Category: Information

Upcoming Public Wine Events in Dublin

Upcoming Public Wine Events in Dublin

[Updated 12th November]

There are lots of upcoming wine events in Dublin that are open to the public – let’s spread the love and spread the word.  Here are some of the bigger events that I recommend:

O’Briens Winter Wine Fair 

Times: Friday 13th November 18.00 – 21.00, Saturday 14th 13.00 – 16.00, 17.00 – 20.00

Venue: Round Room, Mansion House, Dublin 2

Tickets €20 / €15 / €20 on the O’Briens website

267202_obrienswinefairlogo

They say: This year there will be over 50 of the world’s most renowned wineries represented and you will have the opportunity to meet the winemakers, and taste up to 250 wines.  All proceeds from the ticket prices go towards our charity partners Jack & Jill Children’s foundation.

I say: Fantastic event, so many great wines to taste that it pays to plan out in advance which ones you want to try.  The tables get busier towards the end of the evening so it’s good to get there on time and start tasting!

Honest 2 Goodness Christmas wine tasting

Time: Thurs 26th November 19.30 – 21.30..

Venue: H2G Café, 136a Slaney Close, Dublin Industrial Estate, Dublin 11

Tickets €30 (Wine Club members) or €35 (Non-Wine Club members) book by email

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They say: Our Christmas Wine Tasting will take place on Thurs 26th of November, where you will be tasting unmissable Christmas Wines carefully selected by us to ensure that whatever you are planning to have over the Christmas, we will have some great suggestions for the wines to match, from party wines to the one special bottle for that Christmas Day dinner!

We will also be serving H2G Canapes and nibbles.  We hope to have our usual Jazz Band with us for the Christmas Tasting evening, they haven’t confirmed for sure just yet…

I say: H2G import a fantastic selection of wines, mainly from Europe, and often family producers who follow organic or sustainable practices.  If the Jazz Band play you won’t know whether to sip your wine or tap your feet!  See my write up of the big tasting last summer here.

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Blogging Basics (2): Promoting your blog

Following on from Blogging Basics Part 1, these are some of the ideas that I’ve jotted down on how to increase awareness of – and subscribers to – a wine blog.  Most of them could be extended to writing on other topics. I’m not claiming to be the world’s foremost expert here, but they seem to have worked well for me.

Ambassadors in Wine Merchants and other wine retailers

fine-wine-3

  • If you recommend one or more wines carried by a particular outlet then that merchant is highly likely to be a supporter.
  • I think many merchants would be prepared to have business-type cards visible by their tills, or even offer them to people who are obviously interested in wine.
  • Nowadays business cards are pretty cheap, I got mine from Vistaprint – and then a Frankly Wines t-shirt for good measure.
  • Even without business cards it would be good to have all the major wine merchants in your town or city aware of your blog – drop in, buy a bottle and mention your blog.

Being noticed at tastings

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  • The biggest promotional tool for your blog is YOU.
  • If you’re at a trade or consumer tasting then whoever we are talking to should know about your blog.
  • This could be through wearing a T-Shirt or even something small like a badge – and if they ask about it, even better.
  • I have found the vast majority of established Irish Wine Writers to be very helpful and supportive – don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Using Twitter

  • Without Social Media it is very difficult to gain more readers and more subscribers.
  • Tweets with pictures get far more attention that without, so try to put at least one appropriate picture up whenever you tweet about your blog.
  • Tagging people in pictures (up to ten) means you can have far more people tagged than mentioning them in the 140 characters of text.
  • Three photos looks the prettiest in my opinion; try to have one portrait and two landscape orientated photos, and add them in the order:Order

 

Ambassadors on Twitter

  • When I put up a link to a new blog post on Twitter, I’m very lucky in that lots of people like and share it, by:
  1. Liking my tweet (nice, but no big deal)
  2. Retweeting my tweet (great)
  3. Following the link then tweeting from WordPress (even better, as I can then RT that myself later)
  4. Reblogging on WordPress (fantastic, though quite rare)
  5. Liking on WordPress
  6. Leaving a comment on WordPress (shows engagement)
  • Some of these people are just interested in wine, some are wine writers/bloggers themselves.
  • To encourage this, it’s always good to thank people and take an interest in their views.
  • For the second category, reciprocation is also important, so help by sharing their posts and tweets.

