According to the Celtic calendar, summer starts on 1st May – which is earlier than when summer starts in many other European traditions. It does seem this year that the summer here in Ireland started and finished on the same day, which is quite unusual to say the least. Hopefully the sunshine will return and barbecues will be in action again soon. If you fancy a nice white wine to sip when the sun does return, you could do far worse than this pair from SuperValu, currently in their Italian Wine Sale:
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own
Ricossa Gavi 2016 (12.0%, RRP €13.99 down to €10.00 in the Italian Wine Sale starting 23rd May at SuperValu)
Ricossa have the words “Antica Casa” below their name on wine labels, which (I believe) translates literally as “Ancient House,” but perhaps would be better represented by “Historic House”. Ricossa are based close to the town of Asti in Piedmont (or Piemonte if you prefer) and make wines from the regions’s well known areas – Barbera d’Asti, Barolo and Barbaresco, plus a Barbera Appassimento which is very much en vogue at the moment (or should that be di moda? My Italian is very poor, I apologise!)
Cortese di Gavi is – funnily enough – the DOCG for wines from 100% Cortese made in eleven communes in and around Gavi. Usually just known as Gavi (or Gavi di Gavi if made in the actual commune of Gavi), the wines were granted DOC status in 1974 and then DOCG in 1998.
This is a nice tangy example, with both ripe peach and dry peach stone, flowers, a touch of citrus, and dry herbs. This would be fantastic with a dish using white fish baked with herbs.
Castellani Collesano Vermentino IGT Toscana 2017 (12.5%, RRP €16.99 down to €10.00 in the Italian Wine Sale starting 23rd May at SuperValu)
The Castellani family made the move from grape-growers to wine producers in 1903 and haven’t looked back since. They now have a stable of six estates across Tuscany, with Chianti and Chianti Classico being major strengths.
Away from the reds, Vermentinois one of the few white grapes that flourishes in Tuscany. In a broad swathe from Tuscany round to the Languedoc in France – taking in Sardinia on the way – it is well established but with a variety of local synonyms, including: Pigato(Liguria), Favorita(Piedmont) and Rolle (Provence).
This has a lovely nose of aromatic stone fruit, a pinch of spice and a hint of musk. It’s a pleasant easy drinking wine with nice mouthfeel; there’s juicy stone fruit in the mid-palate and a dry but mouth-watering finish.
The Beautiful South’s debut single was released almost 30 years ago and has been a subversive classic ever since.
Oh Shirley, oh Deborah, oh Julie, oh Jane
I wrote so many songs about you
I forget your name, I forget your name
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I forget your name
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I forget your name
It recently came to mind when I was tasting some Italian wines from the Fontanafredda (Freddie) group – their Gavi (Gavin) and Raimonda (Raymond) Barbera (Barbara) d’Alba!
Raymond, Freddie, Barbara and Gavin aren’t subversive, however; they are easy drinking wines that serve as a great introduction to their regions if you aren’t already familiar with them. Rather than “Wine For Whoever”, their song is “Wine For Everyone”!
Fontanafredda Gavi 2017 (12.0%, RRP €15 at Martins Off Licence, Hole In The Wall & Jerry’s In Skerries)
Gavi is a Piedmontese white wine of some renown, hailing from the Province of Alessandria which has the Commune of Gavi at its heart. Made from 100% Cortese, the speciality grape of the area, it’s a very flexible and appealing wine; soft fruity flavours with some body and enough acidity to remain fresh without removing the enamel from your teeth. Locally it is paired with seafood, but it would also be a great aperitif or a simple sipper with good company.
Fontanafredda also make a Gavi di Gavi which has increased concentration, slightly higher alcohol (12.5%) and a heftier price tag (€25).
Fontanafredda Raimondo Barbera d’Alba 2017 (13.5%, RRP €18 at Martins Off Licence, Hole In The Wall & Jerry’s In Skerries)
Barbera is the unsung hero of Piedmont, making some great wines in Alba, Asti and especially Nizza, the new Barbera-only DOCG. Far more approachable than Nebbiolo in its youth, this is what Barolo producers drink at home. The Fontanafredda Barbera d’Alba shows red fruit and lots of dark spice on the nose. It’s soft and supple on the palate, with redcurrant and cranberry surrounded by blackberry and hints of tapenade – fruity and savoury at the same time.
Spit Festival is an annual event showcasing some exceptional wines from four of Ireland’s key boutique wine importers. Most of their wines are from small, family run wineries who practise organic, biodynamic or natural techniques.
