SuperValu’s French wine sale runs until 20th September, both online and in their stores. Here are a few of their wines which I’ve tried and can heartily recommend:
Domaine de Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes De Grandlieu Sur Lie 2015 (12.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
From the western reaches of the Loire, Muscadet is best known for somewhat neutral flavours and searing acidity – it’s the perfect match for oysters and other shellfish. However, the better vignerons in the area can produce something that offers much more. Based around the Lac de Grandlieu, the subregion of Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu was only established in 1994, almost 60 years after the generic appellation, and represents a fraction of total production.
This has initial notes of tropical fruit (though not over the top), with a touch of creaminess from the time on lees, followed by a long mineral finish. There’s plenty of acidity but it’s not at all austere. Try this instead of a Picpoul!
Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux Du Giennois Alchimie 2015 (13.0%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)
Coteaux du Giennois is a Sauvignon Blanc-only appellation close to the more famous Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire’s central vineyards. Alchimie has been a favourite of mine over the past few vintages, and the 2015 is great. It’s all about the Gs: gooseberry, grapefruit and grass, appealingly fruity in the mouth. It’s definitely French Sauvignon (well this is the French wine sale after all!) but it’s accessible enough to appeal to fans of the grape grown in other countries.
La Vigne Des Sablons Vouvray 2015 (12.0%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)
Third Loire wine, third grape! Vouvray is Chenin Blanc country, and is one of the best places for the grape. Always with Chenin’s intrinsic acidity, it can be still or sparkling and range from austerely dry to very sweet. This version is just off dry – there’s a little residual sugar on the finish if you really look for it, but it’s more about apple fruitinessand balancing the fresh acidity than adding sweetness. At 12.0% the alcohol is fairly modest, which is probably no bad thing when it’s so damned drinkable!
Hommage Du Rhône Vinosobres 2015 (15.0%, €15.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)
Vinsobres is a little known name which is not surprising as it has only existed as an appellation in its own right since 2006. Before that it was part of the second tier of the Rhône wine pyramid as Côtes du Rhône Villages-Vinsobres which gives more of a clue as to its contents – mainly Grenache with support from Syrah and other local grapes.
Black fruit are to the fore: black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant. While the southern Rhône is much more consistent from year to year than, say, Bordeaux or Burgundy, this is from the excellent 2015 vintage and it packs a punch at 15.0%! This is something to buy in the sale and drink on dark winter nights with a hearty stew.
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!
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!
Along its many twists, turns and tributaries, the Loire River encompasses a multitude of wine styles: white, rosé and red (plus orange nowadays); bone dry though off dry, medium and sweet; still, lightly and fully sparkling; neutral to highly aromatic. After all, at over a thousand kilometres in length, it dwarfs (swamps?) the Shannon (360 km) and Thames (346 km) as it winds through 15 départements.
In some ways the different sub-regions are not that related, especially when it comes to grape varieties, but the key thing the wines generally share is acidity, even in sweet wines – all down to a relatively northern latitude.
The Loir(no “e”) River is a sub-tributary of the Loire(with an “e”) River via the Sarthe River and runs fairly parallel to the north. Close to the city of Tours is the appellation of Coteaux-du-Loir which covers 80 ha and can be used for white, rosé or red wines. Adjoining the top of this area is the AOC of Jasnières which only produces white wines from Chenin Blanc.
Here are a couple of stunning Loir wines from the Nomad Wine Importers tasting:
Domaine de la Bellivière Coteaux du Loir “Eparses Vieilles Vignes” 2013(13.0%, RRP €46 at SIYPS, ~ €116 in restaurants: L’Ecrivain, Patrick Guilbaud and Ely Wine Bar)
Domaine de la Bellivière was set up in 1995, ad has been run on organic lines since 2005 and was certified as such from the 2011 vintage.
