The Irish off-licence chain O’Briens has various promotions on throughout the year, but probably the most eagerly awaited is the annual Fine Wine Sale. This year it runs from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th December. Below are the wines I’d be snapping up this year. Note that I haven’t necessarily tried the vintage stated of each wine, but I have tasted them often enough over the years to comfortably recommend them.
Gaia SantoriniAssyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)
I have previously written about the 2013 and 2016 vintages of this wine as well as its younger brother Monograph, and tasted it many times in between; it remains one of my favourite “mid-priced” white wines available in Ireland.
Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (13.0%, €35.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)
An iconic wine at a very reasonable price! I recently tried the 2017 (which was maturing nicely) and the 2019 which, for such a young wine, was surprisingly settled and ready to go
Julien Brocard Chablis La Boissoneuse 2018 (12.5%, €29.95 down to €25.95 at O’Briens)
The 2017 vintage was #1 in my Top 10 Whites of 2019 so any reduction in price of this fantastic organic, biodynamic Chablis makes it worth snapping up!
Chanson Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017 (12.5%, €34.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)
Chanson has been part of the Bollinger group for two decades and produces consistently good wines. This Montmains is an excellent Premier Cru and while delicious now, deserves another five years or so before being opened.
Man O’War Waiheke Island Valhalla Chardonnay 2017 (14.5%, €32.95 down to €28.95 at O’Briens)
I wrote about the 2010 vintage (in 2014) the 2011 (in 2016) and the 2016 (earlier this year) and loved them all. This is a fairly full on Chardonnay which will please those who like bold wines – and that includes me.
L’Ostal Cazes Minervois La Livinière Grand Vin 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €20.95 at O’Briens)
The JM Cazes family who have long owned Lynch Bages in Bordeaux have spread their interests to the Rhône and Languedoc, amongst other places. In my not-so-humble-opinion this Minervois La Livinère is the best value wine in their portfolio.
Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2015 (13.5%, €48.00 down to €42.00 at O’Briens)
The 2014 of this wine was very good, so the even better vintage of 2015 is definitely worth a shout. This wine is worthy of a place on my Christmas dinner table, so it’s definitely worthy of yours, too!
Sierra Cantabria Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 (14.0%, €32.95 down to €23.95 at O’Briens)
If you like Tempranillo-based wines but tend to favour Ribero del Duero, this a Rioja house which can match the black fruited savoury wines from there. I have previously tried the 2010 Crianza which was great, but a Gran Reserva from 2008 should be even more of a stunner!
d’Arenberg McLaren Vale Dead Arm Shiraz 2015 (14.6%, €54.95 down to €44.95 at O’Briens)
While Penfolds Grange prices have rocketed off into the stratosphere, here’s an iconic Aussie wine that is (relatively) more affordable – and approachable at a younger age, too, though if you manage to keep your hands away it will last for a decade or two.
Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (13.8%, €80 down to €68 at O’Briens)
The (virtual) ink has only just dried on my review of the 2012 vintage of this wine but it’s already included in the fine wine sale. If you want to treat yourself for Christmas (2019 or 2029) then this is a great bet!
How does the 2019 edition of Wilson on Wine compare to the first from 2015? Well it’s a different colour for a start, but the changes have been subtle improvements with each edition. The indices in the back are very helpful, so you can look up particular wines or see which wines are listed from your favourite wine merchants. For the first time there’s a natural wine section – wines that can be a little different so might not suit the unprepared – but what better way to prepare than having someone recommend a few!
Part 1 looked at the wines we tasted that were particularly good value for money; now we look at some which were just exceedingly good:
Granzamy Brut Champagne NV (12.0%, RRP €34.95 at O’Briens)
This Champagne has a few unusual facets considering its distribution through a multiple retailer:
It’s a “Grower Champagne”, i.e. the grapes used are the producer’s own rather than being bought in (see this post on Champagne types for more background).
