Make Mine A Double, Opinion, Tasting Events

Kiwi Chardonnays [Make Mine a Double #50]

Despite receiving flak from some, Sauvignon Blanc is still the key variety in New Zealand, accounting for 75.8% of the 2019 harvest.  There are three other varieties that lead the chasing pack; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris:

Picture1

As you can see, vintage variations account for a lot of the movement over the ten year period, but there is a definite upward trend in both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, with Chardonnay being fairly stable/stagnant (choose your own descriptor) in quantity.

Whereas Sauvignon Blanc is concentrated in Marlborough, which has the most distinctive style, the varieties above prosper in several NZ regions.  The most adaptable – in my opinion – is Chardonnay, which makes excellent wines in:

  • Auckland – e.g. Kumeu River
  • Gisborne – e.g. Wrights
  • Hawke’s Bay – e.g. Trinity Hill
  • Wairarapa – e.g. Ata Rangi
  • Nelson – e.g. Neudorf
  • Marlborough – e.g. Cloudy Bay
  • Canterbury – e.g. Bell Hill
  • Central Otago – e.g. Felton Road

Below are a couple of Chardonnays that impressed me at the recent “New Zealand in a Glass” tasting in Dublin.  They are both from the Villa Marie group, though different producers and quite different price points.

Vidal Legacy Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018 (13.5%, RRP €35 – €43 at winesoftheworld.ie)

vidal legacy chardonnay

Unlike many New Zealand wineries which were founded by immigrants from the Balkans, Vidal was founded by a Spaniard – Anthony Joseph Vidal – in 1905.  He planted vines in Hastings (Hawke’s Bay, not Sussex) and the winery is still based there today (I actually visited it with my wife in 2009).

The Vidal range has four levels (in order of increasing quality):

  • Estate
  • Reserve
  • Soler
  • Legacy

The two reds in the Legacy range are a Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot blend and a single varietal Syrah, both from the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawke’s Bay.  The sole Legacy white is this Chardonnay, but it stands alone proudly.  Unlike the wine below, quantities were relatively small (33 barriques which would produce less than 10,000 bottles) and from a single region.  Fermentation used wild yeast and took place in a mixture of new (45%) and old French barriques.  Maturation was for 10 months in those barriques (I assume with lees stirring) then a further 2 months in tank to blend the barrels together.

If I said I didn’t want to taste this wine, that might sound like I’m slating it…but I didn’t want to taste it as that would tear me away from its magnificent nose (Lady Gaga, you’ve got nothing on this wine!)  It’s obviously very young indeed, but it has amazing struck-match reductive aromas with rich fruit notes and toasty, tangy oak.  The palate is slightly less impactful as there’s an underlying freshness rather than butteriness, but it’s still fabulous.  For the price, this wine over-delivers.  Interestingly, on Vidal’s own website they offer this 2018 but also a mature release 2011.

Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Chardonnay 2018 (13.0%, RRP €14.99 at SuperValu & Centra stores)

Villa Maria East Coast Chardonnay

If you look at a map of New Zealand’s wine regions then you find the majority of them on the East Coast; the East Coast designation is therefore a useful label for inter-regional blends which doesn’t necessarily mean much in itself.  Without spending hours on the origin of the term, my instinct is that it was brought in to satisfy EU regulations (similar to South Eastern Australia) though happy to be proven wrong.

For this wine the fruit came mainly from the warm climes of Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, with a small dash from Marlborough for extra freshness.  The winemaking decisions were taken on a parcel by parcel basis; for some, indigenous yeast was used while others had cultured yeast; malolactic fermentation was encouraged – followed by bâtonnage – for some parcels while being blocked for others.  For all, fermentation took place “in contact with premium French oak”; given the modest price one might assume that the oak was in the form of chips or staves as there is no mention of actual oak barrels.

