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 Reds
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • 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
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Tasting Events

DNS taste North America

One of the recent themes we explored at DNS WineClub was North American wines.  Barefoot and Blossom Hill represent the very commercial face of North American wine, manufactured in huge facilities in accordance with simple, fruity, easy-drinking recipes.  At the top end, Cult Cabernets can be spectacular.  However, there is fairly thin coverage in Europe of the wines in between these two extremes – and they’re the ones which offer most interest to winelovers.

California is the powerhouse of the USA and therefore the whole of North America; even though wines are made in the other 49 states, together they make up just 10% of the USA total.  In these parts the most available outside of the Golden State are probably the wines of Oregon and Washington State – we see very little from elsewhere, not even the hip wines of New York State’s Finger Lakes region.

Here are the five wines which shone the most at our tasting:

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Chenin Viognier 2014 (12.5%, RRP €24.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

pine ridge chenin viognier

If you ask a fairly knowledgeable wine drinker what grapes they associate with the Napa Valley, Cabernet would undoubtedly come first, followed by Merlot and Zinfandel, with possibly Chardonnay thrown in as a token white.  So here we have something quite unexpected in Napa – a blend of the Loire’s Chenin Blanc and the Rhône’s Viognier.  The blend is consistent from year to year at 80% Chenin and 20% Viognier, and a little residual sugar is left in to round off the acidity.  Most importantly, it really works as a wine – fresh green apple with a little rich apricot as a counterpoint.

Ovum Wines Oregon “Big Salt” 2017 (12.9%, @RRP €33.95 at Baggot Street Wines, Le Caveau and other good independents)

ovum big salt

Ovum are named after the concrete egg fermenters they use, reflected in the shape of the label of this Alsace-style blend from Oregon.  The grapes used are Riesling, Muscat & Gewurztraminer; the relative proportions are not stated, but the fact that spicy Gewurz doesn’t dominate the nose makes me think that it is probably 10% or less of the blend, with fresh Riesling taking the lead at around 55% and the aromatic Muscat being the balance of around 35% (all my own guesswork, happy to be proved wrong!) 

Again referring to my beloved Alsace, a blend of this quality would be from a Grand Cru vineyard, with the fascinating interplay of three fantastic varieties.  The name of the wine also rings true, with lovely saline elements.  This is an unusual wine which is in fairly short supply in Ireland, but it is worth seeking out.

Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017 (13.5%, RRP €39.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

Jim Clendenen is the star winemaker and owner of Au Bon Climat, one of the best producers in Santa Barbara County.  ABC is famous for its Pinot Noirs And Chardonnays – Jim is a Burgundy devotee – which come from a variety of different vineyards in the area.  The “Wild Boy” is less subtle than the regular wines, with lots of funk and noticeable oak, spicy pears and citrus.  Whatever magic he uses, this is a highly impressive wine!

The Four Graces Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2014 (13.1%, RRP €40.00 at Sweeney’s and other good independents)

the four graces pinot noir

Perhaps because I’d only tried a couple of lesser quality examples, my preconception of Oregon Pinot Noir was that it could be a bit thin and weedy, rarely living up to its price tag.  While this is no Central Otago clone, it nevertheless has plenty of body and an amazing velvety smoothness to it.  Dundee Hills are one of the best subregions of the Willamette Valley – on this evidence I will be looking out for it again.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Sparkling Ice Wine 2015 (9.5%, RRP €56 (375 ml) at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other good independents)

inniskillen sparkling ice wine

And now for something completely different – something I didn’t even know existed before I put together the wines for this tasting.  Yes, Niagara is famous for its Icewine, often made with the hybrid grape Vidal (which has a very complicated heritage that I’m going to skip over), but a sparkling version?  I didn’t know there was such a thing!  Once pressed, with the ice removed from the juice, specific yeast is added to the juice in a charmat tank so that the CO2 produced from fermentation is dissolved into the wine.  This is such a treat of a wine, with amazing tropical mango, guava and peach notes.  For many tasters, this was the wine of the night.  I really liked it but would probably prefer the still version for myself.

