Opinion

In Praise of Co-operatives – Part 2 – Produttori del Barbaresco

Very few co-operatives are talked about in the same revered tones as Produttori del Barbaresco (“Producers of Barbaresco”, known as “Produttori” for short).  They have something of a cult following, and in good vintages their nine single vineyard (or “Cru”) Riserva wines are eagerly anticipated.

In fact, the single vineyard wines are only released when the winery believe that all nine are deserving of an individual release, otherwise the wines are blended into the Barbaresco DOCG (and, I’d imagine, some of the grapes which would go into that wine in a good year are declassified down into Langhe Nebbiolo).  That doesn’t mean that every single grape from those Cru will go into the Riserva wines; there is strict quality control.

The family name of each grower is included on the back label of each single vineyard wine (see below), even if there is an odd year where their grapes are not included for some reason.  As some of the owners’ surnames are the same there might appear to be some who own land in several different Crus!

Key Facts:

  • Founded: 1958
  • Location: Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy
  • No. of members: 50*
  • Grape varieties: Nebbiolo (100%)
  • Vineyard area: 250 acres / 100 hectares
  • Annual production (typical): 550,000 bottles / 45,000 cases
  • Labelled as (in good vintages):
    • Barbaresco (50%)
    • Single vineyard Barbarescos (30%)
    • Nebbiolo Langhe (20%)

A crucial fact about the whole winemaking process is that grapes from all nine single vineyards are treated the same, so that terroir rather than winemaking is the distinguishing factor.  For the 2013 vintage the following applies to the Crus:

  • Vinification: fermentation at 30°c (85°f), 28 days of skin contact time, malolactic completed
  • Ageing: 36 months in large oak barrels and 12 months in bottles
  • Bottling date: April 2017
  • Longevity: 20 years from the vintage

Below are brief tasting notes from the full range of wines supplemented by some relevant information from the Produttori website and a concise** overall summary of each Cru by Managing Director Aldo Vacca.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 (14.5%, RRP €28)

Langhe Nebbiolo

Website info:

  • Soil: limestone and clay, rich in calcium with sandy veins
  • Vinification: fermentation in concrete tanks at 28°C (83°F), 24 days on the skins, pumping over twice a day, malolactic fermentation completed
  • Ageing: in large oak barrels (25, 35 and 50 HL)
  • Bottling date: September 2017
  • Total production: 100,000 bottles (8,500 cases)

The Langhe Nebbiolo is made from lighter grapes across the 100 hectare estate, especially from younger vines or those with a less directly southerly aspect.  Quite floral on the nose, it shows lots of soft red fruit on the palate, particularly fresher red berries such as cranberry and raspberry.  The finish has plenty of tannin to remind you that you’re drinking Nebbiolo, but this is an approachable style and a great starting point for the estate.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€45)

Barbaresco 2013

Website info:

  • Vineyard exposure: south, west, east
  • Soil: limestone and clay, rich in calcium with sandy veins
  • Vinification: in stainless steel tanks, at 30°C (85°F), 28 days on the skins, pumping over 2-3 times a day, malolactic completed
  • Ageing: 24 months approx.
  • Bottling date: April 2016
  • Total production: approx. 220,000 bottles
    (18,500 cases)

This regular (non “Riserva”) Barbaresco is a midway point between the Langhe Nebbiolo and the single vineyard wines.  The texture is super smooth, showing that Barbaresco’s tag as “feminine” rings true.  It has the same fresh red fruit as the junior wine but moving into softer red fruits such as strawberries.  This has a lovely balance to it and a long finish.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva “Pora” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Pora2013

Bottle tasted: 7,525 / 16,666

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 10.7 hectares (26.4 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south, south-west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone with sandy veins
  • Vineyard owners: Dellaferrera, Manzone

Aldo Vacca one word review: Approachable

I concur with the “approachable” description, though it is a little more serious than the standard Barbaresco.  There’s lovely red fruit in there but the finish is a little tannic and drying for my tastes when drunk on its own.  (Pro Tip: drink it with food!)

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva “Rio Sordo” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Rio Sordo

Bottle tasted: 12,439 / 13,333

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 4.5 hectares (11.0 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south – west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone with sandy veins
  • Vineyard owners: Alutto, Marengo

Aldo Vacca one word review: Elegant

This is an altogether deeper, richer wine than the Pora.  It shows a range of delicious red to black fruits with a pinch of exotic spice.  Sumptuous and well balanced, this is an outstanding wine.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva “Asili” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Asili2013

Bottle tasted: 10,432 / 13,333

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 2.28 hectares (5.63 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south / south – west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone with sandy veins
  • Vineyard owners: Conti, Giacosa, Viglino

Aldo Vacca one word review: Austere

I didn’t find this wine austere, but it was medium rather than full bodied with considerable acidity.  We’re back to red fruit and floral notes here; the Asili is finely balanced and poised – a fine wine in several senses.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva “Pajè” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Paje2013

Bottle tasted: 7,698 / 10,000

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south – west / west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone with sandy veins
  • Vineyard owners: Basso, Giordano

