Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay

Before the arrival of this wine into Dublin I have to confess that I was only distantly aware of Wente Vineyards and their home of Livermore Valley in California’s Central Coast.  The two are inextricably linked, but first here’s a map for us to get our bearings:

Livermore Valley in California

 

As you can see, Livermore Valley is at the top of the Central Coast region, across the Bay from San Francisco.  Cooling sea breezes and fogs from San Francisco Bay give the valley more significant diurnal temperature variation, helpful for producing quality wine.

Although not that well known today – in Europe at least – grapes were first planted in Livermore in the 1840s, before the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and well before phylloxera devastated European vineyards.

There was a flurry of winery openings in the 1880s, with Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 followed by Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards in 1883.  Colcannon and Wente are still in operation today, with Wente being the biggest.  In fact, it was Wente who ended up buying the land that Cresta Blanca had used and replanted it after decades of being barren.

Livermore Valley’s influence on Californian wine extended beyond its immediate borders:

  1. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
  2. Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
  3. As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay

Wente Vineyards

Wente Vineyards are proud of their status as “the country’s longest, continuously operated family-owned winery”.  They have now reached five generations of family winegrowers:

  1. Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
  2. Ernest Wente imported Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier in 1912 and established the Wente Clone.  His brother Herman Wente helped to found the California Wine Institute in 1936
  3. Karl L. Wente joined the business in 1949 and greatly expanded US and international distribution.  He also expanded the family’s holdings into Arroyo Secco (Monterey)
  4. Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
  5. Christine, Karl, Jordan, Niki and Aly Wente hold various positions in the business

Not content to simply fall back on with their long history, Wente are also embracing the future with the first ever virtual wine tasting accessed through Alexa or Google.

In addition to producing wine the estate also features a restaurant, 18 hole golf course and concert venue.  But it’s the wine that matters most to us!  The Wente wine portfolio consists of several ranges.  In approximate order of most to least expensive they are:

  • The Nth Degree
  • Small Lot
  • Single Vineyard
  • Wente Winemakers Studio
  • Estate Grown

It’s not unusual for Estate wines to be the top range in a producer’s portfolio, so this indicates a high quality level.  To evaluate this theory we now turn to a specific wine from the Estate Grown range.

Disclosure: This bottle was kindly provided as a sample

Wente Morning Fog Livermore Valley Chardonnay 2018

Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay from Livermore Valley

The Wente Vineyards “Morning Fog” Livermore Valley Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Karl Wente.  Its name evokes the fogs that roll across San Francisco Bay and into the east-west trained vines of Livermore Valley.  Various Wente Chardonnay clones are used, including “Old Wente” which have been propagated without going though heat treatment at UC Davis.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately.

After the grapes are pressed the must is split into two parts: 50% is fermented in old American oak and 50% is fermented in stainless steel tanks.  The barrel fermented portion remains in those containers for five months and undergoes monthly lees stirring.  The Inox portion is split further; half remains on its lees and receives bâtonnage while half is racked into clean tanks.  All vessels are then blended together before bottling.

When poured the wine is lemon, not as deep as some other (more oaky) Chardonnays.  It’s highly aromatic on the nose – helped by 2% Gewürztraminer – full of toasty, leesy notes and fresh citrus.  The palate is fresh and clean, but with lovely texture.  Unlike some Cali Chardonnays, the texture doesn’t get in the way of the wine or stand out awkwardly, but rather comes along for the journey.  There’s a fine mineral streak through the wine and a fresh finish.

Overall this is a very well put together wine, rising above many confected and manufactured rivals at this price point.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €27
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Jus de Vine; Lotts and Co; Martins Off Licence; McHughs Kilbarrack and Malahide; Mitchell and Son Glasthule and CHQ; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Power & Co Fine Wines; Sweeney’s D3; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock
Tasting Events

Fresh Italian Reds [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 3]

No Shake n’ Vac required here, the freshness is already there – it never left!  Here are three of my favourite Italian reds that I tried at the GrapeCircus portfolio tasting earlier this year.

Fattoria San Lorenzo Rosso Piceno “Burello” 2013

Yes there’s a pretty bunny on the front label but this is far from a “critter wine”.  Rather than simply to look good on a shelf, the picture represents Natalino Crognaletti’s love of the animals which reside on his family’s estate and are part of the wholistic view they take.  Based in the Marche, San Lorenzo produces whites made from Verdicchio and a range of red blends using Montepulciano and Sangiovese.  All are organic and biodynamic.

The Burello is made from Rosso Piceno DOC fruit in the proportion 60% Montepulciano and 40% Sangiovese.  Fermentation is with indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks but maturation is for 18 months in stainless steel for the Sangiovese and oak for the Montepulciano.  The size and age of the oak vessels is not given but this is not an oak dominated wine so we’re not talking 100% new barriques here.

It may be just my perception but I tend to think of Sangiovese being a more noticeable or expressive variety than Montepulciano, so it shines through in this blend, though tamed by the Montepulciano.  The nose has dark fruit and tobacco; black berries and black cherries dominate the palate with hints of herbs and tobacco again.  There’s lovely texture here and high-ish acidity which keep the whole thing fresh.