After all that, how did the wine turn out?  Very well indeed actually!  This entry level Chardonnay really surprised me as to how appealing it was.  The nose is balanced between pip fruit, stone fruit and oak tones, with a touch of flint and reduction.  There’s a real creamy texture from the lees work and tangy oak on top of the fruit.  It’s ready to drink now but another year or two wouldn’t hurt at all.

 

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Make Mine A Double, Opinion, Tasting Events

Earth Angel – Domaine des Anges [Make Mine a Double #49]

An Englishman, and Irishman and a Frenchman climb up a mountain…and make some great wine!  Domaine des Anges was established on the slopes of Mont Ventoux by English couple Malcolm and Janet Swan in 1973.  At that point grapes were mainly being processed by the local cooperative, so it was a bold venture, but help and advice was surprisingly forthcoming from the famous but less-than-approachable Jacques Rayas of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Swans had variable levels of success, and after 20 or so years they sold the estate to Irishman Gay McGuinness.  He increased investment and hired professional winemakers – fellow Irishman Ciaran Rooney and after a decade Florent Chave.  Quality has continually increased and Domaine des Anges has received a plethora of praise from critics and consumers.

I recently had the opportunity to taste through the Domaine des Anges range thanks to a kind invitation from Boutique Wines, their Irish representative.  The wines were presented by historian and oenophile Giles MacDonogh – a close friend of the proprietors – and whose notes I have cribbed for background information.  While I liked all the wines I tried, two in particular stood out for me: the white and red AOC Ventoux “Archange” wines:

Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Blanc 2016 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)

Domaine des Anges archange Ventoux blanc

Whereas the regular Domaine des Anges Ventoux Blanc is a third each of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Bourboulenc, the Archange is 100% Roussanne – a grape that rarely gets the limelight all to itself.  In fact the winemaking is as much the star of the show here, with techniques very reminiscent of Burgundy.  The wine is aged in small oak barrels, giving notes of toast, toffee and vanilla.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked to preserve freshness, and regular lees stirring gives a wonderful creamy aspect.  The varietal character does come through the middle of all of this as an intriguing peachy tanginess…it’s like Burgundy but with a bit more going on.  The only downside to this wine is that it’s perhaps too good to drink every day – perhaps just save it for the weekend?

Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Rouge 2015 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)

Domaine des Anges archange Ventoux rouge

Although the Rhône Méridional is known for its Grenache-based blends, in the cooler heights of Mont Ventoux Syrah can play a much bigger role.  In this blend it accounts for a full 90% with the balance being Grenache.  As the 14.5% alcohol indicates this is a powerful wine, but it does not have the sweetness of a Barossa Shiraz, for example. There’s a distinct richness, but with smoky notes, black pepper, black fruits and leather, with an altogether savoury finish.  My “go-to” Rhône appellation is Saint-Joseph with its savoury Syrahs, but this Ventoux presents a great alternative – and at a great price.

Conclusion

These two wines are an outstanding pair and really over-deliver for the price tag.  They won’t fade in a hurry, either, so it would be well-worth putting a few (dozen) down to see how they evolve over time.

 

 

And for you film buffs out there, here’s a clip from the film which inspired part of the title of this post:

Opinion

O’Briens Fine Wine Sale 2019

The Irish off-licence chain O’Briens has various promotions on throughout the year, but probably the most eagerly awaited is the annual Fine Wine Sale.  This year it runs from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th December.  Below are the wines I’d be snapping up this year.  Note that I haven’t necessarily tried the vintage stated of each wine, but I have tasted them often enough over the years to comfortably recommend them.

Gaia Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Gaia-Assyrtiko-Wild-Ferment

I have previously written about the 2013 and 2016 vintages of this wine as well as its younger brother Monograph, and tasted it many times in between; it remains one of my favourite “mid-priced” white wines available in Ireland.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough  Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (13.0%, €35.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Cloudy-Bay-Sauvignon-Blanc

An iconic wine at a very reasonable price!  I recently tried the 2017 (which was maturing nicely) and the 2019 which, for such a young wine, was surprisingly settled and ready to go

Julien Brocard Chablis La Boissoneuse 2018 (12.5%, €29.95 down to €25.95 at O’Briens)

Brocard-La-Boissoneuse-Organic

The 2017 vintage was #1 in my Top 10 Whites of 2019 so any reduction in price of this fantastic organic, biodynamic Chablis makes it worth snapping up!

