Tasting Events

Champagne Laherte Frères [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 1]

Champagne Laherte Frères is based in the village of Chavot, a ten minute drive south-ish of Epernay.  The estate was established in 1889 by Jean-Baptiste Laherte and was expanded incrementally over the generations.  The estate is named after sixth generation brothers Christian and Thierry, though I couldn’t confirm if they were the first to make the big leap from growing grapes to making their own Champagne.  Thierry’s son Aurélien has been a part of the firm for the last fifteen years.

Laherte’s 11.38 hectares of vineyards are covered in detail on their website.  The majority are in villages of the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay, split 4.22 ha planted to Chardonnay, 3.88 to Pinot Meunier and others 1.18 ha.  A further 1.48 of Pinot Meunier is in the Vallée de la Marne and 0.62 of Chardonnay on the Côte des Blancs.  They have identified 75 different plots which are vinified separately; 80% of the wines are fermented and matured in wood barrels or casks.

Credit: Laherte Frères

Since 2011 Laherte has also bought in grapes from growers who farm around 4 hectares in the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs; of course these growers share the same philosophy.

This is our way of celebrating the terroir: by respecting differences, promoting uniqueness, and letting the soil express itself.

In his excellent book on Grower Champagne “Bursting Bubbles”, Robert Walters makes some excellent point about the style and quality of Grower Champagnes in general.  Firstly, many who make Champagne under the Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) label are simply much smaller versions of the big Houses; it is those who focus on their terroir and allowing their wines to express it that can make great Grower Champagnes.  Secondly, small producers who take such care but also buy a small amount of grapes from close contacts – and therefore have the Négociant-Manipulant (NM) label – can also make excellent terroir Champagnes.

Aurelien Laherte was noted as a promising grower in Bursting Bubbles, but of course as the firm now buys in grapes  they are classed as NM.  Walters specifically mentions Jacquesson & Fils as an example of terroir focused small houses, but I believe that Laherte Frères would also qualify for that accolade.

Laherte make a large number of different wines, grouped into three different types.  The wines in blue are reviewed below.

  • Ultradition: Brut, Brut Rosé, Brut Blanc de Blancs
  • Special & Original Cuvées: Ultradition Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut
  • Terroir Fundamentals Cuvées: Les Beaudiers (Rosé de Saignée Meunier), Les Longues Voyes (Blanc de Noirs 1er Cru), Les 7 (all 7 Champagne grapes in a “solera” system), Les Vignes d’Autrefois (Old Vine Meunier), Les Grandes Crayères (Vintage Blanc de Blancs)

Champagne Laherte Frères “Ultradition” Extra Brut NV

This is a blend of the three main varieties: 60% Pinot Meunier (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and Pinot Noir (10%).  40% of the total is from reserve wines which are kept in barrel and add complexity.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked for a portion of the base wines to give a mix of roundness and freshness.  Those base wines also spend six months on their lees while maturing.

Ultradition Extra Brut has an amazing nose of lifted floral, citrus and pear aromas; so lifted, in fact, that you feel like you’ve got the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building.  In the mouth it pulls off the trick of being both creamy and fresh, briochey and citrusy, with a lively mousse and a satisfying, fresh finish.

Champagne Lahertes Frères Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut NV

This is a “Rosé d’Assemblage”, incorporating both saignée and pressée techniques.  Made solely from old vine Pinot Meunier, it consists of 30% macerated wine, 10% red wine and 60 % white wine.  40% of the later is from reserve wines aged in barrels.  Vinification is the same as for the Ultradition Extra Brut, though dosage is even lower at 2.5 g/L.

The nose is full of juicy red fruits that leap out of the glass.  On the palate they are further defined as strawberry, cherry and raspberry.  The dosage is low, even for an Extra Brut, but the quality of the fruit and the fact they are picked when fully ripe means that more is not required.  The fruits are so fresh and vivid that, if tasted blindfolded, you’d be peeking to see if any berries were floating in your glass.

Champagne Lahertes Frères Blancs de Blancs “Les Grandes Crayères” 2014

This is a single vineyard, single variety, single vintage wine made from one of Laherte’s best sites.  As you might be able to guess from the name “Les Grandes Crayères” the vines are grown on chalky soils.  Not in the Côte des Blancs, however, but rather in their home village of Chavot where the chalk  in some plots is only 20 cm down.  Unlike the other cuvées above, MLF is totally blocked for this wine to preserve acidity as the wine ages over the years.

The Champagne geeks among you might wonder what the single variety is; for the vast majority of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes this would automatically be Chardonnay, but when a producer makes a wine with all seven permitted varieties (five white, two black) then it could be any one of five.  But it’s Chardonnay!

And what a Chardonnay!  The nose has layers of flowers, lime and toast plus a little candied peel.  In the mouth it is creamy yet fresh and refined, with mineral notes and a certain tanginess.  This is an amazing wine that could be nothing else than a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.

Opinion

Super Value Xmas Wines 2020 part 2

Here are four more of the wines that Kevin O’Callaghan has selected for the SuperValu Classic Christmas promotion.  If you missed Part 1 you can find it here.

Barão de Vilar Douro Tinto Reserva 2018

There’s the well worn saying that “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is”, so it was with not inconsiderable wariness that I approached this wine as it is on offer at almost half price.  There are some labels which are so regularly on promotion in supermarkets that the “real” price – if there is such a thing – is far from clear.

