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
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Make Mine A Double

Lidl Valentine’s Wine Sale [Make Mine a Double #41]

The Irish wing of supermarket Lidl kicked off their Valentine’s Wine Sale on Monday 11th February.  Like their French and Italian wine 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

Gewürztraminer Südtirol / Alto Adige 2017 (14.0%, RRP €12.99 at Lidl)

Gewürztraminer Südtirol DOC €12.99

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)

Nure Moscato d'Asti DOCG €11.99

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Information

Alsace Blends

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!

Edelzwicker

 

Edelzwicker

Edelzwicker is 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!

Gentil

hugel gentil alsace

Gentil is 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:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Muscat
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling

Pinot Blanc

Paul Ginglinger Pinot Blanc

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
  • Auxerrois
  • Pinot Gris
  • 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 Laquenexy but 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!

Muscat

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Muscat Alsace

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 (Zotzenberg and Kaefferkopf) do not allow any Muscat at all.

Crémant d’Alsace

dopff irion cremant d alsace brut

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)
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Auxerrois
  • Chardonnay (although not permitted in still Alsace wines, an exception is made for Crémant )

Field Blends

BURG Domaine Marcel Deiss

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:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Muscat
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Sylvaner
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling

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.

Tasting Events

A is for Alsace, Z is for Zinck

Domaine Zinck of Eguisheim

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 Portrait series which typify their variety
  • the Terrior series 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 Perspective

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 organic in 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.

Sylvaner is 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.

So now onto the wines!

Domaine Zinck Portrait Pinot Blanc 2016 (12.5%, RRP €18 at SIYPS)

portrait pinot blanc

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

terroir sylvaner

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)

gc eichberg riesling

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

gc goldert gewurz

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)

gc rangen pinot gris

Rangen is 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.  Ginger is complemented by star anise and 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.

 

Opinion

Alsace Wines in Lidl Autumn French Wine Sale

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!

Jean Cornelius Trio

Disclosure: samples kindly provided for review

Jean Cornelius Alsace Sylvaner 2016 (12.0%, €8.99 at Lidl Ireland)

 

Jean Cornelius Sylvaner

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)

Jean Cornelius Pinot Blanc

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 apple and pear are 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)

Jean Cornelius Gewurztraminer

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.

 

Opinion, Uncategorized

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet wines of 2016

As a wise man once said to me, don’t call them “dessert wines” as that implies they are only fit to drink with a dessert!  Categorising wines isn’t always an easy task, as even simple descriptors such as colour are open to interpretation (see this article).  Where do sweet wines fit in?  In the end, the label isn’t important, what’s in the glass is.

10. Tarin Pineau des Charentes Blanc Vieilli 3 Ans

2017-01-02-13-52-20

Pronounced the same as “Pinot”, this is the secret fortified drink of France’s west country. Made by adding eau de vie to grape must that has barely begun fermenting, it can only be produced in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments – also the home of Cognac. That’s no coincidence as the grape spirit used for Pineau is the same that is aged to eventually become Cognac.

This example has received 3 years of ageing which gives it a slight “rancio” character – enough to add interest but not so much that it dominates.  The only downside is that it is so moreish!

9. Sipp Mack Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2012

2016-04-21 19.28.00

This Gewurz isn’t intended to be a sweet wine as such, but given the grape’s natural flavour profile, low acidity and a bit of residual sugar it tastes far sweeter than other many wines of Alsace.  As a general rule I do like some sweetness in my Gewurz, and this Sipp Mack does deliver that, but with an incredible intensity of flavour thanks to its old vines. See here for the full review.

8. GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2015

2016-06-08-22-43-32

Moscato from Australia and elsewhere gained a lot of ground in recent years – fresh and fruity, sweet and easy to drink yet with very moderate alcohol, it became something of a party drink.  Hopefully this will shine a light back on Piedmont, the pioneering region of this style (though obviously not of the Muscat grape!)

