Lidl Ireland are introducing some limited release French wines in their stores from Thursday 24th September 2020 in what they are calling their “September Wine Cellar”. I tasted the majority of them at the first press tasting since Covid first hit and can give them all a thumbs up. They aren’t likely to win any major awards but they are very good value for money and give wine drinkers a chance to try something representative of a style they might not have tried before.
Here are my brief notes on four of the light whites included in the event:
Le Rocher de Saint Victor Picpoul de Pinet 2019
As I am fond of saying, Picpoul is the “new Muscadet” (see an example of the “old Muscadet” below). It is generally light and clean, unoaked and somewhat saline – and rarely expensive. Unfortunately it can also be lacking and flavour and overly acidic. Not this Picpoul! It does have the saline streak – which makes perfect sense given that the AOP overlooks the brackish Etang de Thau – but also some juicy citrus fruit. A default phrase to accompany Picpoul de Pinet is “great with seafood”, but this goes beyond that – it’s like licking oyster shells! This is a Picpoul full of character for very little moolah.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Domaine des Deux Vallons Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2019
If you are new to Muscadet then the label above contains two very important pieces of information:
The wine is made in the Sèvre et Maine subregion (named after the two rivers which flow through)
The wine has spent time Sur Lie, i.e. in contact with the dead yeast cells which fermented the wine and give it a creamy, bready aspect.
What the label doesn’t impart is the quality of the wine – but thankfully it gets the thumbs up from me. Compared to many Muscadets this has very good depth of flavour, not that easy to produce on the Loire’s Atlantic Coast. It’s full of Granny Smiths apples and zesty citrus, perfect for an aperitif or with oysters.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Les Aubrières Val de Loire Sauvignon Blanc 2019
This is an IGP Val de Loire wine, the former Vin de Pays category. The exact location(s) the grapes were sourced from isn’t known but it’s made in a Touraine Sauvignon style. It pours very pale in the glass and has a very expressive nose of cut grass. This isn’t like realising that a neighbour is mowing their lawn, it’s like seeing a pile of cut grass and face planting in it! Mouth closed, obviously. There’s also a hint of green bell pepper on the nose. These aromas continue onto the palate but the grassiness is joined by a herby character. This is a very appealing wine.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Trésors de Loire Pouilly-Fumé 2019
We stay in the Loire with this Treasure, but more specifically in the famous appellation of Pouilly-Fumé, over the river from Sancerre. Although also 100% Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is quite different in character from the one above. It still pours a very light green in the glass but the concentrated aromas and flavours are fruity rather than grassy. I Intense citrus come to the fore in the shape of lemon and grapefruit, but also ripe gooseberry too. The flinty finish is long and elegant. This is one of the best whites I’ve ever tasted from Lidl.
My pick of the four wines above is the Pouilly-Fumé, a Treasure by name and a Treasure by nature.
New Zealand – and more specifically Marlborough – is now thought of as the main home of Sauvignon Blanc for the average wine drinker. But Savvy’s time there is measured in decades, not centuries, and its success there would not have happened if it had not created a global reputation in its original homeland of the Loire Valley. Of all the Loire appellations, Sancerre is the name which carries the biggest cachet and is still thought of as a style leader.
But what is that style? The Sancerre appellation covers 15 villages with three main soil types:
Clay & limestone, aka “white soils”, including some Kimmeridgean marl (we aren’t that far from Chablis here) which lend body and power to wines
Gravel & limestone which give lighter, more delicate wines
Flint, the famous “silex” soils which give very aromatic wines with pronounced mineral notes that can be capable of long ageing
Sancerre was the Sauvignon Blanc I tried and loved, over twenty years ago, so it still has a special place in my heart. Here are two from the current SuperValu French Wine Sale that are worth seeking out:
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly sent as samples, opinions remain my own
Guy Saget Sancerre 2019
The Saget family originally come from Pouilly-sur-Loire, the other side of the river from Sancerre, and still have a base there (Domaine Saget). However, they have expanded their operations over the past few decades to encompass around thirty different appellations to showcase the wines of the whole Loire under the Guy Saget label.
Guy Saget wines are currently made by Laurent Saget using grapes from long term contract growers. Their vines are mainly on Kimmeridgian soils. No oak is used at any point to help preserve fresh fruit flavours; stainless steel tanks are preferred and bâtonnage is carried out over the six month maturation period.
