James Nicholson is an award-winning wine merchant based in Northern Ireland. For over 35 years he has been supplying wines wholesale, to restaurants and to the public, all over the island of Ireland.
I was recently invited to their “Meet The Winemakers” tasting event in Dublin – a great opportunity to speak to the people who produce the wine, and of course to taste it!
Although it was difficult to narrow it down, here are a few of the sparkling and white wines that I really liked:
Quinta Soalheiro Alvarinho Espumante 2012 (€28.50)
Heading south from Rías Baixas in Galicia takes you over the border into Portugal and Albariño becomes Alvarinho. All good so far – and I often prefer the Portuguese stuff. But what’s this – a fizzy version?
Made by the traditional method, i.e. there’s a second alcoholic fermentation in bottle, this is fresh and fruity – and it’s real rather than artificial fruit. This might sound a bit silly – but it tastes just like you’d expect a fizzy version of Alvarinho to taste!
This is an excellent aperitif – and a refreshing different taste.
Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012 (€30.50)
Nino Franco’s Primo Franco recently won the trophy for best Prosecco in Tom Stephenson’s “Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships”. The fact that there is a Prosecco category at all is not a sop to the producers of off-dry fruity pop, but rather it’s recognition that Prosecco can be a serious sparkling if the producer wishes.
Produced from a single vineyard after which it is named, San Floriano is made by the Charmat (or tank) method like all other Prosecco, but has four months on the lees while in tank, and therefore picks up a little autolytic character. It’s also dry and savoury, so it tastes like a serious wine – you could easily drink this with a meal as well as the usual aperitif.
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009 (€46.99)
My favourite wine of the whole tasting!
The Gusbourne Estate in south east England dates back to 1410, though sparkling wine production has a much more recent history – the first vintage was in 2006! The main vineyard is on a south facing ancient escarpment in Appledore, Kent. The soil are clay and sandy loam slopes – you might expect chalk given the proximity to the White Cliffs of Dover, but it does mean that Gusbourne copes better with wet weather and drought.
Blankety-blanks (as I childishly call them) are sometimes on the simple side but this spent a full three years on the lees which gives it lots of lovely bready characters, in addition to lemon sherbet from the Chardonnay. Being an English sparkler it has lots of zippy acidity with a dosage of 10.5 g/L for balance (I guessed 10 – 11, can’t get much closer than that!) This style of wine makes a great aperitif or goes wonderfully with seafood.
Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer 2013 (Loosen Estate) (€14.99)
Although I’m a huge fan of Alsace wines, sometimes I find the Gewurztraminers made there a little dry for my tastes. Just like Pinot Gris, I prefer my Gewurz to have a little sweetness on the finish to match the richness of the mid palate. This off dry German Gewürztraminer (note the umlaut over the u) ticks all the boxes for me! The most aromatic of varieties, the nose is instantly recognisable, with rose petals and lychees jumping out of the glass. Added to these on the palate is Turkish Delight.
Gewürz is something of a marmite variety, but this is an excellent introduction.
Château Beauregard Pouilly Fuissé Vers Cras 2011 (€37.00)
One of the first things aspiring wine geeks learn is the difference between Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé; although they’re both French and white they are stylistically very different. The former is one of France’s top two Sauvignon Blanc areas, just over the river from the more celebrated Sancerre. Pouilly-Fuissé is the most important appellation within the Mâconnais, the most southerly region of Burgundy proper.
Compared to the much more prestigious Côte d’Or, The Mâconnais has gentler slopes and mixed agriculture – and being a bit further south it gets more sun, so its grapes tend to be riper. Accompanying that is a tendency to use oak barrels quite liberally, especially in the better appellations, so the wines become more New World in style. Although the producer is still very important, Pouilly-Fuissé and St-Véran are white Burgundies that I would happily order from a restaurant wine menu without recognising the maker.
Château Beauregard is one of the top producers of Pouilly Fuissé. Its standard 2012 bottling (€28.75) is showing very nicely now, but I would be a little more patient and pick up the single vineyard Vers Cras. Although a year younger it had a lot more time in oak and so is not yet quite fully integrated. There’s lots of tropical fruit and toasty vanilla from the barrel ageing.
It’s not the currently fashionable cool climate style but it’s a wine I’d happily drink all evening from big fishbowl glasses.
Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (€30.00)
This is Marlborough Sauvignon Jim, but not as we know it.
For those who don’t know Dog Point, the founders James Healy and Ivan Sutherland are both ex-Cloudy Bay. As well as producing their own wine they sell grapes to other winemakers, including former colleague Kevin Judd who makes his Greywacke wines in their facility.
NZ Sauvignon can be sometimes be summed up as “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long” – it has riotous explosions of fruit in its youth but fades quickly. This elegant example from Dog Point is designed to age and evolve positively. It spent 18 months in older French oak barrels so has plenty of texture and refinement. It has the tropical fruit of regular Savvy plus peach and other stone fruit – it’s just such a pleasure to drink. There’s a funky edge from the wild yeast, and as malolactic fermentation was blocked there’s plenty of fresh acidity.
Part two looks at a few of my favourite reds from the tasting!