This wine is made from various parcels of old Chenin Blanc vines – and old is really apt here as they are between 50 and 80 years old – mainly planted on clay with flint over “tuffeau” (the famous local limestone).
Natural yeast fermentation is in one to three year old barrels (75%) and new oak (25%). The different parcels are vinified and matured (for at least a year) separately before being assembled to produce the final cuvée for bottling.
This is a deliberately dry wine, still with Chenin’s typical honey notes but also floral and stone fruit aspects. Very fresh and intense!
Domaine de la Bellivière Jasnières “Calligramme” 2013(13.0%, ~ €137 in restaurant: The Greenhouse)
The Calligramme is made in Jasnières itself so is of course (you have been paying attention, haven’t you?) 100% Chenin Blanc. The vines are from 50+ year old plots which are mainly southerly in aspect, on the slopes (“Coteaux“!) down to the Loir River.
As with all the Domaine’s wines, the sweetness of the final wine depends on the character of the vintage; only in years where botrytis is well developed are the wines left with some residual sugar. In other years – such as 2013 we have here – the wine is dry but intense. Apple, peach and floral notes are joined by minerality, giving the wine a real versatility for food matching.
And finally, the obscure reference in the title of these articles on Nomad’s wines: those of a certain vintage and taste in music (such as myself) might have recognised the allusion to the 1991 dance music classic “I Wanna Give You Devotion” by Nomad!
As a wise man once said to me, don’t call them “dessert wines” as that implies they are only fit to drink with a dessert! Categorising wines isn’t always an easy task, as even simple descriptors such as colour are open to interpretation (see this article). Where do sweet wines fit in? In the end, the label isn’t important, what’s in the glass is.
10. Tarin Pineau des Charentes Blanc Vieilli 3 Ans
Pronounced the same as “Pinot”, this is the secret fortified drink of France’s west country. Made by adding eau de vie to grape must that has barely begun fermenting, it can only be produced in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments – also the home of Cognac. That’s no coincidence as the grape spirit used for Pineau is the same that is aged to eventually become Cognac.
This example has received 3 years of ageing which gives it a slight “rancio” character – enough to add interest but not so much that it dominates. The only downside is that it is so moreish!
9. Sipp Mack Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2012
This Gewurz isn’t intended to be a sweet wine as such, but given the grape’s natural flavour profile, low acidity and a bit of residual sugar it tastes far sweeter than other many wines of Alsace. As a general rule I do like some sweetness in my Gewurz, and this Sipp Mack does deliver that, but with an incredible intensity of flavour thanks to its old vines. See herefor the full review.
8. GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2015
Moscato from Australia and elsewhere gained a lot of ground in recent years – fresh and fruity, sweet and easy to drink yet with very moderate alcohol, it became something of a party drink. Hopefully this will shine a light back on Piedmont, the pioneering region of this style (though obviously not of the Muscat grape!)
Moscato d’Asti might also qualify as a party drink for some, but its true value is at the table, mainly with fruit based desserts where it excels. The best – such as GD Vajra’s – have a mouthwatering balance of acidity and sweetness. See here for the full review
7. Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese
For many wine aficionados, Germany is the ultimate country for Riesling. The sheer variety of styles is one of its key strengths, from bone-dry to intensely sweet, and just about every spot in between. This Mosel Spätlese (late harvest) is just wonderful and was my narrow favourite of an all-Riesling tasting at DNS Wineclub. See here for the full review
6. Zantho Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese 2012
Zantho is a joint venture between two famous names of Austrian wine, viticulturist Josef Umathum and winemaker Wolfgang Peck of Winzerkeller Andau. As well as dry whites and reds they also make three dessert wines (pictured above) which are all glorious, with the TBA (for short) being my favourite. Germanic grape Scheurebe works best as a sweet wine and excels in Zantho’s TBA from close to the border with Hungary.
5. Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV
I’m a long standing fan of Nyetimber and I’ve been pleased to see them popping up here and there in Ireland. When back in England in the summer I picked up a bottle of their Demi-Sec – which I haven’t yet seen here in Ireland – and took it to a DNS Wineclub tasting. It was absolutely magnificent and reinforced my admiration for Brad Greatrix and Cherie Spriggs.
Not stated on the front label is that this is 100% Chardonnay, and therefore a Blanc-de-Blancs. Dosage is 45g/L giving it perfect balance – typical English acidity is the counter to the sugar. This was the first English Demi-Sec to be released but I would go further and state that it’s one of the top few Demi-Secs made anywhere in the world.
4. Domaine de Bois Mozé Coteaux de l’Aubance 2008
The Loire Valley is probably France’s most underrated wine region and its Chenin based dessert wines probably the least well known – which is a total shame as they can be world class without a world class price. Coteaux de l’Aubance is even less well known than Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, but the best sites can yield beauties such as this. In my opinion these wines are the ultimate expression of Chenin Blanc – and this is still a youngster at nine years of age.
3. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2014
The grape variety for this wine is known locally as Zibibbo, but further afield as Muscat of Alexandria – a very ancient grape. “Local” here is the tiny island of Pantelleria which is between Sicily and Tunisia. The grapes are dried after picking to concentrate the flavours and sugars, similar to “straw wines” elsewhere. This is a wine of staggering complexity for such a young vintage, the biggest threat to ageing being its utter deliciousness!
2. Cascina Garitina Niades
Many readers will be drawing a blank at the name of this wine which could have been in any (or all!) of my red, sparkling and sweet Top 10 lists. Formerly carrying the DOCG of Brachetto d’Acqui, it could be thought of as the red equivalent of Moscato d’Asti – though even better, in this case.
When I tried it and tweeted about it, one wag did reply “can’t see the point” – and admittedly, before I tried it I can’t say it was missing from my life – but once tried this wine is never forgotten. Fresh red fruit, acidity and sweetness combine to make wine heaven – it’s Eton Mess in a glass!
This was the unexpected runaway winner of the DNS Wineclub Alsace tasting, against some pretty stiff competition (including #2 in this Top 10). Léon Beyer is based in the achingly beautiful village of Eguisheim and has Domaines Zinck and Bruno Sorg as neighbours. “The house style is dry” said the lady at the counter, “apart from the sweet wines” – such as this rare Late Harvest Gewurz. The Léon Beyer website give a drinking window of 10 to 20 years from vintage, but this tasted like it had another decade left at least. If I had another bottle it would probably make my Top 10 sweet wines of 2026!
Domaine de la Pinte Arbois Chardonnay 2014 (12.5%, €23.50)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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.
Here are a couple of lovely French whites from the excellent 2015 vintage, both fairly moderate in alcohol at 12.5% but very different in style:
Saint Auriol Chatelone Corbières 2015 (12.5%, €12.99 at SuperValu / Centra)
Corbières is the biggest Appellation Contrôlée within the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region of France, the central part of southern France stretching from the Spanish border across the Mediterranean coast up to Provence. It’s obviously a sunny place so has long been the source of easy-drinking, fruity reds which are produced in abundance. It is very much a region on the up, with a new wave of quality-conscious producers making their own wines with low yields rather than selling grapes to the local co-operative.
This is a white Corbières, which makes up only around 2% of the AOC’s production, so it is something of a rarity. The wine is a blend of grapes popular in the Rhône, Provence and Languedoc – Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc & Bourboulenc. The vines face south-east so they get plenty of sun but not too much heat in the afternoon.
Each of the grapes adds something to the wine – there’s soft pear, appleand stone fruit, a touch of citrusand nuttynotes – and a delightful texture. The back label suggests drinking between 10C and 12C – so make sure it’s not served straight from a domestic fridge which would be too cold.
The back label also has another surprising snippet: the producer reckons the wine will keep for 6 years or more if stored well – if you are the sort of person who likes to see how a wine evolves and gains in complexity over time then this would be a great bottle to try it with!
