Tasting Events

Fruit and Balance [Alsace Vault Vol. 1]

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Françoise Gilley (L) & Agathe Bursin (R)

Last year, thanks to the generosity of Françoise and Seán Gilley of Terroirs in Donnybrook, Dublin, I had the opportunity to meet one of the young stars of Alsace wine, Agathe Bursin.  And not only meet her, but to have her guide us through a tasting of her wines and then try the wines with the excellent food of Forest Avenue.

Like many people in Alsace, Agathe Bursin had a connection to winemaking when she grew up, although not directly from her parents like some.  In her small infant school she was the only girl along with four boys; that is, four boys who all wanted to be a tractor driver on their family’s vineyards, so it was only natural for the young Agathe to dream of this as well.

Secondly, while her family had been selling their grapes to the local cooperative since 1956, her grandfather did make some small amount of wine for family consumption – and Agathe was fascinated by the equipment and the process.

Fast forward several years to 2000, and she graduated in Oenology, but when her first wines were made back home in accordance with her textbooks, they didn’t feel like her wines at all.  She learnt from this minor setback and took an entirely new approach; stripped back and providing a gentle hand of direction only when required.

Since then she has followed organic and biodynamic practices (though has not sought certification) including the use of herbal teas in the vineyard and only indigenous yeast for fermentation.  Interestingly, it is the yeast present in the cellar rather than the vineyard that usually win the biochemical war that is fermentation.  She neither encourages nor discourages malolactic fermentation, it is simply permitted to happen if it happens.  Thankfully though, it usually happens spontaneously in the red wines and not in the whites.

Agathe’s Domaine now totals around 5.5 hectares, split over the Grand Cru Zinnkoepflé and the Lieux-dits Bollenberg, Dirstelberg, Strangenberg, all around her home village of Westhalten.  The split of varieties is: 5% Muscat, 15% Pinot Gris, 20% Riesling, 20% Gewurztraminer and 20% Sylvaner.  Some of the vines are co-planted – more on which later.

Here are my tasting notes on the wines, with the rider that je ne crache pas les blancs….

mdePinot Noir Strangenberg 2015 is from grapes grown on marl and limestone soil.  The grapes are hand picked then partially de-stemmed (40% – 60% depending on the vintage).  There is no cold soak; fermentation begins in stainless steel tanks with eight days of maceration (longer would lead to the wine being too vegetal) before being transferred into used 228 litre pièces to complete the two months of fermentation.  Maturation is for 20 months.  This Pinot Noir shows bright red and black cherry fruit; it’s a smooth wine that has taken a touch of weight and roundness from its time in oak but very little obvious flavour.

Dirstelberg Riesling 2016.jpgRiesling Dirstelberg 2016 is grown on the highest vineyard in Alsace at 500 metres above sea-level.  The soil is red sandstone, sheltered from the wind but still cool (which Riesling prefers).  The vines are trained as Double Guyot which tends to give small berries.  According to Agathe, with age these wines take on chalky, mineral characters rather than diesel.  At this young age it is racy, nervous and tangy, full of fresh citrus – lime lemon and grapefruit – and orange blossom.

mdePinot Blanc Parad’Aux 2016 is a blend of Pinot Blanc and its close relation Auxerrois.  The former has high acidity (which is why it is so popular in Crémant d’Alsace) whereas the latter is quite floral and has moderate acidity.  The two varieties are co-fermented and the local yeast naturally leaves a little bit of residual sugar (6 g/L) which comes across as roundness rather than sweetness (Agathe believes her indigenous yeast are “quite lazy”).  Soft stone fruits are the order of the day here, with a touch of peach, apricot and nectarine.

mdeL’As de B 2016 is a proper field blend, where the different varieties are all planted in the same plot, are harvested and then vinified together.  Bizarrely, while the different varieties would normally ripen at different times in their own blocks, when planted together they mature together!  The blend is – are you ready for this? – 5% Muscat, 15% Pinot Gris, 20% Gewurztraminer, 20% Riesling, 20% Pinot Blanc and 20% Sylvaner.  The residual sugar for the blend falls between 10 and 20 g/L depending on vintage.  The 2016 shows lots of spice, with the Gewurz and Pinot Gris particularly showing through.   Interestingly, although the blend stays the same from year to year, different grapes seem to come to the fore with each vintage.

mdeL’As de B 2008 shows how well this wine can age – it still shows great freshness as well as development, but is not yet fully mature.  It seems soft and gentle, as though it had settled in to itself with age.

As I speak reasonable French I presumed that “As de B” signified “L’As de Bursin”, i.e Bursin’s Ace, but this is not the case.  The grapes all come from the Bollenberg; the story is that when the blend was first vinified, someone chalked “Edelzwicker” on the tank – the traditional Alsace blend – but as Edelzwicker is not usually a field blend, Agathe didn’t want to use that term.  Instead she preferred “Assemblage de Bollenberg”, but as that was far too long she settled for L’As de B – and the name stuck.

Dirstelberg Pinot Gris 2016.jpgPinot Gris Dirstelberg 2016 is grown on the same red sandstone as the Riesling.  RS is off-dry at 14 g/L which is my preferred style for the grape.  The palate has delicious quince and pear plus exotic spices.  It is rich but nowhere near cloying.

Per Agathe, with age the Pinot Gris Dirstelberg gains notes of smoke, toast and flint – this sounds very intriguing and something I hope to experience for myself in the not too distant future!

mdeGewurztraminer Dirstelberg 2016 is the wine which gave Agathe the most worry.  On the Dirstelberg, Gewurz naturally produces lots of leaves, but as winds tend not to be strong there is a significant risk of bunch rot if they are not trimmed back.  Once harvested, the grapes are given a very gentle pressing over 6 to 8 hours in order to extract only moderate phenolics – this also results in the wine looking somewhat paler than the average young Gewurz.  This is a gentle, restrained Gewurztraminer that really does live up to Agathe’s desire for fruit and balance.  If only more could be like this, I think the grape would have more fans.

mdeRiesling Grand Cru Zinnkoeplé Vendanges Tardives 2015 shows how sweet Riesling can be a magnificent, balanced rapier.  Residual sugar of 65 g/L is the counterpoint to thrilling, racy acidity.

