Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites 2019

It’s awards season, with the Golden Globes and Oscars over it’s now time for the Frankly Wines Top Tens.  So here we go, kicking off with 10 fantastic white wines that I have really enjoyed in the past 12 months, and you should try to get hold of if you haven’t already:

10. Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2017

Luigi Baudana Dragon

14.0%, RRP €23.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

This wine could well have topped the list on the Frankly Wines Top Ten Value Whites, such is the bang you get for your buck, bitcoin, or other currency of choice, but for me it’s just a great wine full stop.  To stand out amongst the Langhe’s great reds is a great achievement.

9. Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Fiano 2017

Chalk Hill Fiano

12.0%, RRP €21.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.  Also see related article here.

McLaren Vale is one of the key Australian regions where Italian varieties are being treated seriously, not just as a novelty but as a serious alternative to international (i.e. French) varieties.  Mandrarossa’s Sicilian Fiano was a revelation when I first tried it a few years ago, but Chalk Hill have pushed the bar even higher.  Try this tropical citrus beauty and you will become a convert too.

8. Ovum Wines Oregon Big Salt 2017

ovum big salt

12.9%, RRP €33.95.  Distributed by Le Caveau.  Also see related article here.

In my notes below I state that there are no Alsace wines in my Top 10 whites this year, and while that is true it does not preclude Alsace-style whites from elsewhere.  The long, cool growing season of Oregon’s coast is perfect for aromatic varieties: Muscat, Riesling and Gewurztraminer combine elegantly to make Oregon’s very own Gentil.

7. Domaine Marc Sorrel Hermitage Blanc “Les Rocoules” 1999

domaine-marc-sorrel-hermitage-les-rocoules-white

14.5%, RRP €98.45.  Distributed by Karwig Wines.

Producers who make wine in Hermitage number less than a score so it is something of a rarity (especially compared to Crozes-Hermitage); the whites are rarer still.  They can be made from any combination of Marsanne and Roussanne, with the former usually dominant or alone.  Marc Sorrel is a modest man who makes wines that aren’t flashy, but very long-lived and interesting.  This is from a single plot called Les Rocoules; it is intensely aromatic with herbs, elderflower and honeysuckle on the nose.  The palate is a little drier than expected but reflects the herbs and honey notes of the nose.  It’s round and savoury – obviously well developed at twenty years old – with an interesting tang and even some crisp green vegetal notes.  White Hermitage is rare enough, but to try a two decade old single vineyard wine is a real treat.

6. Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €39.95.  Distributed by Berry Bros & Rudd.  Also see related article here.

Jim Clendenen is rightly a legend of Californian wine, particularly those made from Burgundian varieties, so it’s fitting that a god-like portrait appears on the front label of this wine.  This wine has a slightly different sensibility to ABC’s regular bottlings, best summed up by the legend (in the other sense) at the bottom of the label:

Instructions to winemaker: I said “Hey dude, Make a wine on the Wild Side”

5. Domaine Stéphane Ogier Viognier de Rosine 2016

Viognier de Rosine

12.5%, RRP €31.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.

Viognier almost disappeared in the 20th Century, with just a small amount left in Condrieu.  It is now planted in many parts of the Rhône and further afield in California, Australia and elsewhere.  This wine is from the northern Rhône but outside the boundaries of the Appellation Controllée areas, making it an IGP.  Such is the quality of the terroir at Rosine and the wines made there, that I reckon it might well gain an AOC of its own in the future.  This is textbook Viognier, full of rich apricot, peach and pineapple fruits, and better than many more expensive Condrieus.

4. L.A.S. Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2016

LAS Vino MR Chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €59.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

When we think of “natural” or “low intervention” wines we often think of the new wave of winemakers in Europe who have rejected the use of excessive chemicals in the vineyard and reverted back to their grandfathers’ methods.  In my eyes, Australia didn’t have the same issues, partly due to a drier climate and partly due to a more technical approach in bigger vineyards.  However, the focus on making wines that are consistent (vintage indifferent) and technically correct (starbright, clean, no trace of brett or VA) has sometimes encouraged wines which are lacking in character.

This Margaret River Chardonnay has character for days!

3. Rafael Palacios Valdeorras “As Sortes” 2016 

As Sortes

14.0%, RRP €46.00.  Distributed by Vinostito.

From the famous Palacios Spanish winemaking family, Rafael Palacios is the “God of Godello”, based in Valdeorras, Galicia.  He takes the grape to heights that have to be tasted to be believed, with low yields from seven plots totalling only 4.6 hectares and judicious use of oak.  There is tropical , soft stone and citrus fruit, all elegantly framed by a mineral, saline streak.  This is the type of wine which appeals to lovers of Chardonnay and Albariño alike.