When you post an article

  • It’s good to know who is likely to want the tweets (and therefore the article being linked to) read by more people.
  • For example, if I were tweeting a post from either Craggy Range or Nyetimber (two of my favourite producers) I would try and tag some or all of the following:
Category Craggy Range Nyetimber
Producers @craggyrange @nyetimber
Winemakers @crmattstafford @greatrixbrad
Regional Associations @WineHawkesBay @englishwine
Importers @Tindalwines, @HarrietTindal @libertyireland
Retailers / Restaurants @sweeneyswine @elywinebar
Brand Ambassadors @crmaryjeanne @EmmaLambie
  • Some of these aren’t always easy to remember / find on the fly, so preparation and organisation are important.
This Summer’s BBQ Wines #7 and #8 Quinta da Alorna

This Summer’s BBQ Wines #7 and #8 Quinta da Alorna

Quinta da Alorna Tasting Evening at Fade St Social
Quinta da Alorna Tasting Evening at Fade St Social

A few weeks ago I was the guest of thetaste.ie at Fade St Social where Colly Murray from RetroVino was showcasing the wines from Quinta da Alorna.  Representing Alorna was André Almeida, a true gentleman, who explained some of the philosophy behind each wine.  The talented chefs at Fade St Social prepared a dish to match each wine.  You can read a great report from the evening on the blog of my friend Laura.

I was very impressed with the wines overall, and will give a more in-depth report on the estate in the coming weeks.  What did strike me was that the wines were very good value, and were versatile enough to be enjoyed on their own or with food.  In other words, they would be great for a barbecue!  Here are the “entry level” white and red:

Quinta da Alorna Branco Vinho Regional Tejo 2013 (RetroVino: Fade St Social, Brasserie Sixty 6, Rustic Stone, Taste at Rustic)

Quinta da Alorna Branco 2013
Quinta da Alorna Branco Vinho Regional Tejo 2013

This white is a blend of two indigenous Portuguese grapes:

Arinto is known for its high acidity and citrus aromas and flavours.  It’s also grown extensively in Bucelas (so much so that it is sometimes known as Arinto de Bucelas) and in Vinho Verde, where it is often blended with Alvarinho and Loureiro.

Arinto grapes
Arinto grapes (www.winemakingtalk.com)

Fernão Pires has a more spicy aromatic character, often with exotic fruity notes.  As well as Tejo it is also grown in Bairrada, sometimes under the pseudonym Maria Gomes.

The two grapes are pressed and vinified separately at low temperature (12ºC) in stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness.  The two varieties are then blended, cold stabilised and clarified before bottling.

What this gives is a wine which can pair well with lots of different dishes, as different aromas and flavours from the wine are highlighted by the food.  Seafood is well complemented by the lemon and lime of the Arinto and its cutting acidity.  Asian and more expressive dishes are well matched by the exotic fruit of the Fernão Pires.  Chili and lime marinated prawns on the barbecue would be perfection!

Cardal Tinto Vinho Regional Tejo 2012 (RetroVino: Fade St Social, Brasserie Sixty 6, Rustic Stone, Taste at Rustic)

Cardal Tinto Vinho Regional Tejo 2012
Cardal Tinto Vinho Regional Tejo 2012

Not to be outdone, this red is a blend of three indigenous Portuguese grapes: Touriga Nacional (30%), Castelão (35%), Trincadeira (35%)

Touriga Nacional is of course most famous in Port, and now “light” Douro wines, though it’s not the most widely planted grape in the Douro region.  Often floral.