Here are just of few of the biodynamic wines I loved from the 2018 event (# number refers to the trade tasting booklet):
#23 Domaine Turner Pageot Le Blanc 2017 (RRP ~€23 WineMason)
A previous vintage of this wine was a favourite of mine at the WineMason portfolio tasting and it’s great to see the 2017 is also showing very well. A blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, the later undergo contact with their skins for around a month. This gives lovely mouthfeel and a bit of grip – it’s not a full orange wine, but it gives you a good idea of what to expect from the full blown orange experience (aka “Les Choix”!)
Leclerc Briant was the first organic and biodynamic producer in Champagne (Demeter certified in 2003) – no easy feat considering the marginal climatic conditions there. They are based in the Vallée de la Marne so it’s no surprise to see that Pinot Meunier is a large component of the blend (40%) along with Pinot Noir (40%) and Chardonnay (20%). The grapes come from a single harvest, despite no vintage being declared on the bottle, and lees ageing is well in excess of the 15 month minimum for an NV (in fact it’s around the minimum 36 months required for a vintage Champagne). Dosage is very low at 4 g/L; it could be labelled as Extra Brut” if they so desired.
Thanks to the majority of black grapes, it’s red fruit that really comes to the fore on the nose and palate, with raspberry, redcurrant and even cranberry making an appearance. There’s also a lovely brioche character from the time on the lees, and a crisp lemony finish from the Chardonnay. Some fantastic elements, but taken together the whole package is even better!
Bodegas Ponce (probably sounds more dignified in Spanish) is based in Manchuela, a high altitude region east of Madrid, which also happens to be one of the main homes of the Albillo/Albilla grape. It’s a highly aromatic grape, sometimes being added in to reds from Ribero del Duero for extra fragrance and elegance. With the extended cool growing season in Manchuela it shows green apples and a touch of spice, with lots of texture – even being slightly waxy. A brilliant match for shellfish, veal or pork.
#105 Monte dei Roari Custoza “Boscaroi” 2017 (RRP ~€18, GrapeCircus)
This Venetian beauty is a blend of four grapes:
Trebbiano di Soave (famous for Soave, obviously!)
Garganega (also Soave)
Fernanda (aka Cortese – best known for Gavi)
Trebbianello (another version of Trebbiano)
…all gently fermented in amphorae, and bottled without fining or filtering. The result is dry, pale and interesting – more subtle than most, but beautiful nonetheless. The nose is floral and there is an array of fresh, juicy fruits on the palate, particularly grapefruit and other citrus. Would be amazing paired with a delicate white fish.
In the UK and Ireland, cost-conscious shoppers (i.e. most of them nowadays) are increasingly moving from traditional supermarkets to the German budget chains Aldi and Lidl. So is there anything for the wine lover there? A previous post covered the highlights from the Aldi press tasting, now I look at a few of my favourite fizzy and white wines from the Lidl Ireland press tasting:
Straight to the main event: this is a long-standing favourite of mine from Lidl and my favourite wine of the whole tasting. The blend is 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay so expect lots of strawberry on the nose and on the palate. There’s also plenty of toasty and yeasty complexity, with a pleasing dry finish. I suspect the dosage is quite modest compared to the standard Lidl offerings from Champagne, so less of a crowd-pleaser but better balanced. I’d be happy to drink this anytime!
Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV (€10.49)
A couple of hours drive east from Reims takes you to Alsace, and France’s second most (domestically) consumed sparkling wine. Of course Alsace has much more than that, but its fizz is very approachable and good value. The grapes permitted include most of those allowed in still Alsace – Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc – plus the world’s favourite white grape for fizz, Chardonnay, which is definitely not permitted in still Alsace. In practice Pinot Blanc is often the biggest component.
The minimum for non-vintage is nine months on the lees (c.f. fifteen in Champagne) so fruit is to the fore – and that’s what you get here. Apple is the primary note, but there’s also a lovely honeyed aspect. This is a fairly simple fizz but one that I would quaff in preference to most Prosecco or Cava.
Chablis AOC 2012 (€11.99)
From the most northerly outpost of Burgundy, Chablis is (almost always) a 100% varietal Chardonnay. Especially at the basic AOC/AOP level, it is usually unoaked and steely rather than lush and buttery. In fact, it’s not unknown for people who don’t like “Chardonnay” to love Chablis. Go figure. Now that the wine fashion needle is pointing firmly at “cool climate”, it’s a wonder that Chablis isn’t even more popular.
