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.
Jean Smullen has been involved in the Irish wine trade for 26 years, including education, organising generic tastings for multitude of bodies, and communications through newspapers, TV and her radio spot on “Movies and Booze”.
This Christmas I will be drinking something fizzy from Italy that isn’t Prosecco! Franciacorta is a DOCG in Lombardy where they use French grapes to make sparkling wine using the traditional method (second fermentation in bottle The region’s reputation has been built on their outstanding bottle fermented sparkling wines. Franciacorta is Italy’s largest producer of metodo classico sparkling wines.
The different types of Franciacorta are distinguished by different dosages of liqueur de tirage added after disgorging. For example, Franciacorta Satèn is a style unique to the region. This blanc de blanc is made from (mostly) Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco. A Brut dosage of sugar less than 12 g/l is added and the resultant wine has less atmospheric pressure (4.5 vs the standard 6.0 atm); this means that this unique sparking style has less mousse and a softer finish.
Bellavista Alma Cuvée Brut RRP €45.99 at: 64 Wine; Donnybrook Fair, Green Man Wines, Jus de Vine, Terroirs, The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son, The Wine Centre (Kilkenny), Baggot Street Wines, Clontarf Wines, and Searsons Wine Merchants.
This is made from 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Nero, and is a world class sparkling wine, on a par with Champagne, it simply says quality. The blending process is the key to this wine and hinges on the quality of the Reserve wines they use. One of the characteristics I found in sparkling wine from Franciacorta is a lovely floral aroma of white flowers, this has that but on the palate it has a soft subtle finish and a lovely gentle mousse. Bella Vista means “beautiful view” in this case it also means beautiful wine!
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)
I’ve already picked my five favourite reds, now here are five of the whites which stood out for me at the Ely Big Tasting:
Bride Valley Brut Reserve 2014 (12.0%, RRP ~ €54, Liberty Wines)
Bride Valley is a producer named after a place of the same name in Dorset on the south coast of England (it’s between Hampshire and Devon (I had to check as I’m a Northerner myself). The estate is owned by Steven Spurrier and his wife Arabella; Steven is a former wine merchant, a wine educator and a wine writer, and is perhaps most famous for hosting the “Judgement of Paris” in 1976 (though he wasn’t too happy to be portrayed by a 60+ year old Alan Rickman in Bottle Shock!). The soil is said to be similar to Champagne, though I think it’s probably more technically accurate to say that Champagne has similar soil to this part of Dorset as the village of Kimmeridge(whence Kimmeridgian) is close by!
The blend is “typically” 50% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, the three main Champagne grapes, though not seen in these proportions that often. It’s not the most complex English sparkler I’ve tried, though that’s understandable as it’s a very young estate – but it’s simply a delicious wine, and dangerously quaffable!
O Luar do Sil Valdeorras Godello Sobre Lias 2015 (13.5%, RRP ~ €30, Mitchell & Son)
The Rodero Villa family had been making fine Ribero del Duero wines at Pago de los Capellanes for two decades before they set up an outpost in Galicia, north west Spain. Valdeorras is Godello country with a cool climate that encourages a long growing season and lots of aromatic compounds in the wines. “O Luar do Sil” apparently means “The Reflection of the Moon on the river Sil” – though I presume this only applies at night…
Anyway, the wine itself is delicious – fresh, green fruit with creamy richness from six months on fine lees. Wines like this reinforce my view that Godello can make wines equally as good as – if not better than – Galicia’s other prominent white grape Albariño.
I’ve already written about this wine in 2017 but I make no excuses for repeating myself – it’s an excellent wine. Don’t think that this is “just another Marlborough Sauvignon”, it’s far more than that: smoky, funky and citrusy all at the same time. If anything I think this is tasting better than it did earlier in the year, but should keep on developing for several years.