It’s made from 100% Pinot Meunier, the third Champagne grape which is often unfairly looked down upon.
It’s totally delicious!!
Granzamy fully deserves its normal price of €34.95 but is sometime on promotion at €5 or even €10 less, making it an absolute steal. When Champagnes are discounted this low they aren’t usually that nice, but this is an exception. Looks out for promotions and fill your boots!
Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2016 (13.0%, RRP €24.95 at O’Briens)
Gaia’s Wild Ferment Assyrtiko is a regular on Frankly Wines and the 2016 vintage is now singing sweetly. It manages to reflect both its volcanic and maritime origins with thrilling acidity and soft stone fruit. As always, the Wild Ferment makes itself known through an attractive funkiness on the nose. The simpler little brother Monograph gives a good introduction to the grape, but this is still one of the finest examples I’ve tried.
Stonier Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €26.95 at O’Briens)
The Mornington Peninsula is one of the most southerly wine regions in mainland Australia, giving cool conditions which are great for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. For me, this wine is the proof that natural wine is not the only way to make good wine. I do like plenty of wines which are considered natural, but judicious intervention in terms of wine making choices can add interest, without artificial chemicals in the vineyard or winery. The grapes are sourced from different sites around the region, and then around half (from the coolest sites) are allowed to go through malolactic fermentation which softens and rounds the wine. Some oak is used in various formats, but only 15% is new.
With its struck match reductive funky nose and fleshy citrus mouthfeel, this is the sort of wine that would have a €60+ price tag on it if it was from Burgundy!
I like “regular” Grüners, whether from Austria, New Zealand or elsewhere, but special ones like this make a really good ambassador for the grape. It has texture, richness and a depth of flavour that place “Beetle Mountain” ahead of the rest. For Alsace fans this has quite a lot in common with a superior Pinot Gris (perhaps one from Kaefferkopf which is “Beetle Head”). I’d be very interested to see how this develops over the next half decade or so, but to be honest it’s so delicious now I don’t think I’d be able to keep my hands off it!
Bandol is one of the most famous Provence AOCs and Domaine Tempier have been a leading producer since the nineteenth century. Red, white and rosé are produced, but here we focus on the red, Mourvèdre dominated but augmented by a little Grenache and Cinsault. Bandol is the only place in France with enough sun and heat to properly ripen Mourvèdre, and boy does it show – there are intensely concentrated black and red berries bursting out of the glass, and lifted, spicy aromatics. This is a wine which could last decades but is already really special.
Ahead of the O’Briens Wines annual wine sale (30th Aug to 23rd Sept) I’ve taken the opportunity to check in with a couple of my favourites from their range.
Astrolabe Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €22.45 down to €16.95 at O’Briens)
The Awatere Valley and regular Province Sauvignon Blancs from Astrolabe have been firm favourites of mine for close to a decade now. The Province is a great all-rounder while the Awatere is more subtle, refined and food friendly.
I’m not one of those Marlborough Savvy haterz, but one of the downsides to such an aromatic and expressive wine is that it can overpower any delicate dishes it is paired with. Awatere is the answer! Instead of the typical tropical fruit notes we are greeted instead by light citrus, flowers and herbs. It’s recognisably Marlborough but doesn’t have the usual overt fruitiness which is often perceived as sweetness – even if the wine is actually dry. Treat yourself to an elegant Sauvignon!
Gaia Estate Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)
This is another perennial favourite of mine from – in my not so humble opinion – the best white wine region in Greece, Santorini – which happens to be a collapsed volcanic caldera in the Aegean. Assyrtiko is the king of grapes here, and Gaia do a straight up version called Monograph which is a great introduction to the variety (and is a total steal at the current price of €11.95).