Cantina Sampietrana Primitivo del Salento “I Saraceni” 2018

Cantina Sampietrana has been making wine in Puglia since 1952.  They very much follow their maxim “Loyal to tradition, but always moving with the times”, with the local varieties Negroamaro, Primitivo and Malvasia to the fore, trained in the “alberello pugliese” method (which they translate as “Apulian small tree”).  They also have smaller plots of Susumaniello, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Lambrusco, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Fiano and Verdeca.

This Primitivo is a fruit-driven wine, full of plums, prunes and blackberry.  The palate is mouth-filling and warming, a real winter wine.  In fact there’s so much big juicy fruit that it tastes more like 14% than 13% abv, though it doesn’t finish hot.  This is a great value, crowd pleasing wine that deserves a try.

Cantina Sampietrana Salento Negroamaro “Parnanio” 2018

Another from Cantina Sampietrana, this Negroamaro is the big brother of the Primitivo above.  Despite these varieties’ propensity to produce lots of sugar and hence alcohol, the location of the vineyards close to the coast helps to keep things cool and balanced.  We’re a long way from Cali Zins with 16% and upward of (potential) alcohol.

True to its name, this Negroamaro is black and bitter!  It has smooth, voluptuous black fruit with spicy and a savoury, herby edge.  This would be a very versatile food pairing wine – anything from charcuterie, winter stews, steaks or Moroccan lamb.


GrapeCircus 2020:

Tasting Events

Whites From Off The Beaten Track [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 2]

After the Champagnes of Laherte Frères in Part 1, we now turn to a trio of unusual whites.  They aren’t that obscure, but they aren’t going to appear in your local supermarket.  They are all made by small, family owned producers who prefer to do work in the vineyard rather than the winery.  Note: I tasted these wines back in February this year so some outlets may well have moved onto the 2019 vintages of the respective wines.

M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz Weiss 2018

Martin and Anna Arndorfer are part of the new generation in Austria, acknowledging their respective families’ deep ties to their region of Kamptal but breaking free and setting down their own roots.  Their approach might be described as “hands-off”, but that would belittle the work they do in the vineyard, fully respectful of nature’s gifts.

This is the first time I have reviewed the M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz (field blend), though I have previously reviewed their single varietal 2015 Grüner Veltliner  and their 2016 Vorgeschmack white.  As the latter is no longer available and consisted of the same blend (80% Grüner Veltliner & 20% Riesling) as this wine I believe it is simply a matter of renaming.

Those familiar with the component varieties – hopefully a decent majority of you – should be able to imagine its style; decent body with lots of spice and pip fruit, but a racy finish.  Apples and pears meet lemon and lime?  What’s not to like?

Burja “Petit Burja” Zelen 2018

When faced with this label most wine drinkers would be forgiven for thinking “what even is that?”  (Confession: I thought exactly that!)  So: “Burja” is the name of the estate, “Zelen” is the name of the grape and “Petit Burja” is the name of the bottling.  Burja is run by Primož Lavrenčič who named it after the Mistral-like wind which can blow through the vines.  Zelen is a local grape variety named after the Slovenian word for ‘green’ which is the colour that it apparently takes on when fermenting.  The estate is run on both organic and biodynamic lines.

So how does this unusual grape taste?  It doesn’t taste exactly like anything else, but in a word, great!  It’s highly aromatic, with floral and citrus notes to the fore.  These continue onto the palate which is juicy and tangy, but also mineral and linear.  This wine could be the jolt that your palate needs!

Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Blanc 2018

I have reviewed the red wine from this stable before; Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge was the Frankly Wines #2 Value Red of 2017.  The Domaine has been run by Italian Laura Semeria for 13 years; she has woven the new (converting viticulture to organic and then biodynamic) with the old (maintaining local varieties including the rare Romorantin).  The vines cover a surface area of 20 hectares and vary in age up to 80 years old.

Just as the Arndorfer wine above, this is an 80/20 blend, but this time 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Chardonnay (yes, Chardonnay is grown in the Loire!)  This blend is rarely seen in France, nor even Australia or New Zealand, but does occur in northern Italy.  Although unusual, the blend is seamless, showing floral, herby and citrus notes.  It’s a light yet thrilling, real wine.


GrapeCircus 2020:

Tasting Events

Champagne Laherte Frères [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 1]

Champagne Laherte Frères is based in the village of Chavot, a ten minute drive south-ish of Epernay.  The estate was established in 1889 by Jean-Baptiste Laherte and was expanded incrementally over the generations.  The estate is named after sixth generation brothers Christian and Thierry, though I couldn’t confirm if they were the first to make the big leap from growing grapes to making their own Champagne.  Thierry’s son Aurélien has been a part of the firm for the last fifteen years.

