Along its many twists, turns and tributaries, the Loire River encompasses a multitude of wine styles: white, rosé and red (plus orange nowadays); bone dry though off dry, medium and sweet; still, lightly and fully sparkling; neutral to highly aromatic. After all, at over a thousand kilometres in length, it dwarfs (swamps?) the Shannon (360 km) and Thames (346 km) as it winds through 15 départements.
In some ways the different sub-regions are not that related, especially when it comes to grape varieties, but the key thing the wines generally share is acidity, even in sweet wines – all down to a relatively northern latitude.
The Loir(no “e”) River is a sub-tributary of the Loire(with an “e”) River via the Sarthe River and runs fairly parallel to the north. Close to the city of Tours is the appellation of Coteaux-du-Loir which covers 80 ha and can be used for white, rosé or red wines. Adjoining the top of this area is the AOC of Jasnières which only produces white wines from Chenin Blanc.
Here are a couple of stunning Loir wines from the Nomad Wine Importers tasting:
Domaine de la Bellivière Coteaux du Loir “Eparses Vieilles Vignes” 2013(13.0%, ~ €116 in restaurants: L’Ecrivain, Patrick Guilbaud and Ely Wine Bar)
Domaine de la Bellivière was set up in 1995, ad has been run on organic lines since 2005 and was certified as such from the 2011 vintage.
This wine is made from various parcels of old Chenin Blanc vines – and old is really apt here as they are between 50 and 80 years old – mainly planted on clay with flint over “tuffeau” (the famous local limestone).
Natural yeast fermentation is in one to three year old barrels (75%) and new oak (25%). The different parcels are vinified and matured (for at least a year) separately before being assembled to produce the final cuvée for bottling.
This is a deliberately dry wine, still with Chenin’s typical honey notes but also floral and stone fruit aspects. Very fresh and intense!
Domaine de la Bellivière Jasnières “Calligramme” 2013(13.0%, ~ €137 in restaurant: The Greenhouse)
The Calligramme is made in Jasnières itself so is of course (you have been paying attention, haven’t you?) 100% Chenin Blanc. The vines are from 50+ year old plots which are mainly southerly in aspect, on the slopes (“Coteaux“!) down to the Loir River.
As with all the Domaine’s wines, the sweetness of the final wine depends on the character of the vintage; only in years where botrytis is well developed are the wines left with some residual sugar. In other years – such as 2013 we have here – the wine is dry but intense. Apple, peach and floral notes are joined by minerality, giving the wine a real versatility for food matching.
And finally, the obscure reference in the title of these articles on Nomad’s wines: those of a certain vintage and taste in music (such as myself) might have recognised the allusion to the 1991 dance music classic “I Wanna Give You Devotion” by Nomad!
2015 has been an excellent year for wine in Dublin, especially from a personal perspective. As well as the usual trade tastings, which one can never take for granted, I have been lucky enough to be invited to several excellent wine dinners and receive samples from many new suppliers and retailers – thanks to all.
Here are ten of the white wines which made a big impression on me during the year. The order is somewhat subjective – this is wine tasting after all – and I’m sure the list would look a little different on another day.
10. Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC “Alchimie” 2014 (€14/€10, SuperValu)
A fruit driven Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, just outside Sancerre, which is just so damned drinkable. It has some of the explosiveness of a Marlborough savvy but more restrained, so it wouldn’t be out of place at the table. It’s well worth the regular price but is a total steal when on offer. See more here.
9. Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.99, Honest 2 Goodness)
Whites from South West France continue to impress me with their intense, but balanced, flavours from mainly indigenous grapes – and all at keen prices. This is one of the best I’ve ever tasted from the area. See more here.
8. Château Mas “Belluguette” Coteaux de Languedoc 2012 (€20.95, Molloys)
A premium white wine from the Languedoc, but without a silly price tag. This was one of the biggest surprises of the year – I just hadn’t been expecting such an exuberant white wine from the Languedoc. The blend is: Vermentino 40%, Roussanne 30%, Grenache 20%, Viognier 10%, with each grape variety is vinified separately in oak barrels for a month. 50% of the blend goes through malolactic fermentation and it is blocked for the remainder. The final blend is then aged in 2/3 French and 1/3 American oak for 4 months.
