Lidl Ireland’s latest wine promotion is broadly termed “Iberian” – very broadly in fact as it includes Chile (Spanish speaking, granted) as well as Australian and New Zealand wines. Kicking off on Thursday 21st May, the wines will be on limited release – once they are gone, they are gone.
Here I look at two examples from New Zealand. The first is from NZ’s biggest and best known region – Marlborough – though isn’t a Sauvignon Blanc. The second is from one of the longest standing NZ wine regions – Hawke’s Bay – which is roughly two thirds the way down the east coast of the North Island. The brand Outlook Bay appears to be a Lidl private label, i.e. you only find these wines in their stores.
Disclosure:both bottles were kindly provided as samples, but opinions remain my own
Outlook Bay Marlborough P.G.R. 2019
P.G.R. stands for Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer1 & Riesling, though immediately below the wine name on the back label it gives the blend as Pinot Gris, Riesling & Gewürztraminer2, so P.R.G. would be a better name. Perhaps PGR is now a “thing” in New Zealand, or sounds better in other languages? Ours is not to reason why…
Although the blend might be unusual for New Zealand, it makes sense; all three grapes are classed as aromatic and the long, cool growing season in much of Aotearoa – particularly Marlborough – therefore suits them, just as it suits Sauvignon Blanc. And where else is famous for its aromatic wines? Alsace of course! And as these are the three key Alsace grapes (in my opinion) I have no compunction in calling this an Alsace blend.
The nose is very floral (apple blossom?) with lychees – that’s the Gewurz3 showing its superpowers. The palate is something of a conundrum; it has a gentle, juicy attack then a textured, dry mid-palate. There’s round pear and apple yet spice as well. There is a little sweetness here, but the slight (pleasant) bitter hints on the crisp, citrus finish resolve it as fruit sweetness rather than sugar.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Outlook Bay Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018
Marlborough does make some remarkable Chardonnay, but Hawke’s4 Bay’s richer style seems to be more in demand at the moment, and that is where this wine hails from. It’s unmistakably oaked Chardonnay on the nose, with toasted coconut and pineapple – almost like the coconut “mushrooms” and pineapple cubes that were around when I was a nipper – but not as synthetic.
The aromas continue through onto the palate which has a rich, creamy, tasty texture. The sweetness promised by the tropical fruit on the nose is more moderate in the mouth; I would guess that a good proportion has been though MLF but not overwhelmingly so as there is lots of tangy freshness.
This isn’t going to covert (m)any people of the ABC = Anything But Chardonnay crowd, but for those in my ABC = Always Buy Chardonnay camp this is a cracking example and ridiculously good value for money at a tenner.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
An easy one – buy both!! These two wines are quite different in style, but happen to be styles that I’m very partial to. They are well made and absolute bargains at the price.
In common with tight-knit communities the world over, there are several common surnames in Alsace – including those which are common affixed to the door of wineries – so often first names are added to surnames, or another family name such as a mother or wife’s maiden name, to distinguish one Sipp or Meyer from another.
Dopff & Irion are based in Riquewihr, a contender for prettiest village in Alsace (and that’s saying something!) and certainly one of the most visited. As alluded to above, they have a (semi) namesake in their home village with the respected producer Dopff au Moulin, a specialist in crémant.
Dopff & Irion have 27 hectares of vines at Riquewihr – including those bottled as Château de Riquewihr – plus the Clos Château d’Isenbourg near Rouffach. Their holdings break down as three key varieties: Riesling 35.8%, Gewurztraminer 29.4%, Pinot Gris 23.5%, plus smaller amounts of Pinot Noir 5.5% and Muscat 4.3%.
Cuvée René Dopff is the “everyday plus” label of Dopff & Irion; it’s not the best range they make but is of a high standard. There are seven single varietals in the range: the five mentioned just above plus Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc, these two I presume from bought in grapes.
Dopff & Irion Cuvée René Dopff Alsace Gewurztraminer 2015
Gewurztraminer is one of the most expressively aromatic grapes around, so needs to be handled with kid gloves during the wine making process. For this wine the press was deliberately set at low pressure to minimise extraction from the skins and fermentation was at a controlled temperature.