Touriga Nacional grapes
Touriga Nacional grapes (www.winemakingtalk.com)

Castelão’s name is derived from the Portuguese term for parakeet.  It is high in tannin so is often a component in a blend rather than a varietal.

Trincadeira is another Port grape, also known as Tinta Amarela.  It produces dark full-bodied and rich wines, with aromas of black fruit, herbs and flowers.

Production methods were fairly similar to the Branco above, with the exception that fermentation took place at 23ºC to help extract colour, flavour and tannin.

This wine is another great example where a blend can be more than the sum of its parts. The tannins are soft and gentle, there are wonderful floral aromas on the nose, and lovely plum and berry on the palate.  Just perfect for barbecued beef, or a juicy steak from one of Dylan McGrath’s restaurants!

This Summer’s BBQ Wines:

#1 – Bellow’s Rock Coastal Region Shiraz 2013

#2 – Château Michel Cazevieille Origine 1922 AC Saint Chinian 2012

#3 – and #4! Domaine de Maubet IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2014 & Venturer Côtes de Gascogne 2014

#5 – Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2012

#6 – Lot #01 Mendoza Malbec Cabernet 2013

#7 and #8 – Quinta da Alorna

#9 – Langlois-Château Crémant de Loire Brut NV

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.

Celebrating Bastille Day: Champagne Drappier

They say a picture call tell a thousand words. This might be true, but I’d say a glass of wine could tell even more.

Earlier this year I was invited by my friends at The Corkscrew Wine Merchants to attend a tasting of Champagne Drappier at Saison Restaurant in Dublin.  My account of the event is in the new Issue 7 of Glass of Bubbly Magazine:

Glass of Bubbly Magazine Issue 7 (front cover)
Glass of Bubbly Magazine Issue 7 (front cover)

Here’s a sneak peek at the Drappier article:

Drappier Article in Glass of Bubbly Magazine
Drappier Article in Glass of Bubbly Magazine

Whilst tasting through some of Drappier’s fabulous range, it struck me that some of their choices are actually commercially quite risky.  Producing the Brut Zero Sans Souffre (neither dosage nor SO2 added) depends upon a fastidious approach to quality, including an almost draconian approach to hygiene.

The grapes have to be perfectly ripe, but not overripe, so that fruit flavours can shine without the addition of sugar.

The grapes have to be perfectly healthy so that there is minimal chance of spoilage which sulphur would normally prevent. Only own estate fruit is used for this Cuvée

Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) is allowed to proceed so that the acidity is softened and has less need of sugar for balance.

Extended lees ageing gives the Champagne character, but also helps to preserve it for longer and also lessens the impact of no dosage.

All of these factors have to be in perfect tension. Here is my first attempt at an infographic capturing this relationship.

Drappier Brut Zero Sans Souffre
Drappier Brut Zero Sans Souffre
Essential Wine Accessories (that won’t break the bank) – Part 3

Essential Wine Accessories (that won’t break the bank) – Part 3

If you’re a budding wine drinker (or you know one) looking to ensure you have the most essential wine accessories, but without laying out big bucks, this is the right guide for you.

PART 3 – Something to drink the wine out of – glasses

Although you could drink wine out of almost any kind of drinking vessel, glass is pretty much the best material for your …erm… glass known to man. Coffee mugs and polystyrene cups can hold liquid, but nothing beats the real thing. So, now we’ve established the material, it’s time for a fairly fundamental statement:

The type of glass you use makes a significant difference to how a wine smells and tastes.

As you’re reading a wine blog I’m assuming that this is of some importance to you.  Here is a summary of the important characteristics of a good wine glass:

Format

A proper wine glass needs to have a stem by which it can be held.  This ensures that any chilled white wine isn’t heated up too quickly by a grasping hand and the bowl isn’t smudged with fingerprints (which makes examining the wine much more difficult).  Of course, if you want to put it down on a flat surface then it will also need a foot to rest on.

Thickness

It’s far more pleasant to drink from a thin wine glass than something which could double as a coffee mug.  A cleaner edge means that you have precise control over how much you pour into your cakehole – which is a good thing, surely.