On the nose there are intense grapefruit aromas, accompanied by gooseberry and a hint of grass. These notes continue onto the palate but there is also a striking stony mineral tone. Rather than just grapefruit juice this fruity aspect is more like chomping down onto a few juicy grapefruit segment which explode into your mouth. This is a delicious, accessible Sancerre which can brighten up your day.
RRP: €19.66 down to €14.76 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
In contrast to Guy Saget, La Perrière only make Sancerre wines. There are several in the range, however;
Straight Sancerrein white, rosé and red versions (the latter two obviously made from Pinot Noir)
Two different Comte de la Perrière bottlings, one from flinty Silex soil and one from marl & gravel Caillottes soil
A flagship red Sacrilègegrown on chalk and limestone soil
A flagship white Mégalithegrown on silica (Silex!) soils which is the wine we have here.
After a gentle pressing, the juice for Mégalithe is split two ways; 60% of the must is fermented and matured in stainless steel tanks, but 40% receives an altogether different treatment. This portion is fermented in 300 litre (“Cognac type”) barrels made from Allier oak (a top source of oak barrels that is conveniently close to Sancerre). Maturation is for eight or nine months during which frequent bâtonnage takes place. Both the inox and barrel matured wines are blended together before bottling.
The first sniff of Mégalithe reveals that this is a totally different wine to the Guy Saget, even though they are both AOC Sancerre. There are citrus notes but they are in the background; the foreground is occupied by smoke, wood, nuts and vanilla. The palate is creamy, yeasty and tangy. This is a wonderfully expressive wine which is great to drink now but will reward several years’ patience with more development and integration.
RRP: €31.48 down to €21.64 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
One little bit of information I didn’t mention above was that Guy Saget and La Perrière are part of the same group: Maison Saget La Perrière. The Guy Saget Sancerre is available at SuperValu all year round but the Mégalithe is a “special guest” only available during the French Wine Sale; this makes perfect sense when you consider their relative styles. The Guy Saget is a real crowd pleaser, fruity and accessible, though still showing Sancerre’s mineral streak, whereas the Mégalithe is much more of a focused wine that might not be to everyone’s taste, but is undoubtedly a more accomplished wine.
To compare with a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, the Guy Saget is more like Kevin Judd’s regular Greywacke whereas the Mégalithe is more like his Wild Sauvignon. Liking one doesn’t mean you would like the other, but you owe it to yourself to try them both!
In many ways these wines reflect what happens when you go up the price scale of wine in general; wines become better, but often a little more niche. When comparing more expensive wines the differences are more often in style than to quality per se. Try both!
In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:
A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it
It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.
My guest for this tenth post in The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series is Cara Rutherford, a great friend whose knowledge and passion for Italian wine and loud trousers really puts me in the shade (though I might have an advantage on loud shirts). Cara and I have a lot in common when it comes to wine but even more when it comes to music – I think we are of a similar vintage, but I would never ask a lady her age!
The Cure’s music has defied easy categorisation over the years, but has encompassed goth (a term they dislike), straight up pop (Friday I’m In Love) and rock (Shake Dog Shake). I’ve been a fan of The Cure since the late ’80s. Initially it was Standing on a Beach / Staring at the Sea which I had on repeat and then Disintegration, the best album ever per Kyle Broflovski. The previous album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me had passed me by somewhat, but my favourite track from that album – Just Like Heaven – was played all three times I’ve seen them in concert (1992, 2002 & 2019). It manages to be a really hooky pop song while still preserving The Cure’s sensibility. Check out this analysis by Rick Beato.
While Cara’s main vinous focus is Italy, she also reviews plenty of wines from other countries – especially if they are made a low intervention style. I’ve already chosen one wine from Suertes del Marqués in this series, but as I’m such a fan of their wines and had the pleasure of meeting Jonatan Garcia Lima earlier this year, I thought I’d chose their fabulous ‘7 Fuentes’ red which Cara had already reviewed and was familiar with.
The Cure – Just Like Heaven
I was delighted when Frankie sent me ‘Just Like Heaven’ to pair with a wine for his Wine & Music Series. Even though I’ve only had the pleasure of hanging out with Frankie one fantastic evening, he clearly sussed out my post-punk origins and general angst vibes.
As a GenXer, the Cure is one of the bands that not only changed but assisted in formulating and developing who I am. Robert Smith’s lyrics introduced and beckoned me into the existential cosmos of Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus. A philosophy that became my backbone growing up in the wasteland of upstate NY.
The otherworld, velvet flanger layers of his guitar, his imploring, flirtatious, angst saturated voice and words, his cascade of birds’ nest hair. The avante-guard Tim Pope videos that allowed an innocent, silly facet to shine through.
