Bodega Garzón is one of Uruguay’s best wineries, founded and funded by Argentian energy billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni. The winery is located close to Punte del Este (the “Saint Tropez of South America”) and charming seaside towns on Uruguay’s Riviera, facing almost due south into the Atlantic. It’s now a destination itself with various tours and an upmarket restaurant headed by star chef Francis Mallman.
They have several ranges of wines within their portfolio:
Reserva: Marselan, Albariño, Tannat, Cabernet Franc
Single Vineyard:Tannat, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Pinot Noir
Petit Clos: Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, Albariño, Cabernet Franc
Balasto: Flagship Red Blend
Uruguay’s signature grape is of course Tannat – originally from the other side of the Atlantic in south western France. Garzón does make excellent Tannat, but here we focus on another grape from the eastern Atlantic coast, Galicia’s Albariño.
Of course, Galicia doesn’t have sole ownership of Albariño – it’s also grown south of the Miño/Minho as Alvarinho and is also one of the varieties being trialled in Bordeaux. In these maritime climes the proximity of the vines to the coast has a marked effect on the style of the wine; littoral areas give more mineral and saline characteristics to the finished wine whereas inland sites lend a little more richness and fruit. How does Garzón’s Albariño compare?
Bodega Garzón Albariño Reserva 2018
I’ve been lucky enough to taste this wine several times over the past six months or so, but for some unknown reason each time I taste it I am pleasantly surprised at how good it is. Fermentation and maturation are in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to help preserve the bright fruit flavours, but the wine does also spend three to six months (depending on vintage) on its fine lees, adding texture, weight and a certain creaminess.
The nose shows pronounced white peach and citrus, more expressive than lesser Albariños for sure. On the palate the citrus shines through most, with a streak of fresh acidity and a saline tinge. It reminded me of a Rías Baixas wine from close to the coast, except with more depth of flavour – perhaps a touch more sunshine and the time on lees make the difference. Overall, this is a delicious wine that deserves the praise and recognition it has been receiving.
Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellar, McHugh’s, Martin’s Off-licence, Gibney’s of Malahide, The Vintry, Clontarf Wines, Brady’s Shankill, Deveney’s Dundrum, Higgins Clonskeagh, 1601 Kinsale, Morton’s Salthill, World Wide Wines Waterford, Alan McGuinness, Drink Store
Thanks to Liam and Peter from DNS Wine Club who have both shown this wine in recent months.
When restarting the DNS Wine Club tasting calendar after the summer break it has become a tradition to start with wines that members have enjoyed on their holidays. It’s always a nice and relaxed event and gives a far more idiosyncratic range than is the norm at DNS.
September 2019 had us meet and taste wines from Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, France, Australia and….Yorkshire! Here they are in the order of tasting (and with apologies for the quality of the photos from my phone):
Yorkshire Heart Sparkling Rosé NV (11.0%)
The best English wines tend to come from the south of the country: south coast counties like Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Cornwall. Whereas southern English producers used to focus on varieties that could prosper despite a damp and cold climate, global warming and experience has led to a boom in sparkling wine production, usually with the three main Champagne grapes. Further north in Yorkshire, however, the climate is now mild enough for the special cross and hybrid varieties to survive (though prosper might be a little overstating the case just now.)
Yorkshire Heart are based close to York, so the name is apt. They also have a brewery and a cider orchard so most bases are covered. The vineyard has 17 varieties across ten acres, so it is still fairly small scale and experimental. The grapes used for the sparkling rosé are not disclosed apart from the use of Pinot Noir to create the pink hue. It’s made using the traditional method with the wine resting on its lees for 12 months – not as long as Champagne but longer than some NV Cava.
The wine has a fruity nose and a nice mousse when poured, but unfortunately it was not persistent. The palate is full of summer fruits; raspberry, strawberry, cranberry and a touch of blackberry competed for attention. As this is an English wine there’s ample acidity, though the finish resolves with fruit sweetness.