It’s still very young and tangy – and very enjoyable – but has years of magnificence ahead of it.  If I had a case or two, then yes I’d be tempted to dive in now and again, but I think, despite the expletives of joy in my tasting notes, this is one that will be legendary in a decade’s time.

mdeGewurztraminer Grand Cru Zinnkoeplé Vendanges Tardives 2015 is getting on for the longest name of any wine I’ve ever reviewed!  Harvesting took place at the beginning of November, so this is a true Vendanges Tardives.

Obviously sweeter on the palate than the Riesling above – both in terms of higher RS at 89 g/L and softer acidity – this is a mighty fine example of late harvest Gewurz.  Compared to some it’s relatively muted – but as the grape can be such an overblown, blousy, tart’s boudoir, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

 


Post Script: Does Agathe drive a tractor now?  You bet she does!

 

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Tasting Events

Tindal Treats (part 1 – Schlumberger)

In the lead up to #AlsaceWineWeek 2019 (starting 20th May) I will be publishing a series of Alsace-related articles – though, given my tastes, that’s not such a big surprise anyway.

The wines of Domaines Schlumberger will be on the Tindal / Searson’s table at the #BigAlsaceTasting on 22nd May – see here for more details.

Earlier this year I dropped in to the Tindal Wines portfolio tasting and tried the wines from several producers, including the excellent Domaines Schlumberger (from the town of Guebwiller in the south of the Alsace wine region) which were being shown by Séverine Schlumberger.  Her commentary was very insightful and has been paraphrased in the notes below.

Most of the land around Guebwiller had been owned by the Prince Abbots of Murbach Abbey – hence the name of the Princes Abbés wines – but it was taken out of their hands during the French Revolution.  Later, the shrewd Ernest Schlumberger added to the family’s holdings by buying up plots in the early 1800s.

carte_schlumberger

The map on the left gives you an idea how steep the hillsides are around Guebwiller – as steep as 50% incline, and coming right down into the town.  The map also highlights the four Grand Cru vineyards of Guebwiller (the only town or village in Alsace to have four, all of which were among the first batch of 25 recognised in 1983); Schlumberger have land across all four amounting to 70 hectares, half of their total holdings.

 

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Alsace Riesling 2014 (12.5%, 2.8 g/L, RRP €22.95 at Searsons, Monkstown; searsons.com)

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Riesling

With its large number of Grands Crus (51), permitted grape varieties (13) and soil types (13), Alsace is complex – but it doesn’t have to be complicated!  With so much choice some sommeliers and retailers don’t even know where to start, but a clean, dry, fruity Alsace Riesling is an excellent place to start.  If there is a dish which partners well with a crisp, dry white wine – think Sancerre, Chablis, Muscadet etc. – then a Riesling such as this “Les Princes Abbés” would also be well suited – it’s dry (2.8 g/L of residual sugar), clean and has zesty lime fruit.

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Alsace Pinot Gris 2016 (13.5%, 9.6 g/L, RRP €22.95 at Searsons, Monkstown; searsons.com; JJ. Fields and Co, Skibbereen)

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris

Alsace Pinot Gris is the ultimate all-rounder at the table – it can partner well with so many dishes – shellfish, fish, chicken, pork etc. – that, if a group are sharing a bottle but eating different foods then this is the one which works best.  The technical analysis reveals this to be very slightly off-dry, but sweetness is hardly noticeable at all – instead, it adds to the roundness and mouthfeel of the wine.

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Alsace Gewurztraminer 2016 (13.4%, 20.4 g/L, RRP €26.95 at Searsons, Monkstown and searsons.com)

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Gewurztraminer

Gewurztraminer is a speciality of Domaines Schlumberger.  This “Les Princes Abbés” is so good that for most restaurants and merchants there’s little point in listing both this and the Grand Cru Kitterlé – it’s one or the other.  This is a very well balanced example of Gewurz – for me, balance is the biggest let down of many Alsace Gewurz wines.  The nose has floral notes but they are not overdone.  On the palate this is clean with a mineral streak but nice roundness.

Domaines Schlumberger ,Alsace Grand Cru Saering Riesling 2015 (14.0%, 4.3 g/L, RRP €31.95 at The Parting Glass, Enniskerry; Daly’s Drinks, Boyle; Searsons, Monkstown and searsons.com)

Domaines Schlumberger Grand Cru Saering Riesling

Schlumberger make three Grand Cru Rieslings; Kitterlé, Kessler and this Saering.  This is the most flexible of the three so tends to be the one picked when a restaurants wants to list a single Grand Cru Riesling.  The 2015 Saering is powerful with 14.0% alcohol but not hot.  Dry, floral and zesty, it has a lovely citrus sensibility with a strong mineral backbone and a long, elegant finish.

Domaines Schlumberger Alsace Grand Cru Spiegel Pinot Gris 2014 (12.4%, 28.4 g/L, RRP €31.95 at Searsons, Monkstown and searsons.com)

Domaines Schlumberger Grand Cru Spiegel Pinot Gris

In Alsace, Pinot Gris grapes destined for inclusion in Grand Cru wines is picked later than that for normal Pinot Gris wines (this was worded very carefully as some fruit from Grand Cru vineyards is used in the second wines).  This gives the grapes higher ripeness but does have a cost; as a grape it has a very short harvest window (between sufficient ripeness and over-ripeness) so needs to be monitored very carefully.  This is a luscious and generous wine, spicy and rich.  It is style unique to Alsace which makes Pinot Gris narrowly my second favourite variety of this amazing region.