Aldo Vacca one word review: Bright

Among the red fruit notes which are close to ubiquitous in Produttori’s wine, the Pajè has a whole rack of herbs.  This is a tangy wine which I found to be slightly shorter than the others, but very nice drinking nevertheless.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva “Ovello” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Ovello2013

Bottle tasted: 7,572 / 17,160

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 20.3 hectares (50 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south – west / south east
  • Soil: calcareous limestone and clay
  • Vineyard owners: Audasso, Cavallo, Cravanzola, Gonella, Grasso, Maffei, Odore, Sarotto, Unio, Vacca, Varaldo

Aldo Vacca one word review: Lively

The clay in Ovello’s soils has helped to produce a wine which has less pronounced acidity and tannin than most of its counterparts.  Instead there’s fruit – lots of fruit! – and power.  There are tannins at the end but they are fine and not drying.  This is a Nebbiolo that is delicious on its own.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva “Muncagota” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Muncagota

Bottle tasted: 12,892 / 13,333

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 4.5 hectares (11 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south – west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone
  • Vineyard owners: Bellora, Casetta, Lignana, Viglino

Aldo Vacca one word review: Floral

Muncagota is floral but it’s also the results of a raid on your spice cupboard.  Bright red and black cherries greet the palate, with a finish of tobacco and liquorice which are reminiscent of a Tuscan Sangiovesi.  This is no shrinking violet and would pair well with game such as venison or wild boar.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva “Rabajà” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Rabaja

Bottle tasted: 8,512 / 17,040

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 3.7 hectares (9.14 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south – west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone with sandy veins
  • Vineyard owners: Antona, Arossa, Casetta, Lembo, Lignana, Manzone, Rocca, Vacca, Vezza

Aldo Vacca one word review: Complete

With nine families owning a total of just 3.7 hectares (only the much larger Ovello has more owners), the Rabajà shows exactly why co-operatives can be the best choice of ownership and vinification models.  The 2013 is powerful but on the dry side, with some intriguing menthol notes, herbs and spices overlaid on the red fruit.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva “Montestefano” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Montestefano

Bottle tasted: 8,114 / 17,104

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 4.5 hectares (11 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south
  • Soil: calcareous limestone
  • Vineyard owners: Gonella, Maffei, Marcarino, Rivella, Rocca, Vacca

Aldo Vacca one word review: Powerful

For me the Montestefano is a great all-rounder, with the positive points from all the others rolled into once – lovely fruit and floral notes, decent but not harsh acidity and tannin, balance and poise – the full package.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva “Montefico” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Montefico2013

Bottle tasted: 11,099 / 13,333

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 3.9 hectares (9.6 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south
  • Soil: calcareous limestone
  • Vineyard owners: Grasso, Rocca, Vacca

Aldo Vacca one word review: Austere

As this was the last of the wines I tasted, perhaps my palate had become well accustomed to the above average acidity and tannin in these wines – I didn’t find it austere at all and actually quite similar to the Montestefano.  In my defence they have the same calcareous limestoil soil type and southerly aspect, and they are both delicious!

Conclusions

These are all fantastic wines, and great value at each price point.  It’s a fascinating way to taste your way round a wine region, so if you have the means and opportunity I highly recommend trying as many of them as you can.

Unlike Aldo Vacca, I can play favourites, but I can’t pick just one – so my three favourite of the range would be the Rio Sordo, Asili and Montestefano.


* The precise number of growers differs throughout the website

** 7WWR eat your heart out!

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Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Right Bank 2014s [Make Mine a Double #42]

As any good sci-fi geek knows, 42 is Deep Thought’s Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, and so it’s fitting that the theme of this 42nd edition of Make Mine a Double is Bordeaux, probably the most important wine region in the world (and definitely the most self-important).  Bordeaux was the first wine region I got to know reasonably well and remains the reference for many other country’s red wines.

These two wines are both from the Merlot-dominated right bank, where Cabernet Sauvignon is nearly always a minor player – if it plays a part at all – and Cabernet Franc can play a great supporting role.  Saint Emilion is the star appellation on the right bank, with Pomerol less famous but home to the legendary Château Petrus.  Fronsac is less well known still, but often offers great value.  These two wines are both from the very good but not amazing 2014 vintage – Red Bordeaux 2014s are rated 8/10 by Berry Brothers & Rudd and 7/10 by The Wine Society.

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

Château Clos du Roy Fronsac 2014 (14.0%, €29.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Chateau Clos du Roy Fronsac 2014

The name of this producer translates literally as the Castle of the King’s Walled Garden.  Horticulture aside for a moment, this is a blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.

The nose is tremendous, with dark fruit (plums, blackcurrants, blackberries), chocolate and spices.  The fruit is very ripe on the palate – this is a powerful wine.  Fine grained tannins give a satisfying dry edge to the finish.  Although still quite young this is drinking magnificently now.  At the reduced price it would be worth buying a few and seeing how it evolves over the next decade.

Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2014 (13.5%, €42.95 down to €34.35 at O’Briens)

Chateau Franc-Maillet 2014

You might just be able to make out “Depuis 1919” on the bottle shot above, as it was started by a soldier returning from the First World War.  It has been in the same family since, who now make wines in Pomerol (plus satellite AOC Lalande de Pomerol), and Saint-Emilion (plus one of the four satellite AOCs, Montagne-Saint-Emilion.)  The blend is 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc.

