Make Mine A Double

Chablis: Still or Sparkling?

This might sound like an odd (or even stupid) question, but bear with me. Among lovers of bubbly, especially those with a keen eye for a bargain, Crémant de Bourgogne is well appreciated. However, I would hazard a guess that only a small proportion of those folk would know (or care) exactly where in Burgundy those bubbles are made.

Under the Appellation Contrôlée system, Crémant de Bourgogne can be made from grapes grown anywhere in greater Burgundy, i.e.:

  • The Côte de Beaune
  • The Côte de Nuits
  • The Côte Chalonnaise
  • The Mâconnais
  • The Chablis region(!)
  • Beaujolais(!!)

Given Chablis’s northerly latitude – famously closer to Champagne’s Côte des Bar than to Dijon – its suitability for growing grapes with the high acidity and moderate alcohol required for sparkling production (not to mention an appropriate variety) should not be a surprise.  Rewind to the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. and sparkling wine from Chablis would be even less of a surprise – it was normally labelled as such.  Also, at that time, some Champagne maisons bought grapes from outside their own region and labelled their fizz as Champagne on the basis that they were made by a Champagne house.  This was one of the key causes of the Champagne Riots in 1910 and 1911.

I recently got chance to try two wines from the Chablis area that are included in the SuperValu French Wine Sale, one still and one sparkling:

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

André Goichot Chablis 2018 

Maison André Goichot is a Burgundy Negociant founded in 1947.  They offer a wide range of red and white Burgundies, many of which are available at SuperValu in Ireland.  Also included in the current French Wine Sale are Goichot wines from Fleurie, Mercurey, Pouilly-Fuissé, Montagny and Mâcon-Lugny.

In the glass this is a pale lemon, as expected from a young and unoaked Chablis.  The nose shows lots of citrus, primarily lemon and lime, with a little green apple; it’s a little more fruity than some generic Chablis can be.  The citrus and green apple notes also show on the palate which is slightly lean in character, but not austere.

Chablis is known as a great match for shellfish – especially oysters – and this example would fit that role perfectly, but it also has enough appeal to be drunk on its own or with nibbles as an aperitif.  Great value in the sale!

  • ABV: 12.5.%
  • RRP: €19.66 down to €14.75 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgone Brut Blanc NV

Simonnet-Febvre traces its history back to 1840 when a monsieur Jean Febvre bought a Chablis wine merchant.  Even back then, sparkling Chablis was a speciality of the firm.  By the next generation Simonnet was added to the company name and continued expanding through the years.  In 2003 it was bought by Louis Latour, but remains a separate entity and continues to make “sparkling Chablis” – alongside a range of still Chablis wines – to this day.

This Crémant is actually one of the five they make.  The assemblage is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir – traditional grapes for both Burgundy and Champagne.  The wine is made using the traditional method, of course, and spends a total of 24 months in the cellars.  Labelled as Brut, it has 7 g/L of residual sugar which puts it only 1 g/L above the maximum for Extra Brut.

Once popped it has a creamy mousse with a persistent bead.  The main aromas are of citrus and green apples, plus bready notes.  These continue through to the palate which is ultra fresh, almost tart (though in a pleasant way) due to the low dosage.  Simonnet-Febvre recommend serving this as an aperitif, or even with crème de cassis.  It certainly wakes up your palate!

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €29.50 down to €24.59 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

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Imitation is the Sancerre-est Form of Flattery

New Zealand – and more specifically Marlborough – is now thought of as the main home of Sauvignon Blanc for the average wine drinker.  But Savvy’s time there is measured in decades, not centuries, and its success there would not have happened if it had not created a global reputation in its original homeland of the Loire Valley.  Of all the Loire appellations, Sancerre is the name which carries the biggest cachet and is still thought of as a style leader.

Loire Valley Wines with Sancerre to the far right. (Image from https://www.experienceloire.com/loire-valley-wines.htm)

But what is that style?  The Sancerre appellation covers 15 villages with three main soil types:

  • Clay & limestone, aka “white soils”, including some Kimmeridgean marl (we aren’t that far from Chablis here) which lend body and power to wines
  • Gravel & limestone which give lighter, more delicate wines
  • Flint, the famous “silex” soils which give very aromatic wines with pronounced mineral notes that can be capable of long ageing

Sancerre was the Sauvignon Blanc I tried and loved, over twenty years ago, so it still has a special place in my heart.  Here are two from the current SuperValu French Wine Sale that are worth seeking out:

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

Guy Saget Sancerre 2019

The Saget family originally come from Pouilly-sur-Loire, the other side of the river from Sancerre, and still have a base there (Domaine Saget).  However, they have expanded their operations over the past few decades to encompass around thirty different appellations to showcase the wines of the whole Loire under the Guy Saget label.

