Category: Opinion

I Wanna Give You Devotion – Part 1

Dublin based Nomad Wine Importers was set up ten years ago by Sommeliers Charles Derain and Thierry Grillet, and now has an enviable reputation for sourcing exciting wines from all over France, with Burgundy being a particular speciality.  Here are a few of their wines which impressed me at their recent trade tasting co-hosted with Grapecircus and Tyrrell’s:

Domaine des Ardoisières IGP Allobroges “Argile” 2015 (12.0%, RRP €28 at Mitchell & Son (Glasthule & CHQ), Blackrock Cellar, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Greenman Wines and Martin’s Off-Licence)

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The Alpine territory of Savoy (or Savoie) has been variously a county, then an independent duchy, a part of the Kingdom of Sardinia and then the French Empire. Partly due to its remote location there are several local varieties which are seldom seen elsewhere.

Aside from the AOCs such as Chignin Bergeron (Rousanne), Chignin and Roussette de Savoie, there is also the IGP (formerly Vin de Pays) des Allobroges named after the area’s original Celtic inhabitants The Allobroges.

Domaine des Ardoisières was founded relatively recently in 2005 and is run on organic principles.  Slopes of up to 60% might sound better for daredevil skiing than for viticulture, but the extra sun falling on the vines offsets the cooler air at higher altitude. The wines are mainly made from local grapes and are named after the soil types of the individual plots (very interesting for wine geeks!)

Argile is the French for clay; the blend consists of local heroes Jacquère (40%) and Mondeuse Blanche (20%) plus the ubiquitous Chardonnay (40%).  Fermentation is with wild yeast and maturation is a third in older oak barrels (for texture) and two thirds in steel tanks

It’s a fleshy wine, with zingy acidity and a very long finish.  It’s quite unique as a wine and deserves a far wider audience – though production is limited to around 20,000 bottles which won’t stretch that far.

Domaine Tissot Arbois “Les Graviers” 2015 (13.0%, RRP €47 at Baggot Street Wines, Jus de Vine, 64 Wine and Greenman Wines)

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From the Alps we move north to the Jura, still mountainous border country but with its own local specialities – particularly the use of flor in some of the wine styles to ramp up the umami.  It’s not always obvious whether a particular wine is flor-influenced or not – it all comes down to whether the barrels that the wine matures in are topped up (or not) to replace evaporation losses – if they aren’t then a flor will often form.  To make sure you get the style you prefer, ask if the wine is “ouillé“.

As befitting a region next to Burgundy, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are well established varieties, with Savagnin (aka Traminer, not Sauvignon) also used for white wine and Poulsard and Trousseau (also known as Bastardo in Portugal) used for reds and rosés. Poulsard is so pale that Pinot Noir is sometimes blended in to add colour!

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Credit: DalGobboM

The oldest Jura appellation is Arbois, not to be confused with the grape of the same name which is mainly found in the Loire Valley.  This is the home of Domaine André & Mireille Tissot, now run by Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot.  They run the estate on biodynamic lines and are certified as such.

Les Graviers is 100% Chardonnay, a third of which was matured in oak barrels and two thirds in tank.  As the wine is young the oak is quite noticeable, but it’s already drinking superbly – one of my favourite wines from the whole tasting.  It has texture, pithiness and freshness, with a certain tang that I haven’t tasted outside of the Jura.  A must-try wine!

 

Footnote

If you are a keen wine drinker you may have heard of Wink Lorch’s excellent book Jura Wine which was published in 2014 after Kickstarter crowd funding.  Wink has recently started another Kickstarter campaign to fund production of her next book on Savoie Wine – have a look here!

Top Selection of Reds [Make Mine a Double #29]

Here are a couple of fab reds from Top Selection, an interesting UK-based boutique wine merchant:

Habla de la Tierra Vino de la Tierra de Extremadura 2014 (13.5%, £14 from Top Selection)

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This is a modern Spanish wine made from a blend of Cab Franc and Tempranillo.

Unlike its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon (see here), Cabernet Franc is far less celebrated. In its home of the Loire Valley it can make some fantastic mid-weight reds, but as that region is often overlooked Cab Franc is rarely shouted about.  In Bordeaux it’s a useful blending grape on both banks, but very rarely makes up the majority of a cuvee. Perhaps its route to fame will be in Argentina where it has been the Next Big Thing for some time.

Extremadura is a Spanish province which has Andalucia to the south and Portugal to the west, with the Douro dipping into its northern reaches.  The only (exclusive*) Denominacion de Origen here is DO Ribera del Guadiana around the banks of the River Guardiana; the Vino de la Tierra Extremadura covers the whole province.