Laherte’s 11.38 hectares of vineyards are covered in detail on their website.  The majority are in villages of the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay, split 4.22 ha planted to Chardonnay, 3.88 to Pinot Meunier and others 1.18 ha.  A further 1.48 of Pinot Meunier is in the Vallée de la Marne and 0.62 of Chardonnay on the Côte des Blancs.  They have identified 75 different plots which are vinified separately; 80% of the wines are fermented and matured in wood barrels or casks.

Credit: Laherte Frères

Since 2011 Laherte has also bought in grapes from growers who farm around 4 hectares in the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs; of course these growers share the same philosophy.

This is our way of celebrating the terroir: by respecting differences, promoting uniqueness, and letting the soil express itself.

In his excellent book on Grower Champagne “Bursting Bubbles”, Robert Walters makes some excellent point about the style and quality of Grower Champagnes in general.  Firstly, many who make Champagne under the Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) label are simply much smaller versions of the big Houses; it is those who focus on their terroir and allowing their wines to express it that can make great Grower Champagnes.  Secondly, small producers who take such care but also buy a small amount of grapes from close contacts – and therefore have the Négociant-Manipulant (NM) label – can also make excellent terroir Champagnes.

Aurelien Laherte was noted as a promising grower in Bursting Bubbles, but of course as the firm now buys in grapes  they are classed as NM.  Walters specifically mentions Jacquesson & Fils as an example of terroir focused small houses, but I believe that Laherte Frères would also qualify for that accolade.

Laherte make a large number of different wines, grouped into three different types.  The wines in blue are reviewed below.

  • Ultradition: Brut, Brut Rosé, Brut Blanc de Blancs
  • Special & Original Cuvées: Ultradition Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut
  • Terroir Fundamentals Cuvées: Les Beaudiers (Rosé de Saignée Meunier), Les Longues Voyes (Blanc de Noirs 1er Cru), Les 7 (all 7 Champagne grapes in a “solera” system), Les Vignes d’Autrefois (Old Vine Meunier), Les Grandes Crayères (Vintage Blanc de Blancs)

Champagne Laherte Frères “Ultradition” Extra Brut NV

This is a blend of the three main varieties: 60% Pinot Meunier (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and Pinot Noir (10%).  40% of the total is from reserve wines which are kept in barrel and add complexity.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked for a portion of the base wines to give a mix of roundness and freshness.  Those base wines also spend six months on their lees while maturing.

Ultradition Extra Brut has an amazing nose of lifted floral, citrus and pear aromas; so lifted, in fact, that you feel like you’ve got the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building.  In the mouth it pulls off the trick of being both creamy and fresh, briochey and citrusy, with a lively mousse and a satisfying, fresh finish.

Champagne Lahertes Frères Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut NV

This is a “Rosé d’Assemblage”, incorporating both saignée and pressée techniques.  Made solely from old vine Pinot Meunier, it consists of 30% macerated wine, 10% red wine and 60 % white wine.  40% of the later is from reserve wines aged in barrels.  Vinification is the same as for the Ultradition Extra Brut, though dosage is even lower at 2.5 g/L.

The nose is full of juicy red fruits that leap out of the glass.  On the palate they are further defined as strawberry, cherry and raspberry.  The dosage is low, even for an Extra Brut, but the quality of the fruit and the fact they are picked when fully ripe means that more is not required.  The fruits are so fresh and vivid that, if tasted blindfolded, you’d be peeking to see if any berries were floating in your glass.

Champagne Lahertes Frères Blancs de Blancs “Les Grandes Crayères” 2014

This is a single vineyard, single variety, single vintage wine made from one of Laherte’s best sites.  As you might be able to guess from the name “Les Grandes Crayères” the vines are grown on chalky soils.  Not in the Côte des Blancs, however, but rather in their home village of Chavot where the chalk  in some plots is only 20 cm down.  Unlike the other cuvées above, MLF is totally blocked for this wine to preserve acidity as the wine ages over the years.

The Champagne geeks among you might wonder what the single variety is; for the vast majority of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes this would automatically be Chardonnay, but when a producer makes a wine with all seven permitted varieties (five white, two black) then it could be any one of five.  But it’s Chardonnay!

And what a Chardonnay!  The nose has layers of flowers, lime and toast plus a little candied peel.  In the mouth it is creamy yet fresh and refined, with mineral notes and a certain tanginess.  This is an amazing wine that could be nothing else than a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.


GrapeCircus 2020:

Opinion

Super Value Xmas Wines 2020 part 1

I’m a big fan of the smaller wine importers and distributors in Ireland and the independent wine shops where many of their wines are sold.  Neither of these roles is easy or that well paid, but require a passion for wine.  The other part of wine retail is the supermarkets and multiples who have higher quantities but lower priced offerings.  The challenges here – especially in supermarkets – are very different.  Wines have to be very commercial – which I use in a factual and not derogatory sense – as wines have to mainstream and meet customers’ expectations rather than being quirky or unusual.  They often have to have attractive packaging and offer very good value for money – there’s no hand-selling like in an indie – and they have to sell.