Principe Strozzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2017 (13.0%)
Following the Italian wine naming convention of [grape] from [place], this is a 100% Vernaccia from San Gimignano in Tuscany (aka Chiantishire). On the nose the wine evokes wet stones – can you get more mineral than that? On the palate, it’s as though fresh lemons have been squeezed onto said stones – a real citrus zing on top of the minerality. It has a touch more body than I had at first expected. This is a well-made wine which, while not setting the world alight, makes for some very pleasant drinking.
Tesco Finest Tingleup Great Southern Riesling 2018 (12.0%)
Of all the wines brought to this tasting, this Australian Riesling was from the furthest away. However, DNS member Michelle was blagging this one as she had not been to Australia, and had instead spent her holidays in the local Tesco. The wine is made for Tesco by Howard Park who are based in Western Australia and specialise in wines from Margaret River and Great Southern. On the nose it has aromas of lime and…well…Riesling! The palate is full of refreshing, zingy citrus and there’s just a kiss of sweetness on the finish. A great way to get into Riesling.
Mar de Frades Rías Baixas Albariño Atlántico 2018 (12.5%)
So let’s count up the nautical references: the producer is Marde Frades (which translates as something like “Sea of Friars”), the wine is Albariño Atlánticowhich indicates that it’s from the part of Rías Baixas close to the ocean, and the label depicts huge crashing wavesand a chuffing seagull! Message understood, loud and clear! Thankfully the wine is very nice, despite being the producer’s “entry level” effort. It spends six months on the lees which adds a nice bit of texture to the pear and peach fruit. A saline finish seasons it perfectly. In a sea(sorry, it’s catching) of samey Albariño, this is a winner.
Tenuta delle Terre Nere takes its name from the black basalt and pumice stones which cover much of the estate on the northern side of Mount Etna. Its surface area totals 55 hectares and is far from homogeneous – the 24 parcels range from 600 to 1,000 metres above sea level and (apart from a few new plantings) between 50 and 100 years old.
This Rosso is mainly Nerello Mascalese (95%) with a dash of Nerello Cappuccio (5%). The soil is volcanic soil, obviously (I bleedin’ hope it’s obvious!!). Stylistically the wine is somewhat Pinot Noir like, but with a touch more body and spice. It has delicious smoky black and red fruit plus a certain chewy earthiness.
Domaine du Bois de St Jean “Les Ventssssss” Côtes du Rhône 2016 (14.0%)
The Domaine is located near Avignon and has a range of different red, white and rosé Côtes du Rhône wines plus Crus Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Vacqueras. One notable wine is“Pur Cent”, a cuvée first released 9 years ago made from 16 different varieties, all planted when the estate was founded in 1910, i.e. one hundred year old vines.
The odd name of this wine – which you can see in the heading above, but not so well on the label – is because the six Ss at the end of Ventssssss represent the six different names for the main wind which affects the Rhône: The Mistral. The vines are planted on sand and pebble soils, north-facing slopes (presumably not too steep an incline) at around 400m. The vines vary between 60 and 80 years old and consist of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Counoise and Cinsault. For the 2016 only the first four varieties were used, but the precise blend is a family secret.
The wine is extremely smooth and elegant, attributable (in my humble opinion) to the sandy soils and north facing aspect respectively. The velvet texture immediately reminded me of the Mas Saint-Louis Châteauneuf-du-Pape which is also predominantly Grenache grown on sandy soils – and that’s a real compliment. Quite simply this is the best AOC Côtes du Rhône I’ve ever tasted.
Read more on the Domaine du Bois de Saint Jean here.
Quinta dos Aciprestes Douro Tinto 2016 (14.5%)
One of my wine rules of thumb is that, when a place is famous for wine derived drinks other than regular table wines, if they were to produce table wines they would be quite poor. When was the last time you had a regular table wine from the Sherry, Champagne or Cognac regions? The Douro is a prominent exception to that rule of thumb with some excellent, characterful and drinkable wines, especially reds.