 

Tasting Events

Lidl French Wine Cellars (part 2 – white)

As I started in the reverse order from normal, part 1 looked at the red wines in Lidl Ireland’s French Wine Cellars promotion and now part 2 looks at the whites.  As with the reds, Bordeaux is well represented, but Burgundy also has some decent quaffing whites for your consideration.  Here are my brief notes:

Jean Cornelius Alsace Riesling 2017 (12.5%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Jean Cornelius Alsace Riesling, €9.99

I’ve tried and liked previous vintages of this wine.  It’s straight-up, straight-forward Alsace Riesling – dry, clean and unoaked, with nice lime and lemon freshness.  No, it doesn’t have the concentration of the best producers’ wines, but it makes for a nice mid week sip on its own, or with a big tureen of moules marinères.

Les Celliers du Bellay Touraine Sauvignon 2016 (12.0%, €7.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Les Celliers du Bellay Touraine Sauvignon, €7.99Ask people to name a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley and the chances are they will say “Sancerre” or perhaps “Pouilly Fumé”, but the lesser-know appellations such as Touraine can be the source of very drinkable wines too – without the hefty price tags.  At €7.99 this really is a bargain – it has more character than you’d expect for €10, never mind €8.  Grapefruit is the theme, clean, fresh, juicy and zesty.

Château La Payrère Bordeaux Blanc 2018 (11.5%, €7.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Château la Peyrère Bordeaux Blanc, €7.99

Both the dry and sweet wines of Bordeaux usually feature Sauvignon Blanc, with or without companions Semillon, Muscadelle or even Sauvignon Gris.  This dry Bordeaux Blanc has a lovely fragrant nose with green pepper and gooseberry – all suggesting a large proportion of Sauvignon.  Fairly light in alcohol, this is another great sunshine sipper or pair with a fancy salad.

Château Rivière Lacoste Graves Blanc 2017 (12.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Château Rivière Lacoste Graves, €9.99

The Bordelais love drinking white Graves as it means they don’t have to resort to whites from the other place – Burgundy!  As with the reds, the best Graves whites are made in the separate sub-appellation of Pessac-Léognan, but the Graves AOC has plenty ot offer.  This Château Rivière Lacoste is quite rich for a white Bordeaux – white possibly some Semillon in the blend adding texture and some stone fruit notes.

Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune 2016 (12.5%, €14.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune, €14.99

The Hautes Côtes de Beaune – like their counterpart the Hautes Côtes de Nuits – come from the upper slopes of the ridge running down the middle of Burgundy.  Most of the “fine wine” is further down the slopes, but climate change and better winemaking has significantly improved the quality of wines from these more exposed areas.  The first sniff is greeted with a lovely oaky nose, and a taste reveals great texture and mouthfeel, broad but fresh.  It’s very nice now but would benefit from another six months’ rest before being enjoyed.

Collin-Bourisset Mâcon-Villages 2017 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Collin-Bourisset Bourgogne Mâcon-Villages AOP, €9.99

The Mâconnais is the most southerly sub-region of Burgundy proper, and with the more southerly latitude comes more heat and sunshine.  This results in wines which are somewhat New World in style – and that’s what we have here.  This Mâcon-Villages is quite tropical and broad, but wears no new oak.  Swirl this in a big glass and don’t drink too cold.

De Oliveira Lecestre Chablis 2017 (13.0%, €17.99 at Lidl Ireland)

De Oliveira Lecestre Chablis, €17.99

Chablis has a certain cachet so its wines are never cheap.  They can be good value, although for me the best value is usually up at Premier and Grand Cru level.  AOC Chablis is nearly always unoaked and mineral which this example from De Oliveira Lecestre is, but unlike poor Chablis it isn’t lean or austere.  Instead it’s chalky, mineral, and fresh, a great way to try Chablis at a reasonable cost.

Val de Salis Pays d’Oc Chardonnay 2017 (13.5%, €8.99 at Lidl Ireland)

 

Val de Salis Pays d'Oc Chardonnay €8.99

This is the first Chardonnay in this article which isn’t from Burgundy, and it shows – it’s very different in style from all the others above.  It has more body and texture, and a definite herbal edge (not uncommon in Languedoc wines).  Try with prawns in garlic and herbs, and save a glass for the chef!

 

 

 

 

 

Tasting Events

Lidl French Wine Cellars (part 1 – red)

Lidl Ireland’s “French Wine Cellars” promotion runs from Monday 25th March while stocks last.  It’s not a “sale” as such – rather a group of seasonal wines which are available in limited quantities.  First we turn our attention to the reds, with emphasis on Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley.

Château Saint Antoine Bordeaux Supérieur 2016 (13.5%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Château Saint Antoine Bordeaux Supérieur, €9.99

The regulations to make Bordeaux Supérieur are not that significant – slightly higher vine density, slightly lower yields and slightly higher minimum alcohol – but when was the last time you saw a Bordeaux wine at less than 10.0% abv?  I remember some as low as 11.0% in the early nineties but that rule is largely irrelevant now.  This is modern, approachable Bordeaux, with lots of black fruit and liquorice.  There’s a touch of leather and soft tannins, but this is not austere.  Would be perfect for steak, but quaffable on its own if decanted.

Baron de Portets Graves 2016 (13.5%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Baron de Portets Graves, €9.99Graves in part of Bordeaux’s lower left bank, and was in fact making great wines before the Médoc was drained by Dutch engineers.  The best areas of the Graves were sectioned off into a new appellation – Pessac-Léognan – in 1987, leaving the remaining area as more everyday producers.  And I don’t think I’m being unfair in calling this Baron de Portets an everyday wine – it’s only a tenner after all – but it’s far better than I’d expect from left bank Bordeaux at this price.  It’s seductive and smooth with lots of black fruit and a touch of red.  A hint of liquorice on the finish keeps it on the savoury side.