Maison Ambroise Côtes de Nuits Villages Blanc 2013 (13.0%, RRP ~ €28, Le Caveau)
Maison Ambroise are better known for their red wines (as is the Côtes de Nuits in general), with a history going back to the 18th century. The vineyards were reinvigorated by Bertrand Ambroise in 1987 and the amount of land under vine increased to 21 hectares. Organic certification came in 2013.
Oak is used sparingly to add complexity and mouthfeel – details weren’t immediately available but I suspect that any new oak was only a fraction of the total. This is a superlative white – for a relatively modest outlay – so beware, it might just be the wine that gets you hooked on white Burgundy!
Jean Thévenet Domaine de la Bongran Viré-Clessé 2010 (14.0%, RRP ~ €33, Wines Direct)
Viré-Clessé is in the Maconnais, the southernmost sub-region of Burgundy proper before Beaujolais, so the fruit is nearly always riper than Chablis at the other (northern) end of Burgundy. Jean and Gautier Thevenet go even further with their Domaine de la Bongran grapes – they leave them on the vine for several weeks longer than all their neighbours, resulting in powerful wines. The high sugar levels at harvest time combined with natural yeast means that fermentation can take months and months. Such is the richness of the wine that you might think there’s oak used along the way, but not a bit of it. This is an unusual style of Chardonnay that really needs to be tried!
A medley of whites from the WineMason tasting earlier this year:
Bodegas Altos de Torona Rías Baixas Albariño Torre de Ermelo 2016 (12.4%, RRP €19 – Stockist TBC)
Bodegas Altos de Torona is one of three producers in Rías Baixas who form part of the HGA Bodegas group. HGA have holdings across many of northern Spain’s best wine areas including Rioja, Ribero del Duero and Ribeira Sacra. This wine is from the O Rosal sub-zone, just 3.5km from the Miño River (which forms the border with Portugal) and 10km from the Atlantic Ocean.
Torre de Ermelo is made in a fresh – almost spritzy – style, with floral, citrusand mineral notes framed by a streak of acidity. Great value for money!
Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18 at Green Man Wines)
If your palate is just used to white wines from supermarkets then this might seem a little alien at first. It bears no resemblance to the usual Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay – but then why should it? This is a blend of three indigenous Portuguese grapes, Arinto, Gouveioand Fernão Pires grown close to the Atlantic coast just north of Lisbon.
The name of the wine is a clue to the vineyard soil type – lots of limestone! There are indeed mineralnotes on this wine but lots more besides – soft fruit, herbsand flowers. Overall it’s a dry wine with lots of texture, a fine partner for lots of dishes.
BLANKbottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24 at Green Man Wines, Baggot St Wines, The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Red Island)
This is a very intriguing wine from a very interesting producer. Pieter H. Walser is the man behind BLANKBottle and aims to make wines which highlight excellent South African terroir rather than the variety/ies that they are made from. He buys in all his grapes rather than farming himself. This all gives him flexibility so he can change the components of a blend from year to year or produce entirely new wines as a one-off; it also helps his wines to be judged on their contents rather than preconceptions about varieties.
Moment of Silence is a blend (for this vintage at least!) of 65% Chenin Blanc with the balance split between Chardonnay and Viognier. From 2015 onwards the grapes were sourced from seven different sites within Wellington. This wine is quite round in the mouth with appleand stone fruit flavours. The Viognier influence shines through as a touch of richness, but it isn’t oily. A wine that deserves to be tried.
Rijckaert Arbois Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, RRP €23 at The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Redmonds)
Belgian winemaker Jean Rijckaert founded his own estate in 1998 based on vineyards in the Maconnais and Jura, further east. Of course the key variety shared by these regions is Chardonnay, which can reflect both where it is grown and how it is vinified. Yields are low and intervention is kept to a minimum – once fermentation is complete the wines are left to mature without racking, stirring or anything else.
Jura Chardonnay comes in two distinct styles, oxidative and none-oxidative, depending on whether air is allowed into the maturing barrels; this is definitely the latter, (ouillé) style of Jura Chardonnay for which I have a marked preference. It’s recognisably oaked Chardonnay but very tangy and food friendly. A great way into Jura wines!