Moscato d’Asti might also qualify as a party drink for some, but its true value is at the table, mainly with fruit based desserts where it excels.  The best – such as GD Vajra’s – have a mouthwatering balance of acidity and sweetness.  See here for the full review

7. Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese

2016-08-30 15.23.44

For many wine aficionados, Germany is the ultimate country for Riesling.  The sheer variety of styles is one of its key strengths, from bone-dry to intensely sweet, and just about every spot in between.  This Mosel Spätlese (late harvest) is just wonderful and was my narrow favourite of an all-Riesling tasting at DNS Wineclub.  See here for the full review

6. Zantho Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese 2012

zantho

Zantho is a joint venture between two famous names of Austrian wine, viticulturist Josef Umathum and winemaker Wolfgang Peck of Winzerkeller Andau.  As well as dry whites and reds they also make three dessert wines (pictured above) which are all glorious, with the TBA (for short) being my favourite.  Germanic grape Scheurebe works best as a sweet wine and excels in Zantho’s TBA from close to the border with Hungary.

5. Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV

2016-09-15-21-01-34

I’m a long standing fan of Nyetimber and I’ve been pleased to see them popping up here and there in Ireland.  When back in England in the summer I picked up a bottle of their Demi-Sec – which I haven’t yet seen here in Ireland – and took it to a DNS Wineclub tasting.  It was absolutely magnificent and reinforced my admiration for Brad Greatrix and Cherie Spriggs.

Not stated on the front label is that this is 100% Chardonnay, and therefore a Blanc-de-Blancs.  Dosage is 45g/L giving it perfect balance – typical English acidity is the counter to the sugar.  This was the first English Demi-Sec to be released but I would go further and state that it’s one of the top few Demi-Secs made anywhere in the world.

4. Domaine de Bois Mozé Coteaux de l’Aubance 2008

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The Loire Valley is probably France’s most underrated wine region and its Chenin based dessert wines probably the least well known – which is a total shame as they can be world class without a world class price.  Coteaux  de l’Aubance is even less well known than Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, but the best sites can yield beauties such as this. In my opinion these wines are the ultimate expression of Chenin Blanc – and this is still a youngster at nine years of age.

3. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2014

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The grape variety for this wine is known locally as Zibibbo, but further afield as Muscat of Alexandria – a very ancient grape.  “Local” here is the tiny island of Pantelleria which is between Sicily and Tunisia.  The grapes are dried after picking to concentrate the flavours and sugars, similar to “straw wines” elsewhere.  This is a wine of staggering complexity for such a young vintage, the biggest threat to ageing being its utter deliciousness!

2. Cascina Garitina Niades

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Many readers will be drawing a blank at the name of this wine which could have been in any (or all!) of my red, sparkling and sweet Top 10 lists.  Formerly carrying the DOCG of Brachetto d’Acqui, it could be thought of as the red equivalent of Moscato d’Asti – though even better, in this case.

When I tried it and tweeted about it, one wag did reply “can’t see the point” – and admittedly, before I tried it I can’t say it was missing from my life – but once tried this wine is never forgotten.  Fresh red fruit, acidity and sweetness combine to make wine heaven – it’s Eton Mess in a glass!

1. Léon Beyer Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 1998

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This was the unexpected runaway winner of the DNS Wineclub Alsace tasting, against some pretty stiff competition (including #2 in this Top 10).  Léon Beyer is based in the achingly beautiful village of Eguisheim and has Domaines Zinck and Bruno Sorg as neighbours.  “The house style is dry” said the lady at the counter, “apart from the sweet wines” – such as this rare Late Harvest Gewurz.  The Léon Beyer website give a drinking window of 10 to 20 years from vintage, but this tasted like it had another decade left at least.  If I had another bottle it would probably make my Top 10 sweet wines of 2026!

 

 

 

 

Single Bottle Review

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #10 – Domaine Rémy Gresser Gewurz “Kritt” 2015

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Credit: CIVA

Despite its long and thin, North-South orientation, probably the most significant compass direction in Alsace is East – West, as going East takes you closer to the plains by the Rhine (not that great for quality wine production), whereas heading West takes you into the foothills of the Vosges mountains (where most of the Grand Cru vineyards are located).

