It has become something of a tradition at DNS Wine Club for one of our events every year to be a fun event based on Irish Times wine columnist John Wilson’s annual book, “Wilson On Wine”. Here’sthe post I did on our first such eventback in 2015 which explains how it works in more detail. If you have a wine tasting / drinking group of six or more people then I highly recommend giving it a go.
For the first time, DNS were joined by the main man himself. John is a complete gentleman, and was unfailingly polite despite the far-fetched tales told about each wine by the club (which is all part of the fun of “call my wine bluff”). As I was keeping tight control of the answers he was left to guess the wine along with the rest of the gang, but of course he was spot on every time.
This first article will focus on the less expensive wines which shone on the night – all of course featured in Wilson On Wine 2019.
Aldi Exquisite Collection Crémant du Jura 2014 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at Aldi)
This fizz will be familiar to many as it’s a reliable, great value for money crémant which is perfect for parties. So much so, in fact, that it has appeared in every edition of Wilson On Wine to date. During our tasting it suffered from following a more sophisticated (and more expensive) Champagne, but I’d rather drink this than the vast majority of Prosecco on the market.
Pequenos Rebentos Vinho Verde 2017 (11.5%, RRP €15.50 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)
For me Vinho Verde usually falls into one of two categories – cheap and cheerful blends of local grapes or slightly more serious varietal Alvarinho, with the latter coming from the premium subregion of Monção & Melgaço. This is one of the cheap and cheerful types in terms of price and grapes, but for me rises above its lowly origins. The typical citrus and saline notes are present, but the fruit is so damn juicy! It has a certain je ne sais quoi which makes it one of the best Vinho Verdes I’ve ever tried.
Here we have another inexpensive Portuguese wine which rises above its modest origins. In decades past Bairrada was mainly a source of rough and ready bulk wine that was sold by the carafe in restaurants, but like many “lesser” European wine regions, quality has increased significantly with modern equipment and a firm eye on quality. The clay soils here are best known for the Baga grape, but this wine is actually more of a Douro (or Port) blend as it’s made with Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca. Red and black fruits abound, but again with a nice dash of acidity. This is a really well put together wine that I’d be happy to drink any time of the year.
Ingata Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €18.00 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)
Outside of a few brands such as Villa Maria and Brancott Estate, less expensive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is something I tend to avoid. It tends to be overly aromatic and intensely acidic – it gets plenty of attention with the first few sips but even a second glass is often too much. Trading up to the likes of Tinpot Hut, Mahi or Greywacke more than pays back the price differential. Here is one that breaks the mold -it’s a true but gentle expression of Marlborough Sauvignon, with all its components in balance. In fact, this is even worth a try for folks who “don’t like New Zealand Sauvignon” -they might be pleasantly surprised
Apart from the Aldi Crémant I hadn’t tasted any of these wines before, yet they really shone above and beyond their price tags. That’s one of the real positives of being able to rely on someone pre-tasting wines for you!
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!
One of the best parts about becoming a blogger has been meeting other bloggers from near and far – from literally round the corner to the other side of the world. Reading their blogs has been interesting in itself, but has also been very helpful in learning how to make my own blog better. Everyone I have met has been polite, pleasant and generous.
For some time now I had been meaning to try collaborating with some of my fellow bloggers – and then I hit on the idea of asking them to contribute a recommendation for a Valentine’s Day wine. A cheesy romantic link to V-Day was optional – it could just be a wine that the writer really liked and so would recommend – and just a couple of lines was requested, though some wrote more.
I was bowled over by the reaction – everyone I asked agreed to join in! Some even gave the background as to why a particular wine was romanic for them.
The Judeka wines I tasted late last year in the Wine Workshop would be really good Valentine’s Day bottles. Their Angelica & Orlando wines are named after the characters in Orlando Innamorato (Orlando in Love) by Matteo Maria Boiardo.
The Angelica was a lovely, light, fresh, lemon-and-lime wine with some apricot. It was deliciously refreshing, and I couldn’t get over how light, both in colour and texture, it was, but without feeling insipid.
The Orlando differed so much from Nero d’Avolas I’ve had before which tended to be big, hot and spicy. This was deliciously fresh and light with bright juicy red fruits. It had nice integrated acidity: enough to be noticed, and to go really well with food, but not too much to be a major factor. A touch of dustiness and salinity underneath the juicy fruits added a distant allure to an otherwise delightfully appealing wine.
From the Aldi website: “Made from 100% Chardonnay this wine has a sophisticated subtlety with stimulating fresh citrus notes and a lovely length. Perfect for any occasion, with hints of apple and lemon citrus.”
A cursory search through my blog reveals that Blanc de Blancs is one of the wine styles I write about very frequently – mainly because I really like it as a style, and if there’s a bottle shown at a trade tasting I will make a beeline for it.