De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 (14.0%, RRP €34 at 64 Wine & The Corkscrew)
De Morgenzon translates as The Morning Sun which is a wonderfully poetic name, attached to a wonderful South African winery. Although South Africa is usually labelled as “new world” when it comes to wine, vines have been planted in this part of Stellenbosch since the early 1700s. Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum bought DeMorgenzon in 2003 and have transformed the estate and its wines.
The entry level DMZ Chenin is a very nice wine, clean and fresh, but this Reserve is a step above. The vines were planted in 1972 (an auspicious year!) and interestingly were originally bush vines but recently lifted onto trellises. People often wonder what makes one wine cost more than another similar wine, and in this case the picking in four different passes through the vineyard (to ensure optimum ripeness and balance) shows you why. Fermentation takes place in French oak barrels (with wild yeast) followed by 11 months of maturation on the lees. These really add to the flavour profile – there’s a little bit of funk from the wild yeast, lots of creaminessfrom the lees and soft oak notes from the barrels (only 25% were new). This is a real treat!
WineMason is an Irish wine importer run by husband and wife team Ben Mason and Barbara Boyle MW. They specialise in wines from Germany, Portugal and Austria, but their expanding portfolio now encompasses France, South Africa, Spain and Italy.
Here are four of the Germanic whites (three from Germany, one from Austria) that I really enjoyed at their tasting earlier this year.
Rheinhessen, sometimes known as Rhine Hesse in English (or Hesse Rhénane in French as on the map above), is the largest of Germany’s 13 wine regions. It produces plenty of ordinary wine, but the best sites in the hands of a good producer can produce fantastic wines. Johannes Geil-Bierschenk is an innovative young producer based in Bechtheim. In particular he focuses on low yields, early pressing of whites and fermentation with indigenous yeast.
Just as in Alsace, Pinot Blanc (also known as Weissburgunder) is usually under-rated in Germany, but here makes for a very appealing and easy-drinking wine. It’s dry and fresh with citrus and stone fruit notes. A long finish seals the deal – and great value at €17
Geil Rheinhessen Riesling 2016 (12.0%, RRP €17 at Baggot St Wines, Clontarf Wines, Lilac Wines, Martin’s Off Licence, Blackrock Cellar, D-Six, Green Man Wines, Listons, McHughs, Mortons Galway, Mortons Ranelagh, Nectar OTGV, Sweeney’s, WWC)
Geil’s most extensive variety is Riesling which is bottled from different terroirs and in different styles. This is the straight forward dry Riesling which – I must whisper quietly – stands up against many similar examples from my beloved Alsace. It has zippy lime and tangy lemon notes – very refreshing indeed!
Max Ferd. Richter Zeppelin Riesling 2015 (11.0%, RRP €18 at The Corkscrew, McHughs, Blackrock Cellar, Mitchells, 64 Wines, Nectar, Martin’s Off Licence, Lilac Wines, Green Man Wines, D-Six)
And so to another German Riesling, but this time from the Mosel and quite different in style. In contrast to the modern Geil labels above and the more traditional ones on the rest of the Max Ferd. Richter range, this has an art deco style label harking back to the time of the Zeppelin airships. The link is no marketing gimmick as wines from Mulheim (Max Fed. Richter’s home) were actually served on the Zeppelins!
So how does it taste? Yum yum yum is the answer! There’s a little bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity and enhance the fruitiness, but it’s by no means a sweet wine. One of the most drinkable wines I’ve had this year!
Groiss Weinviertel Gemischter Satz 2016 (12.5%, RRP €21 at Green Man Wines, The Corkscrew, 64 Wines)
This wine is always a crowd-pleaser – but for a good reason: it’s fab! The 2015 vintage was showing really well when I tasted it at the Ely Big Tasting last year. It’s no ordinary wine though, despite its charms and moderate price tag – it’s a field blend of (at least) 17 different varieties:
Winemaker and owner Ingrid Groiss is a firm fan of traditional viticulture and vinification, hence an old-school wine where the different varieties are planted together, harvested at the same time and vinified together. It’s full of tangy peach and apricot but dry, mineral and fresh. This is a wonderful wine that you must try.
Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store. Here are a few of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:
Doran Vineyardsis the baby of Irish born Edwin Doran, partnered by South African winemaking legend André (“Adi”) Badenhorst. “Baby” is actually quite apt as the winery was redeveloped as recently as 2012.
This wine is quite an unusual blend, one that could only really be from South Africa: 57% Chenin Blanc, 22% Grenache Blanc and 21% Roussanne. The nose has citrus, herbs and floral notes; the wine is soft and supple in the mouth with fresh apple, stone fruit, citrus and a hint of nuts. This blend is lovely to drink on its own but is also very food friendly.
Clos Cazalet Tursan Carpe Diem 2015 (12.5%, RRP €16.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
Tursanis one of the lesser known appellations of south west France, spanning the border between the new regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie. It also has a lesser known grape at the heart of its white wines – the delightfully named Baroque which must be between 30% and 90% of the blend. The balance is made up by a combination of Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc. Reds are based on Tannat (40% maximum), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Clos Cazalet is one of the few independent producers in Tursan. Their Carpe Diem comprises 60% Gros Manseng, 30% Baroque and 10% Petit Manseng. This blend gives a full “here comes the Lilt man” tropical experience – pineapple, peach, pear and grapefruit. it’s soft and round in the mouth, a perfect summer drink!
Mas des Agrunelles Barbaste 2016 (13.0%, RRP €22.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
We’re on a go-slow here – well a go-sloe to be exact, as Agrunelles are sloes which are common round this area. And what an area – a part of the Languedoctraditionally not used for viticulture given the cool micro-climate, and instead given over to sheep grazing and charcoal production.
The Domaine was set up by Frédéric Porro of Domaine La Marèle and Stéphanie Ponson of Mas Nicot as the antithesis of bulk cooperative grape production – each small plot is harvested and vinified separately so production is spread over a large number of different wines, though volumes of each are small. It is also worthy of note that Mas des Agrunelles is both organic and biodynamic.
Barbasteis a blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne and Marsanne; it’s a thing of beauty, tangy yet soft(some oxidative softening, perhaps?) with spicy pear and fennel flavours. Very moreish!
Mas des Agrunelles Camp de Lèbre 2015 (12.5%, RRP €27.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
Another wine from Mas des Agrunelles…whereas Barbaste means “white frost” in Occitan (the local language), Camp de Lèbre means “Field of hares”, as the local varmints help themselves to the tasty wine buds in spring. This is a varietal wine, being 100% Carignan Blancplanted on clay and limestone.
The first line of my tasting notes was: “What the hell is that? it’s Magnificent!” There’s lots of texture and roundness in the mouth (possibly from some time in oak?). Aniseed and herbs partner soft pip and stone fruit – deliciously tangy!
Wine importer Febvre has operated in Ireland for over 50 years, representing some big brands and others not as well known. Here is a selection of the wines I enjoyed at their recent tasting event:
Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Blanc 2016 (11.5%, RRP €13.50 at Malthouse, Trim; Grapevine, Ballymun; Ennis Gourmet Store)
If the image on the bottle doesn’t give away its origin, then the name of the wine certainly does – Le Petit Gascoûn comes from Gascony in South West France. The white is a blend of Colombardand Ugni Blanc – the latter rarely seen in a table wine in France, though it’s a mainstay of Armagnac and Cognac. It’s a highly aromatic wine with peach, pineappleand lychees on the nose, with those notes continuing on the palate, rounded off by a fresh, crisp finish. Fantastic value for money.
