Ahead of the O’Briens Wines annual wine sale (30th Aug to 23rd Sept) I’ve taken the opportunity to check in with a couple of my favourites from their range.
Astrolabe Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €22.45 down to €16.95 at O’Briens)
The Awatere Valley and regular Province Sauvignon Blancs from Astrolabe have been firm favourites of mine for close to a decade now. The Province is a great all-rounder while the Awatere is more subtle, refined and food friendly.
I’m not one of those Marlborough Savvy haterz, but one of the downsides to such an aromatic and expressive wine is that it can overpower any delicate dishes it is paired with. Awatere is the answer! Instead of the typical tropical fruit notes we are greeted instead by light citrus, flowers and herbs. It’s recognisably Marlborough but doesn’t have the usual overt fruitiness which is often perceived as sweetness – even if the wine is actually dry. Treat yourself to an elegant Sauvignon!
Gaia Estate Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)
This is another perennial favourite of mine from – in my not so humble opinion – the best white wine region in Greece, Santorini – which happens to be a collapsed volcanic caldera in the Aegean. Assyrtiko is the king of grapes here, and Gaia do a straight up version called Monograph which is a great introduction to the variety (and is a total steal at the current price of €11.95).
However, the Wild Ferment is on another level entirely. A quick sniff after opening is enough for the wine to start showing its colours – fermentation with indigenous yeast gives it a wonderfully funky and exotic nose (not dissimilar from Kevin Judd’s Greywacke Wild Sauvignon). This continues onto the palate where it’s joined by fresh lime and lemon. This is a wine that deserves a BIG glass for extended swirling, or even decanting for half an hour before serving. Perfect with mushroom risotto.
2017 was another fantastic year of wine and I’ve been lucky to taste a great many superb wines. For the first time, this year my Top 10s include Value Whites and Value Reds as lower priced wines often lie in the shadow of their more expensive counterparts. Even so, there were many wines I had to leave off these lists. Let me know what your favourites were in the comments!
Whereas the big brother Wild Ferment Assyrtiko comes from the variety’s home in Santorini, the Monograph is sourced from Nemea which is also well known for its red wines, particularly Agiorgitiko. The Monograph is a cleaner, straight-up style without any wild yeast or barrel-fermentation characters, but is a true expression of the grape itself.
If ever there was a wine which added weight to the theory of soil types directly affecting wine taste, this is it, the very mineral “Fossil” made from vines grown on limestone on the coast just north of Lisbon. Local grapes Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires combine to give floral aromas with a palate of soft white fruit with a wide streak of minerality. Refreshing to sip on its own, this also make a great match for seafood.
My general dislike of disinterest in Pinot Grigio is well documented, though it does have a few exceptions. And any wine that gets included on one of my top 10 lists must be exceptional – and this is! It has recognisable Grigio qualities (indeed some which make it as far as being Pinot Gris-like) but without the diluteness and general lack of flavour that much of the mass-produced Italian swill exhibits. Lovely drinking.
7. Château Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes 2015 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)
Although Burgundy is thought to be the birthplace of Chardonnay and is still its spiritual home, the prestige of the region means that value for money is often better sought elsewhere. Normally that would be in the New World, but Limoux in the Languedoc is an alternative closer to home. As it’s in the south of France we tend to think of the Languedoc as being very warm and only good for bulk wine, but excellence is being rediscovered and cooler subregions are making some great wine. There’s a fair bit of oak here but actually more creamy lees character . Cracking Chardy for the money!
Saint-Véran is one of my go-to Burgundy appellations. Of course the producer still makes a big difference, but my experience has been generally very positive with this Mâconnais area across the board, despite a reasonable price tag (for Burgundy!) This was full of peach and pear with a slight nuttiness to it. Given a big thumbs up by DNS Wineclub!
5. Viña Leyda Falaris Hill Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, RRP €16.95)
For me this single vineyard Chardonnay represents even better value for money than its slightly less expensive counterpart, Leyda’s Reserva Chardonnay. The fruit is ripe but still fresh, and sitting on a nice cushion of oak (25% new). This isn’t the Chardonnay to convert haters, or even those sitting on the fence, but those who like it will love it.
