Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites 2019

It’s awards season, with the Golden Globes and Oscars over it’s now time for the Frankly Wines Top Tens.  So here we go, kicking off with 10 fantastic white wines that I have really enjoyed in the past 12 months, and you should try to get hold of if you haven’t already:

10. Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2017

Luigi Baudana Dragon

14.0%, RRP €23.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

This wine could well have topped the list on the Frankly Wines Top Ten Value Whites, such is the bang you get for your buck, bitcoin, or other currency of choice, but for me it’s just a great wine full stop.  To stand out amongst the Langhe’s great reds is a great achievement.

9. Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Fiano 2017

Chalk Hill Fiano

12.0%, RRP €21.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.  Also see related article here.

McLaren Vale is one of the key Australian regions where Italian varieties are being treated seriously, not just as a novelty but as a serious alternative to international (i.e. French) varieties.  Mandrarossa’s Sicilian Fiano was a revelation when I first tried it a few years ago, but Chalk Hill have pushed the bar even higher.  Try this tropical citrus beauty and you will become a convert too.

8. Ovum Wines Oregon Big Salt 2017

ovum big salt

12.9%, RRP €33.95.  Distributed by Le Caveau.  Also see related article here.

In my notes below I state that there are no Alsace wines in my Top 10 whites this year, and while that is true it does not preclude Alsace-style whites from elsewhere.  The long, cool growing season of Oregon’s coast is perfect for aromatic varieties: Muscat, Riesling and Gewurztraminer combine elegantly to make Oregon’s very own Gentil.

7. Domaine Marc Sorrel Hermitage Blanc “Les Rocoules” 1999

domaine-marc-sorrel-hermitage-les-rocoules-white

14.5%, RRP €98.45.  Distributed by Karwig Wines.

Producers who make wine in Hermitage number less than a score so it is something of a rarity (especially compared to Crozes-Hermitage); the whites are rarer still.  They can be made from any combination of Marsanne and Roussanne, with the former usually dominant or alone.  Marc Sorrel is a modest man who makes wines that aren’t flashy, but very long-lived and interesting.  This is from a single plot called Les Rocoules; it is intensely aromatic with herbs, elderflower and honeysuckle on the nose.  The palate is a little drier than expected but reflects the herbs and honey notes of the nose.  It’s round and savoury – obviously well developed at twenty years old – with an interesting tang and even some crisp green vegetal notes.  White Hermitage is rare enough, but to try a two decade old single vineyard wine is a real treat.

6. Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €39.95.  Distributed by Berry Bros & Rudd.  Also see related article here.

Jim Clendenen is rightly a legend of Californian wine, particularly those made from Burgundian varieties, so it’s fitting that a god-like portrait appears on the front label of this wine.  This wine has a slightly different sensibility to ABC’s regular bottlings, best summed up by the legend (in the other sense) at the bottom of the label:

Instructions to winemaker: I said “Hey dude, Make a wine on the Wild Side”

5. Domaine Stéphane Ogier Viognier de Rosine 2016

Viognier de Rosine

12.5%, RRP €31.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.

Viognier almost disappeared in the 20th Century, with just a small amount left in Condrieu.  It is now planted in many parts of the Rhône and further afield in California, Australia and elsewhere.  This wine is from the northern Rhône but outside the boundaries of the Appellation Controllée areas, making it an IGP.  Such is the quality of the terroir at Rosine and the wines made there, that I reckon it might well gain an AOC of its own in the future.  This is textbook Viognier, full of rich apricot, peach and pineapple fruits, and better than many more expensive Condrieus.

4. L.A.S. Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2016

LAS Vino MR Chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €59.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

When we think of “natural” or “low intervention” wines we often think of the new wave of winemakers in Europe who have rejected the use of excessive chemicals in the vineyard and reverted back to their grandfathers’ methods.  In my eyes, Australia didn’t have the same issues, partly due to a drier climate and partly due to a more technical approach in bigger vineyards.  However, the focus on making wines that are consistent (vintage indifferent) and technically correct (starbright, clean, no trace of brett or VA) has sometimes encouraged wines which are lacking in character.

This Margaret River Chardonnay has character for days!

3. Rafael Palacios Valdeorras “As Sortes” 2016 

As Sortes

14.0%, RRP €46.00.  Distributed by Vinostito.

From the famous Palacios Spanish winemaking family, Rafael Palacios is the “God of Godello”, based in Valdeorras, Galicia.  He takes the grape to heights that have to be tasted to be believed, with low yields from seven plots totalling only 4.6 hectares and judicious use of oak.  There is tropical , soft stone and citrus fruit, all elegantly framed by a mineral, saline streak.  This is the type of wine which appeals to lovers of Chardonnay and Albariño alike.

