WineMason is an Irish wine importer run by husband and wife team Ben Mason and Barbara Boyle MW. They specialise in wines from Germany, Portugal and Austria, but their expanding portfolio now encompasses France, South Africa, Spain and Italy.
Here are four of the Germanic whites (three from Germany, one from Austria) that I really enjoyed at their tasting earlier this year.
Rheinhessen, sometimes known as Rhine Hesse in English (or Hesse Rhénane in French as on the map above), is the largest of Germany’s 13 wine regions. It produces plenty of ordinary wine, but the best sites in the hands of a good producer can produce fantastic wines. Johannes Geil-Bierschenk is an innovative young producer based in Bechtheim. In particular he focuses on low yields, early pressing of whites and fermentation with indigenous yeast.
Just as in Alsace, Pinot Blanc (also known as Weissburgunder) is usually under-rated in Germany, but here makes for a very appealing and easy-drinking wine. It’s dry and fresh with citrus and stone fruit notes. A long finish seals the deal – and great value at €17
Geil Rheinhessen Riesling 2016 (12.0%, RRP €17 at Baggot St Wines, Clontarf Wines, Lilac Wines, Martin’s Off Licence, Blackrock Cellar, D-Six, Green Man Wines, Listons, McHughs, Mortons Galway, Mortons Ranelagh, Nectar OTGV, Sweeney’s, WWC)
Geil’s most extensive variety is Riesling which is bottled from different terroirs and in different styles. This is the straight forward dry Riesling which – I must whisper quietly – stands up against many similar examples from my beloved Alsace. It has zippy lime and tangy lemon notes – very refreshing indeed!
Max Ferd. Richter Zeppelin Riesling 2015 (11.0%, RRP €18 at The Corkscrew, McHughs, Blackrock Cellar, Mitchells, 64 Wines, Nectar, Martin’s Off Licence, Lilac Wines, Green Man Wines, D-Six)
And so to another German Riesling, but this time from the Mosel and quite different in style. In contrast to the modern Geil labels above and the more traditional ones on the rest of the Max Ferd. Richter range, this has an art deco style label harking back to the time of the Zeppelin airships. The link is no marketing gimmick as wines from Mulheim (Max Fed. Richter’s home) were actually served on the Zeppelins!
So how does it taste? Yum yum yum is the answer! There’s a little bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity and enhance the fruitiness, but it’s by no means a sweet wine. One of the most drinkable wines I’ve had this year!
Groiss Weinviertel Gemischter Satz 2016 (12.5%, RRP €21 at Green Man Wines, The Corkscrew, 64 Wines)
This wine is always a crowd-pleaser – but for a good reason: it’s fab! The 2015 vintage was showing really well when I tasted it at the Ely Big Tasting last year. It’s no ordinary wine though, despite its charms and moderate price tag – it’s a field blend of (at least) 17 different varieties:
Winemaker and owner Ingrid Groiss is a firm fan of traditional viticulture and vinification, hence an old-school wine where the different varieties are planted together, harvested at the same time and vinified together. It’s full of tangy peach and apricot but dry, mineral and fresh. This is a wonderful wine that you must try.
Honest 2 Goodness (H2G for short) are a small family wine importers based in Glasnevin, Dublin. They specialise in family owned wineries throughout Europe, and in particular those with an organic, sustainable or biodynamic philosophy.
Here are a few of their wines that I enjoyed at their most recent Organic & Low Sulphite Tasting:
Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.95, 11.5%)
Typical South West France blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard, Ugni Blanc and Gros Manseng. Ripe green and red apples, fresh pears. Crisp acidity, light and fruity – so easy to drink on its own, but versatile with food.
Borgo Paglianetto Verdicchio di Matelica 2014 (€18.45, 12.5%)
Restrained nose; soft but textured on the palate, lemon and grapefruit combined. Tangy, don’t drink too chilled. Marche wines are really coming to the fore at the moment.
A favourite producer that I’ve covered several times. Grapefruit again, though not as juicy. A grown up wine that would excel with food.
