It has become something of a tradition at DNS Wine Club for one of our events every year to be a fun event based on Irish Times wine columnist John Wilson’s annual book, “Wilson On Wine”. Here’sthe post I did on our first such eventback in 2015 which explains how it works in more detail. If you have a wine tasting / drinking group of six or more people then I highly recommend giving it a go.
For the first time, DNS were joined by the main man himself. John is a complete gentleman, and was unfailingly polite despite the far-fetched tales told about each wine by the club (which is all part of the fun of “call my wine bluff”). As I was keeping tight control of the answers he was left to guess the wine along with the rest of the gang, but of course he was spot on every time.
This first article will focus on the less expensive wines which shone on the night – all of course featured in Wilson On Wine 2019.
Aldi Exquisite Collection Crémant du Jura 2014 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at Aldi)
This fizz will be familiar to many as it’s a reliable, great value for money crémant which is perfect for parties. So much so, in fact, that it has appeared in every edition of Wilson On Wine to date. During our tasting it suffered from following a more sophisticated (and more expensive) Champagne, but I’d rather drink this than the vast majority of Prosecco on the market.
Pequenos Rebentos Vinho Verde 2017 (11.5%, RRP €15.50 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)
For me Vinho Verde usually falls into one of two categories – cheap and cheerful blends of local grapes or slightly more serious varietal Alvarinho, with the latter coming from the premium subregion of Monção & Melgaço. This is one of the cheap and cheerful types in terms of price and grapes, but for me rises above its lowly origins. The typical citrus and saline notes are present, but the fruit is so damn juicy! It has a certain je ne sais quoi which makes it one of the best Vinho Verdes I’ve ever tried.
Here we have another inexpensive Portuguese wine which rises above its modest origins. In decades past Bairrada was mainly a source of rough and ready bulk wine that was sold by the carafe in restaurants, but like many “lesser” European wine regions, quality has increased significantly with modern equipment and a firm eye on quality. The clay soils here are best known for the Baga grape, but this wine is actually more of a Douro (or Port) blend as it’s made with Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca. Red and black fruits abound, but again with a nice dash of acidity. This is a really well put together wine that I’d be happy to drink any time of the year.
Ingata Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €18.00 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)
Outside of a few brands such as Villa Maria and Brancott Estate, less expensive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is something I tend to avoid. It tends to be overly aromatic and intensely acidic – it gets plenty of attention with the first few sips but even a second glass is often too much. Trading up to the likes of Tinpot Hut, Mahi or Greywacke more than pays back the price differential. Here is one that breaks the mold -it’s a true but gentle expression of Marlborough Sauvignon, with all its components in balance. In fact, this is even worth a try for folks who “don’t like New Zealand Sauvignon” -they might be pleasantly surprised
Apart from the Aldi Crémant I hadn’t tasted any of these wines before, yet they really shone above and beyond their price tags. That’s one of the real positives of being able to rely on someone pre-tasting wines for you!
The first grape that many people (especially my friend Ciaran) suggest for a barbecue red is Malbec, particularly the fruit-driven style Malbecs that come out of Argentina. Others take a different view and insist that Cabernet is King, and the extra tannin of Cabernet Sauvignon is required to tame a protein feast.
Well of course neither are wrong – it’s personal preference after all – but there is a way to keep both parties happy – a Malbec Cabernet blend, the best of both worlds:
Lot #01 Mendoza Malbec Cabernet 2013 (€12.99, Aldi Wine)
This is a foray upmarket for Aldi, the discount Supermarket chain. Now that we are gradually emerging from the depths of despair recession, wine drinkers are gradually willing to spend a little more, but still keeping an eye on value for money.
Aldi recently launched their Lot Wines collection, premium wines with a limited production of 25,000 – 35,000 bottles per wine. That might still sound a lot, but in the context of the number of outlets they have in Ireland and the UK (at least) then it’s actually not that many. Each wine in the series has its own label designed by artists local to the producing region and a tag with information about the consulting winemaker for each one. Each bottle is individually numbered which adds to the premium look and feel.