However, latitude does have an appreciable effect, with the richest wines being made around Guebwillwer and Thann in the south, and lighter styles in the northern villages such as Barr (where I stayed for a week a few years ago).

Very close to Barr is the village of Andlau, home to Domaine Rémy Gresser, a small family-owned producer.  They have a total of 10.3 hectares under vine, split across plots within the Grand Crus Kastelberg, Wiebelsberg and Moenchberg plus the Lieux-dits (recognised vineyards that do not have Grand Cru status) Brandhof, Brandberg and Kritt. The family’s vinous links to Andlau have been documented as far back as 1520 when Thiébaut Gresser  (himself a viticulturalist) was appointed prevost.

Domaine Rémy Gresser Gewurztraminer “Kritt” 2015 (13.5%, £21 from Top Selection)

Gresser front

Gresser back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On opening the bottle there’s no doubt what the grape is, before a glass has even been poured – white flower blossoms and lychees unfurl into the room.

Unusually above I have put photos of both the front and back labels up: two key figures are revealed on the back, being 13.5% alcohol and a sweetness of 3 on a scale of 1 to 10.  So, it’s fairly high in alcohol (though not untypical of Gewurz) which gives it some body, but off-dry in sweetness (compare to the medium and medium-sweet pair I reviewed here).

On the palate it is again distinctly Gewurz, but with a lightness and elegance that is remarkably refined.  If you find many Gewurz to be too full on – especially for pairing with more delicately spiced food – then this could be the wine you have been looking for!

 

Disclosure: sample kindly provided for review

 

 

 

 

 

Make Mine A Double

Make Mine A Double #15 – Unusual Alsace

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Grapes at Domaine Christian Dock, Heiligenstein

There are a few types of Alsace wine that most wine lovers are very familiar with – Riesling and Gewurztraminer for example – and aficionados will also know about the Crémants and Vendanges Tardives wines.  However, here are a couple that are really off the beaten track – but no less delicious for it!

Christian Dock Klevener de Heiligenstein 2011 (13.5%, bought from producer)

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When Gewurz is great it can be really great – such as this pair.  However, even when it’s as good as that it’s not necessarily a supping wine – it can be so rich that one glass is fab, but enough.  This related grape is less expressive, usually drier, and much more quaffable.  So what the heck is it?

We begin with the Traminer grape which is thought to have originated in the town of Tramin an der Weinstraße, previously in the Austria-Hungary County of Tyrol and now in South Tyrol / Alte Adige in northern Italy (the town didn’t move but the border did). Traminer made its way north to the Jura mountains where it became known as Savagnin Blanc (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc), though it differs very slightly from its antecedent.  Here it is still produced for Savagnin table wine, Vin de Paille and Vin Jaune.

A pink-skinned mutation (of either Traminer or Savagnin Blanc) called Savagnin Rose then developed, and was allegedly taken north from Chiavenna in Italy (Cleven or Kleven in German).  An aromatic mutation of this then became Gewürztraminer (literally Spicy Traminer) in Germany and Alsace.

However, in the village of Heiligenstein (near Barr) and its surrounds in northern Alsace there are still some plantings of Savagnin Rose – known as Klevener de Heiligenstein – which is what we have here.  Further confusion is caused by Klevner (only 2 ‘e’s) which is either a synonym for Pinot Blanc or a blend which can contain Pinots Blanc, Gris and Noir plus Auxerrois.

Unfortunately production is fairly small so it’s a rarity, but if you ever come across a bottle then you must try it – still off-dry, soft and round but more subtle than most Gewurztraminers. Like its offspring I think it would be great with Asian food.

Christian Dock is a small family producer in the village that I happened to stop at in passing.  Like most producers they make the full range of Alsace wines and I recommend you try any you can get your hands on.

