Tag: Champagne blend

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz of 2016

And so, finally, here are my Top 10 Fizzes of 2016!

10. Hush Heath Estate Balfour 1503 Pinot Noir

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If you have an interest in fizz then you might know that Pinot Noir is an important grape in the production of sparkling wine, even for those with no colour, but Hush Heath Estate have taken things even further with their “Noir de Noir” (if such a term exists!)  A recent addition to the range of this Kent estate, it’s made in a clean, fresh and fruity style – worth trying as something different, but stands up on its own in terms of quality.

9.  Cirotto Prosecco Superiore Asolo Extra Brut 2015

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Vintage Prosecco is not that common, though most consumers probably don’t pay much attention.  This Prosecco isn’t for most consumers, however (though they would probably like it) – it’s sights are aimed higher at those who value more than just something with bubbles in.  This beauty from Cirotto is an Extra Brut which tells us a couple of important things:

  1. with less residual sugar (only 3g/L) it might appeal more to those who find average Proseccos too sweet, and
  2. without the mask of as much sugar the wine beneath is laid bare, so it had better be good!

Wine geeks will also be interested in the fact it is made in the small DOCG region of Asolo and that 10% of the blend is made up of local varieties Perera and Bianchetta.  This is the best aperitif style Prosecco I have ever tasted!

8. Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV

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The quality of Charles Heidsieck’s standard non vintage is due to the silver lining of a very dark cloud.  The marque’s UK sales fell off a cliff at some point a few decades ago, leaving it with lots of long term grape buying contracts that it didn’t really need, so rather than produce lots of finished Champagne that would just create a glut on the market, or terminating contracts that would be very difficult to re-establish in better times, they honoured those contracts and built up their stocks of reserve wines.

Hence the Brut Réserve consists of over 40% reserve wines with an average age of 10 years – giving it far greater depth and complexity than nearly all other NVs around.

7. Jip Jip Rocks Sparkling Shiraz NV

jipjip_spark_btl

Sparkling Shiraz does appear on the supermarket shelves in Ireland but usually just in the guise of a single, entry level brand (I’m being kind and not naming names here).  But those who don’t like Banrock Station (oops!!) might find that moving up market a little brings a lot in terms of quality and balance.  Jip Jip Rocks shows why the category is much more popular down under – it manages to be the best of both red and sparkling worlds, without breaking the bank!

6. Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2007

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One of the truisms about Champagne is that value is most often found at a cooperative, but Champenois coops can also be the source of top quality wines, such as this Blanc de Blancs from Beaumont des Crayères.  I’m a fan of the regular Brut NV but Fleur Blanche is on another plane entirely – lots of citrus and bready flavours, think lemon curds on toasted brioche!

5. Henriot Brut Souverain NV

 

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The Henriot family put down roots in Reims in the 16th century, eventually becoming cloth merchants in the city’s biggest trade of the time (Mercier means haberdasher!) and then (thankfully for us) Champagne producers in 1808.  This is a traditional blend with a slight bias towards Chardonnay (much of it from Grand Cru villages) for elegance and floral notes.  Ageing on the lees for three years adds some lovely biscuit tones.

4. Albert Beerens Carte Or NV

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The Carte Or is the standard bearer for the Albert Beerens range.  With an astonishing 46% reserve wines in the blend it is also an ambassador for the southerly reaches of the Champagne region – the Côte des Bar.  This family-owner grower-producer farms just seven hectares around Bar-sur-Aube, and their obsessive focus on quality and innovation shine through in the wine.

3. Christian Bourmault Cuvée Hermance Brut NV

hermance

Based in the Grand Cru village of Avize on the Côte des Blancs, Christian Bourmault follows in the footsteps of his forebears including the founders Ernest and Hermance, after who this cuvée was named.  It’s unusual for Avize in that it has a significant majority of black grapes – the blend is 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier. The use of old oak barrels for ageing and plenty of lees work adds lots of character – this is a Champagne worth seeking out.

2. Sugrue Pierre “The Trouble With Dreams” 2011

sugrue-pierre

Not content with “just” being the creator of delicious English sparkling at Wiston Estate, Dermot Sugrue has a personal side project making a traditional Champagne blend from a tiny single vineyard.  Made from 55% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier, the 2010 was delightful but the 2011 was sensational!  There’s plenty of lemon, lime and stone fruit, but also an intriguing chalkiness – a direct result of the vineyard’s chalk soils? This was the best English sparkling wine I tasted in 2016!