The nose is spicy and smoky with red and black fruits.  On the palate there is a whole variety of red (red cherry, raspberry, cranberry) and black (plum, black cherry and blackberry) fruits.  There are also some subtle vanilla notes from maturation in barrique and ripe tannins.

Conclusion

In my opinion these are two excellent wines that do a great job of representing their appellations and right bank Bordeaux in general.  There’s little to chose between them in quality; it’s more a question of a slight difference in style between the power and spice of the Fronsac and the elegance, cherry and vanilla of the Pomerol.  Both for me please!

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Roses 2019

As Roses aren’t my area of expertise I’ve stolen borrowed some of the classifications from Wikipedia.  Of course different species and cultivars are found in different places, depending on local climatic conditions – terroir.

10. Bracteatae – three species, two from China and one from India.

9. Caninae – pink and white flowered species from AsiaEurope and North Africa.

8. Carolinae – white, pink, and bright pink flowered species all from North America.

7. Chinensis – white, pink, yellow, red and mixed-color roses from China and Burma.

6. Gallicanae – pink to crimson and striped flowered roses from western Asia and Europe.

5. Gymnocarpae – one species in western North America (Rosa gymnocarpa), others in east Asia.

4. Laevigatae – a single white flowered species from China.

3. Pimpinellifoliae – white, pink, bright yellow, mauve and striped roses from Asia and Europe.

2. Rosa (syn. sect. Cinnamomeae) – white, pink, lilac, mulberry and red roses from everywhere but North Africa

1. Synstylae – white, pink, and crimson flowered roses from all areas.

 

Apologies for anyone expecting wine.  Punctuation, grammar and spelling matter – these are Roses not Rosés ;o)

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz 2019

My interest in good and great bubbly is well known, so there are some crackers in my Top 10 Fizz this year.  It’s dominated by Champagnes, which reflects both my preferences and the wines that I’ve been able to taste in the last year or so – but try as many as you can and make your mind up for yourself:

10. Champagne Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2009

Beaumont des Crayeres Fleur Blanche

12.0%, RRP €47.00.  Distributed by O’Briens.

Co-operative Beaumont des Crayères’ regular bottle is their Grande Réserve NV which is a very acceptable bottle itself, but this vintage Blanc de Blancs is a whole new level.  For non-francophones, the name “Fleur Blanche” simply translates as “White Flower” which both hints at its composition and evokes its aromas.  The palate shows evidence of extended lees ageing with lovely toasted brioche topped by citrus and stone fruit.  2009 is a very good vintage so this is something that you could lay down and enjoy a bottle every so often over the next decade.

9. Champagne Laherte Frères Extra Brut “Ultradition” NV

laherte freres champagne nv

12.5%, RRP €53.00.  Distributed by GrapeCircus.  Also see related article here.

This Champagne is part of the Pinot Meunier comeback (more on which later) – the region’s third grape variety is somewhat unloved as it doesn’t have the cachet of the big two – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – nor, according to many, the same ageing potential.  However, Meunier has plenty of character of its own which can really shine through when it’s done properly as in the hands of the Laherte brothers.  The nose evokes flowers but the palate has both red and citrus fruit plus some nice leesy notes.

8. Champagne Leclerc-Briant Brut Réserve NV

leclerc briant brut reserve

12.0%, RRP €62.00.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Another Meunier dominated non vintage Champagne with an extra brut dosage, this is a lively, fruity little number that tastes fresh rather than dry – it has lots of red fruit but they tend towards redcurrant and even cranberry, a sign of zippy acidity.  Depending on your personal preferences, this could be laid down for several years for it to round out and develop more complexity with bottle age – or just enjoy right now!

7. Champagne Salon Cuvée “S” Le Mesnil 2007

Salon 2007

12.0%, RRP €530.  Distributed by Pembroke Wines.

Salon is something of a legend in Champagne circles, but amongst regular and even enthusiast wine drinkers it is not well known – mainly down to the very small production volumes and minimal advertising (oh yes, and the price).  All the grapes are sourced from one of the Côte des Blancs’ best Grand Cru villages, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  It’s a special enough place that master blenders Krug released their first single vineyard Champagne from there: Krug Clos Le Mesnil.  Salon only produce a single, vintage wine and then only in very good years; 2007 is only the 38th release since the first in 1921, and the 2008 is only going to be released in magnum format (form an orderly queue please).  So how is the 2007?  Intense, bready, taut, young…almost raw in fact.  But the inherent splendour can be guessed at – if you are prepared to wait a while then break open the piggy bank and stash a bottle or two.

6. Arcari + Danesi Franciacorta “Dosaggio Zero” 2013

franciacorta dosaggio zero arcari danesi

12.5%, RRP €60.  Distributed by GrapeCircus. Also see related article here.

This is the best Franciacorta I have tasted by a country mile.  It has no dosage but doesn’t need one – there’s loads of juicy fruit sweetness without any extra sugar.  Talking of which, Arcari + Danesi don’t even use sugar or the second alcoholic fermentation, but rather grape juice from their own harvest.  If you’ve been underwhelmed by the Franciacortas available where you are (and I was) then this shows you how good they can be.

5. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée MV

picture 86377

12.5%, RRP €61.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

More and more English sparkling wines are coming to the market each year and the overall quality keeps getting higher, but for me Nyetimber are still top of the pops.  So how do they stay ahead of the chasing pack?  A relentless drive to improve has made their Classic Cuvée better with each subsequent release.  Is there a ceiling?  I don’t know, but it will be fun finding out!

4. Champagne Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis NV

Champagne Cuvee Paradis Brut Alfred Gratien

12.0%, RRP £125.00 (magnum).  Distributed in the UK by The Wine Society.

Alfred Gratien doesn’t receive the kudos that some of the big houses do, but their no-nonsense Champagnes have plenty of fans.  This is a magnum of their top offering; with several years post-disgorgement it’s on the mature side (which is a good thing) but has plenty of years left (also a good thing).  I’ve tried it twice in the past 18 months and it was even better the second time.  If you can get your hands on some, do!

3. Champagne Gosset Grand Millésime 2004

Gosset Grand Millesime 2004

12.0%, RRP €95. Distributed in Ireland by Mackenway and in the UK by BBR.

The oldest extant Champagne house, Gosset was founded in 1584 – before Champagne wines were even sparkling.  They have a fantastic range, with the Petite Douceur Extra Dry Rosé and Blanc de Blancs also being big favourites of mine.  I’ve  been lucky to try the Grand Millésime 2004 several times recently and it’s truly magnificent – such finesse and complexity.  It’s even found a fan in my dad who doesn’t normally bother with anything sparkling.  The blend is 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, neither of which go through malolactic fermentation, preserving freshness. A minimum of six years’ ageing on lees before disgorgement is not as long as some prestige cuvées but helps to generate lots of interesting creamy, nutty and fruity notes.  A real treat!

2. Champagne R&L Legras Cuvée Exceptionelle Saint-Vincent 1996

r-l-legras-saint-vincent-blanc-de-blancs-grand-cru-brut

12.0%.  Distributed in the UK by BBR.  Also see related article here.

While this is also a treat, it’s not for everyone as it is quite mature in style (apparently, some people don’t like mature Champagne – what gives?).  But I bloody love it!  From the  village of Chouilly, this is 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay.  Quite tight and structured on release, a dozen or so additional years of bottle ageing have added layers of spice and baked apple onto the citrus and brioche framework.  This is mature but far from tired, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it.

1. Champagne Dom Pérignon P2 2000

Dom Pérignon 2000 P2

12.5%, RRP €420.  Distributed in Ireland by Edward Dillon; retailed by SIYPS.

Even people quite familiar with Dom Pérignon – it is the best selling luxury cuvée, after all – might not be aware of the house’s P2 and P3 Oenothèque releases.  The “standard” or “regular” (how inadequate those words sound!) Dom Pérignon 2000 was released in 2008 after disgorgement the previous year, so after six or so years on the lees.  Some of the wines were held back and aged on lees for an additional nine years, apparently the wine’s second peak (or “Plenitude“).  The result is not just more autolytic notes, but it’s a turbocharged Dom Pérignon, with nuts, cream, coffee, honey….the list goes on, as it stands as one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted (of any type).  Yes, it’s just over double the price of the current release of DP, (around €200) but it’s not that much more than the DP Rosé which I think it is far better than.  If you get chance to taste this, you must.

 


The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

  • Top 10 Whites
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • Top 10 Reds
  • Top 10 Sweet
  • Top 10 Value Whites
  • Top 10 Value Reds
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Ireland
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Alsace

 

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites 2019

It’s awards season, with the Golden Globes and Oscars over it’s now time for the Frankly Wines Top Tens.  So here we go, kicking off with 10 fantastic white wines that I have really enjoyed in the past 12 months, and you should try to get hold of if you haven’t already:

10. Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2017

Luigi Baudana Dragon

14.0%, RRP €23.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

This wine could well have topped the list on the Frankly Wines Top Ten Value Whites, such is the bang you get for your buck, bitcoin, or other currency of choice, but for me it’s just a great wine full stop.  To stand out amongst the Langhe’s great reds is a great achievement.

9. Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Fiano 2017

Chalk Hill Fiano

12.0%, RRP €21.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.  Also see related article here.

McLaren Vale is one of the key Australian regions where Italian varieties are being treated seriously, not just as a novelty but as a serious alternative to international (i.e. French) varieties.  Mandrarossa’s Sicilian Fiano was a revelation when I first tried it a few years ago, but Chalk Hill have pushed the bar even higher.  Try this tropical citrus beauty and you will become a convert too.

8. Ovum Wines Oregon Big Salt 2017

ovum big salt

12.9%, RRP €33.95.  Distributed by Le Caveau.  Also see related article here.

In my notes below I state that there are no Alsace wines in my Top 10 whites this year, and while that is true it does not preclude Alsace-style whites from elsewhere.  The long, cool growing season of Oregon’s coast is perfect for aromatic varieties: Muscat, Riesling and Gewurztraminer combine elegantly to make Oregon’s very own Gentil.

