Make Mine A Double, Opinion

A Tale of Two Châteaux [Make Mine a Double #38]

chateau-de-sancerre-630x417

Does the word “Château” as part of a wine name impress you or leave you indifferent? Here are a couple of excellent Château-monikered wines from regions which are not synonymous with that word on the label:

Château de Sancerre 2016 (13.0%, RRP ~ €28 at independent wine merchants)

chateau de sancerre bottle

The Loire Valley is probably home to the most celebrated châteaux in the country, if not Europe as a succession of French kings tried to outdo each other in their weekend retreats.  To my shame I became very bored of the them and didn’t even try the local wine on my last holiday there – but in fairness I was only ten years old.

As experienced wine drinkers we try to discipline ourselves not to judge books by their covers, but we can at least admire beautiful covers like this one.  Thankfully, the contents live up to the label’s promise.  it has typical Sauvignon Blanc freshness, but isn’t hollow, like some Sancerres.  It has a touch of richness and body which elevate it above the hoi polloi – to be honest you would expect refinement in this price bracket but you don’t always get it.  Regular readers will know that cheese isn’t my thang, but the classical match of Sancerre with goat’s cheese would work well, or alternatively a lightly spiced stir fry.

Chateau discussion

Château d’Orschwihr Alsace Pinot Gris Bollenberg 2010 (14.6%, 9 g/L RS, RRP €20.95 (2014 vintage) at Karwig Wines)

Pinot Gris Bollenbeg

A quick flick at any tourist guide will tell you that there are lots of châteaux in Alsace.  However, unlike the palaces of the Loire, many were functioning fortified castles – and bear the scars of countless battles.  This is the only one I know of which is a wine producing entity in Alsace – and it’s a beauty.  The Château d’Orschwihr make some excellent Grand Cru wines (watch this space) but this particular bottle is from the lieu-dit of Bollenberg – perhaps a future Alsace Premier Cru?

Both the 2010 and 2014 were tried at a DNS Wineclub tasting earlier this year and the differences were an excellent illustration of how wines can change from year to year – vintage variation.  Age itself is a factor, of course, but the particularities of each vintage and how the producer adapts to them in the vineyard and the winery are part of what makes wine so interesting.  2010 was a very warm year and so the grapes had lots of sugar at harvest time – much was turned into alcohol (14.6%!) but a little was left as residual sugar (9 g/L).  The resulting wine is rich but not flabby – the alcohol doesn’t stand out and the slightly off dry finish is the perfect compliment to the ginger, pear and honey notes.  Cries out for Thai!

 

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Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Super Value Whites from SuperValu [Make Mine a Double #37]

Irish supermarket chain SuperValu is probably the best in the country when it comes to wine.  There won’t always be the oddities that you’d find in an independent wine merchant but for good wines at good prices it’s hard to beat.

The current SuperValu wine sale runs from Thursday 6th to Wednesday 26th September and includes some customer favourites at 3 for €25, plus the Duo des Mers Sauvignon Viognier which I reviewed in June down from €11.99 to €9.00 in the sale.

Here are another couple of whites which I highly recommend:

Disclosure: samples kindly provided for review, opinions remain my own

Guy Saget Sancerre 2016 (13.0%, €22.99 down to €15.00 at SuperValu)

Guy Saget Sancerre

This is textbook Loire Sauvignon – reminding us why it became popular here in the first place – and definitely a fruit forward style of Sancerre.  There’s lots of grapefruit and gooseberry, giving both lip-smacking tartness and fruit sweetness at the same time.

The back label suggests the usual food pairing of goat’s cheese and seafood, but interestingly also tandoori chicken skewers (where the aromatics and fruit sweetness balance the spices and chili) and sushi & sashimi (where the acidity and clean finish come to the fore, but the fruit sweetness can also counterbalance the heat of wasabi).

For the avoidance of doubt, this wine is also great on its own!

