapes usually go into rarely advertise their provenance – it’s all about the brand.  So it’s often at Premier Cru level where quality and value are to be found.

The assemblage is a third each of the three traditional Champagne grapes, sourced from Hautvillers (on the southern side of the Montagne de Reims), Cumières (also Montagne de Reims) and Dizy (Vallée de la Marne).  Two full years on the lees have imparted a creamy, bready character behind the red berry and citrus fruit.

Watch this space for the next installment – Le Caveau whites!

Highlights of The Coman’s Silent Tasting Part Three

So part one focused on Peter Lehmann’s Barossa gems and included a joke about hand gestures.  Part two covered the wines of Lapostolle from Chile and Ochoa from Navarre, with a reference to Björk “It’s All So Quiet” (you all got that, right?  right??)

Now part three will showcase a flight of Sauvignons, amongst others, and the disclosure of why this tasting wasn’t as silent as it should have been.

The Sauvignon Blancs

The first flight looks at some of the more memorable Sauvignon Blancs brought in by Comans.

McKenna Sauvignon Blanc 2013

McKenna Sauvignon Blanc 2013

McKenna Sauvignon Blanc 2013

This is an exclusive to Comans as it’s bottled especially for them by Undurraga.  The name celebrates the historical connections between Ireland and Chile in the person of Irish-born Captain John Juan McKenna who played an important role in the rebellion of 1810.  Take a few minutes to read the details in Tomas Clancy’s post here.

It’s unusual for me to recommend an inexpensive  Chilean Sauvignon, but this is well made.  You’d never mistake it for Marlborough, but if you find some of those too much then this is a little more restrained.  The key word here is grapefruit – fruit sweetness but also acidity, making it tangy and refreshing.

Sablenay Touraine AOC Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Sablenay Touraine Sauvignon 2012

Sablenay Touraine Sauvignon 2012

In terms of bang for your buck, reliability and availability, it’s pretty hard to beat a Touraine Sauvignon.  If I were drawing up a hypothetical restaurant wine list it’s the first thing I’d put on there.

This one has the typical grassy notes of a French Sauvignon, but also sweet tropical fruit and grapefruit.  It’s much more expressive that your average Touraine, a better bet than a lower quality no-name Sancerre.  Perfect for summer on the patio!

La Rochetais AOC Pouilly Fumé 2012

La Rochetais Pouilly Fumé 2012

La Rochetais Pouilly Fumé 2012

This is a lovely, pure, almost “Riesling-like” linear wine.  It’s also an accessory to an embarrassing incident.  Now as you know at pro tastings there’s no swallowing, everything is spat – if you want to taste several dozen wines and remain upright, never mind drive home afterwards, it’s the only way forward.  Plus, not having so much alcohol in your bloodstream means your senses aren’t dulled and you can focus more on the tasting.

At the time of the tasting I was still recovering from a nasty chest infection – a colleague semi-seriously asked me if I had tuberculosis.  Now imagine a sudden coughing fit when you’ve got a mouthful of Loire Sauvignon that you’re swilling round and trying to interpret.  Instinct says spit now…but I wasn’t close to a spittoon, and so almost choked.

Thankfully the assembled members of the press were very kind and didn’t mock me which they would have been entitled to do.  Though one kind gentleman did suggest I describe this wine as “one which took me breath away”.

My friends, even wine-tasting can be an extreme sport at times!

Château de Sancerre AOC Sancerre 2012

Chateau de Sancerre 2012

Château de Sancerre 2012

Forget own label Sancerres in the French supermarkets, this is the real deal.

The Château is owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family who Chilean operation featured in Part Two.  Both properties show the advantages of cooperation between winemakers from different areas; while the French influence can be seen in Lapostolle’s Sauvignon Blancs, for me there is a definite new world aspect to Château Sancerre – a roundness and suppleness to the fruit which make it caress the inside of your mouth.

The vineyards span four different soil types which, when blended intelligently, results in a complex yet focused wine.

Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2012

At the NZ Sauvignon Masterclass before the annual trade tasting this year, Kevin Judd et al. took us through how the marked differences in weather between 2012 and 2013 translated into markedly different flavour profiles.  Since then I’ve found it remarkably easy to identify 2012s blind – much greener, especially asparagus, and less tropical notes.

This Wither Hills 2012 wasn’t tasted blind but the asparagus character came straight through (I like it, some don’t), but with a tangy grapefruit finish.  Dare I suggest this would be amazing with an asparagus starter?

Undurraga TH Sauvignon Blanc (Single Vineyard) 2013

Undurraga TH Leyda Valley  Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Undurraga TH Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013

So what is this?  It’s a premium, single vineyard Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.  Given how many Chilean Sauvignons are around £6 / €10 it’s quite surprising to see a producer move upmarket.  The first tasting note I wrote was “who’s just mowed their lawn” – it’s that distinctively grassy!

The grapes are sourced from a vineyard in Leyda Valley, which is only 9 miles / 14 km from the cooling Pacific Ocean.  There are some great Pinot Noirs coming from that area, but that’s a story for another day.  This 2013 vintage wine also belies its age – it has a smoother mouthfeel than one might expect from such a young wine.

So the key questions – is it a success?  Is it worth the extra money?  Right now I’d be happy to drink it, but I probably wouldn’t spend €24 of my own money in a wine merchants.  However, I reckon this will actually evolve over the next few years, so I’d be very interested to taste an example with some more bottle age to see where it goes.

The Best Of The Rest

If you’re all Sauvignoned out, here are some of the other whites which stood out for me:

Dr L Riesling 2010

Dr Loosen Riesling 2010

Dr Loosen Riesling 2010

For those scared or wary of Riesling, Dr Ernst Loosen’s entry level bottling is a great place to start. It’s fairly simple, though it has enough acidity to evolve more complexity over a decade.  It’s fresh and fruity with a touch of residual sugar, but it’s pleasant and balanced – so moreish!

Of course Dr L makes more profound and expensive Rieslings, but the true nature of the bargain is that you won’t feel like you’re missing out even if you’re a Rieslingphile.

Also check out this post from Tim Milford.

Salterio Albariño DO Rias Biaxas 2012

Salterio Albarino DO Rias Baixas 2012

Salterio Albariño DO Rias Baixas 2012

I like Albariños on the whole, but my main beef with them is that they often don’t offer enough bang for the buck.  Meet Salterio’s offering which is a great value example from Rias Baixas.  It won’t be the best you’ve ever tasted but it’s remarkable at the price.

Protos Verdejo DO Rueda 2012

Protos Verdejo DO Rueda 2012

Protos Verdejo DO Rueda 2012

Not much to add here as I’ve recommended this Rueda several times before – it’s a cracker!

Muga Barrel Fermented White Rioja 2013

Muga White Barrel Fermented 2013

Muga White Barrel Fermented 2013

Rioja’s Viura (also Catalonia’s Macabeo) is a fairly neutral grape.  By neutral, I mean thin and often lacking in flavour.  This makes it a good base component for Cava, but can make for an uninspiring dry still white.  The winemakers of Rioja have long used two main techniques to add interest to their whites – oxidisation and barrel ageing.  As a personal preference I’m not yet a convert to oxidised styles, so such examples from Rioja leave me cold.

Happily for me, this Muga example is clean as a whistle and definitely worth a try.  It has 10% Malvasia in the blend and was fermented in new French barriques.  Maturation on the lees adds to the creamy texture, but it is tangy and fresh – a great example at a fairly modest price.

Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royal Brut NV

Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royal Brut NV

Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut NV

Good Cava and other traditional method sparklers are better than poor Champagne (the type you often see in the supermarkets at 50% off).  But good Champagne holds its own, in my opinion.

This is an almost-equal-parts blend of the main Champagne grapes – Chardonnay for lemon and freshness, Pinot Noir for red fruit and body, plus the often unfairly maligned Pinot Meunier for  white fruit and floral notes.

