Cava has an image problem. The vast majority of bottles sort in the UK and Ireland are mass-produced, by-the-numbers plonk. Even though it’s made by the more expensive – and generally higher quality – traditional method, Cava is generally seen as being in the same “party-drink” class as Prosecco. To be honest, neither cheap Prosecco nor cheap Cava float my boat.
Serious Cava is getting some serious attention at the moment thanks to the Cava de Paraje single vineyard classifications, and hopefully that will be extended and filter down in time. Until then, the mid market seems to be somewhat neglected – where is the good Cava that doesn’t cost the earth?
Here are a couple I tried recently which are well worth trying:
Perelada Cava Brut Reserva NV (11.5%, 8.0g/L RS, RRP €20 at The Corkscrew , Jus de Vine, The Hole in the Wall)
Perhaps any Catalan-speaking readers might be able to tell me if the similarity in spelling between the town of Perelada (near Girona) and the Cava grape Parellada is linked or just a coincidence? This is a blend of the three traditional Cava varieties, being 45% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeu and 25% Parellada. The second fermentation in bottle is for 15 months which is the minimum for non vintage Champagne but significantly longer than the nine month minimum for non vintage Cava.
This is quite a fresh style of Cava, with a fairly low 8g/L of residual sugar. There’s a little influence from the time on the lees but it’s much more about the tangy apple and citrus fruit.
Disclosure: this bottle was kindly given as a sample
Llopart Cava Brut Reserva 2014 (11.5%, 8.0g/L RS, RRP €30 at The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son, Redmonds)
This is producer Llopart’s standard bottle and is actually fairly similar to the Perelada above in terms of residual sugar and blend – it consists of 40% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeu and 30% Parellada. The time on lees is given as 18 months minimum but, to my palate, this has spent quite a bit more than the minimum; it has lots of biscuity notes which are generally the sign of a good Champagne. This is a classy Cava which would be a better choice than many Champagnes!
Retailer Marks and Spencer have an excellent wine range, and in line with their aspirational target consumers they aren’t afraid to go up market now and again. Here are six of Marks and Sparks’ super sparklers:
This is a blend of two out of the three traditional white Cava grapes, being 75% Macabeo and 25% Parellada (no love for Xarel-lo this time!) For those not aware, Cava is made in the same way as Champagne (the “traditional method”) from a delimited area of Spain, most of which is in Catalonia near Barcelona. This is a step above the bargain basement Cava which does the label no good – it’s nice and toastybut balanced.
It’s not like me to recommend a rosé so be assured this is a lovely drop! Produced by Segura Viudas, this is made from 100% Trepat, a local black grape which can give Cava lots of character. It has lots of red fruit and herbal notes which give it a savoury edge. Would be perfect with lots of starter dishes.
English sparkling wine producers are very good at the Blanc de Blancs style (in my humble opinion), mainly because they allow the English trademark acidity to come through, but with the edges smoothed off with substantial lees ageing. This effort from Sussex producer Ridgeview is quite freshand linearbut has the toasty lees characters which I love.
Louis Vertay Brut NV (12.0%, 10.5 g/L, €48.00)
I’ve never met Monsieur Vertay but his Champagne is a cracker. It’s a blend of equal parts of the three main Champagne grapes – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier – from the 2013 harvest with some older reserve wines added. The two Pinots make themselves known through lovely red fruit on the attack and mid palate with citrus notes from the Chardonnay finishing it off. Give it to me now!
Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV (12.0%, 10.0 g/L, €60.00)
Although most well known for their Prestige Cuvée Cristal, Louis Roederer also make some fine Champagne at lower price points. At €60 retail this is five times the price of Cavas above but less than a third that of Cristal, and for this Champagne lover it is worth buying as a treat. The blend is 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier, with 10% of the total coming from reserve wines. It’s a sumptuous, textured, gorgeous wine.
