Make Mine A Double, Opinion

A Tale of Two Châteaux [Make Mine a Double #38]

chateau-de-sancerre-630x417

Does the word “Château” as part of a wine name impress you or leave you indifferent? Here are a couple of excellent Château-monikered wines from regions which are not synonymous with that word on the label:

Château de Sancerre 2016 (13.0%, RRP ~ €28 at independent wine merchants)

chateau de sancerre bottle

The Loire Valley is probably home to the most celebrated châteaux in the country, if not Europe as a succession of French kings tried to outdo each other in their weekend retreats.  To my shame I became very bored of the them and didn’t even try the local wine on my last holiday there – but in fairness I was only ten years old.

As experienced wine drinkers we try to discipline ourselves not to judge books by their covers, but we can at least admire beautiful covers like this one.  Thankfully, the contents live up to the label’s promise.  it has typical Sauvignon Blanc freshness, but isn’t hollow, like some Sancerres.  It has a touch of richness and body which elevate it above the hoi polloi – to be honest you would expect refinement in this price bracket but you don’t always get it.  Regular readers will know that cheese isn’t my thang, but the classical match of Sancerre with goat’s cheese would work well, or alternatively a lightly spiced stir fry.

Chateau discussion

Château d’Orschwihr Alsace Pinot Gris Bollenberg 2010 (14.6%, 9 g/L RS, RRP €20.95 (2014 vintage) at Karwig Wines)

Pinot Gris Bollenbeg

A quick flick at any tourist guide will tell you that there are lots of châteaux in Alsace.  However, unlike the palaces of the Loire, many were functioning fortified castles – and bear the scars of countless battles.  This is the only one I know of which is a wine producing entity in Alsace – and it’s a beauty.  The Château d’Orschwihr make some excellent Grand Cru wines (watch this space) but this particular bottle is from the lieu-dit of Bollenberg – perhaps a future Alsace Premier Cru?

Both the 2010 and 2014 were tried at a DNS Wineclub tasting earlier this year and the differences were an excellent illustration of how wines can change from year to year – vintage variation.  Age itself is a factor, of course, but the particularities of each vintage and how the producer adapts to them in the vineyard and the winery are part of what makes wine so interesting.  2010 was a very warm year and so the grapes had lots of sugar at harvest time – much was turned into alcohol (14.6%!) but a little was left as residual sugar (9 g/L).  The resulting wine is rich but not flabby – the alcohol doesn’t stand out and the slightly off dry finish is the perfect compliment to the ginger, pear and honey notes.  Cries out for Thai!

 

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

 

 

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Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Super Value Whites from SuperValu [Make Mine a Double #37]

Irish supermarket chain SuperValu is probably the best in the country when it comes to wine.  There won’t always be the oddities that you’d find in an independent wine merchant but for good wines at good prices it’s hard to beat.

The current SuperValu wine sale runs from Thursday 6th to Wednesday 26th September and includes some customer favourites at 3 for €25, plus the Duo des Mers Sauvignon Viognier which I reviewed in June down from €11.99 to €9.00 in the sale.

Here are another couple of whites which I highly recommend:

Disclosure: samples kindly provided for review, opinions remain my own

Guy Saget Sancerre 2016 (13.0%, €22.99 down to €15.00 at SuperValu)

Guy Saget Sancerre

This is textbook Loire Sauvignon – reminding us why it became popular here in the first place – and definitely a fruit forward style of Sancerre.  There’s lots of grapefruit and gooseberry, giving both lip-smacking tartness and fruit sweetness at the same time.

The back label suggests the usual food pairing of goat’s cheese and seafood, but interestingly also tandoori chicken skewers (where the aromatics and fruit sweetness balance the spices and chili) and sushi & sashimi (where the acidity and clean finish come to the fore, but the fruit sweetness can also counterbalance the heat of wasabi).

For the avoidance of doubt, this wine is also great on its own!

André Goichot Mâcon-Lugny 2016 (13.0%, €14.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Goichot Macon Lugny

Wines from Burgundy-proper’s most southerly region, the Mâconnais, are often great value as they don’t have the prestige of the big guns from the Côte d’Or.  There’s a local hierarchy that’s handy to know if you’re navigating the area:

  1. The “Crus” – Pouilly-Fuissé, Pouilly-Loché, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Saint-Véran, Viré-Clessé.
  2. Mâcon + Village name: over 20 villages can add their name, many for red, white or rosé, some for just white and one for just red or rosé.
  3. Mâcon.
  4. Regional Burgundy Appellations: Bourgogne, Bourgogne Aligoté, Coteaux Bourguignons, Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains, Crémant de Bourgogne, Bourgogne Mousseux.

Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran are probably the most celebrated of the “Crus” (a term I have appropriated from Beaujolais), but there are plenty of very good wines elsewhere in the hierarchy.  As always in Burgundy, the producer is very important.

This Mâcon-Lugny from the very consistent André Goichot is a winner, even at the usual price of €15.  100% Chardonnay, there’s lifted citrus on the nose which continues on to the palate, but then broadens out into melon and peach.  The texture and body of the wine – despite not being oaked at all – differentiate it from the more linear Chardonnays of Chablis.  There’s a clean, crisp finish to round it off.

 

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

Single Bottle Review

Giorgia on my Mind [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #18]

Giorgia

There’s so much dull Prosecco made that it could probably have its own lake in north east Italy, but a little searching can bring great rewards in terms of both outright quality and interest.  On one hand there are some fantastic Col Fondo Proseccos which are aligned with the natural wine movement and low intervention.  There are also some quality conscious producers – particularly in the DOCG areas of Conegliano, Valdobbiadene and Asolo – who strive for more interesting wines through planting on hillsides, harvesting at low yields and controlling quality.

One of Valdobbiadene’s innovators, Ca’ Salina, has chosen another route for one of its wines, using technology as a way to produce a cleaner wine:

Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions my own

Ca’ Salina Giorgia Vino Spumante Brut 2016 (11.5%, RRP £17.99 from Just Perfect Wines)

Giorgia Brut

Ca’ Salina are located in the heart of the Valdobbiadene DOCG area and have an excellent reputation for quality.  However, this offering does not carry the DOCG label – or even the lesser DOC tag – due to innovative methods used in the production process.

The “Flotation Method” is designed to remove from the juice anything which isn’t directly from the grapes – yeast, bacteria, other fungi and anything else coming in from the vineyard.  Air is mixed into the must using a centrifuge pump which creates billions of tiny bubbles.  Their electrostatic charge attracts the impurities and so the bubbles and detritus all rise to the top as a dark foam over a perfectly clear juice.  This process takes a few hours, after which the foam is removed and selected yeasts are added to begin the second fermentation.

The purity of the must means that for this wine no sulphur is added at any part of the process.  Of course naturally occuring sulphites are still present, as in all wine, but at the very low level of 10 mg/L compared to the legal limit of 210 mg/L.  The dosage is on the light side at 8 g/L, making this a Brut.

And the most important part – the taste!  Firstly, this is unmistakably a sparkling wine from north east Italy, no matter whether it has the DOCG label or not.  Made from 100% Glera (the grape formerly known as Prosecco) is has lovely citrus and pear notes, with just a touch of biscuit and brioche.  The modest dosage allows the refined fruit to come through without being swamped in sugar and leaves a crisp finish.  This is better than pretty much all Prosecco you will find in a supermarket.

I don’t know if this new technique will catch on, but in the hands of a good producer such as Ca’ Salina it can make a very good wine!

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

A Pair to Stock Up On! [Make Mine a Double #36]

Ahead of the O’Briens Wines annual wine sale (30th Aug to 23rd Sept) I’ve taken the opportunity to check in with a couple of my favourites from their range.

Astrolabe Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €22.45 down to €16.95 at O’Briens)

Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc

The Awatere Valley and regular Province Sauvignon Blancs from Astrolabe have been firm favourites of mine for close to a decade now.  The Province is a great all-rounder while the Awatere is more subtle, refined and food friendly.

I’m not one of those Marlborough Savvy haterz, but one of the downsides to such an aromatic and expressive wine is that it can overpower any delicate dishes it is paired with.  Awatere is the answer!  Instead of the typical tropical fruit notes we are greeted instead by light citrus, flowers and herbs.  It’s recognisably Marlborough but doesn’t have the usual overt fruitiness which is often perceived as sweetness – even if the wine is actually dry.  Treat yourself to an elegant Sauvignon!

Gaia Estate Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment

This is another perennial favourite of mine from – in my not so humble opinion – the best white wine region in Greece, Santorini – which happens to be a collapsed volcanic caldera in the Aegean.  Assyrtiko is the king of grapes here, and Gaia do a straight up version called Monograph which is a great introduction to the variety (and is a total steal at the current price of €11.95).

