Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Louis Latour Grand Cru Corton Charlemagne 2017

Way back before the pandemic I attended a tasting of wines from the Louis Latour stable .  There were lots of excellent wines, but one in particular stood out for me, the Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne.  Before we get into the wine itself, we take a brief look at the different labels of Louis Latour and take a fly-by of the Hill of Corton.

Louis Latour

There are six parts to the Latour stable:

  1. Louis Latour – Burgundy: the original home of the Domaine, more details below
  2. Louis Latour – Les Pierres Dorées: southern Beaujolais where the clay and limestone soils are suitable for Pinot Noir
  3. Louis Latour – Ardèche: south-eastern department, just west of the break between the northern and southern Rhône wine regions, mainly planted to Chardonnay and some Viognier
  4. Louis Latour – Var: a department on the south coast; vines were planted for the first time an hour or so north of Toulon.  Clay and limestone soils are again most suitable for Pinot Noir
  5. Simonnet-Febvre – Chablis: an outstanding Chablis house founded in 1840, bought by Louis Latour in 2003
  6. Henry Fessy – Beaujolais: a well-established Brouilly-based producer founded in 1888, bought by Louis Latour in 2008

In the UK the group also has a company called Louis Latour Agencies which was founded in 1990 to represent the group in the UK market and since then has built up a small portfolio of other producers.

Focus on Domaine Louis Latour

Louis Latour proudly state their founding year as 1797, although vineyards were first bought by Denis Latour in 1731.  The family moved to their current base of Aloxe-Corton under Jean Latour in 1768, with vineyards slowly being acquired as they became available.  One important decision in Corton-Charlemagne was the decision to replant Chardonnay (grafted onto resistant rootstocks) after phylloxera had killed the Aligoté and Pinot Noir vines in their plots.  More recent developments have focused on sustainable viticulture and environmental certification.

Domaine Louis Latour now produces 21 Grand Cru wines across Burgundy, with 11 in the Côte de Beaune and 10 in the Côte de Nuits.  Its Premier Crus are more Beaune-biased with 41, plus 11 in the Côte de Nuits and 2 in the Côte Chalonnaise.

The Hill of Corton and its Appellations

The Hill of Corton is located in the north of the Côte de Beaune.  The top is densely wooded and bereft of vines.  Below that the topsoil has eroded leaving mainly limestone and marl which is most suitable for white varieties.  The lower slopes of the hill have more clay, iron and other materials making them more suitable for black varieties.

There are three overlapping Grand Cru appellations on the hill.  In practice, if there is a choice for a given site, vignerons will choose Corton for red wines and Corton-Charlemagne for whites.

Corton

The largest Grand Cru in the Côte de Beaune covering 100.6 hectares, of which 98 are Pinot Noir and 2.6 Chardonnay.  Unusually for a Côte d’Or Grand Cru – though not dissimilar from Chablis Grand Cru which is around the same size – the name of individual climats is often stated on the front label.  The three communes which the AOC covers are:

  • Aloxe-Corton (16 climats)
  • Ladoix-Serrigny (9 climats)
  • Pernand-Vergelesses (7 climats)

Corton is the only Grand Cru for red wine in the Côte de Beaune.

Corton-Charlemagne

The Corton-Charlemagne AOC is just for white wines and covers 57.7 hectares.  As Corton above it extends into the same three communes, but does not usually name the individual climat on the front label.  Whereas Corton covers the lower slopes of the hill, Corton-Charlemagne’s Chardonnay prefers the limestone further up.

Charlemagne

This is a rarely seen AOC covering just 0.28 hectares; in practice the grapes harvested from this climat are blended in with others from Corton-Charlemagne.

Louis Latour Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne 2017

Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne 2017

Louis Latour owns 10.5 hectares in Corton-Charlemagne and so is now the biggest landowner of the AOC.  Latour’s plots have a south easterly aspect and the vines average 30 years old.  All grapes are hand picked as late as possible – for optimum ripeness – at an average yield of 40 hl/ha.

Fermentation takes place in oak barrels made in Latour’s own cooperage.  They are made from French oak – bien sûr – 100% new and with a medium toast.  The wines go though full malolactic fermentation in those barrels then age for eight to ten months before bottling.

On pouring the 2017 is a pale straw colour in the glass.  The nose has lifted aromas of nuts, smoke and vanilla.  These notes continue through to the monumental palate which also has ripe stone and citrus fruits.  There’s an impressive mineral streak which keeps the wine from feeling overblown or flabby.

This is one of the most expensive still white wines I’ve ever reviewed, so it’s difficult to assess it on a value for money basis, but it really is excellent and if you like Chardonnay it’s a wine you ought to try at least once in your life.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €170
  • Stockists: no retail stockists at present, but a good independent wine shop should be able to order it for you
  • Source: tasted at a trade event
Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Pureza Moscatel Anfora 2019

Pepe Mendoza makes fascinating wines in his home region of Alicante.  To understand the wines we must first understand the region and the man himself.  We will look at the range of wines he makes followed by tasting notes of one of them.

Alicante DO

Where is Alicante?  I wouldn’t have been able to place it accurately on a (blank) map, so here’s an annotated map:

DO_Alicante_location

Alicante wine comes from the province of the same name in south eastern Spain.  As you can see on the outline map above (Credit: Té y kriptonita), there are two separate and distinct sub-regions:

  • Vinalopó which follows the banks of the river of the same name
  • La Marina which is a newer, smaller region by the coast

Monastrell is the major grape planted in Alicante – especially in the more developed and warmer Vinalopó – as it is in other wine regions in this part of Spain.  A long-standing speciality of the area is Fondillón wine, a late-harvest red wine which is left in barrel for extended periods – similar to the way that Tawny Port is matured, though Fondillón is not fortified.