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Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

*DO Cava can also be made in Extremadura, but production is very small.

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Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

So how does this unusual blend work?  Very well, actually!  It has the bright, fresh raspberry character of Cab Franc on the attack, with the supple roundness of Tempranillo on the finish – a thoroughly delicious wine!

Harwood Hall Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5% £19 from Top Selection)

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Most people know where New Zealand is but even seasoned NZ wine fans might not know where the different Kiwi wine regions are in the country.  Central Otago is the most southerly of NZ’s wine regions – and in fact the most southerly place where wine is produced on a commercial basis in any country.  It’s relatively dry, and semi-continental which gives it hot summer days but cool nights and cold winters.

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Credit: Wines Of New Zealand

All these factors give Central Otago wines a great intensity of flavour while preserving acidity and freshness.  Although relatively new as a wine region – even by NZ standards – it is among the top places to grow Pinot Noir in the country.

Harwood Hall is a joint venture between two New Zealanders who have worked in the industry for 20 years.  The simple instructions to accompany this wine should be: open, pour, lock the doors, enjoy the wine!  It’s super smooth, pure velvet in the glass.  There are red and black cherries and red berries with a touch of spice, a heavenly combination.

 

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

 

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

 

Lidl Cabernets From South Africa and Australia [Make Mine a Double #28]

Cabernet Sauvignon is my favourite black grape and is a strong contender for best black grape in the world (as subjective as that is) along side Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Syrah.

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Credit: Agne27 (Wikipedia)

Unlike the other candidates I have just mentioned, Cabernet is rarely seen as a varietal wine in its homeland (of Bordeaux), though in warm years it can reach over 80% of the best Pauillacs.  Despite relying on support from Merlot and others, Cabernet became a symbol of top Bordeaux and so was eagerly planted in new world countries who wanted to emulate Bordelais wines.   In the new world Cabernet is sometimes blended with other local specialities (Shiraz in Australia, Pinotage in South Africa, Malbec in Argentina) but also receives special attention in varietal wines.

The key advantage that these countries have is climate – Cabernet needs a lot of sunshine which is far from guaranteed n France’s Atlantic coast, but is more likely in the vineyards of the new world.

Here are a couple of everyday new world Cabernets from supermarket chain Lidl:

Cimarosa South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (14.0%, €6.49)

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Perhaps the lion on the label makes this qualify as a “critter wine”, but I wouldn’t say that in front of the lion!  As indicated by the label it is rich and fruity, but also has a slight (pleasant) earthiness to it.  Tasted blind I might have guessed that this was a French Cabernet blend or even a Cape Blend – a South African red blend including local speciality Pinotage.

After all, even though South Africa is classed as a new world country when it comes to wine, some of its vineyards are very old and stylistically it is someway in between the old and new.

This Cabernet is nice and easy drinking on its own but I reckon would really shine with a beef or lamb stew.

Cimarosa Australian Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (13.5%, €6.69)

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Moving east to Australia, this is another rich and fruity style according to the label, but is more recognisable as a varietal Cabernet with juicy blackcurrant and blackberry fruits. There’s a touch of vanilla here as well which really seals the deal for me.

South Eastern Australia is a huge region which enables wine producers to include grapes from South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales in the blend – but at this price it’s about the grape rather than a single vineyard, and it works well.

The food pairing suggestion on the back label is beef, though the fruit sweetness makes it a great mid week tipple on its own.

Decisions, decisions: these are both very good value for money and wines which I would happily recommend to try.  As I tend to drink wine on its own more often than with a meal then the Aussie shades it for me.

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

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

C is for Chardonnay [Make Mine a Double #28]

Chardonnay is grown in most wine-producing countries, to a greater or lesser extent, but the wines are still compared to the grape’s original home of Burgundy.  Even within Burgundy there are huge differences, from the lean wines of Chablis in the north to the more tropical styles of the Maconnais.

Here we have a classic Chablis and a new world Chardonnay from Chile, both from single vineyard plots:

Brocard Chablis Domaine Sainte Claire 2014 (12.5%, €24.95 at O’Briens)

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Jean-Marc Brocard is an admired, well-established producer in Chablis.  Founded by Jean-Marc and now run by his son Julien, the firm produces over a dozen cuvées from Petit Chablis up to Chablis Grand Cru Le Clos.  The grapes come from a plot of 35 – 40 year old vines called Sainte Claire which surround the winery.  Although it is a good representative of the company’s philosophy “strength, precision and freshness” it also has a little more body and texture than is common in AOC Chablis.  Racy lemon is joined by orange peel on the palate and a tangy yeastiness from ten months on the lees.  A superior Chablis!

