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.
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
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
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 herefor the full review.
8. GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2015
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
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 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
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
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
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
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!
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!
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 plainsby the Rhine (not that great for quality wine production), whereas heading West takes you into the foothillsof 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 Moenchbergplus the Lieux-dits (recognised vineyards that do not have Grand Cru status) Brandhof, Brandbergand 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)
On opening the bottle there’s no doubt what the grape is, before a glass has even been poured – white flower blossoms and lycheesunfurl 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!
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)
When Gewurz is great it can be really great – such asthis 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 Traminergrape 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 Rosethen 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)
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 Chardonnayand 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 Pinotas 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 mineralityand 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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As I’ve hinted at many times, Gewurztraminerisn’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 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.
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!
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))
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))
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)
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))
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!
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.
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.
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.
Dublin isn’t overwhelmed with BYO restaurants, particularly those that don’t charge corkage, but of those that do let you bring in your own wine, many are southern and/or eastern Mediterranean-themed. Of course this makes sense when those areas have high numbers of practising Muslims who don’t drink alcohol, and don’t want to profit from selling it, but are happy for you to drink with their food.
Among the best of those BYOs is Keshk Café Restaurant, just by the Canal on Dublin’s southside. So what better place for five like-minded wine bloggers to meet up for food, drinks and a natter!
The food was lovely and may have been inadvertently on the healthy side, with fresh salads and grilled meat. I will leave further description of the food to others, but below are the wines we tasted. As co-ordinator I suggested two criteria for each diner’s choice of wine:
1) A retail price of between €20 and €30 (after a few years of duty rises this is now the sweetspot for wine in Ireland)
2) The wine should be a favourite or something the person fancied trying (all grapes and all regions allowed!)
Codorniú Anna Blanc de Noirs NV (€10, Madrid Airport)
Along with Frexinet, Cordoniu is one of two big Cava houses who dominate sales volumes. Every year they pump out hectolitres of ordinary fizz, which is exactly the sort of thing that I avoid. You know the stuff I mean – and it’s undercut in the UK and Ireland by even less expensive supermarket own-label pap. This race to compete on cost and not quality has done significant damage to the Cava brand, so obtaining a fair price for a well-made one is difficult.
Thankfully a few well-made ones do find their way over here, even if it’s just a chance purchase at Madrid Airport. This is a 100% Blanc de Noirs made from Pinot Noir, one of the two main black grapes of Champagne. Of course being a DO Cava it is made in the traditional method, though the regulations for Cava are not as strict as those for the Champenois.
Given its constituent variety there was no surprise to find lovely red fruit, primarily strawberry and raspberry, but there was also stone fruit such as apricot, and even lees characters which confirm that this is a level above everyday Cava.
Anna is very well put together and something I will look out for in future.
The alcohol of 11.0% gives you a good clue as to the style of this Groovy – light quaffing material. The wino who brought this is a big fan of the variety, especially after attending a 100% varietal tasting last year (which I covered here). It’s not the type of wine to win lots of Parker Points or Wines Of The Year Awards but it’s just very pleasant to drink.
I have a feeling this will be seeing a lot more glasses in the summer months.
Jean Chartron AOP Rully “Montmorin” 2012 (€30 down to €20, The Corkscrew)
Well that’s one way of hitting both ends of the suggested price range! Rully is one of the better communes on the Côte Chalonnaise, the section of Burgundy in between The Côte d’Or and the Mâconnais. This was amazing complexity for such a young wine. To be honest if I’d tasted that blind I’d have guessed at something north of €40 from the Côte de Beaune.
The producer Jean Charton is based in Puligny-Montrachet but also produces whites in Chassagne-Montrachet, Saint-Aubin, Rully and the generic Burgundy appellation.
There was a definite vanilla and toast influence from oak, but not the full butterscotch sauce experience. I’m guessing that quite a bit of the creaminess came from lees stirring rather than extended ageing in barrel. Monsieur Colm from the Corkscrew says they have experienced a little more bottle variation than normal, but most of them ZING!
Meyer-Fonné AOP Alsace Gewurztraminer Réserve 2013 (€22.95, The Corkscrew)
This is one of my favourite Alsace producers with a fantastic range. My lubricated French came out with the term “correct” which is a handy shorthand for a wine that accurately reflects its ingredients and origins, and is well made, but is somewhat prosaic, nothing that makes you go “Wow”.