2. Domaine JB Ponsot Rully “En Bas de Vauvry” 2016

jean-baptiste ponsot rully

13.0%, RRP €29.90.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Rully is on the rise – as land in the Côte Chalonnaise is significantly cheaper than the Cote d’Or (for now, at least) more vineyards there are getting serious attention and investment.  If you want excellent white Burgundy without a second mortgage, this is for you.

1. Julien Brocard La Boissonneuse Chablis 2017

CHABLIS-BOISSONNEUSE-JEAN-MARC-BROCARD

13.0%, RRP €28.45.  Distributed by O’Briens.  Also see related article here.

When whittling down my longlists to get to the shortlists of ten wines, quality considerations are paramount – balance, concentration and complexity, for example. This wine has all those, plus something else – it redefines how good a certain type of wine can be – in this case AOC Chablis.  There’s a long established hierarchy in Chablis with Petit Chablis at the bottom, then Chablis, a multitude of Chablis Premiers Crus with the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grands Crus at the top – but this wine’s vast array of aromas and flavours show that, with care and dedication, anything is possible.

The bar for AOC Chablis has been significantly raised. The rest of Chablis – it’s over to you!

 


As this is the first of my Top 10s to be published, I first ought to mention a few obvious things:

  1. The timing of the articles is better in the first quarter of the new year rather than racing to get them all done at the end of a year, hence no 2018 edition.
  2. There will be no Alsace wines in the “Top 10 Whites” or “Top 10 Value Whites” categories – but do not adjust your sets, Alsace wines will have their own dedicated pieces.
  3. These lists are entirely subjective and are based on my personal opinions of the wines I’ve tasted, not an inclusive list of the best wines in the world (funnily enough I didn’t get sent any DRC or Bordeaux First Growth samples this year), so if you think there are obvious errors or omissions then please feel free to write about your own favourites on your own blog.

 

The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

  • Top 10 Whites
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • Top 10 Reds
  • Top 10 Sweet
  • Top 10 Value Whites
  • Top 10 Value Reds
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Ireland
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Alsace
Tasting Events

Free Pour – Part 1 (Italian whites)

Liberty Wines have a very varied portfolio – at a guess I’d say they cover over 40 countries – but Italy was one of their founding strengths and continues to be well represented in their range.  Here are brief notes on some of the Italian whites that impressed me this year:

Vigneti del Vulture “Pipoli” Greco / Fiano 2017 (12.5%, RRP €17.99)

Vigneti del Vulture Pipoli Bianco

The Vulture region of Basilicata in southern Italy is best known for its Aglianico, but here we have a blend of two white grapes which are also late-ripening and have Greek origins shrouded in time.  Produced by the well-respected cooperative, this Greco-Fiano blend has lovely fresh fruit and is far more interesting than I expected for a relatively inexpensive wine – a definite bargain.

Franz Haas Pinot Grigio 2017 (13.0%, RRP €22.99)

Picture 069

Regular readers might be perplexed by the inclusion of an Italian Pinot Grigio – after all I Don’t Like Pinot Grigio, I Love Pinot Gris.  To be honest the quality of this wine was quite unexpected – perhaps I just hadn’t been paying attention and should have known better – but it tasted nothing like a regular Italian Grigio.  It has LOTS of texture with lots of lovely pear and citrus flavour – a grown up, sophisticated wine.

Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2017 (14.0%, RRP €23.99)

Luigi Baudana Dragon

Wowser!  My wine of the tasting – elegant and clean but with some decent body and texture.  An unusual blend with both international and local grapes: 45% Chardonnay, 30% Nascetta, 20% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Riesling.  The Luigi Baudana estate is now owned and run by the Vajra family whose wines I have really enjoyed in the past.  This is quite herby, with plenty of acidity but a broad textured palate.

La Giustiniana “Lugarara” Gavi di Gavi 2017 (12.5%, RRP €23.99)

Lugarara 2017

When you come across the cheap as chips versions, just like Pinot Grigio, Gavi can be quite dilute and dull.  This has far more character than the stereotype of Gavi – more concentrated flavours and a balance between pip fruit and stone fruit.

Specogna Friulano 2017 (13.0%, RRP €23.99)

Specogna Friulano

There are rumours as to why Friulano was known as Tocai, but, just like Tokay d’Alsace, the name had to give way for Tokaji from Hungary after that country’s entry into the EU.  The other synonyms are Sauvignon Vert and Sauvignonasse which obviously lack the link to Friuli where this variety flourishes.  If you haven’t tried it before then this is a great example to start with.  It’s a good match for a wide range of food but would be pleasant on its own.