Château Canet Minervois Blanc 2014 (€17.95, 13.0%)
50% barrel fermented; blend of Roussanne and Bourboulenc, both well known in the Rhône. Tangy, textured, pleasantly sour (Haribo Tangfastics). Plenty of mouthfeel and soft stone fruit. Moreish.
Casa Benasal by Pago Casa Gran Valencia 2012 (€18.95, 14.0%)
The Spanish equivalent of a GSM blend: Monstrell, Syrah and Garnacha Tintorera. Plum, blackberry, and blueberry on the nose, following through onto the palate. A full-bodied winter wine; lots of fruit with a light dusting of tannins on the finish. Perfect with stew or casserole (depending on where you heat the pot, apparently).
Château Segue Longue Monnier Cru Bourgeois Médoc 2010 (€25.95, 13.5%)
A trad Médoc blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Very perfumed on the nose, showing black fruits, spice and parma violets. Soft and voluptuous in the mouth – definitely from a warmer vintage. Classy.
My article in thelatest edition of The Taste gives some of my recommendations from the WineMason portfolio tasting I attended many weeks back. Here are a few more fresh whites which I loved but didn’t have room for on The Taste:
A step up from an entry level summer style of Grüner, this has more weight, more flavour and more interest. The nose gets you first – nectarine and peach – followed by a fruit explosion in your mouth. This wine has sweet fruit but isn’t sugary, as linear acidity provides something for it to lean on.
If you’ve only tried junior Grüners then you owe it to yourself to try this style!
Whereas its younger brother had dessert apples, this is a desert island wine, just spectacular. It’s far from cheap, but it offers great value. Auslese means “selected harvest”, so you know the grapes were picked when perfectly ripe. In the Mosel, this means they will still have refreshing acidity and lots of flavour. Now almost ten years on from harvest, this specially selected cask still has freshness but has developed more mature notes such as marmalade, peach and apricot. Lip-smackingly good!
Thanks again to Ben, Barbara and the WineMason team for an excellent tasting!
And of course, the title above was partially inspired by this favourite from the 80s:
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.
Lionel Richie’s Commodores were easy on Sunday morning, but when it’s a bank holiday weekend it means Sunday evenings are even better than the mornings.
This Sunday evening I was invited to my brother-in-law Andrew’s for take out and wine – what a relaxing way to spend a Sunday evening – with the rider that his wine-loving friend Noel and family would also be there. Andrew sorted the food, and Noel provided most of the wine, with a bit chipped in from Andrew and myself.
Although it was easy, it was also a very enjoyable evening, with some cracking wines noted below. Where there is an Irish stockist listed on Wine Searcher I have added it, otherwise a UK stockist.
A good rule of thumb for Austrian Grüners is that the alcohol level is an indicator of the wine’s style, and so the 12.0% of this Birgit Eichinger proved true to be a light, summer-quaffing style. Fresh and light, it doesn’t scream its grape variety, but is remarkably easy to drink.
Pauillac is probably the most prestigious appellation on the Médoc peninsula, Bordeaux’s left bank with grand names and grander buildings. Three of the five First growths are in the commune – Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild – with world famous reputations and prices to match.
The small village of Saint-Lambert within the Commune of Pauillac is home to the much more modestly priced Château Gaudin. Its wines are very much true to the general Pauillac style, being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) with support from Merlot (10%) and Carménère (5%) plus tiny dashes of Petit Verdot and Malbec.
2009 was the middle year of three fantastic vintages within six years (2005 – 2009 – 2010) and was perfect for Cab Sauv. With such a high percentage of that grape one might think that five or six years from harvest is too short a time for a wine to be approachable, but this is already drinking fantastically now. The fruit is still dense and the evidence of 18 months ageing in new oak barrels is still apparent, but there’s no reason to wait!
Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010 (€55, O’Briens)
Made by widely admired superstar Bernard Magrez of Pessac’s Pape-Clement, La Tour Carnet was officially classed as a Fourth Growth in 1855. Debate as to the relevancy of that classification continues, but it is useful as a general indicator of quality.
Average vine-age is 30 years. The precise blend changes from year to year, but it is usually led by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with small contributions from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. After fermentation, 70% of the blend was aged on the lees in French oak barrels for 18 months (30% of which new) and the balance in stainless steel.