This Gewurz was off dry, with the variety’s typical lychees and flowers, plus some spicy ginger. It would probably have shone more with spicier food; given where we were eating there was a good chance of some heat, but I think we made conservative food choices when it actually came to ordering so we’d be able to give all the wines an even chance.
Château Musar Bekaa Valley 2003
In a Mediterranean restaurant, what would be more fitting than a true Mediterranean wine? From the some-time war zone of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon comes a wine which is full of contradictions:
It’s an alcoholic product from a country with a good number of Muslims.
It’s made with Bordeaux’s flagship grape Cabernet Sauvignon and the southern Rhône’s Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Grenache. The proportions change from vintage to vintage.
On the nose there’s a big whiff of nail polish remover, a sign of Volatile Acidity which is considered a major fault in wine.
After that there’s a fair dose of farmyard, to be polite, or horseshit, to be less polite. This is another fault caused by the pernicious strain of yeast Brettanomyces, called Brett for short.
Yet it works! And boy does it work!
This bottle had been double decanted which gave it a real chance to shine. At 12 years from vintage it’s still a callow youth, with plenty of years ahead of it.
Domaine Coursodon AOP Saint Joseph “L’Olivaie” 2012 (€40, Wine Workshop)
For this cuvée maturation is shared between demi-muids (20% new) and pièces (0% new). Although not specifically parcellaire, the components of this cuvée come mainly from St Jean de Muzols and the vines average over 60 years in age.
A lovely wine showing poise and potential but not yet unfurling its wings. Brooding dark black fruit and a twist of black pepper meet on the palate. Saint Joseph is rapidly becoming my go-to appellation in the northern Rhône
A couple of hours decanting would have shown it at its current best. I’d love to try this again with more sympathetic treatment (and earlier in the evening!)
Carlo Gentili Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010
Just a random Chianti which I had lying around at home. It was the seventh bottle of the evening. It had great aromas of Chianti which followed through to the palate – fantastic Chianti flavour. For further info have a look here.
I was delighted to recently invite myself be invited to Classic Drinks‘ Portfolio Tasting at Fade Street Social Restaurant in the heart of Dublin. Classic supply both on and off trade in Ireland and given their portfolio of 800 wines there’s a good chance that the average Irish wine drinker has tried one.
Here are a few of the wines which stood out for me:
Champagne Pannier Brut NV (RRP €52.99)
Given my proclivities for quality fizz (a friend and fellow wine blogger dubbed me a “Bubbles Whore”, to which I have no retort) it was no surprise to see me making a beeline for the Champagne.
Louis-Eugène Pannier founded his eponymous Champagne house in 1899 at Dizy, just outside Epernay, later moving to Château-Thierry in the Vallée de la Marne. The current Cellar Master, Philippe Dupuis, has held the position for over 25 years. Under him the house has developed a reputation for Pinot-driven but elegant wines.
The Non Vintage is close to a three way equal split of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. The black grapes provide body and red fruit characters, but the good whack (technical term) of Chardonnay gives citrus, flowers and freshness. A minimum of 3 years ageing adds additional layers of brioche. It’s a well balanced and classy Champagne.
From near Venice comes this blend of local and international white varieties: Garganega 50%, Chardonnay 30%, Trebbiano di Soave 20%.
Garganega is probably most well known for being the basis of Soave DOC / DOCG wines, whose blends often include the other local grape here, Trebbiano di Soave. In fact, the latter is also known as Verdicchio in the Marche region where it is most popular.
So how is it? Amazing bang for your buck. More than anything this is peachy – so peachy, in fact, that you can’t be 100% convinced they haven’t put peaches in with the grapes when fermenting! More info here.
Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013 (RRP €13.99)
Angove was founded in the beautiful region of Mclaren Vale (just south of Adelaide in South Australia) in 1886, and are still family run and owned, now by the fifth generation. The company has sixteen sub-ranges which span a large range of quality levels (and price brackets).
