Tasting Events

That Petrol Emotion – DNS do Riesling

Trio

When DNS Wine Club recently met to taste a few different Rieslings, two significant conclusions presented themselves:

  1. Although Riesling can be very pleasant in the €15 – €20 bracket (in Ireland), it’s at €25+ where the wines start to be special
  2. Despite normally being a 100% varietal, Riesling can taste incredibly different depending on where and how it is made.

Here are the three which really stood out:

Pewsey Vale The Contours Eden Valley Riesling 2010 (12.5%, €24.95 at The Corkscrew)

2016-08-30 15.24.40

While the cool Clare Valley is celebrated as the home of most of Australia’s best Riesling, the higher parts of the Eden Valley are also favourable for the variety.  Pewsey Vale winery can claim a number of firsts:

  • It was the first winery founded in (what is now) the Eden Valley in 1847
  • It was the first winery to plant Riesling in Australia (also in 1847)
  • It became the first winery in Australia to use the Stelvin screw cap closure in 1977

The Contours is Pewsey’s flagship single vineyard bottling that they only release five years after vintage as a “Museum Release” – so it already shows significant development.  And that development shows most on the nose, an amazingly intense cocktail of toast, brioche, lime, sage and petrol.  The palate is just a little less intense, but still beautiful.

Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011 (14.0%, €30.00 at Mitchell & Son)

2016-08-30 15.23.19

As the DNS Wine Club had already held an Alsace tasting earlier in the year, and given my predilection for the region’s wines, I had intended not to include any Alsace wines in the Riesling tasting.  However, I failed!  As the Sipp Mack Vieilles Vignes Gewurztraminer showed so well previously I was minded to show the equivalent Riesling, but as stocks of that had not quite arrived in the shops from the docks I was “forced” to step up to the Grand Cru!

Of all the Rieslings we tried this had the highest alcohol at 14.0% – the Grand Cru sites get lots of sun (so the grapes develop lots of sugar) and Sipp Mack’s house style is to ferment until totally dry, so all the sugar is turned into alcohol.  This Rosacker is super smooth, with apple and tangy lime fruit plus chalky minerality.  A profound wine.

Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel Riesling Spätlese 2013 (8.0%, €29.95 at The Corkscrew)

2016-08-30 15.23.44

The Mosel is considered by some to be the ultimate region for Riesling, with steep slate-laden vineyards running down to the river.  Being relatively far north makes the ripening season longer and so flavours get even more chance to develop.  While there is a modern trend toward dry Riesling, for me the beauty still lies in the traditional sweeter wines such as this Spätlese (literally “late harvest”.

Sonnenuhr literally means “sun-hour” or “sun-clock”, but is better translated as sundial!  The significance seems to be that the prime south facing sites were the ones where a sundial would work so they made sure to advertise the fact.

Even before pouring it was obvious that this wine was different from the others with its golden hues.  Residual sugar is not “volatile” meaning it can’t be detected by the human nose, but the aromas of honey, soft stone fruit and flowers were phenomenal.  I did see one taster look shocked on first sniffing this wine – it’s that good!  Although quite sweet on the palate this Spätlese was perfectly balanced with zingy acidity.

Conclusions

All three of these wines were excellent, and well worth the price tags.  I would be extremely happy drinking any of them and all were well received by the club, but by a narrow margin the Max Ferd. Richter was declared wine of the night!

 

And here’s the musical reference from the article title…

Make Mine A Double

Make Mine A Double #13 – Gorgeous Gewurz!

2011-05-25 13.40.56

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)

2016-04-21 19.28.00

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)

gewurztraminer.vt.leonbeyer

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!

Make Mine A Double

Make Mine a Double #09 – Domaine Charles Baur Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru Riesling

Charles Baur Alsace vineyards
Charles Baur Alsace vineyards

For Alsace fans like myself Riesling is usually the pinnacle of any producer’s portfolio, and if they make one (or more) from a Grand Cru vineyard, then even better.  One thing to note, though, is that many producers do not make exactly the same type of wine at both quality levels; rather, there is sometimes a deliberate stylistic difference, which can be even more amplified by vintage variation and adaptive wine making.

Eguisheim, Alsace
Eguisheim, Alsace (Credit: Domaine Charles Baur)

Thanks to Cases Wine Warehouse I recently tasted a couple of lovely Alsace Rieslings which illustrated that point perfectly.  The producer was one I wasn’t that familiar with previously – Domaine Charles Baur.  However, I am quite familiar with their home village of Eguisheim (pictured above) which is the stunning setting for several excellent producers, including Domaine Bruno Sorg who I have visited a few times.