Chanson Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017 (12.5%, €34.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Chanson-Chablis-1er-Cru-Montmains

Chanson has been part of the Bollinger group for two decades and produces consistently good wines.  This Montmains is an excellent Premier Cru and while delicious now, deserves another five years or so before being opened.

Man O’War Waiheke Island Valhalla Chardonnay 2017 (14.5%, €32.95 down to €28.95 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

I wrote about the 2010 vintage (in 2014) the 2011 (in 2016) and the 2016 (earlier this year) and loved them all.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay which will please those who like bold wines – and that includes me.

L’Ostal Cazes Minervois La Livinière Grand Vin 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €20.95 at O’Briens)

L_Ostal-Cazes-Grand-Vin

The JM Cazes family who have long owned Lynch Bages in Bordeaux have spread their interests to the Rhône and Languedoc, amongst other places.  In my not-so-humble-opinion this Minervois La Livinère is the best value wine in their portfolio.

Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2015 (13.5%, €48.00 down to €42.00 at O’Briens)

Ch_teau-Franc-Maillet

The 2014 of this wine was very good, so the even better vintage of 2015 is definitely worth a shout.  This wine is worthy of a place on my Christmas dinner table, so it’s definitely worthy of yours, too!

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 (14.0%, €32.95 down to €23.95 at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Gran-Reserva

If you like Tempranillo-based wines but tend to favour Ribero del Duero, this a Rioja house which can match the black fruited savoury wines from there.  I have previously tried the 2010 Crianza which was great, but a Gran Reserva from 2008 should be even more of a stunner!

d’Arenberg  McLaren Vale Dead Arm Shiraz 2015 (14.6%, €54.95 down to €44.95 at O’Briens)

d_Arenberg-Dead-Arm-Shiraz

While Penfolds Grange prices have rocketed off into the stratosphere, here’s an iconic Aussie wine that is (relatively) more affordable – and approachable at a younger age, too, though if you manage to keep your hands away it will last for a decade or two.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (13.8%, €80 down to €68 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

The (virtual) ink has only just dried on my review of the 2012 vintage of this wine but it’s already included in the fine wine sale.  If you want to treat yourself for Christmas (2019 or 2029) then this is a great bet!

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Dog Point Chardonnay [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #27]

Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc is known throughout the wine drinking world and is the key export variety for New Zealand.  Although Pinot Noir is regarded as the next in line, for me Chardonnay is Aotearoa’s best grape, making excellent examples in nearly every Kiwi wine region.  Acidity is generally quite prominent, even after MLF, as this is mainly a cool climate country.  Here’s a bottle I tried recently with a bit of age on it:

Dog Point Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2012 (13.5%, RRP €36.50 (2016/7 vintages) at Blackrock Cellars, Baggot St Wines, Donnybrook Fair, The Corkscrew, jnwine.com)

Dog Point Chardonnay

I recently did an article on Cloudy Bay and mentioned that the head winemaker for many years was Kevin Judd.  As the company grew they took on more staff in the vineyard, in the winery and back office functions such as marketing.  Two of the winemaking team – Ivan Sutherland and James Healy – eventually decided to branch out and set up by themselves.

With the support of their wives Margaret and Wendy (respectively) they launched their 2002 vintage in early 2004.  They gradually expanded their range and make several different wines, including the excellent and age-worthy Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc (I tried the 2010 in 2014).

Interestingly, when Kevin Judd himself founded Greywacke later the same decade, he got agreement from his old colleagues at Dog Point to use their winery facilities.