However, the Wild Ferment is on another level entirely. A quick sniff after opening is enough for the wine to start showing its colours – fermentation with indigenous yeast gives it a wonderfully funky and exotic nose (not dissimilar from Kevin Judd’s Greywacke Wild Sauvignon). This continues onto the palate where it’s joined by fresh lime and lemon. This is a wine that deserves a BIG glass for extended swirling, or even decanting for half an hour before serving. Perfect with mushroom risotto.
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!
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.
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.
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)
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!
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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!.
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.
Domaine de la Pinte Arbois Chardonnay 2014 (12.5%, €23.50)
The region of eastern France is gradually gaining significant recognition for its wide variety of grapes and styles, many of which are particular to the area. This is something more conventional, being a Chardonnay made in the “ouillé” style whereby evaporation losses are topped up to prevent too much oxygen in the barrel. This has far more texture and flavour than you’d expect from a “Chardonnay” – it’s different but well worth a try.
Chapel Down Lamberhurst Estate Bacchus Reserve 2015 (11.5%, €19.50)
I have been a keen supporter of English sparkling wine for over a decade, but I haven’t shared the same enthusiasm about English still wines. However, there are a growing number of very good still wines that deserve your attention. Bacchus was created in 1930s Germany – and is still grown there – but has found a second home in the cool English climate. Chapel Down’s Reserve bottling is full of stone, tropical and citrus fruit. It’s well balanced and has a touch of residual sugar to counterpoint the mouth watering acidity.
Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 (13.0%, €15.50)
The Central Coast on the front label is of course the Central Coast of California, which includes Santa Barbara of Sideways fame and Monterey County, where the majority of the Chardonnay grapes were sourced from.
Part of the fermented juice was matured in (mainly old, I reckon) oak barrels and part underwent softening malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks, followed by lees stirring. When recombined this wine gives the best of both world – it has some oak, but not too much, and some creamy lees flavours. Great value for money – just don’t drink it too cold.
Atlantis Santorini 2015 (13.0%, €15.50)
Santorini is my favourite wine region of Greece for whites, especially those made wholly or predominantly from Assyrtiko as this is. Due to its latitude the island receives lots of sun but this is somewhat tempered by sea breezes. It sees no oak nor malolactic fermentation so remains clean and linear.
Earth’s End Central Otago Riesling 2015 (12.5%, €20.50)
Central Otago in the deep south of New Zealand is primarily known for its Pinot Noirs – and rightly so – but its long cool growing season is also suitable for Chardonnay and Riesling. This has lovely lime notes, and an off dry finish perfectly balances the vibrant acidity. With Haka instructions on the front, surely this would be a great present for a rugby fan?
Terre di Chieti Pecorino 2015 (12.5%, €15.00)
Another recent favourite of mine is Pecorino, an everyday Italian white wine with far more character than the lakes of uninteresting Pinot Grigio that clog up most supermarket shelves. Both oranges and lemons feature on the palate – it’s a great drop at a keen price.
Villiera Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016 (14.0%, €18.50)
Modest packaging belies a sublime wine, one of the most enjoyable South African Chenins I’ve had for a long time. The complexity is due to the variety of choices made by winemaker Jeff Grier – a small amount of botrytised grapes was used, part of the wine went through malolactic and part did not, both new and second-use French oak barrels were used. The end result is a marvel of honey and vanilla – amazingly complex for such a young wine.
Germany’s Pfalz region is beloved of the Wine Hunter himself, Jim Dunlop, and of course makes some great Riesling. The alcohol of 13.0% is much higher than an average Mosel Riesling, for example, which indicates that this is likely to be significantly drier and more full bodied. Apricot, lemon, lime and orange make an appearance – just such a lovely wine!
Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, €27.00)
From one of Australia’s premium cool climate regions, this is a Chardonnay to make Burgundy lovers weep – or convert! The fermented wines are matured on their lees in 500L barrels (over double the standard barrique of 225L) with no malolactic fermentation allowed, so freshness is maintained. This is a grown up wine with lots of lees character and reductive notes.