Domaine Charles Baur Rieslings
Domaine Charles Baur Rieslings

Eguisheim counts two Grand Cru vineyards close by, Eichberg and Pfersigberg.  These sites were first included in Grand Cru wines from 1972 but, there were no references to them on the label.  These lieux-dits weren’t officially adopted until 1983, and finally as AOCs in their own right in 2011.

Domaine Charles Baur “Cuvée Charles” Riesling 2012 (€19.45, Cases Wine Warehouse)

Domaine Charles Baur
Domaine Charles Baur “Cuvée Charles” Riesling 2012

Although not a Grand Cru this is a premium bottling, ahead of the standard Riesling (which I haven’t tasted).  It’s pale as you’d expect, with fresh citrus notes on the nose.  The palate has lots of concentration, zingy lemon and lime.  The finish is dry, emphasised by the acidity that runs through the wine.  Very pleasant to drink on its own, but would partner well with seafood.

Domaine Charles Baur Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2013 (€26.95, Cases Wine Warehouse)

Domaine Charles Baur Alsace Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2013
Domaine Charles Baur Alsace Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2013

More of the same?  Sort of…  It has more body, more residual sugar, more concentrated flavours, but they come together to make a more rounded, deeper wine.  This is still a total baby and is showing primary fruit right now, but should continue to develop over the next decade or so.  With the extra body and sweetness this would pair fabulously with mild to medium spiced Asian food.

Opinion

Miguel Torres Santa Digna Gewurztraminer Central Valley 2005

Miguel Torres Santa Digna Gewurztraminer 2005
Miguel Torres Santa Digna Gewürztraminer 2005

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.

Tasting Events

A half-dozen of the best from the Ely BIG Tasting

Twice a year the Ely Winebar and Restaurant Group hold consumer tastings at their larger venue in Dublin’s IFSC.  Over a dozen of their wine suppliers show a selection of their wines, both currently listed and not listed, so that consumers get a chance to try new things and their feedback might lead to new listings!

The tastings are very well organised by Ely Group Wine Manager Ian Brosnan and Head of Biz Dev Jeri Mahon – thanks to both them and all the other staff supporting the event.

Here are a few of the wines which really stood out for me:

1. Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV (Liberty Wine) {by the glass at Ely Place and Ely CHQ}

Champagne Charlie
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve

Perhaps it was the occasion, the perfect serving temperature or perhaps just a little extra time in bottle since I tried this last year, but Charles was tasting fantastic. The fruit is lovely and there’s some light biscotti notes from ageing on the lees. Perfectly balanced and poised, this is a definite candidate for the best non-vintage Champagne on the market.

2. San Lorenzo Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi Superiore ‘Vigna delle Oche’ Marche 2012 (GrapeCircus at Sheridan’s) {by the glass at Ely Place and Ely CHQ}

San Lorenzo Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi Superiore ‘Vigna delle Oche’ 2012
San Lorenzo Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi Superiore ‘Vigna delle Oche’ 2012

San Lorenzo is a well-established family producer now run by Natalino Crognaletti – something of a madman/eccentric/genius* (delete as appropriate) who is not only organic, not only biodynamic, but also believes in being self-sufficient. This means that he follows a minimal intervention path of wine making, with much more work required in the vineyard, but even goes so far as to keep chickens so he has his own eggs for fining the wines before bottling!! (This helps remove any big particles and can be an alternative to filtration which can strip out the flavours.

So what’s the result in the glass? Loads and loads of flavour! There’s minerality, citrus and soft stone fruit – and oodles of texture, which would make it a great food wine. You need to give this a try to taste something off the beaten path.

3. Domaine des Baumard Savennières “Clos de St Yves” 2010 (Tyrrell & Co)

Domaine des Baumard Savennières "Clos St Yves"
Domaine des Baumard Savennières “Clos St Yves”

This wine sparked such a positive reaction that I was moved to note the highly articulate comment: “Toast toast toast – frickin awesome!”

Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s most under-rated grapes, and the Loire Valley is perhaps France’s most under-appreciated wine producing areas. Having said that, I don’t often fancy the drier versions, but adore the sweeter ones, all of them having a trademark streak of acidity through the middle.

This example really hit the spot! It has already started to take on more interesting flavours but hasn’t lost its freshness. Tasted blind this would fool plenty into thinking it was a posh white Burgundy.

The producer likes his wines to be as clean as possible so uses no oak barrels and seals bottles with screwcaps rather than corks – thumbs up from me.

4. Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Wines Direct) {by the glass at Ely CHQ}

Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2014
Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2014

The third word there is the wine region of Wairarapa in the south of New Zealand’s North Island, not to be confused with Waipara which is north of Cantebury on the South Island. It’s an area more well-known for its Pinot Noir, particularly in the main subregion of Martinborough (again, not to be confused with Marlborough), but it is also home to some excellent aromatic whites.

Rather than gooseberry, asparagus and grapefruit which are stereotypical Marlborough Savvy flavours, Sauvignon from here is often even more tropical. This lovely example from Paddy Borthwick had passion fruit notes jumping out of the glass – in fact it reminded me of the passion fruit Mojito that my wife had at Cleaver East on Mother’s Day!

5. Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009 (Mitchell & Son) {by the glass at Ely CHQ}

Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009
Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009

I could happily have spent the evening just smelling this amazing wine (but then I’d have missed out on so much else!) Sipp Mack is one of the top echelon of Alsace producers and a personal favourite of mine, especially their Grand Cru Riesling and Pinot Gris bottles. There’s a touch of sweetness which acts as a counterpoint to the zippy acidity and mineral freshness.

This is drinking gorgeously now but, if you could keep your hands off it, will be even more amazing in five years’ time.

6. D’Arenburg “Lucky Lizard” Chardonnay 2012 (Febvre)

D'Arenberg Adelaide Hills "Lucky Lizard" Chardonnay
D’Arenberg Adelaide Hills “Lucky Lizard” Chardonnay

This is Unreconstructed, All-original, Can’t be bettered, Aussie Chardonnay!

The past decade has seen Australian Chardonnay move back from big, alcoholic fruit bombs to more subtle, mineral and food-friendly styles. Mclaren Vale’s D’Arenburg hasn’t really followed that trend, which wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows of the current boss Chester Osbourne – his shirts are so loud they can be seen from space and he released a wine called Fuckeliana (yes, really!)

In fairness this is actually made the other side of Adelaide from their base, up in the Adelaide Hills which is the source of Shaw + Smith’s M3 Chardonnay. It’s big but doesn’t have that buttery, especially melted butter, taste of some Chardonnays.

Why change when it’s this good?

More to come!

Tasting Events

Glasnevin Fizz Fest 2014

After a second trip to Champagne and Alsace in 2013 I decided that my birthday party would be a sparkling wine tasting affair.  My review of the wines was posted under the grand name of Glasnevin Fizz Fest: the good the bad and the ugly.

Due to personal circumstances I didn’t have a big birthday bash this year, so instead our New Year’s Eve party became the opportunity to try lots of fizz!

Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV

Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV
Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV

The kick-off wine at the Wine Society’s 2014 Dublin tasting proved to be a worthy opener again.  Made by the Californian offshoot of Louis Roederer from four of their top vineyards, it is definitely made to the high standards of its Champenois maison mère.

Full bodied like the Brut Premier at home, it does, however, reverse the house blend of around two thirds Pinot Noir to Chardonnay, instead being 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir.

As well as bready characters from time on the lees this also has depth from reserve wines which have been aged in oak.  This is probably the finest Californian fizz I have tasted to date.

Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV

Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV
Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV

A fairly simple Prosecco brought by a guest, it was pleasant enough not to be passed over, and considering I didn’t have any Prosecco open myself (damn, not again!) it was a nice contrast to some of the bigger names.

Lightly sparkling (a Frizzante with a screw top, no less) with gentle apple and grape flavours, it’s a wine to enjoy rather than contemplate.  For some reason it does really well in the Netherlands!

Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs NV

Sainsbury's Blanc de Blancs NV
Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs NV

I bought this own label 100% Chardonnay from UK supermarket Sainsbury’s a couple of years ago when there was a double-bubble promotion on.  It’s actually good enough at full price but I couldn’t resist stocking up.

Two years later on and the citrus freshness is still there, but additional bottle age has brought a bit more body and complexity.  It could still serve well as an aperitif but with more richness it could accompany roast chicken.

I wonder how many bottles bought at the same time made it this long – not many I’d wager!

Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV

Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV
Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV

Méthode Cap Classique is the South African term for traditional or Champagne method, and Mr Beck helpfully puts “Chardonnay . Pinot Noir” on the front label for those who aren’t sure.  Graham Beck is renowned as one of the best producers of fizz in the country

On the nose this had a slightly spirit quality, as though there was a trace of stronger alcohol in there.  It wasn’t apparent on the palate which was sophisticated and dry – one of the driest New World sparklers I’ve tried – with creaminess and richness from the lees.  A very good effort, especially considering the relatively modest pricetag.