Molloy’s wine consultant Maureen O’Hara dubbed this a “Dolly Parton” wine – I’d have to say it’s got a lot of front!
7. Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling, Central Otago (€19.99, Curious Wines)
Although owned by a famous actor, this estate does not make “celebrity wine”. Pinot Noir is the speciality of Two Paddocks, with excellent premium and single vineyard bottlings, but they also make a small amount of Riesling, benefitting from the cool (almost cold!) climate of the southerly most wine region in the world.
“Picnic” is their more accessible, everyday range, for both Pinot and Riesling, and here we have the latter. It’s just off-dry with lots of Golden Delicious apple, honey and citrus, with a fresh streak of acidity through the middle. It actually reminded me of a still version of Nyetimber’s 2007 Blanc de Blanc, one of my favourite English sparklers!
6. Argyros Estate Santorini Atlantis 2013 (€15.49, Marks and Spencer)
An excellent Assyrtiko based-blend from the Greek Island of Santorini, linked to the legend of Atlantis. Old vines and steep slopes contribute to excellent intensity, with lemony flavours and floral aromas. Such a drinkable and versatile wine.
Yes you read that correctly, this is a €35 Vinho Verde! However, although it shares geography and grape variety with many Vinho Verdes, it is made in a totally different style. It retains the central fresh core of Alvarinho (aka Albariño in Galicia) yet has a creamy complexity from oak and lees stirring.
In one of the first DNS tastings of 2015 this was tied neck and neck with Rafael Palacios’ famous As Sortes – it’s that good. See the full article on The Taste here.
4. Hugel Pinot Gris “Jubilee” 2000 (€52 in West Restaurant @ The Twelve Hotel)
One of the highlights of 2015 was a trip away to The Twelve Hotel in Barna, just outside Galway City, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. It’s our favourite hotel in Ireland, and one that we choose for special occasions. Check out their full wine list here.
Hotel Restaurant wine lists can often be very dull / safe / boring, depending on your point of view, so it warms the cockles of this wino’s heart to see such a well put together list. It was General Manager & Sommelier Fergus O’Halloran who first got me into Pecorino (see here), but on this occasion it was something else which was really worth writing home about.
Hugel is one of the two large and well-known family producers in Alsace, the other being Trimbach which also sports yellow labels on its bottles. Both are located in achingly pretty villages and have excellent ranges. Jubilee signifies Hugel’s premium range, made from fruit in their Grand Cru Sporen and Pflostig vineyards. As a general rule I like Pinot Gris to have some sweetness to go with the distinctive apricot & honey flavours and oily texture – this doesn’t disappoint! Getting a fifteen year old wine of this quality for €52 in a restaurant is amazing!
3. Albert Bichot Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru “Moutonne” Monopole 2012 (€109.95, The Corkscrew)
This was the highlight of a focused burgundy tasting given upstairs at Stanley’s by Ben and Barbara of WineMason. As a big fan of Chablis, especially Premier and Grand Cru, I was excited to taste the area’s famous “eighth Grand Cru”. There are seven Grands Crus recognised by the French national appellations organisation (INAO), though those names appear after “Appellation Chablis Grand Cru Contrôlée”. La Moutonne is recognised, however, by the Chablis (UGCC) and Burgundy (BIVB) authorities.
The majority of the Moutonne vineyard (95%) is in the Grand Cru Vaudésir with a small part (5%) in Grand Cru Preuses, so you’d expect it to taste almost identical to Albert Bichot’s Grand Cru Vaudésir, which is made in the same way – but it doesn’t! This is put forward as a reason why Moutonne deserves its own Grand Cru status – but equally it might indicate that several Chablis Grand Crus are not homogenous across their climats. An interesting debate which needs further research – and I volunteer!
Whatever the nomenclature, it’s a stunning wine – beautifully intertwining minerality, citrus, floral notes and a light toastiness from 25% oak.
From South east Sicily comes something unlike anything you’ve tasted before – at least, a single wine containing all the flavours and aromas expressed by this wine. Tasted with family member Matteo Catani, this is a truly remarkable wine – it showed anise, almond, citrus, apple, and a hint of oxidation which added interest but did not detract from the fruit.
When many producers are churning out identikit Cabernets and Chardonnays, wines that are different and interesting like this really grab the attention.