1. Charles Heidsieck Cuvée des Millénaires 1995

1995

This cuvée was released a few years ago but keeps getting better every time I taste it.  1995 is still considered one of the top few vintages of the last 25 years, so with 17 years ageing before disgorgement this is an outstanding expression of the year.  It’s a luxury, yes, but if you get to taste it you might just see it as a necessity – one of the most complex and seductive Champagnes I’ve ever tasted!

 

 

Marks and Sparklers

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:

M&S Cava Prestige Brut NV (12.0%, 9.0 g/L, €16.30)

cava

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 toasty but balanced.

M&S Cava Prestige Rosado NV (11.5%, 9.0 g/L, €16.30)

rosado

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.

Ridgeview Marksman Brut Blanc de Blancs 2011 (12.0%,  9.6 g/L, €35.50)

ridgeview

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 fresh and linear but has the toasty lees characters which I love.

Louis Vertay Brut NV (12.0%, 10.5 g/L, €48.00)

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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)

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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)

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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 citrus and freshness, so it would be great as an aperitif.

My Top 10 Fizz of 2014

My Top 10 Fizz of 2014

Despite not making a personal trip to Champagne in 2014, it was an excellent year for fizz, rounded off by a big fizz tasting on New Year’s Eve.

During the year I observed that nearly all retailers in Ireland have very good Champagne and sparkling wine on their shelves, whether from a recognised big producer or not.

More and more countries are now making top rate sparklers to satisfy the increased international demand for bubbles: old favourite Cloudy Bay Pelorus from New Zealand was joined by Roederer Estate Quartet from the USA and Quinta Soalheiro Alvarinho Espumante from Portugal.

Despite my intentions at the beginning of the year, I didn’t taste any excellent Cava during 2014 and Franciacorta remains an enigma – more tasting needed on both fronts!  I also hear of sparkling Arneis from north west Italy which I will endeavour to seek out.

So what were the hits in 2014?  As you will see, I tried some outstanding new (and established) English sparkling wine plus some excellent Champagnes.

10. Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011

Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011
Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011

Just like that crappy advert for Shake n’ Vac from the 80s, this English fizz really puts the freshness back!  As hinted at by the term “Classic Cuvée, this is made with the three main Champagne grapes.  As the blend is 71% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 9% Pinot Meunier it has a fresh and lively aspect to it – a great start to a party!

I would be interested to taste the same bottle with a bit of age to see how it develops.

9. Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012

Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano
Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano

Or to give it its full name Nino Franco Vigneto Della Riva di San Floriano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior DOCG.  If that sounds a mouthful, it is – but in a good way.  I was keen to try it at the James Nicholson tasting after hearing it had been recognised by Mr Fizz himself, Tom Stevenson.

As I often say, when trying most Prosecco one glass is enough for me, a second means a really good wine – well this is “give me the bottle and I’ll finish it on my own” good.  In case that wasn’t quite obvious enough – I really like it!

This single vineyard bubbly is made by the Charmat method like all other Prosecco, but has four months on the lees while in tank, and therefore picks up a little autolytic character. It’s also dry and savoury, so it tastes like a serious wine – you could easily drink this with a meal as well as the usual aperitif.

8. Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs NV

Wiston Blanc de Blancs NV
Wiston Blanc de Blancs NV

Several people who like Champagne but aren’t that well-acquainted with English sparkling wine have been surprised by the proportion of English fizz that has a vintage, i.e. made from grapes harvested in a single year.  Given the vagaries of the English climate – even more unreliable than that of northern France – you might expect many more non vintage wines where reserve wines have been used to smooth out less than perfect years.

I’m not sure why this is the case – it could be that so many English wineries are new and haven’t had the time or spare cash to lay down lots of reserve wines – but here’s an exception to the norm.

Irishman Dermot Sugrue has done a wonderful job with the Wiston Rosé, but the combination of creamy bubbles, refreshing lemon sherbet and hints of tropical fruit blew me away.  If you like your fizz and you haven’t tried this yet, sort it out!

7. Leon Launois Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2006

Léon Launois Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2006
Léon Launois Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2006

As I mentioned in the introduction, the big retailers in Ireland have put a lot of effort into their house Champagnes as there were some very creditable bottles tasted this year.

Among the best were Jean Comyn “Harmonie” Brut NV (from Molloys), Bissinger Premium Cuvée Brut NV (from Lidl) and Beaumont des Crayères Grand Réserve NV (from O’Briens).