Guy Saget wines are currently made by Laurent Saget using grapes from long term contract growers.  Their vines are mainly on Kimmeridgian soils.  No oak is used at any point to help preserve fresh fruit flavours; stainless steel tanks are preferred and bâtonnage is carried out over the six month maturation period.

On the nose there are intense grapefruit aromas, accompanied by gooseberry and a hint of grass.  These notes continue onto the palate but there is also a striking stony mineral tone.  Rather than just grapefruit juice this fruity aspect is more like chomping down onto a few juicy grapefruit segment which explode into your mouth.  This is a delicious, accessible Sancerre which can brighten up your day.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €19.66 down to €14.76 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

La Perrière Mégalithe Sancerre 2017

In contrast to Guy Saget, La Perrière only make Sancerre wines.  There are several in the range, however;

  • Straight Sancerre in white, rosé and red versions (the latter two obviously made from Pinot Noir)
  • Two different Comte de la Perrière bottlings, one from flinty Silex soil and one from marl & gravel Caillottes soil
  •  A flagship red Sacrilège grown on chalk and limestone soil
  • A flagship white Mégalithe grown on silica (Silex!) soils which is the wine we have here.

After a gentle pressing, the juice for Mégalithe is split two ways; 60% of the must is fermented and matured in stainless steel tanks, but 40% receives an altogether different treatment.  This portion is fermented in 300 litre (“Cognac type”) barrels made from Allier oak (a top source of oak barrels that is conveniently close to Sancerre).  Maturation is for eight or nine months during which frequent bâtonnage takes place.  Both the inox and barrel matured wines are blended together before bottling.

The first sniff of Mégalithe reveals that this is a totally different wine to the Guy Saget, even though they are both AOC Sancerre.  There are citrus notes but they are in the background; the foreground is occupied by smoke, wood, nuts and vanilla.  The palate is creamy, yeasty and tangy.  This is a wonderfully expressive wine which is great to drink now but will reward several years’ patience with more development and integration.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €31.48 down to €21.64 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

Conclusion

One little bit of information I didn’t mention above was that Guy Saget and La Perrière are part of the same group: Maison Saget La Perrière.  The Guy Saget Sancerre is available at SuperValu all year round but the Mégalithe is a “special guest” only available during the French Wine Sale; this makes perfect sense when you consider their relative styles.  The Guy Saget is a real crowd pleaser, fruity and accessible, though still showing Sancerre’s mineral streak, whereas the Mégalithe is much more of a focused wine that might not be to everyone’s taste, but is undoubtedly a more accomplished wine.

To compare with a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, the Guy Saget is more like Kevin Judd’s regular Greywacke whereas the Mégalithe is more like his Wild Sauvignon.  Liking one doesn’t mean you would like the other, but you owe it to yourself to try them both!

In many ways these wines reflect what happens when you go up the price scale of wine in general; wines become better, but often a little more niche.  When comparing more expensive wines the differences are more often in style than to quality per se.  Try both!


SuperValu French Wine Sale posts:

 

 

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Kiss From a Rosé [Make Mine a Double #63]

Wine drinkers’ thirst for rosé appears to be boundless, with pink wines from all major wine producing nations experiencing growth.  In French supermarkets there are far more rosé wines than whites on the shelves, and rosé is even the category driving growth in Champagne.

The increase in rosé volume has also been accompanied by an increase in the number of premium rosés on the market.  Some are made with a firm eye on quality, some are marketing-led trendy wines with celebrity producers getting in on the game.  Provence rosé is the most fashionable style at present: pale in colour, lightly fruity and dry, with mineral and / or herbal notes.  Producers from other areas are emulating this style; of course they can’t call it “Provence rosé” but they can mention it is similar in style.

I’m a rosé skeptic; I’m very hard to please when it comes to rosé and I am suspicious of wines with a hefty advertising budget behind them.  There are two styles I have found myself enjoying in the past:

  1. simple, fruit forward (though still dry) rosés, especially Pinot Noir rosés
  2. serious styles which are made to age and come close to a light red, such as Bandol’s Domaine Tempier.

Among many that I’ve been luck to try recently, two in particular stood out for me.  One is from Provence and the home of the very trendy Whispering Angel – Château d’Esclans – and the other is from further west in the Languedoc, south west of Monpellier.  Below is a map showing their respective locations on the French coast.

Morin-Langaran and Château d’Esclans in the South Of France: Languedoc to the left and Provence to the right (Source: Google Maps)

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

Domaine Morin-Langaran IGP Pays d’Oc Rosé Prestige 2018

Domaine Morin-Langaran is in Picpoul de Pinet country, right by the Étang de Thau between Béziers and Montpelier.  In fact, the vineyard’s borders are entirely within the Picpoul de Pinet AOC limits, with 36 hectares of the total 58 being planted to white grapes and the remaining 22 black.  The vineyard was created right back in 1330 by a religious order who eventually lost it during the wars of religion.  After changing hands several times over the centuries, it was bought by the Morin family in 1966.  They themselves had been making wine down the generations since 1830.