La Marina is cooler and has more rainfall, and so is more suitable for white grapes – Moscatel is prevalent.

Another historical wine style which was once more common is Brisat wines, i.e. skin-contact wines made using amphoras.

Señor Pepe Mendoza

José (Pepe) Mendoza grew up learning about vines and winemaking in his father’s eponymous firm Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, founded in 1989.  Pepe was closely involved in the vineyard and the winery, then the overall running of the family firm with his younger brother Julian.  In addition to this large concern – it covers 500 hectares and produces 250,000 bottles annually – Pepe and his wife Pepa Agulló also founded their own boutique operation Casa Agrícola.

From the beginning of 2021 Pepe stepped away from the family firm to concentrate on Casa Agrícola and a new consultancy business – Uva Destino – aimed at helping “vineyards that strive to express themselves”.

Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Wine Range

There are four distinct wine ranges within the Casa Agricola portfolio:

“Landscape” wines

These are Pepe’s entry level wines which blend local varieties and are designed to be fresh but easy drinking:

  • Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco: Moscatel 40%, Macabeo 40%, Airén 20%
  • Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto: Monastrell 70%, Giró 25%, Alicante Bouschet 5%

Single Varietal wines

There is currently just one wine in this range:

  • Pureza Moscatel Anfora: 100% Moscatel (see below)

Terroir wines

These are also single varietal wines but made with grapes sourced from a single terroir, one which allows the variety to thrive:

  • Giró de Abargues: 100% Giró from Marina Alta
  • El Veneno Monastrell: 100% Monastrell from Alto Vinalopó

Small Production wines

These are experimental wines which act as an R&D lab for Pepe to try out new styles:

  • Mares de Luz Coupaje: a blend of Monastrell from Vinalopo and Giró from Marina Alta
  • Giró-Gironet Ánfora Velo Flor: 2 different Giró clones fermented under a veil of flor
  • Blanc Brisat Moscatel “La Solana”: a 100% Moscatel skin contact wine aged in amphoras

Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Pureza Moscatel Anfora 2019

casa agricola pureza moscatel 3

The vineyard where the grapes for this wine are sourced from is only two hectares in area and was planted in 1943.  It is farmed without irrigation and according to organic principles but is uncertified.  Wine making takes an additive-free approach: yeast is indigenous and there are no enzymes, acid, sugar or other additives used.

The grape variety used is 100% Moscatel de Alejandría (Muscat of Alexandria) which is common all across the Mediterranean.  It is sometimes regarded as inferior to other Muscats – principally Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains – but in the right setting it can deliver very good wines.

The juice is fermented on skins in amphoras of 220, 250 and 350 litres, with macerations two to three times a day.  After alcoholic fermentation of around ten days, the wine is matured in the same amphoras for six months, without lees stirring, then in bottle for a further five.

Although classed by some as an “orange” or “amber” wine, this is more of a deep lemon colour.  The nose shows grapes as expected from a Muscat, but also orange blossom and citrus peel.  When tasted, at first it shows delicacy and poise, dancing on the tongue.  There’s a fleshy sweetness to the mid palate, but this is followed up by some grippy tannins and an oh-so-dry finish.

This is a highly individual and unusual wine, completely out of the mainstream.  It’s not one I would drink regularly on its own – it would surely blossom even more with food – but it’s very well done and deserves consideration for a wine which activates your senses and stimulates your brain.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €29.95
  • Stockists: The Wine Pair; Higgins Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum; SC Grocer Monkstown
  • Source: media sample

Other Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola wines available in Ireland

In addition to the Pureza Moscatel Anfora, the following Pepe Mendoza wines are available in Ireland:

  • Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; SC Grocer Monkstown; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock.
  • Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; Mitchell and Son.
  • El Veneno Monastrell 2018 (RRP €43.95) Stockists: Avoca; D-Six Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum
Make Mine A Double

Wine Review: Traminer Aromatico Friuli and Camille Meyer Grand Cru Mambourg Gewurztraminer from Lidl

Two different styles of Gewurz from the Lidl Easter Wine Cellar

I recently posted a review of two easy drinking whites from the Lidl Easter Wine Cellar. Now it’s time to look at two different Gewurztraminers, hailing from different countries and made in very different styles.

Traminer Aromatico Friuli 2019

This wine is from the north eastern Italian area of Friuli, part of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region that borders Slovenia to the east and Austria to the north. The name Traminer Aromatico is simply the Italian for “Aromatic Traminer” rather than “Spicy Traminer” which is the literal translation of its full German name.

“So when did Italian Gewürztraminer become a thing?” you might ask. Well the grape actually has its origins in Italy, in the South-Tyrolean1 village of Tramin. A couple of mutations during its travels around Europe turned it pink and made it very aromatic. In Jura the pink but non-spicy version is known as Savagnin (Rose); in a few villages in the north of Alsace the same grape is responsible for the mouthful that is Klevener de Heiligenstein.

When poured this Traminer does actually have a tinge of colour, unlike many other aromatic wines which can be water white. The nose is restrained but has touches of Turkish delight and lychees. The palate is something of a surprise, with crisp, green notes and no rich oiliness. Whereas Gewurz usually shows exotic spices this has more of a herb garden to it.

