Tag: Chardonnay

So You Think You Know Burgundy?

So You Think You Know Burgundy?

Well let me be the first to put my hand up and say that I don’t know Burgundy – though I’m trying!  Given the sizeable tomes that are published seemingly every year, Burgundy is a complicated wine area that gets a lot of attention – it certainly takes up the most space in on my book shelves.

Though fairly simple in terms of grape varieties – as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir make up the vast proportion of plantings – Burgundy is a complex wine region in terms of appellations – there were 83 at the last count*. In an attempt to simplify the story for the average wine drinker, Burgundy is often broken down into the main sub-regions – see Phil My Glass’s Beginners’ Guide to Burgundy article.

Some commentators focus on the most celebrated Burgundy wines – those from the Côte d’Or – and pass over Chablis, the Côte Chalonnaise and the Maconnais. Of course the elephant in the room is Beaujolais and its Gamay reds, which are part of Burgundy according to some criteria, but are usually considered distinct from the rest.

Here are some wines from less-celebrated appellations within Burgundy – mostly generously donated by Nomad Wine Importers apart from the Saint-Bris which was kindly brought direct from the vineyard by Tony & Liz of DNS Wineclub.

Basse-Bourgogne (Yonne)

Most wine drinkers have, of course, heard of Chablis, but far less well known is the larger area within which Chablis is situated – the Basse-Bourgogne. There are some reds up here – Irancy is an AOC producing light, delicate Pinot Noir (try M&S’s Irancy as an example of the style) – but white grapes are the majority, and apart from a few rows of Sacy that means Chardonnay and Sauvignon!

In 1850 there were 40,000 hectares of vineyards compared with around 7,500 in 2015 – there’s lots more potential in the area!

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Credit: DalGobboM

Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre 2015 (13.0%, RRP €22 from: Blackrock Cellar)

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Auxerre is the largest town in the Yonne, with Chablis very close.  Grapes from the hills around Auxerre qualify for their own appellation, which still (helpfully) has Bourgogne at the beginning for easier recognition by more casual drinkers.  As with Chablis, the wines are 100% Chardonnay.

Based in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Guilhem (son) and Jean-Hugues (father) Boisot are known as the “Popes of Saint-Bris” for their outstanding local wines.  They are certified organic and biodynamic, believing that high quality wines are only possible with meticulous care in the vineyard.

This Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre is flinty, smoky and fresh – it would stand up against pretty much any AOC Chablis I have tasted.

Domaine Sorin DeFrance Saint-Bris Sauvignon 2014 (12.0%, bought at winery)

Sorin DeFrance

After promotion up from VDQS status in 2003, this is the only Sauvignon (Blanc and Gris) based AOC / AOP within Burgundy, based around the town of Saint-Bris-le-Vineaux.

Domaine Sorin DeFrance is the result of the marriage of Henry Sorin and Madeleine DeFrance, though the Sorin family have been making wine since 1577.  Their Saint-Bris is 100% Sauvignon – I presume Sauvignon Blanc, though you never know.  It is far more expressive than many French Sauvignons, showing notes of grass, nettles, elderflower, lychees and garden mint.

Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2014 (12.5%, RRP €20 from: Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Lilac Wines, Redmonds and Mortons)

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Although a traditional grape of Burgundy, as it has long been considered second class to Chardonnay, Aligoté was relegated to inferior sites (just like Barbera in Piedmont and Sylvaner in Alsace), and became something of a bulk wine where yields were more important than quality.  Acidity was so fierce in those wines that local crème de cassis was often added to tame it, and thus the kir cocktail was invented.

The search for something new (even if old) and authenticity has reawakened interest in Aligoté – especially when they are simply superb wines such as this one from Domaine Goisot.  Although Bourgogne Aligoté can be made all over Burgundy, Goisot’s vines are in the Yonne.  It has floral aromas and spicy pear flavours, all delivered with refreshing – but not austere – acidity.

Côte d’Or – Côte de Beaune

A simple rule of thumb is that many of the best red Burgundies come from the Côte de Nuits and the best whites are often found in the Côte de Beaune.  Together they make up the Côte d’Or and have all but one of Burgundy’s Grand Cru AOCs.  But to the west of the posh addresses of Beaune and on the top of the the main Côte d’Or escarpment is the appellation Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune.

Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune La Justice 2014 (12.5%, €21 at Redmonds, Donnybrook Fair)

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The Billards (not Billiards!) are based in Rochepot close to Beaune and have 17 hectares spread over 12 different appellations, both red and white.  This wine is from the lieu-dit (or named vineyard) La Justice and is both fermented and matured in oak barrels, though the latter is mainly older oak.  It is very approachable and drinkable now but has the structure and texture to develop over the coming five to ten years. 

Beaujolais Blanc

The Beaujolais wine area was legally attached to the Burgundy wine area though a civil case in 1930, reinforced by the decree in 1937 which created the Burgundy AOC.  While arguments for an against continue, I’ll just concentrate on the wine – in particular the rare whites.  Chardonnay is the principal white variety with small amounts of Aligoté, Melon (de Bourgogne, the Muscadet grape) and Pinot Gris also planted.

Domaine des Nugues Beaujolais-Villages Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18 at Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Martin’s Off licence)

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In the northern marches of Beaujolais there has always been some overlap with the most southerly villages of the Maconnais, the most southerly region of Burgundy “proper”, but this is bona fide real-deal Beaujolais-Villages Blanc.  Of course the -Villages part means that it is above standard Beaujolais but not made in one of the Cru communes.

Gérard Gelin took over the domaine from his father in 1976, and now runs it as a joint venture with his son Gilles.  They have 36 ha in total of which over 20 is in Beaujolais-Villages.

This wine is 100% Chardonnay from young vines, with some lees ageing to add character and texture.  It’s quite floral on the nose then mainly citrus on the palate.

 

* excluding Beaujolais!

Life After Malbec

As most people know, Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina.  It’s become the classic match for steak and anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s one of the few red wines that casual wine-drinking blokes are prepared to pay a little more for.

But as so often is the case, when a signature grape becomes almost synonymous with a country, other varieties are unfairly overlooked.  Here are a few examples of Life After Malbec:

Callia “Alta” Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%, RRP 12.99 at Fresh Stores; McHuhes; D-Six Harolds Cross; DrinkStore.ie; Donnybrook Fair)

Pinot Grigio

Regular readers may be quite flabbergasted by the inclusion of a Pinot Grigio, and it’s true that I rarely like wines labelled as such, but for me this wine is leagues ahead of the cheap “chick water” that flows out of Italy.  Compared to Alsatian Pinot Gris it does exhibit some of the varietal characteristics such as stone fruit and spiciness (particularly ginger) and has decent acidity, but it isn’t at all oily (which I like but isn’t for everyone). Just so nice to drink!

Amalaya Torrontés / Riesling 2016 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Martin’s Off Licence; Red Island Wine Company; Red Nose Wine; World Wide Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s)
Amalaya

Apart from a few exceptions I rarely enjoy varietal Torrontés as I find it a bit too full on – too perfumed, too flowery, and in all honesty better suited as air freshener rather than wine.  The Hess Family have a solution with their Torrontés / Riesling blend – 85% of the former is freshened by 15% of the latter, and it really is more than the sum of its parts. This is one of my go-to Argentinian white wines.

Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay Grande Reserve 2014 (13.5%, RRP €23.99 at Searson’s)

Bousquet Chardonnay

The Bousquets are a southern French wine-making family, now into the fourth generation of vignerons.  They began looking into vineyard sites in Argentina in 1990 and took the plunge with a purchase in 1997.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay with eight to twelve months maturation in French oak, depending on the vintage.  I found the 2014 still a little young so would benefit from being decanted; when I tasted the 2011 in 2016 it was already well-integrated.  This level of quality costs much more in other countries!

Alta Vista Premium Bonarda 2012 (15.0%, €20.00 at Mitchell & Son)

Bonarda

Italian wine fans might be saying “Oh, Bonarda in Argentina? Makes sense with all the Italian migration to Argentina in the past”, and they’d be partially right – this isn’t the same grape as the Bonarda of Piedmont, but has been found to be the same as Deuce Noir which originated in the (formerly Italian, now French) region of Savoie.  This is a fairly big wine (15% abv!) with lots of red and black fruit but enough acidity to keep it fresh.