The depth of colour in the glass gives a strong indication that this is something with a bit of oomph. The nose is textbook Gewurz – Turkish delight (the rose flavoured one, not lemon) and lychees, with a little exotic spice. These notes follow through on the palate which is generous, rich and round. There’s some residual sugar but it’s certainly not “sugary”, still fresh with a crisp finish. The overall sensation is one of balance – often difficult to achieve with this grape – and excellence. The company’s website gives an ageing potential of five years for this wine, but it is nowhere near tired and has several years left in it.
Stockists: Vanilla Grape, Kenmare; JJ O’Driscoll, County Cork
Lidl Ireland have just launched a range of French wines which will be available for a limited time only – until stocks run out. Below are brief notes on six whites that would be making their way into my trolley: two from Burgundy, two from the Loire and two from Alsace.
Wally AOP Touraine Sauvignon 2018 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)
There are several different Touraine appellations in the Loire Valley but this is the one which removes any doubt as to which grape variety you will be drinking. While not reaching the heights of Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy and the other Sauvignon based wines further east, Touraine is the French standard bearer for inexpensive fresh, tasty Sauvignon Blanc.
Wally has a very expressive Sauvignon nose – grass, gooseberry and grapefruit. These notes continue through to the palate, but there are no rough edges – it’s (almost) smooth in texture. Great value for money!
Comte d’Ardières AOP Sancerre 2018 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Lidl Ireland)
Probably the most famous Sauvignon appellation, Sancerre is one of the most prestigious wine regions of France. Despite that, quality and style can vary as there are multiple soil types and aspects. I don’t know who the Count of Ardières was, but the wines named after him are very elegant and mineral in style. There’s also lots of fresh citrus and a long tangy finish. Worth trying with delicate white fish or oysters.
Collin-Bourisset AOP Coteaux Bourguignons 2018 (13.0% €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)
For those not familiar, Coteaux Bourguignons is an appellation that covers the whole of Burgundy proper and Beaujolais, for both red and white wines. It can thus be made with fruit from all over the region, but is often a label used for wines from the south around the Maconnais / Beaujolais border. The grapes for this white are not given, but on tasting it appears to me to be substantially or totally Chardonnay. It has some oak on the nose and palate plus citrus and stone fruit. This is proper white Burgundy, a steal for a tenner!
AOP Chablis 2018 (12.5%, €12.99 at Lidl Ireland)
After the trials and tribulations of frost and hail over consecutive years, Chablis producers had to put up their prices so that they could still make a living. The phrase “there’s no more cheap Chablis” was uttered many times. Thankfully, the 2018 harvest was the best in 20 years according to the president of the Chablis Commission, so things are returned to normal.
At €12.99 this would definitely be considered a “cheap Chablis”, though I’d wager Lidl’s average bottle price is several Euros less. It has the classic Chablis nose of citrus and soft malolactic character. The palate shows red and green apples, lemon and lime fruits plus stony minerality. This is an excellent wine for the price and was the standout wine of the tasting!
When it comes to wine Irish people rarely have a sweet tooth, and usually eschew anything with more than a few grams of residual sugar. Perhaps this is because of ‘Nam-like flashbacks from sweet, unbalanced, flabby German whites from decades past (you know the ones I’m talking about), who knows. This means that the limited number of Alsace Gewurztraminers available in supermarkets are usually quite dry. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself – each to his own – but for me Gewurz needs a bit of RS to complement its round, rich character.
And here’s the perfect example at an inexpensive price point. It’s VERY Gewurz on the nose, with lychees, Turkish delight and rose petals. The aromas continue on the palate but a little more subdued, but matched nicely by an off-dry finish.
AOP Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV (12.0%, €12.99 at Lidl Ireland)
France’s second best selling sparkling wine is represented by this fresh and fruity little number. It’s made in the traditional method and is fully sparkling so is a steal at this price (given the double duty on such wines in Ireland). This is a great alternative to Prosecco; fun and fruity but drier and better balanced.
Last year, thanks to the generosity of Françoise and Seán Gilley of Terroirs in Donnybrook, Dublin, I had the opportunity to meet one of the young stars of Alsace wine, Agathe Bursin. And not only meet her, but to have her guide us through a tasting of her wines and then try the wines with the excellent food of Forest Avenue.
