After several years of successful French and Italian Wine Sales, Irish supermarket chain have launched a joint Spanish and Portuguese Wine Sale, running from 10th February to 2nd March. Bargains galore are to be had, but which are good and which are great? Here are brief notes on four whites which are all worth picking up.
Abellio Albariño 2021
This is a bright, refreshing Albariño from north west Spain; a variety that is very popular in these parts, and sometimes overpriced due to customer recognition. This example is on the simple side, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The citrus fruits are joined by the saline notes typical of the Atlantic coast. The normal price is perhaps a little steep, but on offer at a tenner it’s one to buy in bulk in preparation for longer spring evenings.
RRP: €14.99 down to €10.00 from 10th February 2022 to 2nd March 2022
Stockists: SuperValu stores
Five Hidden Lagoons Sauvignon Blanc 2021
What’s this, a SPANISH Sauvignon Blanc? Yes, and it’s not the first either as varietal examples in Rueda are not uncommon. Whereas those I’ve tried from Ruesda have been somewhat similar to less expensive Sauvignons from the Loire, this is more New Zealand in style. The nose has lots of tropical notes: passionfruit, mango, pineapple and grapefruit. The palate is tangy, slightly more centred with grapefruit and gooseberry to the fore but those exotic fruits still in the background. The acidity is good but not searing, making for a crisp finish, dry but not bone dry.
RRP: €14.99 down to €10.00 from 10th February 2022 to 2nd March 2022
Stockists: SuperValu stores
Marqués de Cáceres Rueda 2021
Rueda is increasingly the white wine playground of major players from Rioja, offering an alternative to white Rioja which is seldom expensive and doesn’t rely on oak or oxidative ageing for character – Verdejo has plenty, thanks. This is a clean, fresh wine, all about stone fruit, lemon, lime and orange. It’s pithy and tangy with great texture, a great example of the grape and the region.
RRP: €14.99 down to €10.00 from 10th February 2022 to 2nd March 2022
Sticking with the German rather than Alsatian spelling, this Gewürztraminer is from the fairly new region of Somontano, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Unlike the wines above it does have some colour, though not as dark as some Gewurz I’ve seen. True to form, it’s highly aromatic, though not like sniffing perfume; gentle rose petals and other floral notes float out of the glass. Almost a touch musky. The palate is perfectly poised! A little sweetness, though only a little, and a round, enticing mouthfeel. There’s almost a touch of sweet and sour, though scaled down from the Chinese sauce. A wine in balance, then, and not overblown. This is actually a great introduction to the grape.
RRP: €14.99 down to €10.00 from 10th February 2022 to 2nd March 2022
Stockists: SuperValu stores
Frankly Wines Pick
The order of the wines above ended up being my order of preference. It’s rare to find a balanced Gewurz that hits the spot, but the example from Viñas del Vero does exactly that – and it’s incredible value at €10.
For the next 12 days (until 2nd August) O’Briens are running a Spanish Wine Sale. As you might expect, Rioja and Rías Baixas are the key areas for reds and whites respectively out of a total of 69 wines. However, I thought I’d try a couple of whites from slightly less well-known – though far from obscure – Spanish regions: Rueda and Ribeiro. Here are my brief notes:
De Alberto Rueda Organic Verdejo 2019
Rueda has a claim to being one of Spain’s most consistent white wine regions; good value, approachable, fruity yet refreshing wines that are pleasant to sip on their own but can handle plenty of food pairings.
For a long time, Rueda’s whites were often Palomino based “Sherry style” wines, and that variety is still permitted, but Verdejo is the king now. Viura, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier are also permitted for whites (I’ve seen 100% Sauvignon Blanc and Viura as a minor component in a blend, but I have yet to see the other two on a label. Much rarer red Rueda can be made from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.
To give them their full name, this wine is made by Bodegas Hijos de Alberto Gutiérrez, S.A., named after the founder of the family firm. In 1941 they took over a long standing farmhouse which had made wines since being established by the Dominican order in the 17th century, and this is their base today.
The nose is bright and fruity, with a slight saline tang, plus fennel, garden herbs and gentle stone fruit. These continue onto the tangy palate which adds plenty of grassiness to proceedings. The finish is fresh, nay FRESH! As a grape Verdejo is most often compared to Sauvignon Blanc, and tasted blind I would probably have guessed this to be a South African Sauvignon Blanc due to its body and alcohol while not tasting French nor Kiwi.