1. Craiglee Sunbury Chardonnay 2011 (€33.95, winesdirect.ie, also available by the bottle and by the glass at Ely Wine Bar)
If you read my favourite White Wines of 2013 or 2014 then the fact that my favourite white tasted in 2015 is a Chardonnay shouldn’t be a surprise. I might be predictable, but it’s my favourite grape so I won’t apologise.
From a less well known part of Victoria, it shows butterscotch and toasty vanilla round a citrus core. It’s not the most expensive wine in my listing, and probably not the “finest”, but it is beautifully balanced and the one that I would most fancy opening at anytime!
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!
Two Fresh Loire Sauvignons
Two wines: same grape, same year, same region, different producers and adjoining appellations – the perfect way to understand the similarities and differences.
The Loire Valley is one of the most under-rated wine regions in Europe. It actually consists of several different sub-regions by the course of the river which specialise in different groups of grapes: Melon de Bourgogne in Muscadet, then Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Gamay and others in the middle, and finally Sauvignon Blanc to the east.
Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are the most well-known and prestigious Sauvignon areas, but there are plenty of quality producers in the others:
The Terres Blanches in the name of the first wine refers to white clay soils. The producer is based at Bué en Sancerre, and also make Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre wines. Coteaux du Giennois is a much less well known appellation next door to Sancerre with the vineyards split:
White: 95 hectares planted – 2,900 hl produced – 65 hl/ha max yield – Sauvignon Blanc variety Red: 78 hectares planted – 3,200 hl produced – 59 hl/ha max yield – Pinot Noir & Gamay varieties (80% maximum of either variety in a blend) Rosé: 20 hectares planted – 600 hl produced – 63 hl/ha max yield – Pinot Noir & Gamay varieties
So now to the two wines themselves (note: both kindly given by SuperValu):
Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC 2014 (€10.00, SuperValu) 12.5%
On opening this is obviously from the Loire, it couldn’t be anywhere else. If has primary gooseberry on the nose, joined by quince and grapefruit on the palate. It’s too young for asparagus characters, too Loire for the tropical passionfruit and mango which some Kiwi Savvies exhibit.
It’s fresh and juicy, not austere, with plenty of fruit. The initial big hit fades quickly, but lessens rather than fading totally away. Enjoyable on its own or – I’d imagine – with goats cheese.
Guy Saget Sancerre AOC 2014 (€14.00, SuperValu) 12.5%
Sancerre’s soils are a mix of Kimmeridgian clay, dry limestone with lots of pebbles and flint. A typical example of Sancerre, this has plenty of green fruit but is also very mineral, perhaps even saline. It has more acidity yet is somehow a little smoother than the Giennois.
Split The Difference
The Giennois is slightly more eager to please, whereas the Sancerre is a little standoffish – you have to make a little more effort with it, but it’s worth it. Amazingly it is the more expensive Sancerre which has a screwtop while the Coteaux du Giennois is under cork. I really like both of these wines; I’d be very happy with the Giennois any day, but to drink with fine food at the table then I’d choose the slightly more refined Sancerre.
For the first of my posts on Valentine’s Wines I thought I would try something a little bit different from the norm. My wife and I invited her elder brother Andrew and his girlfriend Paula round for dinner to and to try some different wines in advance of Valentine’s Day.
It’s good to hear the opinions of other people – wine tasting can be very social and lots of fun. I heartily recommend you try forming your own tasting panel now and again, with friends from absolute novices to MWs.
Before we get into the wines, here is the delicious meal they accompanied:
Cantaloupe Melon drenched in Pineau des Charentes
Slow Roasted Loin of Pork with a Bramley apple glaze, server with roasted potatoes, julienne carrots and petits pois, roasted root vegetables, apple and citrus jus
Apple Strudel with Cornish Vanilla Ice cream and / or Homemade Vanilla Custard
Selection of: Brie de Meaus, Abbaye du Mont des Cats, Diliskus semi-soft Herbed.
Disclosure: the wines tasted below were kindly provided by O’Briens, but opinions are entirely our own.
Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV (€20.99, currently €17.99)
Valentine’s connection: who doesn’t like popping the cork on some fizz?