Oudinot Cuvée Tradition Magnum NV (12.0%, 10.0 g/L, €75.00)
Although this has a higher price than the Louis Roederer there’s an important word in the description – MAGNUM! There’s something quite decadent about drinking from a magnum of Champagne, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m a fan. I don’t know if it has the status officially, but I think of Oudinot as M&S’s house Champagne – and that’s no bad thing. The blend is 50% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier – the extra Chardonnay comes through as extra citrusand freshness, so it would be great as an aperitif.
When I was asked to put on a wine tasting event for a birthday party, I asked what format the host wanted and the average level of wine knowledge among the guests. He replied that he was open about the format but that the partygoers would have varying levels of interest and knowledge in wine (a couple of heathens not even liking wine!) Furthermore, there would be different groups within the guests, so an arrangement which got them to mix well would be preferable.
The format we agreed on was one that has worked well for me at many events in the past, and has been progressively honed over the years. I split the guests into two teams, led by the birthday boy and his wife respectively. Six wines were served blind: two sparkling, two white and two red. For each wine, the teams had to guess five aspects:
Now, blind tasting is actually pretty difficult even for seasoned professionals, so to make things a bit more reasonable there were 5 answers to chose from for each question, for each wine. The teams could then go for more points if they were pretty sure what the wine was (e.g. choosing “Italy – Veneto” for origin and “Glera” for grape(s) if they thought it was a Prosecco) or hedging their bets.
As for the wines selected? The host is a fan of classic Bordeaux and Burgundy but wanted to try other styles, so he asked me to choose some personal favourites. I sourced them from Tesco (supermarket) and Sweeney’s wine merchants, so that if attendees liked the wines they would have a reasonable chance of finding them later.
So without further ado, here are the wines and the options for each question:
Marqués de la Concordia Cava 2013 (11.5%, €17.99 at Sweeney’s)
Both teams guessed this was a Cava and had it in the right price band. I’m not a fan of cheap Cava but this is actually a nice bottle at a pretty nice price. I’d much prefer to drink this than most budget Proseccos!
Tesco Finest Vintage Grand Cru Champagne 2007 (12.5%, €35.00 at Tesco)
Perhaps the proliferation of cheaper Champagnes at Lidl and Aldi have changed people’s preconceptions of how much Champagne costs, as both teams selected €20 – €30. The biggest Champagne brand in the world – Möet & Chandon – is usually listed at €50+…but I reckon this is far better, at a significantly lower price.
Prova Regia Arinto VR Lisboa 2014 (12.0%, €13.00 at Sweeney’s)
This is an old favourite of mine from the days of Sweeney’s regular tastings. It now comes in two versions, the above pictured Vinho Regional and a slightly more upmarket DOC. Whispers of “It’s Riesling, look at the bottle” were heard, and I can see the logic (the bottles were wrapped in foil so the silhouette was visible). Several tasters thought it didn’t taste of much at all, and I’d have to agree to a certain extent – it’s definitely worth trading up to the DOC for more flavour intensity.
McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Hunter Valley Semillon 2005 (12.0%, €19.99 at Tesco)
This was a really polarising wine, and one that totally misled tasters as to its age – most thought it a 2015 or 2014, when in fact it was from the 2005 vintage! Hunter Valley Semillon is one of the true original styles to have come from Australia. Unoaked, it is all fresh lemon in its youth, but with significant bottle age it gains toastiness and rich flavours. This is a bottle you can buy now and hide in the bottom of a wardrobe for a decade!
Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014 (13.5%, €26.00 at Sweeney’s)
Probably the best-received wine of the evening! This is a lovely wine, and one that beats off most of the competition at anything close to the price. Its richness and spiciness (for a Pinot Noir) did lead some to think it was a Shiraz – understandable. This was the wine which people queued up to snap the label of so that they could seek it out!
Diemersfontein Pinotage 2014 (14.0%, €23.00 at Sweeney’s)
Another polarising wine, with several not sure if they liked it or not – and to be fair, it’s not for everyone. This is the “Original Coffee and Chocolate Pinotage” and I happen to like it – don’t listen to the Mochas (sorry!) Of course the grape and origin weren’t explicitly listed so they were both “other” – a bit sneaky on my part? Perhaps…
**If you are interested in having a wine tasting party or other event then please ask me for details**
As I wrote several articles for Glass Of Bubbly Magazine in 2015 I had an understandable focus on fizz during the year, and I was fortunate to be invited to a number of excellent sparkling wine tastings.
