10 ways to mildly irritate a wine enthusiast

10 ways to mildly irritate a wine enthusiast

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Normally I come up with all the ideas for my posts myself, but recently my friend Jim Dunlop (on Twitter as @jimofayr) shared an article with me that he had enjoyed:
10 ways to mildly irritate a whisky enthusiast and suggested I do an equivalent for wine.

I was happy to oblige, so here it is.  Please comment if there are any others which particularly irritate you!

1. Describe a restaurant wine list as having “both red AND white wine”

I shit you not. This was exactly how a hotel restaurant wine list was described to me when I asked to see it while having lunch in the hotel bar. I know family hotels aren’t necessarily going to be a wine enthusiast’s paradise, but you’d hope that the hotel staff would know a little more than red or white.

Irritation factor: amused

2. Top up their glass with a different wine from the one they are drinking

“Sure, it all goes down the same way?” “Well they’re both French aren’t they?” Or even worse: “well they’re both red aren’t they?” Many wine enthusiasts like a sociable drink, but the odds are, when different wines are being served (at a dinner party or elsewhere), they want to try them individually rather than being forced to try some foul blend. Sometimes a well-meaning host can drive a wine enthusiast over the edge!

Irritation factor: miffed

3. Expect them to be a sommelier if they have a wine industry qualification

I happen to have the WSET Advanced certificate, which is a widely recognised qualification. It would be very useful to have if working for an importer, merchant or in a restaurant with a good wine list. However, just holding the cert does not make me a sommelier; I haven’t spent a single hour working as a sommelier so I have zero basis to claim to be one. I have a lot of respect for the trade as long hours are often unfortunately rewarded by mediocre pay. Some sommeliers don’t have an official qualification and still do a great job.

Irritation factor: exasperated

4. Ask them what they are celebrating when they open a bottle of Champagne

The Champenois are very protective of their image and “brand equity”, a good part of which has been built up by marketing and advertising the drink as a reward for success – think of F1 drivers spraying each other with fizz on the podium. But Champagne is still a wine, and plenty of wine enthusiasts are interested in drinking it on exactly that basis, with nothing in particular to celebrate – so don’t assume that they are.

Irritation factor: peeved

5. Remark that a wine shop is very expensive as most of the bottles are €15 or more

Most wines bought in Ireland and the UK are bought in supermarkets. Over the last ten years or so the choice in most supermarkets has diminished significantly, and although there are nice bottles available the bulk are by-the-numbers-at-a-price-point. This means that the majority of interesting wines are only available through wine merchants, who don’t (aren’t able to) offer huge discounts to tempt shoppers in to buy other things, and in any case aren’t able to procure their wines at the same cost as the supermarkets. All this means that most wines in merchants have a higher price than in supermarkets, but – and this is important – they often offer better value.

Irritation factor: bothered

6. Be an ill-informed wine snob

There are a few wine enthusiasts who are also wine snobs, but I contend that the majority are not. Many are used to hearing silly or even downright stupid comments from “know-all” wine drinkers who like to show off their allegedly superior knowledge. The classic is, of course, “Give me a Chablis any day, none of that Chardonnay crap!” which I have heard on more than one occasion.

Other beauties include “I don’t like French wines” (it’s fine to have an opinion, but have you really tasted ALL types of French wine to arrive at that opinion?) and “Wines from Australia all taste the same” which is of course poppycock.

Irritation factor: annoyed

7. Insist on topping up their glass in a restaurant

Some people enjoy being “waited on” in restaurants, including having their glass topped up by a hovering waiter. Others don’t, and I suspect that – like myself – many wine enthusiasts would be in the “no thanks” camp, for several reasons.

Firstly, as a responsible adult I feel capable of pouring wine from a bottle into a glass myself. Secondly, I like to drink at my own pace, so don’t top up my glass in an attempt to make me drink more.

Thirdly, as temperature can have a profound effect on the aromas and flavours of a wine I like to semi-consciously monitor that as I evaluate a wine – difficult if someone dumps a load more into your glass. As for restaurants where an open bottle is left out of reach or – and this is just terrible form – out of sight, I rarely go back!

Irritation factor (topping up): vexed

Irritation factor (hiding bottle): incandescent

8. Give them a crap glass to drink out of

A good wine glass doesn’t have to be expensive and, conversely, some which are expensive aren’t great for appreciating wine. Even a modest wine will taste better out of the right size / shape / material / thickness of glass. See this article for more thoughts on the subject.

Irritation factor: bothered

9. Ask them a stupidly broad question about wine

If I had a Euro for every time I’ve been asked a stupid, banal question about wine I’d probably have enough for a bottle of Cristal, or at least a bottle of Tesco Value Cava. These include:
• “What’s a good wine?” (Like asking “What’s good food?”)
• “What sort of wine do you like?” (Like asking “What sort of music do you like?”)
• “What wine should I drink with chicken?” (The answer for which is highly dependent on the method of cooking, sauces and other accompaniments)

Irritation factor: headbutting the nearest wall

10. Charge over double a wine’s retail price in a restaurant

Restaurants have more costs to cover than wine merchants, so it seems fair that they make a higher gross margin to cover these costs.  However, some just seem to take the piss: just before Xmas I was at a busy, well-regarded restaurant in Dublin which listed Torres Celeste (a lovely wine, it has to be said) at €50.  The RRP for the wine is €20.95 and I have seen it for less at respected merchants, so it was 2 1/2 to 3 times retail price (which is obviously more than wholesale price).  This is why I rarely splash out on a nice wine in restaurants, the Ely Group being a notable exception!