Château Fonguillon Montagne-Saint-Emilion 2015 (13.5%, €11.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Rotwein, Frankrech, LIDL

Although this is from one of Saint-Emilion’s four satellite appellations (there’s another in this offer which wasn’t to my taste), it’s very well put together – the full Saint-Emilion experience.  Dominated by Merlot, it boasts rich plum and blackberry fruit balanced by soft tannins.  Château Fonguillon is quite a mouthful (yes, in both senses), but it’s not jammy and is definitely worth a try.

Château Haut-Plaisance Montagne-Saint-Emilion 2016 (14.0%, €12.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Château Haut-Plaisance Saint-Émilion, €12.99

If ever a wine had a promising name, Château “High Pleasure” would be it.  And it is a pleasurable wine – fruit forward with quite a bit of oak (some may prefer to let it breathe properly before drinking).  Blackberry, damson and plum are the order of the day, but fresh and with a streak of acidity.  Great value for money.

Château Saint-Rémy Fronsac 2017 (14.5%, €11.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Château Saint-Rémy Fronsac, €11.99

Just north of the right bank’s leading town, Libourne, Fronsac is one of the best value appellations within Bordeaux.  Château Saint-Rémy has 17 hectares of vineyards which follow the normal patterns of right bank wine: 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is a ripe, thick and rich red wine, though there’s no heat on the finish that the 14.5% (!) alcohol might imply.  It’s not everyone’s idea of Bordeaux, but as a bridge between France and the new world it works a treat!

Clos des Batuts Cahors 2017 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Clos des Batuts Cahors, €9.99

Cahors and its “black wines” are the original home of Malbec, though the variety is also found in Bordeaux, the Loire Valley and – most famously – Argentina.  In the past Cahors wines have needed some time in bottle before drinking, but this is a very drinkable example.  It’s mid weight rather than hefty, clean and full of red and black fruit.  Tannins are present and correct but not too dry.  This will do well at summer barbecues, if we get a summer this year…

Cru des Côtes du Rhône Vinsobres 2017 (14.5%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Vinsobres is one of the more recent Rhône areas to be promoted up to a Cru – in 2006 in fact.  It still isn’t that well known which means that there are some bargains to be had.  AOC rules stipulate minima of 50% Grenache and 25% Syrah and / or Mourvèdre, so expect big and bold fruit – and that is exactly what we have here.  Tannins are fairly low and acidity is reasonable (the Grenache component is probably over 60%) so this is a very approachable wine.  Give me more!

Dame de Clochevigne Rasteau 2017 (14.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Rasteau, €9.99

This is not a terribly complex wine, but it’s juicy and quaffable – nice enough to crack open on a school night with dinner or out on the patio now that we’re getting a bit of a stretch in the evenings.  The breakdown of grape varieties isn’t given, but being southern Rhône it’s highly likely to be a GSM – and given its flavour profile the emphasis is very much on Grenache.

Gigondas 2017 (14.5%, €16.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Gigondas, €16.99

Gigondas is considered second in the southern Rhône hierarchy – after Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but doesn’t have the latter’s instant recognition – or price tags to match.  This is, however, the most expensive red in Lidl Ireland’s offering, though still fairly modest by independent wine shop standards.  It’s cossetting and smooth, quite a cozy wine in fact (if that term means anything to anyone).  It’s not light but it does have a touch of sophistication and elegance.  This is how southern Rhône reds should be, and it’s well worth the premium on the others above.

 

 

Book Review, Tasting Events

DNS host Wilson on Wine (Part 2)

How does the 2019 edition of Wilson on Wine compare to the first from 2015?  Well it’s a different colour for a start, but the changes have been subtle improvements with each edition.  The indices in the back are very helpful, so you can look up particular wines or see which wines are listed from your favourite wine merchants.  For the first time there’s a natural wine section – wines that can be a little different so might not suit the unprepared – but what better way to prepare than having someone recommend a few!

Wilson On Wine 2019

Part 1 looked at the wines we tasted that were particularly good value for money; now we look at some which were just exceedingly good:

Granzamy Brut Champagne NV (12.0%, RRP €34.95 at O’Briens)

granzamy brut-nv champagne

This Champagne has a few unusual facets considering its distribution through a multiple retailer:

  1. It’s a “Grower Champagne”, i.e. the grapes used are the producer’s own rather than being bought in (see this post on Champagne types for more background).
  2. It’s made from 100% Pinot Meunier, the third Champagne grape which is often unfairly looked down upon.
  3. It’s totally delicious!!

Granzamy fully deserves its normal price of €34.95 but is sometime on promotion at €5 or even €10 less, making it an absolute steal.  When Champagnes are discounted this low they aren’t usually that nice, but this is an exception.  Looks out for promotions and fill your boots!

Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2016 (13.0%, RRP €24.95 at O’Briens)

gaia assyrtiko wild ferment

Gaia’s Wild Ferment Assyrtiko is a regular on Frankly Wines and the 2016 vintage is now singing sweetly.  It manages to reflect both its volcanic and maritime origins with thrilling acidity and soft stone fruit.  As always, the Wild Ferment makes itself known through an attractive funkiness on the nose.  The simpler little brother Monograph gives a good introduction to the grape, but this is still one of the finest examples I’ve tried.