Bodegas Salentein Portillo Pinot Noir 2014 (14.3%, €12.99 at Wines On The Green; Baggot Street Wines; Clontarf Wines; Fresh, Stepaside; McCabes, Blackrock)

portillo-PinotNoir

Although widely planted in Chile, Pinot Noir is not that common in Argentina; it’s a finicky grape that needs fairly cool growing conditions and much of Argentina is just too warm.  Bodegas Salentein make several Pinots at different price points, and this is the entry level from their Portillo range.  Despite the low price tag this is proper Pinot Noir – it’s amazingly drinkable for the price.

Callia “Magna” Shiraz 2014 (14.5%, RRP €18.99 at Redmonds Ranelagh; Vintry Rathgar; World Wide Wines Waterford; Bradley’s Cork; Sweeney’s; McHughes)

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Callia’s “Magna” range sits above their “Alta” (see Pinot Grigio above) and “Selected” ranges.  All of Callia’s wines come from their home San Juan province, but for Magna wines the grapes come from specific sub-regions – in the case of the Shiraz (also labelled as Syrah in some markets) this is the Tulum Valley (don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either).  This Shiraz is round and full bodied with lots of delicious black fruit, but also some black olive / tapenade notes.

Top 10 White Wine Bargains from O’Briens

After another successful O’Briens Wine Fair, I find myself with the usual predicament of too many good wines to recommend.  I have therefore picked my 10 favourite whites listed at €15.00 or under – before any promotional offers.

Examining the list shows that:

  • Several varieties are repeated: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Colombard and (unoaked) Chardonnay
  • Several places are repeated: Chile, the Loire and Gascony

From which you could draw certain conclusions:

  • Obviously, there’s a link between variety and place!
  • Certain varieties are better for making good yet inexpensive wines
  • Oak is a significant cost so is seldom used for the least expensive wines

Here are the ten wines:

Domaine Duffour Côtes de Gascogne 2016 (12.0%, €11.45 or 2 for €20 during summer at O’Briens)

Duffour

From the land of d’Artagnan (and Dogtanian as well, for all I know) come probably the best value white wines of France – Côtes de Gascogne of south west France.  Nicolas Duffour is a big fan of local star Colombard which gives ripe melon flavours; Ugni Blanc (more commonly distilled into Cognac or Armagnac) adds freshness while Gros Manseng (well-established in Jurançon) gives complexity.  Summer in a glass!

Viña Chocálan Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)

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This wine is so grassy that you might wonder if you have face-planted into a pile of mown grass.  It’s fresh and linear, with a juicy citrus finish.  Tasted blind I would probably have guessed it hailed from the Loire Valley, perhaps a Touraine, but this is actually from a family run winery in Chile’s Maipo Valley.

Famille Bougrier Les Hauts Lieux Chenin Blanc 2015 (12.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)

Bougrier-Chenin-Blanc

The Bougrier Family make several Loire wines (their Sauvignon Blanc was just 45 cents too much to make it into this article) labelled as Vin de France, giving them flexibility over grape sourcing and varietal labelling.  I found the Chenin just off dry, emphasizing the ripe stone and pip fruit, with the acidity keeping it fresh.  So drinkable!

Viña Leyda Chardonnay Reserva 2014 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Leyda-Chardonnay-Reserva

This Chardonnay is unoaked but is not a lean-Chablis like wine (the 14.0% alcohol might have been a clue).   Viña Leyda are based in the Leyda Valley (no surprise there) and so are close enough to benefit from cooling coastal breezes – these help extend the growing season and help to increase intensity of flavour while maintaining aromatics.  This is a great example of ripe but unoaked Chardonnay, full of tropical fruits and citrus.

Domaine Langlois-Château Saumur Blanc 2014 (12.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Domaine-Langlois-Chateau-Saumur-Blanc

The Maison des Vins de Saumur is one of my favourite places to taste wine in France – it has close to a hundred wines of all types from the Anjou-Saumur sub-region of the Loire. The white wine of Saumur itself are unfairly overlooked in favour of Vouvray and other appellations for white and Saumur’s own reds and rosés.  Of course this is Chenin Blanc and its perfect balance of acidity and fruit sweetness makes it a great drink to sip on a nice sunny day.

Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

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Los Vascos is a project of the Lafite branch of the Rothschild family, sourcing wines from both Argentina and Chile.  This Chilean Sauvignon is very racy and less exuberantly aromatic compared to many – it’s probably closer to a Touraine Sauvignon or even a Chablis than most Savvies (Marlborough it ain’t!) Appealing mineral notes would make it a great accompaniment for oysters or other shellfish.

