Spit Festival is an annual event showcasing some exceptional wines from four of Ireland’s key boutique wine importers. Most of their wines are from small, family run wineries who practise organic, biodynamic or natural techniques.
Here are just of few of the biodynamic wines I loved from the 2018 event (# number refers to the trade tasting booklet):
#23 Domaine Turner Pageot Le Blanc 2017 (RRP ~€23 WineMason)
A previous vintage of this wine was a favourite of mine at the WineMason portfolio tasting and it’s great to see the 2017 is also showing very well. A blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, the later undergo contact with their skins for around a month. This gives lovely mouthfeel and a bit of grip – it’s not a full orange wine, but it gives you a good idea of what to expect from the full blown orange experience (aka “Les Choix”!)
Leclerc Briant was the first organic and biodynamic producer in Champagne (Demeter certified in 2003) – no easy feat considering the marginal climatic conditions there. They are based in the Vallée de la Marne so it’s no surprise to see that Pinot Meunier is a large component of the blend (40%) along with Pinot Noir (40%) and Chardonnay (20%). The grapes come from a single harvest, despite no vintage being declared on the bottle, and lees ageing is well in excess of the 15 month minimum for an NV (in fact it’s around the minimum 36 months required for a vintage Champagne). Dosage is very low at 4 g/L; it could be labelled as Extra Brut” if they so desired.
Thanks to the majority of black grapes, it’s red fruit that really comes to the fore on the nose and palate, with raspberry, redcurrant and even cranberry making an appearance. There’s also a lovely brioche character from the time on the lees, and a crisp lemony finish from the Chardonnay. Some fantastic elements, but taken together the whole package is even better!
Bodegas Ponce (probably sounds more dignified in Spanish) is based in Manchuela, a high altitude region east of Madrid, which also happens to be one of the main homes of the Albillo/Albilla grape. It’s a highly aromatic grape, sometimes being added in to reds from Ribero del Duero for extra fragrance and elegance. With the extended cool growing season in Manchuela it shows green apples and a touch of spice, with lots of texture – even being slightly waxy. A brilliant match for shellfish, veal or pork.
#105 Monte dei Roari Custoza “Boscaroi” 2017 (RRP ~€18, GrapeCircus)
This Venetian beauty is a blend of four grapes:
Trebbiano di Soave (famous for Soave, obviously!)
Garganega (also Soave)
Fernanda (aka Cortese – best known for Gavi)
Trebbianello (another version of Trebbiano)
…all gently fermented in amphorae, and bottled without fining or filtering. The result is dry, pale and interesting – more subtle than most, but beautiful nonetheless. The nose is floral and there is an array of fresh, juicy fruits on the palate, particularly grapefruit and other citrus. Would be amazing paired with a delicate white fish.
For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two. This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while. I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.
Joe Coyle is Head of Sales for Liberty Wines Ireland, a wine importer with an impressive portfolio with great coverage of Italy, NZ and Australia in particular.
At Christmas I like to serve a mix of tried-and-tested favourites alongside new wines that have excited me through the year.
A firm favourite that I always go back to is the dangerously drinkable Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve. Charles Heidsieck is one of the most awarded Champagne houses, and it’s not hard to see why. With at least five years on the lees and 40% reserve wines in the blend, their flagship Brut Réserve is rich and complex.
The nose is characterised by complex pastry aromas, with an opulent combination of ripe apricot, mango and greengages, dried fruits, pistachio and almond. The palate begins with a silky-smooth sensation, developing into ripe fleshy apricot, melon and enticing plum pastry notes and delicate spice.
There is perfect balance of freshness and generosity. Plus, the story of Charles Heidsieck, the original Champagne Charlie, includes Atlantic crossings, American high society, Mississippi swamp jails, political intrigue and financial windfalls. It never fails to entertain!