This is a gentle wine that, for me, has more in common with a good Argentinian Torrontés or a Jura Savagnin than a typical Gewurz; the 12.5% alcohol is a good indicator of its weight.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €8.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores from Thursday 25th March 2021
  • Source: Media sample

Camille Meyer Alsace Grand Cru Mambourg Gewurztraminer 2018

There are records of wine grapes being produced on the Mambourg hillside dating back to 783. Situated by the town of Sigolsheim, this Grand Cru vineyard is over 1.3 km across and nearly 62 hectares in area. Gewurztraminer is the main variety grown but there are also plantings of the other three noble grapes: Pinot Gris, Muscat and Riesling. Being such a large Cru means that quality might vary from plot to plot. The celebrated Marcel Deiss makes a fantastic Grand Cru Mambourg blend which shows that it can make stunning wines.

Whereas above we looked at a wine in the style of Traminer and Savagnin Rose, full-on spicy Gewurztraminer is one of the most recognisable wines from Alsace – and this bottle from Camille Meyer is exactly that. The nose is very expressive, so you can tick off the typical notes of lychee, rose petals and Turkish delight. There are a few herbal notes on the palate but spices are to the fore, particularly ginger.

There’s a decent level of residual sugar in this wine – which is a big positive for me in an Alsace Gewurz – and a finger in the air figure of 25 g/L is my guess. The sugar does mask a lack of complexity, and the level of oiliness is lower than many.

I believe that Camille Meyer is a private label owned by Lidl, and given the price it’s totally understandable that this wine doesn’t have the class that I’d expect from a Grand Cru wine. Indeed, there are non Grand Cru Gewurztraminers that are significantly better than this wine – Meyer Fonné comes to mind – but they are also significantly more expensive. This bottle therefore represents very good value for money.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €14.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores from Thursday 25th March 2021
  • Source: Media sample

Conclusion

Although ostensibly made from the same grape variety these two wines are totally different in style. If you are already a lower of good Gewurz then it’s the Alsace bottle that you should put in your trolley. If you prefer drier, more restrained wines than give the Italian bottle a try. And if you’re not sure, buy both and compare for yourself!


The full list of wines included in the Lidl Ireland Easter Wine Cellar is below, with links to reviews as applicable.

Whites:

Reds:

  • Mészáros Pinot Noir, €9.99
  • Casato dei Medici Riccardi Chianti Colli Senesi 2018, €11.99
  • Casato dei Medici Riccardi Chianti Rufina 2018, €9.99
  • Bellanova Primitivo di Manduria 2019, €9.99
  • Duca di Sasseta Ser Passo Toscana Rosso 2018, €12.99
  • La Croix des Celestins Beaujolais Brouilly 2019, €11.99

1 The South Tyrol (Südtirol in German, Alto Adige in Italian) was formerly part of Austria-Hungary but annexed by Italy at the end of the second World War. After many deliberations and consultations since then, it is now fully bilingual and has a large degree of autonomy.


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Make Mine A Double

Wine Review: Giulio Pasotti Lugana and Patricius Tokaji Furmint from Lidl

Two Easy Drinking White Wines From The Lidl Easter Wine Cellar

Lidl Ireland are set to release a dozen wines onto their shelves on Thursday 25th March, just in time for Easter.  Consisting of six white and six reds – see the list further down – the wines will be available in limited quantities.

Here are my brief notes on two of the whites which will be included in this event.

Giulio Pasotti Lugana 2019

Giulio Pasotti Lugana

A brief search indicates that this wine may only be available from Lidl stores in various countries, so Giulio Pasitto is quite possibly a private label (though happy to be corrected).  For those not familar with it, Lugana is an Italian wine region in the Veneto on the shores of Lake Garda – see my review of Cà dei Frati I Frati for more details.

This Lidl Lugana pours a pale lemon and has spicy orchard fruits on the nose.  The palate is lithe, easy drinking, with a little bittersweet grapefruit.  It’s perhaps a little lacking in acidity for my tastes, but it serves as a good introduction to the wines of the region.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores from Thursday 25th March 2021
  • Source: Media sample

Patricius “Vicarius” Tokaji Furmint 2019

Dry Furmint is becoming less the exception and more the rule in Tokaji, as climate change has led to far fewer vintages with sufficient botrytised grapes to make the region’s famous sweet wines.

The Patricius estate extends to an impressive 85 hectares and has seven historic first-growth vineyards.  The winery is run by father and daughter team Dezső and Katinka Kékessy who come from long lines of winemaking stock.  They are very proud of their dry Furmint as well as their Aszú sweet wines, with each plot being vinified and matured separately.

The Vicarius appears to be their entry level wine.  It’s made in a fresh, easy-to-drink style but still is a great showcase for dry Furmint.  The nose is very expressive, with stones and smoke drifting over melon and citrus.  These notes continue onto the palate which is framed by intertwining minerality and acidity.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores from Thursday 25th March 2021
  • Source: Media sample

Conclusion

Both of these wines are made in a simple, easy-drinking style; they are pleasant to drink and give a good representation of their respective regions and grapes without reaching the levels of more expensive examples.  At €9.99 both would be fine for a mid-week tipple, though the extra freshness of the Furmint makes it the winner for me.


The full list of wines included in the Lidl Ireland Easter Wine Cellar is below, with links to reviews as applicable.