Some brands are even created with the specific purpose of being listed at a high price then discounted by 50% on a regular basis.  For me this is a cynical and misleading practice.  Happily, the wine reviewed below is emphatically not one of those wines, and it’s even listed with a well established Dublin wine merchant for €19.95!

Anyway, back to the wine itself.  The key grapes are Douro stalwarts Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão.  After alcoholic and malolactic fermentation the wine spends 14 months in French oak.  This is a dark and concentrated wine with bold black fruits, decent acidity and grainy tannins, but compared to some Douro wines I’ve tried it pulls everything together really well; all the components work together as part of an integrated whole, making for an elegant wine.  Yes, it’s still very young so could happily lay down for a year or ten, but it’s tasty enough that you might not be able to wait.  If you can’t wait, decant if possible and serve with red meat or other rich dishes.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €14.83 or case deal of 6 for €50.00 from 5th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores

Pagos de Labarca AEX Rioja 2016

Pagos de Labarca is one of the labels of Bodegas Covila, a well-regarded Rioja co-operative.  The AEX is one of Covila’s signature wines, made in small quantities from old (35 years+) bush vine Tempranillo.   Alcoholic fermentation is carried out in stainless steel tanks, after which the wine is transferred into new American and French oak barrels with varying levels of toast.  There, the wine goes through malolactic fermentation and matures for a total of 17 months before being blended back together and bottled.

The nose is very expressive; rich red berries (from the Tempranillo) and vanilla (from the American oak) combine with fine herbs and hints of chocolate and coffee.  Succulent, rich red fruits abound on the palate – red cherry, strawberry and raspberry – overlaid with vanilla bean custard.  Darker fruits then emerge, still fighting for your attention with the vanilla.

This is not a Rioja which could be mistaken for a Ribero del Duero or Toro – it’s too refined and bright.  Although it’s not too tight and dense, it would definitely benefit from decanting or a large glass to allow its complex aromas to fully develop.  A real treat of a wine!

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €22.62 down to €20.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores and supervalu.ie

Château Lacombe-Cadiot Bordeaux Supérieur 2018

The De Mour group is a Bordeaux-based wine company with five Châteaux and a negociant line where grapes and / or wines are bought in from other producers.  One of their properties whose wines I have tried and enjoyed several times is Château Tayet, located in Macau just south of Margaux.  Château Lacombe-Cadiot is situated in the Ludon, the next commune south of Macau and close to the Garonne.

Although we’re in the Médoc, Merlot is still the most important grape (sorry Jim!) in this Bordeaux Supérieur with 80% of the blend and Cabernet Sauvignon the balance.  In the glass the wine has a deep core with the rim turning from purple to ruby.  Initially the nose gives a huge hit of exotic spice then black fruit and a hint of vanilla.  On the palate plums abound, both red and purple, along with brambles and the vanilla again.

The technical sheet for this wine states that fermentation and maturation are in stain less steel tanks, but I could swear that some portion of it has spent time in oak.  It has great concentration and a dusting of light tannins on the finish.  This is a smooth and rewarding wine that is well worth its normal price tag, but represents excellent value on offer.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €15.73 down to €13.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores and supervalu.ie

Lady de Mour Margaux 2018

Hopping back up two communes from the Lacombe-Cadiot gets us to Margaux itself, one of the top four appellations of the Médoc.  Margaux wines are nearly always majority Cabernet Sauvignon though a lower proportion than the other three appellations.  I don’t have the precise blend of Lady de Mour but I would guess something like 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc.  It is lighter in both style and alcohol compared to the Lacombe-Cadiot, mainly due to the difference in blend.

The Lady has a mid to dark core in the glass but a very purple rim, indicating relative youth.  It’s quite muted on the nose – you have to search for the dark fruit aromas rather than them leaping out of the glass.  Black fruits delight on the attack, but are then overtaken by graphite, violets and a touch of green bell pepper.  This is a really elegant Margaux, not as juicy as the little brother but a great introduction to proper left bank Claret.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €34.42 down to €25.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores

 

 

Single Bottle Review

Offley Drinkable Port

Vintage Port is the pinnacle of the Port quality tree, only made in the best years and very rarely in two successive years.  It’s a wine made for the long haul, able to last for several decades and often entering its peak drinking window after one or two.  The drawback is, however, that it is often unapproachable in its youth.  A very small proportion of wine drinkers buy bottles to drink a decade hence, leaving Port producers with something of a dilemma.

A few months ago I attended a zoom masterclass with Luís Sottomayor, winemaker at Offley Port and Casa Ferreirinha (I have already written about the latter’s Vinha Grande Branco and Tinto here).  Luís gave an overview of the 2018 harvest and the background to the 2018 Vintage Port: Spring 2018 was wet and the Summer not particularly hot.  The harvest started earlier than usual in mid September, but was done very slowly as maturity was quite uneven.  Overall 2018 was similar to the 2016 vintage apart from a slightly hotter summer in ’16.

The principal varieties used are Touriga Francesa, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão.  To make this Port more approachable the proportion of Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) was increased; it has a high level of tannins but they are soft.

The grapes were foot-trodden in traditional lagars for maximum flavour and colour extraction without bitter phenolics.  Normal corks are used as, in Luís’s considered opinion, they are the best closure for ageing.  The wines have great body, acidity and structure making 2018 a classic Port vintage, though the crop was small.  Luís characterises it as a fairly simple wine, easy to understand, drinkable when young but capable of ageing for decades.

