Tasting Events

DNS taste North America

One of the recent themes we explored at DNS WineClub was North American wines.  Barefoot and Blossom Hill represent the very commercial face of North American wine, manufactured in huge facilities in accordance with simple, fruity, easy-drinking recipes.  At the top end, Cult Cabernets can be spectacular.  However, there is fairly thin coverage in Europe of the wines in between these two extremes – and they’re the ones which offer most interest to winelovers.

California is the powerhouse of the USA and therefore the whole of North America; even though wines are made in the other 49 states, together they make up just 10% of the USA total.  In these parts the most available outside of the Golden State are probably the wines of Oregon and Washington State – we see very little from elsewhere, not even the hip wines of New York State’s Finger Lakes region.

Here are the five wines which shone the most at our tasting:

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Chenin Viognier 2014 (12.5%, RRP €24.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

pine ridge chenin viognier

If you ask a fairly knowledgeable wine drinker what grapes they associate with the Napa Valley, Cabernet would undoubtedly come first, followed by Merlot and Zinfandel, with possibly Chardonnay thrown in as a token white.  So here we have something quite unexpected in Napa – a blend of the Loire’s Chenin Blanc and the Rhône’s Viognier.  The blend is consistent from year to year at 80% Chenin and 20% Viognier, and a little residual sugar is left in to round off the acidity.  Most importantly, it really works as a wine – fresh green apple with a little rich apricot as a counterpoint.

Ovum Wines Oregon “Big Salt” 2017 (12.9%, @RRP €33.95 at Baggot Street Wines, Le Caveau and other good independents)

ovum big salt

Ovum are named after the concrete egg fermenters they use, reflected in the shape of the label of this Alsace-style blend from Oregon.  The grapes used are Riesling, Muscat & Gewurztraminer; the relative proportions are not stated, but the fact that spicy Gewurz doesn’t dominate the nose makes me think that it is probably 10% or less of the blend, with fresh Riesling taking the lead at around 55% and the aromatic Muscat being the balance of around 35% (all my own guesswork, happy to be proved wrong!) 

Again referring to my beloved Alsace, a blend of this quality would be from a Grand Cru vineyard, with the fascinating interplay of three fantastic varieties.  The name of the wine also rings true, with lovely saline elements.  This is an unusual wine which is in fairly short supply in Ireland, but it is worth seeking out.

Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017 (13.5%, RRP €39.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

Jim Clendenen is the star winemaker and owner of Au Bon Climat, one of the best producers in Santa Barbara County.  ABC is famous for its Pinot Noirs And Chardonnays – Jim is a Burgundy devotee – which come from a variety of different vineyards in the area.  The “Wild Boy” is less subtle than the regular wines, with lots of funk and noticeable oak, spicy pears and citrus.  Whatever magic he uses, this is a highly impressive wine!

The Four Graces Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2014 (13.1%, RRP €40.00 at Sweeney’s and other good independents)

the four graces pinot noir

Perhaps because I’d only tried a couple of lesser quality examples, my preconception of Oregon Pinot Noir was that it could be a bit thin and weedy, rarely living up to its price tag.  While this is no Central Otago clone, it nevertheless has plenty of body and an amazing velvety smoothness to it.  Dundee Hills are one of the best subregions of the Willamette Valley – on this evidence I will be looking out for it again.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Sparkling Ice Wine 2015 (9.5%, RRP €56 (375 ml) at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other good independents)

inniskillen sparkling ice wine

And now for something completely different – something I didn’t even know existed before I put together the wines for this tasting.  Yes, Niagara is famous for its Icewine, often made with the hybrid grape Vidal (which has a very complicated heritage that I’m going to skip over), but a sparkling version?  I didn’t know there was such a thing!  Once pressed, with the ice removed from the juice, specific yeast is added to the juice in a charmat tank so that the CO2 produced from fermentation is dissolved into the wine.  This is such a treat of a wine, with amazing tropical mango, guava and peach notes.  For many tasters, this was the wine of the night.  I really liked it but would probably prefer the still version for myself.