So why doesn’t the new World do more of this type of blend? Lots of citrus zing from the Riesling with just a touch of peachy body and spicy aromas from the Gewurz. The precise blend was the matter of some contention, with both (40% / 60%) and (30% / 30%) being quoted, though my guess would be closer to 80% / 20% as otherwise Gewurz would totally steal the show on the nose.
This would be great as an aperitif or flexible enough to cope with many different Asian cuisines – Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese.
Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012 (RRP €20.99)
Internationally, Nelson is firmly in the shadow of Marlborough when it comes to both export volumes and familiarity with consumers. Although Nelson isn’t far from Marlborough at the top of the South Island, it gets more precipitation and produces wines of a different style.
Neudorf is one Nelson producer which has received accolades for its owners Tim and Judy Finn, and Seifried is another. From their website:
The Seifried family have been making stylish food-friendly wines since 1976. The range includes rich full Chardonnays, fine floral Rieslings, lively Sauvignon Blancs, warm plummy Pinot Noirs and intensely delicious dessert wines.
If you see the Seifried “Sweet Agnes” Riesling then snap it up, it’s delicious!
The 2012 Pinot Gris has an Alsace Grand Cru standard and style nose – so much stone fruit, exotic fruit and floral notes. On the palate these are joined by spice, pear and ginger. This would be a great food wine with its comforting texture
For my personal taste it would be even better with a touch more residual sugar than its 5g/L, but that’s just me and my Alsace bias. A lovely wine.
Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011 (RRP €32.99)
More than just Chardonnay, more than just Chablis…in fact this is more than just 1er Cru Chablis, it’s a great effort. There’s a hint of something special on the nose but it really delivers on the palate – it just sings.
Laroche tells us that the fruit is sourced from several Premier Cru vineyards such as Vosgros, Vaucoupins and Vaulignau (I don’t know if selection is alphabetical…) and then blended together so the wine is more than the sum of its parts.
The majority (88%) is aged in stainless steel and the remainder (12%) in oak barrels. The texture and palate weight might lead you to believe that more oak was involved, but this also comes from nine months ageing on fine lees and the minimal filtration. Full info here.
Thanks to Classic Drinks and venue hosts Fade Street Social!
I’ll cut to the chase: this is the best Chilean white wine I have ever tasted
A friend recently opened a random bottle of white wine which happened to be a Chilean Gewürz*, not the most common combination. On closer inspection of the label it was a ten year old Chilean Gewurz*! Fearing something old, possibly oxidised or just out of condition, a few sips revealed something wonderful: a well made, maturing, but far-from-over-the-hill, delicious white wine.
One of my mantras on wine is that most of us drink wine too young – particularly white wine – and this wine only serves to reinforce it.
Miguel Torres Chile is an offshoot from the Spanish Torres family who have been producing wine since the 19th Century. From the website:
Miguel A. Torres decided to begin the Chilean project on the advice of Alejandro Parot, a Chilean friend and classmate from his studies in Dijon (France).
Winemaking is ultra-clean and intended to have minimal impact on the finished wine:
No skin contact
No oak ageing
Bottled five months after picking
Notes on the latest vintage state that it is “an ideal match for shellfish (particularly oysters) and most fish dishes”. Without doing extensive vertical tastings I can’t argue against that, but I actually think the 2005 is far more versatile than the above suggests – quite possibly as a result of bottle ageing.
There’s texture and much more body than expected for a white. Acidity is still present but perfectly counterbalanced by the modest residual sugar (7.5g/L). The exotic tropical fruits of youth are now a little more subtle but still present and correct.
For Alsace fans such as myself, this wine was a revelation. Tasted blind, I wouldn’t have been shocked to hear it was from a big name Grand Cru producer such as Zind-Humbrecht.
I now need to work out how to collect more vintages of it…
*Note:in Germany Gewürztraminer has an umlaut, in Alsace they leave it off. I’ve tried to randomly represent both parties in this article. I’d like to think of myself as an equal opportunities speller.
Heading south from Rías Baixas in Galicia takes you over the border into Portugal and Albariño becomes Alvarinho. All good so far – and I often prefer the Portuguese stuff. But what’s this – a fizzy version?
Made by the traditional method, i.e. there’s a second alcoholic fermentation in bottle, this is fresh and fruity – and it’s real rather than artificial fruit. This might sound a bit silly – but it tastes just like you’d expect a fizzy version of Alvarinho to taste!