This year, my most exciting discoveries have come from Portugal. Like Liberty Wines’ traditional stronghold in Italy, Portugal has dozens of native grape varieties to explore, from Alvarinho and Loureira in Vinho Verde through the Touriga Nacional based wines in the Douro and Dao to the intriguingly minerally white wines made from Enruzado in Dão.
The flavour profiles of these native grapes varieties are as diverse and exciting in Portugal as they are in Italy. Perhaps it is this affinity, or just a search for originality and diversity, that drew us to Portugal. I’ll be serving Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro Tinto 2015 with dinner this year, its juicy red berry notes and subtle vanilla making it the perfect match with Christmas turkey.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV:available at around €65 at O’Briens and independent wine merchants.
Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro Tinto 2015: available at around €19.99 at J.J. O’Driscoll Cork, Clontarf Wines. Wine Online
For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two. This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while. I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.
Jérémy Delannoy is the Director of SIYPS (Sommeliers In Your Pockets), a new online wine retail business in Ireland that offers sustainable wines from boutique producers.
When it comes to Christmas we all love Champagne, especially French people like me. As far as I can remember, in my house Champagne has always been part of Christmas celebrations. Bubbles contribute to the magic of Christmas time. In my family, we would enjoy Champagne before and also after our meal.
Here in Ireland it’s not easy to find a good Champagne from a small producer. I do believe this is the perfect one we are all looking for. Champagne Pierre Moncuit comes from the ‘Côte des Blancs’ subregion of Champagne. Made with 100% Chardonnay, as one would expect from a Champagne from this particular area. The south facing slopes give this Champagne a stunning creamy flavour, a soft and tender texture, with a beautiful subtle hint of apple.
Based on this, I would recommend starting the celebrations with this champagne. Champagne Pierre Moncuit “Cuvée H. Coulmet” would make an ideal match with prawns, or with any kind of nibbles. It will certainly help make a memorable moment while celebrating with friends and family. I am definitely looking forward to opening this bottle on the 25th with my Irish family before we even start dinner. If not before…
Champagne Pierre Moncuit “Cuvée H. Coulmet”: €43 from SIYPS.ie (12.0% abv)
After an all white Part 1, here are more of my favourite wines from Febvre’s recent portfolio tasting – fizz, sweet, rosé and red:
Champagne Deutz Brut Classique NV (12.0%, RRP €55.00 at On The Grapevine, Dalkey; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Wine Online)
Classiqueis very apt in the case of this Champagne as it is a blend of equal parts of the 3 classic Champagne grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. I narrowly preferred it to Taittinger’s equivalent NV Brut as it seemed slightly more lifted and elegant. It has a fine mousse when poured then citruson the attack (from Chardonnay) and red fruit on the mid palate (from the Pinots). There’s a lovely creamy leesiness to the body and a crisp, precise finish. For a few quid more this is waaay better than some more famous marques!
Champagne Taittinger Nocturne City Lights Sec NV (12.0%, RRP €58.00 at On The Grapevine, Dalkey; Higgins, Clonskeagh)
The blend for this cuvée is 40% Chardonnay then 30% each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – but it’s the dosagewhich marks it out as different from the Deutz above. Whereas Brut Champagne often has around 10g/L of residual sugar, this Sec has almost twice that at 17.5g/L; the next step up is Demi-sec which is around double that of a Sec. The apparent sweetness of the Nocturne is off-dry; there’s still some crispness and the sugar adds fruitiness and smoothness rather than sugariness. It’s a wine you can drink all night long!
Francois Lurton Les Fumees Blanches Rose Gris de Sauvignon 2016 (12.5%, RRP €24.99 at The Grape Vine, Ballymun; Leopardstown Inn Off Licence; 1601, Kinsale)
No my account hasn’t been hacked and your eyes aren’t deceiving you, this really is a rosé recommendation from yours truly. “But how can a Sauvignon make rosé?” I hear you ask – well it all depends on which Sauvignon is used – and this is a blend of both the familiar Sauvignon Blanc and its less well known sibling Sauvignon Gris. The colour comes from the skins of the latter which are grey~pink, but as they are paler than black grapes usually used to make rosé then they need more maceration time. The grapes are sourced from four different wine regions of France and blended to make a complex, delicious wine. It has lovely soft and inviting strawberry flavours, but with a slight edge to stop it being flabby.