 

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Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 1 – WineMason)

spit

SPIT is actually an acronym for Specialist Professional Independent Tasting, but to be honest that’s too much of a mouthful so I will stick to the shorter version.  SPIT brings together four of the best independent wine importers working in Ireland with trade tastings in Cork and Dublin plus an evening consumer event in Dublin.  This series of posts will cover some of my favourite wines tasted at the most recent SPIT fest in Dublin.

First up is WineMason:

wine-mason-logo

WineMason is an importer and agent of original and distinctive wines from Germany, Portugal, Austria, Spain, France, Italy and South Africa. We work with 50 wineries over 8 countries and have listed just under 300 wines. We distribute these wines to Ireland’s best restaurants, winebars and independent retailers. We help shape and build tailored wine lists for the on and off trade that are exciting, well priced and trending. From emerging wine regions to discovering the potential of local grape varieties, we are constantly evolving with the ever-changing wine world and we work to reflect this in the wines we sell.

Niepoort Redoma Douro Branco 2017 (13.0%, RRP €23.50 at  Redmonds of Ranalagh; SIYPS; Morton’s; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Blackrock Cellar)

niepoort redoma branco

Niepoort is one of the few famous Port houses which doesn’t have an English family name.  In fact their origins are Dutch, and fifth generation Dirk van der Niepoort has been head of the business since his father retired in 2005.  Niepoort are more than just a Port house, though; they make fantastic dry reds in the Douro, including some fairly eccentric wines such as Clos de Crappe.

And this is something else again, a Douro white made from a wonderous blend of local grapes: Rabigato, Códega do Larinho, Viosinho, Donzelinho and Gouveio.  It has a lovely, round texture but isn’t heavy – it dances around the tongue with sweet stone and pip fruit.

Keermont Terrasse Stellenbosch 2015 (13.5% RRP €29.50 at The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; SIYPS)

keermont terasse

The Keermont range so fantastic across the board that it was difficult to narrow my selection down at all.  The delightful white terrasse blocksblend “Terrasse” begged for inclusion, really punching above its weight.  The blend is 56% Chenin Blanc then roughly equal parts Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Helpfully, the Keermont website features this table of which blocks and which varieties are used in the 2015 vintage.  Each component is barrel fermented and matured separately, then blended before bottling.  Each variety adds something to the wine (which is the point of blends, I suppose) – there’s spiciness, fruit, acidity and richness all humming along together in harmony.

Keermont Stellenbosch Estate Reserve 2012 (14.5%, RRP €37.00 at Gibneys, Malahide; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; Blackrock Cellar)

keermont estate reserve

estate reserve blocks

The block figures on the right are for the 2013 vintage so there might be some small differences for the 2012 tasted, but the Estate Reserve is pretty much a red Bordeaux blend with a splash of Syrah.  The 2012 is nicely settled in now, still showing lots of pristine black fruit and a very Graves-like graphite edge.  The main difference between this wine and an actual red from Bordeaux is not the splash of Syrah – it’s that to get this amount of fruit and complexity from Bordeaux you’d have to pay double or more!

Keermont Topside Syrah 2014 (13.5%, RRP €53.00 at The Corkscrew, Chatham St. (also poured at Forest & Marcy))

keermont topside syrah

The previous two wines are from the “Keermont” range, sitting in the middle of the hierarchy above the “Companion” wines and below the “Single Vineyard” series.  Now we have one of the latter, which also features a Chenin Blanc, a Cabernet Franc and another (“Steepside”) Syrah.  The Topside Vineyard is well named, being high up on the west-facing slopes of the Stellenbosch Mountain Range.  The soil is mainly rock with some patches of sand, and with the altitude of 350 – 400m the wines grown here have a real freshness to them.  Compared to the Steepside, the Topside sees less oak (used 500 litre barrels only), has a full percent less alcohol and has more acidity.  There’s a place for both, but for me the Topside shows some of the best aspects of warm climate and cool climate Syrah in the same wine.  Bravo!