André Goichot Mâcon-Lugny 2016 (13.0%, €14.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Goichot Macon Lugny

Wines from Burgundy-proper’s most southerly region, the Mâconnais, are often great value as they don’t have the prestige of the big guns from the Côte d’Or.  There’s a local hierarchy that’s handy to know if you’re navigating the area:

  1. The “Crus” – Pouilly-Fuissé, Pouilly-Loché, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Saint-Véran, Viré-Clessé.
  2. Mâcon + Village name: over 20 villages can add their name, many for red, white or rosé, some for just white and one for just red or rosé.
  3. Mâcon.
  4. Regional Burgundy Appellations: Bourgogne, Bourgogne Aligoté, Coteaux Bourguignons, Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains, Crémant de Bourgogne, Bourgogne Mousseux.

Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran are probably the most celebrated of the “Crus” (a term I have appropriated from Beaujolais), but there are plenty of very good wines elsewhere in the hierarchy.  As always in Burgundy, the producer is very important.

This Mâcon-Lugny from the very consistent André Goichot is a winner, even at the usual price of €15.  100% Chardonnay, there’s lifted citrus on the nose which continues on to the palate, but then broadens out into melon and peach.  The texture and body of the wine – despite not being oaked at all – differentiate it from the more linear Chardonnays of Chablis.  There’s a clean, crisp finish to round it off.

 

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A Pair to Stock Up On! [Make Mine a Double #36]

Ahead of the O’Briens Wines annual wine sale (30th Aug to 23rd Sept) I’ve taken the opportunity to check in with a couple of my favourites from their range.

Astrolabe Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €22.45 down to €16.95 at O’Briens)

Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc

The Awatere Valley and regular Province Sauvignon Blancs from Astrolabe have been firm favourites of mine for close to a decade now.  The Province is a great all-rounder while the Awatere is more subtle, refined and food friendly.

I’m not one of those Marlborough Savvy haterz, but one of the downsides to such an aromatic and expressive wine is that it can overpower any delicate dishes it is paired with.  Awatere is the answer!  Instead of the typical tropical fruit notes we are greeted instead by light citrus, flowers and herbs.  It’s recognisably Marlborough but doesn’t have the usual overt fruitiness which is often perceived as sweetness – even if the wine is actually dry.  Treat yourself to an elegant Sauvignon!

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

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment

This is another perennial favourite of mine from – in my not so humble opinion – the best white wine region in Greece, Santorini – which happens to be a collapsed volcanic caldera in the Aegean.  Assyrtiko is the king of grapes here, and Gaia do a straight up version called Monograph which is a great introduction to the variety (and is a total steal at the current price of €11.95).

However, the Wild Ferment is on another level entirely.  A quick sniff after opening is enough for the wine to start showing its colours – fermentation with indigenous yeast gives it a wonderfully funky and exotic nose (not dissimilar from Kevin Judd’s Greywacke Wild Sauvignon).  This continues onto the palate where it’s joined by fresh lime and lemon.  This is a wine that deserves a BIG glass for extended swirling, or even decanting for half an hour before serving.  Perfect with mushroom risotto.

 

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Indian Wines for an Indian Summer? [Make Mine a Double #35]

Akluj

Ten years ago my (now) wife took me to India, specifically Kerala in the far south. After finding that a few of the hotels on our itinerary were Muslim-owned – and therefore dry – it was a pleasant surprise to be given a bottle of Indian wine by the local representative of the tour operator. It wasn’t fine wine, but it was drinkable. A decade on, Indian wine is being taken more seriously, so I jumped at the chance to try these wines which are being imported into Ireland by Liberty Wines.

M/S is a joint venture between Fratelli owners Kapil and Gaurav Sekhri and Italian Piero Masi and Englishman Steven Spurrier. They were obviously unable to use their initials joined by an ampersand as retailer Marks & Spencer already have that moniker, and simply reversing the order could have led to all sorts of misunderstandings…

Among Piero Masi’s former roles, the acclaimed producer Isole e Olena stands out. Steven Spurrier is probably best known as a writer and former merchant, but also has his own Bride Valley vineyard in Dorset and founded the Wine Society of India

Akluj in Maharashtra
Approx location of Akluj within Maharashtra (credit: Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa))

I wonder what a wine map of India will look like in another decade or two…

M/S Akluj Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_WHITE NV FS

The challenges of making a wine in a sub tropical climate are countered through planting at altitude and blocking malolactic fermentation – of course it could be argued that adding 20% Sauvignon Blanc also helps.