Clarity

The glass should be transparent, not coloured, and not etched. Being able to see the wine properly is an important part of evaluation and appreciation.

Shape

A good glass needs a wide bowl with a narrower rim so that the aromas are gathered within the glass rather than evaporating out into the ether.  It also means that when the glass is swirled to get the wine in contact with air, the wine stays in the glass…

Volume

Swirlability also depends (in tandem with shape above) on the capacity of the glass – it’s a lots easier with a bigger glass.  Many wines, particularly reds and / or oaked wines, need space in the glass to breathe, so they are better if the glass isn’t too full.  A bigger glass means a reasonable pour without filling it too high.

Let’s start by naming and shaming a few different types which you should avoid if looking to acquire some glasses:

1. Paris Goblet

Paris Goblet
Paris Goblet

The standard vessel of many French restaurants – those without at least a Bib Gourmand at least. They fulfil the very basic task of holding wine, but don’t hold enough and no good for swirling.

2. Tumbler

Tumbler (not the Batman version)
Tumbler (not the Batman version)

What am I, a fecking peasant? Tumbler’s are fine for water and water of life, but not for wine.

3. Champagne Flute

Champagne Flutes
Champagne Flutes

Traditional Champagne flutes are dead.  Flutes might look pretty, but they aren’t that great for anything other than basic Prosecco or Moët. Anything I serve at home with a high Pinot content or significant ageing gets put into a white wine glass as a minimum, or even a (larger) red wine glass.

Now, I do have a few Riedel flutes, and they’re are wider than most, so they’re not too bad for the basic stuff.

4. Champagne Coupe

Champagne Coupe
Champagne Coupe

Supposedly made in the shape of a famous French woman’s breast (though the story varies), the coupe is great for making Champagne towers, but not for drinking the stuff – the aromas dissipate too quickly and so do the bubbles.

5. Cut Crystal

John Rocha Waterford Crystal
John Rocha Waterford Crystal

Waterford crystal by John Rocha.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s really pleasing on the eye, worth of display in a cabinet, but it’s about as much use as a chocolate fireguard when it comes to appreciating wine.  The lip is too thick, the pattern interferes with examining the wine and the lack of a decent bowl shape means if you swirl a wine you’ll probably end up wearing some of it.

6. INAO/ISO tasting glass

ISO Tasting Glass
ISO Tasting Glass

This might be a surprise for some, but although “official” tasting glasses are de rigeur on most wine course and at some trade tastings, they’re actually too small for many wines. As an example, when I was tasting a subtly oaked white Louis Jadot Burgundy earlier this year, the oak was over-emphasised by the ISO glass.

At bigger pro-events the tasting glass of choice is usually the Riedel Vinum Chianti Classico/Riesling, a significantly larger glass.

So, if you are on a budget, what sort of glass should you go for?

There are several high quality glass manufacturers, and many of them make different ranges which get more and more wine-specific and correspondingly more and more expensive!

But if you’re on a budget these are out of reach.  I would suggest you could do with something cheap and cheerful such as this:

Tesco wine glass
Tesco wine glass

Even better would be something with a taller bowl, such as this:

Tesco finest wine glass
Tesco finest wine glass

If you drink quite a lot of white wine as well as red, then it’s worth getting some slightly smaller ones for white so that the wine doesn’t warm up too much – important for sweeter wines, for example.

Riedel Sommelier and Zalto glasses belong in another post entirely…

Part 1 looked at something to open bottles with

Part 2 looked at something to pour the wine into

In Praise of Co-operatives – Part 1 – Setting the Scene

The greatest wines on earth aren’t made by co-operatives. Whether your preference is for Claret, Barolo, Burgundy or Champagne, co-operatives aren’t ranked in the upper echelons of each region’s producers.

Way down the quality scale, a lot of ordinary wine is made by co-operatives – owned by a multitude of producers who can’t afford their own vinification and maturation space and equipment – who make wine to suit growers’ yields and production decisions rather than quality.