Here are ten bottles of bubbles which impressed me during the year:
10. Cordorníu Anna Blanc de Noirs (€10, Madrid airport)
There is so much ordinary Cava around, especially in supermarkets, that’s it’s easy to look past the category completely. The market is dominated by two large players, Freixenet and Cordorníu, whose everyday bottles are…everyday quality, at best. Part of this is due to the indigenous grapes usually used, which are rarely seen in a bottle of fizz outside their homeland.
Cordorníu’s Anna range is a significant step up in quality, using Chardonnay for a Blanc de Blancs and Pinot Noir for a Blanc de Noirs. In my Francophile eyes, using the two most renowned Champagne grapes for superior bottlings is no coincidence. Pinot gives it some lovely red fruit flavours, and time on the lees adds beautiful brioche notes. I was lucky to receive this as a present and shared it with wine blogger friends in early 2015.
9. Man O’War Tulia Blanc de Blancs 2009 (€37, O’Briens)
Because of the importance attached to time spent on the lees in Champagne and other quality sparkling wine regions it is easy to forget that there is an alternative – time maturing in bottle after disgorgement. It doesn’t give the same results, but here is an example of a delicious fizz which has had only nine months on the lees but a further five or more years in bottle.
Chardonnay is often lean and clean when used in fizz but Man O’War’s Waiheke Island grapes give Tulia sumptuous, ripe exotic fruit flavours. This often sells out soon after a consignment arrives, so grab it while you can.
8. Champagne Oudinot Brut NV (€39, M&S)
One of the plus points of 2015 was getting much better acquainted with Marks and Spencer’s wine range, as I’ve only had the odd bottle from them previously. This is their house Champagne (though not a private or own label) but deserves to be taken seriously as a wine.
The info from M&S states that it is 100% Chardonnay, though to me it tastes quite a bit richer than I’d expect if that were the case. It does have crisp acidity and bright citrus notes which make it versatile and very drinkable.
7. Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-sec NV (N/A in Ireland)
One of the surprises for me at the Grandes Marques Champagne tasting held in Dublin was the number and quality of the sweeter styles of Champagne. So much so, in fact, that it inspired me to write a Glass Of Bubbly article titled “Sugar, Sugar – The Divergence of Sweetness in Champagne” (you know how I like a cheesy title).
Piper-Heidsieck’s offering in the sweeter category is dubbed “Sublime” – and it’s an apt moniker as it’s probably the best sweet sparkling I’ve ever tried. Cuvée Sublime is assembled from over a hundred different base wines, aged and blended over four years. There’s something of a Danish pastry about it – candied fruit, pastry and sweet vanilla, just sumptuous!
6. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010 (Liberty)
The 2009 vintage was hailed as the best yet for Nyetimber, especially since the wife and husband team Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix took charge of winemaking. Hearing that 2010 was even better still made me a touch wary of hype, but on tasting it I had to agree!
This is delicious now but I’m looking forward to tasting it with a little more age behind it.
5. Drappier Brut Nature Sans Soufre (POA, The Corkscrew)
The Côtes des Bar is sometimes looked down upon by the Champenois of the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs, but in the hands of a great producer the vines down here can create magic. Champagne Drappier is one such producer, and although they have a majority of Pinot Noir vines, they also specialise in making Champagne from some of the almost forgotten – but still permitted – grapes of the region, including Arbane and Petit Meslier.
Furthermore, they have much lower sulphite levels than most other producers, requiring extremely fastidious handling and hygiene. This bottle goes even further – it has no dosage, so is bone dry, but also no sulphur added at all. Wonderfully aromatic on the nose, it is fresh and dry – though not austere – on the palate. Brut zero Champagnes are often slightly out of kilter, but this doesn’t miss the sugar at all – the true sign of a great Champagne that lives up to the motto of “Vinosity and Freshness”!
