Opinion

Alsace from Bordeaux – with Millésima [Sponsored]

Bordeaux was the first wine region I fell in love with, no doubt influenced by the fact that I could visit several vineyards on a day trip from my parents’ home in the Charente Maritime.  To this day there is a map of “Le Vignoble de Bordeaux” in my kitchen which I bought in Saint-Émilion over twenty years ago.

Founded in the heart of Bordeaux in 1983, Millésima is a fine wine and en-primeurWhats in a name specialist which sells directly to consumers in 120 countries.  It is a family run company, now in the hands of second generation Fabrice Bernard who succeeded his father Patrick as CEO in 2017.

Before being invited to write this piece, I was already familiar with Millésima, both through online advertisements and their sponsoring of the Millésima Blog Awards (which my friends Michelle Williams and Mike Turner were winners of in 2016).

Looking further it appears to me that Millésima’s key strengths are:

  • Selection: they have 2.5 million bottles to choose from. The emphasis is on Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne, then other French regions and ten other countries.
  • Provenance: they source their wines directly from the producer so that their condition and (especially) their authenticity are guaranteed.
  • Packaging and delivery: they pride themselves on speedy deliveries which arrive in perfect condition. The wines I ordered were picked and packaged in a double-layered corrugated cardboard box covered with a thick layer of shrink-wrapped plastic.
  • Compliance: unlike some unscrupulous distributors I have heard of, they are fully compliant with the excise and tax regulations of the countries to which their wines are shipped. This is especially important in Ireland which (unfortunately) has the highest rates in Europe, and so puts Millésima on a level playing field with local importers.

So, when invited to try some wines from a Bordeaux-based fine wine supplier, what type of wine did I order?  That’s right, some of my beloved Alsace wines from the far side of the country!  But rather than being awkward, the decision was deliberate and common sense: it would show the breadth of Millésima’s range and would put me in an informed position when reviewing the wines.

To select a mixed case is simple: click on Special Offers on the far right of the top menu

Top Menu

Next menus

then Create your own tasting case

and My own tasting case.

 

The wines I chose mainly feature my two favourite grapes from Alsace – Riesling and Pinot Gris – from three top producers, and both young and aged examples:

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris “Heimbourg” 1997 (14.0%, €55* at millesima.ie)

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg 1997

Heimbourg is a lieu-dit or named vineyard close to Turckheim, the home village of Domaine Zind Humbrecht.  It receives a lot of sunlight as it faces onto the Munster Valley and hence isn’t overshadowed by the Vosges Mountains.

The wine pours bright gold into the glass – a combination of age, possibly some noble rot and the grape variety.  The nose is highly aromatic, mainly showing rich honey notes (I’m not a honey connoisseur, but those bees have been feasting on some pretty tasty nectar) and stewed figs.  One of the best noses I’ve ever experienced!

The palate reveals the wine to be mature with some rancio streaks, possibly just past its peak, and dry.  Being dry is no bad thing in itself but is something of a surprise given the amount of honey on the nose.  The fruit is subdued and mainly stewed, accompanied by walnuts and brazils.  For matching with food, think of mature cheeses and nuts or even slow roasted beef.

Maison Trimbach Pinot Gris Réserve Personnelle 1998 (13.0%, €45* at millesima.ie)

Maison Trimbach Pinot Gris Réserve Personnelle 1998

Trimbach is arguably the most famous producer in Alsace and its wines are well distributed.  Its main yellow label wines are often the default choice for Alsace, whereas its flagship Clos Sainte-Hune Riesling is regarded by many as the best wine of the region.  Sitting between the two are the premium range of Riesling (Cuvée Frédéric Emile), Gewurztraminer (Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre) and this Pinot Gris (Réserve Personnelle).