Emrich-Schönleber Halenberg Großes Gewächs (12.5%,  RRP €65.00 at 64 Wine (also poured at Dromoland Castle))

emrich-schonleber halenberg gg

Separate from the potential sweetness-based Prädikat system (which goes from Kabinett to Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short)), members of the VDP* may also be able to use the relatively new terms Erstes Gewächs or Großes Gewächs (GG) for their best dry wines.  I have to confess that I didn’t really understand the first few GG wines I tried – they were sort of nice but not exactly delicious drinking – and given their premium prices that put me off somewhat.

This wine, with more syllables than you shake a stick at,  shows me what I was missing out on.  With a few years behind it this Halenberg Riesling starts to reveal what a great GG can do.  There’s amazing sweet fruit on the attack and mid-palate, extraordinary length and a mineral, dry finish.

*VDP stands for Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter, so let’s just keep using VDP!

 

The SPIT series:

Tasting Events

Free Pour (Part 2 – Other Whites)

One of the other great strengths of Liberty Wines’ portfolio is its antipodean selection – so much so that they seem to have the largest number of wines open for tasting at both the NZ and Australian trade tastings in Ireland.  However, I’ve covered many of them before on Frankly Wines, so this article will review a few that I tried for the first time plus some fantastic European whites.

Domaine Laguilhon Jurançon Sec 2017 (13.0%, RRP €19.99)

Jurancon Sec

Jurançon wines are among the most under-rated in France, both the sweet (“Jurançon”) and dry (“Jurançon Sec”) styles.  Don’t base your opinions on the bottles available in French supermarkets, though – they tend to lack concentration and be pleasantly innocuous at best.  This is one of the best examples I’ve come across in Ireland, especially at a fairly moderate price.  Split 50/50 between local varieties Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, It shows plenty of ripe stone fruit, almost fleshy, but a crisp dry finish.

Maximin Grünhaus  “Maximin” Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.0%, RRP €19.99)

Maximin Grünhaus, Maximin Riesling

Mosel Riesling is one of the great wines of the world, but it’s rarely “cheap”.  This one is very reasonably priced and serves as a great introduction to the area.  The grapes are partly from the producer’s own estate and partly from contract growers in the Mosel region.  It shows white flowers, stone and citrus fruit plus minerality – a great example of Mosel Riesling, and/ great value for money!

Château Moncontour Vouvray Sec 2017 (13.0%, RRP €21.99)

Moncontour Vouvray Sec

Many of my comments above about Jurançon also hold true for the Chenin-derived wines of the Loire.  This Château Moncontour helpfully says “Sec” on the label, and it is dry – but not bone dry or austere.  There’s a touch of residual sugar (apparently 6.7 g/L for those who are interested in such things) but lots more fruit sweetness, balanced by fresh acidity.  Such a more-ish wine!

Blank Canvas Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2013 (13.0%, RRP €22.99)

Gruner Veltliner 2013

Matt Thomson is a legend in the world of wine – but he’s also a top bloke.  After doing both northern and southern hemisphere vintages for 20 years, he finally decided to make his own wine, partnered by his wife Sophie.  The Blank Canvas Chardonnay featured in my 2017 Top 10 whites so I was keen to try the Grüner.  The long, cool growing season in Marlborough is perfect for GV, as it is for other aromatics such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris.  This is a  cracker – smooth yet textured, nicely balanced between fruit sweetness and refreshing acidity.

Framingham Marlborough Classic Riesling 2015 (12.5%, RRP €23.99)

Framingham Wine Company Limited

Framingham are unusual in Marlborough – actually in the whole of New Zealand – in that Riesling is their biggest focus.  And boy, does it show!  The Classic is their “entry level” Riesling, but it gives a flavour of what the rest of the range holds.  This is particularly true of the 2015 as 10% of the grapes were botrytised, with nobly rotten grapes normally going into a special cuvée.   This is a lovely wine to drink but just AMAZING on the nose.  It has that hard-to-define “otherness” which only Riesling has (“Rieslingness”?)

Kaiken Ultra Mendoza Chardonnay 2016 (14.0%, RRP €24.99)

KAIKEN ULTRA CHARDONNAY

Rather than go west – which would have taken them into the Pacific, Montes headed east from Chile to Argentina and created Kaiken.  The fruit is sourced from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, mostly in cooler parts which give freshness and minerality – despite the 14.0% alcohol and partial (35%) maturation in new oak, this is far from the butter-bomb new world Chardonnays of the 1990s.  It has lots of tangy, tropical flavours, but mainly from the grapes rather than the oak.