Offley Vintage Port 2018

It might be approachable but this Vintage Port is opaque in the glass, as it should be.  The nose has intense, rich black fruits, lifted aromas including spice and balsamic notes.  The palate shows both red and black fruits, balsamic notes, chocolate, all kept fresh by good acidity.  It’s a very generous but not overwhelming wine; it flows straight down without having to chew.  Perhaps this is Goldilocks’ Port?  Not too sweet, not too tannic or dry, not a blockbuster, but not too light.  In a word, accessible!

Luís recommends drinking with cheese or – as the locals do – with Feijoada, a Portuguese black bean and meat stew.

  • ABV: 20.0%
  • RRP: €78.99
  • Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; wineonline.ie
Opinion

Super Value Xmas Wines 2020 part 1

I’m a big fan of the smaller wine importers and distributors in Ireland and the independent wine shops where many of their wines are sold.  Neither of these roles is easy or that well paid, but require a passion for wine.  The other part of wine retail is the supermarkets and multiples who have higher quantities but lower priced offerings.  The challenges here – especially in supermarkets – are very different.  Wines have to be very commercial – which I use in a factual and not derogatory sense – as wines have to mainstream and meet customers’ expectations rather than being quirky or unusual.  They often have to have attractive packaging and offer very good value for money – there’s no hand-selling like in an indie – and they have to sell.

The Irish supermarket that strikes the best balance for me is SuperValu and its head of wine Kevin O’Callaghan.  I write about their wines frequently for two main reasons:

  1. I taste a lot of their wines (which are usually samples, and are disclosed as such)
  2. Their wines nearly always offer great value for money, especially when on promotion

And, just as for all retails and importers who send me samples, if I don’t like a wine I just don’t mention it.

In addition to the noted price reductions SuperValu also offer €10 off any six bottles from Thursday 26th November to Wednesday 9th December.  Below I review some of the “Classic Christmas Wines” that Kevin has selected for their Xmas promotion.

Disclosure: all bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own

André Goichot Chablis 2018

I reviewed this vintage back in September of this year and liked it; if you like Chablis or clean, dry but fruity whites, then this citrus and green appled wine is definitely worth a try.  Great for seafood or as an aperitif.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €19.66 down to €15.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores and supervalu.ie

Guy Saget Sancerre 2018 

I also reviewed this wine in September, but I think it’s showing even better with a few more months.  The mid-palate has some particularly tasty tropical notes, along with gooseberry and just a little grassiness.  At the regular price of just under €20 this Sancerre is very good, but at €15 it is a real bargain.  Just don’t drink it too cold!

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €19.66 down to €15.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores and supervalu.ie

André Goichot Fleurie 2018

Another wine from the Goichot stable, but this time a Cru Beaujolais.  Fleurie is one of the lighter Crus, and it shows in this wine which is quite pale in the glass – I could read print through a tasting sample.  The nose has both fresh and tinned strawberries, with a touch of black cherry reminding me of Ski yoghurts in an ’80s flashback.  The strawberries are also prominent on the palate, but with a hint of spice in the background.  There’s a nice texture and fresh acidity to this wine which make it very quaffable.  This isn’t the best Fleurie I’ve ever tried but at €12 on offer it’s a great mid-week quaffer to have on the wine rack, or with cold cuts over Xmas.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €14.66 down to €12.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores and supervalu.ie

Rémy Ferbras Vacqueyras 2018

Vacqueyras, for those who don’t know it, is a southern Rhône Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre (GSM) blend which offers a bold fruity red wine in the vein of Châteauneuf du Pape but at a lower price.  Grenache gives easy drinking red fruits, Syrah gives pepper, spice and more savoury notes while Mourvèdre gives grip, perfume and meaty aspects.  The precise ratio between the three components depends on what style the winemaker is looking to achieve.

The nose on this wine is all about the fruit; blueberry, wild strawberry and tinned strawberry.  These notes continue through onto the palate where black fruits and herbs also appear.  The finish is quite dry which made me think there there’s a good proportion of Syrah and Mourvèdre in the blend; subsequent investigation revealed there to be 20% and 10% respectively which fits my observations.

This is a reasonable effort.  I don’t think I’d buy it at full price but the significant reduction puts it into the “worth a try” category.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €20.65 down to €14.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores or supervalu.ie

Vivaldi Ripasso 2018

The Ripasso style is a half way house between normal Valpolicella and Amarone, made by pumping Valpolicella wine into a tank which was used for fermenting Amarone, after that wine has been pumped out leaving the gross lees (mainly grape skins) behind which still have some fermentable sugars left.  The end wine has a little more alcohol and (usually) a little more residual sugar than the plain Valpolicella.

This example from Vivaldi is made from three classic local grapes: Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella.  For real wine geeks (such as myself) it is interesting that the initial fermentation was at 25°C – 28°C whereas the subsequent fermentation was carried out at just 15°C.  Maturation was in wood before bottling.

That last sentence is important; for me the (unspecified) wood had an important influence on the wine, adding creamy vanilla and toasty notes to the bright cherry fruits from the grapes.  Residual sugar is 8.5 g/L which is mainly perceived as extra body and roundness rather than sugariness.  It’s the velvety texture which will appeal to most about this wine, though the downside is not quite as much freshness as I’d like myself.  It’s definitely worth a try at the normal price of €15.65 but it’s an absolute steal at 6 for €40!