The Cuvée Royale has three years on the lees prior to disgorgement – far beyond the minimum for not vintage – and this is where the extra body and creaminess come from.  It’s far better value than a special offer Champagne.

 

 

 

 

The 75+ most influential wine peeps on social media

frankstero:

If you look way down the list, yours truly squeezes on to the list…surprised and well chuffed!

Originally posted on The Wine Wankers:

How The Wine Wankers appear on Klout

How The Wine Wankers appear on Klout

Over the last couple of months there have been a few “most influencial wine people on the Internet” type lists circulated.  They’ve all been quite good indicators of wine related influence on the net, within the scope of what qualifies to make each list of course.  I’ll briefly go over two of these…

View original 1,881 more words

Highlights of The Coman’s Silent Tasting Part Two

Shhhhhhh!

It’s oh so quiet.

Not really.  Continuing from part one’s look at Peter Lehmann’s Barossa offerings, we now turn to a major producer from Chile whose flagship white I am a big fan of, plus a Spanish Bodega I hadn’t heard of before making top quality traditional-style reds.

Casa Lapostolle

Going under the tagline “French in essence, Chilean by birth” the house (“casa” of course) of Lapostolle is a Chilean outfit owned by the French Lapostolle-Marnier family, famous for the Grand Marnier liqueur.  Even before founding their Chilean outpost twenty years ago, the family was heavily involved in wine, particularly in the eastern Loire.

Regular readers will know that I really rate their Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay (in fact I made it one of my favourite whites of 2013), how does the rest of the portfolio stand up?

Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc

This is not your bog-standard Chilean Sauvignon, which can sometimes even be made with the inferior Sauvignonasse (or as I like to call it, Sauvignonarse) grapes.  For me this is where the French influence really shines though, it’s a great everyday-drinking bottle but would be fine to serve to guests at the weekend too.

Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay 2012

Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay

Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay 2012

The baby brother of my favourite below, how does it compare?  Well it tastes exactly like a junior version – gently toasted oak in the background and luscious tropical fruit in the mid-palate.  Grapes are sourced from the Casablanca Valley, fermented in stainless steel and then matured for seven months in a mix of old and new French oak barrels.  Bravo!

Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay 2011

Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay

Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay 2011

Nectar of the gods!  Melon and pineapple sing but grapefruit keeps it from getting out of hand.  Plenty of acidity to keep it from getting flabby and low residual sugar giving a dry finish.  The 2011 had 75% of whole cluster pressing and 25% of maceration into the press before fermenting. 50% was fermented in French barrels and 56% was aged in French barrels for 8 month (part news and part used) and 44% in stainless steel tanks. The wine didn’t go through malolactic fermentation which accounts for the strong streak of acidity.

Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

As any wine student will tell you, wines sold in the EU have to have a minimum of 85% of the stated varieties, and therefore don’t have to tell you about the other 15%.  This Ribena-special Cabernet actually has 7% Carmenère, 3% Merlot, 3% Shiraz and 1% Cabernet Franc in the blend – and is probably all the better for it.  Cabernet can have a great attack and great finish but be a bit hollow in the middle – it sometimes gets called the “doughnut grape”.

All the grapes are harvested by hand and fermented with the native yeasts of the area (the subject of a future geeky blog post).  Maturation included six month in oak, 55% of the wine was aged in new barrels and the balance in second and third fill barrels.  If you like this style of wine (which I do), this is a steal!  Mint and chocolate really come through on the palate; tasted blind I might have guessed at my favourite red wine region of Coonawarra.

Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon

Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Whereas the baby brother Cabernet above was made from grapes grown in the Rapel Valley, the Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet was grown in Lapostolle’s Apalta Vineyard in the Colchagua Valley. Cabernet vines were planted here from imported French clippings in 1920 – makes a mockery of the term “New World”

The assemblage for 2011 was 88% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Cabernet Franc and 5% Syrah.  It changes from year to year depending on how different parcels perform and hwo they work when blended together.  The vineyard is certified Organic by CERES, if you pay attention to that sort of thing.