2015 has been an excellent year for wine in Dublin, especially from a personal perspective. As well as the usual trade tastings, which one can never take for granted, I have been lucky enough to be invited to several excellent wine dinners and receive samples from many new suppliers and retailers – thanks to all.
Here are ten of the white wines which made a big impression on me during the year. The order is somewhat subjective – this is wine tasting after all – and I’m sure the list would look a little different on another day.
10. Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC “Alchimie” 2014 (€14/€10, SuperValu)
A fruit driven Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, just outside Sancerre, which is just so damned drinkable. It has some of the explosiveness of a Marlborough savvy but more restrained, so it wouldn’t be out of place at the table. It’s well worth the regular price but is a total steal when on offer. See more here.
9. Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.99, Honest 2 Goodness)
Whites from South West France continue to impress me with their intense, but balanced, flavours from mainly indigenous grapes – and all at keen prices. This is one of the best I’ve ever tasted from the area. See more here.
8. Château Mas “Belluguette” Coteaux de Languedoc 2012 (€20.95, Molloys)
A premium white wine from the Languedoc, but without a silly price tag. This was one of the biggest surprises of the year – I just hadn’t been expecting such an exuberant white wine from the Languedoc. The blend is: Vermentino 40%, Roussanne 30%, Grenache 20%, Viognier 10%, with each grape variety is vinified separately in oak barrels for a month. 50% of the blend goes through malolactic fermentation and it is blocked for the remainder. The final blend is then aged in 2/3 French and 1/3 American oak for 4 months.
Molloy’s wine consultant Maureen O’Hara dubbed this a “Dolly Parton” wine – I’d have to say it’s got a lot of front!
7. Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling, Central Otago (€19.99, Curious Wines)
Although owned by a famous actor, this estate does not make “celebrity wine”. Pinot Noir is the speciality of Two Paddocks, with excellent premium and single vineyard bottlings, but they also make a small amount of Riesling, benefitting from the cool (almost cold!) climate of the southerly most wine region in the world.
“Picnic” is their more accessible, everyday range, for both Pinot and Riesling, and here we have the latter. It’s just off-dry with lots of Golden Delicious apple, honey and citrus, with a fresh streak of acidity through the middle. It actually reminded me of a still version of Nyetimber’s 2007 Blanc de Blanc, one of my favourite English sparklers!
6. Argyros Estate Santorini Atlantis 2013 (€15.49, Marks and Spencer)
An excellent Assyrtiko based-blend from the Greek Island of Santorini, linked to the legend of Atlantis. Old vines and steep slopes contribute to excellent intensity, with lemony flavours and floral aromas. Such a drinkable and versatile wine.
Yes you read that correctly, this is a €35 Vinho Verde! However, although it shares geography and grape variety with many Vinho Verdes, it is made in a totally different style. It retains the central fresh core of Alvarinho (aka Albariño in Galicia) yet has a creamy complexity from oak and lees stirring.
In one of the first DNS tastings of 2015 this was tied neck and neck with Rafael Palacios’ famous As Sortes – it’s that good. See the full article on The Taste here.
4. Hugel Pinot Gris “Jubilee” 2000 (€52 in West Restaurant @ The Twelve Hotel)
One of the highlights of 2015 was a trip away to The Twelve Hotel in Barna, just outside Galway City, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. It’s our favourite hotel in Ireland, and one that we choose for special occasions. Check out their full wine list here.
Hotel Restaurant wine lists can often be very dull / safe / boring, depending on your point of view, so it warms the cockles of this wino’s heart to see such a well put together list. It was General Manager & Sommelier Fergus O’Halloran who first got me into Pecorino (see here), but on this occasion it was something else which was really worth writing home about.