7. Domaine Marc Sorrel Hermitage Blanc “Les Rocoules” 1999

domaine-marc-sorrel-hermitage-les-rocoules-white

14.5%, RRP €98.45.  Distributed by Karwig Wines.

Producers who make wine in Hermitage number less than a score so it is something of a rarity (especially compared to Crozes-Hermitage); the whites are rarer still.  They can be made from any combination of Marsanne and Roussanne, with the former usually dominant or alone.  Marc Sorrel is a modest man who makes wines that aren’t flashy, but very long-lived and interesting.  This is from a single plot called Les Rocoules; it is intensely aromatic with herbs, elderflower and honeysuckle on the nose.  The palate is a little drier than expected but reflects the herbs and honey notes of the nose.  It’s round and savoury – obviously well developed at twenty years old – with an interesting tang and even some crisp green vegetal notes.  White Hermitage is rare enough, but to try a two decade old single vineyard wine is a real treat.

6. Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €39.95.  Distributed by Berry Bros & Rudd.  Also see related article here.

Jim Clendenen is rightly a legend of Californian wine, particularly those made from Burgundian varieties, so it’s fitting that a god-like portrait appears on the front label of this wine.  This wine has a slightly different sensibility to ABC’s regular bottlings, best summed up by the legend (in the other sense) at the bottom of the label:

Instructions to winemaker: I said “Hey dude, Make a wine on the Wild Side”

5. Domaine Stéphane Ogier Viognier de Rosine 2016

Viognier de Rosine

12.5%, RRP €31.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.

Viognier almost disappeared in the 20th Century, with just a small amount left in Condrieu.  It is now planted in many parts of the Rhône and further afield in California, Australia and elsewhere.  This wine is from the northern Rhône but outside the boundaries of the Appellation Controllée areas, making it an IGP.  Such is the quality of the terroir at Rosine and the wines made there, that I reckon it might well gain an AOC of its own in the future.  This is textbook Viognier, full of rich apricot, peach and pineapple fruits, and better than many more expensive Condrieus.

4. L.A.S. Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2016

LAS Vino MR Chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €59.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

When we think of “natural” or “low intervention” wines we often think of the new wave of winemakers in Europe who have rejected the use of excessive chemicals in the vineyard and reverted back to their grandfathers’ methods.  In my eyes, Australia didn’t have the same issues, partly due to a drier climate and partly due to a more technical approach in bigger vineyards.  However, the focus on making wines that are consistent (vintage indifferent) and technically correct (starbright, clean, no trace of brett or VA) has sometimes encouraged wines which are lacking in character.

This Margaret River Chardonnay has character for days!

3. Rafael Palacios Valdeorras “As Sortes” 2016 

As Sortes

14.0%, RRP €46.00.  Distributed by Vinostito.

From the famous Palacios Spanish winemaking family, Rafael Palacios is the “God of Godello”, based in Valdeorras, Galicia.  He takes the grape to heights that have to be tasted to be believed, with low yields from seven plots totalling only 4.6 hectares and judicious use of oak.  There is tropical , soft stone and citrus fruit, all elegantly framed by a mineral, saline streak.  This is the type of wine which appeals to lovers of Chardonnay and Albariño alike.

2. Domaine JB Ponsot Rully “En Bas de Vauvry” 2016

jean-baptiste ponsot rully

13.0%, RRP €29.90.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Rully is on the rise – as land in the Côte Chalonnaise is significantly cheaper than the Cote d’Or (for now, at least) more vineyards there are getting serious attention and investment.  If you want excellent white Burgundy without a second mortgage, this is for you.

1. Julien Brocard La Boissonneuse Chablis 2017

CHABLIS-BOISSONNEUSE-JEAN-MARC-BROCARD

13.0%, RRP €28.45.  Distributed by O’Briens.  Also see related article here.

When whittling down my longlists to get to the shortlists of ten wines, quality considerations are paramount – balance, concentration and complexity, for example. This wine has all those, plus something else – it redefines how good a certain type of wine can be – in this case AOC Chablis.  There’s a long established hierarchy in Chablis with Petit Chablis at the bottom, then Chablis, a multitude of Chablis Premiers Crus with the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grands Crus at the top – but this wine’s vast array of aromas and flavours show that, with care and dedication, anything is possible.

The bar for AOC Chablis has been significantly raised. The rest of Chablis – it’s over to you!

 


As this is the first of my Top 10s to be published, I first ought to mention a few obvious things:

  1. The timing of the articles is better in the first quarter of the new year rather than racing to get them all done at the end of a year, hence no 2018 edition.
  2. There will be no Alsace wines in the “Top 10 Whites” or “Top 10 Value Whites” categories – but do not adjust your sets, Alsace wines will have their own dedicated pieces.
  3. These lists are entirely subjective and are based on my personal opinions of the wines I’ve tasted, not an inclusive list of the best wines in the world (funnily enough I didn’t get sent any DRC or Bordeaux First Growth samples this year), so if you think there are obvious errors or omissions then please feel free to write about your own favourites on your own blog.