The vines for the Rosé Prestige are mainly Syrah plus a few Cinsault, all on limestone-clay soils.  Harvesting takes place in the cool of night and the must is cold-settled after pressing.  Bâtonnage is used to add creaminess and body to the wine without the need for excessive extraction in the press.

On pouring, the wine is a little darker than the ultra pale rosés which are so en vogue at the moment, but all the better for it. The nose shows strawberry and redcurrant plus some brioche notes from the bâtonnage.  The palate is full of sweet red fruits, but finishes crisp and clean.  This is an unpretentious wine which goes down well on its own or perhaps with lightly spiced food.

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €14.95
  • Stockists: Boutique Wines; Barnhill stores Killaney/Dalkey; Mortons, Ranalagh; Listons, Camden street; The Wine House Trim; Emilie’s, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry; Pat Fitzgerald’s (Centra), Dingle Co. Kerry; Grape and Bean, Portlaois; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil Street; Blackrock Cellars; Gleeson’s, Booterstown Ave

Château d’Esclans Rock Angel Côtes de Provence 2018 

Sacha Lichine was born into Bordeaux royalty – his family owned the Margaux Châteaux Prieuré Lichine and Lascombes – but also became an entrepreneur in the USA where he studied at university.  His big move into rosé was the purchase of Château d’Esclans in 2006, which he transformed with the help of the late Patrick Léon (a consultant winemaker and formerly the Technical Director of Mouton Rothschild).

By pricing its top wine “Garrus”at £60 in 2008, Château d’Esclans essentially created the super-premium rosé category – and prices have obviously risen since then.  From the top down, the range is:

  • Château d’Esclans Garrus
  • Château d’Esclans Les Clans
  • Château d’Esclans (ROI RRP €45)
  • Caves d’Esclans Rock Angel (ROI RRP €40)
  • Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel (ROI RRP €25)

My presumption is that the Caves wines are from bought in fruit whereas the Château bottlings are from estate grapes.

Over the past decade Whispering Angel has become one of the trendiest rosés around, one that some people are very happy to flash in front of their friends: wine as a luxury or fashion statement.  A change of gear kicked in from the late 2019 acquisition of a 55% stake in Château d’Esclans by Moët Hennessy – part of LVMH, one of the leading luxury groups in the world (and with some amazing wines in their portfolio).

But enough about the image, what about the wine?  The 2018 Rock Angel is a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Rolle (the local name for Vermentino).  The vines are 20 to 25 years old and are planted on clay and limestone soils.  Vinification and maturation take place in stainless steel (60%) and 600 litre French oak demi-muids, with bâtonnage of both formats then blending before bottling.

This is a very pale rosé, so the juice has had very little contact with the skins.  The nose has soft red fruits, flowers and spicy vanilla from the oak.  Red fruit comes to the fore on the palate, which is rich yet racy; fresh acidity is paired with mineral notes and even a kiss of tannin on the finish.  This is a serious, grown-up wine that belongs more at the table than on its own.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €40
  • Stockists: The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Morton’s; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Eldons, Clonmel; Dicey Reillys, Donegal; Baggot Street Wines

Conclusion

There’s obviously a huge price difference between these two rosés, and this is after the price reductions brought on by the LVMH purchase and change in distribution.  I find both of them have more character than the junior Whispering Angel, which is around half way between the two prices.  The Domaine Morin-Langaran is excellent value for money so I heartily recommend it.  The Rock Angel isn’t quite as good value – premium wine rarely is – but it exceeded my expectations so I think it’s definitely worth splashing out on if you’re a rosé fan.

 

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SuperValu South of France Reds [Make Mine a Double #62]

Wednesday 3rd September is the start of the SuperValu French Wine Sale, running for three weeks through to the 23rd.  Reductions are significant, with many wines having a third knocked off their price.  For the first two weeks there is an additional €10 off any six bottles – so get them while they last!  On top if this there are also ten “special guest wines” which are available on a limited basis only.  To whet your appetite here are a couple of reds from the south of France that are worth putting in your trolley:

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

Alma Cersius IGP Coteaux de Béziers 2018

For those not familiar with it, Béziers is located in the Hérault département of the Languedoc, now part of the Occitanie administrative region (formed from joining Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées.)  It is set by the River Orb and only ten kilometres from the Mediterranean.  Wine has been made in Béziers for millennia – it was even exported to Rome.  The town has been the site of many battles and massacres over the centuries, including the Revolt of the Languedoc winegrowers in the early twentieth century.

