Five Fantastic Sparkling Wines – Guest post by Frankie Cook Here are Five Fantastic Fizzes from Marks & Spencer to put some zip into your life! They include Cava, Champagne, Kiwi fizz, Crémant de Bourgogne and English sparkling wine (for which ESW seems to be the new TLA). La Cave des Hautes Côtes Crémant de…On Your Marks, Get Set, Pop! – Five Fantastic Sparkling Wines
As we approach Alsace Wine Week 2019, a reblog of this post seems appropriate!
After a successful first #AlsaceWineWeek in Ireland I thought I’d pick out a few key numbers to give readers a background to the region.
The Alsace region is divided administratively into 2 Départements
- Haut Rhin (Upper Rhine)
- Bas Rhin (Lower Rhine)
4 Noble Grapes
- Pinot Gris
- Muscat (usually Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains)
As a general rule, Grand Cru wines can only be made from one of these noble grapes.
4% of vineyard area is Grand Cru
This compares to approximately 2% of Burgundy being Grand Cru (with a further 12% being Bourgogne Premier Cru).
7 Featured Grapes
In addition to the 4 noble grapes above, there are also
- Pinot Blanc
- Pinot Noir
These three plus the four noble grapes above are the most commonly seen on wine labels.
13 Total Grapes
Apart from the featured grapes there are six others which can legitimately be used…
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Organised by Frankie Cook (blogger at Frankly Wines), and hosted at Ely Bar & Grill, the Alsace Wine Week is coming back in May 2019.
Fizz and friends from the Quintessential Wines tasting earlier this year:
Druisan Prosecco Colfondo NV (12.5%, RRP €17.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)
A world away from the cheap and (sometimes not so) cheerful industrial Prosecco which is on special offer in the supermarket, this is an entirely different style of fizz. Whereas the vast majority Prosecco undergoes a second fermentation in a tank, with colfondo this takes place in the bottle. Unlike the traditional method there is no disgorgement, so the lees remain in the bottle.
This is much more yeasty and smooth than “normal” Prosecco. With no disgorgement there’s no dosage either, but it really doesn’t miss the addition of sugar. This is a wine of character, far more interesting than other sparkling wines in this price bracket.
Loxarel Refugi Brut Nature Reserva 2013 (12.5%, RRP €33.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
On to Spain now, and a fantastic Cava made in the Penedès by Loxarel (who also make the natural orange wine reviewed in Part 3). This is predominantly made from the local
speciality Xarel-lo; the vines are over 70 years old and a portion of the base wine was fermented in 300-litre old oak barrels which adds texture and longevity. A touch of Chardonnay is included for freshness. After the second fermentation the wine spends three years on the lees before disgorgement, with no dosage. In short, this is bloody lovely! There’s lots of lovely creamy lees character and a dry finish.
Vilmart Grand Cellier Brut NV (12.5%, RRP €64.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
The final fizz is from France, more specifically Rilly-la-Montagne in the Montagne de Reims subregion of Champagne. The blend is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir from two specific parcels: “Les Hautes Grèves” and “Les Basses Grèves”, the upper and lower (river) banks respectively . Vilmart’s house style involves blocking (or not encouraging) malolactic fermentation for freshness, and ageing the base wines in old, larger-format oak barrels for texture and longevity (through micro-oxygenation).
This is well made, classy, proper Champagne. There’s a citrus frame (from the Chardonnay) with some red fruit notes (from the Pinot) interwoven. Biscuit creaminess in enhanced by very fine bubbles and a lively crisp finish.
Château de la Roulerie Coteaux du Layon 1er Cru Chaume Les Aunis 2013 (12.0%, RRP €34.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
Sweet Loire wines are one of the most overlooked wine categories (closely followed by most of the rest of the Loire) and hence reasonably priced. Chenin Blanc excels in this role as it can produce high levels of sugar while maintaining balancing acidity.
Château de la Roulerie make three different sweet wines; the standard Coteaux du Layon, Coteaux du Layon 1er Cru Chaume (which is the area just around the village of Chaume) and then this wine from a specific vineyard. All of them have botrytised grapes, but climbing the quality ladder gives increased concentration. The perfect balance of sweetness, acidity and oak. Sauternes, eat your heart out!
Quintessential and the Fifth Element
So finally, in what is fittingly the fifth part of this series, I can explain the jeu de mots in the title, the relationship between Quintessential and The Fifth Element. In classical times it was believed that everything in the physical world was made up of a small number of elements. One version according to Empedocles gave four: earth, water, air and fire. Plato, Aristole and others added a fifth called (a)ether, also known as quintessence.
Over time, quintessential came to mean the more perfect example of a particular type of thing. Given how I have described some of Quintessential Wines’ bottles as ethereal, I think it’s a perfectly fitting name!