The nose is clean with no oxidative notes, showing cumquat, apricot, exotic spices such as cinnamon and star anise, wrapped up with some light honeyed notes.  The palate has medium flavour intensity and reflects the nose very well.  This is a tasty, lively wine which isn’t going to improve further and would be best drunk sooner rather than later, but it would still be going strong in a year or two.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris “Herrenweg de Turckheim” 1999 (13.5%, €48 at millesima.ie)

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Herrenweg de Turckheim 1999

The Herrenweg is the vineyard where Zind Humbrecht’s HQ is based, on a complex mixture of sand, silt, clay and alluvial deposits.  Grapes here tend to ripen quickly and be very expressive.

When poured this Pinot Gris was an amazing amber colour – perhaps even burnished copper!  The nose is primarily stewed and some fresh stone fruit, with spice and honey.  It’s relatively subtle on the palate with the same notes but all of them are intertwined – the interplay between them is intriguing.  There’s still a little sweetness on the finish to accompany the honey aromas and flavours.

Domaine Marcel Deiss Alsace Riesling 2017 (13.0%, €28* at millesima.ie)

Domaine Marcel Deiss Riesling 2017

Domaine Marcel Deiss is an estate founded on tradition, but tradition for a reason.  Based in Bergheim, just a few clicks from Ribeauvillé, the Domaine is known for its focus on field blends – how wine was made in Alsace (and much of Europe) for centuries, before different grape varieties were properly identified and planted separately.  This, however, is from the Deiss vins de fruits or vins de cépages range – more about their grape variety than the locality where they were grown.  As with the entire range, this Riesling is Certified Organic and made following biodynamic principles from Deiss’s own vineyards only.

There’s a veritable array of citrus on the nose: lemon, lime, grapefruit and more.  The first sip shows that it has a little more body that you’d expect from a dry Riesling.  It’s young, fresh, citrus, mineral and steely with a long, dry finish.  This is quite a serious wine, but then, Riesling is a serious business!

Domaine Marcel Deiss Langenberg 2013 (12.5%, €39* at millesima.ie)

Domaine Marcel Deiss Langenberg 2013

The Langenberg is from Deiss’s Lieux-Dits range which consists of nine different named vineyards with their own distinctive terrior.  They don’t have Grand Cru status but when Alsace Premier Cru is established I’d bet that many of these nine would be included.   The Deiss website explains that Langenberg is a field blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Beurot, Muscat and Pinot Noir.  To the best of my knowledge Pinot Beurot is simply a synonym for Pinot Gris, but as that is already listed it might be a particular clone.

This is a highly aromatic wine with a wealth of tropical notes: pineapple, grapefruit, guava, banana, coconut, passionfruit and exotic spices all feature.  It has a silky, generous texture in the mouth.  The enticing palate is full of the tropical fruits found on the nose (mainly contributed by the Pinots Grises and the Muscat) but brought round to a crisp conclusion by the Riesling component.  A magnificent wine!

 


*Note: all prices include Irish Duty and VAT and are the relevant prices for individual bottles as part of a mixed selection.

Disclosure: this is a sponsored post, but all opinions remain my own.

 

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Tasting Events

Fruit and Balance [Alsace Vault Vol. 1]

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Françoise Gilley (L) & Agathe Bursin (R)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

 

Tasting Events

Tindal Treats (part 1 – Schlumberger)

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

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

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

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

carte_schlumberger

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

 

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

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Riesling

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

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

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris

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

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

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Gewurztraminer

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

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

Domaines Schlumberger Grand Cru Saering Riesling

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

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

Domaines Schlumberger Grand Cru Spiegel Pinot Gris

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

 

Tasting Events

Lidl French Wine Cellars (part 2 – white)

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

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

Jean Cornelius Alsace Riesling, €9.99

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

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

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

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

Château la Peyrère Bordeaux Blanc, €7.99

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

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

Château Rivière Lacoste Graves, €9.99

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

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

Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune, €14.99

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

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

Collin-Bourisset Bourgogne Mâcon-Villages AOP, €9.99

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

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

De Oliveira Lecestre Chablis, €17.99

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

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

 

Val de Salis Pays d'Oc Chardonnay €8.99

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

 

 

 

 

 

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

A Tale of Two Châteaux [Make Mine a Double #38]

chateau-de-sancerre-630x417

Does the word “Château” as part of a wine name impress you or leave you indifferent? Here are a couple of excellent Château-monikered wines from regions which are not synonymous with that word on the label:

Château de Sancerre 2016 (13.0%, RRP ~ €28 at independent wine merchants)

chateau de sancerre bottle

The Loire Valley is probably home to the most celebrated châteaux in the country, if not Europe as a succession of French kings tried to outdo each other in their weekend retreats.  To my shame I became very bored of the them and didn’t even try the local wine on my last holiday there – but in fairness I was only ten years old.