“Quinta dos Aciprestes” means “Estate of the Cypress Trees“; the three depicted on the front label are most likely a representation of the three Quintas which were joined together to make the estate. The grapes are a typical Port blend, including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinto Cão and Tinta Barocca. Maturation is for 12 months in French oak (I suspect mainly older barrels). This is a rich wine, typical of the Douro, but still round and soft – softer than the 14.5% alcohol would imply.
Château Nico Lazaridi Drama 2016 (15.0%)
Let’s get the bad pun out of the way first: the phrase “no drama” is usually taken to be a good thing – but not in this case! Drama is a municipality in the East Macedonia and Thrace region of north east Greece and home to Italophile wine producer Nico Lazaridis. French grapes predominate with some Sangiovese and autochthonous varieties.
The eponymous Château Nico Lazaridi wine is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese – what might be termed a Super Tuscan blend – that has spent 12 months in French oak. It has an enticing, fragrant but gentle nose. The palate is rich, explosive but smooth – cherries, chocolate and luscious black fruits all wrapped in velvet. At 15% there’s also a suggestion of Napa Valley style power and sweetness. This is a fabulous wine!
A medley of whites from the WineMason tasting earlier this year:
Bodegas Altos de Torona Rías Baixas Albariño Torre de Ermelo 2016 (12.4%, RRP €19 – Stockist TBC)
Bodegas Altos de Torona is one of three producers in Rías Baixas who form part of the HGA Bodegas group. HGA have holdings across many of northern Spain’s best wine areas including Rioja, Ribero del Duero and Ribeira Sacra. This wine is from the O Rosal sub-zone, just 3.5km from the Miño River (which forms the border with Portugal) and 10km from the Atlantic Ocean.
Torre de Ermelo is made in a fresh – almost spritzy – style, with floral, citrusand mineral notes framed by a streak of acidity. Great value for money!
Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18 at Green Man Wines)
If your palate is just used to white wines from supermarkets then this might seem a little alien at first. It bears no resemblance to the usual Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay – but then why should it? This is a blend of three indigenous Portuguese grapes, Arinto, Gouveioand Fernão Pires grown close to the Atlantic coast just north of Lisbon.
The name of the wine is a clue to the vineyard soil type – lots of limestone! There are indeed mineralnotes on this wine but lots more besides – soft fruit, herbsand flowers. Overall it’s a dry wine with lots of texture, a fine partner for lots of dishes.
BLANKbottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24 at Green Man Wines, Baggot St Wines, The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Red Island)
This is a very intriguing wine from a very interesting producer. Pieter H. Walser is the man behind BLANKBottle and aims to make wines which highlight excellent South African terroir rather than the variety/ies that they are made from. He buys in all his grapes rather than farming himself. This all gives him flexibility so he can change the components of a blend from year to year or produce entirely new wines as a one-off; it also helps his wines to be judged on their contents rather than preconceptions about varieties.
Moment of Silence is a blend (for the 2016 vintage at least!) of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. From 2015 onwards the grapes were sourced from seven different sites within Wellington. This wine is quite round in the mouth with appleand stone fruit flavours. The Viognier influence shines through as a touch of richness, but it isn’t oily. A wine that deserves to be tried.
Rijckaert Arbois Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, RRP €23 at The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Redmonds)
Belgian winemaker Jean Rijckaert founded his own estate in 1998 based on vineyards in the Maconnais and Jura, further east. Of course the key variety shared by these regions is Chardonnay, which can reflect both where it is grown and how it is vinified. Yields are low and intervention is kept to a minimum – once fermentation is complete the wines are left to mature without racking, stirring or anything else.
Jura Chardonnay comes in two distinct styles, oxidative and none-oxidative, depending on whether air is allowed into the maturing barrels; this is definitely the latter, (ouillé) style of Jura Chardonnay for which I have a marked preference. It’s recognisably oaked Chardonnay but very tangy and food friendly. A great way into Jura wines!