For Lot #01 the man with the plan was José ‘Pepe’ Galante, head winemaker at Bodégas Salentein. Most of the grapes are sourced from higher altitude sites in the Uco Valley subregion of Mendoza – the altitude gives cooler growing conditions enabling the vines to produce grapes with ripe flavours and a balance of acidity and sugar (sites further east at lower altitude might be too warm and produce jammy wines). The grapes are hand-picked from selected parcels and matured after fermentation for twelve months in oak.
As well as the two hero grapes, there’s also a dash of Petit Verdot in here (less than 15% otherwise it would be on the front label). As in Bordeaux, it’s added for seasoning and a bit of extra backbone – as a grape it’s very high in tannin.
So how does the wine taste?
This wine has lots and lots of fruit, plum and damson from the Malbec intertwined with blackcurrant and blackberry from the Cabernet. But it’s no fruit bomb, the tannin and acidity keep it well balanced. It’s smooth to drink, but not so smooth that the taste jades after a glass or two. The oak is there but accompanies rather than dominates the fruit, adding vanilla and spice notes.
I shared this bottle with French and Irish friends at a barbecue and it was very well received – one French lady almost falling off her chair in delight!
Disclosure: Sample was provided, but opinions are entirely my own (and Sabrina’s)
Like its close rival Lidl, German discount chain Aldi has established a foothold in the wine market and is looking to broaden its range up the market. Known for low cost wines which are technically well made but somewhat lacking in verve, they are trying to bring their customers up market by offering fancier wines, though still with an eye on the ticket. Of course given Ireland’s ridiculous level of tax on wine it nearly always makes sense to trade up, whether it’s a few nice bottles from your local wine merchant or a bottle in the trolley with your cornflakes.
Here are a few of my favourites from the recent Aldi Ireland press tasting:
Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 (€26.99)
Aldi’s main Champagnes carry the label Veuve Monsigny and have won awards in the past few years. While they are pleasant to drink and definitely good value as Champagne goes in Ireland, the latest addition above is a different beast entirely.
Leon Launois now makes a variety of different cuvées, but prior to their purchase by the producers of Champagne Charles Mignon in 2003 their only wine was a Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru from Mesnil-sur-Oger. This wine maintains that tradition – it has a beautiful brioche nose (from the time spent ageing on the lees) and that follows through on the palate, with lifted lemon through the middle (from the Chardonnay). The mousse is lovely and creamy and it has a very long finish. Very classy.
Emozione Franciacorta DOCG Brut 2009 (€22.99)
Franciacorta DOCG is a traditional method sparkling wine made in the eponymous area located in Lombardy, central-northern Italy. It’s a relatively new name as sparkling wine has only been made there in any significant quantity since the early 60s, but is a world away from Prosecco in terms of production process. One of the main differences from Champagne in practice is that the grapes are often picked when fully (but not over) ripe, so they have more intensity of flavour and can reach higher alcohol as base wines.
At first I wasn’t sure whether to include this as I think it will be quite polarising – some people will love it and some will loathe it. But if you don’t take a risk in life you can get stuck in a rut! The blend is 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir) and 5% Pinot Bianco (Blanc), which is actually the same proportion that those grapes are planted in the Franciacorta DOCG area.
This might sound weird but I thought this had a slightly savoury finish. I think grilled tuna steak would be a great match.
Exquisite Collection Gavi 2013 (€7.49)
Are you surprised by this recommendation? I certainly was! Gavi is a light Italian white wine made from the Cortese grape, and due to fashion is often priced far higher than its intensity of flavour would suggest. Among my friends in Dublin it has become something of a joke, so I thought I would just try this for shits and giggles.
But to my amazement it has flavour! Lots of stone and soft white fruit – we’re talking peach, pear and apricot. There’s fruit sweetness here but a dry finish. Like many Italian whites it has plenty of acidity but it’s not austere or boring. Would be great with seafood or a light salad starter.
And if you have a friend or relative who loves Italian Pinto Grigio, give them this to try as an alternative.
Edouard Delaunay Chassagne Montrachet 2000 (€24.99, available from 2nd Nov)
Yes you read that correctly – a 14 year old white wine from for 25 yoyos from Aldi. This obviously goes waaay past the everyday drinking category. Without trying to be snobby I doubt the vast majority of regular shoppers would recognise it, but bravo to Aldi for broadening their range.
On the nose there is lots of buttered toast, due to maturation in oak and subsequent bottle age. The buttered toast continues on the palate but with some tropical fruit notes and lemon freshness. A complex wine that deserves a big glass for contemplation.