Hugel is one of the two large and well-known family producers in Alsace, the other being Trimbach which also sports yellow labels on its bottles. Both are located in achingly pretty villages and have excellent ranges. Jubilee signifies Hugel’s premium range, made from fruit in their Grand Cru Sporen and Pflostig vineyards. As a general rule I like Pinot Gris to have some sweetness to go with the distinctive apricot & honey flavours and oily texture – this doesn’t disappoint! Getting a fifteen year old wine of this quality for €52 in a restaurant is amazing!
3. Albert Bichot Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru “Moutonne” Monopole 2012 (€109.95, The Corkscrew)
This was the highlight of a focused burgundy tasting given upstairs at Stanley’s by Ben and Barbara of WineMason. As a big fan of Chablis, especially Premier and Grand Cru, I was excited to taste the area’s famous “eighth Grand Cru”. There are seven Grands Crus recognised by the French national appellations organisation (INAO), though those names appear after “Appellation Chablis Grand Cru Contrôlée”. La Moutonne is recognised, however, by the Chablis (UGCC) and Burgundy (BIVB) authorities.
The majority of the Moutonne vineyard (95%) is in the Grand Cru Vaudésir with a small part (5%) in Grand Cru Preuses, so you’d expect it to taste almost identical to Albert Bichot’s Grand Cru Vaudésir, which is made in the same way – but it doesn’t! This is put forward as a reason why Moutonne deserves its own Grand Cru status – but equally it might indicate that several Chablis Grand Crus are not homogenous across their climats. An interesting debate which needs further research – and I volunteer!
Whatever the nomenclature, it’s a stunning wine – beautifully intertwining minerality, citrus, floral notes and a light toastiness from 25% oak.
From South east Sicily comes something unlike anything you’ve tasted before – at least, a single wine containing all the flavours and aromas expressed by this wine. Tasted with family member Matteo Catani, this is a truly remarkable wine – it showed anise, almond, citrus, apple, and a hint of oxidation which added interest but did not detract from the fruit.
When many producers are churning out identikit Cabernets and Chardonnays, wines that are different and interesting like this really grab the attention.
1. Craiglee Sunbury Chardonnay 2011 (€33.95, winesdirect.ie, also available by the bottle and by the glass at Ely Wine Bar)
If you read my favourite White Wines of 2013 or 2014 then the fact that my favourite white tasted in 2015 is a Chardonnay shouldn’t be a surprise. I might be predictable, but it’s my favourite grape so I won’t apologise.
From a less well known part of Victoria, it shows butterscotch and toasty vanilla round a citrus core. It’s not the most expensive wine in my listing, and probably not the “finest”, but it is beautifully balanced and the one that I would most fancy opening at anytime!
I have to confess I’m not that familiar with the current wine range at Marks and Spencer but I’ve heard good things recently. When I lived in Paris I would drop in to the food and wine section of one of the large stores there to get my fix of Australian wine and Indian food, though not necessarily together…
The good folks at M&S Ireland recently sent me a few bottles to try, of which I particularly enjoyed the following pair of aromatic whites:
Bidoli Friuli Grave Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (€14.79, Marks and Spencer)
The far north east corner of Italy was once part of the Venetian Republic, with some sections under the influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for some time, and so the wines of the region have noticeable Slavic and Germanic influences. Like many parts of Italy, the mere word “Italian” does not do justice to the culture here.
Bidoli Winery was founded in 1924 by the grandparents of the current owners. The vineyards are situated in a valley that benefits from high diurnal temperature variation (hot days and cool nights) which encourages slightly thicker skins in the grapes and hence deeper flavours in the wine. The soil has lots of stone – similar name and similar soil to the Graves in Bordeaux – which reflects the sun’s rays during the day and releases accumulated heat overnight.
Even on the nose it is unmistakably a Sauvignon Blanc, though of a completely different style than NZ – more akin to a Quincy or Reuilly from the Loire. There’s attractive citrus and gooseberry – not exotic or tropical fruit – plus fennel and other herbs. I’m not a salad fan but I think this would be the perfect wine to match. A long finish on top means it’s great value.