The Irish supermarket that strikes the best balance for me is SuperValu and its head of wine Kevin O’Callaghan.  I write about their wines frequently for two main reasons:

  1. I taste a lot of their wines (which are usually samples, and are disclosed as such)
  2. Their wines nearly always offer great value for money, especially when on promotion

And, just as for all retails and importers who send me samples, if I don’t like a wine I just don’t mention it.

In addition to the noted price reductions SuperValu also offer €10 off any six bottles from Thursday 26th November to Wednesday 9th December.  Below I review some of the “Classic Christmas Wines” that Kevin has selected for their Xmas promotion.

Disclosure: all bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own

André Goichot Chablis 2018

I reviewed this vintage back in September of this year and liked it; if you like Chablis or clean, dry but fruity whites, then this citrus and green appled wine is definitely worth a try.  Great for seafood or as an aperitif.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €19.66 down to €15.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores and supervalu.ie

Guy Saget Sancerre 2018 

I also reviewed this wine in September, but I think it’s showing even better with a few more months.  The mid-palate has some particularly tasty tropical notes, along with gooseberry and just a little grassiness.  At the regular price of just under €20 this Sancerre is very good, but at €15 it is a real bargain.  Just don’t drink it too cold!

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €19.66 down to €15.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores and supervalu.ie

André Goichot Fleurie 2018

Another wine from the Goichot stable, but this time a Cru Beaujolais.  Fleurie is one of the lighter Crus, and it shows in this wine which is quite pale in the glass – I could read print through a tasting sample.  The nose has both fresh and tinned strawberries, with a touch of black cherry reminding me of Ski yoghurts in an ’80s flashback.  The strawberries are also prominent on the palate, but with a hint of spice in the background.  There’s a nice texture and fresh acidity to this wine which make it very quaffable.  This isn’t the best Fleurie I’ve ever tried but at €12 on offer it’s a great mid-week quaffer to have on the wine rack, or with cold cuts over Xmas.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €14.66 down to €12.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores and supervalu.ie

Rémy Ferbras Vacqueyras 2018

Vacqueyras, for those who don’t know it, is a southern Rhône Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre (GSM) blend which offers a bold fruity red wine in the vein of Châteauneuf du Pape but at a lower price.  Grenache gives easy drinking red fruits, Syrah gives pepper, spice and more savoury notes while Mourvèdre gives grip, perfume and meaty aspects.  The precise ratio between the three components depends on what style the winemaker is looking to achieve.

The nose on this wine is all about the fruit; blueberry, wild strawberry and tinned strawberry.  These notes continue through onto the palate where black fruits and herbs also appear.  The finish is quite dry which made me think there there’s a good proportion of Syrah and Mourvèdre in the blend; subsequent investigation revealed there to be 20% and 10% respectively which fits my observations.

This is a reasonable effort.  I don’t think I’d buy it at full price but the significant reduction puts it into the “worth a try” category.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €20.65 down to €14.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores or supervalu.ie

Vivaldi Ripasso 2018

The Ripasso style is a half way house between normal Valpolicella and Amarone, made by pumping Valpolicella wine into a tank which was used for fermenting Amarone, after that wine has been pumped out leaving the gross lees (mainly grape skins) behind which still have some fermentable sugars left.  The end wine has a little more alcohol and (usually) a little more residual sugar than the plain Valpolicella.

This example from Vivaldi is made from three classic local grapes: Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella.  For real wine geeks (such as myself) it is interesting that the initial fermentation was at 25°C – 28°C whereas the subsequent fermentation was carried out at just 15°C.  Maturation was in wood before bottling.

That last sentence is important; for me the (unspecified) wood had an important influence on the wine, adding creamy vanilla and toasty notes to the bright cherry fruits from the grapes.  Residual sugar is 8.5 g/L which is mainly perceived as extra body and roundness rather than sugariness.  It’s the velvety texture which will appeal to most about this wine, though the downside is not quite as much freshness as I’d like myself.  It’s definitely worth a try at the normal price of €15.65 but it’s an absolute steal at 6 for €40!

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €15.65 or case deal of 6 for €40.00 from 17th to 20th Dec while stocks last
  • Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores

 

Make Mine A Double

Shining Lights [Make Mine a Double #66]

I’m in the very lucky position where I get to try lots of good and great wines on a regular basis, many of them sent as samples (especially in 2020!)  Sometimes, even among these wines, a few shine even brighter than the rest.  It’s often hard to put into words what makes them so special, though I do try.  Here are a couple of (unrelated) wines which stood out even in good company:

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own

Elgin Ridge 282 Elgin Chardonnay 2018

Elgin is South Africa’s coolest climate wine region, located about an hour’s drive south east of Cape Town.  Although now an exciting area for grapes, for many years it was known almost exclusively for its orchards, particularly apples and pears1; as a rule of thumb, agricultural land which is suitable for orchards is generally suitable for grapes.  Elgin is even cool enough for Riesling, with Paul Cluver’s wines leading the charge.

Elgin Ridge is the only winery in Elgin to be both certified organic and certified biodynamic (there is one other which is solely biodynamic).  It was founded by Brian and Marion Smith on the site of a former small (ten hectare) apple farm in 2007 and has remained in family hands since.  Their aim is to be self sufficient in terms of inputs (biodynamic preparations and cow manure) using sheep to control weeds and ducks to control insects and snails.