 

Tasting Events

Five Fab Whites from the Ely Big Tasting

I’ve already picked my five favourite reds, now here are five of the whites which stood out for me at the Ely Big Tasting:

 

Bride Valley Brut Reserve 2014 (12.0%, RRP ~ €54, Liberty Wines)

Bride Valley

Bride Valley is a producer named after a place of the same name in Dorset on the south coast of England (it’s between Hampshire and Devon (I had to check as I’m a Northerner myself).  The estate is owned by Steven Spurrier and his wife Arabella; Steven is a former wine merchant, a wine educator and a wine writer, and is perhaps most famous for hosting the “Judgement of Paris” in 1976 (though he wasn’t too happy to be portrayed by a 60+ year old Alan Rickman in Bottle Shock!).  The soil is said to be similar to Champagne, though I think it’s probably more technically accurate to say that Champagne has similar soil to this part of Dorset as the village of Kimmeridge (whence Kimmeridgian) is close by!

The blend is “typically” 50% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, the three main Champagne grapes, though not seen in these proportions that often.  It’s not the most complex English sparkler I’ve tried, though that’s understandable as it’s a very young estate – but it’s simply a delicious wine, and dangerously quaffable!

 

O Luar do Sil Valdeorras Godello Sobre Lias 2015 (13.5%, RRP ~ €30, Mitchell & Son)

o luar do sil

The Rodero Villa family had been making fine Ribero del Duero wines at Pago de los Capellanes for two decades before they set up an outpost in Galicia, north west Spain.  Valdeorras is Godello country with a cool climate that encourages a long growing season and lots of aromatic compounds in the wines.  “O Luar do Sil” apparently means “The Reflection of the Moon on the river Sil” – though I presume this only applies at night…

Anyway, the wine itself is delicious – fresh, green fruit with creamy richness from six months on fine lees.  Wines like this reinforce my view that Godello can make wines equally as good as – if not better than – Galicia’s other prominent white grape Albariño.

 

Mahi Estate Boundary Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP ~ €26 Quintessential Wines)

Mahi Boundary Road

I’ve already written about this wine in 2017 but I make no excuses for repeating myself – it’s an excellent wine.  Don’t think that this is “just another Marlborough Sauvignon”, it’s far more than that: smoky, funky and citrusy all at the same time.  If anything I think this is tasting better than it did earlier in the year, but should keep on developing for several years.

 

Maison Ambroise Côtes de Nuits Villages Blanc 2013 (13.0%, RRP ~ €28, Le Caveau)

maison ambroise

Maison Ambroise are better known for their red wines (as is the Côtes de Nuits in general), with a history going back to the 18th century.  The vineyards were reinvigorated by Bertrand Ambroise in 1987 and the amount of land under vine increased to 21 hectares.  Organic certification came in 2013.

Oak is used sparingly to add complexity and mouthfeel – details weren’t immediately available but I suspect that any new oak was only a fraction of the total.  This is a superlative white – for a relatively modest outlay – so beware, it might just be the wine that gets you hooked on white Burgundy!

 

Jean Thévenet Domaine de la Bongran Viré-Clessé 2010 (14.0%, RRP ~ €33, Wines Direct)

domaine_de_la_bongran.jpg

Viré-Clessé is in the Maconnais, the southernmost sub-region of Burgundy proper before Beaujolais, so the fruit is nearly always riper than Chablis at the other (northern) end of Burgundy.  Jean and Gautier Thevenet go even further with their Domaine de la Bongran grapes – they leave them on the vine for several weeks longer than all their neighbours, resulting in powerful wines.  The high sugar levels at harvest time combined with natural yeast means that fermentation can take months and months.  Such is the richness of the wine that you might think there’s oak used along the way, but not a bit of it.  This is an unusual style of Chardonnay that really needs to be tried!