De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 (14.0%, RRP €34 at 64 Wine & The Corkscrew)
De Morgenzon translates as The Morning Sun which is a wonderfully poetic name, attached to a wonderful South African winery. Although South Africa is usually labelled as “new world” when it comes to wine, vines have been planted in this part of Stellenbosch since the early 1700s. Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum bought DeMorgenzon in 2003 and have transformed the estate and its wines.
The entry level DMZ Chenin is a very nice wine, clean and fresh, but this Reserve is a step above. The vines were planted in 1972 (an auspicious year!) and interestingly were originally bush vines but recently lifted onto trellises. People often wonder what makes one wine cost more than another similar wine, and in this case the picking in four different passes through the vineyard (to ensure optimum ripeness and balance) shows you why. Fermentation takes place in French oak barrels (with wild yeast) followed by 11 months of maturation on the lees. These really add to the flavour profile – there’s a little bit of funk from the wild yeast, lots of creaminessfrom the lees and soft oak notes from the barrels (only 25% were new). This is a real treat!
Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store. Here are some more of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:
Quinta da Raza Grande Escolha Vinho Verde 2016 (12.0%, €17.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)
North west “Green” Spain’s best known white wines are probable the Albariños of Rías Baixas (see below). Less well known are the Alvarinhosof northern Portugal, just the other side of the Minho river in the Vinho Verde region. Alvarinho is just one of several local grapes which are often blended to make refreshing, easily approachable young wines. Some of them are a notch or two above that, however, and Quinta da Raza’s Grande Escolha is one of them. This is a blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura, also known as Treixadura in Galicia. Although modest in alcohol (12.0%), it is packed full of flavour – melon and fruit polos! (I shit you not!) great value for money.
The Zarate family have been making wine in the Salnes Valley for over 300 years and have been at the forefront of modern winemaking in the area. This is their “entry level” Albariño, made from vines with an average age of 35 years. It’s made in the normal style – clean, fresh, young, fruity – but is a great example of that style. It shows a variety of citrus: lemon, lime and grapefruit and has a long, clean finish.
Brian Bicknellis regarded as one of the most accomplished winemakers in Marlborough. He did a tour of duty that took him from the antipodes to Hungary, France, Chile and finally back to New Zealand. After five years of planning, Mahi made their first vintage in 2001 and then established their winery in Renwick (pictured above from my visit) in 2006. The grapes come from owned and rented vineyards, currently extending to five varieties (but no Riesling yet, which is a pity!)
This is Mahi’s standard Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s a world away from the Marlborough Sauvignon on offer in the local supermarket – in fact, it’s one of the best examples of straight Sauvignon you can find. It shows grapefruit, gooseberries and cut grass, green but ripe, and wonderfully balanced.
Whereas the regular Sauvignon above is blend from across all Mahi’s vineyards, this is a single vineyard wine, but also a different expression of the grape through different winemaking techniques. The vines are in a north-facing (the warmest aspect in the southern hemisphere) plot close to the edge (hence “Boundary Farm”) of Blenheim. The grapes are handpickedcompared to the normal practice of machine harvesting. They are whole-cluster pressed,fermented with wild yeastin French oak barriques and then matured in the barrel for a further eleven months. The result is a totally different style of wine: smoky, oaky and intense funky flavours over a lemon, lime and orange citrus core. If anything, this 2014 was slightly too smoky on the finish for me, but as it’s only just been released I would expect it to calm down somewhat and integrate more over the coming months and years. Smoked salmon anyone?
Bodegas Zarate Rías Baixas Tras da Viña 2015 (12.5%, €29.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
Tras da Viña is a tiny hillside parcel of only 0.6 hectares, facing south for maximum sunshine. The Albariño vines were replanted in 1965 so they were celebrating their 50th birthday for this vintage. Such age has given the wine a fantastic intensity of flavour, and a very long finish. It is classic Albariño, with a slightly saline edge, but much more than that – lithe and liquid on the tongue. This is a refined wine that would be perfect for delicately flavoured dishes, flattering them rather than overpowering them.