Hijos de Alberto Gutiérrez Monasterio de Palazuelos Rueda Verdejo 2016 (13.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)

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Rueda and its Verdejo is often overlooked in favour of Albariño and Godello from north west Spain.  And that’s ok with me as Rueda wines are consistently good quality and good value for money.  This one has lovely melon and citrus notes, so soft and approachable that you will be pouring a second glass quickly!

Boatshed Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.0%, €14.95 down to €11.95 for May at O’Briens)

Boat-Shed-Sauvignon-Blanc

Different Sauvignons from Marlborough offer flavours from a wide spectrum, but often concentrating on one part of it.  This seems to have nearly all of them!  There’s tropical and green fruit such as passionfruit, grapefruit, gooseberry and pineapple, but also green pepper and asparagus notes.  Compared to – say – the Los Vascos Sauvignon, it’s probably the other end of the spectrum – a wine great for quaffing on its own.

Producteurs Plaimont Labyrinthe de Cassaigne Côtes de Gascogne 2015 (11.5%, €13.95 down to €9.95 for May at O’Briens)

labyrinthe

This is a single estate Côtes de Gascogne from the north of the area, close to Condom (make your own jokes please).  Tropical fruit from Colombard and Gros Manseng make this a real Vin de Plaisir – and fairly light in alcohol at 11.5%.  Good value for money at €14, great value at €10!

Los Vascos Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Los-Vascos-Chardonnay

Like its sister Sauvignon above, this unoaked Chardonnay has a great deal of minerality which make it ideal for shellfish and other seafood.  It does have more body, however; enough to almost give it the feel of an oaked wine, though not the flavour.  The finish is zesty citrus and stays with you for quite some time.

I Wanna Give You Devotion – Part 1

Dublin based Nomad Wine Importers was set up ten years ago by Sommeliers Charles Derain and Thierry Grillet, and now has an enviable reputation for sourcing exciting wines from all over France, with Burgundy being a particular speciality.  Here are a few of their wines which impressed me at their recent trade tasting co-hosted with Grapecircus and Tyrrell’s:

Domaine des Ardoisières IGP Allobroges “Argile” 2015 (12.0%, RRP €28 at Mitchell & Son (Glasthule & CHQ), Blackrock Cellar, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Greenman Wines and Martin’s Off-Licence)

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The Alpine territory of Savoy (or Savoie) has been variously a county, then an independent duchy, a part of the Kingdom of Sardinia and then the French Empire. Partly due to its remote location there are several local varieties which are seldom seen elsewhere.

Aside from the AOCs such as Chignin Bergeron (Rousanne), Chignin and Roussette de Savoie, there is also the IGP (formerly Vin de Pays) des Allobroges named after the area’s original Celtic inhabitants The Allobroges.

Domaine des Ardoisières was founded relatively recently in 2005 and is run on organic principles.  Slopes of up to 60% might sound better for daredevil skiing than for viticulture, but the extra sun falling on the vines offsets the cooler air at higher altitude. The wines are mainly made from local grapes and are named after the soil types of the individual plots (very interesting for wine geeks!)

Argile is the French for clay; the blend consists of local heroes Jacquère (40%) and Mondeuse Blanche (20%) plus the ubiquitous Chardonnay (40%).  Fermentation is with wild yeast and maturation is a third in older oak barrels (for texture) and two thirds in steel tanks

It’s a fleshy wine, with zingy acidity and a very long finish.  It’s quite unique as a wine and deserves a far wider audience – though production is limited to around 20,000 bottles which won’t stretch that far.

Domaine Tissot Arbois “Les Graviers” 2015 (13.0%, RRP €47 at Baggot Street Wines, Jus de Vine, 64 Wine and Greenman Wines)

graviers2

From the Alps we move north to the Jura, still mountainous border country but with its own local specialities – particularly the use of flor in some of the wine styles to ramp up the umami.  It’s not always obvious whether a particular wine is flor-influenced or not – it all comes down to whether the barrels that the wine matures in are topped up (or not) to replace evaporation losses – if they aren’t then a flor will often form.  To make sure you get the style you prefer, ask if the wine is “ouillé“.