4. Loosen Dr L Riesling 2015 (8.5%, RRP €14.00)
Riesling is perhaps the one grape that separates dabblers in wine from true wine lovers, though it’s rarely seen in supermarkets, so it’s at the multiples and independents where Riesling has a loving home. The current fashion for Riesling is to be dry, which can mean austere when acidity is very high. The Mosel tradition is to leave a fair bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity, for the entry level wines at least. Dr Loosen makes the archetype, with the sugar and acidity combining to reinforce the zesty fruitiness. Such a delicious wine that can be drunk at any time.
Treixadura and Godello share equal billing on this beauty from Galicia’s smallest DO, Monterrei. It’s something of an enigma with tropical fruit, smokiness, minerality and freshness all rolled together. You might enjoy dissecting its elements at your leisure, but the reality is that this delicious blend is a quaffer’s delight!
2. Mandrarossa “Ciaca Bianca” Fiano Sicilia 2016 (13.5%, RRP €15.95)
Fiano is one of the newly rediscovered grapes that are starting to get a lot of notice. Of course, they never went away – investment in modern winemaking equipment and a search for the new came together with some lovely clean, unoaked, well-crafted wines. Compared to the other Fianos I have tried, however, this is something of an outlier – it just has so much flavour! I got this as a present for my Marlborough Sauvignon-loving sister in law and she sang its praises. This is a must-try wine.
1. Paul Ginglinger Alsace Pinot Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18.50)
And so it is. What else could top my Top 10 value wines, if not a wine from my favourite white wine region of the world and one that is made with an undervalued grape: Alsace Pinot Blanc. This is an unoaked example but is still pithy, with some nice texture. It shows a nice array of fruit, from soft apple and pear through to refreshing citrus. A remarkable wine for not that much money!.
Now it’s the turn for white wines to shine – here are ten of the best still dry whites which shone in 2016:
10. Feudo Luparello Sicilia Grillo – Viognier 2015
A novel blend of indigenous Sicilian and international grapes, this wine is more than the sum of its parts. Local Grillo is fresh and textured, more dry than fruity, whereas Viognier adds a voluptuous touch. This is how blended wines should work!
See herefor the full review (and the Nero d’Avola – Syrah blend!)
9. Nugan Estate Riverina Dreamer’s Chardonnay
A “supermarket wine” made from “unfashionable” Chardonnay in a region known for its bulk wines, on paper this wine should be pap – but it works, in fact it works a treat! In Ireland (at least) the main parameter for wine consumers in supermarkets in price, especially if a promotional offer is involved. Given the high rates of duty and tax squeezing the cost side of the equation it’s not easy to find everyday wines that are actually enjoyable (though plenty are drinkable).
Nugan Estate’s “Personality” Single Vineyard series ticks all the boxes for me, and this was narrowly my favourite of the lot. See herefor my review of the full range.
Although the label might look like an impressionist’s take on Health & Efficiency, the wine inside is fantastic – great with seafood, but gentle and fruity enough to be enjoyed on its own. If only all Albariños were this good!
The “other” white grape of Burgundy (ignoring the small amounts of Pinots Blanc and Gris) which is definitely a second class citizen, and is so poor on its own that the Kir cocktail was invented to find a palatable use for it – or so the received wisdom goes.
There’s some element of truth in this, but Aligoté is usually grown on less-favoured sites and with a focus on yields rather than flavour, so it takes a brave producer to break out of this cycle and give the grape the attention it deserves. The Goisot family are such a producer, based in the Sauvignon Blanc outpost of Saint-Bris. This Aligoté is unlike any other I have tasted – it actually has colour unlike most which are like pale water, and an intensity of white flower and spicy pear flavours which reveal the age of the vines.
6. Gaia Wild Ferment Santorini Assyrtiko 2013
When I put together a “wild” wine tasting for DNS Wine Club last year, there were a few obvious candidates that couldn’t possibly be missed from the line-up – this being one of them. I had recommended it several times in the past so I was hoping it would live up to its reputation – especially tasted blind – and it certainly did! Overall this was the favourite wine of the tasting, showing the funky flavours of wild yeast fermentation but still plenty of lovely citrus fruit and crisp acidity.
5. Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016
A common complaint levelled at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – and Marlborough in particular – is that “they all taste the same”. There is some truth in this – the aromatics are generally recognisable before the first glass has even been poured and they are never short of acidity – but if you taste different examples side by side then there are clear differences. The alternative styles of SB are another thing, of course, with wild yeast barrel fermentation and oak ageing used to make a different type of wine (see this article for more information).
4. Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
This isn’t a wine for everybody, but it’s a wine everybody should try at least once. Based mainly on Listan Blanco grapes from ten plots in Tenerife’s Valle de La Orotava, it’s so different that at first it’s hard to describe using everyday wine terms – it’s not fruity or buttery – perhaps nutty and waxy? Sounds strange, but it’s an interesting and very enjoyable wine.
3. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2014
Domaine Zinck’s Portrait Series wines are fine examples of regular AOC Alsace wines and show the town of Eguisheim in a good light. Take the step up to the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, however, and you move into different territory; not just in terms of the elevation of the vines, but a much more intense catalogue of aromas and flavours. Even a young example such as this 2014 is delightful, but with the capacity to age for a decade or two and continue developing.
2. Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011
Narrowly pipping its countryman, Sipp-Mack’s Grand Cru Riesling is from another exalted site: the Rosacker vineyard near Hunawihr, in between Ribeauvillé (where Trimbach is based) and Riquewihr (home to Hugel). It has both primary fruit and mineral notes, and performs fantastically at the table.
For such a stunning wine it is relatively inexpensive at around €30 retail. See herefor the full review.
1. Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014
When I have favourite wines that I taste regularly over the years, I try not to repeat myself too much in my Top 10 review articles. Given that I am lucky enough to taste several thousand wines over the course of an average year, it’s not such a difficult line to take…apart from M3!! The 2014 is still very young, but it’s a delight to drink now. Adelaide Hills is now possibly second to Tasmania for trendy cooler climate Aussie wines, but for me it’s still number one.
2015 has been an excellent year for wine in Dublin, especially from a personal perspective. As well as the usual trade tastings, which one can never take for granted, I have been lucky enough to be invited to several excellent wine dinners and receive samples from many new suppliers and retailers – thanks to all.
Here are ten of the white wines which made a big impression on me during the year. The order is somewhat subjective – this is wine tasting after all – and I’m sure the list would look a little different on another day.
10. Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC “Alchimie” 2014 (€14/€10, SuperValu)
A fruit driven Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, just outside Sancerre, which is just so damned drinkable. It has some of the explosiveness of a Marlborough savvy but more restrained, so it wouldn’t be out of place at the table. It’s well worth the regular price but is a total steal when on offer. See more here.
9. Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.99, Honest 2 Goodness)
Whites from South West France continue to impress me with their intense, but balanced, flavours from mainly indigenous grapes – and all at keen prices. This is one of the best I’ve ever tasted from the area. See more here.
8. Château Mas “Belluguette” Coteaux de Languedoc 2012 (€20.95, Molloys)
A premium white wine from the Languedoc, but without a silly price tag. This was one of the biggest surprises of the year – I just hadn’t been expecting such an exuberant white wine from the Languedoc. The blend is: Vermentino 40%, Roussanne 30%, Grenache 20%, Viognier 10%, with each grape variety is vinified separately in oak barrels for a month. 50% of the blend goes through malolactic fermentation and it is blocked for the remainder. The final blend is then aged in 2/3 French and 1/3 American oak for 4 months.
Molloy’s wine consultant Maureen O’Hara dubbed this a “Dolly Parton” wine – I’d have to say it’s got a lot of front!
7. Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling, Central Otago (€19.99, Curious Wines)
Although owned by a famous actor, this estate does not make “celebrity wine”. Pinot Noir is the speciality of Two Paddocks, with excellent premium and single vineyard bottlings, but they also make a small amount of Riesling, benefitting from the cool (almost cold!) climate of the southerly most wine region in the world.
“Picnic” is their more accessible, everyday range, for both Pinot and Riesling, and here we have the latter. It’s just off-dry with lots of Golden Delicious apple, honey and citrus, with a fresh streak of acidity through the middle. It actually reminded me of a still version of Nyetimber’s 2007 Blanc de Blanc, one of my favourite English sparklers!