La Vigne Des Sablons Vouvray 2015 (12.5%, €14.99 at SuperValu / Centra)
Still in France but further north, Vouvray is made in the Touraine region around the city of Tours. Touraine region wines can be red, white, rosé or sparkling; reds are made from Gamay, Pinot Noir, Côt (Malbec) and Breton (Cabernet Franc), amongst others with Sauvignon Blanc and Pineau Blanc de la Loire (Chenin Blanc) the main white grapes.
Vouvrayis east by north east of Tours and is predominantly Chenin country. The sweetness of the wines varies considerably from producer to producer, and particularly from vintage to vintage – warmer years mean more sugar in the grapes and usually more sugar in the finished wine.
This bottle by La Vigne des Sablons is off-dry or perhaps a touch sweeter, but doesn’t taste overtly sweet due to Chenin’s naturally high acidity. The main notes are freshand bakedapple, drizzled with a touch of honey. It’s dangerously drinkable! A great introduction to Vouvray from which you could explore others.
Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, and hence the colour pink. This often means that rosé wines are promoted at this time of year, but as they aren’t generally my thing I thought I would recommend a dozen wines of differing hues from O’Briens, who are offering 10% back on their loyalty card (or wine savings account as I call it).
These wines are mainly higher priced for which I make no excuse – these are treats for yourself and / or your significant other! Of course, they would make a nice treat for Mother’s Day or at any time of year…
Chateau Kirwan Margaux Troisième Cru 2010 (€95.00)
The last of Bordeaux’s fantastic four vintages within eleven years (2000, 2005 2009, 2010) allows this Margaux to show its class but be more approachable than in leaner years. You could keep this for another decade or two if you didn’t want to drink it yet. Decant for several hours after opening if you can, and serve with beef.
One of Penfolds’ top Cabernet Sauvignons which combines power, fruit and elegance. 2010 happened to be a great vintage in South Australia as well, so if you’re climbing the quality tree it’s a good time to do it. Being a Cab means it’s all about cassis, intense blackcurrant aromas and flavours, with some vanilla to go with it.
This is a very interesting wine for the geeks out there as it is a custom blend of parcels from well known appellations from around Bordeaux including Paulliac, Graves and Canon-Fronsac. It was created by JM Cazes group winemaker Daniel Llose and O’Briens Head of Wine Buying Lynne Coyle MW. Oh, and it tastes wonderful as well!
Ata Rangi is one of stars of Martinbrough, an hour or so drive from Wellington in the south of New Zealand’s North Island. Crimson is their second wine intended to be drunk while young rather than laid down, but it is first rate in quality. Beats any Pinot from France at this price point.
This isn’t a token rosé, it’s a proper Champagne which happens to be pink. Lanson’s house style is based on preventing / not encouraging malolactic fermentation in the base wines, meaning they remain fresh and zippy even after the secondary alcoholic fermentation which produces the fizz. Texture is key here as well, and the lovely red fruits have a savoury edge. You could even drink this with pork or veal. Great value when on offer.
Another Champagne which is even less expensive, but still a few steps above most Prosecco and Cava on the market. The regulations for non vintage Champagne stipulate a minimum of 15 months ageing on the lees, but the lovely toasty notes from this show it has significantly more than that. Punches well above its price.
The Loire Valley is home to a multitude of wine styles, including Crémant (traditional method sparkling) such as this. Made from internationally famous Chardonnay and local speciality Chenin, it doesn’t taste the same as Champagne – but then why should it? The quality makes it a valid alternative, not surprising when you learn that it’s owned by Bollinger!
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is a great way to get into serious quality Port without paying the full price for Vintage Port. Whereas the latter is bottled quickly after fermentation and laid down for many years, LBV spends time maturing in casks. There it slowly loses colour and tannin but gains complexity. Graham’s is one of the most celebrated Port Houses and their LBV is one of the benchmarks for the category.