Domaine Zind Humbrecht “Zind” Vin de France 2013 (13.0%, RRP €23.95, jnwine.com)

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So first of all you may notice that this isn’t an Appellation Alsace Controllée wine, or any Appellation at all come to that, despite being made by one of the region’s most celebrated producers, Zind-Humbrecht.  This is because it doesn’t satisfy the AOC rules for Alsace and there is no junior Vin de Pays or IGP designation for the area so it has to fall all the way down to Vin de France.  And where does it fall short of the rules?  Chardonnay! *gasp*

This is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Auxerrois.  You never see the former on an Alsace label as it’s not considered to be a local grape, but it is permitted in Crémant d’Alsace (as in many other crémants around France).  Occasionally a small percentage might find its way into a Pinot blend, but that’s strictly on the QT.

Auxerrois (this version of it, at least – it’s also the synonym for grapes such as Malbec and Valdiguié) is a full sibling of Chardonnay, as they both have Gouais Blanc and Pinot as parents (due to the Pinot family’s genetic instability it’s not always possible to tell the colour of a particular parent).  Although this is considered a local grape, it too nearly always ends up in blends.

Despite not being an AOC wine this was special.  It showed lots of citrus and white fruit, but also minerality and some pleasant reductive characteristics.  My friend Mags said it reminded her of a good white Burgundy – though at a much lower price!

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Other “Make Mine A Double” Posts

Make Mine A Double

Make Mine A Double #13 – Gorgeous Gewurz!

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As I’ve hinted at many times, Gewurztraminer isn’t always a guaranteed winner with me – sometimes it’s glorious, but sometimes it doesn’t quite sit right – some of the elements out of kilter.  When the DNS Wine Club met recently for an all-Alsace tasting, two Gewurz were the value-for-money and money-no-object winners of the night – much to everyone’s surprise!

Sipp Mack Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2012 (13.5%,  €24.00 Mitchell & Son)

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Sipp-Mack has been a favourite producer of mine for several years, and one I was able to visit when over in Hunawihr a few years ago.  Their Rosacker Grand Cru Riesling is a regular tipple at Ely – the whole range has great depth of flavour.  At the time this wine was made the winery was “in conversion” to organic practices, and are now certified.

The helpful label on the back describes the sweetness of this wine as “medium” – and at 51 g/L of residual sugar it would never be mistaken for dry.  It’s one of the most remarkably balance Gewurz I’ve ever had – lots of lychee, floral and ginger flavours from the old vines but also acidity to balance that sweetness.  This is as good as some of the Grand Cru Gewurz wines I’ve had from other producers – a veritable bargain.

 

Léon Beyer Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 1998 (13.5%, €39.90 Léon Beyer)

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I happened across the little shop front of Léon Beyer after buying several cases from Domaine Bruno Sorg in the same village of Eguisheim.  Leaving my wife in a souvenir shop I dashed through the wines open for tasting.  “The house style is dry” said the lady at the counter, “apart from the sweet wines”.  Although this might sound like nonsense, of course she was referring to the Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (botrytised grapes) dessert wines.  The dry wines were indeed dry, and lovely, but this late harvest wine really stood out.

Opening an 18 year old wine does leave you a bit on edge, but I needn’t have worried – it was magnificent.  And so fresh!  It didn’t taste in the slightest bit tired.  The Léon Beyer website give a drinking window of 10 to 20 years from vintage, but this tasted like it had another decade left at least.  Some measure of the wine’s rarity can be garnered from the fact that only 4 more vintages have been produced since the 1998.

Although not cheap at around €40 (for 750ml) in France, this wine was jaw-droppingly good.  If I’d had another bottle I might have been mugged for it by the rest of the wine club!

Tasting Events

A February Feast, part 1

The end of January to April is a very busy time in the Dublin wine calendar, with lots of country, producer and distributor portfolio tastings.  Among the many excellent events is Tindal’s Portfolio Tasting at the swanky Marker Hotel in Dublin’s Dockland.  I had less than sixty minutes to taste so had to pick and choose; here are the white wines which impressed me most.