Up until the end of the 18th century, vines were one of several crops planted in each holding, along with olive groves and fields of cereals.  The turn of the century saw an expansion of the land under vine, with quality improving slowly but surely.  Béziers wines were included in Vin de Pays d’Oc from 1982 and eventually the area was granted its own Vin de Pays designation as VDP Coteaux-du-Libron in 2011.  Even less well known than Béziers, which at least has a renowned rugby team, Libron is the name of a local coastal river.  The common sense change to Coteaux de Béziers came in late 2015.  The IGP rules allow around a hundred different varieties – black, white, pink, grey and red – including several that I’d never heard of.  The main three colours of wine are made: red, white and rosé.

So out of the scores of grapes permitted, which ones make it into this Coteaux-de-Béziers?  The blend sticks to “international grapes”, a term often used for French varieties which are well known; Syrah (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%) and Merlot (25%).  In the glass this wine pours a deep purple, showing its young age.  On the first sniff there’s an intense hit of violets – reminding me of Parma Violet sweets which were around when I was a kid.  There are also blackcurrant and blackberry notes, a hint of red fruit and some spice.

In the mouth this is quite thick, full of sweet red and black fruit with a little dash of umami on the finish.  Cersius Rouge is a juicy, easy drinking style of wine…not that complex but perfect for a Friday night tipple sat in the garden or to crack open at a barbecue.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €14.75 down to €9.84 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

Georges Vigoureux “Pigmentum” Cahors Malbec 2018

Nearly all of you will be familiar with Malbec and most of you will know its original home of Cahors.  Although made with the same grape as Argentina’s blockbusters, Cahors would rarely be mistaken for one in a blind tasting.  It tends to be a little lighter, with more tannin and acidity, and often a certain earthiness.

Not only does Monsieur Vigoureux have vineyards, he also has a Château – the beautiful Château de Mercuès with lots of magnificent turrets (I bloody love turrets!) – and a restaurant.  There are several important vineyards around Cahors and further out into Occitanie, with the wines being grouped:

  • Main Châteaux: de Mercuès (Cahors) de Haute-Serre (Cahors), Leret-Monpezat (Cahors), Tournelles (Buzet)
  • Other Collections: Château Pech de Jammes, Crocus, Traditional Familiale, Pigmentum, Antisto, Gouleyant

As well as the straight Malbec we are looking at here, the Pigmentum collection also includes a Merlot Malbec blend, a Malbec rosé, dry whites made from Sauvignon Blanc and Ugni Blanc & Colombard plus a Gros Manseng sweetie.

So how is this “Black wine of Cahors”?  It’s actually more purple than black, but nigh on opaque.  The nose does have plenty of black stuff: black cherry, blackcurrant, blackberry, black liquorice and…black earth!  We’re talking fresh topsoil here.  From behind all this there emerges softly stewed damsons and prunes.

The palate reflects all of the notes on the nose, but rather than being picked out one-by-one they arrive together, somehow integrated.  Pigmentum Malbec has a fairly smooth texture but lively acidity helps it to stay fresh and – as Colin Chapman would have liked – adds a certain lightness, though this is not a lightweight wine by any means.

If you like Cahors or other earthy red wines then go ahead and fill your boots trolley.  If you are a little hesitant then I would definitely recommend decanting this wine to help emphasise the fruit flavours.  Best of all, though, would be to crack open a bottle with a nice rustic cassoulet!

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €14.75 down to €9.84 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

 

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Give Me A Riesling [Make Mine a Double #61]

As Sonny Fodera almost said, “Give Me A Riesling”.  Of course that’s a bit silly – who wants just one Riesling?  Riesling is known as one of the most terroir-transparent grapes around, i.e. the aromas, flavours and texture of the wine are very dependent on where it is grown.  Wine-making techniques to influence the style of the wine are used sparingly – oak influence is rarely seen, for example – but there is one major decision that winemakers take: to vinify the wine dry or to leave some residual sugar.  Here are two excellent Rieslings which showcase different styles:

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

Petaluma Hanlin Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2016

petaluma-hanlin-hill-riesling

Petaluma is a premium wine producer located in the Adelaide Hills, just east of the city of Adelaide.  They were founded in 1976 with the aim of making excellent wines from the regions and vineyards most suited to each variety.  Their range has expanded gradually and now includes:

  • White Label (everyday wines): Dry Rosé, Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris, Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide Hills Shiraz, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Crozer Sparkling: Adelaide Hills Non Vintage Sparkling, Adelaide Hills Non Vintage Sparkling Rosé, Piccadilly Valley Vintage Sparkling
  • Petaluma Project Co. (experimental bottlings): Barbera, Malbec
  • Yellow Label & Specials (top tier range): Hanlin Hill Riesling, Cane Cut Clare Valley Riesling, Essence Botrytis (Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend), Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay, B&V Vineyard Adelaide Hills Shiraz, Coonawarra Merlot, Evans Vineyard Coonawarra (Cab Sauv / Merlot / Shiraz blend), Tiers Chardonnay

Clare Valley is in South Australia, almost due north from Adelaide and at the top of the Mount Lofty Ranges (Australia’s literal naming convention strikes again).  Even within this small region there are significant stylistic differences, most easily illustrated by Grosset’s Polish Hill and Springvale Rieslings. 