Stonier Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €26.95 at O’Briens)

stonier mornington peninsula chardonnay

The Mornington Peninsula is one of the most southerly wine regions in mainland Australia, giving cool conditions which are great for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  For me, this wine is the proof that natural wine is not the only way to make good wine.  I do like plenty of wines which are considered natural, but judicious intervention in terms of wine making choices can add interest, without artificial chemicals in the vineyard or winery.  The grapes are sourced from different sites around the region, and then around half (from the coolest sites) are allowed to go through malolactic fermentation which softens and rounds the wine.  Some oak is used in various formats, but only 15% is new.

With its struck match reductive funky nose and fleshy citrus mouthfeel, this is the sort of wine that would have a €60+ price tag on it if it was from Burgundy!

Weingut Rabl Grüner Veltliner Käferberg 2015 (13.5%, RRP €24.95 at O’Briens)

rabl gruner kaferberg

I like “regular” Grüners, whether from Austria, New Zealand or elsewhere, but special ones like this make a really good ambassador for the grape.  It has texture, richness and a depth of flavour that place “Beetle Mountain” ahead of the rest.  For Alsace fans this has quite a lot in common with a superior Pinot Gris (perhaps one from Kaefferkopf which is “Beetle Head”).  I’d be very interested to see how this develops over the next half decade or so, but to be honest it’s so delicious now I don’t think I’d be able to keep my hands off it!

Domaine Tempier Bandol Rouge 2014 (14.5%, RRP €39.95 at Karwig Wines)

domaine tempier bandol rouge

Bandol is one of the most famous Provence AOCs and Domaine Tempier have been a leading producer since the nineteenth century.  Red, white and rosé are produced, but here we focus on the red, Mourvèdre dominated but augmented by a little Grenache and Cinsault.  Bandol is the only place in France with enough sun and heat to properly ripen Mourvèdre, and boy does it show – there are intensely concentrated black and red berries bursting out of the glass, and lifted, spicy aromatics.  This is a wine which could last decades but is already really special.

 

 

Tasting Events

DNS host Wilson on Wine (Part 1)

It has become something of a tradition at DNS Wine Club for one of our events every year to be a fun event based on Irish Times wine columnist John Wilson’s annual book, “Wilson On Wine”.  Here’s the post I did on our first such event back in 2015 which explains how it works in more detail.  If you have a wine tasting / drinking group of six or more people then I highly recommend giving it a go.

John Wilson

For the first time, DNS were joined by the main man himself.  John is a complete gentleman, and was unfailingly polite despite the far-fetched tales told about each wine by the club (which is all part of the fun of “call my wine bluff”).  As I was keeping tight control of the answers he was left to guess the wine along with the rest of the gang, but of course he was spot on every time.

This first article will focus on the less expensive wines which shone on the night – all of course featured in Wilson On Wine 2019.

Aldi Exquisite Collection Crémant du Jura 2014 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at Aldi)

Aldi Exquisite Cremant du Jura

This fizz will be familiar to many as it’s a reliable, great value for money crémant which is perfect for parties.  So much so, in fact, that it has appeared in every edition of Wilson On Wine to date.  During our tasting it suffered from following a more sophisticated (and more expensive) Champagne, but I’d rather drink this than the vast majority of Prosecco on the market.

Pequenos Rebentos Vinho Verde 2017 (11.5%, RRP €15.50 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

Vinho Verde

For me Vinho Verde usually falls into one of two categories – cheap and cheerful blends of local grapes or slightly more serious varietal Alvarinho, with the latter coming from the premium subregion of Monção & Melgaço.  This is one of the cheap and cheerful types in terms of price and grapes, but for me rises above its lowly origins.  The typical citrus and saline notes are present, but the fruit is so damn juicy!  It has a certain je ne sais quoi which makes it one of the best Vinho Verdes I’ve ever tried.

Bairrada Messias Bairrada Selection 2014 (13.5%, RRP €12.65 at Karwig Wines)

bairrada messias selection family wines tinto

Here we have another inexpensive Portuguese wine which rises above its modest origins.  In decades past Bairrada was mainly a source of rough and ready bulk wine that was sold by the carafe in restaurants, but like many “lesser” European wine regions, quality has increased significantly with modern equipment and a firm eye on quality.  The clay soils here are best known for the Baga grape, but this wine is actually more of a Douro (or Port) blend as it’s made with Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca.  Red and black fruits abound, but again with a nice dash of acidity.  This is a really well put together wine that I’d be happy to drink any time of the year.

Ingata Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €18.00 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

Ingata SB

Outside of a few brands such as Villa Maria and Brancott Estate, less expensive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is something I tend to avoid.  It tends to be overly aromatic and intensely acidic – it gets plenty of attention with the first few sips but even a second glass is often too much.  Trading up to the likes of Tinpot Hut, Mahi or Greywacke more than pays back the price differential.  Here is one that breaks the mold -it’s a true but gentle expression of Marlborough Sauvignon, with all its components in balance.  In fact, this is even worth a try for folks who “don’t like New Zealand Sauvignon” -they might be pleasantly surprised

 

Apart from the Aldi Crémant I hadn’t tasted any of these wines before, yet they really shone above and beyond their price tags.  That’s one of the real positives of being able to rely on someone pre-tasting wines for you!

Tasting Events

DNS taste North America

One of the recent themes we explored at DNS WineClub was North American wines.  Barefoot and Blossom Hill represent the very commercial face of North American wine, manufactured in huge facilities in accordance with simple, fruity, easy-drinking recipes.  At the top end, Cult Cabernets can be spectacular.  However, there is fairly thin coverage in Europe of the wines in between these two extremes – and they’re the ones which offer most interest to winelovers.

California is the powerhouse of the USA and therefore the whole of North America; even though wines are made in the other 49 states, together they make up just 10% of the USA total.  In these parts the most available outside of the Golden State are probably the wines of Oregon and Washington State – we see very little from elsewhere, not even the hip wines of New York State’s Finger Lakes region.

