Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Plaimont Saint Mont “En La Tradition” Blanc 2016 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #23]

Producteurs Plaimont are a co-operative wine producing organisation based in south western France.  They produce AOC wines from Madiran, Pacherenc and Saint-Mont plus IGP Côtes de Gascogne.  I won’t go into lots of detail on them here as they will feature in a future article in my series on Co-operatives.

Saint-Mont is a small commune of around 300 people in the Gers department, located in the new Occitanie region of south-west France.  Côtes de Saint-Mont was created as a VDQS in 1981, lost the “Côtes de” in 2007 and was then promoted to AOC in 2011 when the VDQS level was eliminated.  The permitted zone of production is around 1,200 hectares reaching across 46 communes.

Both reds and whites are produced here.  Permitted grapes are:
  • Red wines: Tannat (minimum 60%),  Fer Servadou (minimum 20%), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • White wines: Arrufiac, Petit Courbu, Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng

Plaimont Saint Mont “En La Tradition” Blanc 2016 (13.0%, RRP €15.95 – €16.95 at Baggot Street Wines, D4; Honest 2 Goodness, Glasnevin; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Daly’s Drinks, Boyle, Co. Roscommon)

Plaimont Saint Mont En La Tradition Blanc

Either consciously or subconsciously, many wine enthusiasts think of an inverse correlation between quantity and quality, i.e. if there’s a lot of it, it’s not going to be that good.  This wine smashes that theory as it is anything but small production, yet tastes absolutely delicious!  It’s very aromatic on the nose, with fleshy peach, apricot, mandarin and grapefruit on the palate.  Generous fruit sweetness on the mid-palate gives way to mineral notes and a long, fresh finish.  With fruit, texture and acidity this would be a very flexible wine for food matching.

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Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Castello di Ama “Ama” Chianti Classico 2015 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #22]

Great wines have been made around the village of Ama for centuries, but the Castello di Ama winery was only founded in the 1970s by a group of local families who were keen to revive the area’s vinous fortunes.  Over the years they developed a significant range of Chianti wines – including several single vineyard wines that became part of the Gran Selezione classification – plus some IGTs including a Pinot Nero and a Chardonnay.

However, a significant milestone was  in 2010 when parts of each of the four vineyards were planted with new, high quality clones of Sangiovese.  As Sangiovese is prone to mutate quicker than many varieties (as in the case with Pinot Noir), a co-ordinated project within the Chianti Classico region was launched to improve the genetic material in the vineyards.  Of course, this cannot be done in a single go without huge quality and cashflow issues so it is done piecemeal.  Once the new vines were old enough to bear good grapes they were harvested and blended into a new cuvée, simply known as “Ama”.

Vineyard Technical Data (from website):

  • Total vineyard area: 80 hectares (198 acres)
  • Vineyard names: Bellavista, Casuccia, San Lorenzo and Montebuoni
  • Exposure: North-West, South-East
  • Soil: clay and calcareous
  • Altitude: 460-525 metres above sea level.
  • Training system: vertical trellis with single Guyot
  • Vine density: 5,200 vines/ha
  • Clone selections (for “Ama”): Sangiovese: CC2000, CC2004, AGRI45; Merlot: 343; Rootstock: 420

Castello di Ama “Ama” Chianti Classico 2015 (12.5%, RRP €32.95 at Karwig Wines and Mitchell & Son)

Castello di Ama

For me there is a lot of ordinary Chianti around (although this could be said for many well-known regions) and the wines can be quite thin and tannic without any fruit to counterbalance.  Despite 2015 being a warm and excellent year, the indicated alcohol of Ama is only 12.5%, which is a touch lighter than I would have expected both before and after tasting it.

Wine Technical Data (assembled from website):

  • Blend: 96% Sangiovese, 4% Merlot
  • 2015 Harvest dates: 22nd September (Merlot), 5th to 8th October (Sangiovese)
  • Yeasts: Ambient yeasts
  • Fermentation time: 25 days (varieties fermented separately)
  • Malolactic fermentation: Yes, in stainless steel tanks
  • Maturation: After blending, in second-use tight-grained oak casks
  • Bottled: January 2017

This is a smooth, quite powerful and spicy wine which is recognisably Sangiovesi and recognisably Chianti but is quite self-assured.  To have these results from such young vines is a testament to the plan of using new clones, the potential of the site and very accomplished wine-making.  After being disappointed too often this has renewed my love of Chianti!