Although Riesling is the king here, there are red wines made from varieties that are more closely associated with warmer climates: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  This apparent departure from the norm is because of the high diurnal range which gives the black grapes enough sun and heat but cools down enough at night to keep the Riesling grapes happy.

This Riesling – as the name suggests – is from the Hanlin Hill single vineyard which sits at 550 metres altitude.  At four years from vintage it still pours a pale lemon colour.  Lime and slate open the aromas along with grapefruit and peach stone.  There’s a very light whiff of kerosene but its lack of intensity shows that this wine is till fairly young.

On the palate this wine is very clean (but not Clean!) and fresh, but still pithy and with some body.  It’s very dry (probably technically dry, i.e. as dry as fermentation could take it) as is the norm in the Clare Valley, but the mid-palate has plenty of fruit sweetness with peach and grapefruit joining racy lemon and juicy lime. 

This bottle opened up more as I returned to taste it over several days; if consuming in one sitting I would actually recommend decanting it, not something I would usually think of for Rieslings.  And I liked it so much, I think I will definitely find some more of this…and hopefully taste it with some more age!

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €31.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

 

Selbach-Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2017

selbach-wehlener-sonnenuhr

I’ve already explained the subregions of the Mosel in a recent post, so I won’t repeat it all here.  You may remember my reference to “the famous sundial vineyards” of the Bernkastel District…well the German for sundial is Sonnenuhr so we have one of those here!  

Selbach-Oster is a very traditional producer based in Zeltingen in the Middle Mosel, with a family history in wine spanning four centuries (to date!)  The business has two sides: a negociant operation J. & H. Selbach which uses bought in fruit, and the estate proper Weingut Selbach-Oster.  Their vineyards amount to 24 hectares in total and are located in Zeltinger itself plus Wehlen and Graach:

  • Zeltinger Himmelreich
  • Zeltinger Schlossberg
  • Zeltinger Sonnenuhr
  • Wehlener Sonnenuhr
  • Graacher Domprobst

The biggest giveaway as to the style of this wine is the alcohol: 8.5% abv.  The relatively low alcohol – even for a northerly country such as Germany – indicates that some of the sugar in the grapes has not been fermented and so is present as residual sugar.  The trend in Germany is for drier wines, even Rieslings which have usually had some sweetness to them, so this is very much a traditional style.

I was unable to find a residual sugar figure for this wine so my best guess as to its sweetness would be medium – definitely sweeter than off-dry but not into dessert wine territory.  However, due to its thrilling acidity, the sweetness is received by the palate as fruitiness more than sugariness.  Although sugar isn’t volatile (i.e. smellable) there are sweet notes on the nose of this wine.  It isn’t that complex though…just totally delicious!

  • ABV: 8.5%
  • RRP: €20.45
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Conclusion

Tasted back to back these two wines are remarkably different, yet share some vital things in common: citrus aromas and flavours, lifted aromatics and the minerality plus racy acidity that typifies Riesling.  The Mosel example is easier to like but the Clare Riesling is more cerebral; pick the one you feel in the mood for!

 

And for those who might recognise the song alluded to in the title, here’s Sonny Fodera ft. Janai – Give Me A Riesling Reason

 

 

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Hãhã – but it’s no laughing matter! [Make Mine a Double #60]

A new Kiwi label “Hãhã” has just been launched in Ireland, but it’s not a spoof – Hãhã is actually a Mãori word meaning savoury and luscious.  It was established less than ten years ago in 2011 by four families, and is still owned by the same folk.  Their wines hail from Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough and include most of the most popular varieties from New Zealand: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah.  There are also sparkling wines and rosé in the portfolio (with the Hawke’s Bay rosé even having a dash of Malbec).

As the wines have just been launched only the key wines are currently available in Ireland.  Here are two that I tried and enjoyed recently:

Disclosure: bottles were kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own

Hãhã Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019

The nose shows citrus (lime and lemon) plus ripe green bell peppers.  These notes continue though onto the palate, and unusually for Marlborough Sauvignon there are no real tropical notes.  Despite the green notes this is a mellow rather than sharp wine; it’s very mouthwatering but the acidity is fresh and pleasant rather than harsh.