As experienced wine drinkers we try to discipline ourselves not to judge books by their covers, but we can at least admire beautiful covers like this one.  Thankfully, the contents live up to the label’s promise.  it has typical Sauvignon Blanc freshness, but isn’t hollow, like some Sancerres.  It has a touch of richness and body which elevate it above the hoi polloi – to be honest you would expect refinement in this price bracket but you don’t always get it.  Regular readers will know that cheese isn’t my thang, but the classical match of Sancerre with goat’s cheese would work well, or alternatively a lightly spiced stir fry.

Chateau discussion

Château d’Orschwihr Alsace Pinot Gris Bollenberg 2010 (14.6%, 9 g/L RS, RRP €20.95 (2014 vintage) at Karwig Wines)

Pinot Gris Bollenbeg

A quick flick at any tourist guide will tell you that there are lots of châteaux in Alsace.  However, unlike the palaces of the Loire, many were functioning fortified castles – and bear the scars of countless battles.  This is the only one I know of which is a wine producing entity in Alsace – and it’s a beauty.  The Château d’Orschwihr make some excellent Grand Cru wines (watch this space) but this particular bottle is from the lieu-dit of Bollenberg – perhaps a future Alsace Premier Cru?

Both the 2010 and 2014 were tried at a DNS Wineclub tasting earlier this year and the differences were an excellent illustration of how wines can change from year to year – vintage variation.  Age itself is a factor, of course, but the particularities of each vintage and how the producer adapts to them in the vineyard and the winery are part of what makes wine so interesting.  2010 was a very warm year and so the grapes had lots of sugar at harvest time – much was turned into alcohol (14.6%!) but a little was left as residual sugar (9 g/L).  The resulting wine is rich but not flabby – the alcohol doesn’t stand out and the slightly off dry finish is the perfect compliment to the ginger, pear and honey notes.  Cries out for Thai!

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

 

 

Champagne, Single Bottle Review

Gustave Lorenz L’Ami des Crustacés [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #16]

The shape of Alsace wine bottles (the “Rhine flute”) is distinctive and can be off-putting to some consumers who (unfairly) associate it with the flabby Liebfraumilch of the ’70s and ’80s, and for some the Gothic script used on the labels is a little intimidating; I like it, but I understand why others wouldn’t.  Here’s an example also from Gustave Lorenz:

Gustave_Lorentz_Riesling_Burg_Bottle

So Gustave Lorenz have taken a slightly different approach for one of their wines – far less emphasis on geographic origin and grape variety, far more emphasis on food matching, and hoping to attract slightly younger drinkers.  Thus we have L’Ami des Crustaces which is probably best translated as “Great with Shellfish” as the literal “Friend of Crustaceans” doesn’t quite fit.

Where you stand on shellfish will be a major indicator of whether you like the label of this wine. Those that like seafood platters piled up with all manner of claws and tentacles and surgical tools to dismember will definitely love it, whereas those with shellfish allergies will probably be put off it.

I’m somewhere in between; I like the food but I prefer it shelled, de-boned and on a plate ready for me!

If you look at the label you can see “Pinot Blanc Classique”, so the variety isn’t being hidden (it’s more of an aside), but neither the producer name nor region are mentioned on the front.