So when Mike over at Please Bring Me My Wine asked for suggestions beginning with B for New Wine This Week #53, I naturally piped up with Blanc de Blancs – and would you believe it, other voters on the poll (narrowly) agreed with me.
So a few important questions to be answered – what exactly is it? why do I like it? and what should a neophyte try?
What The Heck Is a Blanc de Blancs?
In my mind a true Blanc de Blancs is a white wine made with white grapes where there is a possibility that black grapes could also have been used. The vast majority are traditional method sparklers such as Champagne:
But before we dive into sparkling, there is a much less well known version; if you’re a real Alsace geek like me then you might think of different Pinots being used in white wine, and as long as the juice is taken off the skins quickly, even black grapes can be part of the blend. If it’s just from white Pinot grapes – i.e. Pinot Blanc – then it can be labelled as a Blanc de Blancs:
So after that small detour, let’s get back onto the main road.
Champagne was the region that popularised the term, and there it usually means a white fizz made from just Chardonnay without any juice from the black grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. There are some very small plantings of other grapes in Champagne that could go into a Blanc de Blancs, but they are rare indeed.
In other parts of France where traditional method Crémant is made, popular local grapes can be used to make a Blanc de Blancs, especially if they are high in acidity – Chenin Blanc in the Loire, Sauvignon in Bordeaux, Pinot Blanc in Alsace.
A fact often overlooked is that Chardonnay is sometimes permitted in the AOP rules for a fizz when it’s not allowed in the local still wine – sometimes even a 100% varietal Chardonnay such as this Crémant d’Alsace:
Other traditional method sparkling wine is often made with the main three Champagne grapes, whether Tasmania, Marlborough, California or southern England.
Why Do I Like It?
When it’s young, it’s fresh, floral and citrusy, and can be on the simple side. But there’s nothing wrong with that – the perfect aperitif.
The best examples, particularly from the Côte des Blancs’ Grand Cru villages, have a haunting purity about them.
With extended lees ageing it takes on biscuit and brioche characters; while this is obviously true for other sparklers, Blanc de Blancs seem to be more coherent and integrated.
And of course many of the long-lived prestige cuvées are Blanc de Blancs – think of Charles Heidsieck’s Cuvée des Millénaires, Salon Le Mesnil, Krug Clos du Mesnil, and so on.
Do Try This At Home
If you see any of the wines above in the shop, then snap them up!
I also heartily endorse the Sainsbury’s Non Vintage Champagne Blanc de Blancs that Mike recommended on his site. If you’re lucky you might see it on promotion when it can be ridiculously good value for money.
Some other Blankety Blanks that I’ve really enjoyed:
Clover Hill Sparkling 2003 (O’Briens, €31.99)
Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 (Aldi, €26.99, also covered here)
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV (£44.98, Majestic)
Wiston Estate, Blanc de Blancs NV (Le Caveau, €47.70, also covered here)
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009 (James Nicholson Wine, £31.95 / €46.99, also covered here)
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007 (Berry Bros, £35.95, also covered here)
Now get supping!
Also check out Confessions of a Wine Geek’s post here
Due to personal circumstances I didn’t have a big birthday bash this year, so instead our New Year’s Eve party became the opportunity to try lots of fizz!
Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV
The kick-off wine at the Wine Society’s 2014 Dublin tasting proved to be a worthy opener again. Made by the Californian offshoot of Louis Roederer from four of their top vineyards, it is definitely made to the high standards of its Champenois maison mère.
Full bodied like the Brut Premier at home, it does, however, reverse the house blend of around two thirds Pinot Noir to Chardonnay, instead being 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir.
As well as bready characters from time on the lees this also has depth from reserve wines which have been aged in oak. This is probably the finest Californian fizz I have tasted to date.
Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV
A fairly simple Prosecco brought by a guest, it was pleasant enough not to be passed over, and considering I didn’t have any Prosecco open myself (damn, not again!) it was a nice contrast to some of the bigger names.
Lightly sparkling (a Frizzante with a screw top, no less) with gentle apple and grape flavours, it’s a wine to enjoy rather than contemplate. For some reason it does really well in the Netherlands!
Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs NV
I bought this own label 100% Chardonnay from UK supermarket Sainsbury’s a couple of years ago when there was a double-bubble promotion on. It’s actually good enough at full price but I couldn’t resist stocking up.
Two years later on and the citrus freshness is still there, but additional bottle age has brought a bit more body and complexity. It could still serve well as an aperitif but with more richness it could accompany roast chicken.
I wonder how many bottles bought at the same time made it this long – not many I’d wager!
Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV
Méthode Cap Classique is the South African term for traditional or Champagne method, and Mr Beck helpfully puts “Chardonnay . Pinot Noir” on the front label for those who aren’t sure. Graham Beck is renowned as one of the best producers of fizz in the country
On the nose this had a slightly spirit quality, as though there was a trace of stronger alcohol in there. It wasn’t apparent on the palate which was sophisticated and dry – one of the driest New World sparklers I’ve tried – with creaminess and richness from the lees. A very good effort, especially considering the relatively modest pricetag.
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007
The first significant quality producer of English sparkling wine goes from strength to strength. 2007 was one of the first vintages seen from start to finish by head winemaker Cherie Spriggs and husband Brad Greatrix, elevating the already serious quality to a higher plane.
So how does this bottle taste? Apple pie! No, seriously – amazingly intense apple flavours backed up by pastry notes from the lees and then bottle ageing. Seriously delicious!
Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004
Non vintage Möet didn’t fare very well when tasted double blind in the previous Glasnevin Fizz Fest, but as I’ve enjoyed the house’s prestige cuvée every time I’ve tried I’d, I thought I’d give the middle ground of Möet Grand Vintage a go.
Being a vintage Champagne it was guaranteed to have a longer minimum period on the lees (36 months v 15 for NV) and this came through on the palate. However, the fruit behind it wasn’t good enough to support the yeastiness – it tasted as though there was a hole in it, if a drink can said to have a hole in it!
Most people preferred the Sainsbury’s own label fizz, which tells you all you need to know!
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
Widely acknowledged as their best vintage yet, Nyetimber’s Champagne Blend from 2009 had showed well previously. Perhaps context is more important than we think, because tasted straight after the Möet Grand Vintage this was fantastic, even better than I expected.
The 2009 Classic Cuvée blend is 55% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier. The Pinots are more obvious with soft red fruit on the attack, but then the Chardonnay’s citrus and soft stone fruits follow closely behind. It’s very elegant and polished, and should continue to develop over the next decade and more.
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
The Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on Champagne’s Côte des Blancs is the source of Krug’s famed single vineyard Clos du Mesnil. Whereas that tends to retail at £600 or more per bottle, the village’s co-operative makes an excellent Blanc de Blanc that retails closer to £30 – a twentieth of the Krug price!
I had snapped up some magnums of the 1999 vintage a few years ago in a bin-end sale – and what a bargain they turned out to be!! Champagne (and wine in general) matures more slowly in a magnum than in a regular 75cl botle, but authors such as Tom Stevenson also content that sparkling wine matures better in the larger format. Without a comparative tasting for myself I will take Tom’s word for it, but the evidence provided by these magnums is definitely in favour of the argument.
Somewhat yellow in the glass from ageing, the wine is full of yeasty, bready characters on the nose. This follows through onto the sumptuous palate, with citrus and soft stone fruit playing a supporting role. A very long finish makes this an excellent fizz – what a shame I’ve only got one bottle left!
Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999
Context rears its head again – and not in a good way this time. Tasted among the other sparklers this appeared somewhat flat. It wasn’t unpleasant, just a different type of drink.
I hope to try it again in 2015 to see how it shows then.
Cloudy Bay Pelorus Marlborough 2009
Cloudy Bay’s NV and Vintage sparklers are probably the best value wines in their range, especially considering the extra work that goes into making fizz. Unlike its compatriot Lindauer or Australia’s Jacob’s Creek Sparkling, they are serious wines make with great attention to detail. We served Pelorus NV for the toast at our wedding in 2009!
As you’d expect in a serious offering from Marlborough, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the grapes used, and like vintage Champagne it gets at least three years maturing on the lees. There’s apple, citrus and bready notes on the nose, followed by a creamy palate with more apple and then roasted almonds. It’s only a youngster so there’ more to come!
Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV
The last bottle opened before we moved onto some reds was this Blanc de Blancs Crémant d’Alsace from one of the region’s best co-operatives. They produce a wide range of still wines and several sparklers – this was my favourite when we visited in 2013. Not widely known outside France, Crémant d’Alsace is actually the second most popular source of sparkling wine in France.
The blend is supposedly a secret but I remember 100% Chardonnay being whispered at the tasting counter. Perhaps because it’s not seen as an Alsatian grape? It’s not permitted in still Alsace wines, but is allowed in Crémant, sometimes with Pinot Blanc and other varieties.
As is the norm in Alsace, this displayed more primary fruit than flavours from lees ageing. We’re talking citrus, apple and quince here, so more of an aperitif style, but very enjoyable nevertheless.
The Overall Verdict
This was no professional trade tasting – all samples were drunk and enjoyed – so there’s somewhat less than 100% objectivity here, but my rankings would be:
Earlier in the year I was invited to the trade and press tasting held by Le Caveau in the function room at Fallon & Byrne in Dublin. When I say invited, I sort of invited myself, but they were a very welcoming bunch.