The Fifth Element Series:
As a wise man once said to me, don’t call them “dessert wines” as that implies they are only fit to drink with a dessert! Categorising wines isn’t always an easy task, as even simple descriptors such as colour are open to interpretation (see this article). Where do sweet wines fit in? In the end, the label isn’t important, what’s in the glass is.
10. Tarin Pineau des Charentes Blanc Vieilli 3 Ans
Pronounced the same as “Pinot”, this is the secret fortified drink of France’s west country. Made by adding eau de vie to grape must that has barely begun fermenting, it can only be produced in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments – also the home of Cognac. That’s no coincidence as the grape spirit used for Pineau is the same that is aged to eventually become Cognac.
This example has received 3 years of ageing which gives it a slight “rancio” character – enough to add interest but not so much that it dominates. The only downside is that it is so moreish!
9. Sipp Mack Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2012
This Gewurz isn’t intended to be a sweet wine as such, but given the grape’s natural flavour profile, low acidity and a bit of residual sugar it tastes far sweeter than other many wines of Alsace. As a general rule I do like some sweetness in my Gewurz, and this Sipp Mack does deliver that, but with an incredible intensity of flavour thanks to its old vines. See here for the full review.
8. GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2015
Moscato from Australia and elsewhere gained a lot of ground in recent years – fresh and fruity, sweet and easy to drink yet with very moderate alcohol, it became something of a party drink. Hopefully this will shine a light back on Piedmont, the pioneering region of this style (though obviously not of the Muscat grape!)
Moscato d’Asti might also qualify as a party drink for some, but its true value is at the table, mainly with fruit based desserts where it excels. The best – such as GD Vajra’s – have a mouthwatering balance of acidity and sweetness. See here for the full review
7. Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese
For many wine aficionados, Germany is the ultimate country for Riesling. The sheer variety of styles is one of its key strengths, from bone-dry to intensely sweet, and just about every spot in between. This Mosel Spätlese (late harvest) is just wonderful and was my narrow favourite of an all-Riesling tasting at DNS Wineclub. See here for the full review
6. Zantho Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese 2012
Zantho is a joint venture between two famous names of Austrian wine, viticulturist Josef Umathum and winemaker Wolfgang Peck of Winzerkeller Andau. As well as dry whites and reds they also make three dessert wines (pictured above) which are all glorious, with the TBA (for short) being my favourite. Germanic grape Scheurebe works best as a sweet wine and excels in Zantho’s TBA from close to the border with Hungary.
5. Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV
I’m a long standing fan of Nyetimber and I’ve been pleased to see them popping up here and there in Ireland. When back in England in the summer I picked up a bottle of their Demi-Sec – which I haven’t yet seen here in Ireland – and took it to a DNS Wineclub tasting. It was absolutely magnificent and reinforced my admiration for Brad Greatrix and Cherie Spriggs.
Not stated on the front label is that this is 100% Chardonnay, and therefore a Blanc-de-Blancs. Dosage is 45g/L giving it perfect balance – typical English acidity is the counter to the sugar. This was the first English Demi-Sec to be released but I would go further and state that it’s one of the top few Demi-Secs made anywhere in the world.
4. Domaine de Bois Mozé Coteaux de l’Aubance 2008
The Loire Valley is probably France’s most underrated wine region and its Chenin based dessert wines probably the least well known – which is a total shame as they can be world class without a world class price. Coteaux de l’Aubance is even less well known than Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, but the best sites can yield beauties such as this. In my opinion these wines are the ultimate expression of Chenin Blanc – and this is still a youngster at nine years of age.
3. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2014
The grape variety for this wine is known locally as Zibibbo, but further afield as Muscat of Alexandria – a very ancient grape. “Local” here is the tiny island of Pantelleria which is between Sicily and Tunisia. The grapes are dried after picking to concentrate the flavours and sugars, similar to “straw wines” elsewhere. This is a wine of staggering complexity for such a young vintage, the biggest threat to ageing being its utter deliciousness!
2. Cascina Garitina Niades
Many readers will be drawing a blank at the name of this wine which could have been in any (or all!) of my red, sparkling and sweet Top 10 lists. Formerly carrying the DOCG of Brachetto d’Acqui, it could be thought of as the red equivalent of Moscato d’Asti – though even better, in this case.
When I tried it and tweeted about it, one wag did reply “can’t see the point” – and admittedly, before I tried it I can’t say it was missing from my life – but once tried this wine is never forgotten. Fresh red fruit, acidity and sweetness combine to make wine heaven – it’s Eton Mess in a glass!
1. Léon Beyer Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 1998
This was the unexpected runaway winner of the DNS Wineclub Alsace tasting, against some pretty stiff competition (including #2 in this Top 10). Léon Beyer is based in the achingly beautiful village of Eguisheim and has Domaines Zinck and Bruno Sorg as neighbours. “The house style is dry” said the lady at the counter, “apart from the sweet wines” – such as this rare Late Harvest Gewurz. The Léon Beyer website give a drinking window of 10 to 20 years from vintage, but this tasted like it had another decade left at least. If I had another bottle it would probably make my Top 10 sweet wines of 2026!
Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016. Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.
Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:
Domaine des Remizières Crozes Hermitage 2013 (13.0%, €22.95 at Wines Direct)
Crozes Hermitage reds are always predominantly Syrah-based, but can be made with up to 15% Marsanne and / or Roussanne added (the same varieties grapes are also used in white Crozes Hermitage). The use of white grapes to soften the wine is less common nowadays and 100% Syrah Crozes (such as this one) is more usual.
Being a couple of years younger than the Cave de Tain, this 2013 has both more black fruit and more tannin. This would definitely improve with another year or two laid down in a good cellar, but if you can’t wait then decant and serve with steak!
Keeping Your Cool – Wine Coolers
Let’s get the semantics out of the way first. A cooler (in this sense) does not actually cool the wine, as in reduce its temperature. But that’s ok, we have fridges for that. The point of a wine cooler is to keep a wine at a constant temperature as long as possible, without breaking the laws of thermodynamics of course.
Depending on the climate, coolers are nearly always useful for white wines and sparkling, but if you’re in a warm environment then they can also help reds from becoming too warm and soupy.
So what materials are best? Plastic generally looks cruddy, so for me it’s in between ceramic and wood. Ceramic has a slightly more earthy (well…duh!) aspect to it, and possibly more ornamental. Wood is more natural and – this is important for those with kids – less brittle so could probably survive being dropped (though I hope no bottles are harmed during the testing of this theory).
Here’s one I tried in the height of the English “summer” and can heartily recommend. Made from beautiful oak in bonny Scotland it not only looks the part, but also kept wines chilled for several hours outside on a warm day.
I don’t want to mention the “c-word” this early in the year, but it would make a great Xmas gift for the winelover in your life.
See www.coolwines.biz for more details.
In the search for authenticity through ever-smaller areas of delineated terroir, one of the key qualities that the average wine drinker looks for is sometimes overlooked: drinkability! Just as blends of different grapes can sometimes be preferable to single varietals, outside of the best sub-regions, a blend from different terroirs can be the best solution for approachable and easy drinking wine.
Here are two reds which have distinct origins (Burgundy and Tuscany) but are well put-together blends from within those regions:
Maison André Goichot Naudin Tiercin Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2011 (12.5%, €14.99 from SuperValu / Centra)
Of course virtually all red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir (apart from a little Gamay in a few places) but it does no harm to have the grape variety on the front label for those who are more casual drinkers. As a world famous region that is celebrated as the home of Pinot Noir, Burgundy has significant cachet on a label…but as can be the case in many regions, some wines are sold based on the region rather than the quality of the contents.
And on opening this bottle I thought I was tasting another such wine – acidic and lean with little fruit – oh no! But then a little more time in the glass and it changed completely – the acidity remained but was the backbone for delicious raspberry and strawberry fruit, with perhaps a hint of vanilla. I highly recommend decanting this wine and drinking just under room temperature – say 15C – perfect for a summer day!
Castellani Arbos Sangiovese Toscana 2013 (13.5%, €12.99 from SuperValu / Centra)
Good Chianti combines red and black fruit with some bitter and sour notes to make a complex, savoury whole. Sadly, poor Chianti doesn’t always have the fruit to go with the counterpoints, so it can taste austere or even harsh. There is an alternative from Tuscany (but outside of the Chianti DOC regulations) at the less expensive end: IGT Toscana.
The Castellani family produce some serious Chiantis, particularly from their own estates, but they also produce more accessible everyday wines such as their Arbos Sangiovese. The Arbos is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes bought in from other growers (based on my reading of their website) but subject to strict quality control. It has Sangiovese’s classic cherry, strawberry and raspberry notes with a little spice, yes, but with a super-smooth mouthfeel. Drink with steak, pasta or a friend!
This is the best IGT Toscana I’ve tried by a country mile!
Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review
Celebrating my third anniversary (“blogaversary”?) today, so here’s a throwback to my first post 3 years ago
The subject of my first blog was prompted by an unexpected discovery. While clearing a bit of space in the porch last week I thought to use the sturdy empty wooden box I had spotted to collect all the knick-knacks lying around. To my delight the box was actually full, containing six bottles of Varnier Fannière Champagne! I suppose I ought to tidy up more often, who knows what else I might find!
Despite being a self-confessed wino for twenty years, I’m a relative latecomer to the charms and intricacies of Champagne. For a long time I’d see it as something for celebrations and posing without any inherent character as a wine. The Champagnes I’d tried had been either terribly acidic (bye bye tooth enamel) or just bland – neither of which are good enough when the ticket price is so high. Don’t get me wrong, if offered a glass…
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