Irritation factor: thermonuclear destruction

The Kaleidoscope of Wine – how’s your palette?

Kaleidoscope (Credit: wolfepaw)
Kaleidoscope (Credit: wolfepaw)

Being a bit of a geek (in wine, but other things as well) and possibly with a few ADHD tendencies, I’m a sucker for patterns and lists.  On my recent holiday in Portugal I started jotting down the different colours associated with wine, whether often used in descriptions, grape names or something else, and came up with A LIST.

Now, this is only from my own thoughts, so I’ve very happy to add any suggestions that you may have (leave a comment or send a Twitter message).

And did I mention I’m partially colourblind?  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…

So, in alphabetical order…

Amber

Mtsvane Amber Wine
Mtsvane Amber Wine
  • A WSET term for a deep dark gold colour, often apt for aged / oaked / sweet wines.
  • Georgian Amber Wine is made in the traditional way in clay pots (a bit like amphorae) called Quevris which are buried underground.

Black

Black Wine of Cahors
Black Wine of Cahors
  • As a general rule, the grapes that make red wine are black, not red.
  • Some always have black as part of their name – e.g. Pinot Noir – where there are different versions of the grape in different colours.
  • Some black grapes don’t usually need the suffix “Noir” as they are far better known than their siblings, unless a comparison is being made – e.g. Grenache is assumed to be the black version (as opposed to Blanc or Gris), but sometimes it is annotated as Grenache Noir.
  • The famous Black wine of Cahors which is a deep, dark, opaque Malbec blend.
  • The definition of Black Wine according to the motto of the Domaine Le Bout du Lieu: “If you can see your fingers through the glass, it’s not a Cahors.”
  • Pinot Meunier is sometimes known as Schwarzriesling – literally “Black Riesling” – in Germany!

Blue

Blaufränkish grapes
Blaufränkish grapes
  • Blau is of course German for “blue”, so this variety commonly found in Austria is a blue Frankish grape, evoking Charlemagne and his empire.
  • In Hungary the grape is known as Kékfrankos, which has the same literal meaning but sounds like a Greek ailment.

Blush

Blush
Blush
  • A term used to describe Californian rosé, especially the sweetish stuff made from Zinfandel.
  • What any self-respecting wino does when drinking the above wine (miaow!)

Brick

Brick red
Brick red
  • Obviously a shade of red, it’s usually connected to older red wines

Burgundy

Burgundy shirt
Burgundy shirt
  • For some reason Burgundy as a colour only ever refers to the region’s red rather than white wines.
  •  Quite well established as a colour outside of the wine world…I bet few garment wearers think of Pinot Noir…

Champagne

Champagne Aston Martin
Champagne Aston Martin Virage
  • The oft litigious organisation that represents Champagne, the CIVC, don’t like Champagne being used as a colour when not directly connected to one of their member’s products.
  • However, it’s probably too late, the cat is out of the bag for describing a silvery-goldy colour – and to be honest, should they really complain if it’s an Aston Martin?

Claret

Aston Villa Claret & Sky shirt
Aston Villa Claret & Sky shirt
Neil Back covered in Claret
Neil Back covered in Claret
  • The well known term for red Bordeaux wine.
  • However, the term actually originates from Clairette, a dark rosé style wine still made in Bordeaux (and was actually how most Bordeaux looked back in the day).
  • Now often used to mean wine- (or blood-) coloured.

Garnet

Garnet stones
Garnet stones
  • A WSET approved term for a mid shade of red, in between Ruby (another gemstone) and Tawny.

Gold

Burgundy's Côte d'Or
Burgundy’s Côte d’Or
  • Mature and / or sweet white wine is often described as gold, particularly Tokaji.
  • Burgundy’s heartland subregion of the Côte d’Or is literally the “Slope of Gold”.

Green

Vinho Verde Map (Credit: Quentin Sadler)
Vinho Verde Map (Credit: Quentin Sadler)
  • While “green wine” might not sound that pleasant a concept, it is of course the literal translation of Vinho Verde from northern Portugal.
  • By extension, used as a term for certain flavours which either invoke youth or the taste of something green (e.g. asparagus in Sauvignon Blanc)

Grey

AOC Côtes de Toul
AOC Côtes de Toul
  • Mid coloured grapes such as Pinot Gris (yay!) or the Italian equivalent Pinot Grigio (boo!)
  • Vin Gris (literally “Grey Wine”) is the term used for a white(ish) wine made from black grapes.
  • Often has a little more colour than a Blanc de Noirs, e.g. the Gamay-based AOC Côtes de Toul from Lorraine.