Domaine William Fevre Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2012 (€45, Searsons (online & Monkstown) and 64 Wine (Glasthule))

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William Fevre is undoubtedly in the top echelon of Chablis producers with an extensive range across the chablis hierarchy.  This Premier Cru is better than some Grand Crus I have had, combining zingy acidity, minerality and ripe fruit. Drinking well now but will continue evolving over the next decade.

Domaine William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros “Côte Bouguerots” 2009 (€90, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Gibneys (Malahide))

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Moving up to Grand Cru level and an older, warmer vintage brings even more complexity, fruit sweetness and integration.  There is still Chablis’s trademark stony minerality and acidity, so it remains refreshing.  Would pair well with white and seafood up to gamebird.

Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault “Les Clous” 2013 (€47.50, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

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Whereas a ripe Chablis might conceivably fool you into thinking it came from further south in Burgundy, the converse could not be said of this Meursault – it is decidedly of the Côte d’Or.  Bouchard was established close to 300 years ago and have expanded their land under vine at opportune moments.

Meursault is probably my favourite village in the Côte de Beaune, and is the archetype for oaked Chardonnay.  This being said, the use of oak is often judicious, and so it is here; there’s plenty of lemon and orange fruit with a little toastiness from the oak.  Very nice now, but a couple more years of integration would make it even better.

Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2013 (€27.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Parting Glass (Enniskerry))

Kidnappers Vineyard

This is a cool climate Chardonnay from one of my all time favourite producers, Craggy Range.  The origin of the usual name is explained on their website:

Its namesake, Cape Kidnappers, comes from an incident that occurred during Captain Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. When Cook attempted to trade with the native Maori in an armed canoe, a Tahitian servant of Cook’s interpreter was seized. The servant later escaped by jumping into the sea after the canoe was fired upon.

Hawke’s Bay does have some fairly warm areas, with the well-drained Gimblett Gravels in particular perfect for growing Syrah and Bordeaux varieties, but cooler parts are located up in the hills or – as in this case – close to the coast.  The aim is apparently to emulate Chablis; with only a little bit of older oak and clean fruit, it’s definitely close.  The 2013 is drinking well now but will benefit from another year or two – the 2008s I have in my wine fridge are really opening up now!

Domaines Schlumberger Alsace Pinot Blanc “Les Princes Abbés” 2013 (€18.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

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Another intriguingly named wine.  In 1298 the Abbots of the nearby Murbach Abbey were given the status of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Frederick II, and were henceforth known as Abbot Princes.

This is clean and somewhat simple, but fruity and expressive.  When done well, Pinot Blanc can be versatile and more approachable than many other of the Alsace varieties – it will go with lots of things, is well balanced and fruity enough to drink on its own.

Domaines Schlumberger Alsace Grand Cru Saering Riesling 2012 (€29.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

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Schlumberger have Riesling vines on several of their Grand Cru properties, and it’s a wine geek’s dream to taste them head to head to see what the difference in terroir makes.  All wines are organic and biodynamic; whether you place importance on these or not, the care that goes into them certainly pays dividends in the glass.

This 2012 Saering is still very young, showing tangy lime and grapefruit, but a pleasure to drink nevertheless.

Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives “Cuvée Christine” 2006 (€64 (750ml), Searsons (online & Monkstown))

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This late harvest Gewurztraminer is named after the family member Christine Schlumberger who ran the firm for almost 20 years after the death of her husband, and was the grandmother of the current Managing Director Alain Beydon-Schlumberger.

All the fruit is picked late from the Kessler Grand Cru vineyard, packed into small crates so as not to damage the fruit, then taken to the winery for gentle pressing.  Fermentation can take from one to three months using ambient yeast.

On pouring, fabulous aromas jump out of the glass – flowers and white fruit.  They continue through to the palate, and although the wine feels round in the mouth it is tangy and fresh, far from cloying.  A seductive wine that exemplifies the late harvest style.