The figure 282 in the name of this wine, their flagship Chardonnay, refers to the vineyard’s altitude of 282 metres above sea level.  It pours lemon in the glass and initial aromas are predominantly of toasted coconut, indicating a fair bit of oak ageing.  Absolutely heavenly, if you like that sort of thing – which I do!  The coconut gives way to fabulous orchard fruits(!), smoke and spices.  On the palate this is a rich wine, with integrated oak and stone fruits and a touch of butterscotch.  There’s plenty of body and flavour, but this is no big butter bomb as there is a certain elegance and lightness to the finish.  In terms of style this brought to mind excellent southern hemisphere Chardonnays such as Smith + Shaw’s Adelaide Hills M3 and Man O’War’s Waiheke Island Valhalla.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €25.53
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Domaine Fournier Sancerre Les Belles Vignes 2019

For some reason 2020 has been the year of Sancerre for me, with lots of very enjoyable bottles showing that the average standard in the region is very high.  Even among those, this baby stood out.  But first a bit of background.

The maison mère2(!) is Fournier Père et Fils – to give it its full name – under which there are four Domaines:

  • Domaine Fournier (Sancerre &c.)
  • Domaine de Saint Romble (Sancerre)
  • Domaine des Berthiers (Pouilly-Fumé)
  • Domaine Paul Corneau (Pouilly-Fumé)

The full range of Domaine Fournier is detailed below.  As you might expect from one of the “Cuvées Appellations”, this wine is made from vines planted on the three key soil types of Sancerre: Silex, Caillottes and Terres Blanches.  The nose opens with ripe peach but also peach stone, sweet fruit reined in by acidity and a pleasant tartness.  On the palate there’s more fruit but on the citrus side of the spectrum, along with a touch of mown grass and green bell pepper.  Don’t mistake this for a Touraine Sauvignon plus, though; this is a smooth and gentle wine which showcases its different flavours on a long journey through your mouth.  A superior Sancerre.


The portfolio of Domaine Fournier comes under eight different labels:

  • Cuvées Grand Caillou: Sauvignon, Pinot Noir
  • Cuvées F: Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sauvignon
  • Cuvées Mmm: Rosé, Chenin
  • Cuvées Appellations: Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Rouge, Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Rosé, Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Blanc, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Rosé, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Rouge, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Blanc, Pouilly-Fumé “Les Deux Cailloux”, Pouilly Sur Loire “Les Marnes”
  • Cuvée Terroirs: Cuvée Silex, Cuvée Les Terres Blanches
  • Grandes Cuvées: Sancerre “L’Ancienne Vigne” Rouge, Pouilly-Fumé Grande Cuvée, Sancerre “La Chaudouillonne”, Sancerre “L’Ancienne Vigne Blanc
  • Single Vineyard Wines: Sancerre “Les Boffants”, Sancerre “Monts Damnés”
  • Cuvées Exceptionnelles: Menetou Salon Rouge “Sourire Aux Anges”, Sancerre “No. 22”, Sancerre “Vendanges d’Hélène”

1no cockney rhyming slang here, thank you

2French for parent company, literally “mother house”, which is a little ironic as it’s a “father and son” operation.

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Tasting Events

Lidl’s September Wine Cellar – Rounder Whites

Lidl Ireland are introducing some limited release French wines in their stores from Thursday 24th September 2020 in what they are calling their “September Wine Cellar”.  I tasted the majority of them at the first press tasting since Covid first hit and can give them all a thumbs up.  They aren’t likely to win any major awards but they are very good value for money and give wine drinkers a chance to try something representative of a style they might not have tried before.

Here are my brief notes on four of the rounder whites included in the event:

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2018


The labelling couldn’t be much more basic for this wine, with no producer name on the front – at least the grape variety is given!  Burgundy is obviously the home of Chardonnay but the wines made with the simple Bourgogne appellation can vary hugely in quality, very much dependent on the producer.  This example pours lemon in the glass, not quite as light as the four pale wines in my previous post.  The nose has the faintest suggestion of oak, but is actually more likely to be leesiness from bâtonnage (they are easily confused by some people, i.e. me).  There are also some confected fruits on the nose, but pleasant.  The palate, by contrast, is not confected at all; it’s light and lithe, with red and green apple plus melon, but very mineral and fresh.  This is a great example of Burgundy on a budget!