2. Domaine JB Ponsot Rully “En Bas de Vauvry” 2016

jean-baptiste ponsot rully

13.0%, RRP €29.90.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Rully is on the rise – as land in the Côte Chalonnaise is significantly cheaper than the Cote d’Or (for now, at least) more vineyards there are getting serious attention and investment.  If you want excellent white Burgundy without a second mortgage, this is for you.

1. Julien Brocard La Boissonneuse Chablis 2017

CHABLIS-BOISSONNEUSE-JEAN-MARC-BROCARD

13.0%, RRP €28.45.  Distributed by O’Briens.  Also see related article here.

When whittling down my longlists to get to the shortlists of ten wines, quality considerations are paramount – balance, concentration and complexity, for example. This wine has all those, plus something else – it redefines how good a certain type of wine can be – in this case AOC Chablis.  There’s a long established hierarchy in Chablis with Petit Chablis at the bottom, then Chablis, a multitude of Chablis Premiers Crus with the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grands Crus at the top – but this wine’s vast array of aromas and flavours show that, with care and dedication, anything is possible.

The bar for AOC Chablis has been significantly raised. The rest of Chablis – it’s over to you!

 


As this is the first of my Top 10s to be published, I first ought to mention a few obvious things:

  1. The timing of the articles is better in the first quarter of the new year rather than racing to get them all done at the end of a year, hence no 2018 edition.
  2. There will be no Alsace wines in the “Top 10 Whites” or “Top 10 Value Whites” categories – but do not adjust your sets, Alsace wines will have their own dedicated pieces.
  3. These lists are entirely subjective and are based on my personal opinions of the wines I’ve tasted, not an inclusive list of the best wines in the world (funnily enough I didn’t get sent any DRC or Bordeaux First Growth samples this year), so if you think there are obvious errors or omissions then please feel free to write about your own favourites on your own blog.

 

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
Tasting Events

Free Pour – Part 1 (Italian whites)

Liberty Wines have a very varied portfolio – at a guess I’d say they cover over 40 countries – but Italy was one of their founding strengths and continues to be well represented in their range.  Here are brief notes on some of the Italian whites that impressed me this year:

Vigneti del Vulture “Pipoli” Greco / Fiano 2017 (12.5%, RRP €17.99)

Vigneti del Vulture Pipoli Bianco

The Vulture region of Basilicata in southern Italy is best known for its Aglianico, but here we have a blend of two white grapes which are also late-ripening and have Greek origins shrouded in time.  Produced by the well-respected cooperative, this Greco-Fiano blend has lovely fresh fruit and is far more interesting than I expected for a relatively inexpensive wine – a definite bargain.

Franz Haas Pinot Grigio 2017 (13.0%, RRP €22.99)

Picture 069

Regular readers might be perplexed by the inclusion of an Italian Pinot Grigio – after all I Don’t Like Pinot Grigio, I Love Pinot Gris.  To be honest the quality of this wine was quite unexpected – perhaps I just hadn’t been paying attention and should have known better – but it tasted nothing like a regular Italian Grigio.  It has LOTS of texture with lots of lovely pear and citrus flavour – a grown up, sophisticated wine.

Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2017 (14.0%, RRP €23.99)

Luigi Baudana Dragon

Wowser!  My wine of the tasting – elegant and clean but with some decent body and texture.  An unusual blend with both international and local grapes: 45% Chardonnay, 30% Nascetta, 20% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Riesling.  The Luigi Baudana estate is now owned and run by the Vajra family whose wines I have really enjoyed in the past.  This is quite herby, with plenty of acidity but a broad textured palate.

La Giustiniana “Lugarara” Gavi di Gavi 2017 (12.5%, RRP €23.99)

Lugarara 2017

When you come across the cheap as chips versions, just like Pinot Grigio, Gavi can be quite dilute and dull.  This has far more character than the stereotype of Gavi – more concentrated flavours and a balance between pip fruit and stone fruit.

Specogna Friulano 2017 (13.0%, RRP €23.99)

Specogna Friulano

There are rumours as to why Friulano was known as Tocai, but, just like Tokay d’Alsace, the name had to give way for Tokaji from Hungary after that country’s entry into the EU.  The other synonyms are Sauvignon Vert and Sauvignonasse which obviously lack the link to Friuli where this variety flourishes.  If you haven’t tried it before then this is a great example to start with.  It’s a good match for a wide range of food but would be pleasant on its own.