Gustave Lorenz L’Ami des Crustacés Pinot Blanc Classique 2016 (12.5%, RRP ~ €16.50 via Febvre)

Ami des Crustaces

And so on to the most important part (for me), the wine itself.  And it’s marvelous!  It has plenty of texture, in good part due to the majority Auxerrois in the blend (see my post on Alsace blends for further info), and plenty of zippy acidity, so as well as briny seafood such as oysters the wine would actually work well with more flavoured seafood dishes and even poultry.

This wine is new to the Irish market but once available commercially I think I will treat myself to a case for picnics, barbecues and days ending in “y”!

 

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2017

Here are ten fantastic whites which really impressed me in 2017 and I plan on drinking more of in 2018!

10. Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône Cuvée Zéphyr 2016 (14.0%, RRP €22.99)

les_deux_cols_cuvee_zephyr

“Les Deux Cols” translates literally as “The Two Hills” but also refers to the two founding colleagues Simon Tyrrell and Charles Derain.  Now joined by Gerard Maguire perhaps they will look to plant on another hill?  I’m an admirer of Les Deux Cols’ main red wine, the Cuvée d’Alizé, but for me their white blend on is another level entirely.  Made from very 100% Roussanne it manages to have richness and freshness at the same time, lovely texture and zestiness.

9. Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95)

lawsons

Marlborough started out as a fairly corporate production area, but gradually smaller grapegrowers began making their own wines.  This was the story for Ross and Barbara Lawson who began making their own wines in 1992 after twelve years of supplying others.  And what a great decision that was!  Among the many great wines they make is this delicious off-dry Riesling, full of racy lemon and lime plus elegant floral notes.

8. Turner Pageot Les Choix 2014 (13.5%, RRP €39)

les-choix

This was one of the highlights of the Winemason portfolio tasting, a skin contact wine with finesse.  Maceration is for five weeks which is much shorter than some orange wines – and personally I think it shows in that the underlying character of the Marsanne grapes still shines through.  This isn’t a wine for everyone but it’s very interesting and very drinkable at the same time – what more could you ask for?

7. Jordan Stellenbosch Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50)

Jordan Barrel Fermented Chardonnay

Just to clarify, this wine is made by Jordan Wine Estate (of Stellenbosch, South Africa) as opposed to Jordan Vineyard & Winery (of Sonoma County, California); as it happens, both produce great Cabernet and Chardonnay, and it’s the latter which has made this list.  As the name indicates the wine was fermented (and then matured) in French oak barrels, giving a lovely biscuity creaminess.  I like this style of wine in general but this is a great example, complex yet balanced, and seriously good value.

6. Mahi Boundary Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €26)

mahi-boundary-road

A barrel-fermented style of Sauvignon from a single vineyard in Marlborough.  Like the Jordan above, this was a little tight on release in early 2017 but had really blossomed in the second half of the year.  My money would be on increasing complexity over the next three to five years.  Very good wine for the money.

5. Greywacke Wild Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €34.99)

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2

Kevin Judd’s barrel-fermented Sauvignon has made regular appearances in this blog’s Top 10 lists over the years, chiefly because it’s so damn interesting.  I have nothing against regular Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs (in fact I often like them) but this style gives so much more, and bridges the gap to Chardonnay for those torn between the two grapes.  Wild yeast and barrel fermentation give intriguing funky and toasty notes

4. La Chablisienne Grand Cuvée 1er Cru 2015 (13.0%, RRP €34.95)

CHABLISIENNE_GRANDE_CUVEE

I’m a big fan of La Chablisienne’s range, from the everyday Petit Chablis up to the superlative Grands Crus.  The Grand Cuvée is a blend of grapes from seven different Premier cru sites with an average vine age of 25 years.  It has a fair bit of oak – more than you might expect from a Chablis – but it is integrated seamlessly, lending a bit of body plus notes of toast and spice.  This is an elegant wine which knocks spots of many more expensive wines from the Côte d’Or.