Although from a very good year, in comparison with the Ch. Gaudin above it was perhaps a little awkward and not quite sure what it wanted to be. A very nice drop which, with a bit of patience, might integrate more fully and blossom in a few years.
Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010 (GBP 40.42, Exel, €61.67 (2011) Millesima)
I have to confess I hadn’t heard of this wine before, but after asking the google it seems as though I really should have! Widely decorated, it’s a blend of 85% Sangioveto (the local name for Sangiovese) with 15% Malvasia Nera. The name “I Sodi” refers to land so steep and uneven that it has to be worked manually, not even using horses.
Castellare di Castellina was born in 1968 from the consolidation of five farms in the Chianti Classico region, and became solely owned by Paolo Panerai around ten years later. At that point he carried out a detailed survey of all the vines on the property so that the best genetic material could be selected.
Subsequently Paolo engaged in partnership with the University of Milan, the University of Florence and the Institute of San Michele all’Adige to carry out ongoing research on the best clones as well as the production of grapevines selected for the renovation of the vineyards.
On pouring I thought it very pleasant, but not amazing; very smooth and drinkable without bring special. However, after a bit of time in the glass it really started to open up, herbs and liquorice layers on top of cherries and blackberries. This is a fine wine that I will definitely be trying again.
An interjection between the reds, something sweet to go with dessert. From the pride of Ribeauvillé, this is a late harvest (that’s exactly what Vendanges Tardives means in French, or Spätlese in German) Gewurztraminer from 2001.
Probably not overly sweet in its youth, it is still sweeter than a normal Gewurz but is not at all “sticky”. The ageing process reduces the wine’s sweetness (though I have not yet found the mechanism) and there is still some acidity to offer balance. As you expect from Gewurz there’s a real floral aspect to it on the nose, with stone / white fruit such as peach and lychee on the palate.
It was actually a little too restrained for the chocolate brownie and ice cream dessert, but off itself was delicious. It’s showing no sign of slowing down at the moment so it might well make it as far as its 20th birthday.
Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2009 (€100, McHugh’s)
Giscours was a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification, but its fortunes have waxed and waned several times since, mainly as ownership has changed and more or less was put into the vineyards. Margaux is the most feminine of the Médoc’s big four appellations, often with a higher percentage of Merlot than the others and a certain silkiness to the wines.
For the whole Giscours estate’s 94 hectares under vine, the split of grape varieties is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Of course the Grand Vin receives a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon than the second and third wines, particularly in a good year such as 2009. The estate matures the Grand Vin in 100 % French oak barrels (fine grain and medium toast) for 15 to 18 months, 50% of which are new and 50% have had one previous use.
Although still relatively young, this was not dumb, tight or closed – it was already singing. Modern Claret is sometimes overdone in the search for Parker points and so needs a decade before approaching, but it wasn’t the case here. Perhaps this was infanticide on a wine that will go on to greatness, only time will tell.
Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998 (GBP 180, WinePro)
Grange occupies the sole spot at the top of the Penfolds pyramid, but Bin 707 isn’t too far behind. Whereas Grange is virtually all Shiraz based, the 707 is the King of Cabernet., allegedly named after the fancy new Boeing airliner of the time.
Grange’s first (though non-commercial) release was in 1951 and the 707’s inaugural vintage was 1964. It hasn’t been made every year since; between 1970 and 1975 there was a conscious decision to put the best Cabernet fruit in other wines, then in the years 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011 winemakers didn’t have access to the appropriate style and quality of fruit.
Both Grange and Bin 707 are both multi-regional blends, that is, the fruit comes from several different vineyards in several different regions within South Australia. For the 707 these are Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully. Maturation is for 18 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads (300 litres).
So 17 years on, how did it fare? To the eye the age was apparent on the rim which was quite red brick in hue, though the core was still opaque black. The nose showed spearmint, menthol & eucalyptus with dried black fruit and just a tiny hint of oxidisation.