However, my favourite – and one that exceeded my expectations of a house Champagne – is Aldi’s Léon Launois Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2006.  From the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs, this 100% Chardonnay has spent half a decade on the lees giving it lovely brioche character supporting refreshing lemon.

6. Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009

Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009

First, an admission: on meeting a well-presented chap at the James Nicholson tasting with the hand-written name badge “Charlie Holland-Gusbourne” I leapt to the conclusion that this was an English toff with a double barrelled-name showing the fruits of his ancestral estate.  Prior research or even just paying attention would have revealed that Charlie Holland is the award-winning winemaker from Gusbourne.  I’m still blushing.

Anyway, trying Gusbourne’s wines for the first time impressed me, and the Blanc de Blancs was my overall favourite.  Fairly young still but with three years minimum on the lees behind it, this will continue to improve and add layers of complexity over the coming years.  2009 was an excellent vintage in England!

5. Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV

Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Gru Blanc de Blancs NV
Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Gru Blanc de Blancs NV

This is a non-vintage, but as a “prestige cuvée” it deserves the more fitting moniker “multi-vintage” as used by Krug for their Grande Cuvée, for example.  I took this as an interloper to Morgan Vanderkamer’s Grower Champagne tasting and it was tricky to guess (almost) blind

It had much more body and texture than usual for a Blanc de Blancs.  But rather than maturing base wines in oak, it’s the extended ageing on the lees (five years minimum) and the excellent fruit that give the oomph.  Denis Varnier eschews oak and blocks MLF to keep the wines as fresh and pure as possible.

The grapes for this bottling are grown in a walled vineyard in Avize called Clos du Grand-Père, named after Denis’s maternal Grandfather Jean Fannière who moved on from “just” growing grapes to being a fully-fledged Champagne producer when already in his 50s.

4. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

I had three opportunities to taste Nyetimber’s “best vintage yet” over the course of 2014.

Firstly with the nice people of Liberty where it showed well.

In the middle of the year I took my wife to Ely Wine Bar for her birthday.  After a few bubbles at home she wasn’t in the mood for any more when we arrived at Ely, but she changed her mind when she saw Nyetimber on the list.

Then finally I popped a bottle on New Year’s Eve – and it was better than ever!  Perhaps the bottle on my wife’s birthday hadn’t really shone as much as it should have done after a heavyweight rosé Champagne (so heavyweight that I put it in my Top 10 Reds of the year!)  But in a more sympathetic context it was magnificent, and the Pinot really shone through.

3. Dom Pérignon 1995

Belle Epoque & Dom Perignon
Dom Pérignon 1995 (with a friend)

You know how when you’re having a ball of a time at a party, and you open a bottle that, in a more sober frame of mind, you might have saved for a special or at least contemplative occasion?  If you’ve been there, did it feel like a waste?

Sometimes, it’s not a waste!  Thus it was when I popped my oldest bottle of Dom Pérignon, from the excellent vintage of 1995 – it was just sumptuous!

As part of the drinks group Moët-Hennessey (itself part of luxury goods group LVMH), Moët et Chandon NV is much more about marketing than wine quality.  Unfortunately, the Moët vintage was also a disappointment this year.  But the prestige cuvée is still the real deal, in my opinion, despite the large quantities produced.

I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned this year is that even Champagne has to be kept until the right age and the right moment – whenever that comes – and then it can be a transcendental experience.

2. Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 1999 (Magnum)

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999

This modest co-operative-produced Champagne was a delight over Christmas (I think I had a magnum to myself on Christmas morning) and the star of the night at the NYE Glasnevin Fizz Fest.

As you might gather from the name, it’s another excellent aged Blanc de Blancs from Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger, one of the top few villages for Chardonnay in Champagne.  It has the trademark yeasty, bready characters on the nose., followed by a sumptuous palate of citrus and soft stone fruit.  Just delicious.

1. Charles Heidsieck Cuvée des Millénaires 1995

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995

Even in the context of all the excellent sparkling wine I tried in 2014, there was only ever going to be one winner for me.

The Charles NV is pretty good, but this is on another level entirely.  Almost two decades maturing in the cellar has brought aromas and flavours of brioche, nuts and candied fruit in addition to refreshing citrus. It has the voluptuous texture without sweetness of salted caramel.  It’s time to sell a kidney and buy a case.

If you didn’t catch them before, check out my Top 10 Whites and Top 10 Reds of 2014.