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €15.65 or case deal of 6 for €40.00 from 17th to 20th Dec while stocks last
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores

 

Make Mine A Double

Big and Bold from Boutique [Make Mine a Double #69]

On this 69th installment of Make Mine a Double (the favourite installment of Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan of course1) we look at two big and bold reds from Boutique Wines, a small wine importer based in Dublin.  One is from South West France made (primarily) with a grape that has found fame in Argentina: Malbec.  Outside of south western France, Malbec is used in the Loire and as a minor blending grape in Bordeaux (though its ability to thrive in warmer weather is likely to see its importance there rise again.)

Another Bordeaux blending grape that has found success in Argentina, though on a much smaller scale, is Petit Verdot.  The Bordelais use it as a seasoning grape, adding a dash of colour and tannin when 5% or so is added into a blend.  The second wine below is 100% Petit Verdot but from a different warm, Spanish speaking country – Spain itself!

Disclosure: the Cahors was a sample but opinions remain my own (the Petit Verdot was an unrelated gift2)

Château Nozières Ambroise de l’Her Cahors Malbec 2016

Château Nozières owns 55 hectares in total spread close to its home in Vire-sur-Lot.  They are on a continuous journey to understand the nuances of each site.  For this “Ambroise de l’Her” the fruit is selected from older parcels of Malbec (90%) and Merlot (10%) grown on clay / limestone terraces of the Lot River.  Yields are kept at 40 hl/ha and canopy management is by hand.  Harvesting is by a combination of machine and hand followed by fermentation in temperature controlled vats over three weeks.  MLF takes place in the same vats followed by maturation in used (between one and five years) oak barrels for 12 to 14 months.

Whether it’s climate change or the rise of Argentine Malbec that has a bigger influence on Cahors is unclear, but their effects are reflected in this ripe, fruit driven bottle from Château Nozières.  Although ripe and full-bodied, it’s not at all jammy as tannins keep exuberance in check.  The balance is enough for it to be quaffed on its own, enjoying the sweet black fruits, but it also works superbly with hearty winter food.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €16.95 (down from €21.00)
  • Stockists: Boutique Wines, Barnhill stores Killaney/Dalkey; Mortons, Ranalagh; Listons, Camden street; The Wine House Trim; Emilie’s, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry; Pat Fitzgerald’s (Centra), Dingle Co. Kerry; Grape and Bean, Portlaois; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil Street; Blackrock Cellars; Gleeson’s, Booterstown Ave

Bodegas Señorio de Iniesta “Colección 34”  La Tierra de Castilla Petit Verdot 2018

Bodega Iniesta is a relatively new venture – very new in Spanish terms! – as the winery was only built in 2010.  Located an hour an a half’s drive west of Valencia, the Bodega has in excess of 300 hectares of vines, including both Spanish and international varieties.  They make a wide range of styles and quality levels – and even offer olive oil.  Petit Verdot is an unusual variety to plant, but I’m glad they did because it really works!

In the glass it pours a dark red with a purple rim.  On the nose it shows an array of ripe black fruit: blackberries, blueberries and blackcurrant, but with delightful violet aromas floating over the top.  These notes all continue onto the velvety palate with vanilla also appearing.  Pleasant, slightly drying tannins integrate well into the long finish.  Although it’s not sweet like a dessert, for me this wine evokes blackberry crumble with vanilla custard – just delicious!

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €14.95
  • Stockists: Boutique Wines, Barnhill stores Killaney/Dalkey; Mortons, Ranalagh; Listons, Camden street; The Wine House Trim; Emilie’s, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry; Pat Fitzgerald’s (Centra), Dingle Co. Kerry; Grape and Bean, Portlaois; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil Street; Blackrock Cellars; Gleeson’s, Booterstown Ave

Conclusion

These are both well-made wines – at any price point.  When the prices are taken into account then they offer remarkable value for money.  I’d be very happy with either wine but the Petit Verdot is outrageously good for €15 in Ireland, so that would be my pick of the two.

 

1 Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan are – of course – known better as just Bill and Ted

2 Thanks Sinéad!


 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #19 – Alan March

In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:

  • A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
  • A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it

It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.

The nineteenth installment in the Frankly Wines and Friends Music and Wine series comes from another fellow wine blogger Alan March.  The big difference between us is that I taste wines sat at home whereas Alan reports from the vineyard and cellar of a renowned Languedoc producer – he’s walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

While I respect the impact that David Bowie has had on English and world music I wouldn’t count myself as a devoted fan; I’m more of a Greatest Hits listener than scouring every track on a album.  However, where Alan and I agree is that Heroes is Bowie’s best ever track – it’s a masterpiece.

Of course Alan’s articles are mainly about Mas Coutelou, but in scanning his previous posts I noticed that he had reviewed the Sauvignon Blanc from a producer – Elgin Ridge – whose Chardonnay I reviewed myself quite recently, so that was an easy choice.


David Bowie – Heroes

When Frankie selected ‘Heroes’ I smiled. It is my favourite song. Bowie has been my musical hero for almost 50 years, my first gig was Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust in Newcastle City Hall. Through various guises he refreshed and widened my musical influences. In 1976, very ill through cocaine addiction, Bowie moved to Berlin to clean up. The three ‘Berlin’ albums (though only Heroes was recorded in Berlin) mark another shift, this time to European electronica, collaborating with Eno, Fripp and Visconti. The song itself is a reflection of time and place, the synthesisers and lyrics featuring Bowie’s observation of Visconti’s embrace with a lover by the Berlin Wall next to the recording studio.