4. R&L Legras Cuvée Exceptionelle St Vincent 1996 (€147, BBR)
As Champagne vintages go, the debate over whether 1995 or 1996 was the better still continues. This wine makes a strong case for the latter! Old Chardonnay vines help produce intensely concentrated citrus flavours and aromas – and although it is now 20 years old it still tastes youthful – it should see out another 10 years without a problem.
R&L Legras is a small Grower based in the north of the Côte des Blancs, probably my favourite subregion of Champagne. The quality of the wines is reflected in the number of Parisian Michelin starred restaurants which list them – the purity of the fruit is incredible.
3. Gusbourne Estate Late Disgorged Blanc de Blancs 2007 (Gusbourne Library)
Although its first vintage (2006) was only released in 2010, Gusbourne Estate of Kent is already part of the top echelon of English sparkling producers, and is gradually expanding the range of wines it produces. In addition to the regular Blanc de Blancs, Rosé and traditional blend, they also put aside a few bottles of their 2007 Blanc de Blancs for later disgorgement, i.e. it spent an additional three years in bottle on the lees on top of the normal three year ageing period.
Tasting it alongside the regular 2008 BdB showed the additional time made a huge difference to the wine – softer in acidity and sparkle, yet more textured, and oodles (technical term that!) of brioche character. It was obviously still a sparkling wine yet had transcended that, just like mature Champagne does in its own way.
I feel privileged to have tried this and I look forward to more “experiments”!
2. Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2005 (€150, O’Briens, Mitchell & Sons)
Even fans of Blankety Blank fizz like myself can’t help but love Bollinger with its richness and red fruit. It has a fantastic reputation and image, yet unlike some Grandes Marques it delivers on those promises. The non vintage Special Cuvée is probably the best big name NV you can get without spending silly money, and the prestige vintage La Grande Année (LGA) measures up well to the likes of Dom Pérignon at less than two thirds the price.
The Irish launch of LGA 2005 was held at the trendy Marker Hotel in Dublin. To my surprise the LGA was actually outshone by another wine – its rosé counterpart! I don’t normally choose rosé Champagne but this was outstanding – gingerbread, spice, strawberry and lemon plus toasted brioche. Just a fabulous wine!
1. Krug Grande Cuvée NV
Krug is possibly the most prestigious sparkling wine in the world. No ordinary NV this – Krug prefers the term “multi-vintage”. In fact, this wasn’t even an ordinary bottle of Krug – it was one that I had been keeping in my wine fridge for several years and decided to crack open to celebrate my second blogaversary – I had been writing for two years to the day – just before the opening of new wine bar The Cavern.
Sipping it in the sun, watching people go by, was one of the most relaxing experiences I could imagine. I managed to interpret the serial numbers on the bottle to find that it was bottled at least four years previously, which was reflected in the more mature notes coming through.
I love mature Champagne, and now I can say that I love mature Krug!
Dublin isn’t overwhelmed with BYO restaurants, particularly those that don’t charge corkage, but of those that do let you bring in your own wine, many are southern and/or eastern Mediterranean-themed. Of course this makes sense when those areas have high numbers of practising Muslims who don’t drink alcohol, and don’t want to profit from selling it, but are happy for you to drink with their food.
Among the best of those BYOs is Keshk Café Restaurant, just by the Canal on Dublin’s southside. So what better place for five like-minded wine bloggers to meet up for food, drinks and a natter!
The food was lovely and may have been inadvertently on the healthy side, with fresh salads and grilled meat. I will leave further description of the food to others, but below are the wines we tasted. As co-ordinator I suggested two criteria for each diner’s choice of wine:
1) A retail price of between €20 and €30 (after a few years of duty rises this is now the sweetspot for wine in Ireland)
2) The wine should be a favourite or something the person fancied trying (all grapes and all regions allowed!)
Codorniú Anna Blanc de Noirs NV (€10, Madrid Airport)
Along with Frexinet, Cordoniu is one of two big Cava houses who dominate sales volumes. Every year they pump out hectolitres of ordinary fizz, which is exactly the sort of thing that I avoid. You know the stuff I mean – and it’s undercut in the UK and Ireland by even less expensive supermarket own-label pap. This race to compete on cost and not quality has done significant damage to the Cava brand, so obtaining a fair price for a well-made one is difficult.