Vintage is important here, not for the vintage itself but for the age of the wine – Chablis is often released too young, but this has an extra year on many now appearing on the shelf. This has given it a bit of time to settle down and integrate. It shows typical green apple and lemon fruit on the palate with racy acidity to keep it fresh but not austere. Smoked salmon starter over Christmas? This would do nicely!
Mâcon-Villages AOP 2013 (€9.99)
Mâcon is the most southerly district of Burgundy proper, before the soils change to the granite of Beaujolais. The top villages have their own AOCs – think Pouilly-Fuissé, St-Véran, etc. – then the next level down add their name to Mâcon, thus Mâcon-Igé and Mâcon-Uchizy. Another level down again is Mâcon-Villages – still a good wine in the right hands.
Of course this is still Chardonnay, and as we’re quite far south here there’s often a tropical note to the fruit. This example showed lemon and ripe grapefruit with a pleasant round mouthfeel. There’s a touch of oak, I’d suggest a few months in one to three year old barrels, but it doesn’t dominate.
Gavi DOCG 2013 (€7.49)
So lightening does strike twice! After unexpectedly recommending a Gavi from arch rivals Aldi, I’m now doing the same at Lidl! Again it’s not the most complex wine but it’s got plenty of pear and soft stone fruit. Acidity is high but refreshingly so – very drinkable.
Cimarosa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (€8.49)
2013 was a great year in Marlborough, and it shows in this well-made savvy. This is one to drink now rather than save for next summer, while it’s still got zing. The nose is unmistakably Marlborough – grapefruit and passion-fruit – followed up by a big round mouthful of fruit. Great value for money.
Part two will cover my favourite red wines from the tasting.
Like its close rival Lidl, German discount chain Aldi has established a foothold in the wine market and is looking to broaden its range up the market. Known for low cost wines which are technically well made but somewhat lacking in verve, they are trying to bring their customers up market by offering fancier wines, though still with an eye on the ticket. Of course given Ireland’s ridiculous level of tax on wine it nearly always makes sense to trade up, whether it’s a few nice bottles from your local wine merchant or a bottle in the trolley with your cornflakes.
Here are a few of my favourites from the recent Aldi Ireland press tasting:
Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 (€26.99)
Aldi’s main Champagnes carry the label Veuve Monsigny and have won awards in the past few years. While they are pleasant to drink and definitely good value as Champagne goes in Ireland, the latest addition above is a different beast entirely.
Leon Launois now makes a variety of different cuvées, but prior to their purchase by the producers of Champagne Charles Mignon in 2003 their only wine was a Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru from Mesnil-sur-Oger. This wine maintains that tradition – it has a beautiful brioche nose (from the time spent ageing on the lees) and that follows through on the palate, with lifted lemon through the middle (from the Chardonnay). The mousse is lovely and creamy and it has a very long finish. Very classy.
Emozione Franciacorta DOCG Brut 2009 (€22.99)
Franciacorta DOCG is a traditional method sparkling wine made in the eponymous area located in Lombardy, central-northern Italy. It’s a relatively new name as sparkling wine has only been made there in any significant quantity since the early 60s, but is a world away from Prosecco in terms of production process. One of the main differences from Champagne in practice is that the grapes are often picked when fully (but not over) ripe, so they have more intensity of flavour and can reach higher alcohol as base wines.
At first I wasn’t sure whether to include this as I think it will be quite polarising – some people will love it and some will loathe it. But if you don’t take a risk in life you can get stuck in a rut! The blend is 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir) and 5% Pinot Bianco (Blanc), which is actually the same proportion that those grapes are planted in the Franciacorta DOCG area.
This might sound weird but I thought this had a slightly savoury finish. I think grilled tuna steak would be a great match.
Exquisite Collection Gavi 2013 (€7.49)
Are you surprised by this recommendation? I certainly was! Gavi is a light Italian white wine made from the Cortese grape, and due to fashion is often priced far higher than its intensity of flavour would suggest. Among my friends in Dublin it has become something of a joke, so I thought I would just try this for shits and giggles.
But to my amazement it has flavour! Lots of stone and soft white fruit – we’re talking peach, pear and apricot. There’s fruit sweetness here but a dry finish. Like many Italian whites it has plenty of acidity but it’s not austere or boring. Would be great with seafood or a light salad starter.
And if you have a friend or relative who loves Italian Pinto Grigio, give them this to try as an alternative.
Edouard Delaunay Chassagne Montrachet 2000 (€24.99, available from 2nd Nov)
Yes you read that correctly – a 14 year old white wine from for 25 yoyos from Aldi. This obviously goes waaay past the everyday drinking category. Without trying to be snobby I doubt the vast majority of regular shoppers would recognise it, but bravo to Aldi for broadening their range.
