Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz 2019

My interest in good and great bubbly is well known, so there are some crackers in my Top 10 Fizz this year.  It’s dominated by Champagnes, which reflects both my preferences and the wines that I’ve been able to taste in the last year or so – but try as many as you can and make your mind up for yourself:

10. Champagne Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2009

Beaumont des Crayeres Fleur Blanche

12.0%, RRP €47.00.  Distributed by O’Briens.

Co-operative Beaumont des Crayères’ regular bottle is their Grande Réserve NV which is a very acceptable bottle itself, but this vintage Blanc de Blancs is a whole new level.  For non-francophones, the name “Fleur Blanche” simply translates as “White Flower” which both hints at its composition and evokes its aromas.  The palate shows evidence of extended lees ageing with lovely toasted brioche topped by citrus and stone fruit.  2009 is a very good vintage so this is something that you could lay down and enjoy a bottle every so often over the next decade.

9. Champagne Laherte Frères Extra Brut “Ultradition” NV

laherte freres champagne nv

12.5%, RRP €53.00.  Distributed by GrapeCircus.  Also see related article here.

This Champagne is part of the Pinot Meunier comeback (more on which later) – the region’s third grape variety is somewhat unloved as it doesn’t have the cachet of the big two – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – nor, according to many, the same ageing potential.  However, Meunier has plenty of character of its own which can really shine through when it’s done properly as in the hands of the Laherte brothers.  The nose evokes flowers but the palate has both red and citrus fruit plus some nice leesy notes.

8. Champagne Leclerc-Briant Brut Réserve NV

leclerc briant brut reserve

12.0%, RRP €62.00.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Another Meunier dominated non vintage Champagne with an extra brut dosage, this is a lively, fruity little number that tastes fresh rather than dry – it has lots of red fruit but they tend towards redcurrant and even cranberry, a sign of zippy acidity.  Depending on your personal preferences, this could be laid down for several years for it to round out and develop more complexity with bottle age – or just enjoy right now!

7. Champagne Salon Cuvée “S” Le Mesnil 2007

Salon 2007

12.0%, RRP €530.  Distributed by Pembroke Wines.

Salon is something of a legend in Champagne circles, but amongst regular and even enthusiast wine drinkers it is not well known – mainly down to the very small production volumes and minimal advertising (oh yes, and the price).  All the grapes are sourced from one of the Côte des Blancs’ best Grand Cru villages, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  It’s a special enough place that master blenders Krug released their first single vineyard Champagne from there: Krug Clos Le Mesnil.  Salon only produce a single, vintage wine and then only in very good years; 2007 is only the 38th release since the first in 1921, and the 2008 is only going to be released in magnum format (form an orderly queue please).  So how is the 2007?  Intense, bready, taut, young…almost raw in fact.  But the inherent splendour can be guessed at – if you are prepared to wait a while then break open the piggy bank and stash a bottle or two.

6. Arcari + Danesi Franciacorta “Dosaggio Zero” 2013

franciacorta dosaggio zero arcari danesi

12.5%, RRP €60.  Distributed by GrapeCircus. Also see related article here.

This is the best Franciacorta I have tasted by a country mile.  It has no dosage but doesn’t need one – there’s loads of juicy fruit sweetness without any extra sugar.  Talking of which, Arcari + Danesi don’t even use sugar or the second alcoholic fermentation, but rather grape juice from their own harvest.  If you’ve been underwhelmed by the Franciacortas available where you are (and I was) then this shows you how good they can be.

5. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée MV

picture 86377

12.5%, RRP €61.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

More and more English sparkling wines are coming to the market each year and the overall quality keeps getting higher, but for me Nyetimber are still top of the pops.  So how do they stay ahead of the chasing pack?  A relentless drive to improve has made their Classic Cuvée better with each subsequent release.  Is there a ceiling?  I don’t know, but it will be fun finding out!