At seven and a half years from vintage, this bottle is much older than most you will see around on the shelves in wine merchants; many have the 2016 or even 2017 vintages of the Chardonnay available (I bought this bottle from my old haunt Sweeney’s of Glasnevin which closed this summer.)  It has a very yeasty, toasty nose – possibly because of lees work while maturing.  The funk continues onto the palate where it is joined by soft citrus, pineapple and hints of stone fruit.  Trademark NZ acidity is still present to prevent the wine from being at all flabby.

This 2012 is probably at its peak and ready to decline gently, so I would not keep it for much longer if I had another bottle, but it’s drinking beautifully now.  If you buy a younger vintage, try keeping it a while (if you can keep it well) to see how it evolves.

 

Opinion, Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Spearmint Rhino [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #26]

Cabernet from Napa and Sonoma is a key part of California wine’s reputation – big, bold, ripe, and not for the faint hearted.  Some wines have almost become parodies of the style, with too much oak, too much extraction and too much alcohol.  Thankfully, they aren’t all like that, and balance is becoming more fashionable again.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (14.2%, RRP €80 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

 

The Alexander Valley AVA is part of Sonoma County and was purportedly named after the first man to introduce vines to the area in 1843, Cyrus Alexander.  After prohibition it remained a bulk wine area until the late ’60s when innovative, quality winemaking returned to the area.  For all my talk of balance above, the wines here are still powerful and voluptuous.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the leading black varieties and Chardonnay for white.

Silver Oak was set up in 1972 by business partners Raymond Twomey Duncan and Justin Meyer.  They originally set out to make just top notch Cabernet Sauvignon, matured in American Oak and able to repay decades of cellaring.  Napa Valley Cabernet and this Alexander Valley Cabernet are the twin kings of the winery, with other varieties released under the related Twomey label.

The 2012 vintage of this wine consists of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon with just a 2% splash of Merlot.  Seven years after vintage it is settling down nicely and ready to drink, but should develop for a further 15 years if kept well.  The nose has powerful blackcurrant and red fruit aromas with vanilla from two years in oak.  Cassis is also present on the muscular palate, along with a distinct spearmint streak and cocoa powder.  Fine grained tannins seal the deal.

This is a very well made, enjoyable wine.  It may look expensive without context, but for this quality in the Médoc even more money would be exchanged.  Due to its heft this should be saved for a treat (who drinks €80 bottles on a weekday, anyway?) to be shared with fellow wine lovers.  And what a treat!

Disclaimer: there is no link between this wine and the Spearmint Rhino clubs

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Leyda, you got me on my knees! [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #25]

Chile’s Sauvignon Blancs are probably its vanguard in Ireland and the UK – the first experience that many wine drinkers will have of wines from Chile.  They are widely available in supermarkets, independent merchants and everywhere in between; they offer plenty of bang for the buck and are nearly always inexpensive.  But – and it’s a big but for me* – they don’t often offer elegance or anything out of the ordinary.

However – and that’s an equally big however – of the many wine regions in Chile, one is currently head and shoulders above the others for quality Sauvignon Blanc (and Pinot Noir) – the Leyda Valley.  The shift from Casablanca has really paid off.  Here’s an example I tried recently that hit the spot.

Disclosure: sample was kindly provided for review, but opinions remain my own

Undurraga Sibaris Gran Reserva Leyda Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (13.5%, RRP €13.99 at Reids Off-Licence, Enniscorthy; Fine Wines Group; Martins Off-Licence, Fairview)

Undurraga Sibaris Leyda Sauvignon Blanc

Undurraga is one of the bigger wine companies in Chile but has been in family ownership since it was founded in 1855.  They have 2,500 acres of vineyards in the Maipo and Colchagua valleys (the latter encompasses Leyda).  The winemaker for the Sibaris range is María del Pilar Díaz whose experience includes doing vintages in Marlborough, so she is the perfect person to make Sauvignon Blanc.