On the nose there is lots of buttered toast, due to maturation in oak and subsequent bottle age. The buttered toast continues on the palate but with some tropical fruit notes and lemon freshness. A complex wine that deserves a big glass for contemplation.
Charles de Monteney Condrieu 2012 (€23.99, available from 2nd Nov)
Condrieu is in the heart of the northern Rhône and for a long time was the last bastion of the difficult to grow Viognier grape. Viognier is now grown more widely in the Rhône and further afield in places such as California, Australia and New Zealand. It often has more body and certainly more texture than average for a white wine – you might call it a red drinker’s white. Some examples can have an oily viscosity to them, not dissimilar to Alsace Pinot Gris (which is a firm favourite of mine).
And so it proves in this example. It has an amazing nose with orange blossom and orange liqueur combined – more Cointreau than Fanta. On tasting, there’s a touch of honey, apricot (typical for Viognier) and that orange again. Unlike many examples of Condrieu this is enjoyable on its own without food.
I think this is another polarising wine, so approach with caution, but I believe it’s worth taking a punt.
Thomas Schmidt Private Collection Riesling Auslese 2013 (€14.99, available from 2nd Nov)
From the land of the long wine name comes a sweet and fruity number from the Mosel. At only 8.5% alcohol this is one which won’t rush to your head – in fact it’s around the strength where a small (125ml) glass is equivalent to the British or Irish official units of alcohol.
Despite encouragement from a host of wine commentators, Riesling remains unloved by the majority of casual wine drinkers, principally due to associations with sweet and flabby sugar water concoctions from the 1970s such as Liebfraumilch. Aside from the fact that many of those contained little or no Riesling, they were cheap blends with no relation to quality wine.
Not all Riesling is sweet, but this one is – very sweet in fact, but not flabby at all. There is a pronounced ZING of acidity balancing out the residual sugar. This is a young wine but will develop beautifully over the next decade or more. Who says white wines don’t keep?
Edouard Delaunay Maranges Premier Cru “Les Roussots” 2008 (€29.99, available from 2nd Nov)
This is real, grown-up Pinot Noir from its heartland of the Côte d’Or in Burgundy. Whereas entry level Pinots from the new world can be jammy and confected, and cheaper French Pinots are sometimes too dry and lacking in fruit, this Premier Cru example has lots of fresh fruit but a dry, savoury edge. Typically you’d expect red fruit from Pinot Noir – strawberry and raspberry – but this adds some black fruit as well.
At six years of age this has opened up and is starting to develop additional layers of complexity. If that’s what you like then put a few bottles down, but it’s drinking well now. The acidity is enough to cut through fatty meat, so if you have duck or goose planned for a fancy meal later in the year (not going to say the word) then this would partner well.
Trius Showcase Canadian Icewine 2013 (€29.99, available from 2nd Nov)
Vidal is a hybrid grape partly descended from Ugni Blanc which is the main grape in the Cognac area. It was bred for high acidity (useful in brandy) and hardiness in cold weather, but has actually come into its own as the main grape in Canadian ice wine.
As with the original Eiswein in Germany, ice wine is made by pressing very ripe grapes which have been left on the vine and been frozen. Ice crystals are separated from the remainder of the juice which is therefore more concentrated in terms of sugar, flavour and acidity. This makes for a very sweet, concentrated wine. As so much of the juice is subtracted as water, yields are very low and prices tend to be high.
This example from the Niagra Peninsula is not cheap but I think is worth splashing out on as a treat. It’s sweet enough to hold its own against pretty much any dessert and has luscious tropical fruit flavours.
Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2008 (€24.99, available from 2nd Nov)
Tokaji has been a famous wine for several centuries. Made in a delimited area in Hungary, it uses sweet botrytised grape paste to sweeten regular wine must. The measure of sweetness is how many buckets (Puttonyos) of paste were added in to a 136L barrel – the traditional proportions. 2 putts gives something that would go with a fruit cocktail but not something sweeter, and 5 putts is probably the best overall balance (you might even want to say “the sweet spot”, ahem).
This 6 putts example is even sweeter, but I reckon if you’re going to be having lots of fancy desserts then another putt isn’t going to hurt. What did surprise me was the toasted coconut on the nose, implying American oak barrels. On the palate there is typical apricot and honey notes with a touch of mushroom (not as unpleasant as it sounds!) Make sure this is well chilled before serving so the acidity isn’t lost in the background.