 

The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

  • Top 10 Whites
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • Top 10 Reds
  • Top 10 Sweet
  • Top 10 Value Whites
  • Top 10 Value Reds
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Ireland
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Alsace
Make Mine A Double

Lidl Valentine’s Wine Sale [Make Mine a Double #41]

The Irish wing of supermarket Lidl kicked off their Valentine’s Wine Sale on Monday 11th February.  Like their French and Italian wine sales which I have covered previously, these events aren’t price reduction but rather the introduction of a number of wines for a limited time, usually until such time as the finite stocks run out.

The Valentine’s range consists of five sparkling, eleven white and eleven red; the vast majority are Italian with a sprinkling of new world representatives from the USA, Canada, South Africa and Chile.  Below I review a sparkling and a white from

Disclosure: both wines kindly supplied as samples, opinions remain my own

Gewürztraminer Südtirol / Alto Adige 2017 (14.0%, RRP €12.99 at Lidl)

Gewürztraminer Südtirol DOC €12.99

If you aren’t familiar with the geopolitical landscape of northern Italy then this wine might be a touch confusing, but in reality it makes perfect sense.  Alto Adige is the Italian name for the Alpine province which borders Austria – and was indeed in Austria (and predecessor entities) from the 9th century until 1919.  The German name Südtirol makes perfect sense when we consider that the Austrian state immediately north of it is  Tirol, divided into Nordtirol and Osttirol.

One of the municipalities in Alto Adige/Südtirol is Tramin, the birthplace of the Traminer grape (aka Savagnin) which mutated to become Gewürztraminer – the grape we have here.

Aroma-wise, this shows rose and elderflower with a suggestion of sweetness, and yes there is a little Turkish Delight if you go looking for it, though the nose isn’t overblown compared to many (phew!)  The palate is surprisingly dry, though not when the abv of 14.0% is taken into account.  There’s plenty of texture and soft stone fruit; in fact, this wine is not a million miles away from a white Rhône blend.

My preferences when it comes to Gewurz are off-dry or sweeter, so this isn’t my favoured style.  However, for those who prefer a dry style this is well worth a try.

Nure Moscato d’Asti 2017 (5.5 %, RRP €11.99 at Lidl)

Nure Moscato d'Asti DOCG €11.99

Piedmontese wine is best known for the Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco plus supporting acts Barbera and Dolcetto, but the Muscat-based sparklers Asti (Spumanti) and Moscato d’Asti also show a lot of character.  It’s the latter we have here, with very low alcohol and lots of sweetness.  In Piedmont it’s often drunk as a palate-cleanser after savoury food and then with dessert.  Of course Muscat is one of the few varieties that smell or taste of grapes, but there’s also a spiciness or muskiness to it.  When well made there is acidity to balance the sweetness, and that makes this example absolutely delicious!  It’s not the most complex Moscato d’Asti I’ve tried but it’s fantastic value for money and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Make Mine A Double

A Splash of Refreshing White in an Ocean of Red [Make Mine a Double #40]

Although red wine is the king in northern Spain – especially going west / south west from Navarra, Rioja, Ribero del Duero, Cigales and Toro – there is an outlier: Rueda and its refreshing whites.  Established as a Denominacíon de Origen (DO) as recently as 1980, Rueda is now established as an ultra-reliable source of easy-drinking white wines.  There are four permitted white varieties:

  • Verdejo (indigenous to Rueda, not too dissimilar to Sauvignon Blanc in profile)
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Viura (the white grape of Rioja, aka Macabeo in Cava)
  • Palomino Fino (the main Sherry grape, also used for Sherry-style fortifieds in Rueda)

SuperValu Ireland recently won Best Supermarket Wine Outlet 2019 in the Sunday Business Post Gold Star Awards.  Below are two contrasting Rueda wines which are on special promotion from 14th Feb to 6th Mar 2019.

Disclosure: both wines kindly supplied as samples, opinions remain my own

Blume Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €11.99 down to €8.00 at SuperValu)

Blume Rueda Sauvignon Blanc

This is a very green style of Sauvignon – which is neither criticism or praise, simply an observation – with gooseberry, grapefruit, grass and green pepper notes.  It has striking acidity which make it great for pouring at parties or acting as a foil for shellfish.  Tasted blind it could be taken for a Loire Sauvignon such as a Touraine, so goat’s cheese would be another great pairing (I’m speaking hypothetically here as I don’t do cheese!)

Viña Albali Rueda Verdejo 2017 (13.0%, RRP €11.99 down to €8.00 at SuperValu)

Vina Albali Rueda Verdejo

From 100% Sauvignon Blanc to 100% Verdejo, the autochthonous grape of Rueda.  The label shows the herons which famously nest in the area – another indigenous species. This is a clean, unoaked wine with a little more body than the Blume above, and is somewhat softer in nature – the acidity is less obvious and the fruits are more rounded – some juicy peach and pear in among the citrus.  This would also be a great party wine but could partner well with a range of dishes, from salads or seafood to poultry.

 

Conclusion

Both these wines are inexpensive at their regular price and are fair value.  They show two different sides to the Rueda region and so are interesting to try together.  On a warm day (perhaps difficult to imagine in Ireland right now) I’d take the refreshing savvy, otherwise I’d chose the Verdejo.