The label “Extra Dry” on Prosecco is usually a misnomer – the wine is often on the sweet side. A little sweetness can make Prosecco very easy to drink and is one of the factors behind its current boom in sales. However, Rizzardi’s style is actually dry on the palate. Being a Spumante it had a proper cork and was fully sparkling.
On tasting the main flavours we noted were pip fruit such as Granny Smith’s apple and pear, citrus (even Lemon Sherbet) and a sour sweetness (if that makes any sense) – a bit like the sensation from Sour Squirms sweets.
A little sweetness did come through on the finish once it had warmed up a little in the glass (it was served straight from a domestic fridge).
Andrew 5 [not a fan of fizz]
Paula 8 [can I have another glass please?]
Jess 4 [found it too dry]
Frankie 7 [preferred it to most other Proseccos]
This wine clearly divided opinion on the panel, but that’s no bad thing. Hopefully the comments give you the information to decide whether this Prosecco is for you, or perhaps try a sweeter one.
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013 (€14.49, currently €12.99, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: say it with (white) flowers
Although labelled as a Vin de France, which could come from almost anywhere in France, this was made in the Corbières region of the Languedoc, quite close to the Mediterranean coast. The name property name “Les Auzines” comes from the Occitan meaning “little leaves from the oak tree”, owned by Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife Neasa Corish.
The blend is based on Grenache Gris, with perhaps a dash of Grenache Blanc. It is classed as an oaked white as 85% was fermented and aged in second and third-use oak barrels, but although it has gained texture and complexity it doesn’t taste typically “oaky”.
Smooth and rich but tangy, it shows flavours of Macadamia nuts, lime, gravel and mineral, fennel, lavender and other herbs – it’s really interesting. Alcohol is surprisingly modest at 11.5% – it doesn’t feel lacking in any way.
Andrew 7 [Nuts and gravel]
Paula 8 [Soft and easy-drinking]
Jess 7 [A white wine for red wine drinkers]
Frankie 8 [what a find!]
Fleurs Blanches was an amazing match for the main course – perhaps helped by the dash of Fleurs Blanches which went in the jus. O’Briens’ notes reckon that it “bears a closer resemblance to fine Burgundy than to Corbiéres” – I would clarify that by saying it could double for maturefine Burgundy – it’s that good!
Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013 (€22.99, currently €19.99, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: woo your Valentine with a classy, classic white wine.
Sancerre was the first wine region famous for varietal Sauvignon Blanc, but as is the way with Appellation-based fame, it is open to use and abuse. If you’ve ever bought a Sancerre in a French supermarket then you will know that quality can be very variable…
So what to do? Find a good producer, of course – or a greatproducer, such as Henri Bourgeois.
Minerality is a buzzword in wine at the moment, but the chalk soils of HB’s vineyards impart a magnificent flint character to his wines. The very name “Porte de Caillou” means Pebble Gate, so that should give you an idea!
As well as the minerality (liked by one taster to sucking on gravel!), there’s lots and lots of fruit: very green, but ripe, fruit such as gooseberry and grapefruit, plus a little restrained tropical fruit. There’s lots of acidity but it’s smooth rather than spiky, with more body and texture than you might expect from a Sauvignon.
Andrew 8 [An integrated continuum from the nose though to the palate]
Paula 7 [Lovely and fresh]
Jess 6 [Prefer fruity Sauvignons]
Frankie 8 [Classic Sancerre!]
Food friendly Sauvignon that the Kiwis are now trying to emulate. This shows how Sancerre should be done, and why it became a classic in the first place.
Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007 (€17.49, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: an appeal to the finer things in life – and seductive in the glass.
Named after the Mediaeval Latin for “New Art” (as in New Technique), this is a blend of 40% Tempranillo (well known in Rioja and elsewhere in Spain), 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot (both from Bordeaux). Its home region of Navarra had non-native (mainly French) varieties planted from the 1980s onwards, so now winemakers have a wide choice of ingredients.
As a Gran Reserva it has spent eighteen months maturing before being bottled – the producer mentions nine months in French oak so I’m guessing a further nine in a larger format of vessel. Alcohol is punchy but not overblown at 14.0%.
It shows smoke rather than vanilla characters from the oak, followed by red fruit (strawberry) moving into black fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry) and a savoury finish. There’s perhaps an edge of leather and liquorice but they don’t dominate. Overall the impression is of fruit sweetness, plenty of tannin, well balanced.