3. Blank Canvas Marlborough Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €36.99)

Blank Canvas Chardonnay

It would be a little misleading to call Matt Thomson “the Michel Roland of the southern hemisphere” not least because his involvement as a consultant doesn’t overshadow the wines, but his advice is much in demand.  After more than 20 vintages in each of the southern (for Saint Clair and others) and northern (for Alpha Zeta and others) hemispheres, Matt decided to get off the merry go round and focus on his personal project Blank Canvas.  This 2016 is the first vintage of Chardonnay and it’s a big winner!  It has the funky notes I’d expect from a wild-yeast barrel ferment but with a gliding, ethereal finish that leaves you wanting more.

2. BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24)

BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016

And so to a bottle which has caused almost everyone who has tasted it to sit up and pay attention – not least for the concept of a wine whose blend can change from vintage to vintage – and not naming the constituent varieties on the front means the wine drinker isn’t thinking about them (apart from me because I’m a wine geek!)  The 2016 is made from Chenin Blanc from four different sites, plus Grenache Blanc and Viognier (Chardonnay is no longer in the mix).  After being fermented in barrel the wine rests on its lees for twelve months.  It’s a big mouthful, this wine; peach and apricot with cream and nuts.

1. Domaine Zinck Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen 2011 (13.0%, RRP €48)

gc-rangen-pinot-gris

It was difficult to choose between Philippe Zinck’s Grand Cru offerings (first world problems) but the added complexity and richness of the Pinot Gris won me over.  The Grand Cru of Rangen is the most southerly of Alsace so, when combined with the vertiginous steepness of its slopes, gives the wines considerable power.  Of course, power on its own is nothing – when combined with acidity and complexity it can make a great wine such as this.  Move over Riesling, Pinot Gris is King!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru XXX Pinot Gris XX (XX%, RRP XX)

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Value Whites of 2017

2017 was another fantastic year of wine and I’ve been lucky to taste a great many superb wines.  For the first time, this year my Top 10s include Value Whites and Value Reds as lower priced wines often lie in the shadow of their more expensive counterparts.  Even so, there were many wines I had to leave off these lists.  Let me know what your favourites were in the comments!

10.  Gaia Monograph Assyrtiko 2016 (13.0%, RRP €14.95)

Gaia Monograph Assyrtiko

Whereas the big brother Wild Ferment Assyrtiko comes from the variety’s home in Santorini, the Monograph is sourced from Nemea which is also well known for its red wines, particularly Agiorgitiko.  The Monograph is a cleaner, straight-up style without any wild yeast or barrel-fermentation characters, but is a true expression of the grape itself.

9. Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18.00)

Fossil

If ever there was a wine which added weight to the theory of soil types directly affecting wine taste, this is it, the very mineral “Fossil” made from vines grown on limestone on the coast just north of Lisbon.  Local grapes Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires combine to give floral aromas with a palate of soft white fruit with a wide streak of minerality.  Refreshing to sip on its own, this also make a great match for seafood.

8. Callia “Alta” Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%, RRP 12.99)

Pinot Grigio

My general dislike of disinterest in Pinot Grigio is well documented, though it does have a few exceptions.  And any wine that gets included on one of my top 10 lists must be exceptional – and this is!  It has recognisable Grigio qualities (indeed some which make it as far as being Pinot Gris-like) but without the diluteness and general lack of flavour that much of the mass-produced Italian swill exhibits.  Lovely drinking.

7. Château Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes 2015 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)

Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes

Although Burgundy is thought to be the birthplace of Chardonnay and is still its spiritual home, the prestige of the region means that value for money is often better sought elsewhere.  Normally that would be in the New World, but Limoux in the Languedoc is an alternative closer to home.  As it’s in the south of France we tend to think of the Languedoc as being very warm and only good for bulk wine, but excellence is being rediscovered and cooler subregions are making some great wine.  There’s a fair bit of oak here but actually more creamy lees character .  Cracking Chardy for the money!

6. Domaine Eloy Saint-Véran 2016 (13.0%, RRP €14.99)

Domaine Eloy Saint Veran

Saint-Véran is one of my go-to Burgundy appellations.  Of course the producer still makes a big difference, but my experience has been generally very positive with this Mâconnais area across the board, despite a reasonable price tag (for Burgundy!)  This was full of peach and pear with a slight nuttiness to it.  Given a big thumbs up by DNS Wineclub!