Herdade de Esporão Monte Velho Alentejo Branco 2015 (13.5%, RRP €13.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; 1601, Kinsale)
As with many Portuguese wines, unless you’re very familiar with the country’s wines you might not have heard of the constituent grapes of this wine: Antão Vaz, Roupeiroand Perrum. I assure you that they are genuine grape names and not just a lot of randomly assembled letters! (Plus, Perrum is the Portuguese name for Andalusia’s PedroXiménez.) There’s lots of texture and flavour here, stone fruits with a herbal edge. It’s pleasant drinking on its own, but I’d imagine wonderful with tarragon chicken.
Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé 2015 (13.0%, RRP €29.95 at Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown; Jus de Vin, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St)
On the opposite site of the Loire from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé isn’t quite as famous and is only around half the size. For me, the wines of Pouilly-Fumé are more consistent, however, possibly due to fewer négotiants trading on the reputation of the appellation rather than the quality of their wine. Château de Tracy is a serious contender for best producer on the right bank, and this wine shows why: supple, concentrated fruit with no hard edges, full of fresh grapefruit and gooseberry. Just delicious!
Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; Lilac Wines, Fairview)
Tucked out of the way just south east of Blenheim, Lawson’s Dry Hills is one of Marlborough’s relatively unheralded family wineries, but produces some excellent wines – I’m still holding on to my last few bottles of their 2008 Chardonnay which is stunning. Their Riesling has been a firm favourite of mine for at least a decade. This 2014 is developing nicely and, while still showing primary lime, lemon and elderflower notes, is also starting to give some lovely petrol aromas. Just off-dry with 8.2g/L of residual sugar, it’s a lovely summer tipple on its own or with plenty of different recipes.
d’Arenberg the Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2015 (13.1%, RRP €16.95 at O’Briens Wines; Gerrys, Skerries; SuperValu; Egans, Portlaoise; Bradleys, Cork)
d’Arenberg are one of the few McLaren Vale producers who use traditional basket presses and other traditional techniques for gentler handling of the fruit and therefore better wine. The Hermit Crab is from their “Originals” range and is a blend of two white Rhône grapes; 58% Viognier and 42% Marsanne for the 2015 vintage. While the Viognier is the senior partner in the blend, it doesn’t dominate the wine with overblown floweriness and oiliness (though some might like that) due to the cool fermentation process which reins in those aspects. It has tangy peachand apricotwith subtle nuts, herbsand spice. Well worth a try if you fancy something different!
Jordan Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50 at Martins, Fairview & Londis, Malahide)
Somewhat confusingly there are two prominent Jordans – Jordan Wine Estate of Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Jordan Vineyard & Winery of Alexander Valley (California). This is most definitely the former, run by husband and wife team Gary and Kathy Jordan since 1993. They also produce an unoaked Chardonnay which is nice, but this is the real McCoy, the full Monty, the..[ok I’ll stop there] of which 92% is fermented in Burgundian 228L pièces (the remainder tank fermented). The wine was also matured for nine months in a mixture of barrels (45% new, 30% second-fill and 25% third-fill) for texture as well as flavour. It’s not over the top, but it is fairly oaky – and I love it! there’s plenty of buttered toast from the the oak but also pineapple and racy citrus flavours – a well balanced wine!
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.
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 – Irancyis 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 Sacythat means Chardonnayand 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!
Auxerreis 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)
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, Mortons and SIYPS)
Although a traditional grape of Burgundy, as it has long been considered second class to Chardonnay, Aligotéwas relegated to inferior sites (just like Barberain Piedmont and Sylvanerin 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 kircocktail 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 and SIYPS)
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.
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. Chardonnayis the principal white variety with small amounts of Aligoté, Melon(de Bourgogne, the Muscadetgrape) 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 and SIYPS)
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 Crucommunes.
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.
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:
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)
Apart from a few exceptions I rarely enjoy varietal Torrontésas 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 freshenedby 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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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 Colombardwhich 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 noteswould 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)
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)
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 asparagusnotes. 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)
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)
Like its sister Sauvignon above, this unoaked Chardonnay has a great deal of mineralitywhich 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.