Cà dei Frati “I Frati” Lugana (13.5%, RRP €24.99)

I Frati Lugana.jpg

Gimme!  This beauty from Lugana in Lombardy is 100% Turbiana, a grape variety that I wasn’t familiar with until I found out that it is the same as Verdicchio grown in the Marche.  It’s a very fresh style so would partner very well with seafood, but to be honest it should be on every Italian restaurant’s wine list!

Vie de Romans Chardonnay 2016 (14.5%, RRP €43.99)

Vie di Romans Chardonnay

Italy has hundreds and hundreds of fantastic indigenous grapes, so why bother with foreign varieties?  If ever there’s a case for international grapes in Italy, this is it.  It’s very tangy and leesy but not particularly oaky – this is due to nine months maturation on the lees in barriques of which only 20% were new.  In my opinion it has just moved into its drinking window now but would benefit from being laid down for a few years (if you can resist!)

 

The Free Pour Series:

Single Bottle Review

Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Fiano 2017 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #17]

Chalk Hill Fiano

Fiano is predominantly grown in southern Italy – Campania and Sicily – and so has risen in prominence with the quality revolution in Italian white wine.  Grapes don’t generally get tried in the New World until they have already been a success in the Old World – and even then it can be a struggle to get noticed alongside the big guns of Cabernet, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  However, it’s now Fiano’s turn to start making a mark down under.

Chalk Hill is a family owned producer in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, now in the capable hands of the sixth generation of the Harvey family.  I tend to think of the Vale as being one of the homes of Italian varieties in Australia – whether that’s just my perception or backed up with more than a grain of truth, I don’t know.

Lithe, with a whole range of citrus fruits on show, with a slight touch of both the vegetal – think mangetout – and the tropical – mangos FTW!  With a very reasonable ABV of 12.0% this is a great summer wine, especially with lime and ginger prawns on the barbie…

I’m already a fan of Mandrarossa’s Sicilian Fiano, but Chalk Hill have moved the game on several leagues with this wine.  I’m going to have to seek out the very top Italian Fianos to see how they match up!

Available by the glass at Ely Wine Bar, Ely Place, Dublin

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Value Whites of 2017

2017 was another fantastic year of wine and I’ve been lucky to taste a great many superb wines.  For the first time, this year my Top 10s include Value Whites and Value Reds as lower priced wines often lie in the shadow of their more expensive counterparts.  Even so, there were many wines I had to leave off these lists.  Let me know what your favourites were in the comments!

10.  Gaia Monograph Assyrtiko 2016 (13.0%, RRP €14.95)

Gaia Monograph Assyrtiko

Whereas the big brother Wild Ferment Assyrtiko comes from the variety’s home in Santorini, the Monograph is sourced from Nemea which is also well known for its red wines, particularly Agiorgitiko.  The Monograph is a cleaner, straight-up style without any wild yeast or barrel-fermentation characters, but is a true expression of the grape itself.

9. Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18.00)

Fossil

If ever there was a wine which added weight to the theory of soil types directly affecting wine taste, this is it, the very mineral “Fossil” made from vines grown on limestone on the coast just north of Lisbon.  Local grapes Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires combine to give floral aromas with a palate of soft white fruit with a wide streak of minerality.  Refreshing to sip on its own, this also make a great match for seafood.

8. Callia “Alta” Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%, RRP 12.99)

Pinot Grigio

My general dislike of disinterest in Pinot Grigio is well documented, though it does have a few exceptions.  And any wine that gets included on one of my top 10 lists must be exceptional – and this is!  It has recognisable Grigio qualities (indeed some which make it as far as being Pinot Gris-like) but without the diluteness and general lack of flavour that much of the mass-produced Italian swill exhibits.  Lovely drinking.

7. Château Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes 2015 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)

Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes

Although Burgundy is thought to be the birthplace of Chardonnay and is still its spiritual home, the prestige of the region means that value for money is often better sought elsewhere.  Normally that would be in the New World, but Limoux in the Languedoc is an alternative closer to home.  As it’s in the south of France we tend to think of the Languedoc as being very warm and only good for bulk wine, but excellence is being rediscovered and cooler subregions are making some great wine.  There’s a fair bit of oak here but actually more creamy lees character .  Cracking Chardy for the money!

6. Domaine Eloy Saint-Véran 2016 (13.0%, RRP €14.99)

Domaine Eloy Saint Veran

Saint-Véran is one of my go-to Burgundy appellations.  Of course the producer still makes a big difference, but my experience has been generally very positive with this Mâconnais area across the board, despite a reasonable price tag (for Burgundy!)  This was full of peach and pear with a slight nuttiness to it.  Given a big thumbs up by DNS Wineclub!