Andrew 8 [My kind of wine, fruit and tannin together]
Paula 9 [My favourite wine of the night]
Jess 9 [Easy going, smooth, could drink this every day]
Perfectly poised between (fruit) sweet and (tannin) savoury, this was a big hit with everyone. It was a good match for the cheese but would also be great with beef, lamb or venison. Without the renown of Rioja, the winemakers of Navarra have really upped their game. The only downside to this wine was that a Lussac St-Emilion tasted afterwards was dry and thin in comparison!
So part one focused on Peter Lehmann’s Barossa gems and included a joke about hand gestures. Part two covered the wines of Lapostolle from Chile and Ochoa from Navarre, with a reference to Björk “It’s All So Quiet” (you all got that, right? right??)
Now part three will showcase a flight of Sauvignons, amongst others, and the disclosure of why this tasting wasn’t as silent as it should have been.
The Sauvignon Blancs
The first flight looks at some of the more memorable Sauvignon Blancs brought in by Comans.
McKenna Sauvignon Blanc 2013
This is an exclusive to Comans as it’s bottled especially for them by Undurraga. The name celebrates the historical connections between Ireland and Chile in the person of Irish-born Captain John Juan McKenna who played an important role in the rebellion of 1810. Take a few minutes to read the details in Tomas Clancy’s post here.
It’s unusual for me to recommend an inexpensive Chilean Sauvignon, but this is well made. You’d never mistake it for Marlborough, but if you find some of those too much then this is a little more restrained. The key word here is grapefruit – fruit sweetness but also acidity, making it tangy and refreshing.
Sablenay Touraine AOC Sauvignon Blanc 2012
In terms of bang for your buck, reliability and availability, it’s pretty hard to beat a Touraine Sauvignon. If I were drawing up a hypothetical restaurant wine list it’s the first thing I’d put on there.
This one has the typical grassy notes of a French Sauvignon, but also sweet tropical fruit and grapefruit. It’s much more expressive that your average Touraine, a better bet than a lower quality no-name Sancerre. Perfect for summer on the patio!
La Rochetais AOC Pouilly Fumé 2012
This is a lovely, pure, almost “Riesling-like” linear wine. It’s also an accessory to an embarrassing incident. Now as you know at pro tastings there’s no swallowing, everything is spat – if you want to taste several dozen wines and remain upright, never mind drive home afterwards, it’s the only way forward. Plus, not having so much alcohol in your bloodstream means your senses aren’t dulled and you can focus more on the tasting.
At the time of the tasting I was still recovering from a nasty chest infection – a colleague semi-seriously asked me if I had tuberculosis. Now imagine a sudden coughing fit when you’ve got a mouthful of Loire Sauvignon that you’re swilling round and trying to interpret. Instinct says spit now…but I wasn’t close to a spittoon, and so almost choked.
Thankfully the assembled members of the press were very kind and didn’t mock me which they would have been entitled to do. Though one kind gentleman did suggest I describe this wine as “one which took me breath away”.
My friends, even wine-tasting can be an extreme sport at times!
Château de Sancerre AOC Sancerre 2012
Forget own label Sancerres in the French supermarkets, this is the real deal.
The Château is owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family who Chilean operation featured in Part Two. Both properties show the advantages of cooperation between winemakers from different areas; while the French influence can be seen in Lapostolle’s Sauvignon Blancs, for me there is a definite new world aspect to Château Sancerre – a roundness and suppleness to the fruit which make it caress the inside of your mouth.
The vineyards span four different soil types which, when blended intelligently, results in a complex yet focused wine.
Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012
At the NZ Sauvignon Masterclass before the annual trade tasting this year, Kevin Judd et al. took us through how the marked differences in weather between 2012 and 2013 translated into markedly different flavour profiles. Since then I’ve found it remarkably easy to identify 2012s blind – much greener, especially asparagus, and less tropical notes.
This Wither Hills 2012 wasn’t tasted blind but the asparagus character came straight through (I like it, some don’t), but with a tangy grapefruit finish. Dare I suggest this would be amazing with an asparagus starter?
So what is this? It’s a premium, single vineyard Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Given how many Chilean Sauvignons are around £6 / €10 it’s quite surprising to see a producer move upmarket. The first tasting note I wrote was “who’s just mowed their lawn” – it’s that distinctively grassy!