5. Viña Leyda Falaris Hill Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, RRP €16.95)

leyda-falaris-chardonnay_1

For me this single vineyard Chardonnay represents even better value for money than its slightly less expensive counterpart, Leyda’s Reserva Chardonnay.  The fruit is ripe but still fresh, and sitting on a nice cushion of oak (25% new).  This isn’t the Chardonnay to convert haters, or even those sitting on the fence, but those who like it will love it.

4. Loosen Dr L Riesling 2015 (8.5%, RRP €14.00)

Dr L Mosel Riesling 2015

Riesling is perhaps the one grape that separates dabblers in wine from true wine lovers, though it’s rarely seen in supermarkets, so it’s at the multiples and independents where Riesling has a loving home.  The current fashion for Riesling is to be dry, which can mean austere when acidity is very high.  The Mosel tradition is to leave a fair bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity, for the entry level wines at least.  Dr Loosen makes the archetype, with the sugar and acidity combining to reinforce the zesty fruitiness.  Such a delicious wine that can be drunk at any time.

3. Vía Arxéntea Monterrei 2016 (14.0%, RRP €14.95)

Vía Arxéntea Treixadura Godello Monterrei

Treixadura and Godello share equal billing on this beauty from Galicia’s smallest DO, Monterrei.  It’s something of an enigma with tropical fruit, smokiness, minerality and freshness all rolled together.  You might enjoy dissecting its elements at your leisure, but the reality is that this delicious blend is a quaffer’s delight!

2. Mandrarossa “Ciaca Bianca” Fiano Sicilia 2016 (13.5%, RRP €15.95)

mandrarossa fiano ciaca bianca sicilia

Fiano is one of the newly rediscovered grapes that are starting to get a lot of notice.  Of course, they never went away – investment in modern winemaking equipment and a search for the new came together with some lovely clean, unoaked, well-crafted wines.  Compared to the other Fianos I have tried, however, this is something of an outlier – it just has so much flavour!  I got this as a present for my Marlborough Sauvignon-loving sister in law and she sang its praises.  This is a must-try wine.

1. Paul Ginglinger Alsace Pinot Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18.50)

Paul Ginglinger Pinot Blanc

And so it is.  What else could top my Top 10 value wines, if not a wine from my favourite white wine region of the world and one that is made with an undervalued grape: Alsace Pinot Blanc.  This is an unoaked example but is still pithy, with some nice texture.  It shows a nice array of fruit, from soft apple and pear through to refreshing citrus.  A remarkable wine for not that much money!.

 

 

 

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #16 – Effi Tsournava [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Effi Tsournava works in the UK wine trade and is currently Brand Manager at ‎Maisons Marques et Domaines Ltd.  She is also an established wine blogger at effidrinkswine.com.


Two wines to elevate your Christmas festivities game

2017 must have been the quickest year of my whole life!

It sound like such a cliché but I HONESTLY feel like Christmas was just a few months ago but certainly not almost 12 months ago! For this feeling of complete restlessness, I enjoy blaming my WSET Diploma course but at the same time, this is what has made this year so unbelievably exciting. Learning about the plethora of wine styles around the globe has made me even more curious and certainly thirstier!

Since I have been enjoying far too many beautiful wines at my WSET course this year to make you feel sorry for my workload, I thought it was only fair to branch out and introduce some other than Greek wines on the Tsournavas’ Christmas table this year and see how I can satisfy the delectable taste buds of my friends and family!


Schlum-Riesling-Saering-306x1147Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2014: I have always been a big fan of Riesling’s tantalising vibrancy of fruit and unmistakable freshness and complexity. Sometimes, it can be quite tricky to tempt people to try a variety that they either might have never heard of before or they did and didn’t particularly like!

Alsatian Riesling is characterised by this distinctive elegance and power with a tremendous amount of freshness and complexity but with lots of finesse and elegance.  This one from Schlumberger never ceases to surprise me!  The family owns more grand cru vineyards than anyone else in Alsace and their Saering shows a fantastic spectrum of sweet lime, waxed lemon, cold honey and elegant hints of minerality and kerosene. Delicious!