And the memories, I could go on and on; the thousands of times I made my saint of a grandmother watch the nearly 2 hours of magnificence that is The Cure in Orange with me in the afternoons after school. She was from London, so I rationalized that she would of course want to watch it over and over and over again with me……stockpiling Mary Quant liquid eyeliner when in London [I had read in an interview somewhere that was the brand he used]…..the years I lived in Dublin where I had the opportunity to track down the 7” & 12” records with their cool pastel or translucent vinyl bearing the ultimate in Cure treasures; ethereal b-sides that were held in god-like esteem for those fortunate enough to have actually found them.
So back to the pairing. ‘Just Like Heaven’ was one of the Cure’s biggest singles, with many accolades and perhaps the song that officially established them in the States.
‘Just Like Heaven’ is a glistening love song filled with dizzying iconography and shimmering melody. Looking for the same character in a wine, I immediately knew it would be sparkling and French, rooted in devotion and otherworldliness. It had to be Jean-Christophe Jezequel ‘Mademoiselle’ Vin de France 2018.
Jean-Christophe Jezequel passionately cares for his 5 hectares of old vine vineyards in Faverolles-sur-Cher in the Loire Valley. He recovered and rehabilitated old, abandoned vineyards with vines dating back to 1945, none of which have ever seen chemicals. His grapes traditionally were sold to iconic ancestral method/pet-nat winemakers Pascal Potaire and Moses Gadouche of Domaine Les Capriades. In 2019, he released his first wine, ‘Mademoiselle’ the 2017 vintage, on his own label. Just a year later, he has 5 more wines in production.
Grapes are from old vines in clay, sand, and silex over limestone soils, harvested at the beginning of September. Followed by direct pressing of the two varieties together, then fermentation in fiberglass vats with multiple rackings. After a month of fermentation, the wine is hand and gravity bottled in early October, aged a little over a year on its lees.
Coral pink in colour, with delicate aromas of strawberry, rose petal, dusty earth and a wisp of frankincense. Red currant, wild strawberry, lemon, hibiscus flower and chalky minerality are buoyed by packed, tiny bubbles and tangy acidity. Pink grapefruit and green apple linger on the fizzy, mineral driven finish. Bright, engaging and refined.
Suertes del Marqués ‘7 Fuentes’
Frankie’s wine choice was Suertes del Marqués ‘7 Fuentes’ Valle de la Orotava DO 2017, a favourite of mine that holds a place in my ‘house wine’ rotation. Jonatan Garcia Lima has 11 hectares of vineyards on the slopes of Teide, an active volcano in the northern part of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
He is dedicated to low intervention, organic and sustainable practices in both the vineyards and cellar. 7 Fuentes is composed of 35 plots from area winegrowers and from the estate vineyards with vines ranging from 10 to 180 years old, at elevations 250 to 800 meters above sea level, in volcanic soils. Each plot is vinified separately. Fermented in concrete and stainless steel with native yeasts, 70% aged in concrete while the remaining 30% aged in used 500-liter oak barrels for nine months, unfined and unfiltered.
Dark ruby red in colour with engaging aromas of campfire, tarry earth, ash, grilled herbs, black cherry, candied violet and a wisp of burnt marshmallow. Silky layers of black cherry, raspberry, cranberry, red currant, clove, coriander, rose petal and grilled herbs are wrapped in saline minerality and drape across a framework of tangy acidity and firm tannins. Smoke, tarry earth crushed black peppercorn, roasted rosemary and baked cranberry linger on the plush finish. Striking, complex and velvety.
I felt only a Foo Fighters song would be able to echo the sinuous fusion of boldness and silky symmetry whirling through every sip of 7 Fuentes. Enter ‘The Line’, with exhilarating guitars, heart pounding drums and Dave’s legendary angst driven screams that meld seamlessly with blissful, dreamy melody and charged lyrics. Dave Grohl has stated that the song expresses “a search for hope in this day and age where you feel as if you’re fighting for your life with every passing moment, and everything is on the line.” The centuries old, braided vines set into a prehistoric, other planet looking environment of black volcanic earth at dizzying elevations have fought many battles and come out on the other side victorious.
