Wine Of The Week

Wine of the Week: Astrolabe Southern Valleys Chenin Blanc

Family-owned Marlborough winery Astrolabe make some excellent Sauvignon Blancs including their Province Sauvignon Blanc and Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc. The full range made at the winery is significantly more extensive than is available to us here in Ireland, but one relatively new release here is their Chenin Blanc Sec from Marlborough’s Southern Valleys:

Astrolabe Southern Valleys Sec Chenin Blanc 2020

Astrolabe Southern Valleys Chenin Blanc Sec

Chenin Blanc is up there with Riesling as one of the most versatile grape varieties around – it makes great sparkling wine, and still wines that can range from bone dry to intensely sweet. Outside of South Africa it hasn’t had the same press as Riesling, however – how many winemakers outside Europe dream of making a great Chenin compared to dreams of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir? 

Marlborough’s long, cool growing season is perfect for aromatic varieties, and while Sauvignon Blanc is the runaway favourite there it has also been a successful home to Riesling, Grüner Veltiner and others. So why not Chenin?

In the glass this Southern Valleys Chenin Blanc pours a bright straw yellow, something that sets it apart from Marlborough Sauvignon. The nose is fruit driven with notes of apple blossom, orange peel, pink grapefruit and some pip fruit. The palate is all Tarte Normande1, minerals, honey and fresh citrus.

So yes, this wine definitely has some sweetness. It’s labelled as a “Sec” i.e. a dry wine, but dry doesn’t always mean dry. In Champagne, for example, a Sec has between 17 and 32 g/L of residual sugar, with demi-sec above that at 32 to 50. Tellingly, the Astrolabe product page for this wine did have demi-sec in its description before being corrected.

In the end it’s not the amount of residual sugar on its own that determines how sweet a wine tastes, the flavours and acidity profile have a significant effect. I would classify this wine as off-dry, but more importantly as delicious!

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €21.95
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

1That’s an apple tarte from Normandy, you heathens!

 

 

Information

Top 10 O’Briens Xmas Sale Wines

I’ve already given my recommendations on Christmas wines to buy from Aldi Ireland and SuperValu; now it’s the turn of O’Briens and my selection of five whites and five reds which are not just very good wines, but also on offer!

Guerrieri Rizzardi Lugana 2020

Guerrieri Rizzardi Lugana

Straight to the point: this an excellent example of Lugana, an excellent example of Italian white wine, come to that, so it’s definitely worth snapping up while on offer at around €15. For more details see my previous article on Summer Sippers, though to be honest I’d drink this whatever the season.

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €18.95 down to €14.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Astrolabe Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Astrolabe Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Sometimes less is more. I’m a big fan of Astrolabe’s regular Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc which is a blend of fruit from across the region. Simon Waghorn’s Awatere Valley bottling is leaner, greeener and cooler in nature; it’s less exuberant, less obvious, less tropical, but damn tasty and a little more food friendly.

The nose is big on green pepper, fennel and mangetout, with hints of grapefruit. The palate is clean, mineral and racy; it is lightness personified, herbal and distinguished. While being more food friendly it doesn’t require food. Whether looking for a premium Marlborough Sauvignon or just a change of take on the region, this is well worth a try.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €22.45 down to €19.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Geal Rías Baixas Albariño 2020

Geal Rías Baixas Albariño

Some wines available at O’Briens are exclusive to them in Ireland, but even more exclusive are those made by O’Briens Director of Wine Lynne Coyle MW. One is a Navarra rosé (“Rós” which is Irish for “Rose”) made in partnership with Bodegas Tandem and the other is this Geal (the Irish for “White”) Albariño made with Sonia Costa Fontán of Bodega Lagar de Costa.

The 50 year old vines are from a single vineyard within spitting distance / sea spray of the Atlantic in Galicia’s Rías Baixas. The grapes are harvested by hand from pergola frames (to be honest it would be pretty difficult to get a tractor up there) which have traditionally been used to let breezes get to the clusters and allow other crops to be grown underneath. Fermentation is with indigenous yeast and the wine matures on fine lees in a concrete egg – a shape which encourages circulation of the lees – for eight months.