 

Single Bottle Review

Terrazes Malbec for World Malbec Day [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #21]

There seems to be a wine-related celebration of some sort on virtually every day of the year, but World Malbec Day is definitely one of the most keenly observed by wine aficionados.  Started in 2011 by Wines of Argentina to celebrate the country’s signature grape variety, it has grown each year (always on the 17th of April); last year there were 120 events held in 100 cities across 60 countries.

Terrazas de los Andes was founded as recently as 1996, but there is a long history of  Europeans – especially French and Italians – heading to South America and taking their grape-growing and winemaking expertise with them – and of course their home varieties.  Terrazas is a part of well-known drinks group Moët-Hennessy so remains in French hands, and doing well – it was  the winner of the Argentine Wine Producer of the Year 2018 Trophy at the International Wine & Spirit Competition.

Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions remain my own

Terrazas de los Andes Malbec 2017 (14.0%, RRP €25.70 at independent wine merchants)

Terrazes Malbec 2017 Bottle

There are two important facts about the vines from which this wine was produced:

  1. High Altitude Vineyards – which is important enough to be stated on the front label just below the grape.  There is something of an “arms race” in Argentina to have the highest vineyards.  The Mendoza vineyards are just over a kilometre above sea level!
  2. Old Vines – the age of the plots varies between 20 and 80 years old, giving some concentration to the flavours.

Most Argentinian Malbecs are big, bold, fruity wines that pack an unmistakable punch.  This is no lightweight, but the high altitude has definitely given it some elegance and a (relative) lightness to go with the power.  Plums dominate the palate, with blackberry and vanilla from ageing in French (80%) and American (20%) oak.  There are some fine grained tannins on the finish which give a nice savoury edge.  This would actually be better with the ubiquitous steak than many cheaper commercial style Malbecs, and so it’s definitely worth your consideration – whatever you might be eating on the 17th of Aprl!

Single Bottle Review

Never had Navarra? [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #20]

The Navarra Denominación de Origen (DO) is often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbour Rioja; after all, the latter does extend into the Autonomous Community of Navarre, leaving the southern part for the Navarra DO.  Rosé – well, Rosado more properly – was the style which Navarra became most well known for, but increasingly its reds are gaining in prominence and recognition.

Bodegas Ochoa is currently in the hands of the fifth (Javier Ochoa) and sixth generations (his daughters Adriana and Beatriz), with each generation improving both the quality and diversity of the range.  When I tried the Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva four years ago I was very impressed.  When I recently got the opportunity to try the current release of the Reserva I didn’t have to be asked twice!

Disclosure: sample was kindly provided, opinions remain my own

Ochoa Navarra Tinto Reserva 2010 (13.5%, RRP €20 at Hole in the Wall, Cabra; O’Donovan’s, Cork; Morton’s Ranelagh)

Ochoa reserva

The blend here is very typical of Navarra: Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Maturation is between 15 to 18 months in French and American barriques (225 litre oak barrels) then a further five or so years in bottle before release.

The result is a wine which is simply bursting with ripe fruit!  Even though this wine is eight years old, tasting it is like munching on fresh blackcurrants and blueberries, with a touch of vanilla.  It’s not a jammy fruit bomb, though – it’s very smooth and elegant but complex at the same time.

If you’ve never had Navarra before, this sets the bar very high indeed!

 

Single Bottle Review

The Only Way Is Up! [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #19]

In the search for cooler sites, particularly in these days of noticeable climate change, vignerons have a number of options open to them:

  • Head north: more northerly climates tend to be cooler (note the Champenois taking a keen interest in southern England).
  • The north face: vineyards with a northerly aspect receive less sun than those facing south, making them a little cooler.
  • To the coast: large bodies of water – such as oceans, seas and even lakes – moderate land temperatures – even more so if they help generate a bit of fog.
  • Where the wind blows: even if not that close to the coast, having regular strong winds helps to keep the temperature down, for example in the northern Rhône

Of course, the first two points are reversed for the southern hemisphere!

El Coto 875m Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2017 (12.0%, RRP €18.99 at Vintry Rathgar, DrinkStore Stoneybatter, McHughs Malahide Rd & Kilbarrack Rd, O’Donovans Cork, World Wide Wines Waterford, Sweeney’s, Gibney’s Malahide & Deveneys Dundrum)

Global Image Projects S.L.