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007

The first significant quality producer of English sparkling wine goes from strength to strength.  2007 was one of the first vintages seen from start to finish by head winemaker Cherie Spriggs and husband Brad Greatrix, elevating the already serious quality to a higher plane.

So how does this bottle taste?  Apple pie!  No, seriously – amazingly intense apple flavours backed up by pastry notes from the lees and then bottle ageing.  Seriously delicious!

Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004

Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004
Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004

Non vintage Möet didn’t fare very well when tasted double blind in the previous Glasnevin Fizz Fest, but as I’ve enjoyed the house’s prestige cuvée every time I’ve tried I’d, I thought I’d give the middle ground of Möet Grand Vintage a go.

Being a vintage Champagne it was guaranteed to have a longer minimum period on the lees (36 months v 15 for NV) and this came through on the palate.  However, the fruit behind it wasn’t good enough to support the yeastiness – it tasted as though there was a hole in it, if a drink can said to have a hole in it!

Most people preferred the Sainsbury’s own label fizz, which tells you all you need to know!

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

Widely acknowledged as their best vintage yet, Nyetimber’s Champagne Blend from 2009 had showed well previously.  Perhaps context is more important than we think, because tasted straight after the Möet Grand Vintage this was fantastic, even better than I expected.

The 2009 Classic Cuvée blend is 55% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier.  The Pinots are more obvious with soft red fruit on the attack, but then the Chardonnay’s citrus and soft stone fruits follow closely behind.  It’s very elegant and polished, and should continue to develop over the next decade and more.

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999

The Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on Champagne’s Côte des Blancs is the source of Krug’s famed single vineyard Clos du Mesnil.  Whereas that tends to retail at £600 or more per bottle, the village’s co-operative makes an excellent Blanc de Blanc that retails closer to £30 – a twentieth of the Krug price!

I had snapped up some magnums of the 1999 vintage a few years ago in a bin-end sale – and what a bargain they turned out to be!!  Champagne (and wine in general) matures more slowly in a magnum than in a regular 75cl botle, but authors such as Tom Stevenson also content that sparkling wine matures better in the larger format.  Without a comparative tasting for myself I will take Tom’s word for it, but the evidence provided by these magnums is definitely in favour of the argument.

Somewhat yellow in the glass from ageing, the wine is full of yeasty, bready characters on the nose.  This follows through onto the sumptuous palate, with citrus and soft stone fruit playing a supporting role.  A very long finish makes this an excellent fizz – what a shame I’ve only got one bottle left!

Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999

Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999
Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999

Context rears its head again – and not in a good way this time.  Tasted among the other sparklers this appeared somewhat flat.  It wasn’t unpleasant, just a different type of drink.

I hope to try it again in 2015 to see how it shows then.

Cloudy Bay Pelorus Marlborough 2009

Cloudy Bay Pelorus 2009
Cloudy Bay Pelorus 2009

Cloudy Bay’s NV and Vintage sparklers are probably the best value wines in their range, especially considering the extra work that goes into making fizz.  Unlike its compatriot Lindauer or Australia’s Jacob’s Creek Sparkling, they are serious wines make with great attention to detail.  We served Pelorus NV for the toast at our wedding in 2009!

As you’d expect in a serious offering from Marlborough, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the grapes used, and like vintage Champagne it gets at least three years maturing on the lees.  There’s apple, citrus and bready notes on the nose, followed by a creamy palate with more apple and then roasted almonds.  It’s only a youngster so there’ more to come!

Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV

Cave de Turckheim Crémant d'Alsace Confidence NV
Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV

The last bottle opened before we moved onto some reds was this Blanc de Blancs Crémant d’Alsace from one of the region’s best co-operatives.  They produce a wide range of still wines and several sparklers – this was my favourite when we visited in 2013. Not widely known outside France, Crémant d’Alsace is actually the second most popular source of sparkling wine in France.

The blend is supposedly a secret but I remember 100% Chardonnay being whispered at the tasting counter.  Perhaps because it’s not seen as an Alsatian grape?  It’s not permitted in still Alsace wines, but is allowed in Crémant, sometimes with Pinot Blanc and other varieties.

As is the norm in Alsace, this displayed more primary fruit than flavours from lees ageing. We’re talking citrus, apple and quince here, so more of an aperitif style, but very enjoyable nevertheless.

The Overall Verdict

This was no professional trade tasting – all samples were drunk and enjoyed – so there’s somewhat less than 100% objectivity here, but my rankings would be:

  1. Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
  2. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
  3. Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV

Here’s to next year’s Fizz Fest!