When it comes to food pairing this Rueda can swap in for a Sauvignon with a classic goats cheese or take on trays of shellfish with abandon.
Ribeiro is one of the five wine regions of Galicia, along with the more famous Rías Baixas, Monterrei, Ribera Sacra and Valdeorras. Up until the 1700s it was best known for its sweet wines which were popular with passing pilgrims. Treixadura is the key white variety nowadays, though other permitted grapes are Torrontés*, Godello, Loureira, Albariño, Palomino, Albillo, and Macabeo. Among many synonyms, Treixadura is sometimes known as Trajadura or Trincadeira. It is rarely found outside Galicia or Vinho Verde and is often part of a blend.
The Pazo do Mar Group is a collection of three different wineries: Pazo do Mar itself in Ribeiro, Pazo das Tapias in Monterrei (mainly Mencía and Godello) and Veiga da Princesa in Rías Baixas (focussing on Albariño). Pazo do Mar offer four wines: Nerieda (Treixadura, Torrontés, Godello and Palomino), Pazo do Mar White (Treixadura, Torrontés and Godello), Pazo do Mar Red (Mencía and Tempranillo) plus the Treixadura-based (plus a dash of Albariño) Expression.
Expression is straw yellow in the glass with tints of green. The nose is instantly saline, accompanied by juicy citrus and hints of tropical fruits and spice. The palate immediately starts with those saline waves, and citrus and stone fruit in the background. Acidity is mouth-watering and demands another sip. The mid palate is broad and textured, making this a great foil for plenty of foods. If I have to be critical I’d say that there is perhaps a lack of flavour in the mid-palate, but this could even be by design: to leave space in the mix for food – think paella or lobster rolls.
If you’re already a fan of Albariño but rarely stray from that grape in Spain then you definitely need to give both of these a try. I think they are fairly priced at their regular price points so the reductions when on offer are a worthwhile saving. Of the two I’d narrowly choose the Treixadura…but I might change my mind when I try them again!
* Note this is not the same variety as Torrontés found in Argentina
In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:
A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it
It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.
Our 15th guest contributor in The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series is someone with an accent that is hard to pin down, but that makes perfect sense when you head his bio! Liam came into wine geekery later than some others but has been making up for lost time, devouring wine knowledge (and wine bottles?) at a hectic pace. After meeting at several consumer tastings he joined us in the Dublin North Side (DNS) Wine Club despite being a southsider. After a few tastings he threw hit hat into the ring to present a tasting, and the favourite of the group that night is the Garzon which I picked for him below.
For music I picked a track from an artist we both love – Eric Clapton – but not one of the most obvious. Bad Love is from his long hair period and is definitely more rock than blues, but it’s a classic.
It is with excitement and trepidation that I answer the request from Frankie to play a part in the wonderful Music and Wine Collaboration series. Excited to be asked, for sure, but the trepidation comes from following such illustrious giants from the Wine Gliteratti as James Hubbard & Jim Dunlop amongst a host of others. Frankie asked me a few weeks ago, but I had been tied up on a work project, meaning I didn’t have a lot of spare time to do justice to the cause, and lo and behold, the literary, musical and all round Wino genius, Lee Issacs, got in before me with his wonderfully descriptive scribblings. While Lee and I have never met in person, largely due to the present travel restrictions we find ourselves in, we share a common love of Argentina, and we both found our life partners roaming the Pampas, and this might explain our mutual love of Malbec, more of that to follow, as I now have to follow his words…
My musical tastes are very eclectic. Something to do with my advancing years, in that they range from the 60’s, the Beatles obviously (far better than the Stones!), through my formative years of the 70’s, with psychedelic sounds, before punk emerged, followed by a constant return to the 70’s as I got stuck in a time warp of music from that era. I still listen every week to Johnny Waler’s Sounds of the 70’s every Sunday afternoon. I have had a detour in recent years to embrace Country Music, yes, I know! It all came about from spending a few months working every year in the US back in the ’90s, and I fell for it… But I digress…
Eric Clapton – Bad Love
The Track that Frankie selected for me comes from one of my All Time Heroes, Slow Hand himself, Eric Clapton. Perhaps one of his lesser known tracks, from the 1989 Journeyman Album, “Bad Love”. Although it charted around the world, you don’t often hear it on the radio, and to be honest, although I have the album, I had forgotten the track over time. A pleasure to be reacquainted, and the lyrics rang very close to home. (This is where I turn sloppy and sentimental, which features from here on in, sorry).