100% of harvesting is by hand, then triage is done partially (77%) by optical sorting machines and the remainder (23% for those who can’t count) is hand de-stemmed. Only wild yeasts are used for fermentation; this, and the relatively shaded nature of the vineyard mean that alcohol is a relatively sensible (for such a warm climate) 14%.

So how does it taste?  It’s definitely a Cabernet, tannins are present and correct, but they are fine.  It’s approachable now but needs several more years to blossom.

Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta 2008

Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta

Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta 2008

This is Lapostolle’s flagship wine, one might even use the unloved term “icon wine”, with a price tag to match.  Why is it so expensive, and is it worth the money?

The idea behind the wine is to use the best quality grapes available, give them the most painstaking manual treatment, and intervene with the winemaking process as little as possible.  For example, the fruit is harvested by hand very early in the morning (so that temperatures are still fairly cool) and then stacked in small 14 kilos cases (so there’s less chance of grapes bursting and either spontaneously fermenting or spoiling.  On arrival at the winery the grapes are 100% destemmed and sorted by hand.

After pressing, French oak fermentation vessels are filled by gravity which is the gentlest way to handle the must.  The native yeast strains that arrived with the grapes are left to their own devices, apart from temperature control keeping a ceiling of 26C.  Manual punch downs (as opposed to pumping over, for example) are used to extract colour, tannin and flavour from the macerating grapes over four to five weeks.

The juice is then racked into 100% new medium toast French oak barrels and left to go through malolactic fermentation.  After 22 months maturation the wine is bottled by gravity “without any treatment or filtration” – I don’t know if this precludes a dose of sulphur at bottling or not, but it does mean no cold stabilisation.

You might have noticed that the grape variety is absent from the front of the bottle.  The blend for 2008 was 73% Carmenère (Chile’s signature grape), 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot.  This is significantly different from year to year (another good reason not to put it on the front) – for example 2011 has only 57% Carmenère, 2009 has a dash of Petit Verdot (another minor Bordeaux grape).

And what is the result from all this care and expense?  It’s a monumental wine, huge, powerful and packed with flavour.  Keen tasters will notice the results of the heavy extraction process.  Although we are now over six years from the 2008 harvest, this still needs a long time to unfurl and even out.  If you want to try it now then I’d suggest several hours in a big decanter ahead of serving.  Personally, I’d buy a case and forget about it for five years!

Ochoa

Still in the Spanish speaking world, we now head to Navarre in northern Spain.  At one time considered part of the Basque Country, Navarre is now a separate autonomous community from an administrative point of view, sandwiched between the Basque country and La Rioja.

From a vinous point of view, it’s slightly more complicated as DOCa Rioja wine can include grapes from some parts of Navarre and the Basque province of Álava.  DO Navarra is for wines made in the southern part of the autonomous community, principally in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  Navarre used to be well known for its rosado wines, but now whites and especially reds are more common.  With slightly more relaxed regulations than Rioja next door, international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are fairly common.

Ochoa are a crowd I hadn’t heard of before, but when looking at their website I learned that they are a family business who have been making wine for over six centuries – not newcomers then!  They make three distinct ranges:

The following three wines are from the latter range.

Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza DO Navarra 2010

Ochoa Crianza 2010

Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza 2010

Made from 100% of the early-ripening Tempranillo, this has spent twelve months in 225 litre American oak barrels (the same size as Bordeaux’s barrique) – double the minimum of 6 months for a Crianza.  The grapes come from the Santa Cruz estate in Traibuenas.

It’s full of voluptuous red fruit – cherry, strawberry, redcurrant, plus delicious vanilla from the oak.  Ochoa give food matching suggestions of grilled meat, stews and cured cheeses, but to be honest it’s might fine drinking on its own.