6. Argyros Estate Santorini Atlantis 2013 (€15.49, Marks and Spencer)
An excellent Assyrtiko based-blend from the Greek Island of Santorini, linked to the legend of Atlantis. Old vines and steep slopes contribute to excellent intensity, with lemony flavours and floral aromas. Such a drinkable and versatile wine.
Yes you read that correctly, this is a €35 Vinho Verde! However, although it shares geography and grape variety with many Vinho Verdes, it is made in a totally different style. It retains the central fresh core of Alvarinho (aka Albariño in Galicia) yet has a creamy complexity from oak and lees stirring.
In one of the first DNS tastings of 2015 this was tied neck and neck with Rafael Palacios’ famous As Sortes – it’s that good. See the full article on The Taste here.
4. Hugel Pinot Gris “Jubilee” 2000 (€52 in West Restaurant @ The Twelve Hotel)
One of the highlights of 2015 was a trip away to The Twelve Hotel in Barna, just outside Galway City, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. It’s our favourite hotel in Ireland, and one that we choose for special occasions. Check out their full wine list here.
Hotel Restaurant wine lists can often be very dull / safe / boring, depending on your point of view, so it warms the cockles of this wino’s heart to see such a well put together list. It was General Manager & Sommelier Fergus O’Halloran who first got me into Pecorino (see here), but on this occasion it was something else which was really worth writing home about.
Hugel is one of the two large and well-known family producers in Alsace, the other being Trimbach which also sports yellow labels on its bottles. Both are located in achingly pretty villages and have excellent ranges. Jubilee signifies Hugel’s premium range, made from fruit in their Grand Cru Sporen and Pflostig vineyards. As a general rule I like Pinot Gris to have some sweetness to go with the distinctive apricot & honey flavours and oily texture – this doesn’t disappoint! Getting a fifteen year old wine of this quality for €52 in a restaurant is amazing!
3. Albert Bichot Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru “Moutonne” Monopole 2012 (€109.95, The Corkscrew)
This was the highlight of a focused burgundy tasting given upstairs at Stanley’s by Ben and Barbara of WineMason. As a big fan of Chablis, especially Premier and Grand Cru, I was excited to taste the area’s famous “eighth Grand Cru”. There are seven Grands Crus recognised by the French national appellations organisation (INAO), though those names appear after “Appellation Chablis Grand Cru Contrôlée”. La Moutonne is recognised, however, by the Chablis (UGCC) and Burgundy (BIVB) authorities.
The majority of the Moutonne vineyard (95%) is in the Grand Cru Vaudésir with a small part (5%) in Grand Cru Preuses, so you’d expect it to taste almost identical to Albert Bichot’s Grand Cru Vaudésir, which is made in the same way – but it doesn’t! This is put forward as a reason why Moutonne deserves its own Grand Cru status – but equally it might indicate that several Chablis Grand Crus are not homogenous across their climats. An interesting debate which needs further research – and I volunteer!
Whatever the nomenclature, it’s a stunning wine – beautifully intertwining minerality, citrus, floral notes and a light toastiness from 25% oak.
From South east Sicily comes something unlike anything you’ve tasted before – at least, a single wine containing all the flavours and aromas expressed by this wine. Tasted with family member Matteo Catani, this is a truly remarkable wine – it showed anise, almond, citrus, apple, and a hint of oxidation which added interest but did not detract from the fruit.
When many producers are churning out identikit Cabernets and Chardonnays, wines that are different and interesting like this really grab the attention.
1. Craiglee Sunbury Chardonnay 2011 (€33.95, winesdirect.ie, also available by the bottle and by the glass at Ely Wine Bar)
If you read my favourite White Wines of 2013 or 2014 then the fact that my favourite white tasted in 2015 is a Chardonnay shouldn’t be a surprise. I might be predictable, but it’s my favourite grape so I won’t apologise.
From a less well known part of Victoria, it shows butterscotch and toasty vanilla round a citrus core. It’s not the most expensive wine in my listing, and probably not the “finest”, but it is beautifully balanced and the one that I would most fancy opening at anytime!