Cave de Turckheim
Cave de Turckheim

It’s often the lower common denominator type of wine – it follows the DO / DOC / AOC regulations and is somewhat faithful to variety and terroir, but it’s just a bit ordinary. Dilute, but rarely bad. Humdrum. Boring! (There, I said it!)

Acknowledging all of the above, this series aims to highlight the better co-operatives…those which, if they don’t hit the heights, certainly make wines in the top quartile of quality, that are both interesting and value for money.  The better co-operatives are becoming increasingly skilled not just at wine-making but also at marketing specific bottlings designed to look and taste every bit as distinctive as the individually produced competition.

La Chablisienne
La Chablisienne

The worst co-operatives play almost exclusively with subsidies and politics. Co-operatives are at their strongest in areas where wine’s selling price is relatively low and where the average size of individual holdings is small, although co-operatives are also quite significant in Champagne and there are several in the Médoc, for example. The majority of wine co-operatives were formed in the early 1930s in the immediate aftermath of the Depression.

As you will see, most of the co-operatives covered in this series are in Europe, specifically France.

The former is down to ownership patterns, particularly those jurisdictions that have Napoleonic inheritance laws (splitting properties equally between children of each generation). With a growing population this can result in vignerons (and other farmers of course) owning smaller and smaller land holdings to the point where, unless the land is in one of the very best appellations, there isn’t sufficient economic scale to justify making, bottling and maturing wine on the property.

Le Mesnil sur Oger, Champagne
Le Mesnil sur Oger, Champagne

This leaves a “grape farmer” with restricted choices – sell his or her grapes to a négociant or join a co-operative. The first usually carries lower risk, though certainly lower income. The second has the potential for a little more control and a share in the surplus.

And why will this series focus on France? The simple reason is that I am far more familiar with French wine than that of any other European country!

Some of the forthcoming articles in the series:

Part 2 – La Chablisienne (Chablis)
Part 3 – Cave de Turckheim (Alsace)
Part 4 – Le Mesnil (Champagne)

 

 

 

 

Old world, New world

Yet another INXS reference, and yet another link to an article on The Taste – but I make no apologies, and expect more in the future!

Please click through to read the full article here.

So, dear reader, do you have a preference for either Old or New world?  Please leave a comment, I would be interested to hear.

Personally, I probably drink wine outside of mealtimes more often than with food, so this perhaps has a bearing on what I like to drink.  But then I really love good Riesling, even when the producer says it’s “difficile à aimer” (difficult to love) on its own as it’s crying out for food.

The reasons why we like the wines we do need a great deal more research – though Tim Hanni MW has made a good start.

 

“Old world new world / I know nothing / But I’ll keep listening” – INXS

This clip is from a 1983 concert performance – when Michael Hutchence still thought he was the second coming of Mick Jagger – but before they became internationally famous.

The track itself is from their third studio album Shabooh Shoobah (1982), which also features “Don’t Change” and “The One Thing”

Colour me White – 10 Reasons Why Colour Varies in White Wines

Colour me White – 10 Reasons Why Colour Varies in White Wines

Have you ever wondered why white wine varies in colour?

Some are almost water white, while others can be lemon though to golden amber.  Surely there must be some logic to this?

Of course there is, but there are lots of inter-related factors which affect the colour of white wines.  Let’s have a look at them one by one.  Hold on to your hats, this might get a bit geeky by the end…

1. Oak

Angel_Oak_Tree_in_SC
Oak Tree (credit: DannyBoy7783)

More specifically maturation in new(er) small(er) oak barrels adds colour.  Certain types of wine are more likely to be barrel aged – Californian Chardonnays, for example – so much so, in fact, that you can see the difference before your nose gets anywhere near the glass.

See this post from 2014 for a more detailed discussion on oak.