Here are the five wines which shone the most at our tasting:

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Chenin Viognier 2014 (12.5%, RRP €24.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

pine ridge chenin viognier

If you ask a fairly knowledgeable wine drinker what grapes they associate with the Napa Valley, Cabernet would undoubtedly come first, followed by Merlot and Zinfandel, with possibly Chardonnay thrown in as a token white.  So here we have something quite unexpected in Napa – a blend of the Loire’s Chenin Blanc and the Rhône’s Viognier.  The blend is consistent from year to year at 80% Chenin and 20% Viognier, and a little residual sugar is left in to round off the acidity.  Most importantly, it really works as a wine – fresh green apple with a little rich apricot as a counterpoint.

Ovum Wines Oregon “Big Salt” 2017 (12.9%, @RRP €33.95 at Baggot Street Wines, Le Caveau and other good independents)

ovum big salt

Ovum are named after the concrete egg fermenters they use, reflected in the shape of the label of this Alsace-style blend from Oregon.  The grapes used are Riesling, Muscat & Gewurztraminer; the relative proportions are not stated, but the fact that spicy Gewurz doesn’t dominate the nose makes me think that it is probably 10% or less of the blend, with fresh Riesling taking the lead at around 55% and the aromatic Muscat being the balance of around 35% (all my own guesswork, happy to be proved wrong!) 

Again referring to my beloved Alsace, a blend of this quality would be from a Grand Cru vineyard, with the fascinating interplay of three fantastic varieties.  The name of the wine also rings true, with lovely saline elements.  This is an unusual wine which is in fairly short supply in Ireland, but it is worth seeking out.

Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017 (13.5%, RRP €39.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

Jim Clendenen is the star winemaker and owner of Au Bon Climat, one of the best producers in Santa Barbara County.  ABC is famous for its Pinot Noirs And Chardonnays – Jim is a Burgundy devotee – which come from a variety of different vineyards in the area.  The “Wild Boy” is less subtle than the regular wines, with lots of funk and noticeable oak, spicy pears and citrus.  Whatever magic he uses, this is a highly impressive wine!

The Four Graces Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2014 (13.1%, RRP €40.00 at Sweeney’s and other good independents)

the four graces pinot noir

Perhaps because I’d only tried a couple of lesser quality examples, my preconception of Oregon Pinot Noir was that it could be a bit thin and weedy, rarely living up to its price tag.  While this is no Central Otago clone, it nevertheless has plenty of body and an amazing velvety smoothness to it.  Dundee Hills are one of the best subregions of the Willamette Valley – on this evidence I will be looking out for it again.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Sparkling Ice Wine 2015 (9.5%, RRP €56 (375 ml) at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other good independents)

inniskillen sparkling ice wine

And now for something completely different – something I didn’t even know existed before I put together the wines for this tasting.  Yes, Niagara is famous for its Icewine, often made with the hybrid grape Vidal (which has a very complicated heritage that I’m going to skip over), but a sparkling version?  I didn’t know there was such a thing!  Once pressed, with the ice removed from the juice, specific yeast is added to the juice in a charmat tank so that the CO2 produced from fermentation is dissolved into the wine.  This is such a treat of a wine, with amazing tropical mango, guava and peach notes.  For many tasters, this was the wine of the night.  I really liked it but would probably prefer the still version for myself.

 

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 4 – GrapeCircus)

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Last – but no means least – of our awesome foursome from Spit is GrapeCircus.  Enrico’s wines are the most “edgy” of the whole gang (if you’ve got a moment, some are edgier than U2’s guitarist walking along the side of the Cliffs of Moher watching Tom Cruise film “Edge of Tomorrow” on his Samsung phone.)  This means that even open minded wine geeks such as myself won’t necessarily like every wine in a tasting line-up, but it’s highly likely that we will love lots of them!

Here are five that I loved from SPIT:

Laherte Frères Champagne Extra Brut “Ultradition” NV (12.5%, RRP €53.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin, Meath & Galway; Fallon & Byrne Exchequer St & RathminesBlackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Mitchell & SonSIYPS)

laherte freres champagne nv

Founded in 1889, Laherte Frères is now in the hands of the sixth and seventh generation of the family.  The latter is represented by Aurelien Laherte who has spearheaded the estate’s move to organic and biodynamic practices.  A key strength is their use of over 350 old oak barrels to ferment each parcel separately, giving lots of options when putting together each cuvée.

“Ultradition” is of course a portmanteau of “ultra” and “tradition”, though at 4g/L the dosage is extra brut rather than ultra brut.  The blend is 60% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir (including 40% reserve wines).  The nose is quite floral with a touch of biscuitiness.  Fresh red and citrus fruit dominate the palate

Agusti Torello Mata Xarel-lo “Xic” 2017 (11.0%, RRP €18.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin, Meath & Galway; Green Man Wines, Terenure; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Ashes of Annascaul; SIYPS)

augusti torello mata xarel-lo xic

Xarel-lo is best known as one of the three traditional Cava grapes, along side Macabeo and Parellada.  Agustí Torelló Matá does indeed make Cava but this is a single varietal still offering designed to be fun and drinkable.  It does drinkable in spades, so delicious and moreish!  The palate abounds with fresh quince, apple, grapefruit and lime.  This is a stunning wine that really drinks ahead of its price point.

Meinklang “Burgenlandweiß” 2017 (11.0%, RRP €19.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin & Galway; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Ashes of Annascaul; SIYPS)

meinklang burgenlandweiss

So now to Austria’s Burgenland and an aromatic white blend from biodynamic producer Meinklang.  And it’s aromatic as hell!  Enrico made sure I tasted this when he showed it at the Ely Big Tasting as he knew it’s my kind of wine (he’s a shrewd man).  A blend of 50% Grüner Veltliner, 40% Welschriesling and 10% Muscat, this is just a downright delicious liquid that puts a smile on your face when you sniff it and a sh*t-eating grin when you drink it!