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €8.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Val de Salis Pays d’Oc Réserve Chardonnay 2019

The same grape as above, made in the same country, but a different region: this makes for a totally different experience.  While lean and racy wines can be made in the Languedoc (see Picpoul de Pinet), this Chardonnay revels in its breadth and juiciness.  On the nose there is ripe melon (no, I’m not going to specify the type of melon), its anagram lemon and a touch of red apple.  It has a very appealing bouquet that demands attention.  The palate is soft and round, but still fresh.  There’s a mineral, smoky finish to round it all off.  This is a French Chardonnay which would appeal to fans of the grape grown in sunny places such as Australia or South Africa – a different but equally valid style compared to the Burgundy above.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Côtes de Gascogne Colombard Sauvignon 2019

From the eastern half of France we now move down to the south west, below Bordeaux, and my regular pick for best value French wine: Côte de Gascogne.  This one is made with local grape Colombard and stalwart Sauvignon Blanc.  It pours lemon in the glass and is – unusually for a Gascon wine – quite muted on the nose.  The palate is far from muted, however.  It shows ripe melon and pear, plus super zingy citrus, with a mouth-watering finish from the Sauvignon Blanc.  This is a super tasty wine and represents great value for money.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €7.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Vallis Quietus Vaucluse Viognier 2019

Viognier is one of those grapes that I find difficult to get on with; it’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that many examples of it don’t suit my tastes.  Its homeland is the Rhône and that is where this example comes from, more specifically the département of Vaucluse.  However, white wines make up just 15% of Vaucluse wines and Viognier is not even in the five most popular grapes, so this is still something of a rarity.  And on opening it proves such with distinct honey notes on the nose, just gorgeous, with a hint of confected fruit and cooking spices.  This is followed by a very rich mid-palate and a dry finish.  I’d have preferred a sweeter finish myself but this is a really good example of inexpensive Viognier.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Star Pick

The more-ishness and freshness of the Bourgogne Chardonnay make it my favourite of the four.


Lidl’s September Wine Cellar Posts:

Make Mine A Double

Chablis: Still or Sparkling?

This might sound like an odd (or even stupid) question, but bear with me. Among lovers of bubbly, especially those with a keen eye for a bargain, Crémant de Bourgogne is well appreciated. However, I would hazard a guess that only a small proportion of those folk would know (or care) exactly where in Burgundy those bubbles are made.

Under the Appellation Contrôlée system, Crémant de Bourgogne can be made from grapes grown anywhere in greater Burgundy, i.e.:

  • The Côte de Beaune
  • The Côte de Nuits
  • The Côte Chalonnaise
  • The Mâconnais
  • The Chablis region(!)
  • Beaujolais(!!)

Given Chablis’s northerly latitude – famously closer to Champagne’s Côte des Bar than to Dijon – its suitability for growing grapes with the high acidity and moderate alcohol required for sparkling production (not to mention an appropriate variety) should not be a surprise.  Rewind to the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. and sparkling wine from Chablis would be even less of a surprise – it was normally labelled as such.  Also, at that time, some Champagne maisons bought grapes from outside their own region and labelled their fizz as Champagne on the basis that they were made by a Champagne house.  This was one of the key causes of the Champagne Riots in 1910 and 1911.

I recently got chance to try two wines from the Chablis area that are included in the SuperValu French Wine Sale, one still and one sparkling:

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own

André Goichot Chablis 2018 

Maison André Goichot is a Burgundy Negociant founded in 1947.  They offer a wide range of red and white Burgundies, many of which are available at SuperValu in Ireland.  Also included in the current French Wine Sale are Goichot wines from Fleurie, Mercurey, Pouilly-Fuissé, Montagny and Mâcon-Lugny.

In the glass this is a pale lemon, as expected from a young and unoaked Chablis.  The nose shows lots of citrus, primarily lemon and lime, with a little green apple; it’s a little more fruity than some generic Chablis can be.  The citrus and green apple notes also show on the palate which is slightly lean in character, but not austere.

Chablis is known as a great match for shellfish – especially oysters – and this example would fit that role perfectly, but it also has enough appeal to be drunk on its own or with nibbles as an aperitif.  Great value in the sale!

  • ABV: 12.5.%
  • RRP: €19.66 down to €14.75 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgone Brut Blanc NV

Simonnet-Febvre traces its history back to 1840 when a monsieur Jean Febvre bought a Chablis wine merchant.  Even back then, sparkling Chablis was a speciality of the firm.  By the next generation Simonnet was added to the company name and continued expanding through the years.  In 2003 it was bought by Louis Latour, but remains a separate entity and continues to make “sparkling Chablis” – alongside a range of still Chablis wines – to this day.

This Crémant is actually one of the five they make.  The assemblage is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir – traditional grapes for both Burgundy and Champagne.  The wine is made using the traditional method, of course, and spends a total of 24 months in the cellars.  Labelled as Brut, it has 7 g/L of residual sugar which puts it only 1 g/L above the maximum for Extra Brut.

Once popped it has a creamy mousse with a persistent bead.  The main aromas are of citrus and green apples, plus bready notes.  These continue through to the palate which is ultra fresh, almost tart (though in a pleasant way) due to the low dosage.  Simonnet-Febvre recommend serving this as an aperitif, or even with crème de cassis.  It certainly wakes up your palate!

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €29.50 down to €24.59 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

SuperValu French Wine Sale posts:

 

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Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #12 – Tim Milford

In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:

  • A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
  • A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it

It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.