To taste there was a touch of mint and lots of fresh blackcurrant, with some raisins in the background. It was really smooth and still monumental in mouthfeel, despite an abv of 13.5% which is quite modest by today’s standards. Above all it had an amazing length, a small sip lingered in the mouth for several minutes. A stunning wine.
Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006
To cap it all off was a sweet – sweet wine. As I’ve mentioned before I reckon 5 putts is probably the *ahem* sweet spot for Tokaji, the perfect balance between flavour, sugar and acidity. Château Dereszla also produce 3 and 6 puttonyos wines, plus the legendary Aszú Eszencia
This showed typical apricot, honey and marmalade notes, quite sweet but not at all cloying. This is a wine to get up in the night to drink!
Until fairly recently I was very happy with Marlborough Groovies.
But then thanks to some excellent tastings in Dublin I began to realise that, although New Zealand GVs are very nice, they are only analogous to the simpler style of those from Austria. Outside of those, there’s a whole world of flavours and textures to try – see here.
And now, I’ve changed my mind again!
This is why:
Nautilus Estate Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2011
I’m a big fan of Nautilus Wines, especially their lovely fizz and gorgeous Chardonnay (one of the best in New Zealand in my opinion). It’s great that they’ve planted other aromatic grapes as Marlborough’s dry and cool, long growing season is perfect for them.
Normally this style of Grüner is one that is supposedly best drunk young – which is pretty much true for Marlborough Sauvignons. Alongside citrus and stone fruit and a dash of white pepper, there’s loads of freshness which makes them a joy to drink. But once the freshness is gone, you can’t get it back – there’s no Shake n’ Vac solution here.
But this wine was inadvertently left till four years after vintage, and yes a little of the freshness had gone, but it was replaced by some lovely toasty notes – just like you would expect from a good Aussie Semillon.
It’s a delicious wine, I just wish I’d held on to my other bottles for longer!
It just goes to show: most wine is drunk far too young!
Please ponder that message and put a few “ordinary” bottles aside to try in a few years.
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.
Grüner Veltliner became the go-to wine for New York’s sommeliers in the late 1990s because it is an accommodating wine to pair with so many different types of food – fish, vegetables, white meat and even some red meat. It can age beautifully and takes on a texture and richness than is comparable to the great whites of the Côte d’Or. With a somewhat intimidating Germanic name it was given the sobriquet “Grü-Vee” or “Groovy” – and I just can’t but help think of Austin Powers when I hear that!
Since the 90s Grüner has fallen out of fashion somewhat in the big apple, but this doesn’t really upset the producers in its homeland of Austria as they can sell as much as they produce in the domestic market. It accounts for around a third of all vineyard plantings in Austria and is particularly valued given its status as the signature variety of the country. Riesling can produce profound wines in Austria, perhaps even more than Grüner, but Austrians don’t have the same sense of ownership (after all, the Germans and Alsatians have something of a claim to Riesling as well!)
The name actually means Green grape from Veltlin, which is in Lombardy. In the days before passport controls when borders were fluid it was difficult to say where was Germanic and where was Italic. Indeed a village called Tramin in the northern Italian region South Tyrol is thought to have given its name to the grape Traminer which is one of the parents of Grüner Veltliner. The white version of Traminer is also important as Savagnin in the Jura, and the pink version is also known as Klevener when grown in the northern Alsace village of Heiligenstein. A further mutation and it became Gewürztraminer “Spicy Traminer” – even more expressive.
The other parent of Grüner is the almost-extinct St. Georgener-Rebe which is just holding on in the village of Sankt Georgen am Leithagebirge in the Burgenland. If you can find a bottle of that you are a true wine geek!
Outside the Eastern Kingdom
Grüner is known as Veltlinske Zelené in Slovakia where it is the most widely planted grape. It also flourishes in the Czech Republic and just over the border from Austria into Italy. Germany,Hungary and Bulgaria also have a small amount planted.
In the New World it also has a foothold in the cooler regions of the USA (Finger Lakes, Oregon…), Australia (Adelaide Hills), New Zealand (Gisbourne, Marlborough) and Canada (Okanagan Valley, BC).