Argyros Estate Santorini Atlantis 2013 (€15.49, Marks and Spencer)
Santorini is the name of a wine region, an archipelago north of Crete and the main island within it. In ancient times it was known as Theira, and was a reasonably large volcanic island before one of the biggest recorded eruptions shattered it around 3,600 BCE. The resulting tsunami is thought to have brought down the Minoan civilisation of Crete which is only 110 km due south, and may also have given rise to the myth of Atlantis.
Due to the warm climate, sweet wines were often made – Santorini is alleged to have given its name to Vin Santo which is made in Tuscany. The main grape here is of course Assyrtiko, which makes fresh zingy whites or traditional floor cleaner flavoured Retsina. It fares particularly well on Santorini as the volcanic soil helps it maintain its acidity, even when fully ripe.
This white blend consists of 90% Assyrtiko, 5% Athiri (lemony, used for Retsina on Rhodes) and 5% Aidani (floral, mainly grown in Santorini) [no I hadn’t heard of the other two before, either!] The Argyros Estate was established in 1903 and is situated in Episkopi, where it encompasses some of the island’s oldest vines – another reason for the concentration of flavour. If you’ve read through the notes above you will see where the name Atlantiscomes from!
It’s a racy, refreshing wine, but has lots of lemon and floral character – very enjoyable on its own, but would pair with seafood or other lighter dishes. Moreish!
After a show of hands at the previous meet, the theme of the most recent DNS Wine Club tasting was FUN! Wine can be a very technical and complicated subject, and as something of a geek that often appeals to me, but at the end of the day the main point of wine is pleasure.
So how do you make a tasting more fun? Play games! But which games? I divided the DNS gang into two teams, opened some fizz and gave them their first task.
I reviewed John Wilson’s book “Wilson On Wine 2015 – The Wines To Drink This Year” hereand refer to it frequently. For each wine reviewed there are lots of details, especially on the background of the wine, along with a fairly short tasting note. As tasting is such a subjective thing (and taste too, but that’s for another day) I wondered how easy it would be to identify wines from their tasting note alone…
Each team was given a sheet with two columns; the first had ten wine names and the second had ten tasting notes taken from John’s book. Two wines were sparkling, four white and four red. Each column was in alphabetical order and the objective was to match the tasting notes to the correct wine.
Bernhard Ott Fass4 Grüner Veltliner 2013
A superb, light, elegant wine, with piquant dark cherry and blueberry fruits.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut NV
Almond blossoms on the nose; light, elegant, sophisticated crisp green fruits with excellent Minerality. A perennial favourite.
Coca y Fito DO Terra Alta Jaspi Blanc 2012
An exuberant, fresh wine bursting with pineapples and tropical fruits.
Jeio Prosecco DOCG Valdobiadenne Spumante Brut NV
Bracing and herby with an inviting texture and a snappy dry finish.
Kasarí Zorah Areni Noir 2012
Delectably light and tangy but with rosehips and fresh, piquant red fruits. Great with food.
Moric Burgenland Blaufränkish 2012
Fresh pear and peach fruits with a good lively citrus edge
Pieropan Soave Classico 2013
Intriguing, lifted fragrant black cherries with good acidity and a light earthiness, finishing on a smooth note. Different and delicious wine.
Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero 2013
Pure piquant damson fruits, good acidity and a lightly tannic finish. Delicious.
Santa Rita Medalla Real Leyda Valley Chardonnay 2011
Restrained peach and apple fruits with subtle toasted nuts and a core of citrus acidity.
Thymiopolous Naoussa Xinomavro 2013
Succulent ripe fruits cut through with a delicious minerality and great length.
You might want to try this at home. Bear the following hints in mind that were given on the night:
As both columns are in alphabetical order it is possible that a wine may still be lined up opposite its true tasting note, though most aren’t.