Cara Rutherford has been exploring and writing about wine for nearly a decade. Over the years her expertise has become razor-focused on Italian wines and the people who craft them. Having a Master’s in applied art and background in ancient art, she honed her art criticism and writing skills whilst working at Christie’s in New York City. Certified 3iC Central Italy Specialist, she is currently pursuing additional 3iC Specialist certifications [Italian International Indigenous Wine and Food Studies Center] under Ian D’Agata. Additionally, she holds a Highest Honors Italian Wine Scholar certificate, along with WSET 2 designation, with distinction. Check out her website caravino.net or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Henri Bourgeois is one of the most well-respected producers in the Loire’s Central vineyards, with 72 hectares on both the Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé sides of the river. Different sources give slightly different nuances to their description of the soil types, but the company’s website classifies them as the following three types:
Clay-limestone, which gives rise to fresh, fruity vintages;
Kimmeridgian marls, the memories of fossilised shells from the Jurassic Era that give intense flavours of exotic fruits and a superb structure;
Flint, which initiates elegant wines with smoky, roasted notes and minerality of great finesse.
One of the first things than a serious wineaux learns is the difference between Pouilly-Fumé (a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc) and Pouilly-Fuissé (a Chardonnayfrom the Mâconnais in southern Burgundy).
Later they may stumble across the oddity that is AOP Pouilly-sur-Loire…an appellation based around the same Loire town as Fumé but based predominantly on the Chasselas grape (which is more at home in Valais (Switzerland), Baden (Germany) and Alsace (France)).
The love of Sauvignon Blanc also took the family to Marlborough where they make Clos Henri, a New Zealand Savvy with a French sensibility.
Here’s a Bourgeois wine I tried and enjoyed recently:
Disclosure: bottle was kindly provided for review, opinions remain my own
Henri Bourgeois Pouilly Fumé La Porte de l’Abbaye 2018
For a Sauvignon this was only lightly aromatic, more subtle than those of the antipodes, but that’s no bad thing. The palate has hints of grapefruitand gooseberrybut it’s mainly lemonwhich shines. The finish is long and mineral. Overall this is somewhat on the simple side, but very pure and enjoyable. It would be at its best with seafood – perhaps some shellfish to match the Jurassic soils on which it was grown.
Lidl Ireland have just launched a range of French wines which will be available for a limited time only – until stocks run out. Below are brief notes on six whites that would be making their way into my trolley: two from Burgundy, two from the Loire and two from Alsace.
Wally AOP Touraine Sauvignon 2018 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)
There are several different Touraine appellations in the Loire Valley but this is the one which removes any doubt as to which grape variety you will be drinking. While not reaching the heights of Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy and the other Sauvignon based wines further east, Touraine is the French standard bearer for inexpensive fresh, tasty Sauvignon Blanc.
Wally has a very expressive Sauvignon nose – grass, gooseberry and grapefruit. These notes continue through to the palate, but there are no rough edges – it’s (almost) smooth in texture. Great value for money!
Comte d’Ardières AOP Sancerre 2018 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Lidl Ireland)
Probably the most famous Sauvignon appellation, Sancerre is one of the most prestigious wine regions of France. Despite that, quality and style can vary as there are multiple soil types and aspects. I don’t know who the Count of Ardières was, but the wines named after him are very elegant and mineral in style. There’s also lots of fresh citrus and a long tangy finish. Worth trying with delicate white fish or oysters.
Collin-Bourisset AOP Coteaux Bourguignons 2018 (13.0% €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)
For those not familiar, Coteaux Bourguignons is an appellation that covers the whole of Burgundy proper and Beaujolais, for both red and white wines. It can thus be made with fruit from all over the region, but is often a label used for wines from the south around the Maconnais / Beaujolais border. The grapes for this white are not given, but on tasting it appears to me to be substantially or totally Chardonnay. It has some oak on the nose and palate plus citrus and stone fruit. This is proper white Burgundy, a steal for a tenner!
AOP Chablis 2018 (12.5%, €12.99 at Lidl Ireland)
After the trials and tribulations of frost and hail over consecutive years, Chablis producers had to put up their prices so that they could still make a living. The phrase “there’s no more cheap Chablis” was uttered many times. Thankfully, the 2018 harvest was the best in 20 years according to the president of the Chablis Commission, so things are returned to normal.
At €12.99 this would definitely be considered a “cheap Chablis”, though I’d wager Lidl’s average bottle price is several Euros less. It has the classic Chablis nose of citrus and soft malolactic character. The palate shows red and green apples, lemon and lime fruits plus stony minerality. This is an excellent wine for the price and was the standout wine of the tasting!
When it comes to wine Irish people rarely have a sweet tooth, and usually eschew anything with more than a few grams of residual sugar. Perhaps this is because of ‘Nam-like flashbacks from sweet, unbalanced, flabby German whites from decades past (you know the ones I’m talking about), who knows. This means that the limited number of Alsace Gewurztraminers available in supermarkets are usually quite dry. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself – each to his own – but for me Gewurz needs a bit of RS to complement its round, rich character.