Santiago Ruiz “O Rosal” Rías Biaxas 2017 (13.0%, RRP €24.99)

Santiago Ruiz BS NV

From the O Rosal subregion of Galicia’s Rías Biaxas, this is an Albariño blend with several other local varieties playing supporting roles: it consists of 76% Albariño, 11% Loureiro, 5% Treixadura, 4% Godello and 4% other.  I like Albariño as a grape, but – for all its popularity – it’s wines are more often simple than complex.  Simple doesn’t necessarily mean bad or boring, but there is definitely a place for interesting.  The O Rosal is quite long and serious; it’s a cerebral rather than obvious wine which definitely deserves a try.

Domaine des Ballandors Quincy 2017 (13.5%, RRP €24.99)

Domaine des Ballandors Quincy

After Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Quincy was the second Appellation Controllée created in France.  Since then it hasn’t really been at the forefront of drinkers’ minds – Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé stole the limelight and the column inches.  The upside is that quality wines from Quincy can offer great value for money.  The nose is very grassy, the palate herby with quince (no relation) and gooseberry notes.  This Sauvignon Blanc for adults.

L.A.S. Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €59.99)

LAS Vino MR Chardonnay

Margaret River is well known for its Bordeaux blends – Cabernet-Merlot reds and Semillon-Sauvignon whites – but also for some fantastic Chardies.  L.A.S. is actually an acronym, standing for “Luck of the weather, the Art of creating and the Science that underpins this creativity.”  This is world class, amazing stuff.  You need to try this wine.  Sell an organ.  Sell your car.  Even sell your house, but don’t sell your soul as this Chardonnay will capture it.

 

The Free Pour Series:

Opinion

SuperValu French Wine Sale

SuperValu French picks
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)

Muscadet

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)

Alchimie

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)

Vouvray

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 fruitiness and 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

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.

 

 

Tasting Events

Another Brick In The Wall – Part 4

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)

TORRE DE ERMELO_botella_4300pxh

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, citrus and 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)

Fossil

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, Gouveio and 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 mineral notes on this wine but lots more besides – soft fruit, herbs and 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)

Blank

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 the 2016 vintage at least!) of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.  From 2015 onwards the grapes were sourced from seven different sites within Wellington.  This wine is quite round in the mouth with apple and 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)

Arbois

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)

Chenin

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 creaminess from the lees and soft oak notes from the barrels (only 25% were new).   This is a real treat!

 

Another Brick in the Wall series:

Tasting Events

The Fifth Element – Part 1

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 Vineyards Paarl Arya 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Doran Vineyards Arya

Doran Vineyards is 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)

carpe-diem-clos-cazalet-blanc-sec 2

Tursan is 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)

barbaste-2015

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 Languedoc traditionally 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.

Barbaste is 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)

mas-des-agrunelles-camp-de-lebre-2

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 Blanc planted 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!

 

The Fifth Element Series:

Opinion, Tasting Events

I Wanna Give You Devotion – Part 3

Vignobles_val_de_loire

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)

belliviere-vveparses-bt 2

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)

belliviere-calligramme-bt 2

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.

Also from the Nomad Wine Importers tasting:

 

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!

Opinion, Uncategorized

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet wines of 2016

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

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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

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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 here for the full review.

8. GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2015

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

1. Léon Beyer Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 1998

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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!

 

 

 

 

Opinion, Tasting Events

Top M&S Whites

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

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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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

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

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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)

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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.

Make Mine A Double

SuperValu French Whites [Make Mine a Double #20]

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)

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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 BlancBourboulenc.  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, apple and stone fruit, a touch of citrus and nutty notes – 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)

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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.

Vouvray is 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 fresh and baked apple, drizzled with a touch of honey.  It’s dangerously drinkable!  A great introduction to Vouvray from which you could explore others.

 

Disclosure:  both wines kindly provided for review

 

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