It’s unusual to find these two grapes blended together, either in their home country of France or in the new world countries where they have also prospered – but perhaps the key here is the Italian influences on the wine, as Chardonnay / Sauvignon Blanc blends can be found in northern Italy – viticultural colonists from Napoleonic times.

As well as avoiding MLF the winemakers also eschew oak barrels, though there’s an overt tanginess which I suspect comes from some lees work. In fact, if this is tasted straight from a domestic fridge the tanginess ramps up to tartness – pour it into a big glass and swirl away, or even decant the bottle if you can, and the wine really opens up. There’s a refreshing fizziness on the tongue from the acidity, with lemon and quince flavours to the fore.

M/S Akluj Sangiovese / Cabernet Franc / Shiraz 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_RED NV FS.jpg

If Italian influences on the white had to be deduced then they are writ large on the M/S red – the champion black grape of Tuscany is still very much linked to that region.

The Sangiovesi is present from the attack to the finish, with notes of leather, tobacco and smoke. It’s soon joined by juicy blackberry and plum from the Shiraz, followed by blackcurrant and a touch of green pepper from the Cab Franc. Then the Sangiovesi has the finish to itself. There’s plenty of acidity and tannin – no fruit bomb here – so medium rare rib eye steak straight off the barbie would be just perfect!

Given the paucity of Indian wines available in this part of the world I don’t have any others to compare this pair to, but they seem quite Italian in sensibility to me – which is no bad thing! Both are worth a try, with the red shading the white in my view.

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Magic from Marsannay [Make Mine a Double #34]

Sylvain Pataille trained as an Oenologist in Bordeaux but applies his knowledge and skills in his beloved Marsannay, both on his own rented vineyards and as a consultant to a dozen or so other producers.  His vines are in conversion to Biodynamic and yields are low, so his wines are a rare sight!  Here are two of his whites that I tried and loved:

Sylvain Pataille Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €30 at Baggot Street Wines)

Pataille Aligote

The second coming of Aligoté continues unabated.  So long relegated to the lowly fate of a house carafe (and usually unnamed at that) or even more demeaningly with crème de cassis as a Kir, when treated with respect Aligoté can produce quality, interesting wines.  Sylvain Pataille makes this one that is clean as a whistle but has a wonderful herby and smoky nose. The palate is fantastically mineral and fresh with a lot of character.  Drink as an aperitif, with shellfish and smoked salmon, or just as a vin de plaisir.

 

Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP ~ €52 but mainly available in upscale restaurants)

Pataille Marsannay Blanc

Although this wine is hardly “cheap”, Marsannay is one of the Burgundy appellations where value is to be found, an increasingly rare phenomenon. Everything’s relative, of course, but this wine is seriously impressive at the price.  Pataille takes a hands off approach; the vineyards are organic, he follows Biodynamic methods and sulphur is only added (very lightly) at bottling.

This cuvée is a blend from five separate  Marsannay parcels which are lightly pressed and fermented, then mature in oak for 18 months.  Only a third of the oak is new, and even then it’s not overt on the palate; it does add to the body and texture of the wine. There’s a very pleasant spiced pear aspect and a bracing, zippy lemon finish.  Proper white Burgundy!

 

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Monsoon in the Sahara [Make Mine a Double #33]

The Muscat family of grapes is one of the oldest known extant grape families, and has made a home all the way round the Mediterranean and beyond.  Muscat wines come in a variety of styles, from bone dry through to very sweet, from light in alcohol to fortified, from subtle to all-guns-blazingly aromatic. n In the end, whatever their style, most are recognisable as the grapey grape, Muscat!

Here are two very different expression from Top Selection’s portfolio, one very dry (the “Sahara”) and the other quite opposite (the “monsoon”!)

Terra Tangra Thracian Mountain Wine Tamianka 2016 (12.5%, RRP £14.77 from Top Selection)

Tamianka

Tamianka is regarded as a Muscat-like indigenous variety in its home of Bulgaria, but a little digging through Wine Grapes (Robinson, Vouillamoz, Harding) reveals that Tamyanka (and various alternative spellings) is a synonym for Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, and so it truly is Muscat!