4. Champagne Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis NV

Champagne Cuvee Paradis Brut Alfred Gratien

12.0%, RRP £125.00 (magnum).  Distributed in the UK by The Wine Society.

Alfred Gratien doesn’t receive the kudos that some of the big houses do, but their no-nonsense Champagnes have plenty of fans.  This is a magnum of their top offering; with several years post-disgorgement it’s on the mature side (which is a good thing) but has plenty of years left (also a good thing).  I’ve tried it twice in the past 18 months and it was even better the second time.  If you can get your hands on some, do!

3. Champagne Gosset Grand Millésime 2004

Gosset Grand Millesime 2004

12.0%, RRP €95. Distributed in Ireland by Mackenway and in the UK by BBR.

The oldest extant Champagne house, Gosset was founded in 1584 – before Champagne wines were even sparkling.  They have a fantastic range, with the Petite Douceur Extra Dry Rosé and Blanc de Blancs also being big favourites of mine.  I’ve  been lucky to try the Grand Millésime 2004 several times recently and it’s truly magnificent – such finesse and complexity.  It’s even found a fan in my dad who doesn’t normally bother with anything sparkling.  The blend is 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, neither of which go through malolactic fermentation, preserving freshness. A minimum of six years’ ageing on lees before disgorgement is not as long as some prestige cuvées but helps to generate lots of interesting creamy, nutty and fruity notes.  A real treat!

2. Champagne R&L Legras Cuvée Exceptionelle Saint-Vincent 1996

r-l-legras-saint-vincent-blanc-de-blancs-grand-cru-brut

12.0%.  Distributed in the UK by BBR.  Also see related article here.

While this is also a treat, it’s not for everyone as it is quite mature in style (apparently, some people don’t like mature Champagne – what gives?).  But I bloody love it!  From the  village of Chouilly, this is 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay.  Quite tight and structured on release, a dozen or so additional years of bottle ageing have added layers of spice and baked apple onto the citrus and brioche framework.  This is mature but far from tired, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it.

1. Champagne Dom Pérignon P2 2000

Dom Pérignon 2000 P2

12.5%, RRP €420.  Distributed in Ireland by Edward Dillon; retailed by SIYPS.

Even people quite familiar with Dom Pérignon – it is the best selling luxury cuvée, after all – might not be aware of the house’s P2 and P3 Oenothèque releases.  The “standard” or “regular” (how inadequate those words sound!) Dom Pérignon 2000 was released in 2008 after disgorgement the previous year, so after six or so years on the lees.  Some of the wines were held back and aged on lees for an additional nine years, apparently the wine’s second peak (or “Plenitude“).  The result is not just more autolytic notes, but it’s a turbocharged Dom Pérignon, with nuts, cream, coffee, honey….the list goes on, as it stands as one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted (of any type).  Yes, it’s just over double the price of the current release of DP, (around €200) but it’s not that much more than the DP Rosé which I think it is far better than.  If you get chance to taste this, you must.

 


The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

  • Top 10 Whites
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • Top 10 Reds
  • Top 10 Sweet
  • Top 10 Value Whites
  • Top 10 Value Reds
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Ireland
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Alsace

 

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Tasting Events

Last Minute Party

They say “Planning Prevents Poor Performance” – but sometimes it’s better to be a bit more spontaneous.  And so when my wife Jess suggested having a late-notice drinks party at the end of June, I chimed in with agreement.

Below are a few of the bottles which grabbed my attention – many of which were kindly brought by guests (you see what nice friends we have?)

A Starter For 10 – Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs Champagne Brut NV

Sainsbury's Blanc de Blancs Champagne Brut NV
Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs Champagne Brut NV

In the run up to Xmas 2012 this delightfully light and crisp Champagne was on double-bubble reduction – I ended up paying about £11.50 per bottle which is an absurdly low amount, especially when you can pay over twice as much for a very ordinary big brand.  At that price you don’t mind how many you open over the Xmas period!