Fourchaumeis generally rated in the top echelon of Chablis’s Premiers Crus, with an easterly aspect that bathes it in the morning sun – this promotes ripeness without overblown alcohol or losing freshness. Domaine Fèvre have 10 hectares in the middle of the Cru, all based on Kimmeridgian limestone. Fermentation and maturation on fine lees take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. This is a grown up Chablis, already very approachable despite the young age. Tangy citrus and mineral notes combine with a delightful texture and sublime poise. Top class Chablis!
UK wine importers Top Selection have an enviable portfolio of exclusive niche wines (and spirits) across the price spectrum. Here are a couple of their fresh whites which impressed me recently:
Angel Sequeiros Rías Baixas Albariño “Evoe” 2013 (13.0%, £17.50 at Top Selection)
Not long after gourmets and gourmands started using the term “food porn”, winelovers hit back with the equally hyperbolic “wine porn”. Although the term is supposed to be figurative, it’s not far off the literal truth for this bottle!
Founder Angel Sequeiros bought the already-established Finca Quinta Gaviñeira on his return to Galicia in 1960. The Rías Baixas estate is 100% Albariño and is now run by Angel’s son Clement. Clement has been making his own mark with the estate since his first release in 2009.
It’s floral, fresh, and gently fruity – pleasant drinking on its own but not so intense that you couldn’t bring it to the table. This is one of the most balanced Albariños I’ve tried!
Apparently, “evoe” in English means “an exclamation of Bacchic frenzy” – and looking at the label I’d say that’s not too far off the mark!
Villa Mattielli Soave Classico Campolungo 2015 (13.0%, £17.00 at Top Selection)
As I have opined many a time and oft* on this blog, Soave from the Veneto in north eastern Italy continues to be unfairly looked down on because of the inexpensive and unexpressive bulk wine made in the region. In fact, going back to the 1970s, Soave sales in some export markets rivalled that of Chianti. In spite of the burgeoning quality of many other Italian wines, Chianti is still seen as the “go-to” Italian red wine in export markets, whereas Soave has been overtaken by the infamous Pinot Grigio (most of which, itself, is not exactly characterful).
Thankfully Villa Mattielli are a quality-orientated family producer with 30 hectares of vines across the Soave Classico and Valpolicella DOCs. Winemaker Roberta is the fourth generation of the family to run the firm, along with her husband Giacomo and her sister Valeria.
The wine has a lovely orange and peach nose; it explodes with the same in the mouth, round and luscious. Unlike many Italian white wines, it has too much flavour for oysters or delicate white fish – instead try it with king scallops or garlic and ginger prawns.
*The wine is made in the area around Venice, hence the literary reference**
Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time. Here is a selection of my favourites:
Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)
I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed. Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did! I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side. More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.
Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)
This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent. If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.
La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)
This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world. It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!
Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)
Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer? This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now. Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate. Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!
Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)
This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family. At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes. Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!
Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)
When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas. They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is). Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla, all in a soft and cosseting package. Get in!
Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)
This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux. The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs). It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak! More info here.
Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)
Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.
Here are a few of my favourite Spanish wines available at O’Briens – and until 17th August they are on sale with 20% or more off, so it’s a great time to snap them up!
Martín Códax Rías Baixas Albariño 2013 (12.5%, €17.95 down to €14.36 at O’Briens)
The fresh one: Named after a literary hero from Galicia in northwest Spain, this wine also uses the celebrated local grape Albariño. While some examples can be a little too tart for my taste, several months of ageing on the lees before bottling and a few years’ rest make this wonderfully round, though still fruity and refreshing. Expect citrus and soft stone fruit notes.
Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Capellanía 2010 (13.5%, €24.95 down to €19.96 at O’Briens)
The Marmite one: this is generally a love or loathe type of wine due to the deliberate introduction of some oxygen during the winemaking process – i.e. giving it a slight “Sherry” taste. It’s how traditional style white Rioja is made – and to be honest I’m all for it as technically better modern examples are often a bit dull. I also tasted a 2005 vintage recently and it was still going strong, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it!