Orange

Orange Apple Festival
Orange Apple Festival
  • Quite a trendy type of wine at the moment, basically making a wine from white grapes using red wine methods, particularly lots of contact between the juice and the skins – different but interesting.
  • Orange Muscat is a variant of the ancient but popular Muscat family
  • Also a wine growing town in New South Wales, Australia, whose symbol is an apple – go figure!
  • In fairness, orchard regions are often good for making wine.

Pink

Pink wine
Pink wine
  • David Bird (author of Understanding Wine Technology) makes a valid point asking why we use the term rosé in English when we say red and white quite happily instead of rouge and blanc.

Purple

Moscatel Roxo (purple-pink muscat) grape variety. Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, Setúbal. Portugal (credit Mauricio Abreu)
Moscatel Roxo (purple-pink muscat) grape variety. Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, Setúbal. Portugal (credit Mauricio Abreu)
  • While reading a book on Port I came across a new colour category of grape: Roxo
  • Many grapes – and actually many wines – look quite purple, but Portugal is the first country I have seen to actually have a recognised term for it.

Red

Red Red Wine
Red Red Wine
  • Obviously the huge category of red wine as a whole.
  • Tinta / Tinto, the Portuguese and Spanish words for red (when applied to wine) is used for many grape varieties and their pseudonyms, including Tinto Aragon and Tinta Cão.
  • One of the few grapes in French to have red in its name is Rouge du Pays, also known as Cornalin du Valais or Cornalin.
  • However, without Red Wine would faux-reggae band UB40 have been so popular? Everything has its downsides…

Ruby

Niepoort Ruby Port
Niepoort Ruby Port
  • A bright shade of red, usually signifying a young wine.
  • A style of Port, often the least expensive, bottle young and so retains a bright red colour.
  • The grape Ruby Cabernet is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, though usually included in cheap fruity blends.

Tawny

Taylor's Aged Tawny port
Taylor’s Aged Tawny port
  • A light shade of red, tending to brown, usually signifying an older but not necessarily fully mature wine
  • A style of Port which has usually been aged in wood rather than bottle, with colour fading over time.

White

German White Grapes (Credit: shweta_1712)
German White Grapes (Credit: shweta_1712)
  • White wine, of course, which covers a multitude of grapes and styles
  • White grapes (well many of them are of course more green than white) particularly those whose name includes white (in English or any other language) to distinguish them from darker coloured siblings, e.g. Pinot Blanc / Pinot Bianco / Weissburgunder.

Yellow

Vin Jaune
Vin Jaune
  • Of course the Jura’s famous “Vin Jaune” (literally “yellow wine”) leaps to mind here.
  • Ribolla Gialla (thanks Jim) is the yellow version of Ribolla, generally found in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy and over the border into Slovenia.

The Long Little Dog [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #11]

The Long Little Dog White 2014 (12.5%, €9.95 at Sweeney’s)

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Unsung hero Colombard takes a starring role in this “critter wine”, with the balance of 30% contributed by Chardonnay.  These varieties don’t feature on the front or even back label as it’s not really a wine aimed at aficionados – it doesn’t even shout about its origins either, with a subtle Produit de France underneath the vintage.

It only takes a sip to realise that, despite the commercial packaging, this is actually a very pleasant wine – crisp, fruity and really enjoyable.  For a tenner in Ireland, you will struggle to beat it!

 

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz of 2016

And so, finally, here are my Top 10 Fizzes of 2016!

10. Hush Heath Estate Balfour 1503 Pinot Noir

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If you have an interest in fizz then you might know that Pinot Noir is an important grape in the production of sparkling wine, even for those with no colour, but Hush Heath Estate have taken things even further with their “Noir de Noir” (if such a term exists!)  A recent addition to the range of this Kent estate, it’s made in a clean, fresh and fruity style – worth trying as something different, but stands up on its own in terms of quality.

9.  Cirotto Prosecco Superiore Asolo Extra Brut 2015

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Vintage Prosecco is not that common, though most consumers probably don’t pay much attention.  This Prosecco isn’t for most consumers, however (though they would probably like it) – it’s sights are aimed higher at those who value more than just something with bubbles in.  This beauty from Cirotto is an Extra Brut which tells us a couple of important things:

  1. with less residual sugar (only 3g/L) it might appeal more to those who find average Proseccos too sweet, and
  2. without the mask of as much sugar the wine beneath is laid bare, so it had better be good!

Wine geeks will also be interested in the fact it is made in the small DOCG region of Asolo and that 10% of the blend is made up of local varieties Perera and Bianchetta.  This is the best aperitif style Prosecco I have ever tasted!

8. Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV

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The quality of Charles Heidsieck’s standard non vintage is due to the silver lining of a very dark cloud.  The marque’s UK sales fell off a cliff at some point a few decades ago, leaving it with lots of long term grape buying contracts that it didn’t really need, so rather than produce lots of finished Champagne that would just create a glut on the market, or terminating contracts that would be very difficult to re-establish in better times, they honoured those contracts and built up their stocks of reserve wines.

Hence the Brut Réserve consists of over 40% reserve wines with an average age of 10 years – giving it far greater depth and complexity than nearly all other NVs around.