I have to confess I’m not that familiar with the current wine range at Marks and Spencer but I’ve heard good things recently. When I lived in Paris I would drop in to the food and wine section of one of the large stores there to get my fix of Australian wine and Indian food, though not necessarily together…
The good folks at M&S Ireland recently sent me a few bottles to try, of which I particularly enjoyed the following pair of aromatic whites:
Bidoli Friuli Grave Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (€14.79, Marks and Spencer)
The far north east corner of Italy was once part of the Venetian Republic, with some sections under the influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for some time, and so the wines of the region have noticeable Slavic and Germanic influences. Like many parts of Italy, the mere word “Italian” does not do justice to the culture here.
Bidoli Winery was founded in 1924 by the grandparents of the current owners. The vineyards are situated in a valley that benefits from high diurnal temperature variation (hot days and cool nights) which encourages slightly thicker skins in the grapes and hence deeper flavours in the wine. The soil has lots of stone – similar name and similar soil to the Graves in Bordeaux – which reflects the sun’s rays during the day and releases accumulated heat overnight.
Even on the nose it is unmistakably a Sauvignon Blanc, though of a completely different style than NZ – more akin to a Quincy or Reuilly from the Loire. There’s attractive citrus and gooseberry – not exotic or tropical fruit – plus fennel and other herbs. I’m not a salad fan but I think this would be the perfect wine to match. A long finish on top means it’s great value.
Argyros Estate Santorini Atlantis 2013 (€15.49, Marks and Spencer)
Santorini is the name of a wine region, an archipelago north of Crete and the main island within it. In ancient times it was known as Theira, and was a reasonably large volcanic island before one of the biggest recorded eruptions shattered it around 3,600 BCE. The resulting tsunami is thought to have brought down the Minoan civilisation of Crete which is only 110 km due south, and may also have given rise to the myth of Atlantis.
Due to the warm climate, sweet wines were often made – Santorini is alleged to have given its name to Vin Santo which is made in Tuscany. The main grape here is of course Assyrtiko, which makes fresh zingy whites or traditional floor cleaner flavoured Retsina. It fares particularly well on Santorini as the volcanic soil helps it maintain its acidity, even when fully ripe.
This white blend consists of 90% Assyrtiko, 5% Athiri (lemony, used for Retsina on Rhodes) and 5% Aidani (floral, mainly grown in Santorini) [no I hadn’t heard of the other two before, either!] The Argyros Estate was established in 1903 and is situated in Episkopi, where it encompasses some of the island’s oldest vines – another reason for the concentration of flavour. If you’ve read through the notes above you will see where the name Atlantiscomes from!
It’s a racy, refreshing wine, but has lots of lemon and floral character – very enjoyable on its own, but would pair with seafood or other lighter dishes. Moreish!
After a show of hands at the previous meet, the theme of the most recent DNS Wine Club tasting was FUN! Wine can be a very technical and complicated subject, and as something of a geek that often appeals to me, but at the end of the day the main point of wine is pleasure.
So how do you make a tasting more fun? Play games! But which games? I divided the DNS gang into two teams, opened some fizz and gave them their first task.
I reviewed John Wilson’s book “Wilson On Wine 2015 – The Wines To Drink This Year” hereand refer to it frequently. For each wine reviewed there are lots of details, especially on the background of the wine, along with a fairly short tasting note. As tasting is such a subjective thing (and taste too, but that’s for another day) I wondered how easy it would be to identify wines from their tasting note alone…
Each team was given a sheet with two columns; the first had ten wine names and the second had ten tasting notes taken from John’s book. Two wines were sparkling, four white and four red. Each column was in alphabetical order and the objective was to match the tasting notes to the correct wine.
Bernhard Ott Fass4 Grüner Veltliner 2013
A superb, light, elegant wine, with piquant dark cherry and blueberry fruits.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut NV
Almond blossoms on the nose; light, elegant, sophisticated crisp green fruits with excellent Minerality. A perennial favourite.
Coca y Fito DO Terra Alta Jaspi Blanc 2012
An exuberant, fresh wine bursting with pineapples and tropical fruits.
Jeio Prosecco DOCG Valdobiadenne Spumante Brut NV
Bracing and herby with an inviting texture and a snappy dry finish.
Kasarí Zorah Areni Noir 2012
Delectably light and tangy but with rosehips and fresh, piquant red fruits. Great with food.
Moric Burgenland Blaufränkish 2012
Fresh pear and peach fruits with a good lively citrus edge
Pieropan Soave Classico 2013
Intriguing, lifted fragrant black cherries with good acidity and a light earthiness, finishing on a smooth note. Different and delicious wine.
Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero 2013
Pure piquant damson fruits, good acidity and a lightly tannic finish. Delicious.
Santa Rita Medalla Real Leyda Valley Chardonnay 2011
Restrained peach and apple fruits with subtle toasted nuts and a core of citrus acidity.
Thymiopolous Naoussa Xinomavro 2013
Succulent ripe fruits cut through with a delicious minerality and great length.
You might want to try this at home. Bear the following hints in mind that were given on the night:
As both columns are in alphabetical order it is possible that a wine may still be lined up opposite its true tasting note, though most aren’t.
The longest tasting note belongs to (probably) the most expensive white wine.
The Prosecco note should be very easy to identify as it nearly always tastes of one particular fruit.
One of the wines includes a colour in its name (though not in English) which is included in the corresponding tasting note (in English).
Yes, most of these hints are fairly esoteric / tenuous / difficult – but that’s how I roll!
ROUND 2 – Call My (Wine) Bluff
For those know aren’t familiar with it, Call My Bluff is a long-running UK game show where celebrity contestants on a team take it in turn to give three definitions of an obscure word, only one of which is correct. The other team then tries to choose the correct definition and discard the bluffs.
The wine version has a similar structure, but instead of word definitions the guessing team has to divine which of three tasting notes they are given match the wine in their glass and their mouth!
For five white wines and three red wines, these are the choices which were proffered:
(A) Famille Bougrier Les Hautes Lieux Vin de France Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(B) José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
(A) Dog Point Section 94 2008
(B) Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
(C) Greywacke Marlborough Wild Sauvignon 2012
(A) Frantz Saumon Minérale+ Montlouis 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
(B) Château Bouscassé Madiran 2007
(C) El Castro de Valtuille Bierzo 2013
(A) Aldi Lot 01 Uco Valley Malbec-Cabernet 2013
(B) Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
(C) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(A) Château Milhau-Lacugue “Les Truffières” Saint Chinian 2010
(B) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(C) Taltarni Heathcote Shiraz 2008
For the guessing team, some of the choices were more difficult if there was a similarity between the choices, e.g. for White 1 there were 2 regions and 2 grapes over 3 wines.
It was actually easiest to bluff when the reader didn’t know if they were giving the note for the correct wine or not! I suppose it is good to know that most people aren’t good liars, even if it’s just for fun.
ROUND 3 – Match the Critic (Encore)
Now the kicker to see if everyone had been paying attention! A double list – similar to that handed out in Round 1 – was given to each team, this time with eight wine names and tasting notes. But these weren’t just any wines taken from John’s book – they were the eight that everyone had tasted in Round 2! So of course, this final round had double points awarded.
Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
A delicious modern style of Bordeaux with light creamy cassis fruits and a smooth easy finish.
Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
A subtle and delectable blend of citrus and green fruits with a touch of honey
Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
Exhilarating precise acidity with pristine green fruits. Inspiring, thrilling wine.
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
Fresh, tangy, lemon and grapefruit, balanced out by clean green fruits, and a dry finish.
Good, deeply satisfying wine with firm, dark ripe fruits and a dry finish.
José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2013
Light toasted nut aromas, fresh textured pineapples fruits and excellent length. Great wine at a very reasonable price.
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches
Lightly toasted notes combined with peaches, almonds and honey. Unusual and perfectly formed.
Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
Succulent and ripe, filled with dark cherry fruits dusted with spices
Blind tasting, even single blind, is difficult. Tasting notes are subjective, and, unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to understand someone else’s when you’re tasting the same wine they had. Context is very important so knowing the background to a wine can give you a lot of clues about why it tastes a certain way and where it’s headed.
Many of the producer tastings I’ve been at in the past year have been solely focused on red wines, but as I tend to drink much more white at home that hasn’t been such a hardship. Many of the retailer tastings have been very broad and included a few standout whites, so a few of those are included below.
I haven’t thought too deeply about the order of wines 10 down to 4, but the top 3 are definitely in order!
10. Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
All wines were wild ferment until a few decades ago, but cultured yeast is now the norm for mass produced wines – it’s more reliable and predictable in terms of fermentation performance, flavours and alcohol levels. Wild yeast can often give wilder, but more interesting flavours.