As befitting a region next to Burgundy, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are well established varieties, with Savagnin (aka Traminer, not Sauvignon) also used for white wine and Poulsard and Trousseau (also known as Bastardo in Portugal) used for reds and rosés. Poulsard is so pale that Pinot Noir is sometimes blended in to add colour!

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Credit: DalGobboM

The oldest Jura appellation is Arbois, not to be confused with the grape of the same name which is mainly found in the Loire Valley.  This is the home of Domaine André & Mireille Tissot, now run by Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot.  They run the estate on biodynamic lines and are certified as such.

Les Graviers is 100% Chardonnay, a third of which was matured in oak barrels and two thirds in tank.  As the wine is young the oak is quite noticeable, but it’s already drinking superbly – one of my favourite wines from the whole tasting.  It has texture, pithiness and freshness, with a certain tang that I haven’t tasted outside of the Jura.  A must-try wine!

 

Footnote

If you are a keen wine drinker you may have heard of Wink Lorch’s excellent book Jura Wine which was published in 2014 after Kickstarter crowd funding.  Wink has recently started another Kickstarter campaign to fund production of her next book on Savoie Wine – have a look here!

C is for Chardonnay [Make Mine a Double #28]

Chardonnay is grown in most wine-producing countries, to a greater or lesser extent, but the wines are still compared to the grape’s original home of Burgundy.  Even within Burgundy there are huge differences, from the lean wines of Chablis in the north to the more tropical styles of the Maconnais.

Here we have a classic Chablis and a new world Chardonnay from Chile, both from single vineyard plots:

Brocard Chablis Domaine Sainte Claire 2014 (12.5%, €24.95 at O’Briens)

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Jean-Marc Brocard is an admired, well-established producer in Chablis.  Founded by Jean-Marc and now run by his son Julien, the firm produces over a dozen cuvées from Petit Chablis up to Chablis Grand Cru Le Clos.  The grapes come from a plot of 35 – 40 year old vines called Sainte Claire which surround the winery.  Although it is a good representative of the company’s philosophy “strength, precision and freshness” it also has a little more body and texture than is common in AOC Chablis.  Racy lemon is joined by orange peel on the palate and a tangy yeastiness from ten months on the lees.  A superior Chablis!

Leyda Single Vineyard Falaris Hill Chardonnay 2013 (14.0%, €17.95 at O’Briens)

leyda-falaris-chardonnay_1

From northern France we now travel to the Pacific coast of Chile.  Leyda is both the name of the winery and the area in which it is based, benefiting from cool coastal breezes which are chilled by the Humboldt Current.  It is possibly the best part of Chile in which to grow Sauvignon Blanc as the long, cool growing season allows the aromatics to develop fully before sugar ripeness is achieved.

But it’s also great for Chardonnay!  

Tasted immediately after the Chablis the oak was very apparent – quite old school in a way – but this wine actually has far more acidity and cool climate character than the old Aussie oak-bomb Chardonnays.  There’s lemon and satsuma from the grapes, creaminess from the lees and toastiness from the oak – an excellent effort which shows (again) that Chile has far more to offer than entry level wines.

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

Full index of Make Mine a Double

 

The Long Little Dog [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #11]

The Long Little Dog White 2014 (12.5%, €9.95 at Sweeney’s)

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Unsung hero Colombard takes a starring role in this “critter wine”, with the balance of 30% contributed by Chardonnay.  These varieties don’t feature on the front or even back label as it’s not really a wine aimed at aficionados – it doesn’t even shout about its origins either, with a subtle Produit de France underneath the vintage.

It only takes a sip to realise that, despite the commercial packaging, this is actually a very pleasant wine – crisp, fruity and really enjoyable.  For a tenner in Ireland, you will struggle to beat it!

 

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2016

Now it’s the turn for white wines to shine – here are ten of the best still dry whites which shone in 2016:

10. Feudo Luparello Sicilia Grillo – Viognier 2015

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A novel blend of indigenous Sicilian and international grapes, this wine is more than the sum of its parts.  Local Grillo is fresh and textured, more dry than fruity, whereas Viognier adds a voluptuous touch.  This is how blended wines should work!

See here for the full review (and the Nero d’Avola – Syrah blend!)