If I had tasted this blind it would have stumped me as to its real origins – I might have guessed a classy Italian or German Sauvignon (if you haven’t tried examples from those countries then my postulation was a compliment!)  Despite Marlborough Sauvignon’s popularity, even its fans would admit that it’s often too aromatic and exuberant to make a good partner for food, but Hãhã Sauvignon is a delicious exception to this rule!

Hãhã Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017

Hãhã’s Marlborough Pinot Noir is one of the top wines in their range.  As you’d expect it’s fruity, and a lighter style of Pinot, but despite the fruit it’s not simply a smashable wine.  The nose is lovely, with rich strawberry, raspberry, cherry plus spice and a touch of mocha.  In the mouth it’s smooth and medium bodied, with the red fruit now joined by black.  Tannins are present but modest.  Overall this is a supple, easy-to drink wine that would also serve well at the dinner table.

Conclusion

Returning to the translation of Hãhã for a moment, I don’t think that “luscious” is that apt for these wines, but “savoury” definitely is!  They manage to bridge the worlds of quaffing wine and serious food wine.  They both have fruit but a superb savoury aspect which makes them very easy to like.

 

And, for those who were clubbing in the mid ’90s, this is the track which immediately sprang to mind when writing this piece:

 

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Puglia in your Pocket [Make Mine a Double #59]

Puglia Map

Like many European wine regions, Puglia has several different quality levels which overlap when shown on a map.  In general, the lower quality regions (IGP in the map above) are the largest in area and the highest quality regions are the smallest (DOCG).

In a recent post on Puglian wines I reviewed two red wines which were quite rich and even a little sweetness, so perfect for barbecues.  They were both IGT wines from Salento; now we have two DOC wines which are still fruity a little more serious:

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

Marchese di Borgosole Salice Salentino Riserva 2016

Marchese-di-Borgasole

The grapes for this wine – over 85% Negroamaro – are fully destemmed before undergoing seven to eight days maceration.  Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, with 24 months maturation mixed between tank and wooden barrels.

In the glass this wine is still dark in the body but is already a little light at the rim.  The nose has wonderful bramble fruit and exotic spice.  The palate is all about fresh morello cherry and raspberry, giving a pleasant tartness, and rich black fruits.  The body is full but not huge, and fine tannins help to give a savoury edge.

This is a lovely example of Salice Salentino, an easy drinking wine which is well put together.

Corte Ottone Brindisi Riserva 2016

Corte-Ortoni

From Salice Salentino we head slightly north to Brindisi.  Vinification is similar to its southern neighbour except that the 24 months maturation is entirely in wood.  Negroamaro is again the principal grape, backed up by Malvasia Nera and Sangiovese.

The nose has sweet – ripe, not sugary – black fruit such as blackberry and black cherry, with some hints of wild herbs.  The palate has a nervous energy to it; tart cherry and cranberry and lively raspberry plus some exotic spice and cedarwood.  The acidity is marked and thus the wine remains fresh.  This would be great with some charcuterie or tomato based dishes.

 

 

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A Pair of Pretty Pinots [Make Mine a Double #58]

Pinot Noir can be tricky to make well.  It is very particular about the climate it’s grown in – not too hot, not too cold.  Here are a pair of antipodean cool climate Pinots that are worth your hard-earned:

Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2018

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir

The Yarra Valley is part of the Port Philip zone which surrounds Melbourne in Australia.  Its proximity to Melbourne makes it a popular wine tourism destination; indeed, my first trip there was on a day trip wine tour from Melbourne.  That should not detract from its status as one of the best cool climate regions of Australia, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir starring – both still and sparkling.

Innocent Bystander was founded in 1996 by Phil Sexton after selling his previous Margaret River venture Devil’s Lair.  Innocent Bystander (IB) wines are often blends from multiple sites to achieve complexity and balance at a reasonable price point.  Alongside IB, in 1998 Sexton also began creating single vineyard wines under the Giant Steps label.

The Pink Moscato explosion in Aussie wine led to a large increase in volumes being made and sold by IB, so Sexton sold it to another family owned Victorian wine producer – Brown Brothers of Milawa – in order to concentrate on Giant Steps.  Once picked IB’s grapes now make a three hour journey in refrigerated trucks to be crushed at Brown Bros’ winery.  Sexton’s Yarra Valley tasting room wasn’t part of the transaction so Brown Bros bought and converted a brewery – formerly run by Phil Sexton!

The wines in the Innocent Bystander portfolio include the following:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Chardonnay
  • Moscato
  • Pinot Gris
  • Gamay
  • Gamay / Pinot Noir blend
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo
  • Arneis

It’s the last two which are the most unusual for Australia, and therefore piqued my interest, though sadly they haven’t yet made their way to Ireland.

In the main this Pinot Noir is fruit-driven: raspberry, blackberry and tart red cherries dominate the nose and palate, though there are also herb and spice notes in the background.  It is not, however, a “fruit-bomb”; acidity and gentle tannins provide a framework against which the fruit can sing, and boy do they sing!