However, the Wild Ferment is on another level entirely.  A quick sniff after opening is enough for the wine to start showing its colours – fermentation with indigenous yeast gives it a wonderfully funky and exotic nose (not dissimilar from Kevin Judd’s Greywacke Wild Sauvignon).  This continues onto the palate where it’s joined by fresh lime and lemon.  This is a wine that deserves a BIG glass for extended swirling, or even decanting for half an hour before serving.  Perfect with mushroom risotto.

 

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

Information, Opinion

brandinG wiNe

Celebrity wine is not a new thing and it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.  among the “celebs” with their name attached to a wine are people from sport (golfers Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Greg Norman…), the music business (Cliff Richard, Madonna, Sting…) and the film industry (Jolie-Pitt, Sam Neill, Francis Ford Coppola).

The degree of involvement varies significantly; some of them are simply adding their name to the label of a wine made entirely by someone else, whereas others such as Francis Ford Coppola come from a family with a tradition of winemaking and are directly involved.  Sam Neill’s Central Otago wines have been recognised for their intrinsic excellence and are aimed at serious wine aficionados with regards to their price, style and availability.

Flamboyant chat show host Graham Norton was approached by New Zealand newcomers Invivo in 2011 to see if he’d like to try their wines, and he liked them so much that he ended up producing his own varietal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with them from the 2014 vintage onwards.

To that were soon added a New Zealand Rosé (Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Marlborough (50%), Gisborne (30%), Hawke’s Bay (20%)) and a South Australian Shiraz.  Last year the Sauvignon and the Rosé accounted for 10% of all Kiwi wines sold in Ireland.  Norton isn’t involved in the vineyards but he does have the final call on the blend – even single varietal wines are usually a blend of different sources of fruit – so he does more than just add his name to the label.

How have the wines become so successful?  In my view there are a number of factors:

  • The wine categories themselves are well known and popular (there’s no Graham Norton Franciacorta, for example)
  • Each wine is made in a very approachable, drinkable style to appeal to a large number of people
  • There’s a good match between the populism of Norton’s TV programmes and the style of the wines – unpretentious and accessible

Invivo_web_Prosecco600x600px1_grande

The latest addition to the portfolio is “Graham Norton’s Own Prosecco DOC Extra Dry”.  It follows the same principles as the previous wines – Prosecco is the most popular type of sparkling wine in the UK and Ireland, and it’s made in a medium-dry style (confusingly labelled Extra Dry, but that won’t put many people off).

As the (much bigger) UK market is more of a target than Ireland, the decision to go for a fully sparkling Spumante style rather than Frizzante makes sense – the wire cage over cork closure projects more quality than the latter’s bit of string.  It does make the wine a little more expensive in Ireland than it needed to be due to the double duty attached to Spumante (as is the case for Champagne, Cava, Crémant etc) but the retail price of €17.99 at Tesco Ireland should still see it flying off the shelves!

What will come next?  My guess is either a Pinot Grigio or an Argentinian Malbec…

 

Make Mine A Double

Indian Wines for an Indian Summer? [Make Mine a Double #35]

Akluj

Ten years ago my (now) wife took me to India, specifically Kerala in the far south. After finding that a few of the hotels on our itinerary were Muslim-owned – and therefore dry – it was a pleasant surprise to be given a bottle of Indian wine by the local representative of the tour operator. It wasn’t fine wine, but it was drinkable. A decade on, Indian wine is being taken more seriously, so I jumped at the chance to try these wines which are being imported into Ireland by Liberty Wines.

M/S is a joint venture between Fratelli owners Kapil and Gaurav Sekhri and Italian Piero Masi and Englishman Steven Spurrier. They were obviously unable to use their initials joined by an ampersand as retailer Marks & Spencer already have that moniker, and simply reversing the order could have led to all sorts of misunderstandings…

Among Piero Masi’s former roles, the acclaimed producer Isole e Olena stands out. Steven Spurrier is probably best known as a writer and former merchant, but also has his own Bride Valley vineyard in Dorset and founded the Wine Society of India

Akluj in Maharashtra
Approx location of Akluj within Maharashtra (credit: Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa))

I wonder what a wine map of India will look like in another decade or two…

M/S Akluj Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_WHITE NV FS

The challenges of making a wine in a sub tropical climate are countered through planting at altitude and blocking malolactic fermentation – of course it could be argued that adding 20% Sauvignon Blanc also helps.