In Rioja, the four options above aren’t readily available, so for its new plantings of Chardonnay, major producer El Coto followed a different path: the only way is up (the mountain)!  As highlighted on the label, the vineyard is at 875 metres, the highest point in the whole of Rioja.  The altitude promotes acidity and minerality, while the longer growing season allows some light tropical notes to show through.  The barrels used for fermentation are not toasted (steam is used to bend them into shape instead of a fire) so the oak notes are not overly prominent, with just a touch of vanilla added to the citrus.

This is no Meursault wannabe, it’s far more subtle than that.  Keeping with the Burgundy parallels, I’d say a closer description would be Chablis 1er Cru from a warm vintage – a great effort indeed for a new variety in Rioja!

Rioja

And for those who may remember it, here’s the track I referenced in the article title:

Single Bottle Review

Giorgia on my Mind [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #18]

Giorgia

There’s so much dull Prosecco made that it could probably have its own lake in north east Italy, but a little searching can bring great rewards in terms of both outright quality and interest.  On one hand there are some fantastic Col Fondo Proseccos which are aligned with the natural wine movement and low intervention.  There are also some quality conscious producers – particularly in the DOCG areas of Conegliano, Valdobbiadene and Asolo – who strive for more interesting wines through planting on hillsides, harvesting at low yields and controlling quality.

One of Valdobbiadene’s innovators, Ca’ Salina, has chosen another route for one of its wines, using technology as a way to produce a cleaner wine:

Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions my own

Ca’ Salina Giorgia Vino Spumante Brut 2016 (11.5%, RRP £17.99 from Just Perfect Wines)

Giorgia Brut

Ca’ Salina are located in the heart of the Valdobbiadene DOCG area and have an excellent reputation for quality.  However, this offering does not carry the DOCG label – or even the lesser DOC tag – due to innovative methods used in the production process.

The “Flotation Method” is designed to remove from the juice anything which isn’t directly from the grapes – yeast, bacteria, other fungi and anything else coming in from the vineyard.  Air is mixed into the must using a centrifuge pump which creates billions of tiny bubbles.  Their electrostatic charge attracts the impurities and so the bubbles and detritus all rise to the top as a dark foam over a perfectly clear juice.  This process takes a few hours, after which the foam is removed and selected yeasts are added to begin the second fermentation.

The purity of the must means that for this wine no sulphur is added at any part of the process.  Of course naturally occuring sulphites are still present, as in all wine, but at the very low level of 10 mg/L compared to the legal limit of 210 mg/L.  The dosage is on the light side at 8 g/L, making this a Brut.

And the most important part – the taste!  Firstly, this is unmistakably a sparkling wine from north east Italy, no matter whether it has the DOCG label or not.  Made from 100% Glera (the grape formerly known as Prosecco) is has lovely citrus and pear notes, with just a touch of biscuit and brioche.  The modest dosage allows the refined fruit to come through without being swamped in sugar and leaves a crisp finish.  This is better than pretty much all Prosecco you will find in a supermarket.

I don’t know if this new technique will catch on, but in the hands of a good producer such as Ca’ Salina it can make a very good wine!

Single Bottle Review

Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Fiano 2017 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #17]

Chalk Hill Fiano

Fiano is predominantly grown in southern Italy – Campania and Sicily – and so has risen in prominence with the quality revolution in Italian white wine.  Grapes don’t generally get tried in the New World until they have already been a success in the Old World – and even then it can be a struggle to get noticed alongside the big guns of Cabernet, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  However, it’s now Fiano’s turn to start making a mark down under.

Chalk Hill is a family owned producer in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, now in the capable hands of the sixth generation of the Harvey family.  I tend to think of the Vale as being one of the homes of Italian varieties in Australia – whether that’s just my perception or backed up with more than a grain of truth, I don’t know.

Lithe, with a whole range of citrus fruits on show, with a slight touch of both the vegetal – think mangetout – and the tropical – mangos FTW!  With a very reasonable ABV of 12.0% this is a great summer wine, especially with lime and ginger prawns on the barbie…

I’m already a fan of Mandrarossa’s Sicilian Fiano, but Chalk Hill have moved the game on several leagues with this wine.  I’m going to have to seek out the very top Italian Fianos to see how they match up!