Grüner often does best on loess– silt, sand and a bit of clay mixed together. Other sites with loam tend to produce more full-bodied The sunny days and cool nights of Austrian summers are perfect for ripening with enough sugar and flavour but maintaining lively acidity.
So, is now the time to say “Anti-Freeze”?
For those (like me) old enough to remember, Austrian wine was enveloped in an adulteration scandal in 1985. Though the facts were slightly misconstrued, the damage stuck and the Austrian wine industry all but collapsed.
When trying to rebuild out of the scandal, super-tough regulations were announced so that no-one could doubt the quality of the product. Like many other wine producing areas, Austria set up an “Appellation Contrôlée” type system, using the Latin “Districtus Austriae Controllatus” or DAC for short. Interestingly (for geeks like me), instead of using Brix or Oechsle as measures of must weight (and therefore potential alcohol), the common measure in Austria is KMW. That’s one for the memory bank.
The drawback of having a DAC for a region is that wines must be made in an prescribed style to carry the name, otherwise they don’t have the right to use their home region’s name at all. This is one of the regions why the Wachau has stuck to its own classification system:
Steinfeder for wines up to 11.5% alcohol level
Federspiel for wines between 11.5–12.5%
Smaragd must have a minimum of 12.5%
The D6 Wine Club Grüner Veltliner Tasting at Wine Workshop
And so to the event that prompted this post in the first place – a tasting at Dublin’s newest wine shop, The Wine Workshop, focused solely on “Austria’s Golden Child”. Our host(ess)-with-the-most(ess) Morgan Vanderkam will be writing her own blog on the event sometime soon, so I will link into that when published.
Ingrid Groiss Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel DAC 2013
Ingrid Groiss is a talented and passionate young winemaker from the Weinviertel. The Hare on the label represents the fertility of the land and harmony with Mother Nature (yeah OK, it does sound a bit hippyish!) Her vineyards are located in the Pulkautal at Haugsdorf and at Fahndorf near Ziersdorf – google maps is your friend! – and mainly have loess soils.
Weinviertel has a DAC designation for white wine only, and currently only for Grüner Veltliner. It was the first DAC to be created in 2003, effective for the 2002 vintage and onwards. This example has the secondary designation Klassik, which means it is made in a clean, un-oaked style with no botrytis apparent. If you like Alsace Riesling, give this a try.
Birgit Eichinger is another star from Kamptal. This is a single vineyard wine – that vineyard being Wechselberg. Although this is technically dry (2.1g/L of RS) it would still be a good match for spicy dishes – the fruit flavours make it taste sweeter than it actually is.
Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner “Tradition” Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
Schloss Gobelsburg is a major producer in Kamptal, and thankfully (given the quality) it appears on several wine merchants’ shelves in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere.
This “Tradition” is a clean, racy example that starts to show plenty of fruit a little while after being poured, with just a little of Grüner’s signature white pepper on the finish.
Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
This was probably my favourite wine of the tasting! Tasted blind I might have guessed an an Alsace Pinot Gris – it has the same oily, rich texture. Acidity isn’t forgotten, there’s a streak running through the middle of the richness that keeps it fresh and balanced.
If you were paying attention above you will see that this is the biggest, boldest type of Wachau wine. From a single vineyard site, it is made in a fruit forward style but is robust enough to even pair with beef. Fermented to dry, it can reach 14.0% abv – that’s pretty robust in a white wine!
Let’s tackle Natural first: The vineyard is certified Biodynamic and the wine is made with as little modern technology and intervention as possible. Zero sulphur is added at any stage, even bottling.
And Orange? Red wine is generally made with black grapes, and white wine is generally made with green grapes – in a different way, mainly in that the juice is pressed out of the skins then taken off quickly before colour and tannin leach into the juice. Now imagine green grapes given the red wine process – then you have orange wine! This has more colour than a typical white and noticeable tannin.
It’s not for everyone, but if you want to step out onto the ledge of wine’s high-rise, here it is!
So firstly to dispel any possible misunderstanding – H2G is short for Honest 2 Goodness as apposed to H2G2 which is shorthand for the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and its associated online encyclopedia. So not really alike. At all.