Excellent with curries, oriental cuisine, shellfish or even cabbage dolmades! I usually invite my friends over for pre-Christmas lunch and this would go down like a dream!

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2014 (12.5%): available for £17-£20 from The Wine Society, Davy’s, Harrods, Oxford Wine Company


Castello-Gran-Selezione-306x1043Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2013: Mazzei is one of the oldest and most important winemaking families in Italy with 25 generations of history. Sometimes, you need that much of experience in order to produce such a world class Sangiovese!  This wine is a cross between James Dean and Steve McQueen; a rare blend of charm, sophistication and seduction.

Awarded “Best Chianti” in the last Decanter World Wine Awards, this is the Sangiovese of dreams!  The result of 120 single vineyards and equal number of individual vinifications, made from 36 clones of Sangiovese (18 unique to Fonterutoli), this Italian red is the essence of “Super Chianti Classico”.  Tons of black berries, redcurrant and juicy red cherries, dark chocolate and finely ground coffee with the silkiest mouthfeel!  Is this how true love really feels like?  Try with Christmas lunch paired with wild boar sausages and steaks cooked with prunes.

Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2013 (14.0%): available for £45 – £50 from Harrods, Davy’s, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Il Toscanaccio, Petersham Cellar.


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Tasting Events

A is for Alsace, Z is for Zinck

Domaine Zinck of Eguisheim

I was introduced to the wines of Domaine Zinck by Charles Derain of Nomad Wine Importers a few years ago, and have been lucky enough to taste them several times since, including the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling which was my personal standout of last year’s SPIT festival.

The Zinck portfolio is split into four distinct ranges:

  • the everyday Portrait series which typify their variety
  • the Terrior series which are from smaller, better plots
  • the Grand Crus, the top of the Alsace quality ladder
  • Crémants, sparkling wines for celebration and fun

Earlier this year I was treated to a tasting of some standout wines from the range at Dax Restaurant in Dublin, hosted by Philippe Zinck and Charles Derain, followed by an interesting discussion over lunch (with more wine of course).  Full disclosure: I was a guest of Nomad Wines, but all opinions on the wines are my own (unless noted).  Of course, tasting French wines in a French restaurant with Frenchmen meant I had to wear my England rugby jacket!

Philippe’s Perspective

Philippe’s father Paul started the winery with 2.5 hectares in 1964, although his parents already had some vines on their farm.  Paul gradually improved quality and expanded the land under vine – it had reached 6 hectares by the mid 70s and 8 hectares when Philippe took over in 1997.  Philippe accelerated the expansion so that by 2017 the Domaine covered 20 hectares and employed 8 people.

But even more than quantity, Philippe kept striving to improve quality, going fully organic in 2011 and practising biodynamics in some vineyards.  He looks for purity and finesse in his wines, balance rather than power, and an authentic expression of where they are made.

What’s new?  is a question asked of Philippe by some people in the wine trade – perhaps seeking new blends and new varieties – but each vintage is a new chapter in the story of Domaine Zinck.  With only six years since full organic conversion, there are decades of tweaking viticulture and vinification for each variety in each plot – there are no limits in sight!

The biggest challenges are generally natural – the weather patterns in each vintage.  Straight forward global warming could be taken into account, but climate change (i.e. more unpredictable, changeable weather) is far more difficult to manage.

Producing such fresh wines with unrelenting summer temperatures into the 40s centigrade is a major achievement.  Lots of sunshine and high temperatures could over-amplify the aromatics, letting them get out of kilter, so the canopy is left as full as possible to shade the grapes.

Damp weather (particularly mist and fog) increases the chance of rot and other unwanted diseases, so the canopy is trimmed to allow air to circulate better.   If there’s too much rainfall then grass is allowed to grow in between the rows; the grass competes for the water so the vines don’t get too much.