On opening, the nose is a mix of tropical and citrus fruits, with a herbal twang.  These notes follow through onto the palate and are fleshed out with some fennel and mineral character.  This is a fresh wine but with some texture.  It would be great as an aperitif or with seafood, but is elegant enough to be enjoyed on its own.  A superior Chilean Sauvignon but still inexpensive.

 

*Yes, I like big buts

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #24]

Now part of New Zealand wine folklore, Cloudy Bay Vineyards was set up at the beginning of the Marlborough gold-rush (grape-rush?) in 1984 by David Hohnen.  Hohnen was no stranger to innovation as he had set up the pioneering Cape Mentelle in Margaret River in 1970.  As he was based in Western Australia, he recruited fellow Australian Kevin Judd to actually make the wines.

Cloudy Bay was one of the main producers which put Marlborough Sauvignon on the world map of wine, and such was demand that it often outstripped supply – it was frequently only available from merchants on allocation.  Over the years as other vineyards were established, Cloudy Bay was able to increase its supply of grapes but also had more competitors in the market.  Perhaps due to the expertise of luxury goods company LVMH who acquired it in 2003, Cloudy Bay has still managed to command a price premium over all its direct competitors.

Although hardly cheap at €35 and upwards in Ireland, the “straight” Sauvignon Blanc is one of the least expensive wines of the Cloudy Bay range.  The other include non-vintage and vintage sparkling Pelorus (which we had served for the toast at our wedding), Pinot Noirs from Marlborough and Central Otago, the excellent Chardonnay and a barrel-fermented wild yeast Sauvignon called Te Koko.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (13.1%, €35 – €42, stockists below)

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (1)

The 2019 vintage was released in Ireland at the beginning of November, so this is a very young wine, but awkward and angular it is not.  It has an unmistakably Marlborough Sauvignon nose with intense citrus and tropical fruits.  They are joined on the palate by juicy grapefruit and gooseberry.  There is plenty of acidity, but it presents as mouthwatering freshness and zip rather than being strong enough to make you wince. There’s a certain roundness and texture which is absent from many other Savvies. Hating on Sauvignon is quite common nowadays, but I think this wine is good enough to win plenty of converts.

Conclusion

Thirty years on, Cloudy Bay is still at the top of the pile – though its price reflects the renown of its brand as much as the quality of the wine.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Gibney’s, Malahide;  Londis, Malahide; Sweeneys D3, Fairview; Martin’s, Fairview; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Redmond’s Ranelagh; Mitchell’s, Glasthule & CHQ; Blackrock Cellars; Donnybrook Fair; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Bradley’s, North Main St, Cork; 1601 Kinsale; Wine Centre, Kilkenny; McCambridge’s, Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford.

Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions remain my own.

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Domaine Lafage whites [Make Mine a Double #48]

The Languedoc-Roussillon wine is often shortened to simply “The Languedoc”, but that does a disservice to Roussillon, the French part of Catalonia which stretches down to the border with Spain.  It does have its stars in the fortified sweet wines of Maury, Rivesaltes and Banyuls, but here we turn our attention to its table wines.

Domaine Lafage are based in Perpignan and produce a large number of different cuvées – white, rosé, red and Vins Doux Naturels.  I’ve enjoyed some of their bottles before, including their Nicolas (made from old vine Grenache Noir) and Côté Est (a blend of Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay and Rolle), but here are two that I tried recently that really impressed me:

Lafage “Centenaire” Côtes du Roussillon AOP 2018 (13.0%, RRP €19.95 at Baggot Street Wines, McHugh’s, Sweeny’s D3, DrinkStore, Redmonds of Ranalagh, Martins of Fairview, The Vintry Rathgar and Blackrock Cellar)

Domaine Lafage Centenaire Blanc

The name of this wine comes from the age of the vines – some of them are a hundred years old with the rest not far behind.  80% is made up by Grenaches Gris and Blanc (the split is not given) and the remaining 20% is Roussanne.  Such old vines have very low yields (30 hl/ha) but give intense concentration of flavour.  30% of the blend is aged in new French oak for 4 months, with bâtonnage.