Grand Cru Chablis is a very different beast from ordinary Chablis. It’s often oaked, though sympathetically rather than overpoweringly, and can develop astounding complexity. Among the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grand Crus, Les Clos is often regarded as the best of the best. At just over five years from vintage this is still a baby – it would be even better in another five years but it might be impossible to resist!
Pouilly-Fuissé is probably the best appellation of the Maconnais, Burgundy proper’s most southerly subregion which borders the north of Beaujolais. The white wines here are still Chardonnay, of course, but the southerly latitude gives it more weight and power than elsewhere in Burgundy. Oak is often used in generous proportions as the wine has the fruit to stand up to it. This Château-Fuissé is one of my favourites from the area!
It’s a Sauvignon Blanc, but then it’s not just a Sauvignon Blanc. Kevin Judd was the long time winemaker of Cloudy Bay, finally branching out on his own a few years ago. The wild yeast and partially oaking give this a very different sensibility from ordinary Sauvignons. It’s not for everybody, but those that like it, love it!
One of my favourite New Zealand wines, full stop. I have mentioned this wine several times over the past few years…mainly as I just can’t get enough of it! It’s made in Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay so has more weight than, say, a Marlborough Chardonnay, but still enough acidity to keep it from being flabby. Tropical fruit abounds here – just make sure you don’t drink it too cold!
Better than Moët for half the price! Do I have your attention now? Read on…
If you’re in a happy mood and fancy a glass of fizz sat on the patio, this might just be your thing.
Langlois-Château Crémant de Loire Brut NV (€23.99, O’Briens)
Crémant de Loire is one of the many traditional method sparkling wines made in France in addition to Champagne. The Loire Valley is home to the second by volume after Alsace; Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Jura also make good examples. The method for Crémant is the same as for Champagne, but the grape varieties differ depending on the area, and the minimum time ageing on the lees is shorter than Champagne’s 15 months (for non-vintage).
Langlois-Chateau is actually owned by Champagne House Bollinger, who know a few things about quality sparkling wine. The blend for this bottling is :
Chenin Blanc (a Loire white grape)
Chardonnay (the ultimate white grape for sparkling wine)
Cabernet Franc (a versatile black Loire grape used for red, rosé and sparkling wine)
As soon as you pour a glass the fine mousse and persistent fine bubbles show the wine’s class. On the nose there’s rich citrus and red fruit, wrapped in lovely pastry – the sign of significant lees ageing. It’s heavenly to drink, as the aromas flow through to the palate, with acidity and sweetness beautifully poised.
People who know good Crémants often mention how good value they are; while this fact is true, bottles such as this deserve to be assessed purely on quality grounds – it’s a damn fine drop!
New Trafford: De Trafford & Sijnn Winemaker’s Dinner @ Stanley’s, Dublin
Last month I had the pleasure to attend a fantastic Winemaker’s dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant in Dublin. Regular readers may remember a previous dinner event I attended there with Yves Cuilleron and his wines. On this occasion it was the wines of David Trafford, co-hosted by importer/distributor Dr Eilis Cryan, the lady behind Kinnegar Wines of Galway.
David was originally an architect – with a few clues in the names and designs of his wines – but felt compelled to make wine in such an amazing land as Stellenbosch. Many years later, he set up Sijnn in a hamlet down near the coast.
This tasting featured wines from both wineries, plus a starter from another Kinnegar producer:
Aperitif Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011
For those not familiar with the term, Méthode Cap Classique (or MCC for short) is a traditional-method sparkling wine from South Africa. Thelema are much better known for their excellent still wines, particularly their reds, but this is a serious effort.
As the Blanc de Blancs name suggests this is 100% Chardonnay. Fulfilling the same requirements as vintage Champagne, it was (second) bottle fermented and left on the lees for three years. It was disgorged in Sept/Oct 2014 and given an “extra-brut” dosage of 3.2 g/l.