Sylvaner is a variety that is much under-rated; in decades past when quantity was key, Sylvaner would produce plenty of grapes but with little character at these high yields.  Now that the variety is being given a fair crack of the whip it is producing some good wines that are worthy of interest.  Although not one of the four “noble grapes” of Alsace, Sylvaner is now permitted in one Grand Cru – Zotzenberg.

One of the key challenges facing Alsace as a region is the huge gap between AOC Alsace and the Grands Crus.  Additionally, some of the boundaries of certain Grands Crus are thought to be too wide and not suitable for all the varieties that are grown there.  One important addition to the region is the introduction of Alsace Premier Cru.  Philippe believes that this is definitely going to happen and he would look to have his Terroir series wines classed as Premier Cru.  Whether Grand Cru regulations get tightened up is another story.

As the only black grape in the cool climate of Alsace, Pinot Noir hasn’t received much attention – in fact the resulting red wines are often treated more like rosés (quite pale and served at 10ºC in restaurants!)  However, the combination of better understanding of how the grape performs in different local microclimates and warmer vintages has enabled some very good Pinots to be produced – so much so that Pinot Noir from vineyards within certain Grand Crus (such as Réné Muré’s “V” from Vorbourg) will be granted Grand Cru status.

So now onto the wines!

Domaine Zinck Portrait Pinot Blanc 2016 (12.5%, RRP €18 at SIYPS)

portrait pinot blanc

For Charles, one of the key attractive features of Domaine Zinck is that it is one of the few producers who don’t make their wines too sweet – especially the “everyday” Portrait series.  Even if there is some residual sugar the wines are balanced and not “sugary”.

Philippe noted that the 2016 Pinot Blanc is lighter than 2015 – the latter was a very warm vintage.

This is a fresh and fruity wine full of apple and quince.  There’s a very round mid palate but a crisp finish which makes it very versatile.

 

Domaine Zinck Terroir Sylvaner 2014

terroir sylvaner

Made from 35 year old vines on clay and limestone soil.  This is highly aromatic!  No dilute plonk here, this is probably the best Sylvaner I’ve ever tasted.  Flinty and a touch smoky.  Elegant and great for food matching.

 

Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €34 at SIYPS)

gc eichberg riesling

The Eichberg (literally “oak mountain”) is mainly clay soil (good for water retention) and combined with a hot vintage has produced an amazing Riesling.  This is a rich, profound wine even in its youth – and it should cellar well to the end of the next decade.  The nose alone is fabulous and worth the entrance fee – complex citrus notes where you can pick out different fruits as you inhale.  This is a dry Riesling, yes, but it’s far from austere and is so delicious right now that it would take an immense amount of self discipline to lay down!

 

Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Goldert Gewurztraminer 2013

gc goldert gewurz

The Goldert Grand Cru is just to the north of Gueberschwihr with mainly east-facing slopes, and is most renowned for Gewurz and Muscat.  Zinck’s Gewurz vines are 50 years old giving intense, concentrated flavours.  On tasting, I can only describe it as fecking huge in the mouth!  It’s so soft and round, but has an amazing fresh finish.  Charles finds some Gewurztraminers to be almost like a lady’s perfume (or in pre-PC days one might have said “smell like a tart’s boudoir”), but this is perfectly balanced.

 

 

Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Rangen Pinot Gris 2011 (13.0%, RRP ~ €48 at SIYPS)

gc rangen pinot gris

Rangen is the most southerly Grand Cru of Alsace, with steep slopes on volcanic soil. and a river of the bottom of the slope which helps botrytis develop.  Domaine Zinck buys grapes from Rangen as it doesn’t own vineyards down there.  Yields are low and 60% of the vines are on south facing slopes.

This wine is the perfect example of why Pinot Gris is narrowly my second favourite grape from Alsace – it’s so complex, rich and spicy.  Ginger is complemented by star anise and liquorice, but to be honest the longer you taste it the more flavours you recognise.  Isn’t that what makes wine interesting?  Residual sugar is 30 g/L but it’s perfectly integrated and finishes off dry.