Being mainly Grenache the Centenaire has a broad palate, rich but dry and herby.  This might sound something of a contradiction, but the spicy pear and quince fruit comes in the attack and mid palate with the finish being crisp and dry.  In terms of style it is not dissimilar to a southern Rhône white, but crisper on the finish than most.

Lafage Cadireta Côtes Catalanes IGP 2018 (13.0%, RRP €19.95 at Baggot Street Wines, McHugh’s, Sweeny’s D3, DrinkStore, Redmonds of Ranalagh, Martins of Fairview, The Vintry Rathgar and Blackrock Cellar)

Domaine Lafage Cadireta Blanc

The Cadireta name is of a specific climat which has deep, rocky soils.  Vines are a mixture of trellised and bush vines, planted in an east-west orientation to preserve acidity as much as possible.  The grapes are harvested in the (relative) cool of night, a practice common in Australia.  30% of the wine is fermented and matured in new Burgundian oak barrels, similar to the Centenaire, with 70% cool fermented in stainless steel.  Only 8% of the final blend goes through malolactic fermentation, adding a touch of roundness.

Now for the unusual feature of this wine: the grapes harvested are 100% Chardonnay but they are matured on Viognier lees – something which is quite innovative and adds a real depth of flavour.  Melon and red apple from the Chardonnay and vanilla from the oak are joined by apricot, peach and floral notes from the Viognier.  It’s a lusciously peachy wine yet remarkably fresh and crisp.  This much flavour and interest yet perfectly in balance make for a wine worthy of much praise.

Conclusion

These are both very good wines and excellent value for money.  For drinking on their own my marked preference is for the Cadireta – and I’m not alone as it has just won the White Wine of the Year at the Irish Wine Show!  With food, I think that the Centenaire would be a little more versatile…so perhaps a bottle glass of each!

 

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Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Domaine Thomas Sancerre [Make Mine a Double 47]

The compare and contrast idea behind Make Mine a Double is really honed in this review: two wines made from the same grape in the same region by the same producer…just grown in plots with different soil types.

Domaine Thomas is now in the hands of Julien and his partner Justine, but still with advice from his father Jean.  The Domaine traces its origins back to the 17th century and Julien is keen to preserve this heritage, but with his own take on making wines in a fairly natural and biodynamic way.

Here are two Sancerre Blancs from Domaine Thomas which offer a real taste of their terroir:

Domaine Thomas Sancerre Le Perrier 2017 (12.5%, RRP €24.95 at Searsons)

Le-Pierrier-Sancerre Domaine Thomas

Pierrier” translates as “scree”, a collection of broken rock fragments that have usually accumulated over time from rockfalls.  The soil is limestone and of course the grapes are 100% Sauvignon Blanc.  There’s a lot said about minerality in wines these days, even if the mechanism for grapes developing a mineral taste is not well understood, but this wine is very mineral and fresh indeed.  There is fruit as well, with grapefruit and green apple; although these are green fruit and there are no exuberant tropical notes, this is not an under-ripe wine in any respect.  The finish is longer than The Blue Room by The Orb – this is a seriously good wine.

Domaine Thomas Sancerre “Grand’Chaille” 2016 (12.5%, RRP €27.95 at Searsons)

Grande-Chaille-Sancerre

The Grand’Chaille vineyard is a mixture of clay and silex; clay is known for adding power to wines and so it proves here.  The wine is much rounder in the mouth than Le Pierrier, with fruit more to the fore: lemon, lime, grapefruit and gooseberry.  Yes, there are still mineral notes but this is a more generous wine.  Whereas Le Pierrier would be perfect for oysters and other shellfish, this cuvée could handle stronger fare such as goat’s cheese tart and similar dishes.  Personally, I’ll pass on the cheese and take the wine!

