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
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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

 

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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.

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Song For Whoever [Make Mine a Double #39]

The Beautiful South’s debut single was released almost 30 years ago and has been a subversive classic ever since.

Oh Shirley, oh Deborah, oh Julie, oh Jane
I wrote so many songs about you
I forget your name, I forget your name
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I forget your name
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I forget your name

It recently came to mind when I was tasting some Italian wines from the Fontanafredda (Freddie) group – their Gavi (Gavin) and Raimonda (Raymond) Barbera (Barbara) d’Alba!

Raymond, Freddie, Barbara and Gavin aren’t subversive, however; they are easy drinking wines that serve as a great introduction to their regions if you aren’t already familiar with them.  Rather than “Wine For Whoever”, their song is “Wine For Everyone”!

Fontanafredda Gavi 2017 (12.0%, RRP €15 at Martins Off Licence, Hole In The Wall & Jerry’s In Skerries)

Fontanafredda Gavi

Gavi is a Piedmontese white wine of some renown, hailing from the Province of Alessandria which has the Commune of Gavi at its heart.  Made from 100% Cortese, the speciality grape of the area, it’s a very flexible and appealing wine; soft fruity flavours with some body and enough acidity to remain fresh without removing the enamel from your teeth.  Locally it is paired with seafood, but it would also be a great aperitif or a simple sipper with good company.

Fontanafredda also make a Gavi di Gavi which has increased concentration, slightly higher alcohol (12.5%) and a heftier price tag (€25).

Fontanafredda Raimondo Barbera d’Alba 2017 (13.5%, RRP €18 at Martins Off Licence, Hole In The Wall & Jerry’s In Skerries)

 

Fontanafredda Raimondo Barbera dAlba

Barbera is the unsung hero of Piedmont, making some great wines in Alba, Asti and especially Nizza, the new Barbera-only DOCG.  Far more approachable than Nebbiolo in its youth, this is what Barolo producers drink at home.  The Fontanafredda Barbera d’Alba shows red fruit and lots of dark spice on the nose.  It’s soft and supple on the palate, with redcurrant and cranberry surrounded by blackberry and hints of tapenade – fruity and savoury at the same time.

 

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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!

 

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

 

 

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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Make Mine A Double, Opinion

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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