Ochoa Reserva DO Navarra 2007

Ochoa Gran Reserva 2005

Ochoa Reserva 2007

Now we have the Reserva level which means wines have to be aged for at least three years before release, of which at least one has to be in barrel.  Ochoa go a little further and have a minimum of fifteen months in oak. As there’s a step up in quality and price, they also use more expensive French oak along with the American oak.

Rather than being a single varietal, the Reserva is a blend of Tempranillo (55%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Merlot (15%).  The palate moves on from just red fruit to a blend of red and black – this makes perfect sense when it contains Cabernet.  There’s also a touch of mocha which I reckon comes from the toasted French oak.

Ochoa Gran Reserva DO Navarra 2005

Ochoa Gran Reserva 2005

Ochoa Gran Reserva 2005

I tend to steer clear of Gran Reservas.  I often find them far too woody and far too dry – a result of being aged for far too long in oak.  Don’t get me wrong, I like oak if it’s done well – but if there isn’t the fruit to support it in the first place I will happily leave it to others.

The general rules for Spanish Gran Reservas require a total ageing of five years before release, of which at least eighteen months has to be in barrel, and thirty six years in bottle.  Ochoa mature theirs in French and American oak for two years, and don’t filter, fine or cold stablilise to preserve as much of the flavour as possible.

The Gran Reserva is a Tempranillo – Cabernet – Merlot blend just as the Reserva was.  It’s a step-up in intensity of flavour and body.  Black fruit has almost totally replaced red fruit, and the mocha tones are right up front.  It’s a gorgeous drop, and I don’t find it in the slightest bit “woody” – hurrah!

Update: Stockists

In Ireland, Lapostolle wines are stocked by (amongst others)

Ochoa wines are currently only sold to the on-trade (i.e. restaurants) but in future are quite likely to be listed by:

Keep your eyes out for Part 3 which will include lots of savvy Sauvignons!

Sunshine On A Rainy Day!

If there’s one thing you can guarantee in Ireland, it’s that the weather will change during the day.  It’s not quite the “Four Seasons In One Day” that Crowded House sang of – the climate here is generally too moderate for those extremes – but rain could arrive at any time.  Sat outside in the sun at the weekend, I pooh-poohed the rain symbol on my smartphone’s weather app…

My friend and fellow ex-pat Laurent holds a barbecue every year for his birthday in July, and it has now become something of an institution.  Despite the usual poor Irish summer he has been lucky with the weather for several years now.  This year it was mixed – but I didn’t get wet so I’m all right (Jacques).

As the hosts and majority of guests are French, the format follows French protocols which are quite different to a usual Irish (or English) barbecue:

  • It stretches out over five hours or so – much more civilised than wolfing down food
  • It always starts with the apéritif, including nibbles, and often sweet wine
  • There’s loads of red wine on the go all the time
  • High quality meat on the barbecue is going to be saignant!
  • Sparkling wine with dessert (works as long as it’s not too dry)

Below I’ve picked out some of the excellent wines we had this year:

 Pol Roger “Extra Cuvée de Réserve” Brut NV

Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve NV

Pol Roger “Extra Cuvée de Réserve” Brut NV

The blend is a third of each of the classic Champagne grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  There’s (citrus and red berry) fruit and flowers in there as you’d expect from the blend, but there’s also a delicious aroma of brioche from extended lees ageing that comes through nicely on the palate.

Pol Roger is still family owned and was famously the favourite tipple of Winston Churchill – they even named their prestige cuvée after him.  You might just be able to make out the royal warrant in the photo above – the British Queen drinks it too so we’re in exalted company.

The non-vintage (NV) is also available as an ultra-dry zero-dosage “Pure” and a sweeter demi-sec “Rich”.  I haven’t tried them but my money would be on the regular Brut being the best balanced.