It’s a lovely fresh, citrus style, perfect as an aperitif at this time in its life. With a few more years it should mellow out so that more mature fruit develop and the acidity softens a little to let the bready characters from time on the lees show through.
One of the things that great chefs can do is challenge your preconceptions. The amuse bouche had radish which I don’t particularly care for, but with crab it was just heavenly.
Marinated scallops, cucumber, bergamot, fois gras butter
I love scallops, but I’m no fan of cucumber – I’ll pick it out of salads and send back a G&T that someone has stupidly infected with cucumber. However, I have now become a convert of cucumber and mint soup – it was served in a mini tea cup on the side and was just divine!
De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012 & Sijnn White 2012
Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape, capable of playing several different roles, though always with its trademark high acidity. Personally, I prefer it when it has either (1) a bit of oak, (2) a bit of age or (3) a bit of sugar; without these it can be too simple or too harsh for my taste.
David Trafford has been making Chenin for twenty years. As with all his wines only wild yeast is used for his De Trafford Chenin, and then around 15% is matured in new oak barrels. Bingo! The oak adds a bit of roundness and texture, but it’s not an overtly oaky wine – it’s still fresh. Malolactic fermentation is blocked by adding a dash of sulphur and the low cellar temperature.
The Sijnn White is also Chenin based, but as well as 20% oak maturation, it also has another trick up its sleeve: Viognier! Around 16% of the blend is Viognier which gives stunning aromatics and a tempting texture. I now have to add a fourthtype of Chenin to my list!
Guinea fowl, green asparagus, black bacon, carbonara jus
There were no weird surprises here as I’m a fan of guinea fowl. It was tasty and succulent, with lots of additional interesting flavours from the accompaniments. Asparagus and green beans provided a contrast against the richness of the meat.
De Trafford Elevation 393 2010 & Sijnn 2010
For many attendees I expect this was the main (vinous) event of the evening.
Elevation is De Trafford’s flagship red. As the 2010 is such an approachable, ripe style it has been released ahead of the 2009 which needs more time to mellow out. This is partially due to the blend of the 2010 which was a third each of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Shiraz – there is usually a higher proportion of Cabernet in the blend which makes it a little more austere.
Although definitely fruity, the Elevation had more of a savoury aspect than many Australian Cabernet blends, for example. South Africa really does straddle the boundaries of Old and New World.
The Sijnn Red was an altogether different blend, mainly a cross between the Rhône and the Douro: Syrah 41%; Touriga Nacional 27%; Mourvèdre 18%; Trincadeira 10%; Cabernet Sauvignon 4%. And funnily enough, both of these influences were apparent in the finished blend – the spice, blackberry and blueberry of the Rhône were joined by the plum and prune of the Douro. It’s quite a big wine, but totally delicious.
A fantastic wine geek fact that David gave us was that Mourvèdre needs more vine age than most other varieties before it begins producing quality fruit in reasonable quantities.
Rooibos tea custard tart, guava sorbet
This was so tasty that I barely managed to take a snap before wolfing it down! You may recognise rooibos as a South African speciality – it’s a herbal tea, though often taken with milk and sugar down there.
De Trafford Straw Wine 2006
This might be something of a mystery for many – a straw wine? The name is a translation of Vin de Paille – pronounced “van de pie” – which is the French term for this style of dessert wine.
It starts as 100% Chenin Blanc grapes, picked at normal ripeness. The grapes are then dried outside on mats for three weeks, partially in the shade and partially in the sun. The must takes a whole year to ferment, followed by two years maturation in 225L barriques (60% French and 40% American).
The finished product has a high 230 g/L of residual sugar, but with a streak of Chenin acidity it remains balanced and far from cloying.
Thanks to David, Eilis, Morgan, Stephen, Patrick and all the staff at Stanley’s for a wonderful evening!