And here’s the perfect example at an inexpensive price point. It’s VERY Gewurz on the nose, with lychees, Turkish delight and rose petals. The aromas continue on the palate but a little more subdued, but matched nicely by an off-dry finish.
AOP Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV (12.0%, €12.99 at Lidl Ireland)
France’s second best selling sparkling wine is represented by this fresh and fruity little number. It’s made in the traditional method and is fully sparkling so is a steal at this price (given the double duty on such wines in Ireland). This is a great alternative to Prosecco; fun and fruity but drier and better balanced.
Earlier this year, the biggest portfolio tasting on the Irish wine trade calendar – Liberty Wines Ireland – was, for a change, held at The Westbury Hotel. I didn’t have anywhere near as much time as I’d have liked – given that there were close to 350 bottles open – but such is the quality on show that even a limited tasting throws up lots of wines that demand a recommendation.
To keep your attention I have broken the list up into several posts. This first post covers French whites and reds, including Les Hauts de Milly which is new to Liberty.
The new vintage is fantastic straight out of the blocks, unlike some Sauvignons which need a little time to settle down and find their poise. This Quincy just has so much flavour; it’s an amazing Sauvignon Blanc with luscious green and yellow fruit that is a delight to drink, and tastier than many from famous neighbours Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.
Les Hauts de Milly Chablis 1er Cru “Côte de Léchet” 2016 (13.0%, RRP €39.99 at Egans Wines, Portlaoise and good independents nationwide)
Les Hauts de Milly is a new addition to the Liberty stable, and what a coup! They have 27 hectares in Chablis (from Didier Defaix’s side of the family) and Rully (from his wife Hélène Jaeger-Defaix’s side). Due to an extremely challenging harvest in Chablis in 2016 they lost their organic certification but are endeavouring to regain it.
This Premier Cru Chablis is made with grapes from 25 separate parcels in the Côte de Léchet vineyard. It spent eight months of its maturation in a mix of stainless steel (75%) and one to six year old 228 litre oak barrels (25%). With a mineral streak, plenty of acidity and citrus, it is recognisably Chablis, but such is the quality here that it transcends its northern origins and is truly a great white Burgundy.
Les Hauts de Milly Rully 1er Cru “Mont Palais” 2015 (13.5%, RRP €39.99 at good independents nationwide)
Now to the other side of the family, with a Côte Chalonnaise from two plots within a single hectare Premier Cru vineyard, the Mont Palais. The soils are clay and limestone, giving power and finesse respectively. As was the case in much of Europe, 2015 was an excellent vintage in Burgundy and the warmth of the weather is reflected in tangy tropical notes. Four years on from vintage it is absolutely singing, a very well put together wine.
The Larose Perganson 2010 was drinking beautifully last year, but as stocks of that vintage are depleted, the current 2014 is worth a try. While 2014 wasn’t as stellar a year in Bordeaux as 2010 (as previously noted here) it was still very good. As in the norm for Haut-Médoc reds, the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (58%) and Merlot (40%) with just a little Petit Verdot (2%) for seasoning. The body is only medium – no 15.0% fruit and oak monster here – but it has lots of nice, classic black fruit flavours, with a smoky edge. The second wine Les Hauts de Perganson is around two thirds the price but for me it’s definitely worth paying the extra for the Fully Monty.
And so we meet again, a fine ambassador for the Rhône’s most northerly appellation. Interestingly the François are primarily dairy farmers and cheese makers, with just four hectares of vines in Côte Rôtie. The wine is silky (100%) Syrah, with aromas so lifted they are heavenly. Sweet blackberries are tamed by fine tannins and a savoury edge. A superior wine which lives up to its price tag.
Domaine Barge Côte-Rôtie “Côte Brune” 2015 (13.5%, RRP €78.99 at good independents nationwide)
Boom! (1)2015 was a whopper in the Rhône, so even the more subtle AOCs received plenty of heat and sunshine, translating into powerful wines like this. Big black fruit is matched by a big structure – tannin and particularly acidity – which stop it running away with itself. 5% Viognier helps to round the edges even further and adds floral aromas. This is a hedonist’s delight at the moment, but will age gracefully for the next decade or so.
Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019
Part 1 – France, Whites & Reds
Part 2 – Other whites
Part 3 – Old World Reds
Part 4 – New World Reds
(1) An excerpt from Private S. Baldrick’s poem, “The German Guns”
One of the other great strengths of Liberty Wines’ portfolio is its antipodean selection – so much so that they seem to have the largest number of wines open for tasting at both the NZ and Australian trade tastings in Ireland. However, I’ve covered many of them before on Frankly Wines, so this article will review a few that I tried for the first time plus some fantastic European whites.
Jurançon wines are among the most under-rated in France, both the sweet (“Jurançon”) and dry (“Jurançon Sec”) styles. Don’t base your opinions on the bottles available in French supermarkets, though – they tend to lack concentration and be pleasantly innocuous at best. This is one of the best examples I’ve come across in Ireland, especially at a fairly moderate price. Split 50/50 between local varieties Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, It shows plenty of ripe stone fruit, almost fleshy, but a crisp dry finish.
Mosel Riesling is one of the great wines of the world, but it’s rarely “cheap”. This one is very reasonably priced and serves as a great introduction to the area. The grapes are partly from the producer’s own estate and partly from contract growers in the Mosel region. It shows white flowers, stone and citrus fruit plus minerality – a great example of Mosel Riesling, and/ great value for money!
Château Moncontour Vouvray Sec 2017 (13.0%, RRP €21.99)
Many of my comments above about Jurançon also hold true for the Chenin-derived wines of the Loire. This Château Moncontour helpfully says “Sec” on the label, and it is dry – but not bone dry or austere. There’s a touch of residual sugar (apparently 6.7 g/L for those who are interested in such things) but lots more fruit sweetness, balanced by fresh acidity. Such a more-ish wine!
Matt Thomson is a legend in the world of wine – but he’s also a top bloke. After doing both northern and southern hemisphere vintages for 20 years, he finally decided to make his own wine, partnered by his wife Sophie. The Blank Canvas Chardonnay featured in my 2017 Top 10 whites so I was keen to try the Grüner. The long, cool growing season in Marlborough is perfect for GV, as it is for other aromatics such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris. This is a cracker – smooth yet textured, nicely balanced between fruit sweetness and refreshing acidity.
Framingham are unusual in Marlborough – actually in the whole of New Zealand – in that Riesling is their biggest focus. And boy, does it show! The Classic is their “entry level” Riesling, but it gives a flavour of what the rest of the range holds. This is particularly true of the 2015 as 10% of the grapes were botrytised, with nobly rotten grapes normally going into a special cuvée. This is a lovely wine to drink but just AMAZING on the nose. It has that hard-to-define “otherness” which only Riesling has (“Rieslingness”?)
Kaiken Ultra Mendoza Chardonnay 2016 (14.0%, RRP €24.99)
Rather than go west – which would have taken them into the Pacific, Montes headed east from Chile to Argentina and created Kaiken. The fruit is sourced from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, mostly in cooler parts which give freshness and minerality – despite the 14.0% alcohol and partial (35%) maturation in new oak, this is far from the butter-bomb new world Chardonnays of the 1990s. It has lots of tangy, tropical flavours, but mainly from the grapes rather than the oak.
Santiago Ruiz “O Rosal” Rías Biaxas 2017 (13.0%, RRP €24.99)
From the O Rosal subregion of Galicia’s Rías Biaxas, this is an Albariño blend with several other local varieties playing supporting roles: it consists of 76% Albariño, 11% Loureiro, 5% Treixadura, 4% Godello and 4% other. I like Albariño as a grape, but – for all its popularity – it’s wines are more often simple than complex. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean bad or boring, but there is definitely a place for interesting. The O Rosal is quite long and serious; it’s a cerebral rather than obvious wine which definitely deserves a try.
Domaine des Ballandors Quincy 2017 (13.5%, RRP €24.99)
After Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Quincy was the second Appellation Controllée created in France. Since then it hasn’t really been at the forefront of drinkers’ minds – Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé stole the limelight and the column inches. The upside is that quality wines from Quincy can offer great value for money. The nose is very grassy, the palate herby with quince (no relation) and gooseberry notes. This Sauvignon Blanc for adults.
L.A.S. Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €59.99)
Margaret River is well known for its Bordeaux blends – Cabernet-Merlot reds and Semillon-Sauvignon whites – but also for some fantastic Chardies. L.A.S. is actually an acronym, standing for “Luck of the weather, the Art of creating and the Science that underpins this creativity.” This is world class, amazing stuff. You need to try this wine. Sell an organ. Sell your car. Even sell your house, but don’t sell your soul as this Chardonnay will capture it.