Like many people in Alsace, Agathe Bursin had a connection to winemaking when she grew up, although not directly from her parents like some. In her small infant school she was the only girl along with four boys; that is, four boys who all wanted to be a tractor driver on their family’s vineyards, so it was only natural for the young Agathe to dream of this as well.
Secondly, while her family had been selling their grapes to the local cooperative since 1956, her grandfather did make some small amount of wine for family consumption – and Agathe was fascinated by the equipment and the process.
Fast forward several years to 2000, and she graduated in Oenology, but when her first wines were made back home in accordance with her textbooks, they didn’t feel like her wines at all. She learnt from this minor setback and took an entirely new approach; stripped back and providing a gentle hand of direction only when required.
Since then she has followed organic and biodynamic practices (though has not sought certification) including the use of herbal teas in the vineyard and only indigenous yeast for fermentation. Interestingly, it is the yeast present in the cellar rather than the vineyard that usually win the biochemical war that is fermentation. She neither encourages nor discourages malolactic fermentation, it is simply permitted to happen if it happens. Thankfully though, it usually happens spontaneously in the red wines and not in the whites.
Agathe’s Domaine now totals around 5.5 hectares, split over the Grand Cru Zinnkoepflé and the Lieux-dits Bollenberg, Dirstelberg, Strangenberg, all around her home village of Westhalten. The split of varieties is: 5% Muscat, 15% Pinot Gris, 20% Riesling, 20% Gewurztraminer and 20% Sylvaner. Some of the vines are co-planted – more on which later.
Here are my tasting notes on the wines, with the rider that je ne crache pas les blancs….
Pinot Noir Strangenberg 2015 is from grapes grown on marl and limestone soil. The grapes are hand picked then partially de-stemmed (40% – 60% depending on the vintage). There is no cold soak; fermentation begins in stainless steel tanks with eight days of maceration (longer would lead to the wine being too vegetal) before being transferred into used 228 litre pièces to complete the two months of fermentation. Maturation is for 20 months. This Pinot Noir shows bright red and black cherry fruit; it’s a smooth wine that has taken a touch of weight and roundness from its time in oak but very little obvious flavour.
Riesling Dirstelberg 2016 is grown on the highest vineyard in Alsace at 500 metres above sea-level. The soil is red sandstone, sheltered from the wind but still cool (which Riesling prefers). The vines are trained as Double Guyot which tends to give small berries. According to Agathe, with age these wines take on chalky, mineral characters rather than diesel. At this young age it is racy, nervous and tangy, full of fresh citrus – lime lemon and grapefruit – and orange blossom.
Pinot Blanc Parad’Aux 2016 is a blend of Pinot Blanc and its close relation Auxerrois. The former has high acidity (which is why it is so popular in Crémant d’Alsace) whereas the latter is quite floral and has moderate acidity. The two varieties are co-fermented and the local yeast naturally leaves a little bit of residual sugar (6 g/L) which comes across as roundness rather than sweetness (Agathe believes her indigenous yeast are “quite lazy”). Soft stone fruits are the order of the day here, with a touch of peach, apricot and nectarine.
L’As de B 2016 is a proper field blend, where the different varieties are all planted in the same plot, are harvested and then vinified together. Bizarrely, while the different varieties would normally ripen at different times in their own blocks, when planted together they mature together! The blend is – are you ready for this? – 5% Muscat, 15% Pinot Gris, 20% Gewurztraminer, 20% Riesling, 20% Pinot Blanc and 20% Sylvaner. The residual sugar for the blend falls between 10 and 20 g/L depending on vintage. The 2016 shows lots of spice, with the Gewurz and Pinot Gris particularly showing through. Interestingly, although the blend stays the same from year to year, different grapes seem to come to the fore with each vintage.
L’As de B 2008 shows how well this wine can age – it still shows great freshness as well as development, but is not yet fully mature. It seems soft and gentle, as though it had settled in to itself with age.