9. Nugan Estate Riverina Dreamer’s Chardonnay

nugan-personality-dreamers-chardonnay-label-small

A “supermarket wine” made from “unfashionable” Chardonnay in a region known for its bulk wines, on paper this wine should be pap – but it works, in fact it works a treat!  In Ireland (at least) the main parameter for wine consumers in supermarkets in price, especially if a promotional offer is involved.  Given the high rates of duty and tax squeezing the cost side of the equation it’s not easy to find everyday wines that are actually enjoyable (though plenty are drinkable).

Nugan Estate’s “Personality” Single Vineyard series ticks all the boxes for me, and this was narrowly my favourite of the lot.  See here for my review of the full range.

8. Angel Sequeiros Rías Baixas Albariño “Evoé” 2013

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Although the label might look like an impressionist’s take on Health & Efficiency, the wine inside is fantastic – great with seafood, but gentle and fruity enough to be enjoyed on its own.  If only all Albariños were this good!

See here for the full review.

7. Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2014

aligote

The “other” white grape of Burgundy (ignoring the small amounts of Pinots Blanc and Gris) which is definitely a second class citizen, and is so poor on its own that the Kir cocktail was invented to find a palatable use for it – or so the received wisdom goes.

There’s some element of truth in this, but Aligoté is usually grown on less-favoured sites and with a focus on yields rather than flavour, so it takes a brave producer to break out of this cycle and give the grape the attention it deserves.  The Goisot family are such a producer, based in the Sauvignon Blanc outpost of Saint-Bris.  This Aligoté is unlike any other I have tasted – it actually has colour unlike most which are like pale water, and an intensity of white flower and spicy pear flavours which reveal the age of the vines.

6. Gaia Wild Ferment Santorini Assyrtiko 2013

l-asyrtiko-en

When I put together a “wild” wine tasting for DNS Wine Club last year, there were a few obvious candidates that couldn’t possibly be missed from the line-up – this being one of them.  I had recommended it several times in the past so I was hoping it would live up to its reputation – especially tasted blind – and it certainly did!  Overall this was the favourite wine of the tasting, showing the funky flavours of wild yeast fermentation but still plenty of lovely citrus fruit and crisp acidity.

5. Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016

tph

A common complaint levelled at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – and Marlborough in particular – is that “they all taste the same”.  There is some truth in this – the aromatics are generally recognisable before the first glass has even been poured and they are never short of acidity – but if you taste different examples side by side then there are clear differences.  The alternative styles of SB are another thing, of course, with wild yeast barrel fermentation and oak ageing used to make a different type of wine (see this article for more information).

4. Suertes del Marqués Trenzado

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This isn’t a wine for everybody, but it’s a wine everybody should try at least once.   Based mainly on Listan Blanco grapes from ten plots in Tenerife’s Valle de La Orotava, it’s so different that at first it’s hard to describe using everyday wine terms – it’s not fruity or buttery – perhaps nutty and waxy?  Sounds strange, but it’s an interesting and very enjoyable wine.

3. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2014

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Domaine Zinck’s Portrait Series wines are fine examples of regular AOC Alsace wines and show the town of Eguisheim in a good light.  Take the step up to the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, however, and you move into different territory; not just in terms of the elevation of the vines, but a much more intense catalogue of aromas and flavours.  Even a young example such as this 2014 is delightful, but with the capacity to age for a decade or two and continue developing.

2. Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011

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Narrowly pipping its countryman, Sipp-Mack’s Grand Cru Riesling is from another exalted site: the Rosacker vineyard near Hunawihr, in between Ribeauvillé (where Trimbach is based) and Riquewihr (home to Hugel).  It has both primary fruit and mineral notes, and performs fantastically at the table.

For such a stunning wine it is relatively inexpensive at around €30 retail.  See here for the full review.

1. Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014

m3

When I have favourite wines that I taste regularly over the years, I try not to repeat myself too much in my Top 10 review articles.  Given that I am lucky enough to taste several thousand wines over the course of an average year, it’s not such a difficult line to take…apart from M3!!  The 2014 is still very young, but it’s a delight to drink now.  Adelaide Hills is now possibly second to Tasmania for trendy cooler climate Aussie wines, but for me it’s still number one.