And at the reduced price, they are both a steal!

 

 

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

 

Opinion, Tasting Events

Fine Time (Part 2 – France)

There are few words that bring joy to a winelover’s ears as much as “fine wine sale”.  Below are some of the French wines included in Irish chain O’Briens’ fine wine sale that I have tried and enjoyed this year.  I will leave the discussion on what constitutes “fine wine” for another day!

Note: these offers are in-store only, and for a short time.

Julien Brocard La Boissonneuse Chablis 2017 (13.0%, €28.45 down to €21.95)

CHABLIS-BOISSONNEUSE-JEAN-MARC-BROCARD

After studying engineering Julien Brocard joined the family firm in the 90s.  At first he concentrated on some special wines before eventually taking over the reins from his father.  Although he doesn’t necessarily use the term itself, he has followed the principle of Kaizen – continuous improvement in the vineyard, winery and onwards.

This is a very special wine indeed, and not just because it is from organic and biodynamically grown grapes – no easy thing in the northern climes of Chablis.  It’s simply the most accomplished and interesting Chablis I’ve ever tasted.  Yes it’s on offer in the Fine Wine Sale, but to be honest this is an absolute steal at its regular price.  There’s vibrant lemon and lime and a funkiness which I find really appealing.  The only reason for you not to buy this wine is to leave more for me!

Domaine des Sénéchaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2015 (14.5%, €43.95 down to €29.95 at O’Briens)

Domaine_des_Senechaux_CNDP

This wine has two prestigious  names behind it – Châteauneuf-du-Pape of course and the JM Cazes family of Lynch Bages fame.  Complexity comes through three distinct soil types: stony clay-limestone, deep sand and mollassic sandstone.  The assemblage is the traditional GSM blend, with 64% Grenache, 19% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre plus a dash of Vaccarèse and Cinsault (2% together).  It’s a great example of CNDP which has some serious competition at €44, but is an absolute steal at €30!

Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinière 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €18.95 at O’Briens)

L Ostal Cazes Grand Vin

The Grand Vin of L’Ostal Cazes is probably my favourite wine of the JM Cazes family, especially when value for money comes into the equation.  It’s made in one of the top appellations of the Languedoc  – Minervois La Livinière – which has as few as 30 producers.  The blend is 90% Syrah plus 10% Grenache, all aged for 15 months in French oak barrels.  There’s no mistaking that this is predominantly Syrah based, though it’s richer and spicier than the northern Rhône’s reds.  This is the perfect wine for cold winter nights.

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus Rouge 2015 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95 at O’Briens)

cigalus rouge 4

This is a premium cuvée from Gérard Bertrand, rugbyman (a word which works equally well in French as in Irish English) turned biodynamic winemaker.  The blend for Cigalus is (I hope you’re sitting down): Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Caladoc.  The last grape is a cross of Grenache and Malbec that is grown here and there in the Languedoc but is not generally permitted in AOC wines.  As this is an IGP there’s no issue!  Given the long list of grapes it’s no surprise that the wine is a mouthful, but in a good way – smooth and rich, it’s a very satisfying wine full of fruits of the forest.  Definitely one to quaff with a stew or a good book!

Château Phélan Ségur Saint-Estèphe Cru Bourgeois 2015 (13.5%, €70.00 down to €50.00)

Phelan Segur

Buy this wine, but don’t drink it.  I’m serious!  Well, sort of…I mean don’t drink it now, but lay it down out of sight and out of mind for several years before opening it.  You will reap the rewards.

With obvious Irish roots, Phélan Ségur is officially a Cru Bourgeois but is often talked about as being of Cru Classé…erm…class.  2015 was a great vintage in Bordeaux so this is definitely one to snap up if you can.  The blend is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot giving a mix of blackcurrant and plum with a structure that will stand it in good stead for the long haul.  Second wine Frank Phélan is worth its €39.95 so for a tenner more this is a bargain.

Also see my NZ & Aus picks in part 1

Opinion, Tasting Events

Fine Time (Part 1 – NZ & Australia)

There are few words that bring joy to a winelover’s ears as much as “fine wine sale”.  Below are some of the Kiwi and Aussie wines included in Irish chain O’Briens’ fine wine sale that I have tried and enjoyed this year.  I will leave the discussion on what constitutes “fine wine” for another day!

Note: links now added as O’Briens have also taken the fine wine sale online.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (13.1%, €33.95 down to €26.95 at O’Briens)

cloudy bay sauvignon blanc

The one Savvy to rule them all – Cloudy Bay brought Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to international attention and acclaim, for a while it sat alone at the top of the tree. Nowadays it has company – not least Greywacke, made by Cloudy Bay’s founding winemaker Kevin Judd, and Dog Point, also made by former CB winemakers.

But it’s in difficult vintages such as 2017 where the premium labels really earned their stripes; lots of grey rot was present in the grapes of bulk producers – a byproduct of being paid for quantity over quality – so the careful selection and sorting of upmarket producers like Cloudy Bay made a huge difference to the finished wine.  This is so much smoother and less aggressive than everyday Marlborough Sauvignon that it’s almost like a different wine!