Thankfully a few well-made ones do find their way over here, even if it’s just a chance purchase at Madrid Airport. This is a 100% Blanc de Noirs made from Pinot Noir, one of the two main black grapes of Champagne. Of course being a DO Cava it is made in the traditional method, though the regulations for Cava are not as strict as those for the Champenois.
Given its constituent variety there was no surprise to find lovely red fruit, primarily strawberry and raspberry, but there was also stone fruit such as apricot, and even lees characters which confirm that this is a level above everyday Cava.
Anna is very well put together and something I will look out for in future.
The alcohol of 11.0% gives you a good clue as to the style of this Groovy – light quaffing material. The wino who brought this is a big fan of the variety, especially after attending a 100% varietal tasting last year (which I covered here). It’s not the type of wine to win lots of Parker Points or Wines Of The Year Awards but it’s just very pleasant to drink.
I have a feeling this will be seeing a lot more glasses in the summer months.
Jean Chartron AOP Rully “Montmorin” 2012 (€30 down to €20, The Corkscrew)
Well that’s one way of hitting both ends of the suggested price range! Rully is one of the better communes on the Côte Chalonnaise, the section of Burgundy in between The Côte d’Or and the Mâconnais. This was amazing complexity for such a young wine. To be honest if I’d tasted that blind I’d have guessed at something north of €40 from the Côte de Beaune.
The producer Jean Charton is based in Puligny-Montrachet but also produces whites in Chassagne-Montrachet, Saint-Aubin, Rully and the generic Burgundy appellation.
There was a definite vanilla and toast influence from oak, but not the full butterscotch sauce experience. I’m guessing that quite a bit of the creaminess came from lees stirring rather than extended ageing in barrel. Monsieur Colm from the Corkscrew says they have experienced a little more bottle variation than normal, but most of them ZING!
Meyer-Fonné AOP Alsace Gewurztraminer Réserve 2013 (€22.95, The Corkscrew)
This is one of my favourite Alsace producers with a fantastic range. My lubricated French came out with the term “correct” which is a handy shorthand for a wine that accurately reflects its ingredients and origins, and is well made, but is somewhat prosaic, nothing that makes you go “Wow”.
This Gewurz was off dry, with the variety’s typical lychees and flowers, plus some spicy ginger. It would probably have shone more with spicier food; given where we were eating there was a good chance of some heat, but I think we made conservative food choices when it actually came to ordering so we’d be able to give all the wines an even chance.
Château Musar Bekaa Valley 2003
In a Mediterranean restaurant, what would be more fitting than a true Mediterranean wine? From the some-time war zone of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon comes a wine which is full of contradictions:
It’s an alcoholic product from a country with a good number of Muslims.
It’s made with Bordeaux’s flagship grape Cabernet Sauvignon and the southern Rhône’s Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Grenache. The proportions change from vintage to vintage.
On the nose there’s a big whiff of nail polish remover, a sign of Volatile Acidity which is considered a major fault in wine.
After that there’s a fair dose of farmyard, to be polite, or horseshit, to be less polite. This is another fault caused by the pernicious strain of yeast Brettanomyces, called Brett for short.
Yet it works! And boy does it work!
This bottle had been double decanted which gave it a real chance to shine. At 12 years from vintage it’s still a callow youth, with plenty of years ahead of it.
Domaine Coursodon AOP Saint Joseph “L’Olivaie” 2012 (€40, Wine Workshop)
For this cuvée maturation is shared between demi-muids (20% new) and pièces (0% new). Although not specifically parcellaire, the components of this cuvée come mainly from St Jean de Muzols and the vines average over 60 years in age.
A lovely wine showing poise and potential but not yet unfurling its wings. Brooding dark black fruit and a twist of black pepper meet on the palate. Saint Joseph is rapidly becoming my go-to appellation in the northern Rhône
A couple of hours decanting would have shown it at its current best. I’d love to try this again with more sympathetic treatment (and earlier in the evening!)