Originally starting out with a retail outlet in Kilkenny in 1999, Le Caveau specialises in importing artisan wines directly from small, family-operated vineyards from around the world. The following year they added a wholesale arm to supply the on- and off-trade throughout Ireland, and of course they have a website.
As you might see from my selection, the husband and wife team of Pascal and Geraldine Rossignol take great pride in the “hand-made” aspect of small producers, though they offer a few bigger brands here and there to broaden out their range.
So let’s begin at the beginning – it’s the fizz!
Meyer-Fonné Crémant d’Alsace NV
Meyer-Fonné are one of the many excellent family vineyards in Alsace. Having tasted a couple of their wines a Sweeney’s Wine Merchants in Dublin, when I organised a family holiday to Alsace in 2012 I made sure I included them in the itinerary. And they were incredibly warm and welcoming – without any pressure to buy the poured me a taste of every single wine they make – so we’re talking over fifteen here. Thankfully my wife could drive us back to our gîte – and I did buy a fair few bottles anyway!
So how is their fizz? This would never be mistaken for Champagne – but it’s not trying to be Champagne so why should it apologize? Like many Alsace Crémants it is predominantly made from Pinot Blanc, though apparently it also contains some Pinot Meunier (the third of the traditional Champagne grapes, though very unusual for Alsace!) and Pinot Noir.
As a Crémant it is made in the same traditional way as Champagne, though without the “C” word on the label it comes in at around half the price of some well known marques. It has been such a success in France that it is now the second best selling type of sparkling wine after Champagne.
Meyer-Fonné Crémant has lovely fresh citrus and apple notes, with just a touch of balancing residual sugar apparent – it would make an excellent aperitif or partner well with white fish and seafood.
Philipponat Royale Réserve Brut NV
The predominance of red fruit (strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, red cherry…) over citrus (lemon, lime…) and the chewy texture made me think that Pinots make up the majority of the blend. And so it transpires…it’s made from the first pressing (the cuvée) of Pinot Noir (usually 65%), of Chardonnay (30%) and of Pinot Meunier (5%).
The Pinot Noir mainly comes from Philipponnat’s own vineyards, located in Ay (sounds painful in French!) and Mareuil-sur-Ay. As a non-vintage Champagne, each bottling is based on a particular year’s harvest but with reserve wines added from previous years – depending on the quality and style (this is very important) of the vintage, between 25% to 40% of the total is made up of reserve wines. These are blended again every year in a “solera” fashion in order to incorporate older wines without loosing freshness.
The aromas and flavours are definitely reflective of the blend; citrus and red fruits plus fresh bread on the nose. In the mouth the there’s a dash lime on the attack and then softer red fruits and apples – sumptuous!
Champagne Gobillard Grande Réserve 1er Cru NV
Don’t mind the battered label – that’s what happens when a bottle is left in an ice bucket and lots of winos help themselves to a taste!
Only 44 out of the 319 Champagne villages are classed as Premier Cru (1er is the French abbreviation). A further 17 are classed as “Grand Cru”, though the luxury cuvées that the grapes usually go into rarely advertise their provenance – it’s all about the brand. So it’s often at Premier Cru level where quality and value are to be found.
The assemblage is a third each of the three traditional Champagne grapes, sourced from Hautvillers (on the southern side of the Montagne de Reims), Cumières (also Montagne de Reims) and Dizy (Vallée de la Marne). Two full years on the lees have imparted a creamy, bready character behind the red berry and citrus fruit.
Watch this space for the next installment – Le Caveau whites!
Veuve Ambal Cremant de Bourgogne 2011 was the surprise standout from last night’s fizz tasting…crisp acidity and racy citrus fruit against a background of yeast and toast. The balance and development were a happy surprise in such a young and inexpensive wine.
This wasn’t as much of a surprise: Pierre Gimonnet 1er Cru Cuis Blanc de Blancs NV (from The Wine Society) did all of the above and more. Being a Non Vintage it isn’t apparent which years’ harvest the grapes are from, but the developped bready (autolytic for you real wine geeks) nose and flavours were appreciated by all the tasters. I’m hoping I have another bottle or two left!
The two sparklers above were both “Good”, so now for the bad. Jean Louis Ballarin Cremant de Bordeaux is a blend of Semillon and Muscadelle, two of the three standard white grapes of Bordeaux (the third being Sauvignon Blanc). Unfortunately this example was faulty as the main flavour coming through was wet cardboard – yuck! The sibling Cabernet Franc-based Black Pearl was much nicer.
The biggest selling Champagne world wide is The Ugly – or more precisely the Short and Boring. This was served blind and tasters’ guesses as to its origins were all wide of the mark – no one thought it worthy of the badge Champagne.
Offering very little on the nose, muted flavours on the palate a short finish, Moet et Chandon is a triumph of marketing over winemaking. Give it as a present to someone who likes labels, but look elsewhere for good fizz.