Torres Ribero del Duero Crianza Celeste 2012 (14.0%, €21.95 down to €17.56 at O’Briens)
The regular one: Although it’s fairly well distributed, this is a classy wine that always delivers – it’s a regular tipple for me. It’s made from Tempranillo which is of course the mainstay of red Rioja, but the hotter days and cooler nights of the Ribero del Duero give the local variant a thicker skin and hence the wine has more colour and flavour – dark berries with a pinch of spice!
Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €30.45 down to €24.36 at O’Briens)
The surprising one: This wine was one of the stand outs for me at the O’Briens Spring Wine Fair. When it comes to Rioja I don’t usually go for a Gran Reserva as they can be woody and dried out from too much time in oak, but this was a revelation. 30 months in American oak followed by 3 years in bottle have set it up superbly. The strawberry fruit is so, so soft with vanilla on the side, and a slight smoky edge to the wine. The oak is definitely noticeable but it’s now well integrated. A fabulous wine!
Marques de Murrieta Castillo De Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2007 (14.0%, €85.00 down to €68.00 at O’Briens)
The no-expense spared one: Yes, this is an expensive wine, but it is counted among the best in Spain, so if you’re splashing out then why not? It’s a blend of 86% Tempranillo and 14% Mazuelo (a.k.a. Carignan) matured in oak for 28 months. It tastes pretty damned amazing, but it’s still a baby – put a couple of bottles away for a special occasion in a few years time!
So part one focused on Peter Lehmann’s Barossa gems and included a joke about hand gestures. Part two covered the wines of Lapostolle from Chile and Ochoa from Navarre, with a reference to Björk “It’s All So Quiet” (you all got that, right? right??)
Now part three will showcase a flight of Sauvignons, amongst others, and the disclosure of why this tasting wasn’t as silent as it should have been.
The Sauvignon Blancs
The first flight looks at some of the more memorable Sauvignon Blancs brought in by Comans.
McKenna Sauvignon Blanc 2013
This is an exclusive to Comans as it’s bottled especially for them by Undurraga. The name celebrates the historical connections between Ireland and Chile in the person of Irish-born Captain John Juan McKenna who played an important role in the rebellion of 1810. Take a few minutes to read the details in Tomas Clancy’s post here.
It’s unusual for me to recommend an inexpensive Chilean Sauvignon, but this is well made. You’d never mistake it for Marlborough, but if you find some of those too much then this is a little more restrained. The key word here is grapefruit – fruit sweetness but also acidity, making it tangy and refreshing.
Sablenay Touraine AOC Sauvignon Blanc 2012
In terms of bang for your buck, reliability and availability, it’s pretty hard to beat a Touraine Sauvignon. If I were drawing up a hypothetical restaurant wine list it’s the first thing I’d put on there.
This one has the typical grassy notes of a French Sauvignon, but also sweet tropical fruit and grapefruit. It’s much more expressive that your average Touraine, a better bet than a lower quality no-name Sancerre. Perfect for summer on the patio!
La Rochetais AOC Pouilly Fumé 2012
This is a lovely, pure, almost “Riesling-like” linear wine. It’s also an accessory to an embarrassing incident. Now as you know at pro tastings there’s no swallowing, everything is spat – if you want to taste several dozen wines and remain upright, never mind drive home afterwards, it’s the only way forward. Plus, not having so much alcohol in your bloodstream means your senses aren’t dulled and you can focus more on the tasting.
At the time of the tasting I was still recovering from a nasty chest infection – a colleague semi-seriously asked me if I had tuberculosis. Now imagine a sudden coughing fit when you’ve got a mouthful of Loire Sauvignon that you’re swilling round and trying to interpret. Instinct says spit now…but I wasn’t close to a spittoon, and so almost choked.
Thankfully the assembled members of the press were very kind and didn’t mock me which they would have been entitled to do. Though one kind gentleman did suggest I describe this wine as “one which took me breath away”.