Man O’War Dreadnought Waiheke Island Syrah 2014 (14.6%, €35.45 down to €26.95 at O’Briens)

man-o-war-dreadnought-syrah-2014

Man O’War’s nautically named Flagship range always go down a treat chez moi – and they are indeed a treat, especially the Valhalla Chardonnay.  Here we have their Dreadnought Syrah, perhaps a little riper and fuller-bodied than the Syrahs of Hawke’s Bay, but still recognisably Kiwi.  Black fruit and blueberries are framed by oak (though now integrating well) and tannins (present but ripe).  A fantastic wine!

St Hallett Old Block Barossa Shiraz 2014 (13.7%, €60.00 down to €48.00 at O’Briens)

St-Hallett-Old-Block-Shiraz-2014

Whereas the Dreadnought above is unmistakably Kiwi, this is unmistakably Barossa.  In fact the fruit is sourced from two sub-regions of the Barossa Zone, the Barossa Valley proper (62%) and the slightly cooler Eden Valley (38%) just to the east (note the ABV is a fairly moderate 13.7%.)  And “Old Block”?  That means OLD, with a minimum vine age for the 2014 of 80 years.  The result is a fabulous, concentrated wine with vibrant red and black berry fruit and fine tannins.

d’Arenberg Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 (14.5%, €54.95 down to €43.95 at O’Briens)

dArenberg Dead Arm Shiraz

Another iconic Aussie Shiraz, this time from McLaren Vale which is a short way south of Adelaide and a few clicks inland from the sea.  Cheeky chappie Chester Osbourne is still the head winemaker of this family firm, but despite the loud shirts and outgoing personality he really knows his stuff (the 2002 Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon was my top red of 2017.)   Intense red, purple and black fruit dominate the palate – this will be at its best in the years to come, but drinkable now, especially if decanted.

Also see my French picks in part 2

Opinion

A Trio of Classy Clarets

In the winter months – and with C*****mas looming on the horizon – many wine drinkers turn to the classics such as Bordeaux and Chablis.  Although Claret isn’t the best match for the traditional turkey, many disregard that and drink it simply because they like it – or like me, drink it with something other than turkey!

First, a quick refresher on the AOCs of the Médoc, the left bank peninsula which is home to many of Bordeaux’s world-famous Châteaux:

Medoc

As a generalisation, the AOCs of the Médoc are considered to be ranked as follows:

  • Pauillac & Margaux
  • Saint-Julien & Saint-Estèphe
  • Listrac-Médoc & Moulis-en-Médoc
  • Haut Médoc
  • Médoc

Of course, the quality of any wine is heavily dependent on the producer and vintage.

Here is a trio of Bordeaux reds that are drinking superbly right now and won’t break the bank:

Disclosure: samples were kindly provided, opinions remain my own

Château Monteil d’Arsac, Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois 2014 (13.0%, RRP €18.95 at Molloys)

monteil_d_arsac

The Cru Bourgeois label is for the “Best of the Rest”, i.e. those Médoc estates not included in the 1855 classification.  It was introduced in 1932 covering 444 estates, but between 2003 and 2007 it was altered, updated, split, reversed, and finally annulled – phasing in and out of the space-time continuum like transport ships caught in the nexus.  In 2010 a completely new version was published for the 2008 vintage, and it is revised annually based on the quality of the wines submitted.

If drinking this wine makes me bourgeois then that’s all right with me!  It’s quite smooth with oodles of black fruit and tangy red fruit.  There’s also a spicy element then pencil shavings and plums on the finish.  This is an excellent wine for the price, probably the best Bordeaux under €20 I’ve tasted for years!

Château Moulin-BorieListrac-Médoc 2015 (13.5%, RRP €24.95 at Molloys)

moulin_borie

Château Moulin-Borie is owned and run by Bruno-Eugène Borie who is also the proprietor of Saint-Julien’s Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, a Second Growth in the 1855 Classification.  Moulin-Borie is located in the appellation of Listrac-Médoc which is humbler than the big guns of Pauillac and co but is nevertheless capable of producing very good wines.

Despite coming from a ripe year, this is very classic left bank Bordeaux.  it shows lots of black fruit and a touch of vanilla, but also quite savoury, with cedar and black olive notes just starting to appear.  It’s mid weight, not a wine that weighs you down, and very classy.  I would definitely be interested in trying this wine after another five years of maturation – time to buy a few for the cellar I think!

Château Castelbruck Margaux 2014 (13.0%, RRP €32.00 at Molloys)

castelbruck_margaux

Margaux is seen as the most feminine of the big four AOCs and often shows an ethereal quality which eludes the others.  This 2014 is still quite young but very approachable and dangerously drinkable!  It has ripe, juicy blackberry, blackcurrant, black cherry and plum – so ripe that you almost feel like you are biting into actual fruit!  Fine cocoa powder and a touch of pencil shavings are part of a wonderful finish.

It’s sometimes said that Cabernet-based wines are a good match for chocolate and it doesn’t usually do much for me, but in this case a few squares of high cocoa-content black chocolate went down a treat with the wine!  For me, a big glass and a warm fire would be perfection.