Collaboration, bringing the best out of everyone plus his own touch of genius, intriguing lyrics and a deep and evolving sound, though Heroes has become one of those songs played almost too much it still makes me joyful every time I hear it. So, a wine to match it? Well, it has to be Jeff Coutelou’s La Vigne Haute (LVH).

2012 and 15 on Jeff’s table (Credit: Alan March)

I am biased of course. As my biography notes say spending time learning about soils, vines and wines was a huge change from my previous career. A former teacher himself, Jeff taught me about the vineyards, nature and natural winemaking.

Most Coutelou wines are blends, LVH is unusual in being from one grape, Syrah, and from one vineyard which faces north to avoid the hottest sun. It reflects the place with warmth, fruit and complexity from the various geological strands of La Garrigue. Hallmark Coutelou freshness is balanced by a depth of flavours. LVH is only made in years with exceptional fruit, Jeff extracts the best from the terroir. Like Heroes it is ageless but can be enjoyed at any time. For me, time in the Coutelou vineyards marked a period of healing just as Berlin did for Bowie.

Put the song and wine together and I am in heaven.

Elgin Ridge 282 Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon; so is this the grassy green of the Loire or the tropical fruits of Marlborough? Well, neither. Biodynamically grown, ducks for pest control, low enough SO2 levels for RAW – this is my kind of Sauvignon. The use of barrels, some new, adds a different flavour profile to the norm; creamier and fuller but cut through with green apples and freshness. Above all it is balanced and very drinkable.

I was tempted to select a Graceland period track from Paul Simon but opted instead for First Aid Kit’s ‘Emmylou’.

When the Söderberg sisters performed it live for TV on a Glastonbury show the harmonies and melody hooked me in. Those features made me pair it to the nominated wine. The nod to country music’s roots through Johnny and June, Gram and Emmylou whilst adding their own Swedish pop influence reflects the South African twist on Elgin Ridge’s wine. It is a country whose wines are quickly becoming top quality and regulars in my wine racks, Emmylou is a song whose quality makes it one of my most played these days.

This is the TV performance which made me stop:

Alan March

County Durham born and bred, I was a teacher for 34 years with a passion for learning. Two years of ill health for me including a ruptured Achilles and ongoing ME persuaded my wife and I to move to the Languedoc. A passion for wine had led to us holidaying in wine regions for many years and being in the Languedoc for most of the last 6-7 years (until the tribulations of 2020) meant that I could spend time learning about wine with my friend Jeff Coutelou. Planting, grafting and harvesting, bottling, labelling and promoting the wines has given me a deeper understanding of the world of wines, especially natural wines. My blog A March in the Vines was created to share my learning and I am grateful for the surprising numbers who read it. I am also on Twitter and Instagram.


The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series
No. Guest Name Music to pair Wine to pair
19 Alan March David Bowie – Heroes Elgin Ridge 282 Sauvignon Blanc
18 David Crossley Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere Dom. Rietsch Sylvaner Vieille Vigne
17 Mitchell Young Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness Montirius Vacqueyras “Garrigues”
16 Brad Horne Oasis – Champagne Supernova Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling
15 Liam Mycroft Eric Clapton – Bad Love Bodegas Garzon Albariño
14 Lee Isaacs The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter Domaine Jones Fitou
13 Sharon L Souls Of Mischief –  93 ‘Til Infinity Penfolds RWT
12 Tim Milford Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man Nyetimber Classic Cuvée
11 Mags McKee U2 with BB King –  When Love Comes to Town Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden
10 Cara Rutherford The Cure – Just Like Heaven Suertes del Marqués ‘7 Fuentes’
9 Melanie May The Cult –  She Sells Sanctuary Sipp Mack GC Rosacker Riesling
8 James Hubbard Gary Moore – Parisienne Walkways Penfolds Bin 707 Cab Sauv
7 Paul Moran Underworld – Rez Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
6 Nirina Plunkett Jamiroquai – Space Cowboy Club Remix Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace
5 Penny Sadler Fleetwood Mac – Dreams Bollinger Special Cuvée
4 Jim Dunlop The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road Man O’ War Valhalla Chardonnay
3 Avril Kirrane McMorrough Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why Joseph Cattin Riesling Reserve
2 Tim of Soliciting Flavours Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings Viña Tondonia Blanco
1 Sinéad Smyth Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You Mullineux Syrah

 

Opinion

Lidl Xmas 2020 Wines

Lidl Ireland are launching their Christmas wines in two separate parts, the first of which is already underway.  In addition to those limited release wines – marked * below – they are stocking up on new vintages of regular favourites.  My reviews below are not unqualified recommendations; other wines of the same type are available which offer better quality, though not better value.  I let you, dear readers, decide on whether each wine sounds like its worth putting in your trolley.

Disclosure: bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own

Clare Valley Riesling 2019*

This is a gentle Riesling, very drinkable and with no sharp edges.  When compared to the best Clare Valley Rieslings such as Grosset Polish Hill or Petaluma Hanlin Hill it’s a much simpler wine, with a shorter finish and even has a touch of residual sugar.  However, this is aimed at the casual drinker and I doubt that many people would be in the market for both styles; Lidl’s example is actually more approachable so might actually be more preferable for those looking for an easy-going (and less expensive) tipple.