7. Jip Jip Rocks Sparkling Shiraz NV

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Sparkling Shiraz does appear on the supermarket shelves in Ireland but usually just in the guise of a single, entry level brand (I’m being kind and not naming names here).  But those who don’t like Banrock Station (oops!!) might find that moving up market a little brings a lot in terms of quality and balance.  Jip Jip Rocks shows why the category is much more popular down under – it manages to be the best of both red and sparkling worlds, without breaking the bank!

6. Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2007

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One of the truisms about Champagne is that value is most often found at a cooperative, but Champenois coops can also be the source of top quality wines, such as this Blanc de Blancs from Beaumont des Crayères.  I’m a fan of the regular Brut NV but Fleur Blanche is on another plane entirely – lots of citrus and bready flavours, think lemon curds on toasted brioche!

5. Henriot Brut Souverain NV

 

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The Henriot family put down roots in Reims in the 16th century, eventually becoming cloth merchants in the city’s biggest trade of the time (Mercier means haberdasher!) and then (thankfully for us) Champagne producers in 1808.  This is a traditional blend with a slight bias towards Chardonnay (much of it from Grand Cru villages) for elegance and floral notes.  Ageing on the lees for three years adds some lovely biscuit tones.

4. Albert Beerens Carte Or NV

carte-dor

The Carte Or is the standard bearer for the Albert Beerens range.  With an astonishing 46% reserve wines in the blend it is also an ambassador for the southerly reaches of the Champagne region – the Côte des Bar.  This family-owner grower-producer farms just seven hectares around Bar-sur-Aube, and their obsessive focus on quality and innovation shine through in the wine.

3. Christian Bourmault Cuvée Hermance Brut NV

hermance

Based in the Grand Cru village of Avize on the Côte des Blancs, Christian Bourmault follows in the footsteps of his forebears including the founders Ernest and Hermance, after who this cuvée was named.  It’s unusual for Avize in that it has a significant majority of black grapes – the blend is 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier. The use of old oak barrels for ageing and plenty of lees work adds lots of character – this is a Champagne worth seeking out.

2. Sugrue Pierre “The Trouble With Dreams” 2011

sugrue-pierre

Not content with “just” being the creator of delicious English sparkling at Wiston Estate, Dermot Sugrue has a personal side project making a traditional Champagne blend from a tiny single vineyard.  Made from 55% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier, the 2010 was delightful but the 2011 was sensational!  There’s plenty of lemon, lime and stone fruit, but also an intriguing chalkiness – a direct result of the vineyard’s chalk soils? This was the best English sparkling wine I tasted in 2016!

1. Charles Heidsieck Cuvée des Millénaires 1995

1995

This cuvée was released a few years ago but keeps getting better every time I taste it.  1995 is still considered one of the top few vintages of the last 25 years, so with 17 years ageing before disgorgement this is an outstanding expression of the year.  It’s a luxury, yes, but if you get to taste it you might just see it as a necessity – one of the most complex and seductive Champagnes I’ve ever tasted!

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet wines of 2016

As a wise man once said to me, don’t call them “dessert wines” as that implies they are only fit to drink with a dessert!  Categorising wines isn’t always an easy task, as even simple descriptors such as colour are open to interpretation (see this article).  Where do sweet wines fit in?  In the end, the label isn’t important, what’s in the glass is.

10. Tarin Pineau des Charentes Blanc Vieilli 3 Ans

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Pronounced the same as “Pinot”, this is the secret fortified drink of France’s west country. Made by adding eau de vie to grape must that has barely begun fermenting, it can only be produced in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments – also the home of Cognac. That’s no coincidence as the grape spirit used for Pineau is the same that is aged to eventually become Cognac.

This example has received 3 years of ageing which gives it a slight “rancio” character – enough to add interest but not so much that it dominates.  The only downside is that it is so moreish!

9. Sipp Mack Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2012

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This Gewurz isn’t intended to be a sweet wine as such, but given the grape’s natural flavour profile, low acidity and a bit of residual sugar it tastes far sweeter than other many wines of Alsace.  As a general rule I do like some sweetness in my Gewurz, and this Sipp Mack does deliver that, but with an incredible intensity of flavour thanks to its old vines. See here for the full review.

8. GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2015

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Moscato from Australia and elsewhere gained a lot of ground in recent years – fresh and fruity, sweet and easy to drink yet with very moderate alcohol, it became something of a party drink.  Hopefully this will shine a light back on Piedmont, the pioneering region of this style (though obviously not of the Muscat grape!)

Moscato d’Asti might also qualify as a party drink for some, but its true value is at the table, mainly with fruit based desserts where it excels.  The best – such as GD Vajra’s – have a mouthwatering balance of acidity and sweetness.  See here for the full review

7. Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese

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For many wine aficionados, Germany is the ultimate country for Riesling.  The sheer variety of styles is one of its key strengths, from bone-dry to intensely sweet, and just about every spot in between.  This Mosel Spätlese (late harvest) is just wonderful and was my narrow favourite of an all-Riesling tasting at DNS Wineclub.  See here for the full review

6. Zantho Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese 2012

zantho

Zantho is a joint venture between two famous names of Austrian wine, viticulturist Josef Umathum and winemaker Wolfgang Peck of Winzerkeller Andau.  As well as dry whites and reds they also make three dessert wines (pictured above) which are all glorious, with the TBA (for short) being my favourite.  Germanic grape Scheurebe works best as a sweet wine and excels in Zantho’s TBA from close to the border with Hungary.

5. Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV

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I’m a long standing fan of Nyetimber and I’ve been pleased to see them popping up here and there in Ireland.  When back in England in the summer I picked up a bottle of their Demi-Sec – which I haven’t yet seen here in Ireland – and took it to a DNS Wineclub tasting.  It was absolutely magnificent and reinforced my admiration for Brad Greatrix and Cherie Spriggs.

Not stated on the front label is that this is 100% Chardonnay, and therefore a Blanc-de-Blancs.  Dosage is 45g/L giving it perfect balance – typical English acidity is the counter to the sugar.  This was the first English Demi-Sec to be released but I would go further and state that it’s one of the top few Demi-Secs made anywhere in the world.

4. Domaine de Bois Mozé Coteaux de l’Aubance 2008

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The Loire Valley is probably France’s most underrated wine region and its Chenin based dessert wines probably the least well known – which is a total shame as they can be world class without a world class price.  Coteaux  de l’Aubance is even less well known than Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, but the best sites can yield beauties such as this. In my opinion these wines are the ultimate expression of Chenin Blanc – and this is still a youngster at nine years of age.

3. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2014

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The grape variety for this wine is known locally as Zibibbo, but further afield as Muscat of Alexandria – a very ancient grape.  “Local” here is the tiny island of Pantelleria which is between Sicily and Tunisia.  The grapes are dried after picking to concentrate the flavours and sugars, similar to “straw wines” elsewhere.  This is a wine of staggering complexity for such a young vintage, the biggest threat to ageing being its utter deliciousness!

2. Cascina Garitina Niades

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Many readers will be drawing a blank at the name of this wine which could have been in any (or all!) of my red, sparkling and sweet Top 10 lists.  Formerly carrying the DOCG of Brachetto d’Acqui, it could be thought of as the red equivalent of Moscato d’Asti – though even better, in this case.

When I tried it and tweeted about it, one wag did reply “can’t see the point” – and admittedly, before I tried it I can’t say it was missing from my life – but once tried this wine is never forgotten.  Fresh red fruit, acidity and sweetness combine to make wine heaven – it’s Eton Mess in a glass!

1. Léon Beyer Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 1998

gewurztraminer.vt.leonbeyer

This was the unexpected runaway winner of the DNS Wineclub Alsace tasting, against some pretty stiff competition (including #2 in this Top 10).  Léon Beyer is based in the achingly beautiful village of Eguisheim and has Domaines Zinck and Bruno Sorg as neighbours.  “The house style is dry” said the lady at the counter, “apart from the sweet wines” – such as this rare Late Harvest Gewurz.  The Léon Beyer website give a drinking window of 10 to 20 years from vintage, but this tasted like it had another decade left at least.  If I had another bottle it would probably make my Top 10 sweet wines of 2026!

 

 

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2016

Now it’s the turn for white wines to shine – here are ten of the best still dry whites which shone in 2016:

10. Feudo Luparello Sicilia Grillo – Viognier 2015

feudo_grilloviogner-cropped

A novel blend of indigenous Sicilian and international grapes, this wine is more than the sum of its parts.  Local Grillo is fresh and textured, more dry than fruity, whereas Viognier adds a voluptuous touch.  This is how blended wines should work!

See here for the full review (and the Nero d’Avola – Syrah blend!)

9. Nugan Estate Riverina Dreamer’s Chardonnay

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A “supermarket wine” made from “unfashionable” Chardonnay in a region known for its bulk wines, on paper this wine should be pap – but it works, in fact it works a treat!  In Ireland (at least) the main parameter for wine consumers in supermarkets in price, especially if a promotional offer is involved.  Given the high rates of duty and tax squeezing the cost side of the equation it’s not easy to find everyday wines that are actually enjoyable (though plenty are drinkable).

Nugan Estate’s “Personality” Single Vineyard series ticks all the boxes for me, and this was narrowly my favourite of the lot.  See here for my review of the full range.

8. Angel Sequeiros Rías Baixas Albariño “Evoé” 2013

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Although the label might look like an impressionist’s take on Health & Efficiency, the wine inside is fantastic – great with seafood, but gentle and fruity enough to be enjoyed on its own.  If only all Albariños were this good!

See here for the full review.

7. Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2014

aligote

The “other” white grape of Burgundy (ignoring the small amounts of Pinots Blanc and Gris) which is definitely a second class citizen, and is so poor on its own that the Kir cocktail was invented to find a palatable use for it – or so the received wisdom goes.

There’s some element of truth in this, but Aligoté is usually grown on less-favoured sites and with a focus on yields rather than flavour, so it takes a brave producer to break out of this cycle and give the grape the attention it deserves.  The Goisot family are such a producer, based in the Sauvignon Blanc outpost of Saint-Bris.  This Aligoté is unlike any other I have tasted – it actually has colour unlike most which are like pale water, and an intensity of white flower and spicy pear flavours which reveal the age of the vines.

