Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz of 2016

And so, finally, here are my Top 10 Fizzes of 2016!

10. Hush Heath Estate Balfour 1503 Pinot Noir

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If you have an interest in fizz then you might know that Pinot Noir is an important grape in the production of sparkling wine, even for those with no colour, but Hush Heath Estate have taken things even further with their “Noir de Noir” (if such a term exists!)  A recent addition to the range of this Kent estate, it’s made in a clean, fresh and fruity style – worth trying as something different, but stands up on its own in terms of quality.

9.  Cirotto Prosecco Superiore Asolo Extra Brut 2015

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Vintage Prosecco is not that common, though most consumers probably don’t pay much attention.  This Prosecco isn’t for most consumers, however (though they would probably like it) – it’s sights are aimed higher at those who value more than just something with bubbles in.  This beauty from Cirotto is an Extra Brut which tells us a couple of important things:

  1. with less residual sugar (only 3g/L) it might appeal more to those who find average Proseccos too sweet, and
  2. without the mask of as much sugar the wine beneath is laid bare, so it had better be good!

Wine geeks will also be interested in the fact it is made in the small DOCG region of Asolo and that 10% of the blend is made up of local varieties Perera and Bianchetta.  This is the best aperitif style Prosecco I have ever tasted!

8. Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV

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The quality of Charles Heidsieck’s standard non vintage is due to the silver lining of a very dark cloud.  The marque’s UK sales fell off a cliff at some point a few decades ago, leaving it with lots of long term grape buying contracts that it didn’t really need, so rather than produce lots of finished Champagne that would just create a glut on the market, or terminating contracts that would be very difficult to re-establish in better times, they honoured those contracts and built up their stocks of reserve wines.

Hence the Brut Réserve consists of over 40% reserve wines with an average age of 10 years – giving it far greater depth and complexity than nearly all other NVs around.

7. Jip Jip Rocks Sparkling Shiraz NV

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Sparkling Shiraz does appear on the supermarket shelves in Ireland but usually just in the guise of a single, entry level brand (I’m being kind and not naming names here).  But those who don’t like Banrock Station (oops!!) might find that moving up market a little brings a lot in terms of quality and balance.  Jip Jip Rocks shows why the category is much more popular down under – it manages to be the best of both red and sparkling worlds, without breaking the bank!

6. Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2007

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One of the truisms about Champagne is that value is most often found at a cooperative, but Champenois coops can also be the source of top quality wines, such as this Blanc de Blancs from Beaumont des Crayères.  I’m a fan of the regular Brut NV but Fleur Blanche is on another plane entirely – lots of citrus and bready flavours, think lemon curds on toasted brioche!

5. Henriot Brut Souverain NV

 

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The Henriot family put down roots in Reims in the 16th century, eventually becoming cloth merchants in the city’s biggest trade of the time (Mercier means haberdasher!) and then (thankfully for us) Champagne producers in 1808.  This is a traditional blend with a slight bias towards Chardonnay (much of it from Grand Cru villages) for elegance and floral notes.  Ageing on the lees for three years adds some lovely biscuit tones.

4. Albert Beerens Carte Or NV

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The Carte Or is the standard bearer for the Albert Beerens range.  With an astonishing 46% reserve wines in the blend it is also an ambassador for the southerly reaches of the Champagne region – the Côte des Bar.  This family-owner grower-producer farms just seven hectares around Bar-sur-Aube, and their obsessive focus on quality and innovation shine through in the wine.

3. Christian Bourmault Cuvée Hermance Brut NV

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Based in the Grand Cru village of Avize on the Côte des Blancs, Christian Bourmault follows in the footsteps of his forebears including the founders Ernest and Hermance, after who this cuvée was named.  It’s unusual for Avize in that it has a significant majority of black grapes – the blend is 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier. The use of old oak barrels for ageing and plenty of lees work adds lots of character – this is a Champagne worth seeking out.

2. Sugrue Pierre “The Trouble With Dreams” 2011

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Not content with “just” being the creator of delicious English sparkling at Wiston Estate, Dermot Sugrue has a personal side project making a traditional Champagne blend from a tiny single vineyard.  Made from 55% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier, the 2010 was delightful but the 2011 was sensational!  There’s plenty of lemon, lime and stone fruit, but also an intriguing chalkiness – a direct result of the vineyard’s chalk soils? This was the best English sparkling wine I tasted in 2016!

1. Charles Heidsieck Cuvée des Millénaires 1995

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This cuvée was released a few years ago but keeps getting better every time I taste it.  1995 is still considered one of the top few vintages of the last 25 years, so with 17 years ageing before disgorgement this is an outstanding expression of the year.  It’s a luxury, yes, but if you get to taste it you might just see it as a necessity – one of the most complex and seductive Champagnes I’ve ever tasted!

 

 

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Tasting Events

A February Feast, part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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