When to drink: Whenever you like!

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €8.84
  • Stockists:  Lidl Ireland

Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva 2020

While the Riesling above isn’t very “Riesling” this 2020 Gran Reserva is VERY “Sauvignon Blanc”!  By this I mean that it is very young and expressive, and needs a little more time before settling down.  The key is one of the “Gs”, the aromas and flavours found in this Chilean Savvy:

  • Grass
  • Green (bell) pepper
  • Gooseberry
  • Grapefruit

For me the green pepper sticks out a little too much at the moment, so if you aren’t fond of that flavour then this wine isn’t for you.  However, if you are ambivalent or like green capsicums then you might be a fan.  Try decanting!

When to drink: With a fresh green salad or with goats cheese.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €12.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Il Santo Bevitore IGT Isola Dei Nuraghi 2019

This wine was a total unknown to me so I had to do a little research.  Isole dei Nuraghi is an IGT which covers the whole of Sardinia.  Many international grapes are used plus a few local specialities.  My guess was that this was a Syrah / Merlot blend but I was unable to confirm this.  The nose is smoky with red and black fruits.  The palate has black cherries and sour red cherries, overlain by a touch of vanilla.  Acidity is medium to high but not jarring.

When to drink: With just about anything apart from fish or seafood.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €11.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Barossa Valley Shiraz 2017*

In a similar vein to the Clare Valley Riesling, this is a very approachable, easy-going wine that doesn’t demand too much from its drinkers – it’s made in a deliberately commercial style.  The nose shows blackberry, blackcurrant and a little vanilla.  These notes continue through onto the palate but adding a little stewed fruit to the fresh.  Light tannins round off the wine nicely, though the finish is a little short.

When to drink: Very quaffable on its own, or pair with richer foods.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €8.84
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Carménère Gran Reserva 2020

Carménère is one of Bordeaux’s six black grapes, though it’s hardly grown there at all these days.  Instead it has become the flagship black grape of Chile, where it was mistaken for Merlot for over a century.  In the glass it pours a bright purple, typical of the variety.  The nose is lovely, with rich cassis, spice and blackberry.  These notes are repeated on the palate though they are somewhat barged out of the way by our friend green pepper; these green pepper notes tend to appear in Carménère when the grapes are picked before they have reached full phenolic ripeness, often when they are harvested at the same time as the earlier-ripening Merlot.  In this case, seeing the 14.5% alcohol, I wager that this wine was made from very warm vineyards where the sugar outpaced the flavours.  At any rate, the finish is nice and smooth.

When to drink: Beef or lamb stew.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €11.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Corte Alle Mure DOCG Chianti Riserva 2015*

2015 was an excellent year throughout most of Italy so I was eager to try this Chianti Riserva.  This isn’t what I’d call a polished wine, but it is very Chianti, by which I mean it has typical tobacco and liquorice on the nose, Morello cherries and a hint of oak on the palate.  Acidity is prominent which makes it a food wine rather than a comfortable sipper

When to drink: Charcuterie or mixed Christmas leftovers.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

 

Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #18 – David Crossley

In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:

  • A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
  • A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it

It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.

Our guest for the 18th installment of the Frankly Wines and Friends Wine & Music Series is a fellow English wine enthusiast and blogger, David Crossley.  David started his blog just after me, though he has a long involvement in the wine scene.  I enjoy reading his pieces as his writing is so easy to read and takes you on a journey; heck, I’d probably read his review of knitting patterns if he was so minded.

The song I chose for David was based on his recent Instagram “location” – Road to Nowhere – which I assume is a reference to our current lockdown but also referencing the Talking Heads song – which I still have on 7″ single somewhere.  It wasn’t the first Talking Heads song I heard but it was the one which cemented my appreciation of them and their amazing lunatic singer David Byrne.

David and I share an appreciation for Alsace, though his is much more focused on the natural wines produced in the north of the region.  When looking through the wines he had reviewed previously there was one that jumped out – an old vine Sylvaner.  Sylvaner is an under-appreciated grape but can be wonderful in the right hands, especially when made from old vines.  The odd but funny thing for me is that this wine is labelled “Vieille Vigne” singular – are the wines of such small production because they come from a single vine?  Perhaps, but probably not…


When Frankie asked me to contribute to this Series of wine and music connections I think I initially misunderstood the brief, but looking at the track and the wine he sent me I saw a real connection between the two, so I thought I’d subvert the usual format (which he will think is typical me) and write about the two together.

Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere

I became a Talking Heads fan after seeing them perform Psycho Killer on the Old Grey Whistle Test, and I managed to see them in London a couple of times when they subsequently visited the UK (Fear of Music and Remain in Light Tours). Road to Nowhere is from their sixth (1985) album, Little Creatures, by which time MTV had magnified their stardom.

The song is very David Byrne, beginning with the lyric “Well, we know where we’re going but we don’t know where we’ve been”. A poppy number, The Heads in marching beat with a bit of Cajun squeeze adding a jauntiness, and you can just see Byrne dad-dancing down a long and empty road in somewhere like Utah. A classic single, when singles meant something (peaking at Number 6).