Carlo Gentili Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010
Just a random Chianti which I had lying around at home. It was the seventh bottle of the evening. It had great aromas of Chianti which followed through to the palate – fantastic Chianti flavour. For further info have a look here.
This is the sixth installment of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, but the first one I have been able to enter. The theme of “Mystery” was set by The Drunken Cyclist who won the previous month’s challenge.
Normally I read the other entries which are posted to get an idea, but on a couple of occasions I’ve seen other people have already had a great idea which was at the back of my mind – and plagiarism isn’t good, even the appearance of it.
So for this challenge I’ve gone way out of my comfort zone and attempted a short bit of fiction – something I haven’t done since English class at school! A little inspiration came from the badge created by The Armchair Cyclist…
The door was unlocked so I let myself into the hallway; the rain was coming down like bullets into the night so I needed to get out of the rain. I peeked round the corner – nobody there, so I headed down the stairs and took a seat at the bar.
“How are you Frank? What’ll you have?” said the bartender. He was new. His accent was strange..somewhere from the mid-Atlantic. His pale skin and red hair made him look like he would get sunburn from a lightbulb. He must have heard my name from the boss.
“Champagne. Bollinger. Vintage.”
“No. A bottle” He obviously didn’t know me. Not. At. All.
“Two glasses then? Are you waiting for someone?”
“Do I look like I want company?” I growled. “Open the goddam bottle will you?”
The bartender opened the bottle with a brief sigh (the bottle, not him) and poured me a glass. He put the bottle in an ice bucket with a fancy towel over top. It said “Ely” on the towel.
I knocked back a mouthful – man, this was great stuff. Creamy, complex, red fruits and biscuit with a long finish. My kind of drink. In fact, it was my regular drink at Ely. Don’t get me wrong, I like some of the other fizzy stuff they had, but not the Italian or Spanish garbage – far too simple, far too easy.
I quaffed the rest of the glass then poured myself another. The bar owner walked in and nodded to me as he walked past. “On the usual, I see, Frank”. Obervant as usual. He was a nice guy, real friendly, but left me alone when I wanted to be.
“You still have eyes then, Fred” I muttered. “You know me, I know what I like.”
“Come on, my old friend, tonight you should try something else.” A raised eyebrow made him pause. “On the house!”
“Okay Fred, just to make you happy, I’ll try them again. Then you won’t ask me again, right?”
“Great, I’m sure you will like some of them, Frank!” He seemed excited, like a puppy. This had better be quick and had better get him off my case.
“Pour away, Fred. This here..” I tapped the bottle of Bollinger Grand Année. “This here is my benchmark. Whatever you give me has to match this baby.”
He took a bottle out of the fridge behind the bar and popped the cork. Reaching up, he grabbed a couple of glasses from the shelf above the bar.
“What the heck is that? That’s no Champagne cork!”
“My friend, this is frizzante Prosecco. It doesn’t need a big cork and wire cage, it’s not as fizzy as other sparklers.”
I didn’t like Prosecco. I hated it. In fact, I hated it with a loathing far beyond mere contempt. It was a chick’s drink. As Fred poured us both a glass, I looked round to make sure no-one else could see I was trying such an absurd drink.
Bam! Fruit all the way! But then it was gone, as quickly as it came, leaving a slight prick of acid in my throat. It was like using a water pistol instead of a real gun – surprise from the impact, but no lasting effect.
“Fred that’s nowhere near close,” I said. “I hope you’ve got something better than that”
“Coming right up, my friend.” He fished another bottle out of the fridge. This time it looked to have a regular Champagne cork.
Another pair of glasses. He poured again. At least this seemed to be properly fizzy.
“So you reckon this is better, huh? Where’s it from?” I asked.
“Just try it and see what you think, Frank.”
I took a mouthful. Nice and round in the mouth. Not sweet. Biscuitty. Chewy even. But then it faded quickly; far too simple. The label said Freixenet Elyssia. Sounded more like a medical complaint than a drink.
“Well Fred…it’s just like I thought. Those other drinks, now they’re just fine for other folks. But not for me, they’re far too simple. I need a bit of wonder in my beverages. I need mystery.”