Leyda Single Vineyard Falaris Hill Chardonnay 2013 (14.0%, €17.95 at O’Briens)

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From northern France we now travel to the Pacific coast of Chile.  Leyda is both the name of the winery and the area in which it is based, benefiting from cool coastal breezes which are chilled by the Humboldt Current.  It is possibly the best part of Chile in which to grow Sauvignon Blanc as the long, cool growing season allows the aromatics to develop fully before sugar ripeness is achieved.

But it’s also great for Chardonnay!  

Tasted immediately after the Chablis the oak was very apparent – quite old school in a way – but this wine actually has far more acidity and cool climate character than the old Aussie oak-bomb Chardonnays.  There’s lemon and satsuma from the grapes, creaminess from the lees and toastiness from the oak – an excellent effort which shows (again) that Chile has far more to offer than entry level wines.

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

Full index of Make Mine a Double

 

North versus South – Italian Wines from Lidl [Make Mine a Double #27]

One of the beauties about long standing wine producing countries such as Italy is the variety of indigenous grapes which are often rare outside the country or even outside their home region.

Here are a couple from retailer Lidl which hail from (almost) opposite ends of the country:

Falanghina del Sannio DOP 2014 (13.5%, €8.99)

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Falanghina is an ancient grape originating from Campania, the area around Naples 800px-campania_in_italy-svg(sometimes thought of as the “shin” of Italy’s boot.)  The most favoured terrain is that of Del Sannio which is close to the coast just north of Naples.

The grape had almost disappeared until it was championed by producer Mastroberardino, and as a clean unoaked white it is right in fashion.

This example was well balanced – smooth but with acidity, medium bodied with some texture, fruity up front but with a very dry finish.  It’s a very versatile wine that would be great with seafood or a fine aperitif.  Perhaps not as long a finish as you’d like, but a great bargain at the price.

Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2015 (13.5%, €7.99)

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Barbera is often thought of as the country cousin of Nebbiolo, the famously tricky grape that goes into Barolo and Barbaresco.  In Nizza it can be amazing, but around Piedmont it can also be a very pleasant, approachable wine which is perfect for a midweek tipple.

This Barbera (can I call her Babs?) is lovely and smooth, with enough acidity to keep it interesting and refreshing.

Cherries are the fruit of the day – fresh black and red cherries that it, not tinned or glacé (as much as I love the latter).

Perhaps this could be your stepping stone into the rewarding world of Barbera?

 

 

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

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz of 2016

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

10. Hush Heath Estate Balfour 1503 Pinot Noir

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

9.  Cirotto Prosecco Superiore Asolo Extra Brut 2015

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

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

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

8. Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV

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

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

7. Jip Jip Rocks Sparkling Shiraz NV

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

6. Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2007

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

5. Henriot Brut Souverain NV

 

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

4. Albert Beerens Carte Or NV

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

3. Christian Bourmault Cuvée Hermance Brut NV

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

2. Sugrue Pierre “The Trouble With Dreams” 2011

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

1. Charles Heidsieck Cuvée des Millénaires 1995

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

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet wines of 2016

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

10. Tarin Pineau des Charentes Blanc Vieilli 3 Ans

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

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

9. Sipp Mack Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2012

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

8. GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2015

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

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

7. Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese

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

6. Zantho Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese 2012

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

5. Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV

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

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

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

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

3. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2014

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

2. Cascina Garitina Niades

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

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

1. Léon Beyer Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 1998

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

 

 

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2016

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

10. Feudo Luparello Sicilia Grillo – Viognier 2015

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

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

9. Nugan Estate Riverina Dreamer’s Chardonnay

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

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

8. Angel Sequeiros Rías Baixas Albariño “Evoé” 2013

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

See here for the full review.

7. Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2014

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

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

6. Gaia Wild Ferment Santorini Assyrtiko 2013

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

5. Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016

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

4. Suertes del Marqués Trenzado

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

3. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2014

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

2. Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011

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

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

1. Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014

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

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2016

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

10. Cicero Alto Reben AOC Graubünden Pinot Noir 2012

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

9. Mas St Louis Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

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

8. Paul Osicka Heathcote Shiraz 2004

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

7. Atalon Napa Merlot 2004

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

6. Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013

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

5. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014

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

4. Wolf Blass Black Label 1998

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

3. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2011

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

2. Penfolds Grange 2010

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

1. Cascina Garitina Nizza 900

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

 

 

SuperValu Christmas Wine Selection Reds

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

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

Disclosure: samples were provided for review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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