Whites:

  • Patricius Tokaji Furmint 2019, €9.99
  • Traminer Aromatico Friuli 2019, €8.99
  • Lugana 2019, €9.99
  • Trésors de Loire Pouilly-Fumé 2019, €12.99
  • Camille Meyer Alsace Grand Cru Mambourg Gewurztraminer 2018, €14.99
  • Chablis 2019, €12.99

Reds:

  • Mészáros Pinot Noir, €9.99
  • Casato dei Medici Riccardi Chianti Colli Senesi 2018, €11.99
  • Casato dei Medici Riccardi Chianti Rufina 2018, €9.99
  • Bellanova Primitivo di Manduria 2019, €9.99
  • Duca di Sasseta Ser Passo Toscana Rosso 2018, €12.99
  • La Croix des Celestins Beaujolais Brouilly 2019, €11.99

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Make Mine A Double

Wine Review: Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté and Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Aligoté

Aligoté is on the comeback trail, a grape which used to looked down upon for its acidity and rusticity is now producing treasured wines, especially in its homeland of greater Burgundy.  I recently praised one inexpensive specimen of Bourgogne Aligoté from Lidl, but now we have two more accomplished examples from well reputed producers:

Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté 2017

Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté

Maison Ambroise have been a favoured Burgundy producer of mine for several years.  The family grow and source grapes from 20 hectares split over 20 different appellations.  Of those available in Ireland, the Hautes Côtes de Nuits white and Côtes de Nuits Villages red are excellent mid range wines.  The entry level here is the red and white pair of Lettre d’Eloïse, while there are other treats available such as the stunning Nuits-St-Georges “Haut Pruliers”.

Ambroise’s Aligoté tucks in just behind the Lettre d’Eloïse Chardonnay in the range.  It has an intriguing nose of pear, citrus and herbs.  Textbook strong acidity make this a fresh wine, but fleshy texture and ripe citrus notes also give it some body.  There’s also a strong mineral streak which is almost metallic in character.  This is a tangy, mouth-watering and delicious example of the grape.  Ambroise themselves suggest pairing it with fish, and especially Sushi.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €20
  • Stockists: The Wine Pair; Avoca; Le Caveau Kilkenny; MacGuiness wines; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Martins Off License; Station to Station wines; Listons
  • Source: purchased from The Wine Pair

Domaine Michel Lafarge Raisins Dorés Bourgogne Aligoté 2018

If Ambroise is small with 20 hectares, then Domaine Michel Lafarge is even smaller at about half the size.  Based in Volnay, the Domaine is now run by Frédéric and his daughter Clothilde, the second and third generation respectively.  The estate is certified organic and biodynamic, with a low-intervention approach to winemaking.  

Whereas Ambroise’s vines are 40 years old, Lafarge’s Aligoté vines are more than twice that.  After whole-cluster pressing, fermentation takes place spontaneously with wild yeast in stainless steel tanks.  The wine is then matured between three and six months in older oak barrels, depending on the vintage.  Before bottling the wine may be fined and / or filtered, again vintage-dependent.

I don’t think I’m doing this bottle of Raisins Dorés (Golden Grapes) a disservice by saying that it’s fairly similar to the Ambroise, but more so: aromas and flavours are much more concentrated, there’s more smoke and fleshy texture, and such a long finish.  It’s almost as though this is the wine that Riesling and Albariño want to be when they grow up.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €32
  • Stockists: the current allocation of 32 bottles for Ireland has already sold out.
  • Source: media sample

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that the Lafarge is the better of these two wines in my eyes (or should that be “in my mouth”?), but the real question is their comparative quality to price ratio.  Which is the better value for money?  The extremely low availability of the Lafarge take it out of the buying equation right now, but I’d say that the two wines are equal in the VFM stakes.  If you just want to spend €20 then buy the Ambroise, but if you can spend just over €30 and can find the Lafarge wine then snap it up!


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Opinion

Producer Profile: Pegasus Bay of Glasnevin

Pegasus Bay sign

Waipara and North Canterbury

When it comes to naming New Zealand’s wine regions, the significant region which is most often forgotten or overlooked is North Canterbury, close to the major city of Christchurch on the South Island.  North Canterbury includes the sub-region of Waipara which is more often seen on wine labels (though not to be confused with Wairarapa which is at the bottom of the North Island and includes Martinborough).  I’m not sure why Canterbury is overlooked – perhaps because it doesn’t specialise in Sauvignon Blanc? – but some great wines are made here.

Not too dissimilar to Marlborough which is further north on the South Island, Waipara is situated in the rain- (and wind-) shadow of the Southern Alps and is close to the sea, giving temperate summers with cool nights and dry autumns which allow grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness as their own pace.  The most important varieties here are Riesling and Pinot Noir, though other aromatic whites and Chardonnay also do well.

To show how the terms can be used interchangeably, note that the sign above mentions Waipara whereas the website banner states “Fine North Canterbury Wine” under “Pegasus Bay”

Background to Pegasus Bay

It started with a doctor reading a book.  The doctor was Neurologist Ivan Donaldson and the book was one of Hugh Johnson’s wine books, “Wine”, given to him by his then girlfriend Christine.  The book lit a fire within him; he journeyed round many of Europe’s well-established wine regions, and on his return he planted Canterbury’s first vines in 1976.  This first vineyard was in Mountain View, just south west of Christchurch, and was very experimental in nature.  Ivan managed to fit in his wine hobby in between hospital and private consulting work.