This Greek Assyrtiko from O’Briens is included because it’s just so different from anything else I tasted in the year – it really brings the funk!
9. Bruno Sorg Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Pinot Gris 2010
One of my favourite Alsace producers, Bruno Sorg have a broad range of varietals at different quality levels, and all are excellent for the price tag. From near their home in Eguisheim this Grand Cru Pinot Gris is silky and rich, off-dry without being sweet, textured without being stuffy. I did try some other countries’ Pinot Gris offerings, but Alsace is still where it’s at in my book.
8. Eric Texier Opâle 2012
This ethereal Mosel-style Rhône white stood out for me at The Big Rhône Tasting at Ely– partly because it was so different from the (delicious) Rhône reds, but mainly because of its sheer audacity and brilliance.
This should be drunk in small sips from a small glass, perhaps with company, but once you taste it you won’t want to share!
7. Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
The only white varietal tasting I went to all year was Austria’s signature grape Grüner Veltiner. The biggest surprise for me was not the excellent quality, it was the versatility of the grape – it’s such a chameleon, depending on where and how it’s made.
The Lamm Reserve was my overall favourite from the tasting at Wine Workshop – and perhaps it’s no coincidence given my proclivity for Pinot Gris that I preferred an example of Grüner which somewhat resembles Pinot Gris.
6. Dog Point Section 94 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is so ubiquitous on our shelves that it’s often taken for granted, ignored for being old hat or dismissed after tasting the poorer examples churned out at a discount in supermarkets. Even if you are a little bored of regular Savvy, there are alternatives, as I posted back in 2013.
A big differentiator of the alternative Marlborough Sauvignons is that they can age gracefully for several years, becoming more complex and interesting; many regular SBs shine very brightly in the year they are harvested then fade quickly.
And so I was lucky enough to taste the 2010 vintage of Dog Point’s Section 94 at the James Nicholson Xmas Tasting. Dog Point don’t make a duff wine, they range from very good to amazing – and this was now firmly in the latter class.
5. Rolly Gassmann Alsace Planzerreben de Rorschwihr Riesling 2008
A bin-end special from The Wine Society that turned out to be sublime, if difficult to pronounce. Rolly Gassmann is a renowned producer of Alsace and I had hoped to visit on my last trip there, but it wasn’t to be (too many great wineries, too little time!)
Thankfully this Riesling magically transported me to the hills of Rorschwihr. It’s just off-dry, balancing the racy acidity and lifting the fruit. At six years from vintage it had started to develop some really interesting tertiary notes – but it must have the best part of a decade still to go. I doubt my other bottle will last that long!
4. Man O’War Valhalla Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2010
This is one of the wines that was open at several different tastings during the year, but despite having a few bottles in at home I always had a taste, it’s just that good. Not exactly a shy and retiring type, this Chardonnay has loads of tropical fruit, with a little bit of candied pineapple among the fresh.
It’s well oaked, both in the sense of quantity and quality. Chablis lovers might look elsewhere, but Meursault lovers might change allegiance. A perennial favourite.
3. Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2008
Jeffrey Grosset is the King of Australian Riesling. I bought a case of the Polish Hill Riesling with the same vintage as my son, with the intention of drinking a bottle on (or around) his birthday for the next decade or so. This bottle is a few years older, and a few years wiser – the difference in development is noticeable.
Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene – whatever your petroleum spirit of choice, the 2008 has it nicely developing, though the steel backbone of acidity will keep it going for many a year.
2. Shaw + Smith M3 Vineyard Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012
I was lucky enough to taste Shaw + Smith’s seminal Chardonnay several times during 2014 – with the good folks of Liberty Wines at their portfolio tasting, a bottle with a stunning meal at Ely Bar & Brasserie, and a glass in a small flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar.
The King Is Dead, Long Live The King! Another wine I tried for the first time as part of the flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar, this is perhaps the Californian Chardonnay. After all, in beating some of Burgundy’s best Chardonnays in the Judgement of Paris it really put California on the maps as a producer of top level whites.
And as much as I wanted my beloved M3 to be the best, Montelena eclipsed it for 2014. Even as a young wine it is very approachable but with so much depth. It’s the sort of wine you could happily taste the same vintage of over several decades.