Does the word “Château” as part of a wine name impress you or leave you indifferent? Here are a couple of excellent Château-monikered wines from regions which are not synonymous with that word on the label:
Château de Sancerre 2016 (13.0%, RRP ~ €28 at independent wine merchants)
The Loire Valley is probably home to the most celebrated châteaux in the country, if not Europe as a succession of French kings tried to outdo each other in their weekend retreats. To my shame I became very bored of the them and didn’t even try the local wine on my last holiday there – but in fairness I was only ten years old.
As experienced wine drinkers we try to discipline ourselves not to judge books by their covers, but we can at least admire beautiful covers like this one. Thankfully, the contents live up to the label’s promise. it has typical Sauvignon Blanc freshness, but isn’t hollow, like some Sancerres. It has a touch of richness and body which elevate it above the hoi polloi – to be honest you would expect refinement in this price bracket but you don’t always get it. Regular readers will know that cheese isn’t my thang, but the classical match of Sancerre with goat’s cheese would work well, or alternatively a lightly spiced stir fry.
A quick flick at any tourist guide will tell you that there are lots of châteaux in Alsace. However, unlike the palaces of the Loire, many were functioning fortified castles – and bear the scars of countless battles. This is the only one I know of which is a wine producing entity in Alsace – and it’s a beauty. The Château d’Orschwihr make some excellent Grand Cru wines (watch this space) but this particular bottle is from the lieu-dit of Bollenberg – perhaps a future Alsace Premier Cru?
Both the 2010 and 2014 were tried at a DNS Wineclub tasting earlier this year and the differences were an excellent illustration of how wines can change from year to year – vintage variation. Age itself is a factor, of course, but the particularities of each vintage and how the producer adapts to them in the vineyard and the winery are part of what makes wine so interesting. 2010 was a very warm year and so the grapes had lots of sugar at harvest time – much was turned into alcohol (14.6%!) but a little was left as residual sugar (9 g/L). The resulting wine is rich but not flabby – the alcohol doesn’t stand out and the slightly off dry finish is the perfect compliment to the ginger, pear and honey notes. Cries out for Thai!
Irish supermarket chain SuperValu is probably the best in the country when it comes to wine. There won’t always be the oddities that you’d find in an independent wine merchant but for good wines at good prices it’s hard to beat.
The current SuperValu wine sale runs from Thursday 6th to Wednesday 26th September and includes some customer favourites at 3 for €25, plus the Duo des Mers Sauvignon Viognier which I reviewed in June down from €11.99 to €9.00 in the sale.
Here are another couple of whites which I highly recommend:
Disclosure: samples kindly provided for review, opinions remain my own
Guy Saget Sancerre 2016 (13.0%, €22.99 down to €15.00 at SuperValu)
This is textbook Loire Sauvignon – reminding us why it became popular here in the first place – and definitely a fruit forward style of Sancerre. There’s lots of grapefruitand gooseberry, giving both lip-smacking tartness and fruit sweetnessat the same time.
The back label suggests the usual food pairing of goat’s cheese and seafood, but interestingly also tandoori chicken skewers (where the aromatics and fruit sweetness balance the spices and chili) and sushi & sashimi (where the acidity and clean finish come to the fore, but the fruit sweetness can also counterbalance the heat of wasabi).
For the avoidance of doubt, this wine is also great on its own!
André Goichot Mâcon-Lugny 2016 (13.0%, €14.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
Wines from Burgundy-proper’s most southerly region, the Mâconnais, are often great value as they don’t have the prestige of the big guns from the Côte d’Or. There’s a local hierarchy that’s handy to know if you’re navigating the area:
The “Crus” – Pouilly-Fuissé, Pouilly-Loché, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Saint-Véran, Viré-Clessé.
Mâcon + Village name: over 20 villages can add their name, many for red, white or rosé, some for just white and one for just red or rosé.
Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran are probably the most celebrated of the “Crus” (a term I have appropriated from Beaujolais), but there are plenty of very good wines elsewhere in the hierarchy. As always in Burgundy, the producer is very important.
This Mâcon-Lugny from the very consistent André Goichot is a winner, even at the usual price of €15. 100% Chardonnay, there’s lifted citrus on the nose which continues on to the palate, but then broadens out into melonand peach. The textureand bodyof the wine – despite not being oaked at all – differentiate it from the more linear Chardonnays of Chablis. There’s a clean, crisp finish to round it off.
After another successful O’Briens Wine Fair, I find myself with the usual predicament of too many good wines to recommend. I have therefore picked my 10 favourite whites listed at €15.00 or under – before any promotional offers.