Cà dei Frati “I Frati” Lugana (13.5%, RRP €24.99)

I Frati Lugana.jpg

Gimme!  This beauty from Lugana in Lombardy is 100% Turbiana, a grape variety that I wasn’t familiar with until I found out that it is the same as Verdicchio grown in the Marche.  It’s a very fresh style so would partner very well with seafood, but to be honest it should be on every Italian restaurant’s wine list!

Vie de Romans Chardonnay 2016 (14.5%, RRP €43.99)

Vie di Romans Chardonnay

Italy has hundreds and hundreds of fantastic indigenous grapes, so why bother with foreign varieties?  If ever there’s a case for international grapes in Italy, this is it.  It’s very tangy and leesy but not particularly oaky – this is due to nine months maturation on the lees in barriques of which only 20% were new.  In my opinion it has just moved into its drinking window now but would benefit from being laid down for a few years (if you can resist!)

 

The Free Pour Series:

Restaurant Review, Tasting Events

G.D. Vajra Dinner at Ely Wine Bar

G.D. Vajra Dinner at Ely Wine Bar With Giuseppe Vaira

Last month my wife and I were invited to a wine dinner at Ely Wine Bar, my favourite venue in Dublin and one which I often mention on Frankly Wines and on Twitter.  It was jointly hosted with importers Liberty Wines and the wines were presented by third generation family member Giuseppe Vaira.

Magical food was prepared by Ryan Stringer and this team, with Ely Wine Director Ian Brosnan the man with the bottles.

Just to whet your appetite here is the menu:

Menu 2

 

Background to G.D. Vajra

The owner and winemaker is Aldo Vaira who established the firm in 1972, naming it after his father Giuseppe Domenico.  The family had been growing grapes since the 1920s but made the jump to producing wine.  Since then they have gradually expanded their holdings in the area around Barolo to 60 hectares.

Winemaking is traditional, in that the grapes are not left on the vine until very ripe and oak is used judiciously, but there is no overt woodiness and no faults, just fruit that speaks for itself and its birthplace.

Aperitif: 

G.D. Vajra “Pétracine” Langhe Riesling 2012 (12.5%, 3.8 g/L RS)

Vajra Riesling

Italian Riesling?  Unexpected or downright unusual, but the proof of the pudding is on the palate. Lemon and lime with perhaps a touch of stone fruit on the nose.  Very zesty, with lemon and apple flavours.  It does fall off a little after the amazing attack, but then mellows out for a very long finish.  There’s a tiny touch of sweetness in there, but it definitely falls into the “dry” category.  Would compare well to many Alsace Rieslings (which is high praise from me!)

Crispy pig tail, black pudding, caramelised onion, carrot & pine shoot oil

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The pig tail was tasty but it was the combination of the black pudding, the caramelised onion and carrot which ruled the dish.  Beautifully presented  it was appealing to both the eye and the palate. It also worked well with the crisp wines accompanying it.

G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba DOCG 2015 (13.0% – available by the glass at Ely Place)

2016-06-08 19.38.44

Dolcetto is often looked down upon, especially by outsiders, but it’s what the locals often choose to drink themselves.  Although the name alludes to sweetness, it’s nearly always a dry red wine with some tannin and moderate acidity as a frame for red cherry and red berry fruit.  Fabulous aromas of violets mean you will be nosing the glass for an age before tasting – though once you have tasted you will want more!

G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC 2013 (13.5%)

2016-06-08 22.43.12

Unlike wines made under the Barbera d’Asti DOC regulations (which allow up to 15% of other local grapes, this Barbera d’Alba is a 100% varietal.  (Also see the new Nizza DOCG within Asti which is always 100% Barbera.)  This is a more powerful wine than the Dolcetto, blended from the fruit of six different vineyards.  The key notes for me were chocolate, berries and earthiness – a great match with the starter!

Organic Burren lamb belly, potato, samphire & lamb jus

20160608_212651.jpg

Occasionally ordering lamb belly can lead to a disappointingly greasy result. This dish offered anything but, with tender rolled pink lamb belly. The samphire (a first for us) added saltiness to both the potatoes and the lamb and really brought balance to the plate. The jus was sweeter than expected and would have been enjoyed more if there was a little more on the plate, because it was that good.

G.D. Vajra “Albe” Barolo DOCG 2011 (14.5% – available at Ely Place)

2016-06-08 22.42.27

The Albe is Vajra’s entry level Barolo with grapes sourced from several vineyards.  The nose is predominantly red fruit and floral, with pine resin / eucalyptus in the background – definitely fruits of the forest!  Although it spent several years in barrel before release, it’s not at all woody;  tannins are present but not overbearing.  For such a relatively young wine, this is a minor miracle (from my limited experience of quality Barolo!)