Almost a decade later, Ivan and Chris decided to make the jump from a hobby to a proper enterprise.  By now they had four sons, so it was a combined family effort to plant vines in the Waipara Valley.  They named their winery Pegasus Bay after the large bay running from the City of Canterbury up to the mouth of the Waipara River.1

The first vintage was 1991 which Ivan made in his garage.  The family gradually expanded the winery, cellar door, restaurant and gardens.  All four sons are now involved in the winery, with the eldest – Matthew, a Roseworthy graduate – being chief winemaker.  As well as estate wines under the Pegasus Bay label the Donaldsons also make Main Divide wines from bought in fruit.

Pegasus Bay Wine Styles and Philosophy

In a nutshell, Pegasus bay wines have something of a Burgundian sensibility but they reflect Waipara and the vintage in which they are made.  In a interview that Ed Donaldson gave for the Wine Zealand Project2 in 2016 he expounds the family’s philosophy:

So what drives us is – hopefully – making better wine all the time

One of the advantages [we have is that] my brother Matt’s taken over the winemaking so he has a lot of time to experiment, and to tweak, and to change, and see the wines age, and the vines getting some vine age, and just seeing what works and what doesn’t work, and continually trying to evolve and make better wine.

Our winemaking style is to be true to ourselves, not trying to emulate anything.  We have a lot of respect for the old world and its wine styles.  We as a family drink a lot of wine from all over the world but we’re not necessarily trying to emulate them, we’re trying to make the best example of what we think expresses the region and the season as best we can.  Trying not to follow trends, we try to make the best wine we can and find a home for it.

We’ve been members of the Sustainable Winegrowers Programme pretty much since its inception, and we make wine as naturally as possible.

Pegasus Bay Wine Ranges

There are two main ranges, Estate and Reserve.  The Estate wines are (obviously) made only with their own fruit, and although they are perhaps the junior wines in the Pegasus Bay portfolio they are not what you or I would call “entry level”, which has connotations of lower quality, simpler wines for drinking very young.  Make no mistake, the Estate wines are seriously good.

The Reserve range is a significant step up again, in both quality and corresponding prices.  This range includes two botrytis sweet wines; a Semillon Sauvignon blend reminiscent of Sauternes and a Riesling which evokes the Rhine.  The Reserve wines are named with an operatic theme as Chris Donaldson is an opera devotee.

The Vengence range has just two experimental wines whose composition varies from year to year.  They are totally different in style from the main two ranges; they are fun and quirky rather than being serious.  They give the winemakers the opportunity to play around with different vineyard and winery choices that they couldn’t just jump into with the main ranges.

  • Estate: Sauvignon/Semillon, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot/Cabernet, Malbec
  • Reserve: Bel Canto Dry Riesling, Aria Late Picked Riesling, Virtuoso Chardonnay, Prima Donna Pinot Noir, Maestro Merlot/Malbec, Encore Noble Riesling, Finale Noble Semillon Sauvignon
  • Vergence: Vergence White (Semillon blend), Vergence Red (Pinot Noir)

Wines in bold are reviewed below

Pegasus Bay Chardonnay 2017

As with most of Pegasus Bay’s vines, this Chardonnay is harvested from vines which are mainly ungrafted.  The vines now average 30 years old and are planted on rocky soils which are free draining and low in fertility. These facts all lead to lower yields but with concentrated flavours.  The climate is warm, rather than hot, yet with cool nights, so the growing season is long.

I mentioned above that there’s a Burgundian sensibility to Pegasus Bay wines, but in the case of this Chardonnay the winemaking is definitely Burgundian in nature.  Multiple passes were made to hand harvest the fruit at optimum ripeness.  The grapes were whole bunch pressed then transferred to 500 litre oak barrels, 30% new and 70% used.  Spontaneous fermentation took place in these puncheons and the young wine was left to mature on its lees over winter and spring.  Malolactic fermentation started naturally into the summer months, with the winemaking team halting it based on regular tasting to get the balance between fresh malic and round lactic acids.

When poured this Chardonnay is a normal lemon colour.  On the nose there are citrus fruits but they initially take a side seat to outstanding “struck-match” reductive notes.  There are also soft yellow fruits and a stony mineral streak.  The palate is magnificent, a really grown up Chardonnay that balances fruit, tanginess, minerality, freshness, texture and roundness.  This is one of the most complete Chardonnays I’ve had the pleasure of trying in many years.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €38
  • Stockists: Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.
  • Source: media sample

Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2016

This 2016 pours a medium intensity ruby red, consistent across the glass.  The nose has lots of fruit, more black than red; the black fruits appear at first (blackberry and black cherry) but gradually cede attention to red (red cherry and pomegranate).  Enticing savoury notes and spice complete the olfactory picture.  It’s a very sophisticated and complex nose that deserves – nay demands – frequent revisits.

The palate is savoury and fruity in taste.  Those same black fruits come to the fore but with black liquorice and black olive counterpoints,  Fine grained tannins and acidity provide a fantastic structure, but this is a supple and sappy wine, not austere.