Although wild yeasts are used there is no funk to this wine which you might expect from other wines which explicitly use wild yeast such as Greywacke Wild Sauvignon and Gai’a Wild Ferment Assyrtiko – it’s clean as a whistle. What it is not, however, is boring – there’s  blend of saline notes and orchard fruits on the nose, especially pear. The palate is wonderfully creamy yet still precise, with apple and pear balanced by touches of citrus on one side and white peach on the other. The finish is mouth-wateringly fresh.

The distinct salinity to this wine makes it an obvious choice to partner seafood, but it would be a treat with other light dishes or on its own.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €24.95 down to €19.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Delheim Stellenbosch Chardonnay Sur Lie 2020

Delheim Stellenbosch Chardonnay Sur Lie

I will be publishing an article on Delheim next year so I will save the juicy bits for that, but this is a terrific wine that is a great ambassador for South African Chardonnay. Like its sibling Chenin Blanc this wine sees plenty of time ageing in oak barrels, but it draws just as much character from lees stirring as the actual oak – hence “Sur Lie”. This isn’t one for Chablis fans but if you like a drop of Meursault (see below) then this is well worth a try.

Chanson Meursault 2018

Chanson Meursault

Before I’d heard of Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne there was one white Burgundy AOC which stood out: Meursault. It wasn’t cheap then, as now, but remains somewhat accessible – especially when on offer. Chanson’s history dates back to 1750 but gained significant investment and additional distribution after its acquisition by Bollinger in 1999. Since then Chanson have expanded their own holdings from 38 to 45 hectares, but also brought in tighter quality control at the growers they work with.

The grapes for this 2018 Meursault are bought from four local growers, selected for a combination of elegance and depth. As you’d expect maturation is in (French) oak barrels, though the proportion of new oak is modest. The influence of the oak is noticeable on the depth of colour – it’s a lovely light gold. The oak and lees also make themselves known on the nose, though not intrusively so. The palate is generous but mineral, nutty and creamy yet with gentle orchard fruits. Decant if you can.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €55.00 down to €46.00
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Porta 6 Lisboa Red 2019

Porta 6 Lisboa Red

This is the party wine you buy in bulk when guests are going to be supping away without paying too much attention to what they’re drinking, but you don’t want to be rude and drink something different yourself: i.e. a great value red that pleases the crowd. Check out my previous review of Porta 6 for the full story and get yourself a bottle, box or case.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €12.95 down to €10.00
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie (Magnums only online right now)

Emiliana Novas Syrah Mourvèdre 2017

Emiliana Novas Syrah Mourvèdre Gran Reserva

I will have more to report on the Emiliana Novas range in due course, but this organic red blend is a flagbearer for the label. In the glass it’s almost opaque, unless you’ve just got a tasting pour which reveals a deep ruby red. The nose is phenomenal with deep, sweet-scented black fruits – blackberry and blackcurrant – with smoke, vanilla and spice also present. The palate also has a big lick of black fruit, but not at all jammy or over-the-top sweet; the 15% Mourvèdre adds a tapenade and liquorice savoury edge. Drying yet fine-grained tannins and acidity keep the keel even.

This is a really well put together, balanced, interesting and delicious wine. At €16.95 it’s good value, but at €12.95 it’s a steal!