6. Gaia Wild Ferment Santorini Assyrtiko 2013

l-asyrtiko-en

When I put together a “wild” wine tasting for DNS Wine Club last year, there were a few obvious candidates that couldn’t possibly be missed from the line-up – this being one of them.  I had recommended it several times in the past so I was hoping it would live up to its reputation – especially tasted blind – and it certainly did!  Overall this was the favourite wine of the tasting, showing the funky flavours of wild yeast fermentation but still plenty of lovely citrus fruit and crisp acidity.

5. Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016

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A common complaint levelled at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – and Marlborough in particular – is that “they all taste the same”.  There is some truth in this – the aromatics are generally recognisable before the first glass has even been poured and they are never short of acidity – but if you taste different examples side by side then there are clear differences.  The alternative styles of SB are another thing, of course, with wild yeast barrel fermentation and oak ageing used to make a different type of wine (see this article for more information).

4. Suertes del Marqués Trenzado

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This isn’t a wine for everybody, but it’s a wine everybody should try at least once.   Based mainly on Listan Blanco grapes from ten plots in Tenerife’s Valle de La Orotava, it’s so different that at first it’s hard to describe using everyday wine terms – it’s not fruity or buttery – perhaps nutty and waxy?  Sounds strange, but it’s an interesting and very enjoyable wine.

3. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2014

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Domaine Zinck’s Portrait Series wines are fine examples of regular AOC Alsace wines and show the town of Eguisheim in a good light.  Take the step up to the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, however, and you move into different territory; not just in terms of the elevation of the vines, but a much more intense catalogue of aromas and flavours.  Even a young example such as this 2014 is delightful, but with the capacity to age for a decade or two and continue developing.

2. Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011

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Narrowly pipping its countryman, Sipp-Mack’s Grand Cru Riesling is from another exalted site: the Rosacker vineyard near Hunawihr, in between Ribeauvillé (where Trimbach is based) and Riquewihr (home to Hugel).  It has both primary fruit and mineral notes, and performs fantastically at the table.

For such a stunning wine it is relatively inexpensive at around €30 retail.  See here for the full review.

1. Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014

m3

When I have favourite wines that I taste regularly over the years, I try not to repeat myself too much in my Top 10 review articles.  Given that I am lucky enough to taste several thousand wines over the course of an average year, it’s not such a difficult line to take…apart from M3!!  The 2014 is still very young, but it’s a delight to drink now.  Adelaide Hills is now possibly second to Tasmania for trendy cooler climate Aussie wines, but for me it’s still number one.

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2016

The turn of the year means a chance to look forward to some excellent tastings coming up, but also a chance to look back at some great wines tasted over the previous twelve months.  Here are ten of the many reds which caught my attention in 2016:

10. Cicero Alto Reben AOC Graubünden Pinot Noir 2012

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In Europe the country most well known for Pinot Noir is of course France, with examples from Burgundy still being among the most expensive wines in the world.  After that it’s probably Germany for Spätburgunder and then perhaps Italy for Pinot Nero, but don’t forget Switzerland – hillside vineyards can be perfect for Pinot, and although Swiss wines are never cheap they can offer good value for money.  See here for the full review.

9. Mas St Louis Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

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CNDP can often be a blockbuster wine with loads of mouthfeel and 15.0% or more alcohol. Wines which don’t measure up to this are often inferior lightweight versions not worthy of the appellation or the price tag – better to go for a Gigondas or Vacqueras instead.  But just occasionally you might come across a wine which is not typical of the area but transcends it – and this is the one.  A high proportion of Grenache and sandy soil are apparently the reason for its lightness – but you will have to try it yourself.

8. Paul Osicka Heathcote Shiraz 2004

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My favourite hotel in Ireland is The Twelve in Barna near Galway City, and luckily it’s also my wife’s favourite.  The rooms, the service and the food are all excellent – and so is the wine!  When last there some months ago for a weekend (kid-free) break I spied this mature Heathcote Shiraz on the wine list and had to give it a try with the côte de boeuf for two (and although I was tempted to have both to myself I did of course share them with my wife).  I will definitely look out for this wine again!

7. Atalon Napa Merlot 2004

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Quality Californian Merlot isn’t an oxymoron, though there is plenty mediocre Merlot made in the Central Valley.  When it’s good, it can be great, and this nicely mature 2004 is probably the best Merlot I’ve ever tasted from California, and definitely the best I’ve tasted from any region this year.  See here for the full review.

6. Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013

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“A wine that asks more questions than it answers” is a fair summary of this unusual Douro red – and perhaps that’s why it’s so interesting.  It’s not a wine for everyone, with higher than average acidity and body more akin to Burgundy than the Douro, but it brings the funk!  See here for the full review.

5. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014

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Time and time again, the 20 Barrels Pinot has impressed me with its silky smooth berrytastic goodness.  It’s possibly the closest thing to a red wine for all men (and women) – without being a lowest common denominator compromise.  Most notably it shone in an all-star Pinot Noir tasting arranged by importers Findlaters, beating off competition from Burgundy, California, Marlborough and elsewhere – in fact the only real competition was the big brother Cono Sur Ocio, though that is around twice the price.