This is a rather aromatic wine, with lots of grape and floral notes on the nose.  The palate shows citrus – particularly grapefruit – and a distinct chalkiness.  It’s pithy, with only a little weight, but a lot of texture.  This is more of a food wine than a sipping wine.

Top Selection recommend pairing it “with white meats with a bit of spice heat – for example, spicy marinated chicken served on a bed of black Thai rice and bok choi.”

 

Cereto Santo Stefano Moscato d’Asti 2015 (5.5%, RRP £13.92 (375ml) from Top Selection)

ceretto moscato dasti

There are three main ways to make sweet Muscat:

  1. Pick the grapes late, i.e. a late harvest style, so the grapes have more sugar when picked;
  2. Fortify the wine before fermentation has finished, thereby killing the yeast and leaving plenty of sugar unfermented (like the Vin Doux Naturel style);
  3. Stop fermentation early by chilling, without the addition of grape spirit, so the resulting wine is sweet and fairly low in alcohol.

Moscato d’Asti goes for the third route, with some bubbles for good measure!  “Moscato” is now a popular style in Australia and the US due to its eminent drinkability, but Italy still produces the best examples.  This example from Ceretto is sweet but not sickly, lithe, alert, aromatic, heady and refined….just bloody gorgeous!!

The folks at Top Selection recommend partnering Ceretto Moscato d’Asti with Ceretto’s own Panettone – or alternatively a fresh fruit-based dessert.

 

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The sheep’s dangly bits! [Make Mine a Double #32]

I don’t know if its use is common outside the UK and Ireland, but the phrase “that’s the dog’s bollocks” is for some reason very high praise – as opposed to “that’s bollocks” which means that something is nonsense or useless.  So, when doing a bit of research into the Bocksbeutel of Franconia (Franken) I found that one of the purported origins of the name is due to the bottle’s resemblance to a ram’s scrotum (read more here) – who’d have thought it?  The bottle shape is protected under EU regulations, though is probably better known in these parts for Portuguese rosé.

Anyway, onto the wines – a pair of aromatic whites from Horst Sauer

disclosure: samples were kindly provided for review, opinions are my own

Horst Sauer Esherndorfer Lump Riesling Trocken 2016 (12.0%, RRP €23.60 at Karwig Wines, Carrigaline and karwigwines.ie)

 

Horst Sauer Escherndorfer Riesling Trocken 2

Even though Franken is better known for its Silvaner (it’s the best region in Germany for Silvaner) of course there’s great Riesling grown here as well.  Classed as a Trocken, this is definitely dry, though far from austere – I’m pretty sure there are a few grams of residual sugar balancing the fresh acidity.  There’s plenty of ripe fruit and minerality; it’s a well balanced and delicious wine with all its elements in perfect tension.

Horst Sauer Esherndorfer Silvaner Trocken 2016 (11.5%, RRP €20.90 at Karwig Wines, Carrigaline and karwigwines.ie)

Horst Sauer Escherndorfer Silvaner Trocken 2

So here we have Silvaner (with an “i”) rather than Sylvaner (with a “y”) as in Alsace, but it’s just the same grape.  I have previously described the grape as having characteristics in between Pinot Blanc and Riesling, but the additional minerality of this Horst Sauer Silvaner also brought to mind some aspects of Burgundy’s white grapes:

Silvaner (1)

Of course this is my personal interpretation but I’d be interested to hear other people’s take.  It’s a fairly subtle wine but it really grows on you.  With clean, fresh notes it makes a great aperitif or as a match for salads, fish and shellfish.

So which is the better wine?  I really enjoyed both, but, although the Silvaner is one of the best I’ve tried, I narrowly preferred the extra intensity of the Riesling.  Try them both and see which you prefer!