So now we’ve established that, what is H2G? It’s based around a farmers’ market held every Saturday in Glasnevin, north Dublin, run by brother and sister team Colm and Brid Carter. In the main Colm handles the wine and Brid the food, though of course there’s some crossover. They sell wines at the market, online and wholesale. The portfolio is imported directly by them, and mainly consists of sustainably-made wines from family producers in Spain, Italy, France, Austria and Germany.
And why “Barn-storming”? Well the high ceiling and large open door of the venue bring to mind a barn. Apart from the lack of hay. And animals. So perhaps a chai in the Médoc would be a more appropriate analogy…
The tasting covered a large chunk of their portfolio, including sparkling, white, rosé and red. Here I’ve picked out a few which really caught my attention, though the overall standard was very high.
Great version of a familiar wine: Enrico Bedin Prosecco DOC Veneto Frizzante NV
Yes that’s right, I’ve picked a Prosecco to start with! Regular readers may remember that I don’t usually care too much for Prosecco. Yes, it’s the base of the famous Bellini cocktail, but usually a single glass is all I can manage before switching to something else. If it’s only average quality, I might not even finish the glass.
Now this example surprised me – it was very pleasant to drink without being too sweet or flabby. It’s not a terribly complex drink, with notes of citrus, apple, pear and peach, but sometimes simple is just fine.
The Bedin winery is located in the foothills close to the mediaeval town of Asolo, known as the “Colli Asolani”, fairly close to Venice. As well as Glera (the official new name for the Prosecco grape) there’s also Bianchetta Trevigiana grown here, though that is most often used for blending or making vermouth.
This is the lighter sparkling Frizzante version; due to the lower pressure it doesn’t need a Champagne-style cork and cage so can be sold with a simple crown cap. Happily, these means less Irish duty than most fizz so the tippler wins for a change!
Familiar Grape From A New Producer: Weingut Setzer Setzer Weinviertel DAC Reserve Grüner Veltliner “8000”
Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s signature white grape, known as GruVee by the cool kids. It’s a real mouthful in figurative and literal senses – it’s generally dry but more full-bodied than many other whites. It deserves to be better known, though it’s always going to be more niche than Chardonnay.
If you like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling then you need to give Grüner a try.
So what’s special about this example? The other GVs made by Setzer are very drinkable, but this premium version sets itself apart by both the quality of the soil and the unusually high vine density. In this 15 hectare vineyard vine density is right up at 8,000 vines per hectare, supposedly imitating that of the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, rather than the region’s usual 3,000 vines per hectare. The competition between vines lowers yields per vine, extends their potential lifespan and results in more intense flavours.
The soil itself is described as loess(look it up!) over gravel and limestone, coming from a raised seabed – perfect for drainage (vines don’t like wet feet).
A New Producer, New Appellation, New Grape: Chateau Saint-Go AOC Saint Mont
Although there’s a lot of tradition in the world of wine, things do move pretty fast at times. This appellation is located in Gascony’s Gers Department and got promoted to AOC from VDQS (the next quality level down) in 2011.
The producer, Plaimont, is a consortium of cooperatives in South West France. Their wine production covers the appellations of AOC Saint Mont, AOC Madiran, AOC Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and IGP Côtes de Gascogne
At the H2G tasting their entry level white “En La Tradition Blanc” was very nice, though on the simple side. The Chateau Saint-Go itself was stunning, a wine you could happily contemplate all evening (as long as you could get a top up!) Roundness and texture come from some oak ageing, but oak doesn’t dominate the palate.
And what is the new grape? It’s made with Gros Manseng (which is familiar to lovers of Jurançon from further south), Petit Courbu (found in Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh AOC) and Arrufiac. I have to confess I hadn’t heard of Arrufiac, but it transpires that its increasing popularity is mainly due to the raised profile from Plaimont.
So there you go, you never stop learning in the world of wine – and the educational experience is a fun one!
Part 1 covered the big 3: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Now we turn our attention to the other varieties grown in the country of the Long White Cloud.