Delas Freres Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2015 (15.0%, RRP €15.95 (half bottle) at On The Grapevine, Dalkey)
This is a fortified sweet wine which has been made in the southern Rhône for two thousand years! It is classed as a Vin Doux Naturel, literally a “Natural Sweet Wine”, meaning that its sweetness all comes from the original grapes. 95º grape spirit is added part way through fermentation, killing the yeast and leaving plenty of residual sugar. Of the hundreds of different Muscats (and Moscatos, Moscatels, Muskatellers etc.) only two can be used: Muscat blanc à petits grains and Muscat rouge à petits grains, both of which (obviously if you speak French) have small berries, and thus have more intense flavour.
De Bortoli Deen de Bortoli Vat 5 Botrytis Semillion 2009 (11.0%, RRP €13.75 (half bottle) at Wine Online)
De Bortoli’s Noble One stands as one of the best sweet wines in the world, so I was interested to try its “baby brother” named after the second generation of the family (and first to be born in Australia) Deen De Bortoli. It pours a lovely goldencolour and has the distinctive honeyand mushroombotrytis notes on the nose. On the palate it has an amazing intensity of flavour – honey and stone fruit with a touch of carameland ginger. It’s rich and sweet but not cloying, with a fantastic long finish.
Finca del Marquesado Rioja Crianza 2014 (13.5%, RRP €14.95 (though currently in restaurants only))
Whereas many Bodegas in Rioja source grapes and even wines from a multitude of growers, this wine from respected producer Bodegas Valdemar is made on a single Finca, or farm. After several years of planning and preparation, the vines were planted in 1984 in a fairly classic proportions: 70% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha and 5% Graciano. Being a Crianza means it has spent at two years or more maturing, at least a year of which must be in oak barrels – I would guess closer to 18 months in oak from the nose…it smells like a Médoc chaito me! (which is a good thing by the way). It’s still on the young side but has intense red and black fruit flavours with smoky oak notes.
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**
The end of January to April is a very busy time in the Dublin wine calendar, with lots of country, producer and distributor portfolio tastings. Among the many excellent events is Tindal’s Portfolio Tasting at the swanky Marker Hotel in Dublin’s Dockland. I had less than sixty minutes to taste so had to pick and choose; here are the white wines which impressed me most.
Domaine William Fevre Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2012 (€45, Searsons (online & Monkstown) and 64 Wine (Glasthule))
William Fevre is undoubtedly in the top echelon of Chablis producers with an extensive range across the chablis hierarchy. This Premier Cru is better than some Grand Crus I have had, combining zingy acidity, minerality and ripe fruit. Drinking well now but will continue evolving over the next decade.
Domaine William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros “Côte Bouguerots” 2009 (€90, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Gibneys (Malahide))
Moving up to Grand Cru level and an older, warmer vintage brings even more complexity, fruit sweetness and integration. There is still Chablis’s trademark stony minerality and acidity, so it remains refreshing. Would pair well with white and seafood up to gamebird.
Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault “Les Clous” 2013 (€47.50, Searsons (online & Monkstown)
Whereas a ripe Chablis might conceivably fool you into thinking it came from further south in Burgundy, the converse could not be said of this Meursault – it is decidedly of the Côte d’Or. Bouchard was established close to 300 years ago and have expanded their land under vine at opportune moments.
Meursault is probably my favourite village in the Côte de Beaune, and is the archetype for oaked Chardonnay. This being said, the use of oak is often judicious, and so it is here; there’s plenty of lemon and orange fruit with a little toastiness from the oak. Very nice now, but a couple more years of integration would make it even better.
Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2013 (€27.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Parting Glass (Enniskerry))
This is a cool climate Chardonnay from one of my all time favourite producers, Craggy Range. The origin of the usual name is explained on their website:
Its namesake, Cape Kidnappers, comes from an incident that occurred during Captain Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. When Cook attempted to trade with the native Maori in an armed canoe, a Tahitian servant of Cook’s interpreter was seized. The servant later escaped by jumping into the sea after the canoe was fired upon.
Hawke’s Bay does have some fairly warm areas, with the well-drained Gimblett Gravels in particular perfect for growing Syrah and Bordeaux varieties, but cooler parts are located up in the hills or – as in this case – close to the coast. The aim is apparently to emulate Chablis; with only a little bit of older oak and clean fruit, it’s definitely close. The 2013 is drinking well now but will benefit from another year or two – the 2008s I have in my wine fridge are really opening up now!
Another intriguingly named wine. In 1298 the Abbots of the nearby Murbach Abbey were given the status of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Frederick II, and were henceforth known as Abbot Princes.
This is clean and somewhat simple, but fruity and expressive. When done well, Pinot Blanc can be versatile and more approachable than many other of the Alsace varieties – it will go with lots of things, is well balanced and fruity enough to drink on its own.
Schlumberger have Riesling vines on several of their Grand Cru properties, and it’s a wine geek’s dream to taste them head to head to see what the difference in terroir makes. All wines are organic and biodynamic; whether you place importance on these or not, the care that goes into them certainly pays dividends in the glass.
This 2012 Saering is still very young, showing tangy lime and grapefruit, but a pleasure to drink nevertheless.
This late harvest Gewurztraminer is named after the family member Christine Schlumberger who ran the firm for almost 20 years after the death of her husband, and was the grandmother of the current Managing Director Alain Beydon-Schlumberger.
All the fruit is picked late from the Kessler Grand Cru vineyard, packed into small crates so as not to damage the fruit, then taken to the winery for gentle pressing. Fermentation can take from one to three months using ambient yeast.
On pouring, fabulous aromas jump out of the glass – flowers and white fruit. They continue through to the palate, and although the wine feels round in the mouth it is tangy and fresh, far from cloying. A seductive wine that exemplifies the late harvest style.
Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, and hence the colour pink. This often means that rosé wines are promoted at this time of year, but as they aren’t generally my thing I thought I would recommend a dozen wines of differing hues from O’Briens, who are offering 10% back on their loyalty card (or wine savings account as I call it).
These wines are mainly higher priced for which I make no excuse – these are treats for yourself and / or your significant other! Of course, they would make a nice treat for Mother’s Day or at any time of year…
Chateau Kirwan Margaux Troisième Cru 2010 (€95.00)
The last of Bordeaux’s fantastic four vintages within eleven years (2000, 2005 2009, 2010) allows this Margaux to show its class but be more approachable than in leaner years. You could keep this for another decade or two if you didn’t want to drink it yet. Decant for several hours after opening if you can, and serve with beef.
One of Penfolds’ top Cabernet Sauvignons which combines power, fruit and elegance. 2010 happened to be a great vintage in South Australia as well, so if you’re climbing the quality tree it’s a good time to do it. Being a Cab means it’s all about cassis, intense blackcurrant aromas and flavours, with some vanilla to go with it.
This is a very interesting wine for the geeks out there as it is a custom blend of parcels from well known appellations from around Bordeaux including Paulliac, Graves and Canon-Fronsac. It was created by JM Cazes group winemaker Daniel Llose and O’Briens Head of Wine Buying Lynne Coyle MW. Oh, and it tastes wonderful as well!
Ata Rangi is one of stars of Martinbrough, an hour or so drive from Wellington in the south of New Zealand’s North Island. Crimson is their second wine intended to be drunk while young rather than laid down, but it is first rate in quality. Beats any Pinot from France at this price point.