This is an excellent aperitif – and a refreshing different taste.
Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012 (€30.50)
Nino Franco’s Primo Franco recently won the trophy for best Prosecco in Tom Stephenson’s “Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships”. The fact that there is a Prosecco category at all is not a sop to the producers of off-dry fruity pop, but rather it’s recognition that Prosecco canbe a serious sparkling if the producer wishes.
Produced from a single vineyard after which it is named, San Floriano is made by the Charmat (or tank) method like all other Prosecco, but has four months on the lees while in tank, and therefore picks up a little autolytic character. It’s also dry and savoury, so it tastes like a serious wine – you could easily drink this with a meal as well as the usual aperitif.
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009 (€46.99)
My favourite wine of the whole tasting!
The Gusbourne Estate in south east England dates back to 1410, though sparkling wine production has a much more recent history – the first vintage was in 2006! The main vineyard is on a south facing ancient escarpment in Appledore, Kent. The soil are clay and sandy loam slopes – you might expect chalk given the proximity to the White Cliffs of Dover, but it does mean that Gusbourne copes better with wet weather and drought.
Blankety-blanks (as I childishly call them) are sometimes on the simple side but this spent a full three years on the lees which gives it lots of lovely bready characters, in addition to lemon sherbet from the Chardonnay. Being an English sparkler it has lots of zippy acidity with a dosage of 10.5 g/L for balance (I guessed 10 – 11, can’t get much closer than that!) This style of wine makes a great aperitif or goes wonderfully with seafood.
Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer 2013 (Loosen Estate) (€14.99)
Although I’m a huge fan of Alsace wines, sometimes I find the Gewurztraminers made there a little dry for my tastes. Just like Pinot Gris, I prefer my Gewurz to have a little sweetness on the finish to match the richness of the mid palate. This off dry German Gewürztraminer (note the umlaut over the u) ticks all the boxes for me! The most aromatic of varieties, the nose is instantly recognisable, with rose petals and lychees jumping out of the glass. Added to these on the palate is Turkish Delight.
Gewürz is something of a marmite variety, but this is an excellent introduction.
Château Beauregard Pouilly Fuissé Vers Cras 2011 (€37.00)
One of the first things aspiring wine geeks learn is the difference between Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé; although they’re both French and white they are stylistically very different. The former is one of France’s top two Sauvignon Blanc areas, just over the river from the more celebrated Sancerre. Pouilly-Fuissé is the most important appellation within the Mâconnais, the most southerly region of Burgundy proper.
Compared to the much more prestigious Côte d’Or, The Mâconnais has gentler slopes and mixed agriculture – and being a bit further south it gets more sun, so its grapes tend to be riper. Accompanying that is a tendency to use oak barrels quite liberally, especially in the better appellations, so the wines become more New World in style. Although the producer is still very important, Pouilly-Fuissé and St-Véran are white Burgundies that I would happily order from a restaurant wine menu without recognising the maker.
Château Beauregard is one of the top producers of Pouilly Fuissé. Its standard 2012 bottling (€28.75) is showing very nicely now, but I would be a little more patient and pick up the single vineyard Vers Cras. Although a year younger it had a lot more time in oak and so is not yet quite fully integrated. There’s lots of tropical fruit and toasty vanilla from the barrel ageing.
It’s not the currently fashionable cool climate style but it’s a wine I’d happily drink all evening from big fishbowl glasses.
Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (€30.00)
This is Marlborough Sauvignon Jim, but not as we know it.
For those who don’t know Dog Point, the founders James Healy and Ivan Sutherland are both ex-Cloudy Bay. As well as producing their own wine they sell grapes to other winemakers, including former colleague Kevin Judd who makes his Greywacke wines in their facility.
NZ Sauvignon can be sometimes be summed up as “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long” – it has riotous explosions of fruit in its youth but fades quickly. This elegant example from Dog Point is designed to age and evolve positively. It spent 18 months in older French oak barrels so has plenty of texture and refinement. It has the tropical fruit of regular Savvy plus peach and other stone fruit – it’s just such a pleasure to drink. There’s a funky edge from the wild yeast, and as malolactic fermentation was blocked there’s plenty of fresh acidity.