 

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A Pair of Old Friends [Make Mine a Double #31]

While very privileged to regularly taste new wines that expand the boundaries of my wine knowledge, it’s also nice once in a while to pop the cork on an old favourite; pleasure can come from familiarity as well as discovery.  Here are two old friends of mine:

 

Loosen Dr L Riesling 2015 (8.5%, €14.00 at Morton’s Ranelagh, Jus de Vine Portmarknock, Nolan’s Clontarf)

Dr L Mosel Riesling 2015

Ernst Loosen is one of the bigger producers in Germany’s Mosel, a strong candidate for the best place in the world to make Riesling.  He makes a wide range of wines from different vineyards, up to and including Grosses Gëwachs.  The Dr L wines are blends from different sites designed to make an approachable, everyday style.  There is a dry version but this is the off-dry to medium one with only 8.5% and a fair bit of residual sugar (43.2 g/L).  Of course there’s plenty of acidity in the wine’s backbone so the sweetness enhances the racy lime and lemon fruit rather than being just sugary.  The perfect introduction to Mosel Riesling!

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Peter Lehmann Clancy’s Barossa Red Blend 2013 (14.5%, €12.99 at Londis Malahide, Morton’s Ranelagh, O’ Donoghues O/L Cork, The Drink Store Manor Street, Nolan’s Clontarf)

Peter Lehmann Clancy's Barossa Red Blend 2013

I’m a long-time admirer of Peter Lehmann wines as their varietal Barossa range were a treat for me when I got into Aussie wine in the mid to late 90s.  More recently I’ve been lucky to taste the premium wines in the range, but this entry level red blend is still an enjoyable pour.   The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot – all from the Barossa Valley, and the relative proportions I’m sure change depending on the vintage.

While Cabernet is a slight favourite of mine ahead of Shiraz, the later does a good job of filling the hole in the mid palate which Cab can sometimes have (it’s not called the “doughnut grape” for nothing!)  There’s lots of juicy blackcurrant and blackberry with spice and a mocha finish.  This is a very appealing wine with a price that means you wouldn’t mind sharing it with “red wine drinkers” (people who say they love red wine but can’t name more than a handful!)

Read more

 

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

 

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Classy Cava [Make Mine a Double #30]

Cava has an image problem.  The vast majority of bottles sort in the UK and Ireland are mass-produced, by-the-numbers plonk.  Even though it’s made by the more expensive – and generally higher quality – traditional method, Cava is generally seen as being in the same “party-drink” class as Prosecco.  To be honest, neither cheap Prosecco nor cheap Cava float my boat.

Serious Cava is getting some serious attention at the moment thanks to the Cava de Paraje single vineyard classifications, and hopefully that will be extended and filter down in time.  Until then, the mid market seems to be somewhat neglected – where is the good Cava that doesn’t cost the earth?

Here are a couple I tried recently which are well worth trying:

Perelada Cava Brut Reserva NV (11.5%, 8.0g/L RS, RRP €20 at The Corkscrew , Jus de Vine, The Hole in the Wall)

Perelada_Brut Reserva 2

Perhaps any Catalan-speaking readers might be able to tell me if the similarity in spelling between the town of Perelada (near Girona) and the Cava grape Parellada is linked or just a coincidence?  This is a blend of the three traditional Cava varieties, being 45% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeu and 25% Parellada.  The second fermentation in bottle is for 15 months which is the minimum for non vintage Champagne but significantly longer than the nine month minimum for non vintage Cava.

This is quite a fresh style of Cava, with a fairly low 8g/L of residual sugar.  There’s a little influence from the time on the lees but it’s much more about the tangy apple and citrus fruit.

Disclosure: this bottle was kindly given as a sample

 

Llopart Cava Brut Reserva 2014 (11.5%, 8.0g/L RS, RRP €30 at The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son, Redmonds)

Llopart

This is producer Llopart’s standard bottle and is actually fairly similar to the Perelada above in terms of residual sugar and blend – it consists of 40% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeu and 30% Parellada.  The time on lees is given as 18 months minimum but, to my palate, this has spent quite a bit more than the minimum; it has lots of biscuity notes which are generally the sign of a good Champagne.  This is a classy Cava which would be a better choice than many Champagnes!

 

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

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

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

2016-08-14 17.08.57

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

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

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

Vinos_de_la_Tierra_de_España
Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

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

Vinos_DO_de_España
Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

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

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

2016-08-13 23.23.37

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

WONZ-regional-map-white
Credit: Wines Of New Zealand

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

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

 

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

 

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