The longest tasting note belongs to (probably) the most expensive white wine.
The Prosecco note should be very easy to identify as it nearly always tastes of one particular fruit.
One of the wines includes a colour in its name (though not in English) which is included in the corresponding tasting note (in English).
Yes, most of these hints are fairly esoteric / tenuous / difficult – but that’s how I roll!
ROUND 2 – Call My (Wine) Bluff
For those know aren’t familiar with it, Call My Bluff is a long-running UK game show where celebrity contestants on a team take it in turn to give three definitions of an obscure word, only one of which is correct. The other team then tries to choose the correct definition and discard the bluffs.
The wine version has a similar structure, but instead of word definitions the guessing team has to divine which of three tasting notes they are given match the wine in their glass and their mouth!
For five white wines and three red wines, these are the choices which were proffered:
(A) Famille Bougrier Les Hautes Lieux Vin de France Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(B) José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
(A) Dog Point Section 94 2008
(B) Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
(C) Greywacke Marlborough Wild Sauvignon 2012
(A) Frantz Saumon Minérale+ Montlouis 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
(B) Château Bouscassé Madiran 2007
(C) El Castro de Valtuille Bierzo 2013
(A) Aldi Lot 01 Uco Valley Malbec-Cabernet 2013
(B) Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
(C) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(A) Château Milhau-Lacugue “Les Truffières” Saint Chinian 2010
(B) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(C) Taltarni Heathcote Shiraz 2008
For the guessing team, some of the choices were more difficult if there was a similarity between the choices, e.g. for White 1 there were 2 regions and 2 grapes over 3 wines.
It was actually easiest to bluff when the reader didn’t know if they were giving the note for the correct wine or not! I suppose it is good to know that most people aren’t good liars, even if it’s just for fun.
ROUND 3 – Match the Critic (Encore)
Now the kicker to see if everyone had been paying attention! A double list – similar to that handed out in Round 1 – was given to each team, this time with eight wine names and tasting notes. But these weren’t just any wines taken from John’s book – they were the eight that everyone had tasted in Round 2! So of course, this final round had double points awarded.
Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
A delicious modern style of Bordeaux with light creamy cassis fruits and a smooth easy finish.
Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
A subtle and delectable blend of citrus and green fruits with a touch of honey
Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
Exhilarating precise acidity with pristine green fruits. Inspiring, thrilling wine.
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
Fresh, tangy, lemon and grapefruit, balanced out by clean green fruits, and a dry finish.
Good, deeply satisfying wine with firm, dark ripe fruits and a dry finish.
José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2013
Light toasted nut aromas, fresh textured pineapples fruits and excellent length. Great wine at a very reasonable price.
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches
Lightly toasted notes combined with peaches, almonds and honey. Unusual and perfectly formed.
Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
Succulent and ripe, filled with dark cherry fruits dusted with spices
Blind tasting, even single blind, is difficult. Tasting notes are subjective, and, unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to understand someone else’s when you’re tasting the same wine they had. Context is very important so knowing the background to a wine can give you a lot of clues about why it tastes a certain way and where it’s headed.
O’Briens Wine is the largest family-owned off licence group in Ireland with 32 stores, 20 of which are in greater Dublin. They have 55 exclusive wineries in their portfolio and a wide selection in terms of country, grape and price level. One of the distinguishing factors about O’Briens is the wine knowledge of their staff – it’s always nice to meet a wine enthusiast behind the counter.
Here are the sparklers and still whites which stood out for me at their Autumn Press Tasting last month:
Beaumont des Crayères Grand Réserve Champagne NV (€36.99, €29.99 in Nov/Dec)
This is proper Champagne, with slightly aggressive bubbles which could serve it well as an aperitif. At first it is rich on the tongue from its Pinots Meunier (60%) and Noir (15%) followed by fresh lemon from Chardonnay (25%).