Muscat à petits grains Passerillé Vin de Pay d’Oc 2004

Muscat à petits grains Passerillé 2004

Muscat à petits grains Passerillé 2004

The Muscat grape is one of the oldest continually grown wine grapes around, and flourishes around the Mediterranean in particular.  It’s also one of the few whose wine actually smells and tastes of grapes.  Due to its antiquity it has had plenty of opportunities to mutate, so there are now over two hundred different varieties of Muscat.  The main four varieties used for wine-making are:

  • Muscat blanc à petits grains
  • Muscat of Alexandria
  • Muscat of Hamburg (aka Black Muscat)
  • Muscat Ottonel

In the south of France it is often fortified to make a Vin Doux Naturel such as Muscat de Beaume de Venise, Muscat de Saint-Jean de Minervois and Muscat de Rivesaltes.

This is a different kettle of fish entirely.  Instead of fortifying the fermenting grape must to increase the sweetness and alcohol levels, the Passerillé method involves drying picked grapes on straw mats so that water evaporates remaining sugar and flavour is concentrated.  It’s sometimes known as straw wine due to the process.

Having a sweet wine as an apéritif is a very French thing to do – and this oak-aged beauty was something special.

Cave de Turckheim Riesling “Marnes et Calcaires” 2010

Cave de Turckheim Riesling "Marnes et Calcaires" 2010

Cave de Turckheim Riesling “Marnes et Calcaires” 2010

Probably the best co-operative in Alsace, the Cave de Turckheim has a fantastic range of varieties, quality levels and styles on offer.  The Terroirs range has different grape and soil combinations.  This is a Riesling grown on marl and limestone and shows beautiful lemon and grapefruit cossetted by a hint of sweetness on the finish.  Perfect for a warm day and great value.

The Main Event – Les Cotes de Boeuf

Côte de Boeuf

Les Côtes de Boeuf

This is the “before” picture – it was so tasty it didn’t stand a chance of being snapped “after” being cooked!  A côte de boeuf is basically a rib-eye on the bone, but cut really thick as you can see.  Just delicious!

 Domaine de Chazalis Coteaux de l’Ardèche 2010

Domaine de Chazalis Coteaux de l'Ardèche 2010

Domaine de Chazalis Coteaux de l’Ardèche 2010

This was probably my favourite red we tried at the barbie.  It’s made in northern Rhône which is the original Syrah homeland, but just to the west of the Côtes de Rhône appellation, hence it carries the IGP tag Côteaux de l’Ardèche.

Like many a St Joseph or Cornas, it’s a very savoury style – smoky bacon! – with dark black fruit and a twist of pepper.  This example from the warm year of 2010 is great to drink now but would happily keep on evolving for the next five to seven years at least.

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz 2011

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz 2011

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz 2011

It’s a while since I last had this so I was surprised that it wasn’t totally over the top alcohol wise – 13.5% is fairly modest for a South Australian Shiraz, even in these days of modest ABVs.  The flavours and mouthfeel are pretty much what you’d expect – concentrated black fruit with a touch of vanilla from the oak, and quite chewy but with very restrained tannins.  This isn’t going to evolve into something fabulously complex but it’s very pleasant drinking right now – and it was a bargain at a fiver from Asda.

 La Domelière Rasteau 2012

La Domelière Rasteau 2012

La Domelière Rasteau 2012

Rasteau has long been an Appellation Contrôllée for fortified wines, but was promoted to AOC for dry red wines in 2010 with effect from the 2009 vintage.  Prior to that it had been a VDQS (AOC in waiting) and was also allowed to be sold as Côte de Rhône Villages-Rasteau.

Now we’re in the southern Rhône it’s Grenache, not Syrah, that dominates.  Big, bold and fruity at 14.5%, this 2012 is still very tight, and although it’s very easy drinking it will be better still with a few more years.

 Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV

Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV

Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV

This is fab easy-drinking fizz.  The Special Reserve is a step up from the standard Lindauer range and so receives 24 months on the lees rather than the usual 15 – so it’s probably had more than many cheap Champagnes.

Being a Blanc de Blancs this is of course made from just white grapes, and it’s the classic Chardonnay of Champagne.  Lindauer source their grapes from Gisborne on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, an area noted for its Chardonnay.