The alcohol is little higher than we usually see in a Pinot Noir, but the 14.5% does not stick out at all when tasting.  This is a well-balanced wine, albeit a powerful one.  When it comes to food pairing, Pinot Noir is often matched with mid level meats such as veal or pork – and to be fair this would be excellent with charcuterie – but this has the weight and intensity to match well with game, lamb or even beef.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €45
  • Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule; World Wide Wines, Waterford: The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; La Touche Wines, Greystones; D-Six, Harolds Cross
  • Source: media sample

Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling 2008

Pegasus Bay have four Rieslings in their portfolio, as befitting a top Waipara producer:

  • The Estate Riesling is produced every year
  • The Bel Canto (Reserve) Dry Riesling has a little botrytis and is made in two out of every three years, depending on vintage conditions
  • The Aria (Reserve) Late Picked Riesling is a late harvest style that often has a small proportion of Botryis grapes and is made roughly one on two years, vintage dependent
  • The Encore (Reserve) Noble Riesling is only made with fully botrytised berries, often requiring multiple passes, and of course when there are sufficient grapes in a particular vintage.

Only in very exceptional years such as 2008 and 2014 are all four styles made.  The Riesling vines are on a rocky outcrop which has warm days but very cool nights, helping to maintain acidity and thus preserve freshness.

As the pure botrytis (and therefore sweetest) Riesling in their range, Pegasus Bay liken it in style to a Séléction de Grains Nobles (SGN) from Alsace or a Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) from Germany.  When harvested the grapes are totally shrivelled and so produce a very small amount of juice – but such luscious juice!  After clarification the juice is allowed to ferment naturally; when the yeast finishes its task there is plenty of residual sugar, though the precise figure is not published.

On the nose it’s instantly identifiable as Riesling, but with honey and tropical fruits to the fore.  In addition to the pineapple, mango and grapefruit there are also hints of mushroom.  The palate is beautiful but perhaps confounding for the uninitiated – it’s rich and sweet yet full of acidity, giving your palate a smorgasbord of experiences.  The finish is amazingly long.

At 13 years of age this bottle has had plenty of development, possibly rounding off the acidity slightly while also tapering the apparent sweetness to some degree (the mechanism for which is not yet understood).  It still has plenty of life left though – it could easily keep to the end of this decade.

  • ABV: 11.0%
  • RRP: €35 for 2016 vintage (375ml bottle)
  • Stockists: currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
  • Source: own cellar

Other Pegasus Bay Wines available in Ireland

In addition to the three wines reviewed above there are three further Pegasus Bay wines available in Ireland

  • Sauvignon / Semillon: RRP €29, Stockists: Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; The Corkscrew; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock
  • Bel Canto Dry Riesling: RRP €35, currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
  • Prima Donna Pinot Noir: RRP €75, Stockist: The Wine House, Trim

 


Frankly Wines and Pegasus Bay

Now, those who follow me on Instagram may realise that I live in the Dublin suburb of Glasnevin, also home to the National Botanic Gardens, the Irish Met office and the large Glasnevin cemetery.  It was therefore a huge surprise when, while touring New Zealand on honeymoon, we suddenly realised that we were driving through Glasnevin, Canterbury.  And where was our first stop?  Pegasus Bay, of course!

Yours truly, about to go through the entire Pegasus Bay range at their Cellar Door.

…and afterwards, very happy with his purchases to be supped on the journey round the South Island.


1Ironically Pegasus Bay was originally known as “Cook’s Mistake” – I’m glad I didn’t find that out on my honeymoon!

2Taken from the YouTube video A Day In Pegasus Bay  Any transcription errors are my own.

Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Cataldi Madonna Pecorino Giulia 2019

When particular wines become a commodity it can be hard for quality producers to sell their wines for a price that reflects their efforts and costs.  One rule of thumb is that, if there is a “Tesco Finest” example of a wine then it’s already close to a commodity.  Two principal ways of overcoming this barrier are:

  1. Brand marketing
  2. Stand-out quality

Brand marketing is expensive and really only worthwhile to large scale producers.  These producers will often have distinct quality levels among their wines.  Brancott Estate and Villa Maria of New Zealand spring to mind.

By “stand-out quality” I mean that a producer who focuses on improving quality year on year may – eventually – be sought out as one of the best examples of their particular wine.  One example is Villa des Crois Picpoul de Pinet.  Before tasting this I couldn’t have imagined that premium Picpoul could exist.  In fairness, it is still modestly priced for a quality white wine, but it does command a premium over other Picpouls.

So now we move onto the questions: What is Pecorino like?  Where is Pecorino grown?

Pecorino

According to Jancis, Julia and José’s book Wine Grapes1, Pecorino is a very old grape from the Marche in central Italy, possibly even domesticated from wild grapes of the area.  The wine has no connection with Pecorino cheese; the cheese is just made from sheep’s milk and the grapes are said to have been popular with grazing sheep (Pecora)2.  It was widespread up to the end of the 19th century but fell out of favour.

The story of the rediscovery of Pecorino in the last quarter of the 20th century has a few different versions.  Luigi Cataldi Madonna (see below) claims that his friend Vincenzo Aquilano found some 80 year old vines in 1983 and that he (Luigi) was bowled over by an experimental wine made from it in 1990.  Wine Grapes credits Guido Cocci Grifoni as resurrecting the grape in the 1980s, though that producer’s website gives 1975 as their first year of making Pecorino wines.

One of the main characteristics of Pecorino is its high, sometimes bracing, acidity.  It naturally produces low yields (which is a likely reason it fell out of favour) but is strongly resistant to both downy and powdery mildew.