Examining the list shows that:
Several varieties are repeated: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Colombard and (unoaked) Chardonnay
Several places are repeated: Chile, the Loire and Gascony
From which you could draw certain conclusions:
Obviously, there’s a link between variety and place!
Certain varieties are better for making good yet inexpensive wines
Oak is a significant cost so is seldom used for the least expensive wines
Here are the ten wines:
Domaine Duffour Côtes de Gascogne 2016 (12.0%, €11.45 or 2 for €20 during summer at O’Briens)
From the land of d’Artagnan (and Dogtanian as well, for all I know) come probably the best value white wines of France – Côtes de Gascogne of south west France. Nicolas Duffour is a big fan of local star Colombardwhich gives ripe melon flavours; Ugni Blanc (more commonly distilled into Cognac or Armagnac) adds freshness while Gros Manseng (well-established in Jurançon) gives complexity. Summer in a glass!
Viña Chocálan Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)
This wine is so grassy that you might wonder if you have face-planted into a pile of mown grass. It’s fresh and linear, with a juicy citrus finish. Tasted blind I would probably have guessed it hailed from the Loire Valley, perhaps a Touraine, but this is actually from a family run winery in Chile’s Maipo Valley.
Famille Bougrier Les Hauts Lieux Chenin Blanc 2015 (12.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)
The Bougrier Family make several Loire wines (their Sauvignon Blanc was just 45 cents too much to make it into this article) labelled as Vin de France, giving them flexibility over grape sourcing and varietal labelling. I found the Chenin just off dry, emphasizing the ripe stone and pip fruit, with the acidity keeping it fresh. So drinkable!
Viña Leyda Chardonnay Reserva 2014 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)
This Chardonnay is unoaked but is not a lean-Chablis like wine (the 14.0% alcohol might have been a clue). Viña Leyda are based in the Leyda Valley (no surprise there) and so are close enough to benefit from cooling coastal breezes – these help extend the growing season and help to increase intensity of flavour while maintaining aromatics. This is a great example of ripe but unoaked Chardonnay, full of tropical fruits and citrus.
Domaine Langlois-Château Saumur Blanc 2014 (12.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)
The Maison des Vins de Saumur is one of my favourite places to taste wine in France – it has close to a hundred wines of all types from the Anjou-Saumur sub-region of the Loire. The white wine of Saumur itself are unfairly overlooked in favour of Vouvray and other appellations for white and Saumur’s own reds and rosés. Of course this is Chenin Blanc and its perfect balance of acidity and fruit sweetness makes it a great drink to sip on a nice sunny day.
Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)
Los Vascos is a project of the Lafite branch of the Rothschild family, sourcing wines from both Argentina and Chile. This Chilean Sauvignon is very racy and less exuberantly aromatic compared to many – it’s probably closer to a Touraine Sauvignon or even a Chablis than most Savvies (Marlborough it ain’t!) Appealing mineral noteswould make it a great accompaniment for oysters or other shellfish.
Hijos de Alberto Gutiérrez Monasterio de Palazuelos Rueda Verdejo 2016 (13.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)
Rueda and its Verdejo is often overlooked in favour of Albariño and Godello from north west Spain. And that’s ok with me as Rueda wines are consistently good quality and good value for money. This one has lovely melon and citrus notes, so soft and approachable that you will be pouring a second glass quickly!
Boatshed Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.0%, €14.95 down to €11.95 for May at O’Briens)
Different Sauvignons from Marlborough offer flavours from a wide spectrum, but often concentrating on one part of it. This seems to have nearly all of them! There’s tropical and green fruit such as passionfruit, grapefruit, gooseberry and pineapple, but also green pepper and asparagusnotes. Compared to – say – the Los Vascos Sauvignon, it’s probably the other end of the spectrum – a wine great for quaffing on its own.
Producteurs Plaimont Labyrinthe de Cassaigne Côtes de Gascogne 2015 (11.5%, €13.95 down to €9.95 for May at O’Briens)
This is a single estate Côtes de Gascogne from the north of the area, close to Condom (make your own jokes please). Tropical fruit from Colombard and Gros Manseng make this a real Vin de Plaisir – and fairly light in alcohol at 11.5%. Good value for money at €14, great value at €10!
Los Vascos Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)
Like its sister Sauvignon above, this unoaked Chardonnay has a great deal of mineralitywhich make it ideal for shellfish and other seafood. It does have more body, however; enough to almost give it the feel of an oaked wine, though not the flavour. The finish is zesty citrus and stays with you for quite some time.