My friends, even wine-tasting can be an extreme sport at times!
Château de Sancerre AOC Sancerre 2012
Forget own label Sancerres in the French supermarkets, this is the real deal.
The Château is owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family who Chilean operation featured in Part Two. Both properties show the advantages of cooperation between winemakers from different areas; while the French influence can be seen in Lapostolle’s Sauvignon Blancs, for me there is a definite new world aspect to Château Sancerre – a roundness and suppleness to the fruit which make it caress the inside of your mouth.
The vineyards span four different soil types which, when blended intelligently, results in a complex yet focused wine.
Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012
At the NZ Sauvignon Masterclass before the annual trade tasting this year, Kevin Judd et al. took us through how the marked differences in weather between 2012 and 2013 translated into markedly different flavour profiles. Since then I’ve found it remarkably easy to identify 2012s blind – much greener, especially asparagus, and less tropical notes.
This Wither Hills 2012 wasn’t tasted blind but the asparagus character came straight through (I like it, some don’t), but with a tangy grapefruit finish. Dare I suggest this would be amazing with an asparagus starter?
So what is this? It’s a premium, single vineyard Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Given how many Chilean Sauvignons are around £6 / €10 it’s quite surprising to see a producer move upmarket. The first tasting note I wrote was “who’s just mowed their lawn” – it’s that distinctively grassy!
The grapes are sourced from a vineyard in Leyda Valley, which is only 9 miles / 14 km from the cooling Pacific Ocean. There are some great Pinot Noirs coming from that area, but that’s a story for another day. This 2013 vintage wine also belies its age – it has a smoother mouthfeel than one might expect from such a young wine.
So the key questions – is it a success? Is it worth the extra money? Right now I’d be happy to drink it, but I probably wouldn’t spend €24 of my own money in a wine merchants. However, I reckon this will actually evolve over the next few years, so I’d be very interested to taste an example with some more bottle age to see where it goes.
The Best Of The Rest
If you’re all Sauvignoned out, here are some of the other whites which stood out for me:
Dr L Riesling 2010
For those scared or wary of Riesling, Dr Ernst Loosen’s entry level bottling is a great place to start. It’s fairly simple, though it has enough acidity to evolve more complexity over a decade. It’s fresh and fruity with a touch of residual sugar, but it’s pleasant and balanced – so moreish!
Of course Dr L makes more profound and expensive Rieslings, but the true nature of the bargain is that you won’t feel like you’re missing out even if you’re a Rieslingphile.
I like Albariños on the whole, but my main beef with them is that they often don’t offer enough bang for the buck. Meet Salterio’s offering which is a great value example from Rias Baixas. It won’t be the best you’ve ever tasted but it’s remarkable at the price.
Protos Verdejo DO Rueda 2012
Not much to add here as I’ve recommended this Rueda several times before – it’s a cracker!
Muga Barrel Fermented White Rioja 2013
Rioja’s Viura (also Catalonia’s Macabeo) is a fairly neutral grape. By neutral, I mean thin and often lacking in flavour. This makes it a good base component for Cava, but can make for an uninspiring dry still white. The winemakers of Rioja have long used two main techniques to add interest to their whites – oxidisation and barrel ageing. As a personal preference I’m not yet a convert to oxidised styles, so such examples from Rioja leave me cold.
Happily for me, this Muga example is clean as a whistle and definitely worth a try. It has 10% Malvasia in the blend and was fermented in new French barriques. Maturation on the lees adds to the creamy texture, but it is tangy and fresh – a great example at a fairly modest price.
Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royal Brut NV
Good Cava and other traditional method sparklers are better than poor Champagne (the type you often see in the supermarkets at 50% off). But good Champagne holds its own, in my opinion.
This is an almost-equal-parts blend of the main Champagne grapes – Chardonnay for lemon and freshness, Pinot Noir for red fruit and body, plus the often unfairly maligned Pinot Meunier for white fruit and floral notes.
