My Favourite Wines of 2013 – The Whites

A long overdue follow up to my favourite reds of 2013.  See also my favourite fizz of 2013.

Zind-Humbrecht Alsace Pinot Gris “Heimbourg” 2002*

Zind-Humbrecht Heimbourg Pinot Gris 2000
Zind-Humbrecht Heimbourg Pinot Gris 2000

When you have your first taste of wine, and it’s good, you might nod appreciatively or even exclaim “mmm, that’s nice” (which my Mum says to everything from JP Chenet to Grange). But when we tasted this fine, fine example of Alsace Pinot Gris the reaction was an astonished “oh…” around the room as everyone stared at their glass and wondered how much depth of flavour could possibly come from a glass of wine.  It was almost like being told an age old secret about life, it was a moment I will never forget. Like many Alsace Pinot Gris this was off-dry, very rich and almost oily in viscosity.  It wasn’t a perfect match for the starter it was paired with, but that didn’t matter – it was happy by itself.  Zind-Humbrecht is one of the most quality-conscious houses in the region, run on biodynamic practices by the brilliant Olivier Humbrecht MW.  It has plots within several of the best Grand Cru vineyards, though this is a simple “lieu-dit”.

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011
Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011

One of the top few Chardonnays from New Zealand and a personal favourite; I try to taste one bottle of every vintage, but sometimes I don’t succeed – it’s several!  This wine featured in my post on the New Zealand Trade Tasting – I make no apologies for repeating myself, it deserves the plaudits.  Open a bottle from the fridge and see how it evolves over the next hour or so, if you are able to resist drinking it quicker than that.

Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Valley Semillon 2000

Tyrrell's Vat 1 Hunter Semillon 2000
Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Semillon 2000

When Neil McGuigan, 2012 International Winemaker of the Year in the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC), gave a tutored tasting at the pop-up vineyard in Temple Bar, he stated that Hunter Semillon is one of the two wine styles original to Australia and not reproduced elsewhere in the world.  The other is the less well known liqueur Muscat from Rutherglen (perfect with Xmas pudding!)

I agree with him there, though he also provocatively called Sauvignon Blanc a “second rate grape” (I think there’s a lot of jealousy of Marlborough’s success with savvy).  The beauty of Hunter Semillon is that it can be drunk young as light, fresh and citrus, but it also ages and develops magnificently over time.  Often light in alcohol but not the worse for it, it develops toasty notes with time in bottle.  For me, it’s a waste to drink it young.

The originator of the style is Tyrrell’s, one of the big names of the Hunter.  Almost causing a family feud, the head winemaker of the time kept back a batch of the company’s best Semillon and released it at six years of age.  Thankfully (for us all) it was a success, and now Vat 1 has a claim to best varietal Semillon in the world.

I opened this bottle at the end of last year, so it was over thirteen years from harvest – and it still tasted young and fresh, though with plenty of toast and honey coming through on the nose and palate.  I think this would continue improving for another five to ten years.

Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2010

Despite all the ABC (“Anything But Chardonnay”) naysayers, Aussie Chardonnay goes from strength to strength.  It has moved with the times, so more (relatively!) cool regions are used, picking is earlier, malolactic fermentation can be partially blocked and the use of oak is more judicious.  Margaret River has the Leeuwin Estate Art Series and Cullen Kevin John superstars, Penfolds maintains a multi-regional blend for its “white Grange” Yattarna and Victoria’s Giaconda produces fabulous Chardonnay near Beechworth.  This is the star of the Adelaide Hills and comes from a family firm

Trimbach Cuvée Frédérique Emile Alsace Riesling 2004

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling 2004
Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling 2004

Trimbach are one of the oldest houses in Alsace, and also one of the biggest.  Like many of the larger producers they offer different quality levels at different price points.  The undisputed heavyweight champion is Clos Ste Hune Riesling, from a single walled vineyard within the Rosacker Grand Cru, up on the hills overlooking Ribeauvillé (probably my favourite town in Alsace).  This is a contender for best dry Riesling in the world and is “indestructible” according to Finian Sweeney of Sweeney’s wine merchants in Dublin.  This is a wine for the long haul, and has a pretty eye-watering price compared to most Alsace Riesling, though looks somewhat reasonable next to any Grand Cru Burgundy. Much more accessible and better value is the Riesling from the next tier down, the gold labelled Reserve Personnelle range’s Cuvée Frédéric Emile.  This is made from ripe low-yielding 45+ year old vines in the Geisberg and Osterberg climats, fermented to full dryness.  It has a mineral edge and an acidic backbone, but much more body and citrus flavour than the standard yellow label range.  This 2004 example was bought with birthday wine vouchers (you see mes amis, I am not that difficult to buy for!) and was showing plenty of development – the colour had deepened, the nose had started showing diesel notes on top of the citrus, and the palate opened out.  Friends who tasted this with me called it “the best Riesling they had ever tasted” – and I’d have to agree (so far).  Great value for money!

Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Casablanca Valley Chardonnay 2011

This is an old-fashioned premium Chilean Chardonnay.  I’m a sucker for the style in general, as long as it’s well executed.  The 2011 is still very young, and it would benefit from a couple of years so the oak and fruit integrate more.  This is a polarising wine.

Interestingly on Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages it receives two very differing reviews:

  1. Oaked like its going out of fashion. Which it is. Old fashioned new world Chardonnay – all tropical fruit and sweaty oak.  (15/20) [Richard Hemming]
  2. Sweet and spicy. Quite substantial but very satisfying. Finishes slightly suddenly after a great start. (16.5/20) [Jancis Robinson]

So, like a lot of issues in wine, it comes down to taste (sorry!) and personal preference.

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