As I speak reasonable French I presumed that “As de B” signified “L’As de Bursin”, i.e Bursin’s Ace, but this is not the case. The grapes all come from the Bollenberg; the story is that when the blend was first vinified, someone chalked “Edelzwicker” on the tank – the traditional Alsace blend – but as Edelzwicker is not usually a field blend, Agathe didn’t want to use that term. Instead she preferred “Assemblage de Bollenberg”, but as that was far too long she settled for L’As de B – and the name stuck.
Pinot Gris Dirstelberg 2016 is grown on the same red sandstone as the Riesling. RS is off-dry at 14 g/L which is my preferred style for the grape. The palate has delicious quince and pear plus exotic spices. It is rich but nowhere near cloying.
Per Agathe, with age the Pinot Gris Dirstelberg gains notes of smoke, toast and flint – this sounds very intriguing and something I hope to experience for myself in the not too distant future!
Gewurztraminer Dirstelberg 2016 is the wine which gave Agathe the most worry. On the Dirstelberg, Gewurz naturally produces lots of leaves, but as winds tend not to be strong there is a significant risk of bunch rot if they are not trimmed back. Once harvested, the grapes are given a very gentle pressing over 6 to 8 hours in order to extract only moderate phenolics – this also results in the wine looking somewhat paler than the average young Gewurz. This is a gentle, restrained Gewurztraminer that really does live up to Agathe’s desire for fruit and balance. If only more could be like this, I think the grape would have more fans.
Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoeplé Vendanges Tardives 2015shows how sweet Riesling can be a magnificent, balanced rapier. Residual sugar of 65 g/L is the counterpoint to thrilling, racy acidity.
It’s still very young and tangy – and very enjoyable – but has years of magnificence ahead of it. If I had a case or two, then yes I’d be tempted to dive in now and again, but I think, despite the expletives of joy in my tasting notes, this is one that will be legendary in a decade’s time.
Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Zinnkoeplé Vendanges Tardives 2015 is getting on for the longest name of any wine I’ve ever reviewed! Harvesting took place at the beginning of November, so this is a true Vendanges Tardives.
Obviously sweeter on the palate than the Riesling above – both in terms of higher RS at 89 g/L and softer acidity – this is a mighty fine example of late harvest Gewurz. Compared to some it’s relatively muted – but as the grape can be such an overblown, blousy, tart’s boudoir, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Post Script: Does Agathe drive a tractor now? You bet she does!
In the lead up to #AlsaceWineWeek 2019 (starting 20th May) I will be publishing a series of Alsace-related articles – though, given my tastes, that’s not such a big surprise anyway.
The wines of Domaines Schlumberger will be on the Tindal / Searson’s table at the #BigAlsaceTasting on 22nd May – see here for more details.
Earlier this year I dropped in to the Tindal Wines portfolio tasting and tried the wines from several producers, including the excellent Domaines Schlumberger (from the town of Guebwiller in the south of the Alsace wine region) which were being shown by Séverine Schlumberger. Her commentary was very insightful and has been paraphrased in the notes below.
Most of the land around Guebwiller had been owned by the Prince Abbots of Murbach Abbey – hence the name of the Princes Abbés wines – but it was taken out of their hands during the French Revolution. Later, the shrewd Ernest Schlumberger added to the family’s holdings by buying up plots in the early 1800s.
The map on the left gives you an idea how steep the hillsides are around Guebwiller – as steep as 50% incline, and coming right down into the town. The map also highlights the four Grand Cru vineyards of Guebwiller (the only town or village in Alsace to have four, all of which were among the first batch of 25 recognised in 1983); Schlumberger have land across all four amounting to 70 hectares, half of their total holdings.
Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Alsace Riesling 2014 (12.5%, 2.8 g/L, RRP €22.95 at Searsons, Monkstown; searsons.com)
With its large number of Grands Crus (51), permitted grape varieties (13) and soil types (13), Alsace is complex – but it doesn’t have to be complicated! With so much choice some sommeliers and retailers don’t even know where to start, but a clean, dry, fruity Alsace Riesling is an excellent place to start. If there is a dish which partners well with a crisp, dry white wine – think Sancerre, Chablis, Muscadet etc. – then a Riesling such as this “Les Princes Abbés” would also be well suited – it’s dry (2.8 g/L of residual sugar), clean and has zesty lime fruit.
Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Alsace Pinot Gris 2016 (13.5%, 9.6 g/L, RRP €22.95 at Searsons, Monkstown; searsons.com; JJ. Fields and Co, Skibbereen)
Alsace Pinot Gris is the ultimate all-rounder at the table – it can partner well with so many dishes – shellfish, fish, chicken, pork etc. – that, if a group are sharing a bottle but eating different foods then this is the one which works best. The technical analysis reveals this to be very slightly off-dry, but sweetness is hardly noticeable at all – instead, it adds to the roundness and mouthfeel of the wine.
Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Alsace Gewurztraminer 2016 (13.4%, 20.4 g/L, RRP €26.95 at Searsons, Monkstown and searsons.com)
Gewurztraminer is a speciality of Domaines Schlumberger. This “Les Princes Abbés” is so good that for most restaurants and merchants there’s little point in listing both this and the Grand Cru Kitterlé – it’s one or the other. This is a very well balanced example of Gewurz – for me, balance is the biggest let down of many Alsace Gewurz wines. The nose has floral notes but they are not overdone. On the palate this is clean with a mineral streak but nice roundness.
Schlumberger make three Grand Cru Rieslings; Kitterlé, Kessler and this Saering. This is the most flexible of the three so tends to be the one picked when a restaurants wants to list a single Grand Cru Riesling. The 2015 Saering is powerful with 14.0% alcohol but not hot. Dry, floral and zesty, it has a lovely citrus sensibility with a strong mineral backbone and a long, elegant finish.
Domaines Schlumberger Alsace Grand Cru Spiegel Pinot Gris 2014 (12.4%, 28.4 g/L, RRP €31.95 at Searsons, Monkstown and searsons.com)
In Alsace, Pinot Gris grapes destined for inclusion in Grand Cru wines is picked later than that for normal Pinot Gris wines (this was worded very carefully as some fruit from Grand Cru vineyards is used in the second wines). This gives the grapes higher ripeness but does have a cost; as a grape it has a very short harvest window (between sufficient ripeness and over-ripeness) so needs to be monitored very carefully. This is a luscious and generous wine, spicy and rich. It is style unique to Alsace which makes Pinot Gris narrowly my second favourite variety of this amazing region.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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 Irish wing of supermarket Lidl kicked off their Valentine’s Wine Sale on Monday 11th February. Like their Frenchand Italianwine sales which I have covered previously, these events aren’t price reduction but rather the introduction of a number of wines for a limited time, usually until such time as the finite stocks run out.
The Valentine’s range consists of five sparkling, eleven white and eleven red; the vast majority are Italian with a sprinkling of new world representatives from the USA, Canada, South Africa and Chile. Below I review a sparkling and a white from
Disclosure: both wines kindly supplied as samples, opinions remain my own
If you aren’t familiar with the geopolitical landscape of northern Italy then this wine might be a touch confusing, but in reality it makes perfect sense. Alto Adige is the Italian name for the Alpine province which borders Austria – and was indeed in Austria (and predecessor entities) from the 9th century until 1919. The German name Südtirol makes perfect sense when we consider that the Austrian state immediately north of it is Tirol, divided into Nordtirol and Osttirol.
One of the municipalities in Alto Adige/Südtirol is Tramin, the birthplace of the Traminer grape (aka Savagnin) which mutated to become Gewürztraminer – the grape we have here.
Aroma-wise, this shows rose and elderflower with a suggestion of sweetness, and yes there is a little Turkish Delight if you go looking for it, though the nose isn’t overblown compared to many (phew!) The palate is surprisingly dry, though not when the abv of 14.0% is taken into account. There’s plenty of texture and soft stone fruit; in fact, this wine is not a million miles away from a white Rhône blend.
My preferences when it comes to Gewurz are off-dry or sweeter, so this isn’t my favoured style. However, for those who prefer a dry style this is well worth a try.