As a self-confessed Riesling lover and fan of NZ wines, I find Kiwi Riesling a bit unsure of what it wants to be. Acidity and flavour are never in doubt, but the residual sugar levels vary significantly from producer to producer – often without explanation on the front label – and don’t alwaysresult in a balanced wine. For zing and purity stick to Clare Valley in South Australia, but there are some NZ gems out there.
Tohu Single Vineyard Riesling Awatere, Marlborough 2013
Zing! Made in an Alsace, bone-dry style from the cooler Awatere part of Marlborough. Very clean and linear on the palate, it might be a little too limey and intense for some on its own (though not for me!) Would be fabulous with shellfish.
Yealands Estate Riesling Marlborough 2012
This is their slightly more premium Riesling, the junior range being “Peter Yealands”. It tastes even drier than its 6g of Residual Sugar would suggest – that’s the acidity coming through.
Greywacke Riesling Marlborough 2011
This is made in an off-dry style not unlike Kabinett examples from Germany; it has 22g of residual sugar. I got a strong flavour of chalk – more pleasant than it sounds – along with citrus and honey.
Siegfried Winemakers Collection Sweet Agnes Riesling Nelson 2012
This full-on dessert style has nearly ten times the residual sugar of the Greywacke above. It’s a heavenly liquor with luscious stone fruit, mandarin and buttered brioche – all balanced by ample acidity so it’s never cloying. So moreish!
Touted by some observers as the future of New Zealand red wine, Syrah grows best in the warmer parts of the country (Auckland, Waiheke, Hawke’s Bay) and is closer to the northern Rhone than the Barossa in style – very perfumed and elegant, restrained rather than powerful. Although Syrah likes the heat is it more tolerant of different temperatures than Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. Some producers are now experimenting with Syrah in Marlborough, watch this space!
Tinpot Hut Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2009
Fiona Turner hails from Hawke’s Bay, so it was natural that she would look to her home region for a source of Syrah. The fruit is grown in the Dartmoor Valley and Gimblett Gravels sub-regions, vinified separately then blended together. This is an elegant, supple and refined Syrah with plum and spice on the attack followed by notes of crisp bacon – very much Northern Rhône style.
Man O’ War Dreadnaught Syrah Waiheke 2010
This is the Waiheke outfit’s top Syrah, from the warmest and steepest slopes. Fairly dense and intimidating at first, it gradually opens up to reveal plum, blueberry and pepper with a savoury edge. This might benefit from food right now, but it will soften and develop over the next ten years – a keeper!
Trinity Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2011
Trinity Hill’s winemaker John Hancock is a big fan of the Northern Rhône, Syrah’s spiritual home, after working under Gerard Jaboulet in Côte-Rôtie. Following the practice of that region, a small amount of Viognier is often blended in to soft the palate and add more interest on the nose. This is the entry level Trinity Hill Syrah, with Gimblett Gravels and “Homage” above it, but it acquits itself very well
Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay 2011
This was the only wine I noticed that wasn’t available for the consumer tasting that followed the trade tasting, with a very good reason – the price! Craggy Range are all single vineyard wines, but this is getting towards “super-premium” territory. This does everything the other Syrahs above do, but more so. The youngest vintage that Craggy Range recommend drinking now is 2002 – so although this Le Sol can be drunk now, it won’t do itself justice until at least 2021 – then it will sing.
Sometimes spelling makes a big difference. Usually, a wine labelled as “Pinot Gris” will be similar to the Alsace style, intense and often off dry. Those with “Pinot Grigio” are more likely to be light and almost neutral in flavour like the thin, acidic Italian wines which clog up pub winelists everywhere (did I just say that out loud?) For the most part, New Zealand is closer to the Alsace style – even when called a Grigio as the first wine below.
Brancott Estate Pinot Grigio Marlborough 2013
This is round and supple, a very pleasant easy-drinking style. Would partner well with lots of Asian dishes.
Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris Martinborough 2013
As Craighall is to Chardonnay, Lismore is to Pinot Gris. Both ripe pears and pear drop sweets feature on the round palate. It’s very rich and just off-dry – both flavour and sweetness would stand up to Thai food.