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €16.95 down to €12.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Eddystone Point Tasmania Pinot Noir 2018

Eddystone Point Tasmania Pinot Noir

Tasmania is known for its cooler climate wines, especially Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and traditional method sparkling based on that pair of grapes. Tasmanian wine aficionados might be familiar with the wines from Tolpuddle; they are excellent, though priced accordingly, and somewhat shy in their youth. Eddystone Point’s Pinot Noir does not suffer the same reticence – it has bright red fruits just bursting with flavour, tinged with exotic spice. There’s a real polish to this wine without any sense of confecture or manufacture; thrilling acidity keeps the fruit and the finish vitally fresh.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €24.95 down to €20.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2018

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz

Penfolds has always been an iconic producer for me since I caught the wine bug in the 1990s. Bin 28 was actually the first ever “Bin” wine given a commercial release by Penfolds, back in 1959. At that time it was based solely on fruit from the Kalimna vineyard in the Barossa Valley; now it is a blend from several vineyards across South Australia, though the Barossa core remains. Whereas Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz is sometimes known as “Baby Grange” or “Poor Man’s Grange” because some barrels which don’t quite make the cut for Grange can be included in that wine, similarly any Shiraz barrels which don’t make it into the Bin 389 can also be included in the Bin 28 as they are all matured in American oak, and so remain on style.

And what style! There’s no mistaking the origin of this wine when assessing its aromas: blackberry, plum, violet, vanilla and spice co-mingle delightfully. Black fruits are joined with fresh raspberries, thyme and rosemary plus dark chocolate on the palate, with lightly drying tannins and good acidity providing a backbone. This is lovely to drink now, but would benefit from decanting or storing for a few more years.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €37.95 down to €29.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores

Gérard Bertrand Maury Tuilé 2010

Gérard Bertrand Maury Tuilé

Maury is one of the trio of Vin Doux Naturel appellations in the Roussillon region (French Catalonia), the others being Rivesaltes and Banyuls. They are fortified before fermentation has finished to leave some residual sugar – hence the term which means “Naturally Sweet Wine” – somewhat similar to Port. Unlike, say, a Vintage Port which is foot trodden, fermented and bottled quickly, the grapes for this Maury spend a month in vat before being gently pressed. While Port uses its champion indigenous varieties this is made with 100% Grenache Noir, a gentler, lighter and less tannic grape. After pressing the wine spends a year ageing in barrel then a further year ageing in bottle before release.

Although it hasn’t spent a decade in barrel, this Maury is closest to a Tawny Port in style. It’s a dark amber in the glass and has wonderful aromas of spice and dried fruits. To taste, it’s almost Christmas in a glass: quite sweet, raisins, plums, nuts and mixed peel, a good shake of cinnamon. The French would drink this as an aperitif, but it makes much more sense to go with seasonal desserts or even a box of chocolates – I can confirm it was magnificent with salted caramel truffles!

  • ABV: 16.0%
  • RRP: €22.95 down to €19.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores (larger stores only at present)
Make Mine A Double, Opinion

A Pair to Stock Up On! [Make Mine a Double #36]

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)

Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc

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)

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment

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.

 

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

Single Bottle Review

Astrolabe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #12]

As a wine drinker, it’s always good to revisit favourites – might they have changed, or my palate?  The familiar offers reassurance and a chance to recalibrate.

Here is one of my favourite Marlborough Sauvignons that I have tasted regularly over the past decade – can’t wait to see how the next vintage tastes!

Disclosure: sample kindly provided for review

Astrolabe Marlborough “Province”Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.5%, €19.95 down to €15.95, O’Briens)

pro-mar-sav-15-print

This is the standard Sauvignon from Simon Waghorn and team at Astrolabe, formerly known as “Voyage” but now dubbed “Province” to reflect the fact that it is a blend of fruit from different Marlborough sub-regions.pro-details

Compared to some Marlborough SBs it is on the savoury side, with a little fruit sweetness on the mid palate but a very dry finish rather than the tropical flourish of some.  The technical notes show it has only 1.4 g/L of residual sugar which bears out the subjective style.

The main notes of this 2015 are green bell pepper, gooseberry and grapefruit – there’s a definite tartness to it which would make it fantastic with salad or seafood.  If drinking on its own I’d recommend taking it out of the fridge for 20 – 30 minutes before opening.  This wine really hits the spot!