The extra 18 months or so bottle age has helped add a little more funky complexity – it’s even better now, but I wouldn’t hang on to it until next summer.

The Blanc de Noirs from Sainsbury’s is great as well – especially with 25% off – and give more of a voluptuous red fruit vibe rather than citrus.

Random Light Whites

Random Light Whites
Random Light Whites

In a previous post on the Wine Society’s American Dream Tasting I mentioned Viña Litoral Sauvignon Blanc from the Leyda Valley in Chile.  That time it was the 2013, but the 2012 (on the right above) shows that well made Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t fade after a year in bottle.

The Muros Antigos Alvarinho is an Albariño-beating wine made just across the Portuguese border from Riax Baixas.  When showing it compared to some slightly pricier Spanish competitors at a tasting some years ago, even the Spanish attendees grudgingly admitted it was great.  This is probably a year or so older than you might normally drink it, but again age has been kind.  Available from Sweeney’s of Glasnevin.

This is technically a Vinho Verde, but not one of the lower alcohol types I mentioned here.

And finally, the beast in the middle – not a light white at all!  This is unreconstructed oaky Chardonnay, so beware if you don’t like that style.  The Montes Alpha range is great across the board (well done Liberty Wines), but in my biased opinion the Chardy is the best of the lot.

Riesling – The Prince Of Grapes

Riesling, Prince Of Grapes
Riesling, Prince Of Grapes

Some people remain unconverted by Riesling, but that leaves more for the rest of us.  The awesome foursome hail from the steep slopes of Alsace and the southern climes of Tasmania.

The latter was the oldest and the leanest of the lot.  Tazzie is generally the coolest state in Australia which has made it a perfect location for sparkling wine production.  It is now spearheading the cool-climate Chardonnay revolution as Penfold’s now source the majority of the grapes for their “white Grange” Yattarna from Tasmania, and Shaw + Smith bought a fantastic Chardonnay vineyard not too long ago.  Sauvignon Blanc has already found a home there, so why not Riesling?

South Pirie Riesling 2007 was lean and racy in the Eden Valley style – lime with a sideorder of lime!  Can be a little bit austere for the feint-hearted, but well worth a try.

I had seen a few of Domaine Muré’s wines in the past but it was luck and happenstance that I (almost literally) fell into their outlet in the centre of Colmar last year.  This Clos Saint-Landelin is from their own walled vineyard within the larger Vorbourg Grand Cru.  To be honest, it was nice but would really benefit from a few more years to balance out and open up.

I’ve already waxed lyrical about Bruno Sorg’s Séléction de Grains Nobles, but here we have a pair of just-off-dry Rieslings from the Grand Cru sites of Florimont (straddling the villages of Ingersheim and Katzenthal) and Pfersigberg (located close to Sorg’s home village of Eguisheim).  They aren’t sweet, but the little bit of residual sugar really balances the striking acidity and brings out the pure fruit.

A Brace Of Contrasting French Reds

Ladoix and Cahors
Ladoix and Cahors

A delicate Pinot Noir from Burgundy and a stonking 15.5% Malbec from Cahors provide proof that wines can really vary within the same country.

The Ladoix was quite flat for a good time after opening but eventually blossomed, showing red fruits sitting in a light crème anglaise.  It’s part of the Côte de Beaune, the sourthern part of Burgundy’s heartland the Côte d’Or.

The Cahors is a recent favourite from Sweeney’s of Glasnevin (it was my wine of the night at the Mackenway French tasting).  Tasted blind you would probably guess the big plum and bramble flavours were the producer of Argentina rather than south west France.

The Odd Couple

The Odd Couple
The Odd Couple

In fairness these wines aren’t a couple – just slightly off the beaten track compared to some of the more well-known bottles.