Available by the glass at Ely Wine Bar, Ely Place, Dublin

Champagne, Single Bottle Review

Gustave Lorenz L’Ami des Crustacés [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #16]

The shape of Alsace wine bottles (the “Rhine flute”) is distinctive and can be off-putting to some consumers who (unfairly) associate it with the flabby Liebfraumilch of the ’70s and ’80s, and for some the Gothic script used on the labels is a little intimidating; I like it, but I understand why others wouldn’t.  Here’s an example also from Gustave Lorenz:

Gustave_Lorentz_Riesling_Burg_Bottle

So Gustave Lorenz have taken a slightly different approach for one of their wines – far less emphasis on geographic origin and grape variety, far more emphasis on food matching, and hoping to attract slightly younger drinkers.  Thus we have L’Ami des Crustaces which is probably best translated as “Great with Shellfish” as the literal “Friend of Crustaceans” doesn’t quite fit.

Where you stand on shellfish will be a major indicator of whether you like the label of this wine. Those that like seafood platters piled up with all manner of claws and tentacles and surgical tools to dismember will definitely love it, whereas those with shellfish allergies will probably be put off it.

I’m somewhere in between; I like the food but I prefer it shelled, de-boned and on a plate ready for me!

If you look at the label you can see “Pinot Blanc Classique”, so the variety isn’t being hidden (it’s more of an aside), but neither the producer name nor region are mentioned on the front.

Gustave Lorenz L’Ami des Crustacés Pinot Blanc Classique 2016 (12.5%, RRP ~ €16.50 via Febvre)

Ami des Crustaces

And so on to the most important part (for me), the wine itself.  And it’s marvelous!  It has plenty of texture, in good part due to the majority Auxerrois in the blend (see my post on Alsace blends for further info), and plenty of zippy acidity, so as well as briny seafood such as oysters the wine would actually work well with more flavoured seafood dishes and even poultry.

This wine is new to the Irish market but once available commercially I think I will treat myself to a case for picnics, barbecues and days ending in “y”!

 

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

GrapeCircus Round 3

Finally, a Franciacorta that I love!  As a winelover there are wines that I know I will love before I even taste them, and some that I don’t think I will like, but I try to keep an open mind.  Back in early 2014 I gave myself the task of trying more of a few different wines:

  • Muscadet
  • Cava
  • Prestige Cuvée Champagne
  • Franciacorta

Since then I’ve tried some lovely Muscadet, some excellent Cava and some Champagne that’s absolutely to die for.  I’ve had plenty of Franciacorta that I like, but up until now not one that I love.  Why is this?  I think the fundamental issue is that some Franciacorta producers are trying to make their own version of Champagne, picking the grapes early to preserve acidity and then adding a dosage after disgorgement for balance, but without the cool growing conditions that permit flavours to develop so well.

Arcari + Danesi Franciacorta “Dosaggio Zero” 2013 (12.5%, RRP ~ €55 – €60)

franciacorta dosaggio zero arcari danesi

The alternative is to make the best sparkling wine based on the local conditions.  Arcari + Danesi pick their Chardonnay grapes when they are quite ripe and full of flavour; the resulting richness and moderate acidity negate the need for dosage.

Not only is this sparkler made without additional sugar after disgorgement (hence “Dosaggio Zero“), neither is any used for the second fermentation in bottle.  The apparent contradiction there is because – under the “SoloUva Method” grape juice is used instead of sugar from beet or cane.

After 31 months on the lees there are some lovely autolytic notes, together with tangy tropical fruit.  The finish is dry but not austere.  What a fabulous wine!

 

Single Bottle Review

Wayne Thomas McLaren Vale Dry Riesling 2006 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #15]

Wayne Thomas McLaren Vale Dry Riesling 2006 (12.5%, €18.46 down to €16.61 at Karwig’s)

Disclosure: bottle kindly provided as a sample, opinions my own

When I think of Aussie Riesling I think of Clare Valley, Eden Valley and Great Southern – in that order.  As Australia has a fairly warm climate, higher altitude sites are often best for Riesling as it likes to be fairly cool.

But here’s one from McLaren Vale which is probably best known for its GSM blends.  The grapes are from the sandy Oliver Creek Vineyards of McLaren Flat.  Unfortunately, the winemaker Wayne Thomas passed away around ten years ago so there is no more of this wine being produced; his son is also in the wine business, but making quite different wines up in the Hunter Valley.

On the nose this shows lots of development: petrol and kerosene with a little tropical fruit.  The palate is textured and racy, with chalky, mineral notes and fresh lime and grapefruit.  The back label suggests 3 – 6 years ageing but this is still going very well – and an absolute bargain at the reduced price!