Welschriesling’s origins have yet to be discovered.  Also known as Riesling Italico, Olaszrizling, Laški Rizling or Graševina, it is unrelated to “true” (Rhine) Riesling or Schwarzriesling (better known as Pinot Meunier).

Le Due Terre “Sacrisassi” Bianco 2014 (13.0%, RRP €49.00 but on-trade only at the moment)

sacrisassi bianco le due terre

This wine is exactly why independent wine festivals like SPIT are important – they give trade, press and public an opportunity to try wines that they otherwise would not have the chance or the yen to try.  The hefty price tag and lesser known region of production might put many off, but this is a wine that, once tried, goes straight into the “special treat” category.

A blend of 70% Fruliano (the grape formerly known as Tocai) and 30% Ribolla Gialla, on tasting this wine has the “wow factor”, such depth of flavour.  It shows wonderful soft stone fruit at the core, surrounded by an envelope of sea-spray freshness.

Roccalini Barbaresco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €47.00 at Green Man Wines, Terenure; Sheridans Galway)

roccalini barbaresco

Paolo Veglio follows the traditional “hands off” winemaking practices of Barbaresco, making wines that would be considered by many to be “natural” (though more on that another day.)  As well as their overall quality, Paolo’s wines are known for their drinkability and their texture.  Too often (for me at least), 100% Nebbiolo wines are too tannic and a little on the thin side, even though they might have prodigious levels of alcohol.  At Roccalini they use a traditional third way of extracting colour and flavour from the grape skins; instead of punching down or pumping over, they wedge sticks in the top of the concrete fermenters which keep the cap submerged

This is a thick, chewy, viscous, amazing Barbaresco that needs to be tried!

 

The SPIT series:

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 3 – VinosTito)

 

Logo emblema VT

The Spanish team (now with added Polish) at Vinostito have put a firm focus on low intervention winemaking – not for the sake of it, but for the authenticity and excellence of the wines it can produce.  Of course they have an extensive selection from Spain, but also other countries such as Portugal, Germany, France and Italy.

Here are five which really piqued my interest at October’s SPIT festival:

Weingut Immich-Batterieberg CAI Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.5%, RRP €21.50 at 64 Wine, Glasthule; Loose Canon, Drury St; Baggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Kelly’s Off-Licence, Clontarf)

immich batterieberg riesling kabinett cai

Immich-Batterieberg is one of the oldest estates in Germany’s Mosel, being noted in the first, second and now third millennium.  The Immich family themselves began making wine back in 1425, and were instrumental in the creation of the Batterieberg  between 1841 and 1845 using lots of explosives!

The CAI is a Trocken, i.e. dry style of Riesling, with an alcohol of 11.5% which is higher than many sweeter wines, but remains modest.  It isn’t bone dry, however, with just a touch of residual sugar which enhances the attractive, zippy fruit.  Full of Riesling Goodness!

Weingut Immich-Batterieberg Escheburg Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.0%, RRP €29.00 at 64 Wine, Glasthule)

escheburg

Compared to the CAI, this is somewhat drier, still young and tight – waiting for its wings to unfurl.  It’s made from superior grapes which don’t quite make it into the single cuvées.  The steep slate vineyard soils really show in the minerality of the wine, even though the minerals themselves are not technically soluble enough to be absorbed by the vines.  This is a fairly serious wine which would be at its best with shellfish or after some years to develop and open out.

Casa da Passarella Descoberta Dão Branco 2017 (13.0%, RRP €16.50 at On The Grape Vine, Dalkey; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview; Lilac Wines, FairviewBaggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Matson’s, Cork)

casa passarella

Dão wines aren’t particularly well known in Ireland, though they deserve more attention.  The region is situated about a third of the way down the country from the northern border and roughly equidistant from the Atlantic and the eastern border with Spain.  It sits on a granite plateau topped by well drained sandy soil – not too bad for quality wine!  This is a blend of local speciality Encruzado plus some Malvasia Fina and Verdelho.  It’s quite different from the by-the-glass selection in your local pub, with a lovely mouthfeel and richness to it, but not oiliness.  A dry, textured finish seals the deal.

Suertes del Marqués Trenzado 2016 (13.0%, RRP €25.00 at SIYPS, Baggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Clontarf Wines, Clontarf; Lilliput Stores, Stoneybatter)

trenzado

I’ve reviewed this wine at least once before, but no apologies for repetition will be forthcoming as it’s so damn good – and so damn interesting – that it never disappoints.  Suertes del Marqués are a relatively new outfit but they have access to plenty of older vines – the ones for this blend range between 10 and 150 years old, all in the Valle de La Orotava of Tenerife.  I say “blend” as the majority of the wine is Listán Blanco (aka Palamino of Sherry fame) but there are also dashes of Pedro Ximenez, Albillo Criollo, Gual, Marmajuelo and Malvasia.  As pictured on the front label, the vines are (mainly) trained with the traditional trellis system of cordón trenzado after which the wine is named.

For anyone studying wine this is a great example to do a model tasting note for as it shows so many different types of aroma and flavour: various citrus fruits, nuts and sea-washed pebbles on the nose, with the same on the palate but also a slightly waxy character.  It’s a fairly different wine but it’s one that’s easy to like and to love.

Luís Seabra Vinhos Xisto iLimitado Tinto 2016 (12.0%, RRP €22.00 at Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; 64 Wine, Glasthule; On The Grape Vine, Dalkey; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview; Lilac Wines, FairviewBaggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Matson’s, Cork)

luis seabra vinhos xisto ilimitado

Luís Seabra makes a fantastic range of wines in Portugal’s north, the Douro Valley and Vinho Verde regions.  His Douro wines are very different from the normal big reds found there, with lots of fruit, oak, tannin and alcohol.  His wines are lighter and judiciously oaked, but don’t lack in flavour or length.  As “Xisto” is the Portugese for “schist”, it’s not too hard to guess what type of soil the vines are planted in!