5. Viña Leyda Falaris Hill Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, RRP €16.95)

leyda-falaris-chardonnay_1

For me this single vineyard Chardonnay represents even better value for money than its slightly less expensive counterpart, Leyda’s Reserva Chardonnay.  The fruit is ripe but still fresh, and sitting on a nice cushion of oak (25% new).  This isn’t the Chardonnay to convert haters, or even those sitting on the fence, but those who like it will love it.

4. Loosen Dr L Riesling 2015 (8.5%, RRP €14.00)

Dr L Mosel Riesling 2015

Riesling is perhaps the one grape that separates dabblers in wine from true wine lovers, though it’s rarely seen in supermarkets, so it’s at the multiples and independents where Riesling has a loving home.  The current fashion for Riesling is to be dry, which can mean austere when acidity is very high.  The Mosel tradition is to leave a fair bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity, for the entry level wines at least.  Dr Loosen makes the archetype, with the sugar and acidity combining to reinforce the zesty fruitiness.  Such a delicious wine that can be drunk at any time.

3. Vía Arxéntea Monterrei 2016 (14.0%, RRP €14.95)

Vía Arxéntea Treixadura Godello Monterrei

Treixadura and Godello share equal billing on this beauty from Galicia’s smallest DO, Monterrei.  It’s something of an enigma with tropical fruit, smokiness, minerality and freshness all rolled together.  You might enjoy dissecting its elements at your leisure, but the reality is that this delicious blend is a quaffer’s delight!

2. Mandrarossa “Ciaca Bianca” Fiano Sicilia 2016 (13.5%, RRP €15.95)

mandrarossa fiano ciaca bianca sicilia

Fiano is one of the newly rediscovered grapes that are starting to get a lot of notice.  Of course, they never went away – investment in modern winemaking equipment and a search for the new came together with some lovely clean, unoaked, well-crafted wines.  Compared to the other Fianos I have tried, however, this is something of an outlier – it just has so much flavour!  I got this as a present for my Marlborough Sauvignon-loving sister in law and she sang its praises.  This is a must-try wine.

1. Paul Ginglinger Alsace Pinot Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18.50)

Paul Ginglinger Pinot Blanc

And so it is.  What else could top my Top 10 value wines, if not a wine from my favourite white wine region of the world and one that is made with an undervalued grape: Alsace Pinot Blanc.  This is an unoaked example but is still pithy, with some nice texture.  It shows a nice array of fruit, from soft apple and pear through to refreshing citrus.  A remarkable wine for not that much money!.

 

 

 

Tasting Events

The Fifth Element – Part 3

A pair of funky “whites” from the Quintessential wines tasting earlier this year:

 

 

Pierluigi Zampaglione Don Chisciotte Fiano 2015 (12.5%, RRP €26.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Fiano

This actual colour of this wine is why these wines are described as “whites” and not whites – it’s orange, which is a whole new category and kettle of fish.  In simple terms, orange wines are made with white grapes but using red wine instead of white wine production methods – the major difference of course being the time that the juice has in contact with the skins (where the colour comes from).  It’s also a natural wine as the grapes are farmed organically, wild yeast is used and intervention during winemaking is minimal.

Pier Luigi Zampaglione makes this wine from a 2 hectare vineyard at 800 metres above sea-level in Campania – the altitude results in high acidity levels which help with ageing and make for a fresh wine.  The number of days of skin contact varies from year to year depending on the quality and style of the grapes harvested – in some years it can be apparently as long as 20 days (2011) but was 6 days for the 2016 vintage.

Ignoring its origins for a moment, this is just a thoroughly enjoyable wine.  It’s not the most extreme orange wine around so it would serve as a great introduction.  The key flavours for me were almond and ginger biscuits!

 

Loxarel A Pèl 2016 (12.5%, RRP €22.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Loxarel a Pel

If the Fiano above would serve as a moderate example of a natural, orange wine then this is a no-holds-barred full-on example.  Again it’s a 100% varietal, but this time with Catalonia’s Xarel-lo, better known as one of the three traditional Cava grapes.  As before the grapes are grown organically, but also biodynamically; wild yeast are used for fermentation and there is skin contact, but much more than in the A Pèl.  With no fining or filtration the wine ends up somewhat cloudy in the bottle.