Ostler Lakeside Pinot Gris Waitaki Valley 2012
The only wine (I noticed) at the tasting from the Waitaki Valley – a marginal (even for NZ) new wine making region by the South East coast of the South Island. Marginal areas sometimes produce poor wines in bad vintages, but can excel in better vintages – it’s all about taking risks. This wine is off-dry to medium-dry with 15g of RS; it’s not a dessert wine but would be fine with spicy food, or at a push fruit salad. The 2012 is only the second vintage ever made, so vine age should lend even more complexity.
This variety has a lot of potential, in Marlborough (in particular), where nights are cool like its home in Austria. Usually made dry, it is an aromatic alternative to Sauvignon and Riesling, and some (I’m looking at you, Tara!) even prefer it. Grüner is generally medium-bodied and very food-friendly.
Tin Pot Hut McKee Vineyard Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2012
As the name suggests this is made from grapes grown in a single vineyard, located in the Blind River sub-region of Marlborough. The acidity keeps it dry, clean and crisp, with a fabulous texture that makes you want to roll it round your mouth. This is a subtle wine combining peach and pear with gentle peppery spice.
Siegfried Grüner Veltliner Nelson 2011
One of Nelson’s top producers (see their Sweet Agnes dessert Riesling in part 1) who also make New Zealand’s only Würzer, a white German wine grape variety that is a crossing of Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau. The winery’s founder Hermann Siegfried hails from Austria so he naturally looked to introduce Grüner to Nelson, after the regulation quarantine process. This is a typical example of the grape, with white stone fruit and white pepper (better than it sounds, honestly) from a young vineyard.
The Best of the Rest
A selection of the other wines I found interesting…
Yealands Estate, Awatere Valley Single Vineyard PGR Marlborough 2013
Pinot Gris (50%) Gewurztraminer (15%) Riesling (35%) not unlike an Alsace Edelzwicker blend. It’s so new that it doesn’t even yet feature on the Yealand’s website or even in the tasting catalogue. The small proportion of Gewurz means that it doesn’t dominate – the nose isn’t overwhelmingly floral. If you like the sound of this then also consider Te Whare Re (TWR)’s Toru.
Brancott Estate Letter Series “R” Sauvignon Gris Marlborough 2013
This is the first Sauvignon Gris I have tasted from New Zealand; there are some reasonable examples of the variety from Chile and it sometimes finds its way into white Bordeaux (both dry and sweet). This is a powerful wine with 14.0% abv and the 6.9g/L residual sugar gives it extra body and a hint of sweetness on the finish. Stylistically this is closer to a Pinot Gris than a Sauvignon Blanc. Brancott are hoping that this will help them diversify away from reliance on the latter. Interestingly, they have launched the variety with a premium rather than everyday version.
This has the traditional Champagne grape blend: Chardonnay (56%) and Pinots Noir and Meunier (44% together) and is made in the traditional method. Apparently this only had eight months on the lees before disgorgement, but it tastes like it was more. Obviously lots of bottle age which has allowed lots of complexity to develop – a class fizz.
Man O’ War Ironclad Waiheke 2010
This is a Bordeaux blend with virtually the full house of black grapes permitted in Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The grapes are picked and sorted separately from 45 different parcels on the warmer hillside sites, then blended together. As might be expected it tastes something akin to an Haut-Médoc from a warm year, blackcurrant and plum fruit dancing against a background of supple tannins. This is lovely to drink now but will easily keep (and keep developing) until the end of the decade.
Craggy Range “Sophia” Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay 2004 & 2006
Finally, two different vintages of Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux blends from Craggy Range, and older than you might often see available. The Gimblett Gravels sub-region lies over a former riverbed – hence the gravel – and so is very well drained (most quality grapes don’t produce quality wine if they have too much access to water). The 2004 consists of 92% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the 2006 was made with 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec – a perfect example of adjusting the blend depending on the vintage, as is the norm in Bordeaux. Both of these examples were maturing but not fully mature; there was still plenty of cassis and plum on the palate but cedar and tobacco notes starting to creep in – complex and very drinkable.
I hope you liked this post, please leave a comment and/or follow my blog if you haven't done so already.