Cataldi Madonna

Cataldi Madonna is located on the “Forno d’Abruzzo” plateau, a hot subregion which receives cooling downdrafts from the most southerly glacier in the northern hemisphere.  The vines cover 30 hectares and are situated between 320 and 440 metres above sealevel.

The business was founded in 1920 by Baron Luigi Cataldi Madonna, but didn’t bottle wine until 1975 under the founder’s son Antonio.  Antonio totally modernised the vineyards and production facilities, bringing it right up to date.  The next generation saw Antonio’s nephew Luigi take over the business in 1990.  He transformed the house even further and made it one of the best respected wineries of Abruzzo.

As mentioned above, Luigi first tasted Pecorino in 1990 and immediately planted his own vines.  The variety became a calling card of Cataldi Madonna and is currently available in three versions.  Luigi’s daughter Giulia became the fourth generation of the family to run the business when she recently took over the reins.

Cataldi Madonna Pecorino Giulia 2019 

This is the middle Pecorino of Cataldi Madonna, with a bag-in-box base wine and the SuperGiulia premium wine.  They are all Pecorino IGT Terre Aquilane.  Giulia was created by Luigi to celebrate the 18th birthday of his daughter Giulia.  The wine is 100% Pecorino from vines planted in 2001 at 380 metres on clay loam soil.

Opened young and straight from the fridge, this wine is somewhat muted on the nose, with light citrus notes to be found.  The palate is dominated by bright, I mean BRIGHT citrus notes and a real zap of acidity.  But then, if you’re not a complete amateur like me, given some time and air it opens up a little on the nose and especially on the palate.  The acidity settles down, remaining fresh but not jarring.  The citrus notes unfurl into lime, lemon and grapefruit, and are accompanied by some pear and tropical fruits.

This wine loves to take you on a journey, and the delicious destination is worth the price of the ticket!

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €25
  • Stockists: Deveneys, Dundrum; McHughs, Kilbarrack; D-Six Off Licence; Baggot Street Wines
  • Source: media sample

1Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours – Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, José Vouillamoz

2No relation to Pakoras, either

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Wine Review: Alsace and Burgundy from Lidl [Make Mine a Double #70]

As a devoted fan of Alsace wines I’m heartened that Lidl include one or more examples in their limited release French wine events.  For example, in 2017 I have really enjoyed Jean Cornelius Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc.  I also tried the Jean Cornelius Riesling in 2019.

The next Lidl Ireland French wine event starts Thursday 25th February and includes eight whites and eight reds.  Below I briefly review two of the whites which I enjoyed.

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

Jean Cornelius Alsace Riesling 2019

This is an entry level Alsace Riesling, presumably from vineyards on the flat and productive plains heading east towards the Rhine.  The nose is muted, though it does give hints of Riesling goodness.  The palate is bone dry, with zesty lime and a squeeze of juicy stone fruit, finished off by tinned grapefruit notes.  This isn’t a wine to get too excited about but it managed to combine freshness and roundness in a pretty tasty package.  Would be perfect with seafood or as an aperitif.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €10.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores from 25th Feb 2021, while stocks last

Bourgogne Aligoté 2018

Aligoté won’t be that familiar to many supermarket shoppers, and if they have tasted the grape it’s just likely to have been in a (proper) Kir cocktail as on its own.  The variety originated in Burgundy as a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, making it a full sibling of Chardonnay and Auxerrois, among many others.  It ranks as the second most planted white grape in Burgundy, but in reality it’s way behind big brother Chardonnay.  Long derided, Aligoté is on the comeback – more on which in a future article.

This example is one of many Lidl wines which don’t mention the producer on the label, so I opened it with caution, but for such an inexpensive wine and a modest grape it has plenty going on.  It is bone dry with Aligoté’s trademark high acidity, but there are also notes of melon and stone fruits.  There’s also a little smokiness, minerality and herbiness to the wine, and more texture than I anticipated.  There’s no overt oakiness though perhaps a little leesiness.  This wine does cry out for food or, if that’s not forthcoming, another glass!

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores from 25th Feb 2021, while stocks last

Other Wines

Other wines included in the Lidl Ireland French Wine events are:

White Wines

  • Jean Cornelius Alsace Pinot Blanc 2019 €9.99
  • Bourgogne Chardonnay 2018 €9.99
  • Château Jourdan Bordeaux Blanc 2018 €7.99
  • Domaine de la Pierre Pays d’Oc Muscat Moelleux 2019 €9.99
  • Rocher Saint-Victor Picpoul de Pinet 2019 €8.99
  • Val de Salis Pays d’Oc Vermentino 2019 €9.99

Red Wines

  • Les Aumôniers Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret 2019 €9.99
  • Château Montaigu Côtes du Rhône 2019 €9.99
  • Puech Morny Gigondas 2019 €16.99
  • La Croix Du Grand Jard Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2018 €8.99
  • Lussac-Saint-Émilion 2018 €10.99
  • La Roche D’Argent Saint-Émilion 2018 €12.99
  • Haut de Saint Laurent Haut-Médoc 2019 €11.99
  • Domaine Coudougno Faugères 2019 €8.99

Conclusion

The Jean Cornelius Riesling was much better than the Pinot Blanc which I also tried, but it cannot hold a candle to the very tasty and amazing value Bourgogne Aligoté!