Made by a cooperative, this doesn’t reach the heights of something like Bollinger, but it’s much more quaffable than big brand duds such as Moët – and at a lower price.
Man O’War Tulia 2009 (€37.00, €33.00 in Nov/Dec)
Made by the Champagne method, this would never be mistaken for Champagne. There’s too much primary fruit for that, but it’s a stylistic rather than qualitative difference in my eyes. Any vintage Champagne has to spend at least 36 months on the lees after the second fermentation, but this only spent 9 months so don’t expect a bakery here.
Malolactic fermentation is blocked for freshness and balance – an essential decision. Interestingly the second fermentation is all handled by Marlborough’s sparkling experts No 1 Family Estate. The fruit is tropical but stylish, I suspect partially due to the particular Chardonnay clones which were used. This is no shrinking violet!
Pinot Blanc is one of the most under-rated grapes around, usually overlooked in favour of its flashier siblings Noir and Gris. It tends to be light and fruity with enough going on to keep things interesting but not so much that it dominates any food it is paired with. Chicken or pork in a creamy sauce would be a great match.
As you might guess from the Germanic producer name but French grape name, this is from Alsace. It’s soft and supple with ripe apple, pear and peach flavours. It’s not bone dry, but the tiny bit of residual sugar adds body and roundness rather than sweetness.
Bellows Rock Chenin Blanc 2014 (€15.99, €9.99 in Nov/Dec)
Chenin Blanc is another under-rated grape, hailing from the Loire Valley in France, but also at home in South Africa. It is usually recognisable in its many different variations – bone dry, off-dry, medium right up to lusciously sweet, or even sparkling. My personal preference is the sweet stuff, especially Coteaux d’Aubance, Coteaux du Layon or Quarts de Chaume. I rarely like the drier end of the spectrum.
One of my favourite sayings – about life in general, but can equally be applied to wine – is:
It’s never too late to lose a prejudice
This South African Chenin is dry – but I like it! It has the honey and acidity of all Chenins with a rich, oily mouthfeel and a crisp dry finish. It’s an absolute bargain on offer at €10!
Château de Fontaine Audon AOC Sancerre 2013 (€21.99, €18.99 in Nov/Dec)
Before Marlborough had seen a single Sauvignon vine, Sancerre was considered the world standard for the variety – and for some it still is, especially on the subtle mineral and green side compared to the antipodean fruit explosion that is Marlborough. However, the fame of the appellation means that producers who favour quantity over quality can push yields up and intensity down, diluting the wine and the reputation of the area.
So not all Sancerres are the same, and it is important to pick one worthy of the label. Pick this one! Cut grass on the nose leads to gooseberry and grapefruit in the mouth. It’s tangy but not sharp; the acidity feels slightly fizzy on your tongue. This is the real deal.
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013 (€22.99)
Sho’ nuff funky! Assyrtiko is indigenous to the Greek island of Santorini in the South Aegean. 80 year old ungrafted low-yielding vines and natural yeast combine to produce something different, something wild. Approach with caution, but you won’t find anything like this on the shelves of your local supermarket.
Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2011 (€29.49, €26.99 in Nov/Dec)
I sneaked this in even though I didn’t actually taste the 2011 vintage, but I recently enjoyed the previous year so have no hesitation in recommending this.
Seguin Manuel AOC Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2011 (€45.00)
For white Burgundy there are few more renowned villages than Chassagne in the Côte d’Or. Like its adjoining neighbour Puligny, the name of their shared vineyard Le Montrachet was added into the commune name in the late 19th century. As this bottle is not from a designated Premier Cru vineyard it is known as a village wine.
2010 was a warm vintage throughout most of France and this shows through in the ripe fruit. It’s Chardonnay of course – Pinot Blanc is permitted but rarely included – with a good dose of oak that is now nicely integrated. Smoothness is the theme, and a finish that goes on and on. It’s by no means cheap, but such a great tasting wine and long finish make it a worthwhile treat.