It’s unusual to find these two grapes blended together, either in their home country of France or in the new world countries where they have also prospered – but perhaps the key here is the Italian influences on the wine, as Chardonnay / Sauvignon Blanc blends can be found in northern Italy – viticultural colonists from Napoleonic times.

As well as avoiding MLF the winemakers also eschew oak barrels, though there’s an overt tanginess which I suspect comes from some lees work. In fact, if this is tasted straight from a domestic fridge the tanginess ramps up to tartness – pour it into a big glass and swirl away, or even decant the bottle if you can, and the wine really opens up. There’s a refreshing fizziness on the tongue from the acidity, with lemon and quince flavours to the fore.

M/S Akluj Sangiovese / Cabernet Franc / Shiraz 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_RED NV FS.jpg

If Italian influences on the white had to be deduced then they are writ large on the M/S red – the champion black grape of Tuscany is still very much linked to that region.

The Sangiovesi is present from the attack to the finish, with notes of leather, tobacco and smoke. It’s soon joined by juicy blackberry and plum from the Shiraz, followed by blackcurrant and a touch of green pepper from the Cab Franc. Then the Sangiovesi has the finish to itself. There’s plenty of acidity and tannin – no fruit bomb here – so medium rare rib eye steak straight off the barbie would be just perfect!

Given the paucity of Indian wines available in this part of the world I don’t have any others to compare this pair to, but they seem quite Italian in sensibility to me – which is no bad thing! Both are worth a try, with the red shading the white in my view.

Book Review

Amber Revolution by Simon J Woolf [Book Review]

Amber Revolution

In my not-so-humble opinion, the best wine books are those where the authorSJW-pub-shot-Apr2017-pc-sm-300x295 demonstrates three important qualities: a passion for the subject at hand, a deep understanding of the topic and an inviting writing style.  Even from the opening few pages of Amber Revolution, it is obvious that Simon J Woolf has all three of these in abundance.

 

The (main) title of this book might leave even the most wine-literate scratching their heads (“what the heck is ‘amber’?”) but the subtitle makes it clear that this book is about orange wine – a small but important category which has been lauded by many sommeliers and some critics but is still being discovered and appraised by numerous others.  A slightly less cryptic “Orange Revolution” would have been somewhat divisive in these parts…

The main narrative of the book is a damn good read.  Woolf moves technical notes and references to footnotes so that the text flows well, neither overly technical nor dumbed-down.  Side panels for additional information are used judiciously, and Ryan Opaz’s atmospheric photography illustrates what the words cannot.  75 pages of short producer profiles (by country) also serve as a useful reference.

A quick word about the quality of this book – it’s a proper hardback with quality paper and a bound bookmark, very legible text and high resolution images.  Woolf’s Morning Claret Productions have done a fantastic job.

As a taster, here are three of the things I learnt from this book:

  1. Although people look to Georgia and its millennia-old tradition of making orange wine in Qvevri, Soviet rule and subsequent geopolitical difficulties meant that the use of these amphorae had almost died out.  Inward investment is now seeing their use increasing significantly, with enough produced to cater for export demand from experimental winemakers overseas.
  2. One of the pioneers of skin contact wine in Collio – the formidable Joško Gravner – was actually a leading proponent of modern technical winemaking in north east Italy and was very influential amongst his peers – before seeing the (amber) light and choosing a different directions.
  3. Although new to many palates (mine included), orange wine has a long and distinguished history in north east Italy and adjacent regions – it was employed as a deliberate technique after much trial and error, rather than (as I naively assumed) due to blind adherence to tradition.

There are so many more interesting snippets that I would like to share, but I will leave them for you to discover.

Book available from Morning Claret Productions.

 

Note: I was proud to be one of the many (388!) people who pledged financial support for this book on the Kickstarter platform, but my opinions remain my own.

Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Magic from Marsannay [Make Mine a Double #34]

Sylvain Pataille trained as an Oenologist in Bordeaux but applies his knowledge and skills in his beloved Marsannay, both on his own rented vineyards and as a consultant to a dozen or so other producers.  His vines are in conversion to Biodynamic and yields are low, so his wines are a rare sight!  Here are two of his whites that I tried and loved:

Sylvain Pataille Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €30 at Baggot Street Wines)

Pataille Aligote

The second coming of Aligoté continues unabated.  So long relegated to the lowly fate of a house carafe (and usually unnamed at that) or even more demeaningly with crème de cassis as a Kir, when treated with respect Aligoté can produce quality, interesting wines.  Sylvain Pataille makes this one that is clean as a whistle but has a wonderful herby and smoky nose. The palate is fantastically mineral and fresh with a lot of character.  Drink as an aperitif, with shellfish and smoked salmon, or just as a vin de plaisir.

 

Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP ~ €52 but mainly available in upscale restaurants)

Pataille Marsannay Blanc

Although this wine is hardly “cheap”, Marsannay is one of the Burgundy appellations where value is to be found, an increasingly rare phenomenon. Everything’s relative, of course, but this wine is seriously impressive at the price.  Pataille takes a hands off approach; the vineyards are organic, he follows Biodynamic methods and sulphur is only added (very lightly) at bottling.

This cuvée is a blend from five separate  Marsannay parcels which are lightly pressed and fermented, then mature in oak for 18 months.  Only a third of the oak is new, and even then it’s not overt on the palate; it does add to the body and texture of the wine. There’s a very pleasant spiced pear aspect and a bracing, zippy lemon finish.  Proper white Burgundy!

 

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Single Bottle Review

Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Fiano 2017 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #17]

Chalk Hill Fiano

Fiano is predominantly grown in southern Italy – Campania and Sicily – and so has risen in prominence with the quality revolution in Italian white wine.  Grapes don’t generally get tried in the New World until they have already been a success in the Old World – and even then it can be a struggle to get noticed alongside the big guns of Cabernet, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  However, it’s now Fiano’s turn to start making a mark down under.

Chalk Hill is a family owned producer in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, now in the capable hands of the sixth generation of the Harvey family.  I tend to think of the Vale as being one of the homes of Italian varieties in Australia – whether that’s just my perception or backed up with more than a grain of truth, I don’t know.

Lithe, with a whole range of citrus fruits on show, with a slight touch of both the vegetal – think mangetout – and the tropical – mangos FTW!  With a very reasonable ABV of 12.0% this is a great summer wine, especially with lime and ginger prawns on the barbie…

I’m already a fan of Mandrarossa’s Sicilian Fiano, but Chalk Hill have moved the game on several leagues with this wine.  I’m going to have to seek out the very top Italian Fianos to see how they match up!

Available by the glass at Ely Wine Bar, Ely Place, Dublin

Champagne, Single Bottle Review

Gustave Lorenz L’Ami des Crustacés [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #16]

The shape of Alsace wine bottles (the “Rhine flute”) is distinctive and can be off-putting to some consumers who (unfairly) associate it with the flabby Liebfraumilch of the ’70s and ’80s, and for some the Gothic script used on the labels is a little intimidating; I like it, but I understand why others wouldn’t.  Here’s an example also from Gustave Lorenz:

Gustave_Lorentz_Riesling_Burg_Bottle

So Gustave Lorenz have taken a slightly different approach for one of their wines – far less emphasis on geographic origin and grape variety, far more emphasis on food matching, and hoping to attract slightly younger drinkers.  Thus we have L’Ami des Crustaces which is probably best translated as “Great with Shellfish” as the literal “Friend of Crustaceans” doesn’t quite fit.

Where you stand on shellfish will be a major indicator of whether you like the label of this wine. Those that like seafood platters piled up with all manner of claws and tentacles and surgical tools to dismember will definitely love it, whereas those with shellfish allergies will probably be put off it.

I’m somewhere in between; I like the food but I prefer it shelled, de-boned and on a plate ready for me!

If you look at the label you can see “Pinot Blanc Classique”, so the variety isn’t being hidden (it’s more of an aside), but neither the producer name nor region are mentioned on the front.

Gustave Lorenz L’Ami des Crustacés Pinot Blanc Classique 2016 (12.5%, RRP ~ €16.50 via Febvre)

Ami des Crustaces

And so on to the most important part (for me), the wine itself.  And it’s marvelous!  It has plenty of texture, in good part due to the majority Auxerrois in the blend (see my post on Alsace blends for further info), and plenty of zippy acidity, so as well as briny seafood such as oysters the wine would actually work well with more flavoured seafood dishes and even poultry.

This wine is new to the Irish market but once available commercially I think I will treat myself to a case for picnics, barbecues and days ending in “y”!