Nure Moscato d’Asti 2017 (5.5 %, RRP €11.99 at Lidl)
Piedmontese wine is best known for the Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco plus supporting acts Barbera and Dolcetto, but the Muscat-based sparklers Asti (Spumanti) and Moscato d’Asti also show a lot of character. It’s the latter we have here, with very low alcohol and lots of sweetness. In Piedmont it’s often drunk as a palate-cleanser after savoury food and then with dessert. Of course Muscat is one of the few varieties that smell or taste of grapes, but there’s also a spiciness or muskiness to it. When well made there is acidity to balance the sweetness, and that makes this example absolutely delicious! It’s not the most complex Moscato d’Asti I’ve tried but it’s fantastic value for money and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Alsace is mainly known and loved for its stunning single varietal wines, but less widely known are its blends. In fact, there are even more types of blend than many wine lovers know, so, in advance of Alsace Wine Week, here’s a quick rundown of the six types I have counted!
Edelzwickeris probably the most well known Alsace blend. The word comes from the Alsace dialect for “noble blend” (it’s a Germanic dialect more closely linked to Swiss German than textbook German) although noble grapes aren’t a requirement nowadays. In fact, any of the officially permitted Alsace varieties can be blended in any proportion.
The grapes used are usually those from the less favoured sites and which aren’t required for varietal wines, and so the proportions change a little from year to year. However, despite their modest origins, Edelzwickers can be a very nice everyday wine – more than the sum of their parts!
Gentilis the French word for “kind”, though quite why the term was awarded to this style of wine I do not know. A Gentil is very similar to an Edelzwicker except that the four “noble grapes” of Alsace should be at least 50% of the blend:
Yes, Pinot Blanc is a variety, and a wine so labelled could be a varietal, but the rules in Alsace permit four grapes to be used:
Pinot Blanc itself
Pinot Noir (vinified white, i.e. no contact with the skins)
Auxerois is a sibling of Chardonnay and is sometimes given its full name Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexybut more often known as Pinot Auxerrois or Clevner/Klevner – though the latter is especially confusing as it is also the synonym for Pinot Blanc! Interestingly, the amount of true Pinot Blanc in still wines has fallen over the decades as it is in such high demand for Crémant!
There are three different members of the Muscat family allowed in Alsace wines:
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (White Muscat with small berries)
Muscat Rose à Petits Grains (Pink Muscat with small berries)
Muscat Ottonel (thought to be a descendent of Pinot Noir Précose, Chasselas and an unknown other member of the Muscat family)
Blends of these different varieties are allowed in AOC Alsace; however, most of the AOC Alsace Grands Crus do not permit a mix and two (Zotzenbergand Kaefferkopf) do not allow any Muscat at all.
Alsace’s traditional method sparkler is the second most popular in France (after Champagne, of course). It doesn’t have to be a blend, but usually is – with the exception of the rosé which has to be 100% Pinot Noir. The permitted varieties are:
Pinot Blanc(usually the biggest component)
Chardonnay(although not permitted in still Alsace wines, an exception is made for Crémant )
The final category is also probably the rarest, but also actually the most traditional: blends created from different varieties which are grown, picked and vinified together. The original practice for Edelzwicker was to make it from field blends, but now separate vinification before blending is mandatory. Instead, a few producers still make field blends the “old fashioned way”. Most notable of these is Domaine Marcel Deiss who make a broad range of “Cru d’Alsace” wines named by their lieu-dit rather than varieties. As an example, the Deiss Burg is nearly a full house as it contains:
On a smaller scale, Agathe Bursin’s “L’As de B” is also a field blend. The name is actually short for “L’Assemblage de Bollenberg ” – which translates as “Bollenberg Blend” – and contains the same six grapes as Burg.
I was introduced to the wines of Domaine Zinck by Charles Derain of Nomad Wine Importers a few years ago, and have been lucky enough to taste them several times since, including the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling which was my personal standout of last year’s SPIT festival.
The Zinck portfolio is split into four distinct ranges:
the everyday Portraitseries which typify their variety
the Terriorseries which are from smaller, better plots
the Grand Crus, the top of the Alsace quality ladder
Crémants, sparkling wines for celebration and fun
Earlier this year I was treated to a tasting of some standout wines from the range at Dax Restaurant in Dublin, hosted by Philippe Zinck and Charles Derain, followed by an interesting discussion over lunch (with more wine of course). Full disclosure: I was a guest of Nomad Wines, but all opinions on the wines are my own (unless noted). Of course, tasting French wines in a French restaurant with Frenchmen meant I had to wear my England rugby jacket!