Wagner-Stempel Rosé Rheinhessen 2013 (available from The Corkscrew) has previously come close to wooing me before, but as my buddy Tara brought it round I had to give it a go.  Chris – you were right, it’s lovely.  I’m not generally a Rosé drinker, but more of this please!

Albert Mann’s Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives Altenbourg 2008 is a mouthful in more than one way – this is exactly how I like my Gewurz.  This late harvest beauty is something you could sit and savour at any time of the year.

The Grande Finalé

Belle Epoque & Dom Perignon
Belle Epoque & Dom Pérignon

Pretty bottles!  Belle Epoque is Perrier-Jouet’s prestige cuvée – it almost seems a shame to open such a lovely bottle.

Dom Pérignon needs no further introduction (otherwise why are you reading this blog?), but this 1995 example showed why mature Champagne is such a treat.

 

 

 

 

 

Long

My Favourite Wines of 2013 – Fizz

Following on from my favourite reds and favourite whites of 2013, here are a few of the sparklers which grabbed my attention last year.  There are a few patterns you might discern:

  1. They are all traditional method sparkling wines – I’ve had a few drinkable Proseccos, but nothing that has ever made me want to go and buy another bottle.  Although it appears on the face of it to be an inefficient production method, second fermentation in bottle seems to be the best way of making quality fizz.
  2. They are heavily weighted towards Champagne – this reflects that region’s preeminent standing in the world of sparkling wine and the fruits of several visits in person.  Franciacorta and decent Cava are on my 2014 Wine Resolutions.

Dom Pérignon 1999

Dom Pérignon 1999
Dom Pérignon 1999

Possibly the most famous Champagne in the world, and definitely the biggest production of any prestige cuvée Champagne, Dom Pérignon is a byword for luxury.  However, behind all the razzmatazz, it’s still a wine (though not a…erm…still wine, obviously).

1999 was only the second time in the history of DP that three consecutive vintages were declared (I’m looking forward to a mini-vertical of 02/03/04 someday!)  It’s relatively full bodied in the mouth, almost a meal in itself (well it did replace bacon butties on Christmas morning!) but still with a citrus spine to the exotic fruit body.

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2003

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2003
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2003

I finally supped my last bottle (for now) of this tropical wonder.  If you cast your mind back a decade or so, 2003 was the summer of heatwaves across Europe.  In some parts of France, the heat was such that vines just shut down.  In Champagne, the extra ripe grapes made for a very different vintage – if indeed a vintage was declared at all.  Bollinger called their release “2003 by Bollinger” instead of the usual “Grande Année” and Krug only decided to release a vintage at all last month.

So how did the 2003 heatwave affect the sprinkling of vines in southern England?  In pretty much the same way, but because the climate is slightly cooler, the resultant wines still held on to some acidity.  The Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2003 is of course 100% Chardonnay, which tends to be on the lemon and lime side of the fruit continuum™, but here it also gives delicious tropical notes of pineapple, grapefruit and mango – almost like Lilt Champagne! (and yes that’s a good thing in my eyes.)

Louis Roederer Cristal 2005

Just a glass of this was enough to confirm why the luxury cuvée created for Tsar Alexander II is still so highly regarded.  The name comes from the flat-bottomed, transparent lead-crystal bottle – it has been suggested that this design made regicide by poison more difficult, though the lack of a punt underneath means that the bottle has to be made of thicker glass to withstand the pressure, and when on display Cristal is often wrapped in a decorative cellophane wrapper which blocks harmful ultraviolet light.

The 2005 vintage is still a baby – after all it has spent over five years maturing on the lees and a further eight months resting in bottle post disgorgement before release – so expect it to evolve for another five to ten years.  When tasted at the Dublin Wine & Fizz Fest hosted by Deveney’s of Dundrum, it showed lots of chewy brioche character with fresh lemon through the middle – a consequence of time on the lees and a little more Chardonnay (45%) than usual in the blend.