2. Sweetness

Botritised Aszú Grape berries for Tokaji
Botritised Aszú Grape berries for Tokaji

The sweeter a wine is, the darker it will generally be. If you take a dessert wine (such as Hungary’s famous Tokaji) which comes in varying levels of sweetness, the depth of colour is a good guide to the level of residual sugar.

In fact, even on the basis of a mobile phone snap on twitter, I’ve had people make a good guess as to the number of Puttonyos* of a Tokaji – totes amazeballs, as the kids say nowadays.

(* putts for short, refers to the number of buckets of sweet grape paste added to a vat of fermenting wine)

3. Age

Age
Age

As a general truism, red wine gets paler with age and white wines get darker.  An illustration: the unique red and white wines of Chateau Musar in Lebanon move closer and closer in appearance as they mature in bottle.  Even Champagne goes golden when mature.

If you’ve got a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that looks quite golden though a clear glass bottle, the chances are that it is past its best…

4. Grape

Gewürztraminer
Gewurztraminer

This factor is the one that most people would guess at. Some white grapes have a slightly darker juice than others which affects what you see in your glass. Good examples of this from my favoured region of Alsace are Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.

The Spanish region of Rueda is known for its excellent yet inexpensive whites made from the fairly clear Verdejo grape, but wines of the same vintage do vary in hue. This is down to a certain proportion of Viura in the blend, a permitted grape in Rueda and Rioja plus Catalonia under the name Macabeo. So there you go!

5. Oxygen

Oxygen
Oxygen

Oxygen is both the friend and the enemy of all wine, red, white and all the diverse colours in-between.

a) Oxidised – when exposed to too much oxygen white wines go darker in hue quite quickly. When it happens this can be known as premature oxidation, or premox for short, and has spoiled many a white Burgundy lover’s treasures.

b) Oxidative – this descriptor is used when a wine is deliberately exposed to oxygen, for example with traditional white Rioja.  This style of wine will generally be darker than one in a non-oxidative style.

6. Skin contact

Orange Wine Skin contact
Orange Wine

The biggest fundamental difference between red and white wines is not the colour of the juice when grapes are pressed – with some exceptions, the juice is normally clear. The difference in colour is down to the time that the juice for red wines has in contact with the skins so that colour, flavour and tannin is leached out.

A very short time gives a rosé, an extended period can give an opaque, dense looking wine.

If you use the red wine approach with white grapes you get….orange wine! This is actually a very ancient method of wine making that has become trendy again. It’s arguable that, rather than being a darker type of white wine, orange is actually its own class of wine by itself.

7. Bâtonnage

Bâton
Bâton (the ones for stirring wine look a little different)

This is a fancy French term for stirring with a stick (which sounds somewhat less glamourous).  After fermentation some styles of white wine are left to stand on their lees, i.e. the spent yeast cells which have turned sugar into alcohol. It is particularly useful in Burgundy where it gives a certain creaminess to Chardonnay.

Wines made with lees contact tend to be markedly paler than those fermented in stainless steel and then transferred to cask for barrel maturation because darker pigments are absorbed by the lees.

8. Acidity

Acid
Acid

White wine colour is also affected by the wine’s levels of pH and the amount of acid (usually given as the equivalent in grams of tartaric acid for the chemists out there).  Very simply, more acidity leads to paler white wines.

9. Filtration

charcoal
charcoal

As part of the modern winemaking process, wines are usually filtered before bottling to remove any tiny particles which might give them a cloudy appearance. It depends on the substance used, but some such as charcoal will lighten a wine as tiny coloured particles (as well as some of the flavour) are removed.

10. Sulphur

Sulphur
Sulphur

Sulphur occurs naturally in wine, which is why pretty much every bottle in the shop has the caution “Contains Sulphites”.  Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is added as a preservative agent at different parts of the wine-making process, and in different amounts.  There is a growing movements among artisan and “Natural” winemakers to reduce or even eliminate these additions.

Particularly in tandem with a low pH (i.e. high acidity), high SO2 concentration has a bleaching effect and removes colour from wine.