4. Wolf Blass Black Label 1998

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Wolfgang Blass is something of a legend in Australian wine, and while his eponymous wines range down to everyday drinking level, his multi-award winning Black Label has been one of the top Aussie wines since its creation in 1973 – it won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for an amazing three consecutive years with the 73 – 74 – 75 vintages, and then an unprecedented fourth time with this 1998 release.  Tasting the 1998 was a real privilege!

3. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2011

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I’ve had some nice Barolos over the years but, to be honest, the tannin and acidity have often put me off – not to mention the price.  Many need a good decade to even start being drinkable, and, while I’m not advocating fruit bombs, Barolo can be somewhat lacking on the primary flavour side.   But, as Erasure said, it doesn’t have to be like that – this is a wonderful, complex, accessible Barolo.  See here for the full review.

2. Penfolds Grange 2010

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If Spinal Tap’s amps went up to 11, then wine critics should surely have awarded this wine 102 points, as it betters even the excellent 100-pointer from 2008.  It’s still tightly wound compared to the lighter 2011 and more easy-going 2009, but it will be a legendary vintage when it reaches its peak in another decade or two.

1. Cascina Garitina Nizza 900

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A wine to show that Barbera can make excellent wines, not just something to sup waiting for Barolos and Barbarescos to mature.  Made around the town of Nizza Montferrato in Piedmont, Nizza wine was a subregion of Barbera d’Asti until gaining full DOCG status in 2014.  Gianluca Morino of Cascina Garitina is an innovative producer who makes some very good Barbera d’Asti but an amazing Nizza – a truly excellent wine with more depth and poise than I’ve witnessed in any other Barbera.

 

 

SuperValu Christmas Wine Selection Reds

One of the best things about wine retail – from the customer’s point of view – is that the bargains are available before rather than after Xmas, so if you want to choose a few nice bottles for yourself, buy a few gifts or just stock up in anticipation of thirsty visitors, now is a great time to do it.

Here are some of the SuperValu reds which I’d be very happy to sup this yuletide.

Disclosure: samples were provided for review

André Goichot Mercurey 2013 (12.5%, €22.99 down to €15.00)

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I’m a fan of the André Goichot range, which is predominantly white Burgundy, but also includes this Pinot Noir from Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise.  It’s a light wine (for NZ fans think Marlborough rather than Central Otago) than needs a bit of air to come out of its shell, but once it does the aromas are stunning.  Relatively high acidity and moderate tannins mean that this might well be the crowd pleaser to go with most dishes at the Xmas table.

Castellani Arbos Sangiovese 2013 (13.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00)

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Cheap Chianti is rarely a bargain as it tends to have the tannin and acidity typical of the area without its usual bright cherry fruit and hence being unbalanced or even unpleasant. If you’re on a budget and like the flavour of Chianti’s Sangiovese grape then far better to avoid paying a premium for the Chianti label and go for a less fancy one with lots of tasty wine behind it!

Nugan Estate Alfredo Dry Grape Shiraz 2013 (15.0%, €19.99 down to €15.00)

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Drying grapes before pressing to increase flavour and sugar concentration isn’t a new technique (it’s the secret behind Amarone afterall) but it is still less than common in Australia.  Here it’s used to add extra berry-tastic richness to supercharge this Shiraz named after the winery’s founder, Spanish emigré Alfredo Nugan.  Like many Amarone wines there is a hint of sweetness on the finish but it works well with the rich character of the wine.  For those of you who like blue cheese I reckon this would be a real treat!

Lady de Mour Margaux 2012 (13.0%, €34.99 down to €20.00)

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Margaux is one of the most famous parts of Bordeaux, helped by having one of the top ranked producers with the same name (Château Margaux) and being easy for English speakers to pronounce (I’m only half-joking there).  Margaux wines are typical left bank blends but with generally a bit less Cabernet Sauvignon than the other famous villages such as St-Estephe and Pauillac.  They are considered to be somewhat feminine and elegant, so a wine called “Lady” is definitely on the right track!  This is a refined, classy wine with dark berry fruit and complex layers of graphite, tobacco and cedar – and a steal at €20!

 

 

Top M&S Whites

Last month I picked out six super sparklers from Marks and Spencer.  Now it’s time for some of my favourite M&S whites:

Domaine de la Pinte Arbois Chardonnay 2014 (12.5%, €23.50)

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The region of eastern France is gradually gaining significant recognition for its wide variety of grapes and styles, many of which are particular to the area.  This is something more conventional, being a Chardonnay made in the “ouillé” style whereby evaporation losses are topped up to prevent too much oxygen in the barrel.  This has far more texture and flavour than you’d expect from a “Chardonnay” – it’s different but well worth a try.

Chapel Down Lamberhurst Estate Bacchus Reserve 2015 (11.5%, €19.50)

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I have been a keen supporter of English sparkling wine for over a decade, but I haven’t shared the same enthusiasm about English still wines.  However, there are a growing number of very good still wines that deserve your attention.  Bacchus was created in 1930s Germany – and is still grown there – but has found a second home in the cool English climate.  Chapel Down’s Reserve bottling is full of stone, tropical and citrus fruit. It’s well balanced and has a touch of residual sugar to counterpoint the mouth watering acidity.

Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 (13.0%, €15.50)

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The Central Coast on the front label is of course the Central Coast of California, which includes Santa Barbara of Sideways fame and Monterey County, where the majority of the Chardonnay grapes were sourced from.

Part of the fermented juice was matured in (mainly old, I reckon) oak barrels and part underwent softening malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks, followed by lees stirring.  When recombined this wine gives the best of both world – it has some oak, but not too much, and some creamy lees flavours. Great value for money – just don’t drink it too cold.

Atlantis Santorini 2015 (13.0%, €15.50)

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Santorini is my favourite wine region of Greece for whites, especially those made wholly or predominantly from Assyrtiko as this is.  Due to its latitude the island receives lots of sun but this is somewhat tempered by sea breezes.  It sees no oak nor malolactic fermentation so remains clean and linear.

Earth’s End Central Otago Riesling 2015 (12.5%, €20.50)

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Central Otago in the deep south of New Zealand is primarily known for its Pinot Noirs – and rightly so – but its long cool growing season is also suitable for Chardonnay and Riesling.  This has lovely lime notes, and an off dry finish perfectly balances the vibrant acidity.  With Haka instructions on the front, surely this would be a great present for a rugby fan?

Terre di Chieti Pecorino 2015 (12.5%, €15.00)

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Another recent favourite of mine is Pecorino, an everyday Italian white wine with far more character than the lakes of uninteresting Pinot Grigio that clog up most supermarket shelves.  Both oranges and lemons feature on the palate – it’s a great drop at a keen price.

Villiera Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016 (14.0%, €18.50)

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Modest packaging belies a sublime wine, one of the most enjoyable South African Chenins I’ve had for a long time.  The complexity is due to the variety of choices made by winemaker Jeff Grier – a small amount of botrytised grapes was used, part of the wine went through malolactic and part did not, both new and second-use French oak barrels were used.  The end result is a marvel of honey and vanilla – amazingly complex for such a young wine.

Stepp Riesling *S* Kallstadter Saumagen 2015 (13.0%, €22.00)

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Germany’s Pfalz region is beloved of the Wine Hunter himself, Jim Dunlop, and of course makes some great Riesling.  The alcohol of 13.0% is much higher than an average Mosel Riesling, for example, which indicates that this is likely to be significantly drier and more full bodied.  Apricot, lemon, lime and orange make an appearance – just such a lovely wine!

Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, €27.00)

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From one of Australia’s premium cool climate regions, this is a Chardonnay to make Burgundy lovers weep – or convert!  The fermented wines are matured on their lees in 500L barrels (over double the standard barrique of 225L) with no malolactic fermentation allowed, so freshness is maintained.  This is a grown up wine with lots of lees character and reductive notes.

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #8

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Château Pesquié “Terraces” Ventoux 2012 (13.5%, €18 – 19, Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine; Jus de Vine)

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Happily, I am quite familiar with Château Pesquié wines, including sampling the range at a tasting meal at Belleek Castle.  Further up the range, Quintessence then Artemia are amazingly concentrated.

This bottle is an estate blend named after the terraces cut into the hillsides of Mont Ventoux.  Although it has (just) a majority Grenache, which tends to produce generous amounts of alcohol, it’s not a huge blockbuster. 35 % of this vintage is aged in oak barrels (2 to 4 years old) or in oak tanks for about one year.  The key to Terrasses is drinkability without dumbing down – accessibility but still with some complexity.  It’s one of the best value Rhônes on the market!

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #7

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Les Deux Cols “Cuvée d’Alizé” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (14.0%, €16 – €17 at 64 Wine, Glasthule ; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Drink Store, Manor St, D7; Donnybrook Fair, Morehampton Rd)

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“The Two Hills” is made by Rhône maestro Simon Tyrrell himself in the region of Estezargues, near Avignon. (Les Vignerons D’ Estézargues is a co-operative producer from the same village that Tyrrells also import). A little known fact is that Simon and his wine partner Charles Derain (owner of Nomad Wine importers) both have the middle name Colin, hence the double meaning of the winery – imagine that!*

The 2012 bottling consists of 55% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 10% Cinsault, so it has both power and elegance.  Balance is the key here with plenty of acidity keeping the black fruit fresh and appealing.

*this might not actually be true

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #6

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Fondrèche “Cuvée Nadal” Ventoux 2012 (14.5%, €23 – 24 at Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock)

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This wine is a  multi-faceted blend:

  • It’s a GSM assemblage (45% old vine Grenache, 45% Syrah & 10% Mourvèdre) with the Grenache vines in particular being old;
  • Also, the wine is aged in a mix of foudres (600L large vats), concrete eggs (for softness and a bit of a hippy touch) and barrels (228L, more traditional);
  • Finally, the wine is the labour of love of two people, Nanou Barthélemy & Sebastien Vincenti

It’s full of blackberry fruit with a liquorice – or is it black olive? – tang.  The different methods of ageing each add something a little different to the whole, and the age of the vines shows in the intensity of flavours.