Charles de Monteney Condrieu 2012 (€23.99, available from 2nd Nov)
Condrieu is in the heart of the northern Rhône and for a long time was the last bastion of the difficult to grow Viognier grape. Viognier is now grown more widely in the Rhône and further afield in places such as California, Australia and New Zealand. It often has more body and certainly more texture than average for a white wine – you might call it a red drinker’s white. Some examples can have an oily viscosity to them, not dissimilar to Alsace Pinot Gris (which is a firm favourite of mine).
And so it proves in this example. It has an amazing nose with orange blossom and orange liqueur combined – more Cointreau than Fanta. On tasting, there’s a touch of honey, apricot (typical for Viognier) and that orange again. Unlike many examples of Condrieu this is enjoyable on its own without food.
I think this is another polarising wine, so approach with caution, but I believe it’s worth taking a punt.
Thomas Schmidt Private Collection Riesling Auslese 2013 (€14.99, available from 2nd Nov)
From the land of the long wine name comes a sweet and fruity number from the Mosel. At only 8.5% alcohol this is one which won’t rush to your head – in fact it’s around the strength where a small (125ml) glass is equivalent to the British or Irish official units of alcohol.
Despite encouragement from a host of wine commentators, Riesling remains unloved by the majority of casual wine drinkers, principally due to associations with sweet and flabby sugar water concoctions from the 1970s such as Liebfraumilch. Aside from the fact that many of those contained little or no Riesling, they were cheap blends with no relation to quality wine.
Not all Riesling is sweet, but this one is – very sweet in fact, but not flabby at all. There is a pronounced ZING of acidity balancing out the residual sugar. This is a young wine but will develop beautifully over the next decade or more. Who says white wines don’t keep?
Edouard Delaunay Maranges Premier Cru “Les Roussots” 2008 (€29.99, available from 2nd Nov)
This is real, grown-up Pinot Noir from its heartland of the Côte d’Or in Burgundy. Whereas entry level Pinots from the new world can be jammy and confected, and cheaper French Pinots are sometimes too dry and lacking in fruit, this Premier Cru example has lots of fresh fruit but a dry, savoury edge. Typically you’d expect red fruit from Pinot Noir – strawberry and raspberry – but this adds some black fruit as well.
At six years of age this has opened up and is starting to develop additional layers of complexity. If that’s what you like then put a few bottles down, but it’s drinking well now. The acidity is enough to cut through fatty meat, so if you have duck or goose planned for a fancy meal later in the year (not going to say the word) then this would partner well.
Trius Showcase Canadian Icewine 2013 (€29.99, available from 2nd Nov)
Vidal is a hybrid grape partly descended from Ugni Blanc which is the main grape in the Cognac area. It was bred for high acidity (useful in brandy) and hardiness in cold weather, but has actually come into its own as the main grape in Canadian ice wine.
As with the original Eiswein in Germany, ice wine is made by pressing very ripe grapes which have been left on the vine and been frozen. Ice crystals are separated from the remainder of the juice which is therefore more concentrated in terms of sugar, flavour and acidity. This makes for a very sweet, concentrated wine. As so much of the juice is subtracted as water, yields are very low and prices tend to be high.
This example from the Niagra Peninsula is not cheap but I think is worth splashing out on as a treat. It’s sweet enough to hold its own against pretty much any dessert and has luscious tropical fruit flavours.
Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2008 (€24.99, available from 2nd Nov)
Tokaji has been a famous wine for several centuries. Made in a delimited area in Hungary, it uses sweet botrytised grape paste to sweeten regular wine must. The measure of sweetness is how many buckets (Puttonyos) of paste were added in to a 136L barrel – the traditional proportions. 2 putts gives something that would go with a fruit cocktail but not something sweeter, and 5 putts is probably the best overall balance (you might even want to say “the sweet spot”, ahem).
This 6 putts example is even sweeter, but I reckon if you’re going to be having lots of fancy desserts then another putt isn’t going to hurt. What did surprise me was the toasted coconut on the nose, implying American oak barrels. On the palate there is typical apricot and honey notes with a touch of mushroom (not as unpleasant as it sounds!) Make sure this is well chilled before serving so the acidity isn’t lost in the background.