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

 

Book Review

Book Review: The Wines of New Zealand by Rebecca Gibb MW

The Wines of New Zealand by Rebecca Gibb

Introduction

New Zealand is a country whose wines I like and am fairly familiar with – even encompassed by the tag line of my website (“A Wine Blog with a Focus on Fizz, Alsace and Australasia“) – so an in depth guide was always likely to garner a favourable reception chez moi.  Rebecca Gibb MW is a specialist in New Zealand wines, having lived there from 2010 to 2016 and even marrying a Kiwi.  This book was published in 2018 by Infinite Ideas as part of their Classic Wines Library series (and who kindly sent me this review copy).

My wife and I did a self-guided wine tour of New Zealand on our honeymoon in 2009 (more on which below) which is not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, but as New Zealand is still emerging as a wine producing country there are producers in this book who were established within the last decade.

Part One

A short history section gives a very welcome explanation of the NZ wine scene before the Sauvignon Blanc explosion on the 1980s. Up to that time most wine production was on the North Island, especially around Auckland and Hawke’s Bay when vines were harvested in Marlborough they had to be trucked to Hawke’s Bay for vinification.

This section also covers the impact that European immigrants have had on Kiwi wine, particularly those from the Balkans; Nobilo, Babich, Villa Maria and Kumeu River were among those founded by Dalmatian pioneers and proud of their roots.

Also covered in part one are an overview of New Zealand’s climate (cleverly called “an umbrella view”!) and the key grape varieties grown in the country. Of course Sauvignon Blanc is the most important grape grown in New Zealand, but its importance overseas is magnified as it accounts for a much larger proportion of wines exported than wine produced; there are lots of other excellent varieties made in Aotearoa which rarely make it onto the shelves up here.

Parts Two and Three

The second and third parts of the book make up the bulk of its contents and its interest, being an exposition of the  ten largest wine regions:

Part two looks at the North Island, from north to south:

  • Northland
  • Auckland
  • Gisborne
  • Hawke’s Bay
  • Wairarapa

Part three looks at the South Island, also from north to south (but in less of a straight line):

  • Marlborough
  • Nelson
  • Canterbury and North Canterbury
  • Waitiki Valley
  • Central Otago

Each chapter includes:

  • A history of the region
  • Its geography and climate
  • An explanation of wine styles
  • Producers profiles, including a key wine to try for each

As you might imagine, these themes are directly interwoven – the producers are part of the region’s history, the wine styles depend on the geography, climate and aims of the producer, and so on.  What strikes me is that there are well established combinations, but there is still so much to be experimented with.  Perhaps future generations will pioneer new regions (Waitiki Valley is probably the youngest) and new grape varieties.  Gisborne Godello or Nelson Nebbiolo?

Part Four

The final main part of the book is titled “Contemporary New Zealand” covers two subtopics; “Current Issues” looks at innovation, sustainability and the maturation of the country’s wine industry – in commercial terms it really is a baby compared to that of most other nations.  The final subtopic is “Tourism”; wine tours are now a third pillar of Kiwi tourism on top of Lord of the Rings pilgrimages and hiking/trekking/tramping.  Gibb drops in several references to show how well she knows certain locations, but this is a useful starting point.

Conclusion

Despite my tardy full review, this book remains the most important book available on New Zealand wines.  Of course in such a young wine producing nation there will be new producers and new grape / region combinations that flourish, but the best producers outlined in the book are likely to remain a reference.  It’s well-written, both approachable and engaging, yet comprehensive and authoritative.  This is a book which every winelover should have in their collection.

To buy this book on Amazon.co.uk click here [affiliate link]: The wines of New Zealand (The Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library)


My Visit to New Zealand

I got married in 2009 and chose New Zealand as our honeymoon destination.  The amazing landscape was a key draw, along with a little whale- and fjord-spotting, but the fact that there are so many excellent wines made in Kiwiland was the clincher.  In fact, we had NZ wines poured at our wedding and the tables were named after prominent wines and wineries.1

From a wine point of view, our trip took in Waipara, Central Otago, Nelson, Marlborough, Martinborough and Hawke’s Bay.  If we ever get the opportunity to go back I would happily visit all of those regions again, but perhaps Central Otago and Marlborough would be top of the list.  Of the regions that we didn’t visit, I’d like to take a trip up to Northland – as much for the beaches as the wine, to be honest – and spend more time in the Auckland area so that I could get to Kumeu River and Man O’War, among others.

I will write up my cellar door recommendations in a future article.

1My parents friends were on a table called “Craggy Range”, the vicar was on a table called “Vicar’s Choice” and we made a late change to swap out “Mount Difficulty” as we didn’t want to jinx our honeymoon.

Uncategorized

Single Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs [Make Mine a Double #53]

New Zealand Winegrowers are holding their first ever virtual New Zealand Wine Week in February 2021 so I decided to mark the occasion by reblogging some old (but gold) posts which focus on Kiwi wine.

Frankly Wines

For Sauvignon Blanc Day, what better wines to be comparing than two Marlborough Sauvignons.  There are some people who don’t care for the variety and / or the particular expression that is created in Marlborough – perhaps it’s just “tall poppy syndrome” – but I’m not one of the naysayers.   Marlborough Sauvignon is now one of the key recognisable styles in the world of wine and has many imitators, though few are successful.

That said, although nearly all of them would be recognised blind (many at the point where the wine is opened), there are significant variations in style and flavour profile within the region.  Some of that is down to terroir; my humble palate can often distinguish between Savvy made in the Awatere Valley from one made in the Wairau Valley (and of course that’s before smaller terroir differences are considered).  There’s also the winemaker and his or…

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