G.D. Vajra “Ravera” Barolo DOCG 2011 (14.5% – available at Ely CHQ)

2016-06-08 22.42.39

Ravera is a “Cru” or designated vineyard in the south west of Barolo, with a free-draining mix of clay and loose sand.  Although vines were first planted in 2001, the wines were labelled as Langhe Nebbiolo until 2008.  After 3 weeks of fermentation, the wine spent 42 months in Slavonian (Croatian) oak barrels.

The star of the show!  A full on black fruit experience on both the nose and palate – lovely juicy blueberries and blackberries, with a mineral edginess.  So well put together – rich yet delicate; poised…once the wine touches your lips you can’t wait for it to sate your taste buds.

Considering the young age of the wine and time spent in barrel this is a remarkably approachable wine already.  It seems Vajra have mastered the art of complex wines that don’t need a decade and a half to be ready!

Custard & rhubarb tart, poached rhubarb, lemon meringue
20160608_220951

The rhubarb and custard tart was smooth in texture and had plenty of zing.  The delicious, slightly chewy meringue added texture and the coulis of rhubarb cut through any over-sweetness.  Dessert offered texture and tang and was a winner.

G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2015 (5.5%, 143 g/L RS)

2016-06-08 22.43.32

Sometimes the icing on the cake can be a little bit too much – but not in this case!  Moscato d’Asti is naturally sparkling from the CO2 produced by the fermentation process.  This is stopped early – by bringing the temperature down to stop the yeast from functioning – so that only some of the sugar has turned to alcohol.  Sort of like the opposite to Holsten Pils, if you remember those Griff Rhys-Jones adverts.  The result is an avalanche of fruit – apricot, peach, mango, pear, passionfruit… it just goes on and on.  The dessert it accompanied was an inspired choice, as the acidity in the rhubarb and the Moscato were a match then the sweetness of the meringue was equalled by the residual sugar in the wine.

 

Thanks to my wife Jess who wrote the food sections above!

Great food, great wine, great company – this was an evening to remember!

 

Make Mine A Double

Make Mine A Double #03 – Contrasting Nebbiolo Wines from Piedmont

This series of articles each covers two wines that have something in common, and most likely some point of difference. Compare and contrast is the order of the day – so make mine a double!

Nebbiolo is something of an enigma; it’s hard to love and definitely something of an acquired taste, but those who do like it, almost canonise it.  At the suggestion of Anne from @liqueurplate, a recent gathering of Dublin bloggers set to on a short tasting exploration.

Map of Piedmont / Piemonte
Map of Piedmont / Piemonte (Credit: Guild of Sommeliers)

These two Nebbiolos (Nebbioli?) are two very different styles – at different price points – which most piqued my interest from the selection.  Both are from Piedmont, specifically the Langhe, which is probably the region most closely connected to the grape.  The “King and Queen” of the region are Barolo and Barbaresco respectively are the most prestigious names associated with the grape.  I highly recommend Kerin O’Keefe’s book on them.

Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo 2013 (€17.95, Mitchell & Son) 14.0%

Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo 2013
Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo 2013

This is probably the most fruit-forward style of Nebbiolo I’ve tried (though I don’t claim any expertise on the grape).  Although not austere, it does have the tannin and acidity that Nebbiolo is renowned for, along with roses on the nose.  But there’s also lots of juicy dark fruit which makes it very moreish.  A great introduction to Nebbiolo, and very good value for money.

Elio Grasso Barolo “Ginestra Casa Mate” 2006 (~€65, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin) 14.0%

Elio Grasso Barolo "Ginestra Casa Mate" 2006
Elio Grasso Barolo “Ginestra Casa Mate” 2006

Finian Sweeney of the eponymous Wine Merchants in Glasnevin imports this himself and recommended it to me as a serious, but accessible Barolo.  At nine years old it is now ready to drink, but still has some way to go until it hits its peak.

Elio Grasso is based in Monforte d’Alba, the most southerly major commune in the Barolo wine region.  They have just 18 hectares, mainly planted with local grapes Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera.  Elio Grasso makes three Barolos, which have been bottled separately since 1978 with an eye on constantly improving quality.

Elio Grasso vineyards

The estate produces an average of 14,000 bottles of this Ginestra Casa Maté per year from three hectares.

Vinification is modern – temperature controlled in stainless steel – before the wine is transferred to large 2,500 litre Slavonian (Croatian) oak casks for maturation.  Once bottled it is held back to mature further for another eight to ten months.

So given the much higher price tag, is this a much better wine than the first?  In my opinion probably not quite, at the moment.  I will qualify that by adding that, for most people the Elio Grasso isn’t that accessible right now, even though it’s lovely to drink.  However, with a few more years in bottle I think it could turn out to be much, much more than it’s showing now.  This is a wine to revisit towards the end of the decade!