Framingham Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017

Framingham Pinot Noir

Marlborough’s Framingham is probably the most respected producer of Riesling in New Zealand, but has added additional varieties across its three ranges:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Viognier
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Montepulciano
  • Pinot Noir

Their wines are all very well crafted and offer a substantial step up from everyday Marlborough wines, but prices are sensible.  The firm’s winemaker for 18 years was Dr Andrew Hedley, who was then succeeded by the returning Andrew Brown at the beginning of this year (what a year to join!)  In between his stints at Framingham, “Brownie” had worked in several cool climate regions including Alsace, so he has great experience with Riesling.

Framingham’s own vineyards and those of partner winegrowers are all in the Wairau Valley, the central open plain of Marlborough which is on a mixture of alluvial and clay soil.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately, with grapes from clay soils in particular receiving more time on the skins.  MLF and maturation takes place in new (20%) and used French oak barrels, before final blending and bottling.  No fining or filtering is carried out to preserve flavour and mouthfeel.

When speaking to Jared Murtha (Framingham’s Global Sales Manager) earlier this year  I remarked that the Pinot Noir seemed more like a Martinborough Pinot than a typical Marlborough one to me.  This was meant as a compliment and taken as one, as I find many Marlborough Pinot Noirs to be light, simple and less than interesting.  Jared replied diplomatically that Framingham aren’t aiming to make a “smashable” wine, but rather one which is a little more serious and gastronomic.

And hell have they succeeded!  It has typical Pinot red fruit notes – cherry and wild strawberry – but also layer upon layer of smoky, spicy and savoury characters.  There are lovely round tannins giving the wine additional structure.  Umami fans will love this wine!

Conclusion

These two wines are made from the same grape variety in neighbouring countries (yeah, still quite a journey) and are close in price, so a like for like comparison is perfectly fair.  The most obvious difference, though, is their style.  The Innocent Bystander is a great, fruit-forward all-rounder and would really appeal to the casual wine drinker.  The Framingham is a different proposition, more savoury and serious, and would shine the brightest in a setting with food – though it’s not a “this needs food” wine.  My preference would be to spend the extra €4 on the Framingham … but if someone offers me a glass of Innocent Bystander I would be delighted.

 

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Sherwood Forrester [Make Mine a Double #57]

What Would Robin Hood Drink (WWRHD) if he were around today?  What would make his men merry?  I put it to you that he would enjoy the fine wines of Sherwood Estate and Ken Forrester!

Robin Hood
Robin likes the “straight as an arrow” acidity of Sauvignon Blanc

These two fine producers make wines from several other varieties, but for comparative purposes I will review their equivalent Sauvignon Blancs:

 

Sherwood Estate Waipara Sauvignon Blanc 2018

sherwood estate waipara sauvignon blanc
No outlaws were harmed during the making of this wine

One mistake many people make is too assume that all New Zealand Sauvignons are from Marlborough.  Yes, the north east of the South Island is the biggest Sauvignon producing region and has become the ambassador for Kiwi wine, but Nelson (north west of the South Island), Wairarapa (south of the North Island) and Waipara (north of Canterbury on the South Island) also make some great examples.

In 1987 – still the early days of the modern NZ wine industry – Jill and Dayne Sherwood dived headlong into producing wine at West Melton, just west of Christchurch.  The industry was in turmoil at the time, but they were successful enough to survive and outgrow their West Melton property.  They then moved around an hour north into Waipara which was an area full of unrealised promise.  With their drive and perseverance they turned Sherwood Estate into one of the largest independent New Zealand wineries.

The firm now has six different vineyard sites around Waipara including Glasnevin, named after a famous district of Dublin.  Their wine offerings have also branched out (pun intended) to four different ranges plus two different sparklers.  The Sherwood range wines “are premium, everyday wines, made in a ‘hands-off’ style with little interruption in the winery” and consist of five varietals:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc

The Sauvignon Blanc we have here is unoaked and made conventionally.  The juice undergoes a cool fermentation for three weeks.  The must is then left on the fine lees for three months which adds depth.  The finished wine combines green (herbs, bell pepper, grass) and fruit (lime, lemon, grapefruit and passion fruit) notes.  This zesty wine shows how good Sauvignon Blanc can be outside Marlborough.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €21.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Ken Forrester Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2018

ken forrester sauvignon blanc reserve
Robin sympathizes with Ken’s status as a legend

Ken Forrester is something of a legend in Stellenbosch and South Africa as a whole.  He and his wife Teresa bought a derelict farm in 1993, though the property was created as far back as 1689.

All the pruning and harvesting work in the vineyard is done by hand for two reasons.  Firstly, it allows the vineyard team to pay very close attention to detail for quality reasons.  Secondly, it offers more employment for people in the local community.