This 2016 is a blend of several grapes, some of which are coplanted in old and almost forgotten plots: 30% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Amarela, 20% Tinta Roriz, 10% Rufete, 10% Tinta Barroca, 5% Malvasia Preta and 5% Donzelinho Tinto.  Luís’s approach to grape variety selection and winemaking both lead to his wines being very interesting and very fresh.

I was browsing some new additions to the shelves of Baggot Street Wines in early 2018 and noticed several wines from Luis Seabra in Portugal.  What really caught my eye was the “REPROVADO / DISAPPROVED” warning notice on the back label of the 2015 Tinto – the first time I had ever seen anything like that on a wine label.

Speaking to the man himself a few weeks later at the Vinostito portfolio tasting, he recounted that when the wine was not allowed the Douro classification due to being “untypical” of the region, he sought permission to  put a warning label on.  The wine authorities had never received such a request previously, but they allowed it.

For the 2016 vintage (above) the Tinto was immediately given the Douro badge – I think the wine authorities learned their lesson!

 

The SPIT series:

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 2 – Nomad)

nomad

While WineMason’s specialities are Portugal, Austria, Germany and South Africa, Nomad is a Burgundy specialist outfit.  Of course, the range has seen additions from other regions – particularly in France – but Burgundy is still at the heart of the portfolio.  As with all of the SPIT crew, Nomad’s wines are generally from small producers who practise sustainable, organic or biodynamic viticulture, but they remain fairly conventional – though excellent – in taste.

Here are five of Nomad’s best that caught my eye at SPIT.

Leclerc Briant Champagne Brut Reserve NV (12.0%, RRP €62.00 at SIYPS; 64 Wine, Glasthule & Green Man Wines, Terenure)

leclerc briant brut reserve

Leclerc Briant was the first organic and biodynamic producer in Champagne – no mean feat when the cool and sometimes damp climate is taken into account.  They are based in the Vallée de la Marne where Pinot Meunier is most at home, and it shows in the blend: 65% Pinot Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay.

30 months on the lees (double the minimum requirements for a non vintage Champagne) softens out the wine somewhat, meaning that a low dosage of 4g/L is all that’s required.  The Pinot(s) dominance really comes through in the red fruits flavour profile – raspberry, redcurrant and cranberry.  A lively, clean and refreshing Champagne!

Domaine des Ardoisieres Vin des Allobroges-Cevins “Schiste” 2015 (12.0%, RRP €51.00 at SIYPS, Martins Off-Licence, Fairview & Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown)

domaine des ardoisieres schiste

If Tolkein’s Dwarves drank a wine, it would be from Savoie, made in the shadow of Mont Blanc.  Like the other wines in Brice Omont’s biodynamic range, Schiste is labelled after the soil type on which it is grown.  The grapes are a mix of the fairly well-known and the almost unknown: 40% Jacquère, 30% Roussanne, 20% Malvasia and 10% Mondeuse.

My Tolkein reference might be far-fetched, but there is definitely something other-worldly about this wine.  It somehow manages to combine butter and sweet stone fruits with zippy citrus, and has a very long, soothing finish.  A remarkable wine!

Domaine JB Ponsot Rully “En Bas de Vauvry” 2016 (13.0%, RRP €29.90 at SIYPSGreen Man Wines, Terenure, Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown)

jean-baptiste ponsot rully

As vineyard and grape prices have rocketed in Burgundy’s heartland of the Côte d’Or, many producers have been looking further south to the Maconnais where costs are much lower, but the astute have also been investing in the Côte Chalonnaise which lies in between the two.  Rully is my favourite village from the Chalonnaise, and in good hands can produce some seriously good wine.

BOOM!!  This is one of the best wines I tasted in the last twelve months*.

I’ve enjoyed previous vintages of Ponsot’s Rully, but this is easily my favourite yet.  It has a mesmerising nose of pear and peach; they follow through onto the palate and are joined by apricot, apple and a hint of citrus.  It’s soft, gently oaked and obviously young, but drinking so well at the moment.  Decant it or use a big glass – you won’t rue your choice!**

Domaine Bachelet-Monnot Puligny Montrachet 2016 (13.0%, RRP €79.00 at SIYPS and Martins Off-Licence, Fairview)

bachelet-monnot puligny-montrachet

After the exuberance of the Rully, we now take a step back to enjoy the power and elegance of an excellent Puligny-Montrachet.  There are some obvious oak notes on the nose, smoky and leesy, with soft pip fruit and citrus on the palate.  It’s still quite tight – probably a criminal offense to drink right now – but if I had a few bottles I would take the risk and enjoy!

Domaine Audoin Marsannay Cuvée Marie Ragonneau 2015 (13.0%, RRP €42.00 at SIYPS and 64 Wine, Glasthule)

domaine audoin marsannay cuvee marie ragonneau

Marsannay is the most northerly village-level appellation in the Côte de Nuits, extending almost into Dijon itself, and the most recent as it was created in 1987.  It is also the only Burgundy village appellation which can produce the trio of red, white and rosé wines.

Domaine Audoin’s Marsannay is somewhat serious and savoury, but what a wine!  A complex melange of red and black fruit, plenty of acidity and fine tannins.  It might sound strange to the average wine drinker, but this €40+ Burgundy is great value for money!

 

The SPIT series:

 

* Actual tasting note includes the sentence “F*cking hell, that’s a bit of all right, innit?” Perhaps my notes were scribbled on by a passing cockney…

** Sorry