Another round of fantastic whites from GrapeCircus!
Disclosure: samples kindly provided for review, opinions are my own
Cantina Roccafiori Bianco “Fiorfiore” 2015 (14.0%, RRP €22.00 at Sheridan’s, Mitchell & Son and SIYPS)
We met Roccafiori’s Fiordaliso in Round 1; whereas that was a blend of 85% Grechetto di Todi and 15% Trebbiano Spoletino, their flagship wine Fiorfiore is 100% Grechetto di Todi. It’s matured in large (5,000L) Slavonian oak casks which add texture and complexity but very little actual oak flavour. This is a grown up, powerful and savoury wine which still manages to be fresh – a wine for contemplation.
La Marca di San Michele Verdicchio “Saltatempo” 2016 (12.5%, RRP €21.00 at Sheridan’s, Mitchell & Son)
The La Marca di San Michele estate in Cupramontana was founded by siblings Alessandro Bonci, Beatrice Bonci, and Daniela Quaresima in 2007. They are certified organic and take a low intervention approach. This Verdicchio has quite a floral nose but plenty of apple and pear to go with it. In the mouth it’s lithe and fluid, fruit and minerality competing for your attention. Just a stunning wine that you won’t be able to resist!
M&A Arndorfer Vorgeschmack White 2016 (11.5%, RRP €21.00 at Sheridan’s and SIYPS)
Vorgeschmack means a “taster” as in an introduction. The Arndorfers have both red and white Vorgeschmacks which are both blends; 80% Zweigelt and 20% Pinot Noir for the red and 80% Grüner Veltliner plus 20% Riesling for this white. I really like their straight GV but this is even more interesting – two of Austria’s key white grapes combining to make a tangy, fresh combination. Very versatile for food matching!
Led by Venetian Enrico Fantsia, GrapeCircus is an Irish wine importer that specialises in natural, vibrant wines from Italy and other parts of Europe. His wines are stocked at famous Irish cheesemonger Sheridan’s (with whom he has a partnership) and elsewhere. Here are a few of my favourites:
Cantina Roccafiori Roccafiori Bianco “Fiordaliso” 2015 (12.5%, RRP €17.95 at Sheridans Cheesemongers, SIPYS, Mitchell & Son, Green Man Wines)
Umbria is one of Italy’s less-heralded wine regions, but rising standards have caused its wines to be increasingly sought out. Roccafiore is situated in the hills of Todi and runs on a natural and environmentally-friendly basis, even going so far as to use solar power for their energy needs. Fiordaliso is a blend of local grapes Grechetto di Todi (85%) and Trebbiano Spoletino (15%). It’s a dry, crisp wine with Granny Smith apples and fresh citrus zest.
M&A Arndorfer Strass Im Sassertale Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2015 (12.5%, RRP €18.95 at Sheridans Cheesemongers, SIPYS)
Martin & Anna Arndorfer both come from well respected winemaking families in Kamptal, Niederösterreich, but have become recognised for the purity and originality of their own wines. This is a clean, dry introduction to Austria’s signature grape Grüner Veltliner. Minimal intervention allows the characteristics of the variety to shine through – soft pip fruit and floral notes, medium body and a white pepper kick to the finish.
Roncus Friuli Ribolla Gialla 2016 (12.0%, RRP €22.50 at Sheridans Cheesemongers, SIPYS, Green Man Wines)
Ribolla Gialla is probably my favourite native Italian white grape as it just has so much character. It’s a speciality of Friuli in the north east of Italy, bordering Austria and Slovenia, where local grape Friulano (aka Sauvignonasse, Sauvignon Vert) is also prominent. Roncus’s example has plenty of soft pip fruit but also intriguing aromas and flavours of almond. As I love almonds, perhaps that’s why I love this wine so much?
Domaine Vinci Côtes Catalanes “Coyade” 2014 (12.0%, RRP €31.50 at Sheridans Cheesemongers, SIPYS, Green Man Wines)
Domaine Vinci’s Olivier Varichon and Emanuelle Vinci take a natural approach to winemaking, using wild yeast for fermentation and bottling with no fining or filtration. It seems fitting that a wine from French Catalonia uses grapes also found on the Spanish side of the border – Maccabeu (aka Macabeo, 70%), Grenache Blanc (20%) and Carignan Blanc (10%). Maccabeu can be somewhat boring neutral, but given some diurnal variation from altitude and sensible yields it can produce interesting, aromatic wines such as Coyade. This is a fresh, mineral wine which would partner well with shellfish and other seafood, but has enough flavour and interest to be delightful on its own.
Trentino / Alto Adige has both Italian and Austrian roots, so there’s no surprise that the gamut of grape varieties runs from Pinot Grigio to Müller-Thurgau. However, this Alpine region also makes some classy Pinot Bianco – a grape which is often suited to everyday drinking but is rarely treated seriously. The “XY” cuvée is treated more like a Chardonnay than a Pinot Blanc – it spends at least twenty months on the lees in second use French oak barriques, giving it texture and flavour. There’s a little vanilla from the oak but more nuts and toastiness, all on top of fresh apple and citrus. This is a refined, poised wine which would turn any white Burgundy-lover’s head.
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!
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!