Conclusion

As you may have gathered from my notes above, these wines are both excellent but have a different profile and focus.  I defy anyone to taste them back to back and say that terroir does not matter.  In terms of preference, it really comes down to the context, and in particular if they are being taken with food.  Le Pierrier is perhaps a greater wine in my eyes but Grand’Chaille is more accessible.

 

 

 


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Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Attractive Opposites [Make Mine a Double #46]

Despite its fall out of fashion with the Sauvignon [Blanc] and Pinot [Grigio] set, Chardonnay remains one of the great grape varieties of the world.  It is beloved of winemakers who love to use their skills to craft something beautiful, yet it is also a transparent grape when the winemaker lets the terroir do the talking.

Here are a tasty pair of Chardies made in very differerent styles from opposite ends of the earth, northern Burgundy and northern New Zealand.

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

Jean-Marc Brocard Petit Chablis 2018 (12.5%, €22.95 down to €17.95 until 1st Sept 2019 at O’Briens stores)

Jean Marc Brocard Petit Chablis

Regular readers may remember that Julien Brocard’s Chablis La Boissoneuse was the Frankly Wines Top White of 2019; when Julien joined the family firm he was allowed to treat that vineyard as a special project and hence it has his name on.  Even though he now runs the whole firm he has left all the other wines as Jean-Marc Brocard, including this organic Petit Chablis.

AOC Petit Chablis is for Chardonnay made from vineyards around Chablis which have Portlandian soil compared to the Kimmeridgian soil of Chablis and its Crus.  This is treated in more detail in Rosemary George MW’s excellent Third Edition of The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois (review in the pipeline) but the difference is not huge.

It may not have the status of a Chablis proper but deserves respect in its own right.  If well made (an important qualifier), Petit Chablis is an attractive, unoaked and fruit-driven wine, and that’s exactly what we have here.  It’s a fresh, zippy wine but smooth at the same time.  It offers lemon, lime and grapefruit notes with a hint of exotic fruit.  Definitely recommended!

Man O’War Valhalla Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, €32.95 down to €29.95 until 1st Sept 2019 at O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie)

Man O War Valhalla Chardonnay

And now to another hemisphere, a country more famous for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but where Chardonnay makes compelling wines in pretty much every region: New Zealand.  The Man O’War winery is based on the eastern coast of Waiheke Island, which is close to Auckland.  The legend is that:

It was along this coastline that Captain James Cook came to anchor during his first voyage around the islands of New Zealand in 1769. Upon sighting the ancient stands of magnificent Kauri trees ashore, Cook noted in his journals that they would make ideal masts for the Man O’ War warships of the Royal Navy. Thus the name Man O’ War was bestowed upon this unique land.

Valhalla is a premium Chardonnay in the Man O’War range, made from selected barrels which house grapes from hilltop volcanic vineyards (giving finesse) and some on sheltered clay slopes (which give power).

The grapes are hand harvested and pressed in whole bunches before undergoing a wild yeast fermentation without temperature control.  After alcoholic fermentation, malolactic fermentation is blocked to preserve freshness.  Maturation takes place in a mix of new and used French oak puncheons – for 2016 this was 36% new and 64% seasoned.

While many wine drinkers expect new world wines to be very similar from year to year, most of New Zealand does experience vintage variation.  Just as in Europe, the key is to make the best possible wine each year given the raw materials that nature provides.  The alcohol on this wine proves the point: for 2016 it is 13.5% but has been a whole point higher in other years.

It pours quite golden in the glass which gives a good clue as to what you’re getting into.  The powerful nose has ripe citrus and pineapple cubes, and there’s no doubt that oak has played a part.  The citrus is joined by fleshier fruit on the palate, but still balanced by a streak of acidity.  The decision to block malo means there is no butteriness, and while I like that in some wines it would be overpowering and out of place here.  At around three and a half years from harvest this 2016 is absolutely singing, but would be enjoyable for several more years to come.  Truly a wine fit for a feast with the gods!

 

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