The lyrics talk about being sad for the lonely people who walked through life alone for so long, as I did, but now having found their one true love, there would be no more Bad Love in their lives. This resounds with me, having met my wife late in life, after a failed marriage, and relationships in my younger days, but with all that behind me, having met Paula, my Argentine Rose, this song has new meaning.
Obviously as it reflected my life and how I had found my “Good Love” in Argentina, the wine I have selected to pair with the song, to remind me of every glorious moment, is of course, an Argentine Wine. Having been able to live just outside Buenos Aires for four years between 2009 and 2013, wines from the country became a staple, and I fell in love with Malbec as well as the woman.
I have selected a Malbec available here in Ireland, from Kaiken, ironically headed up by a Chilean, Aurelio Montes, from the Uco Valley in Mendoza. A truly memorable wine, the Kaiken Ultra Malbec is bright red in colour with an intense aroma emanating of spice and floral elegance, before the black fruits, so typical in a quality Malbec shine through. Smooth, soft tannins give way to a lengthy finish, and take me back to sitting outside in Buenos Aires as my brother in law stoked the Parilla (BBQ) and cooked an Asado to be washed down by a smooth Malbec.
Bodega Garzón Albariño
Of course, the journey doesn’t stop here, and Frankie, knowing my affection for South America, has selected an Albariño from Bodega Garzón in Uruguay for me to come up with a musical side dish to accompany this maritime delight. Albariño wines from Rías Baixas and Galicia have become very popular in Ireland in the past few years, and this Uruguayan version certainly reaches the giddy heights of the top Albariño’s Worldwide.
Pale yellow in colour, with a greenish tinge in the glass, on the nose the peachy summer fruit comes forward, with a hint of salinity, taking me to the seaside, and seafood. Citric flavours mingle with the pear in the mouth, and a long aftertaste reminds me of the smell of seaweed and brine as you walk along a coastline.
For some strange reason, my sentimentality came back to me every-time I thought about a musical pairing to go with this wine. The sea-salt took me to the Ocean, and a more local musician, with a song, not really about the ocean at all, but about life being a Voyage, and to Christy Moore, and his wonderful rendition of the Johnny Duhan penned song. The song talks about how life is an ocean, and love is a boat, and through troubled waters it keeps us afloat.
I’m not sure how a few bottles of Albariño would fare as we sail through life, but it took me back to finding my true love back in Argentina, and how we sailed the ocean back to Ireland (Ok, we flew, but its far more romantic to think of the journey being in a boat – romantic licence), and here we are, gathering around us our own crew of friends, making our life complete.
So there you have it. Two songs, two wines. The wines are linked, being both from South America, but the songs are dramatically different in their style, but are linked by their appreciation of Love and Life, hope you stayed the course.
Having set sail for Liverpool as a 5 year old, before returning home at 40 plus, Liam has lead a roaming life, taking him from County Down to Dublin, via Liverpool, Salford, San Diego, Rhode Island, and Buenos Aires. He is a Civil Servant by day, and in recent years, a wine nerd at night and weekends. After a lifetime of living a cliché of drinking the same wines, because he liked them, upon his return from Argentina in 2013, he decided to learn more about the Grape, taking a local course with Leslie Williams, which enthused him to go down the road of the WSET exams, and, so far, he has passed Levels 2 and 3 with Merit. Next up for this self-confessed nerd is the Italian Wine Scholar Programme, as he has fallen in love with the myriad of wines from the Boot of the Mediterranean, and aims to kick on with his knowledge in the future, sharing his views via Twitter (@Liam3494) and blogging his personal wine thoughts at www.thelongwineroad.com.
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!