This isn’t a token rosé, it’s a proper Champagne which happens to be pink. Lanson’s house style is based on preventing / not encouraging malolactic fermentation in the base wines, meaning they remain fresh and zippy even after the secondary alcoholic fermentation which produces the fizz. Texture is key here as well, and the lovely red fruits have a savoury edge. You could even drink this with pork or veal. Great value when on offer.
Another Champagne which is even less expensive, but still a few steps above most Prosecco and Cava on the market. The regulations for non vintage Champagne stipulate a minimum of 15 months ageing on the lees, but the lovely toasty notes from this show it has significantly more than that. Punches well above its price.
The Loire Valley is home to a multitude of wine styles, including Crémant (traditional method sparkling) such as this. Made from internationally famous Chardonnay and local speciality Chenin, it doesn’t taste the same as Champagne – but then why should it? The quality makes it a valid alternative, not surprising when you learn that it’s owned by Bollinger!
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is a great way to get into serious quality Port without paying the full price for Vintage Port. Whereas the latter is bottled quickly after fermentation and laid down for many years, LBV spends time maturing in casks. There it slowly loses colour and tannin but gains complexity. Graham’s is one of the most celebrated Port Houses and their LBV is one of the benchmarks for the category.
Grand Cru Chablis is a very different beast from ordinary Chablis. It’s often oaked, though sympathetically rather than overpoweringly, and can develop astounding complexity. Among the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grand Crus, Les Clos is often regarded as the best of the best. At just over five years from vintage this is still a baby – it would be even better in another five years but it might be impossible to resist!
Pouilly-Fuissé is probably the best appellation of the Maconnais, Burgundy proper’s most southerly subregion which borders the north of Beaujolais. The white wines here are still Chardonnay, of course, but the southerly latitude gives it more weight and power than elsewhere in Burgundy. Oak is often used in generous proportions as the wine has the fruit to stand up to it. This Château-Fuissé is one of my favourites from the area!
It’s a Sauvignon Blanc, but then it’s not just a Sauvignon Blanc. Kevin Judd was the long time winemaker of Cloudy Bay, finally branching out on his own a few years ago. The wild yeast and partially oaking give this a very different sensibility from ordinary Sauvignons. It’s not for everybody, but those that like it, love it!
One of my favourite New Zealand wines, full stop. I have mentioned this wine several times over the past few years…mainly as I just can’t get enough of it! It’s made in Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay so has more weight than, say, a Marlborough Chardonnay, but still enough acidity to keep it from being flabby. Tropical fruit abounds here – just make sure you don’t drink it too cold!
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!
Better than Moët for half the price! Do I have your attention now? Read on…
If you’re in a happy mood and fancy a glass of fizz sat on the patio, this might just be your thing.
Langlois-Château Crémant de Loire Brut NV (€23.99, O’Briens)
Crémant de Loire is one of the many traditional method sparkling wines made in France in addition to Champagne. The Loire Valley is home to the second by volume after Alsace; Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Jura also make good examples. The method for Crémant is the same as for Champagne, but the grape varieties differ depending on the area, and the minimum time ageing on the lees is shorter than Champagne’s 15 months (for non-vintage).
Langlois-Chateau is actually owned by Champagne House Bollinger, who know a few things about quality sparkling wine. The blend for this bottling is :
Chenin Blanc (a Loire white grape)
Chardonnay (the ultimate white grape for sparkling wine)
Cabernet Franc (a versatile black Loire grape used for red, rosé and sparkling wine)
As soon as you pour a glass the fine mousse and persistent fine bubbles show the wine’s class. On the nose there’s rich citrus and red fruit, wrapped in lovely pastry – the sign of significant lees ageing. It’s heavenly to drink, as the aromas flow through to the palate, with acidity and sweetness beautifully poised.
People who know good Crémants often mention how good value they are; while this fact is true, bottles such as this deserve to be assessed purely on quality grounds – it’s a damn fine drop!