Varnier-Fannière Brut Zero NV*, Grand Vintage 2006* & Cuvée St Denis NV

Varnier-Fannière Grand Cru Brut Zero NV
Varnier-Fannière Grand Cru Brut Zero NV

Three wines from my favourite grower in Champagne, Denis Varnier, based in Avize on the Côte des Blancs.

The staple of any Champagne producer is their non-vintage (NV) Brut, which should be fairly dry.  The Brut Zero is made in exactly the same way as the regular Brut NV but without any sugar dosage in the liqueur d’expédition, the top up of wine after the dead yeast sediment has been expelled from the bottle.  This is a very fashionable style at the moment, dubbed “skinny Champagne” by some because of the lack of residual sugar, but it doesn’t always work; there has to be enough flavour from the underlying fruit and / or some autolytic character from the yeast to make it interesting, otherwise a Brut Zero can be table-grippingly acidic without anything to balance it.

Thankfully Denis has got it right!  This was served as an aperitif with olives, and was a perfect match; it didn’t feel it was lacking anything without added sugar.  It is pure and linear, with delightfully fresh citrus from the 100% Chardonnay grapes.

Varnier-Fannière Grand Vintage 2006
Varnier-Fannière Grand Vintage 2006

So what’s the difference here?  The most aromatic grapes from old vines are selected when the overall quality is good enough to make a single vintage wine.  After the second fermentation the minimum ageing is 36 months, though this is exceeded.  Production is much smaller than the NV and so allocations are limited to a dozen bottles per customer each year.

And finally, the Cuvée St Denis which is a non-vintage, though Monsieur Varnier probably regards it as a “multi-vintage”.  It is made exclusively from the first (and best) pressing of 65+ year old vines in a single vineyard in Avize called “Clos du Grand Père”.  However, the Clos is apparently is being ripped up and replanted (possibly because yields have fallen so low) so there won’t be any more Cuvée St Denis produced for the next decade or so – get it while you can!

Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV

The precise blend of grapes in this Champagne method sparkler is a secret, but it most probably has a majority of Chardonnay (allowed in AC Crémant d’Alsace but not AC Alsace) plus a splash of Pinot Blanc.  It is thus a blanc de blancs, but a very different BdB from the Pierre Gimonnet below – it is fresh, floral and citrus-driven, and so could be a perfect aperitif.  At €39.75 for three bottles direct from the winery it is also something of a bargain!

Those of you familiar with French wine may notice the “Cave de” at the beginning of a winery name, meaning cellar but nearly always signifying a cooperative.  The wine from some coops can be dreadful, just made with volume in mind and very little attention paid to quality.  The Cave de Turckheim (and several others throughout Alsace) have much more rigorous standards, with several quality levels ranging from basic everyday drinking (just one or two glasses, of course!) to Grand Cru stunners.  Furthermore, they produce different cuvées based on the type of soil in the vineyards that contribute grapes, whether it’s granite, clay and calcium or sand and pebbles.  You can test the effect of terroir for yourself!

Pierre Gimonnet Premier Cru Cuis Blanc de Blancs NV

Pierre Gimonnet 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs
Pierre Gimonnet 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs

I bought a case of six from The Wine Society as a relatively inexpensive fizz as it was on a case discount.  However, despite its modest price it turned out to be excellent fizz – it showed very well at a Sweeney’s-On-Tour summer barbecue and was one of the stars of the 2013 Glasnevin Fizz Fest.  The winery is in the premier cru village of Cuis where Didier Gimonnet’s family has been growing grapes since 1750, though they also own vines in other grand and premier cru villages.  As always with France, if there’s a blend of different quality levels then the lower level is what goes on the label.

This is unmistakably a 100% Chardonnay such is the streak of lemon and lime through it, though it has obviously spent more than the minimum of fifteen months ageing on the lees as there are lovely bready characters as well.  A typical Non-Vintage cuvée can contain as many as five different years’ wines; reserve wines are stored ready-blended in bottle to make future assemblage easier.

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