The twelfth installment of The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series is hosted by  Germanophile Englishman Tim Milford.  If I said that he likes to “blow his own trumpet” and dubs himself “The King of Wine” I would be correct; however, this would be in a literal sense only, as he is an orchestral trumpet player(!) and a total gentleman with a well developed sense of humour to boot. 

I am something of a philistine when it comes to classical / orchestral music – I know a few tunes that I like but that’s about it.  However, when choosing a piece for Tim there was one that immediately came to mind as it featured trumpets: Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. When I was young living at home with my parents this was a favourite of my dad’s so I heard it many times.

The easy option for the wine pick would have been German Riesling, but I side-stepped that and chose an English sparkling wine that I know Tim and I both hold in high estimation: Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée MV.  It’s a wine that I have been following for many years, with each successive vintage getting better.  Now that it is a multi-vintage it has stepped up even more.


I was delighted when Frankie asked me to contribute to his wine and music blog series, but also a little nervous as all of the other posts have been so good!

Frankie has chosen a classical theme for me, which I was really pleased about. I have been a trumpet player since I was eight years old and have been fortunate enough to play in some excellent bands and orchestras over the years. Music, just like wine, has been an amazing way for me to make friends and also to get to know more about the world that we live in.

My music taste is pretty eclectic, but I have always enjoyed classical music particularly. I think a good symphony is like test cricket (another one of my passions!) – the time that you have in this format allows you to appreciate the waxing and waning of the music, the development of intricate sub-plots within pieces. Whereas your average three minute rock or pop song is more like T20 cricket – it starts: crash, bang, wallop, it ends.

My favourite music in the classical space tends to be the bigger, grander, darker, more evocative music from the German and Russian masters: Mahler, Bruckner, Beethoven, Shostakovich and Prokofiev; but in truth there is so much variety out there that you just feel blessed that all of these incredible people have created such beauty – exactly how I feel about wine!

So, on to my pairings!

Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée MV

Nyetimber-Our-Wines-Homepage-ClassicCuvee
Credit: Nyetimber

For the wine, Frankie selected for me Nyetimber’s Multi Vintage (MV) Classic Cuvée – a wine that I know very well and I knew straight away exactly where I was going to go for my music selection: Glenn Gould’s famous recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Why did I choose this? The Goldberg variations are a masterpiece of composition – combining moments of pure beauty, with complicated, intricate melodies and counter-melodies. But how does it make me feel when I listen to it? I often listen to this recording when I need to concentrate on something at work; it feels serene, it feels sophisticated, it feels masterly.

These are the kinds of feelings that I get when I think of Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée; it’s a wine of breathtaking refinement, with layers of texture to it that are all perfectly balanced to give an immensely pleasurable drinking experience. It is pretty well known now that good English sparkling wine is giving Champagne a proper run for its money – and Nyetimber is absolutely one of those producers that I would point to. That’s before we start looking at their vintage BdBs, which are simply spectacular.

There’s another reason that I wanted to choose Glenn Gould’s version of the Goldberg Variations – Gould was Canadian and I wanted to give a little nod to Nyetimber’s head wine makers, Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix, Canadians themselves. Cherie and Brad have done wonderful things during their tenure at Nyetimber and I thought this would be a nice tribute to them.

Aaron Copland – Fanfare for the Common Man

For my musical selection, Frankie gave me Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” – a selection that I was delighted with! As a trumpet player, fanfares are always a fun experience to play, but the opening of this piece isn’t a fanfare in the sense that we might think of; it is altogether more refined. A lot of fanfares are designed to be regal and triumphal, this though seems to be a little less bombastic – which I guess is borne out in the piece’s name. This isn’t a piece celebrating the crowning of a king or a queen, but a celebration of the common man (and woman!).

I also like the structure of the piece, which builds layers as it goes through, starting with the timpani, followed by the trumpets; but then augmented by the rest of the brass section and more percussion players. When I listen to this piece there is something Olympic about it in the soaring notes for the trumpet, which sounds so powerful, so graceful, so majestic. Something that says: we have mastered this, we are in control and we know what we are doing.

The Milf
Credit: Tim Milford

So, what wine could I choose that gives you the same sentiment? I decided to pair this piece with a 2016 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir from the legends at Au Bon Climat in California. The wine is an absolute classic, coming from a coastal region in California it benefits from those sea breezes, which gives it a delicious freshness. It is fairly commonly observed that this is a wine made in a Burgundian style, which I think in this instance means that it has a poise and refinement, an elegance and class. It tantalises the tastebuds and excites the nostrils, but it does it all in a controlled and self-confident way. It is not over-the-top and showy, instead it sits there quietly exuding its grace and majesty.

This is a celebration of the majesty of Pinot Noir, one of the most loved and most temperamental grapes in the wine world. But it is a celebration held in a booth in a classy restaurant with fine food and fine wine, not a party held in some gaudy Mayfair nightclub favoured by those with too much money and too little class. The wines of Au Bon Climat are rightly revered for being right at the top of their game and this is no exception. A superb wine to match with a superb piece of music!