Top M&S Whites

Last month I picked out six super sparklers from Marks and Spencer.  Now it’s time for some of my favourite M&S whites:

Domaine de la Pinte Arbois Chardonnay 2014 (12.5%, €23.50)

arbois

The region of eastern France is gradually gaining significant recognition for its wide variety of grapes and styles, many of which are particular to the area.  This is something more conventional, being a Chardonnay made in the “ouillé” style whereby evaporation losses are topped up to prevent too much oxygen in the barrel.  This has far more texture and flavour than you’d expect from a “Chardonnay” – it’s different but well worth a try.

Chapel Down Lamberhurst Estate Bacchus Reserve 2015 (11.5%, €19.50)

bacchus

I have been a keen supporter of English sparkling wine for over a decade, but I haven’t shared the same enthusiasm about English still wines.  However, there are a growing number of very good still wines that deserve your attention.  Bacchus was created in 1930s Germany – and is still grown there – but has found a second home in the cool English climate.  Chapel Down’s Reserve bottling is full of stone, tropical and citrus fruit. It’s well balanced and has a touch of residual sugar to counterpoint the mouth watering acidity.

Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 (13.0%, €15.50)

cupcake

The Central Coast on the front label is of course the Central Coast of California, which includes Santa Barbara of Sideways fame and Monterey County, where the majority of the Chardonnay grapes were sourced from.

Part of the fermented juice was matured in (mainly old, I reckon) oak barrels and part underwent softening malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks, followed by lees stirring.  When recombined this wine gives the best of both world – it has some oak, but not too much, and some creamy lees flavours. Great value for money – just don’t drink it too cold.

Atlantis Santorini 2015 (13.0%, €15.50)

atlantis

Santorini is my favourite wine region of Greece for whites, especially those made wholly or predominantly from Assyrtiko as this is.  Due to its latitude the island receives lots of sun but this is somewhat tempered by sea breezes.  It sees no oak nor malolactic fermentation so remains clean and linear.

Earth’s End Central Otago Riesling 2015 (12.5%, €20.50)

earths-end

Central Otago in the deep south of New Zealand is primarily known for its Pinot Noirs – and rightly so – but its long cool growing season is also suitable for Chardonnay and Riesling.  This has lovely lime notes, and an off dry finish perfectly balances the vibrant acidity.  With Haka instructions on the front, surely this would be a great present for a rugby fan?

Terre di Chieti Pecorino 2015 (12.5%, €15.00)

pecorino

Another recent favourite of mine is Pecorino, an everyday Italian white wine with far more character than the lakes of uninteresting Pinot Grigio that clog up most supermarket shelves.  Both oranges and lemons feature on the palate – it’s a great drop at a keen price.

Villiera Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016 (14.0%, €18.50)

villiera

Modest packaging belies a sublime wine, one of the most enjoyable South African Chenins I’ve had for a long time.  The complexity is due to the variety of choices made by winemaker Jeff Grier – a small amount of botrytised grapes was used, part of the wine went through malolactic and part did not, both new and second-use French oak barrels were used.  The end result is a marvel of honey and vanilla – amazingly complex for such a young wine.

Stepp Riesling *S* Kallstadter Saumagen 2015 (13.0%, €22.00)

stepp

Germany’s Pfalz region is beloved of the Wine Hunter himself, Jim Dunlop, and of course makes some great Riesling.  The alcohol of 13.0% is much higher than an average Mosel Riesling, for example, which indicates that this is likely to be significantly drier and more full bodied.  Apricot, lemon, lime and orange make an appearance – just such a lovely wine!

Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, €27.00)

red-claw

From one of Australia’s premium cool climate regions, this is a Chardonnay to make Burgundy lovers weep – or convert!  The fermented wines are matured on their lees in 500L barrels (over double the standard barrique of 225L) with no malolactic fermentation allowed, so freshness is maintained.  This is a grown up wine with lots of lees character and reductive notes.

O’Briens Fine Wines Sale – My Selection

Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time.  Here is a selection of my favourites:

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)

 

viognier

I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed.  Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did!  I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side.  More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)

antan

This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent.  If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.

La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)

comtesse

This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world.  It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!

Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)

puligny

Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer?  This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now.  Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate.  Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!

Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)

caro

This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family.  At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes.  Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!

Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)

marques

When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas.  They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is).  Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla,  all in a soft and cosseting package.  Get in!

Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)

delheim

This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux.  The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs).  It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak!  More info here.

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)

cigalus

Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.

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)

louis-vertay

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)

louis-roederer-brut-premier-nv

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)

oudinot

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.