Philippe’s father Paul started the winery with 2.5 hectares in 1964, although his parents already had some vines on their farm. Paul gradually improved quality and expanded the land under vine – it had reached 6 hectares by the mid 70s and 8 hectares when Philippe took over in 1997. Philippe accelerated the expansion so that by 2017 the Domaine covered 20 hectares and employed 8 people.
But even more than quantity, Philippe kept striving to improve quality, going fully organicin 2011 and practising biodynamics in some vineyards. He looks for purity and finesse in his wines, balance rather than power, and an authentic expression of where they are made.
What’s new? is a question asked of Philippe by some people in the wine trade – perhaps seeking new blends and new varieties – but each vintage is a new chapter in the story of Domaine Zinck. With only six years since full organic conversion, there are decades of tweaking viticulture and vinification for each variety in each plot – there are no limits in sight!
The biggest challenges are generally natural – the weather patterns in each vintage. Straight forward global warming could be taken into account, but climate change (i.e. more unpredictable, changeable weather) is far more difficult to manage.
Producing such fresh wines with unrelenting summer temperatures into the 40s centigrade is a major achievement. Lots of sunshine and high temperatures could over-amplify the aromatics, letting them get out of kilter, so the canopy is left as full as possible to shade the grapes.
Damp weather (particularly mist and fog) increases the chance of rot and other unwanted diseases, so the canopy is trimmed to allow air to circulate better. If there’s too much rainfall then grass is allowed to grow in between the rows; the grass competes for the water so the vines don’t get too much.
Sylvaneris a variety that is much under-rated; in decades past when quantity was key, Sylvaner would produce plenty of grapes but with little character at these high yields. Now that the variety is being given a fair crack of the whip it is producing some good wines that are worthy of interest. Although not one of the four “noble grapes” of Alsace, Sylvaner is now permitted in one Grand Cru –Zotzenberg.
One of the key challenges facing Alsace as a region is the huge gap between AOC Alsace and the Grands Crus. Additionally, some of the boundaries of certain Grands Crus are thought to be too wide and not suitable for all the varieties that are grown there. One important addition to the region is the introduction of Alsace Premier Cru. Philippe believes that this is definitely going to happen and he would look to have his Terroir series wines classed as Premier Cru. Whether Grand Cru regulations get tightened up is another story.
As the only black grape in the cool climate of Alsace, Pinot Noir hasn’t received much attention – in fact the resulting red wines are often treated more like rosés (quite pale and served at 10ºC in restaurants!) However, the combination of better understanding of how the grape performs in different local microclimates and warmer vintages has enabled some very good Pinots to be produced – so much so that Pinot Noir from vineyards within certain Grand Crus (such as Réné Muré’s “V” from Vorbourg) will be granted Grand Cru status.
For Charles, one of the key attractive features of Domaine Zinck is that it is one of the few producers who don’t make their wines too sweet – especially the “everyday” Portrait series. Even if there is some residual sugar the wines are balanced and not “sugary”.
Philippe noted that the 2016 Pinot Blanc is lighter than 2015 – the latter was a very warm vintage.
This is a fresh and fruity wine full of apple and quince. There’s a very round mid palate but a crisp finish which makes it very versatile.
Domaine Zinck Terroir Sylvaner 2014
Made from 35 year old vines on clay and limestone soil. This is highly aromatic! No dilute plonk here, this is probably the best Sylvaner I’ve ever tasted. Flinty and a touch smoky. Elegant and great for food matching.
Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €34 at SIYPS)
The Eichberg (literally “oak mountain”) is mainly clay soil (good for water retention) and combined with a hot vintage has produced an amazing Riesling. This is a rich, profound wine even in its youth – and it should cellar well to the end of the next decade. The nose alone is fabulous and worth the entrance fee – complex citrus notes where you can pick out different fruits as you inhale. This is a dry Riesling, yes, but it’s far from austere and is so delicious right now that it would take an immense amount of self discipline to lay down!
Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Goldert Gewurztraminer 2013
The Goldert Grand Cru is just to the north of Gueberschwihr with mainly east-facing slopes, and is most renowned for Gewurz and Muscat. Zinck’s Gewurz vines are 50 years old giving intense, concentrated flavours. On tasting, I can only describe it as fecking huge in the mouth! It’s so soft and round, but has an amazing fresh finish. Charles finds some Gewurztraminers to be almost like a lady’s perfume (or in pre-PC days one might have said “smell like a tart’s boudoir”), but this is perfectly balanced.
Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Rangen Pinot Gris 2011 (13.0%, RRP ~ €48 at SIYPS)
Rangenis the most southerly Grand Cru of Alsace, with steep slopes on volcanic soil. and a river of the bottom of the slope which helps botrytis develop. Domaine Zinck buys grapes from Rangen as it doesn’t own vineyards down there. Yields are low and 60% of the vines are on south facing slopes.
This wine is the perfect example of why Pinot Gris is narrowly my second favourite grape from Alsace – it’s so complex, rich and spicy. Gingeris complemented by star aniseand liquorice, but to be honest the longer you taste it the more flavours you recognise. Isn’t that what makes wine interesting? Residual sugar is 30 g/L but it’s perfectly integrated and finishes off dry.
As in previous years Lidl Ireland are having a French wine sale this autumn, starting on 25th September. “Sale” means different things to different people – here it doesn’t mean price reductions on existing lines but rather a limited release of certain French wines which aren’t all sale all year round.
The wines come from several different regions including Bordeaux, Rhône valley, the Loire, the Languedoc and Burgundy; but of course I have chosen to focus on my favourite white wine region of the world, Alsace!
Disclosure: samples kindly provided for review
Jean Cornelius Alsace Sylvaner 2016 (12.0%, €8.99 at Lidl Ireland)
Sylvaner is often looked down upon as one of the poor relations in Alsace, though that has much to do with grape farmers being paid for quantity rather than quality – Sylvaner can produce high yields but becomes dilute and lacking in flavour. In the hands of a good vigneron it can produce good wines, though it’s more of a quaffing wine than one for contemplation.
This Jean Cornelius 2016 is a great introduction to the grape, if you didn’t know it before. It’s clean, unoaked and dry, which are all normal for Sylvaner in Alsace, despite misconceptions about the bottle shape (don’t mention the “L word”!) If you like Riesling and Pinot Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay then give this a try, as it sits somewhere in the middle of them flavour-wise – there’s a touch of apple and a touch of citrus, making it great for shellfish, subtle fish dishes or as an aperitif – went great with green olives!
Jean Cornelius Alsace Pinot Blanc 2016 (12.0%, €8.99 at Lidl Ireland)
Pinot Blanc is the great all-rounder of Alsace; it’s fruity and supple, rarely austere (which Riesling can be) but not as exotic as Gewurztraminer (see below) or its sibling Pinot Gris. In fact there’s a trick which Alsace producers can use – other grapes! Now they can’t just put any old grapes in, but a dash of Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir (without skin contact of course) or Auxerrois is permitted.
Crunchy appleand pearare the key flavours here. As the wine warms a little in your glass it goes from Granny Smith to Golden Delicious, but always finishes dry and crips.
Jean Cornelius Alsace Gewurztraminer 2016 (12.5%, €7.99 (50cl) at Lidl Ireland)
Gewurztraminer – more easily shortened to Gewurz – is very different from most other grapes. It’s highly aromatic and has a distinctive exotic perfume that can divide drinkers (a true “Marmite grape”). Due to the ease with which the variety produces sugar it is often made somewhat sweet – on the listing I received this wine is described as moelleux i.e. sweet, but it isn’t classified as either Vendange Tardive or Sélection de Grains Nobles which are the Alsace terms for certain classes of sweet wines.
And on pouring this revealed itself to be a typical Gewurz – rose petals and Turkish delight. There’s a little fruit sweetness which adds to the round flavours in your mouth, but it finishes perfectly dry – in fact there’s even a little acidity on the finish, something which isn’t always associated with Gewurz.
These wines won’t set the world alight, but they are a great introduction to the wines of Alsace and are good representatives of their varieties.