Tim Milford

Tim Milford is a project manager by day and an enthusiastic wine enthusiast by night! He is no expert when it comes to wine, but likes learning about the wine world one bottle at a time and has a particular penchant for German wine. Tim writes about wine (not as often as he would like) at www.vinspireuk.com and sometimes writes restaurant reviews (even less often, particularly recently) on his own website www.timmilford.com. You can find Tim on Twitter (@timmilford) and Instagram (@tjmilford), should you like to do those kinds of thing.


The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series
No. Guest Name Music to pair Wine to pair
14 Lee Isaacs The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter Domaine Jones Fitou
13 Sharon L Souls Of Mischief –  93 ‘Til Infinity Penfolds RWT
12 Tim Milford Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man Nyetimber Classic Cuvée
11 Mags McKee U2 with BB King –  When Love Comes to Town Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden
10 Cara Rutherford The Cure – Just Like Heaven Suertes del Marqués ‘7 Fuentes’
9 Melanie May The Cult –  She Sells Sanctuary Sipp Mack GC Rosacker Riesling
8 James Hubbard Gary Moore – Parisienne Walkways Penfolds Bin 707 Cab Sauv
7 Paul Moran Underworld – Rez Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
6 Nirina Plunkett Jamiroquai – Space Cowboy Club Remix Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace
5 Penny Sadler Fleetwood Mac – Dreams Bollinger Special Cuvée
4 Jim Dunlop The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road Man O’ War Valhalla Chardonnay
3 Avril Kirrane McMorrough Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why Joseph Cattin Riesling Reserve
2 Tim of Soliciting Flavours Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings Viña Tondonia Blanco
1 Sinéad Smyth Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You Mullineux Syrah
Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Making Wine Amid Moving Borders [Make Mine a Double #56]

European Borders

For those of us living in the UK or Ireland it is rare to think of international borders moving.  Yes, there’s the Northern Ireland border between the two sovereign states, but that hasn’t moved since its inception a century ago and is hopefully fading away.  Because we live on islands even the concept of driving to another country seems a little strange for many, never mind that border moving over time.

The movement of borders has created some unusual situations for wine folk, such as the Becker family in Germany’s Pfalz – whose vineyards run into Alsace – and also the Gravner family – whose lands were in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at one point but now lie (just) in Italy.

This all came to mind as I was thinking about a pair of wines I tasted earlier in the year.  They are based on the same geological set of hills (Gorizia Hills in English, Collio Goriziano in Italian or Goriška Brda in Slovene) but in different countries.  The drive between them is less than an hour an a half:

map 1

So now for that pair of wines:

Gašper Rebula 2016

Gasper Rebula

First things first: Gašper is the name of the producer (literally, as Gašper Čarman is the gentleman who own and runs the place) and Rebula is the grape variety.  The latter is better known to most of us as Ribolla Gialla in Friuli but it is a major variety in Brda.

Gašper’s vines are planted in “opaka” soil (silica-calcite sedimentary rock) on terraces between 80 and 200 metres above sea level.  Both altitude and proximity to the sea help to retain aromas and freshness in the wine.

This Rebula is made with 16 hours skin contact – far more than more white wines but nowhere near as long as orange / amber wines.  Fermentation is in huge (4,000 litre) casks, temperature controlled to preserve fruit characters and freshness.  Maturation takes place first in old French barriques (1 year) then in old, large big format Slavonian oak casks.

The time spent on skins adds a real depth of colour to the wine – it deserves the “Gialla” (yellow) descriptor in its Italian name.  The nose shows bright citrus – lemon, grapefruit, orange – and mixed citrus peel.  The palate is soft, not too shouty with great texture.  The fresh and dried fruits are joined by a certain creaminess and they resolve in a clean, fresh finish.

Gašper himself told me that the wine has great ageing potential – and I have every reason to believe him.

 

Livio Felluga “Illivio” Pinot Bianco / Chardonnay / Picolit 2017 

Livio Felluga Illivio

After two World Wars Friuli’s agriculture and viticulture was significantly diminished and almost abandoned by the flight from countryside to city.  Livio Felluga was one who had a great vision of restoring Fruili’s proud tradition of winemaking.  He bought up old vineyards planted new ones and over the course of decades reinvigorated the region.  He has long been acknowledged as the driving force behind the restoration of Friuli and as an ambassador for its wines.

Illivio was created as by Livio’s children to celebrate his 85th birthday.  It’s a blend of Pinot Bianco (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and indigenous variety Picolit (10%).  Picolit was traditionally used for sweet wines as it has a good balance between sugar and acidity,  with a flavour profile not too far form Viognier, and had a cult following in the 1960s and ’70s.

The wine is fermented in small oak casks then left on the lees in those barrels for 10 months.  While oaked Chardonnay is of course very common internationally, oaked Pinot Blanc is mainly an Italian thing – but it can make for excellent wines.

Illivio pours yellow in the glass, though not from skin contact as the Gašper Rebula above, but rather from the influence of oak.  The nose is intense, as floral and fruit notes compete with rich smoky notes from the oak.  The palate is rich yet tangy, with buttered brioche and juicy fruit exquisitely mixed.  This is a serious wine, but seriously nice!

 

 

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