Domaine Rietsch Sylvaner Vieille Vigne

Credit: David Crossley

Jean-Pierre Rietsch is a member of the “Mittelbergheim School”, named after a village in Alsace’s Bas-Rhin department. This part of Alsace has always been unloved by the older wine writers who pin whatever Alsace passion they have on the tourist villages to the south, around Colmar. But not only is Mittelbergheim a centre of excellence and excitement in the renaissance of the region through its emerging natural wine scene, it is also hosts some of the best sites for that much maligned member of the Alsace grape family, Sylvaner.

Jean-Pierre’s VV version is a multi-vintage wine, the one I have before me being blended from the 2015 and 2016 vintages. It’s a natural wine, fermented with ambient yeasts, aged on its lees and bottled with minimal sulphur. What you get is concentrated and mineral. If you want to try French Sylvaner at its very best, take the step up to his cuvée from the Zotzenberg Cru, the finest site in the country for this variety. But the “Vieille Vigne” really isn’t far behind. Fresh acids and texture dominate, but it’s clean, pure, and alive, yet with depth as well.

For the old timers pondering the (undoubted) glories of Hugel and Trimbach down south, the wine route up to Andlau, Mittelbergheim and beyond really does seem like the road to nowhere. But anyone familiar with Alsace natural wine from the bars of London, Berlin, Tokyo, San Francisco, Paris and beyond will know that this is where the excitement lies. The wild frontier lies even further to the north these days, but there’s no doubt that Alsace is really happening. Get too stuck in and you will be on the road to (financial) ruin.

David Crossley

David turned his obsession with wine into a blog, wideworldofwine.co in 2014, after a number of years as co-organiser of the Oddities wine events. These, and the blog, focus on the wider reaches of the wine world where boundaries are pushed and new ideas and philosophies tested. His passions are probably Jura, Austria and Alsace’s natural wines, with growing interest in Czechia and Alt-Mosel. You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram.


The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series
No. Guest Name Music to pair Wine to pair
18 David Crossley Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere Dom. Rietsch Sylvaner Vieille Vigne
17 Mitchell Young Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness Montirius Vacqueyras “Garrigues”
16 Brad Horne Oasis – Champagne Supernova Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling
15 Liam Mycroft Eric Clapton – Bad Love Bodegas Garzon Albariño
14 Lee Isaacs The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter Domaine Jones Fitou
13 Sharon L Souls Of Mischief –  93 ‘Til Infinity Penfolds RWT
12 Tim Milford Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man Nyetimber Classic Cuvée
11 Mags McKee U2 with BB King –  When Love Comes to Town Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden
10 Cara Rutherford The Cure – Just Like Heaven Suertes del Marqués ‘7 Fuentes’
9 Melanie May The Cult –  She Sells Sanctuary Sipp Mack GC Rosacker Riesling
8 James Hubbard Gary Moore – Parisienne Walkways Penfolds Bin 707 Cab Sauv
7 Paul Moran Underworld – Rez Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
6 Nirina Plunkett Jamiroquai – Space Cowboy Club Remix Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace
5 Penny Sadler Fleetwood Mac – Dreams Bollinger Special Cuvée
4 Jim Dunlop The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road Man O’ War Valhalla Chardonnay
3 Avril Kirrane McMorrough Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why Joseph Cattin Riesling Reserve
2 Tim of Soliciting Flavours Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings Viña Tondonia Blanco
1 Sinéad Smyth Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You Mullineux Syrah

 

Opinion

Five Festive Flagons

As we roll on towards the festive season, despite the pandemic. many of us are starting to plan which wines we want to have in stock for drinking over the Christmas period (Christmas don’t care ’bout Covid!)  Here are five wines that you should consider this Yule:

Disclosure: bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own

Perelada Cava Reserva Brut

I reviewed this wine just over three years ago and the salient points of that article remain valid:

  • There’s a lot of very ordinary Cava out there, at very low prices (often €12 or less)
  • Small-scale, renowned producers such as Llopart and Raventos i Blanc are available from around €30 upwards in Ireland (and are usually better than any Champagnes down at that price)
  • That leaves a big gap in the market between the two price points which is neatly filled by Perelada

This Reserva Brut bottling is made from the traditional three Cava grapes: Macabeo (30%), Xarel·lo (45%) and Parellada (25%) with 15 months maturation on the lees – significantly more than the nine months minimum for Cava.  It’s highly aromatic, just a delight to sniff, but very attractive on the palate with apple, pear and citrus notes.  The finish is crisp, perhaps a little dry for some tastes (though not mine).

When to drink: This would be a great start to Xmas morning, good enough to sip on its own, with nibbles or even a smoked salmon starter.

  • ABV: 11.5%
  • RRP: €20
  • Stockists: The Drink Store, Stoneybatter D7 / Higgins Off Licence, Clonskeagh / Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Fine Wines O/L Group.

Fontanafredda Gavi di Gavi 2019

Amongst a group of my friends we have a running joke that one (Gosia) would often select Gavi di Gavi from a wine list when there were other, more interesting, options available.  This wine shows that joke to be hollow as it’s a cracking wine, full of flowers and spicy pear on the nose, sensual texture on the palate and soft stone fruit flavours.  There’s a racy acidity to the wine but it isn’t lean, just refreshing.

When to drink: With shellfish, white fish or even lighter poultry.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €20 – €21
  • Stockists: Redmonds of Ranelagh; Martins Off Licence, Fairview; D-SIX Wines, Harolds Cross

Trapiche Malbec Reserva Malbec 2019

Trapiche have several different quality levels within their line-up, including the excellent Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec which I reviewed here.  This Reserva is a more of an everyday wine, but is true to its variety with bold plum and blackberry fruits and a touch of vanilla.  It’s an easy-going red that doesn’t hit the heights but hits the spot with a steak.