There are currently four separate ranges which each have several blends and varietals:

  • Petit: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé (Grenache/ Viognier) , Natural Sweet (Chenin blend), Pinotage
  • Reserve: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Renegade (Rhône blend), Pat’s Garden Merlot
  • Icon: The FMC (Chenin), The Gypsy, (Rhône blend), T Noble Late Harvest (Chenin)
  • Cellar door exclusives – Sparklehorse MCC, Three Halves (Rhône blend), Roussanne, Dirty Little Secret TWO (Natural Chenin)

The grapes for the Reserve Sauvignon come from three are sourced from 3 vineyard sites scattered across the coastal region: Stellenbosch, Elim and Darling.  Some – though not all – are old vines, increasing concentration and depth of flavour.  After fermentation the wine spends eight weeks on fine lees.

For many years I have regarded South African Sauvignons as being stylistically half way between Loire and NZ styles, but I think it’s time we (I) forgot the comparisons and just regard them as their own thing.  This one has lots of green notes, but is not under-ripe; mangetout is then joined by some juicy stone fruit and the finish is long, crisp and clean. Unlike some other SA SBs I’ve tried, the alcohol is fairly restrained at 13.0%.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €17.95 (currently on offer at €15.95)
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

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Making Wine Amid Moving Borders [Make Mine a Double #56]

European Borders

For those of us living in the UK or Ireland it is rare to think of international borders moving.  Yes, there’s the Northern Ireland border between the two sovereign states, but that hasn’t moved since its inception a century ago and is hopefully fading away.  Because we live on islands even the concept of driving to another country seems a little strange for many, never mind that border moving over time.

The movement of borders has created some unusual situations for wine folk, such as the Becker family in Germany’s Pfalz – whose vineyards run into Alsace – and also the Gravner family – whose lands were in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at one point but now lie (just) in Italy.

This all came to mind as I was thinking about a pair of wines I tasted earlier in the year.  They are based on the same geological set of hills (Gorizia Hills in English, Collio Goriziano in Italian or Goriška Brda in Slovene) but in different countries.  The drive between them is less than an hour an a half:

map 1

So now for that pair of wines:

Gašper Rebula 2016

Gasper Rebula

First things first: Gašper is the name of the producer (literally, as Gašper Čarman is the gentleman who own and runs the place) and Rebula is the grape variety.  The latter is better known to most of us as Ribolla Gialla in Friuli but it is a major variety in Brda.

Gašper’s vines are planted in “opaka” soil (silica-calcite sedimentary rock) on terraces between 80 and 200 metres above sea level.  Both altitude and proximity to the sea help to retain aromas and freshness in the wine.

This Rebula is made with 16 hours skin contact – far more than more white wines but nowhere near as long as orange / amber wines.  Fermentation is in huge (4,000 litre) casks, temperature controlled to preserve fruit characters and freshness.  Maturation takes place first in old French barriques (1 year) then in old, large big format Slavonian oak casks.

The time spent on skins adds a real depth of colour to the wine – it deserves the “Gialla” (yellow) descriptor in its Italian name.  The nose shows bright citrus – lemon, grapefruit, orange – and mixed citrus peel.  The palate is soft, not too shouty with great texture.  The fresh and dried fruits are joined by a certain creaminess and they resolve in a clean, fresh finish.

Gašper himself told me that the wine has great ageing potential – and I have every reason to believe him.

 

Livio Felluga “Illivio” Pinot Bianco / Chardonnay / Picolit 2017 

Livio Felluga Illivio

After two World Wars Friuli’s agriculture and viticulture was significantly diminished and almost abandoned by the flight from countryside to city.  Livio Felluga was one who had a great vision of restoring Fruili’s proud tradition of winemaking.  He bought up old vineyards planted new ones and over the course of decades reinvigorated the region.  He has long been acknowledged as the driving force behind the restoration of Friuli and as an ambassador for its wines.

Illivio was created as by Livio’s children to celebrate his 85th birthday.  It’s a blend of Pinot Bianco (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and indigenous variety Picolit (10%).  Picolit was traditionally used for sweet wines as it has a good balance between sugar and acidity,  with a flavour profile not too far form Viognier, and had a cult following in the 1960s and ’70s.

The wine is fermented in small oak casks then left on the lees in those barrels for 10 months.  While oaked Chardonnay is of course very common internationally, oaked Pinot Blanc is mainly an Italian thing – but it can make for excellent wines.

Illivio pours yellow in the glass, though not from skin contact as the Gašper Rebula above, but rather from the influence of oak.  The nose is intense, as floral and fruit notes compete with rich smoky notes from the oak.  The palate is rich yet tangy, with buttered brioche and juicy fruit exquisitely mixed.  This is a serious wine, but seriously nice!

 

 

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