Of course, it’s difficult to see the effect in isolation as those producers who don’t add sulphur are often the same ones who allow skin contact…

Conclusion

Of course, these factors don’t act in isolation, and it might be several of them in concert which apply to a particular wine. For example, a traditional white Rioja is likely to be made from Viura, barrel matured and made in an oxidative style. Add a few years in the cellar then you will have quite an amber wine.

It’s not possible to point to any of these factors individually, but we can have a damned good guess!

 

Grosse Pointe Blanc de Blancs (NWTW #53)

A cursory search through my blog reveals that Blanc de Blancs is one of the wine styles I write about very frequently – mainly because I really like it as a style, and if there’s a bottle shown at a trade tasting I will make a beeline for it.

So when Mike over at Please Bring Me My Wine asked for suggestions beginning with B for New Wine This Week #53, I naturally piped up with Blanc de Blancs – and would you believe it, other voters on the poll (narrowly) agreed with me.

So a few important questions to be answered – what exactly is it? why do I like it? and what should a neophyte try?

What The Heck Is a Blanc de Blancs?

In my mind a true Blanc de Blancs is a white wine made with white grapes where there is a possibility that black grapes could also have been used.  The vast majority are traditional method sparklers such as Champagne:

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999

But before we dive into sparkling, there is a much less well known version; if you’re a real Alsace geek like me then you might think of different Pinots being used in white wine, and as long as the juice is taken off the skins quickly, even black grapes can be part of the blend. If it’s just from white Pinot grapes – i.e. Pinot Blanc – then it can be labelled as a Blanc de Blancs:

Hugel Blanc de Blancs
Hugel Blanc de Blancs

So after that small detour, let’s get back onto the main road.

Champagne was the region that popularised the term, and there it usually means a white fizz made from just Chardonnay without any juice from the black grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  There are some very small plantings of other grapes in Champagne that could go into a Blanc de Blancs, but they are rare indeed.

In other parts of France where traditional method Crémant is made, popular local grapes can be used to make a Blanc de Blancs, especially if they are high in acidity – Chenin Blanc in the Loire, Sauvignon in Bordeaux, Pinot Blanc in Alsace.

A fact often overlooked is that Chardonnay is sometimes permitted in the AOP rules for a fizz when it’s not allowed in the local still wine – sometimes even a 100% varietal Chardonnay such as this Crémant d’Alsace:

Cave de Turckheim Crémant d'Alsace Confidence NV
Cave de Turckheim Crémant d’Alsace Confidence NV

Other traditional method sparkling wine is often made with the main three Champagne grapes, whether Tasmania, Marlborough, California or southern England.

Why Do I Like It?

When it’s young, it’s fresh, floral and citrusy, and can be on the simple side.  But there’s nothing wrong with that – the perfect aperitif.

The best examples, particularly from the Côte des Blancs’ Grand Cru villages, have a haunting purity about them.

With extended lees ageing it takes on biscuit and brioche characters; while this is obviously true for other sparklers, Blanc de Blancs seem to be more coherent and integrated.

And of course many of the long-lived prestige cuvées are Blanc de Blancs – think of Charles Heidsieck’s Cuvée des Millénaires, Salon Le Mesnil, Krug Clos du Mesnil, and so on.

Do Try This At Home

If you see any of the wines above in the shop, then snap them up!

I also heartily endorse the Sainsbury’s Non Vintage Champagne Blanc de Blancs that Mike recommended on his site.  If you’re lucky you might see it on promotion when it can be ridiculously good value for money.

Some other Blankety Blanks that I’ve really enjoyed:

Clover Hill Sparkling 2003 (O’Briens, €31.99)

Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 (Aldi, €26.99, also covered here)

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV (£44.98, Majestic)

Wiston Estate, Blanc de Blancs NV (Le Caveau, €47.70, also covered here)

Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009 (James Nicholson Wine, £31.95 / €46.99, also covered here)

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007 (Berry Bros, £35.95, also covered here)

Now get supping!

Also check out Confessions of a Wine Geek’s post here