Quintessential Wines are known for having some unusual wines in their portfolio and I would suggest that this is the most left-field of the lot!  Aromas and flavours are not so much about the grape or the soil, but more about the natural microbial environment.  It’s definitely not for everyone but it really brings the funk and so deserves to be tried.

 

The Fifth Element Series:

Tasting Events

6 Fab Wines From H2G

Honest 2 Goodness – H2G for short – recently held their summer wine tasting event at their base in Glasnevin.  A contingent from the DNS Wine Club (for which I am chief bottle washer) was in attendance and we were entertained by a jazz band as we drank tasted.

Here are the top 3 whites and top 3 reds which piqued my interest:

Domaine de Valensac Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Oc 2015 (13.5%, €14.95 at H2G)

2014-CHARDONNAY-Domaine-de-Valensac.240x700.13335

Although lying much further south than Chardonnay’s spiritual home of Burgundy, being situated just 10 km from the Mediterranean means that Domaine de Valensac’s vineyards are well cooled by the sea influence.  Perfectly ripe fruit gives both citrus and tropical notes – definitely more like the Mâconnais than Chablis – but nicely balanced by acidity and texture.  No oak is used so it might surprise you if you don’t like the taste of “Chardonnay”.

Betomish Blanco Tarragona 2015 (11.0%, €15.95 at H2G)

BeTomish-White

Irish brothers Tom and Eoin Gallagher have created a modern wine brand aiming to offer well made wines that reflect their Catalan origins without being tied down by too much tradition.  At present their wines are just a white from Tarragona and a red from Priorat (see below), though they do have plans to increase their range.

The bulk of the white consists of 70% local favourite Macabeo, to which 20% Muscat (for aromas) and 10% Sauvignon Blanc (for freshness) are added.  The Muscat certainly comes through on the fragrant nose, while orange, grapefruit and lemon hit the palate.  It’s a well made wine that’s more than the sum of its parts, enjoyable to quaff on its own or pretty handy with dinner.

Mandrarossa Ciaca Bianca Fiano Sicilia 2015 (13.5%, €15.95 at H2G)

Mandrarossa Fiano

Fiano is probably most well regarded in Campania where it makes up at least 85% of the DOCG Fiano di Avellino, but it also performs well in Sicily.  It has come back into favour over the last decade or so as it has more character than many of the higher-yielding but more neutral grapes which are widespread in Italy (you know the ones I mean).

Mandrarassa’s vines are situated on the south west corner of Sicily, almost touching distance from Africa.  This is a 100% Fiano with aromas and flavours of all manner of citrus and mouth-watering stone fruit.  It’s the finest Fiano I’ve tasted to date!

Also check out the Mandrarossa Nero d’Avola if you like blueberries!

Cuarto Dominio Chento Reserva Malbec 2013 (14.0%, €21.95 at H2G)

chento

This is undoubtedly a Malbec, but an elegant and perfumed one at that – I wonder if the vineyards are at a significant altitude?  More research required!  Although €6 more than its unoaked little brother, I found this to be the better value for money of the pair.  Plum, blackberry and blackcurrant are on show here, with a little cinnamon spice for extra interest.  Doesn’t have to be drunk with a steak, but probably will be!

BeTomish Tinto Priorat 2013 (14.5%, €23.50 at H2G)

BeTomish Crianza

The Gallaghers’ red is a blend of local and international grapes: 60% Garnacha, 20% Merlot, 10% Syrah and 10% Samso.  Priorat is one of the trendiest wine regions of Spain, but its wines can sometimes be very tight and unapproachable in their youth.  This is an open book of a wine – lots of dark black fruit and spice, but accessible and easy to like.  It’s not a frivolous wine, but has a very modern sensibility – a winner for me!

Corte Adami Valpolicella Superiore 2014 (13.5%, €21.95 at H2G)

corte-adami-valpolicella-superiore

A blend of local grapes Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella.  To receive the Superiore tag the wine has to be a minimum of 12.0% and spend a year in barrel.  Valpolicella wines are traditionally quite light (hence the qualifying alcohol level for Superiore is still fairly modest).  To boost the body and intensity of flavour, the producer of this wine actually dry some of the grapes for a short time before fermentation, as is done on a larger scale for Amarone.

However they got there, it works!  The nose had enticing spice aromas which follow through to the palate with ripe cherry and black fruits, plus a little vanilla.  This is probably the finest Valpolicella I’ve ever had!

 

You might also want to check out these previous articles on Honest 2 Goodness wines:

https://frankstero.com/2014/06/18/barn-storming-new-discoveries-highlights-of-the-h2g-tasting/

https://frankstero.com/2015/09/24/h2g-organic-more-tasting/