Now it’s the turn for white wines to shine – here are ten of the best still dry whites which shone in 2016:
10. Feudo Luparello Sicilia Grillo – Viognier 2015
A novel blend of indigenous Sicilian and international grapes, this wine is more than the sum of its parts. Local Grillo is fresh and textured, more dry than fruity, whereas Viognier adds a voluptuous touch. This is how blended wines should work!
See herefor the full review (and the Nero d’Avola – Syrah blend!)
9. Nugan Estate Riverina Dreamer’s Chardonnay
A “supermarket wine” made from “unfashionable” Chardonnay in a region known for its bulk wines, on paper this wine should be pap – but it works, in fact it works a treat! In Ireland (at least) the main parameter for wine consumers in supermarkets in price, especially if a promotional offer is involved. Given the high rates of duty and tax squeezing the cost side of the equation it’s not easy to find everyday wines that are actually enjoyable (though plenty are drinkable).
Nugan Estate’s “Personality” Single Vineyard series ticks all the boxes for me, and this was narrowly my favourite of the lot. See herefor my review of the full range.
Although the label might look like an impressionist’s take on Health & Efficiency, the wine inside is fantastic – great with seafood, but gentle and fruity enough to be enjoyed on its own. If only all Albariños were this good!
The “other” white grape of Burgundy (ignoring the small amounts of Pinots Blanc and Gris) which is definitely a second class citizen, and is so poor on its own that the Kir cocktail was invented to find a palatable use for it – or so the received wisdom goes.
There’s some element of truth in this, but Aligoté is usually grown on less-favoured sites and with a focus on yields rather than flavour, so it takes a brave producer to break out of this cycle and give the grape the attention it deserves. The Goisot family are such a producer, based in the Sauvignon Blanc outpost of Saint-Bris. This Aligoté is unlike any other I have tasted – it actually has colour unlike most which are like pale water, and an intensity of white flower and spicy pear flavours which reveal the age of the vines.
6. Gaia Wild Ferment Santorini Assyrtiko 2013
When I put together a “wild” wine tasting for DNS Wine Club last year, there were a few obvious candidates that couldn’t possibly be missed from the line-up – this being one of them. I had recommended it several times in the past so I was hoping it would live up to its reputation – especially tasted blind – and it certainly did! Overall this was the favourite wine of the tasting, showing the funky flavours of wild yeast fermentation but still plenty of lovely citrus fruit and crisp acidity.
5. Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016
A common complaint levelled at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – and Marlborough in particular – is that “they all taste the same”. There is some truth in this – the aromatics are generally recognisable before the first glass has even been poured and they are never short of acidity – but if you taste different examples side by side then there are clear differences. The alternative styles of SB are another thing, of course, with wild yeast barrel fermentation and oak ageing used to make a different type of wine (see this article for more information).
4. Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
This isn’t a wine for everybody, but it’s a wine everybody should try at least once. Based mainly on Listan Blanco grapes from ten plots in Tenerife’s Valle de La Orotava, it’s so different that at first it’s hard to describe using everyday wine terms – it’s not fruity or buttery – perhaps nutty and waxy? Sounds strange, but it’s an interesting and very enjoyable wine.
3. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2014
Domaine Zinck’s Portrait Series wines are fine examples of regular AOC Alsace wines and show the town of Eguisheim in a good light. Take the step up to the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, however, and you move into different territory; not just in terms of the elevation of the vines, but a much more intense catalogue of aromas and flavours. Even a young example such as this 2014 is delightful, but with the capacity to age for a decade or two and continue developing.
2. Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011
Narrowly pipping its countryman, Sipp-Mack’s Grand Cru Riesling is from another exalted site: the Rosacker vineyard near Hunawihr, in between Ribeauvillé (where Trimbach is based) and Riquewihr (home to Hugel). It has both primary fruit and mineral notes, and performs fantastically at the table.
For such a stunning wine it is relatively inexpensive at around €30 retail. See herefor the full review.
1. Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014
When I have favourite wines that I taste regularly over the years, I try not to repeat myself too much in my Top 10 review articles. Given that I am lucky enough to taste several thousand wines over the course of an average year, it’s not such a difficult line to take…apart from M3!! The 2014 is still very young, but it’s a delight to drink now. Adelaide Hills is now possibly second to Tasmania for trendy cooler climate Aussie wines, but for me it’s still number one.
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.