When to drink: With red meat or just with your feet up in front of the TV

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €13 – €15
  • Stockists: Dunnes Stores; Nolans Supermarket, Clontarf

Mommessin Domaine de la Presle Fleurie 2018

Fleurie is Ireland’s favourite Beaujolais Cru by some distance, perhaps helped by the easily pronounceable name.  It’s a relatively light Cru so sits as a happy medium in depth of colour.  The nose shows a variety of cherries, blueberries and red table grape skins.  On the palate we find freshly-made home-made jam from a variety of red and black fruits, a little garden thyme and pencil shavings.  On it’s own I thought it a good but not great wine, but when my wife tried it with extra mature cheddar she though it magnificent – the fruit of the wine counters the saltiness of the cheese and the cheese softens the acidity of the wine.  As a non-cheese eater I will take her word for it!

When to drink: With hard cheese, charcuterie, wild boar sausages, venison, duck, or nut roast

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €18 – €20
  • Stockists: Fine Wines Off Licence; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Nolans Supermarket, Clontarf; Kellers Carry Out, Nenagh.

Boutinot La Côte Sauvage Cairanne 2017

Cairanne only became a named village or Cru in its own right a few years ago, though 20% of the land was effectively demoted at the same time (1,088 hectares of the original 1,350 survived the increased standards).  Being in the Southern Rhône this is a GSM blend, consisting of Grenache Noir (60%), Syrah (20%), Mourvèdre (10%) and Carignan (10%).  The minor grapes add considerable colour as the wine is darker than many Grenache based wines.  Their influence is felt on the nose, too, which has rich black fruit and spice, something like blackberry crumble in a glass.  These notes continue through to the palate which is velvety and powerful.  This is heady stuff, perfect for Xmas or winter celebrations.

When to drink: With friends, family, or on your own.  Treat yourself!

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €23
  • Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Martins, Fairview; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Fine Wines O/L Group

 

Make Mine A Double

A Brace of Barossa Beauties [Make Mine a Double #68]

Many a time and oft on this blog I have rated Peter Lehmann wines for their aromas and their flavours, as they were one of my reference wine producers once I “discovered” wine.  As most people know the company was founded by Peter Lehmann himself as part of his initiative to save the livelihood of many Barossa wine growers when a major buyer’s orders dropped off.

The company has changed ownership a few times, being publicly owned after a floatation in 1992, bought by the Swiss Hess group in 2003 and then back in Australian hands with Casella Family Brands from 2016.  You might not recognise the Casella name, but they own the mass market brand Yellowtail as well as boutique operations such as Brand’s Laira of Coonawarra, Morris of Rutherglen and Baileys of Glenrowan (all of which I have visited, by coincidence!)

I recently got to try two very different Peter Lehmann wines, one a traditional Barossa Shiraz and the other an aged botrytis Semillon:

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own

Peter Lehmann The Barossan Shiraz 2016

This bottling is new to me but appears to be somewhere around the middle of the Lehmann hierarchy, above the Portrait series whose Cabernet Sauvignon wooed me many years ago.  There are also Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon varietals of The Barossan.  Those with a keen eye may notice the underlining of “THE” on the label, with the emphasis probably signifying the late Peter Lehmann’s moniker of “The Baron of the Barossa”.

In the glass it is opaque, with the rim still showing youthful purple.  The nose shows juicy red and black cherries, blackcurrant, blackberry and exotic spices.  Those fruit and spice notes continue onto the palate where they are joined by coffee and chocolate, hints of vanilla, and menthol.  This is a real winter warmer of a wine, perfect for the weather as it is now!  A friend and colleague who blind tasted this wine estimate the price to be around €30 with which I concur, so in the low 20s it also offers great value.

Peter Lehmann Botrytis Semillon 2011

This bottle is from the Peter Lehmann Masters Series which includes some fantastic wines such as the Mentor Cabernet Sauvignon, Eight Songs Shiraz, Wigan Riesling and Margaret Semillon.  The current release in Australia is now the 2017 so trying the 2011 with an additional six years bottle age is a real treat.  In fact, the back label shows that it was made when PL was under the Hess umbrella as mentioned in the introduction.

Apparently the idea for a botrytis Semillon came to former Chief Winemaker Andrew Wigan (something of a wine legend in his own right) when visiting Château d’Yquem in 1981.  Of course Sauternes is usually made with a majority of Semillon which is a grape well planted in the Barossa.  The warm summers there are conducive to the development of Botrytis Cinera (aka “noble rot”) which shrivels the grapes (raising average sugar content in the juice) and gives a pleasant mushroomy aspect.

Young, dry Semillon can be very pale in appearance, but this aged sticky poured a deep gold, heading towards amber.  The nose is outrageously expressive, with layer upon layer of honey.  On tasting this is a luscious wine, bursting with bitter orange marmalade, apricot and tropical fruits.  It’s the kind of wine you want to just swirl around your mouth for an age, but isn’t cloying as there is still freshening acidity.

This is a fantastic sweet wine which I will personally be hunting down to add to my cellar!

  • ABV: 11.0%
  • RRP: €15 – €17 (375 ml)
  • Stockists: Redmonds, Ranelagh

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**