The Cuvée Royale has three years on the lees prior to disgorgement – far beyond the minimum for not vintage – and this is where the extra body and creaminess come from. It’s far better value than a special offer Champagne.
So, Marlborough lovers, we did a tour of New Zealand in part one and then cast the Sauvignon Blanc net further in part two. Now we can begin to look at the broader horizon of other grapes in a similar(ish) style. This could run to 20,000 words so I will highlight the main wines that a savvy Savvy lover should try (see what I did there?) and ones which are fairly widely available.
Some of you might be perplexed at seeing Spanish whites mentioned as an alternative to Marlborough Sauvignon, especially given some of the oxidised muck that got produced there in the past. But Spain is probably the most exciting European country for wine at the moment, reinventing itself and applying modern viticultural and wine-making techniques to traditional grapes and areas.
Many of these grapes are indigenous to Spain, and whereas some such as Garnacha and Cariñena were adopted elsewhere in the southern Mediterranean, lots of them remain rooted in España.
So, to begin at the beginning; Rueda is a small principally white wine region between the rugged red regions of Toro and Ribero del Duero. For much of its history it was planted with Jerez’s Palomino Fino grape and a rustic sherry style was made there. A few dry whites were made here and there from the Verdejo grape, but this practice was substantially boosted by the Rioja house Marqués de Riscal and now this is the main output of the region.
I mention Rueda first as a Marlborough alternative for a couple of reasons: firstly, it can be made with Sauvignon Blanc, even as a single varietal (and is usually labelled thus). Secondly, even if made with no SB it can often show plenty of Sauvignon characteristics. Macebeo (aka Viura) is also permitted in the blend.
Which to try? Rueda is one of the most reliable wines around, but some stand out more than others. Telmo Rodroguez’s Basa was the first quality Rueda that turned my head and remains a firm favourite to this day. Marqués de Riscal produce both Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo based wines here, so try both to compare and contrast. A more recent discovery for me in both restaurants and wine merchants was Protos Verdejo – a fine example at a very reasonable price.
Some wines are more known by their appellation, but others (even in the Old World) are better known by their principal grape. Of course in Albariño’s case it could just be that the grape’s name is easier to pronounce for furriners than Rías Baixas, the main appellation in North West Spain where it is grown. For the record it’s pronounced something like ree-ash bye-shass.
And it’s still fairly trendy, which means it can be overpriced, but the good ones are worth it. And like Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes more complex examples are made with lees stirring and time in barrel. For the latter, try something like Pazo Señorans Selección de Añada, or for a more straightforward, younger, example try something by Brandal.
The homeland of this grape is also North West Spain, both in Valdeorras (in Galicia, above Portugal) and Bierzo (just slightly further east, into Castilla Y Leon). Again we have some pioneers to be thankful for.
Valdesilare the biggest vineyard owners and producers. They make four different quality levels, starting with the fresh and simple Montenovo from vines around the Valdeorras area, then the Valdesil Sobre Lias which is more concentrated and has creamy lees characteristics. Next up is Pezas da Portela which (as linguists may guess) is made from individually vinified selected plots of the slate-soiled Portela vineyard. Subtle oak tones add to the complexity. Finally, the Valdesil range topper is Pedrouzos which has their oldest vines (claimed to be three generations old).
Telmo Rodriguez turns up here again (what’s the opposite of a bad penny?) with his Gabo do Xil Godellos. This is and unoaked and refreshing example grown on granite and slate soils.
The King of Godello, if there were such a person, would probably be the quality fanatical Rafael Palacios. His entry level Bolo is made in stainless steel whereas the Louro de Bolo spends four months in tight grained Norman oak foudres – the size means there is little obvious oak flavour imparted to the wine, but subtle oxygenation makes for a smoother wine. Rafa’s top wine, reckoned by many to be the best white wine in Spain, is his As Sortes. Still 100% Godello, but with more concentration and a lick of oak, it will develop over several years.
This is my personal favourite Godello – it isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it!
What this space for more Marlborough Sauvignon alternatives!
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