The grapes are sourced from a vineyard in Leyda Valley, which is only 9 miles / 14 km from the cooling Pacific Ocean. There are some great Pinot Noirs coming from that area, but that’s a story for another day. This 2013 vintage wine also belies its age – it has a smoother mouthfeel than one might expect from such a young wine.
So the key questions – is it a success? Is it worth the extra money? Right now I’d be happy to drink it, but I probably wouldn’t spend €24 of my own money in a wine merchants. However, I reckon this will actually evolve over the next few years, so I’d be very interested to taste an example with some more bottle age to see where it goes.
The Best Of The Rest
If you’re all Sauvignoned out, here are some of the other whites which stood out for me:
Dr L Riesling 2010
For those scared or wary of Riesling, Dr Ernst Loosen’s entry level bottling is a great place to start. It’s fairly simple, though it has enough acidity to evolve more complexity over a decade. It’s fresh and fruity with a touch of residual sugar, but it’s pleasant and balanced – so moreish!
Of course Dr L makes more profound and expensive Rieslings, but the true nature of the bargain is that you won’t feel like you’re missing out even if you’re a Rieslingphile.
I like Albariños on the whole, but my main beef with them is that they often don’t offer enough bang for the buck. Meet Salterio’s offering which is a great value example from Rias Baixas. It won’t be the best you’ve ever tasted but it’s remarkable at the price.
Protos Verdejo DO Rueda 2012
Not much to add here as I’ve recommended this Rueda several times before – it’s a cracker!
Muga Barrel Fermented White Rioja 2013
Rioja’s Viura (also Catalonia’s Macabeo) is a fairly neutral grape. By neutral, I mean thin and often lacking in flavour. This makes it a good base component for Cava, but can make for an uninspiring dry still white. The winemakers of Rioja have long used two main techniques to add interest to their whites – oxidisation and barrel ageing. As a personal preference I’m not yet a convert to oxidised styles, so such examples from Rioja leave me cold.
Happily for me, this Muga example is clean as a whistle and definitely worth a try. It has 10% Malvasia in the blend and was fermented in new French barriques. Maturation on the lees adds to the creamy texture, but it is tangy and fresh – a great example at a fairly modest price.
Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royal Brut NV
Good Cava and other traditional method sparklers are better than poor Champagne (the type you often see in the supermarkets at 50% off). But good Champagne holds its own, in my opinion.
This is an almost-equal-parts blend of the main Champagne grapes – Chardonnay for lemon and freshness, Pinot Noir for red fruit and body, plus the often unfairly maligned Pinot Meunier for white fruit and floral notes.
The Cuvée Royale has three years on the lees prior to disgorgement – far beyond the minimum for not vintage – and this is where the extra body and creaminess come from. It’s far better value than a special offer Champagne.
To recap from part one, a phrase often declared by novice wine drinkers is “I know what I like”, with the follow on (usually unspoken) being “I know what wine is best for me and I won’t try anything else”. Now, I’m not going to tell those people they are wrong (as such!) – I just want to give those that are hesitant to try something other than their favourite type a path which they could explore.
Here’s a reminder of the four steps I covered in the New Zealand-centric part one: Step 1 – Buy A Better Brand Step 2 – Pay More! (Trade Up) Step 3 – Same Again, But With A Twist! Step 4 – Head Down The Road
Now we can explore alternative sources of Sauvignon Blanc from outside New Zealand.
Step 5 – Going Back To My Roots
Before the Marlborough revolution, Sauvignon Blanc was most closely associated with the Loire Valley in France – Touraine, Pouilly Fumé and especially Sancerre. Indeed for some, the latter is still the best place to get SB, particularly for short to medium term ageing and a mineral subtlety that Marlborough often lacks. Like many European appellations, the quality does vary significantly as some producers prioritise quantity over quality and trade off the good name of others. Probably the best producer is Henri Bourgeois – see here for a great blog post from Confessions Of A Wine Geek.
Of course, as this is France you are expected to know the grapes belong to each appellation. The upper Loire has a grouping of Sauvignon Blanc based whites – the aforementioned Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé (not be confused with the Maconnais’s Pouilly Fuissé) Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly (not to be confused with the Chardonnay based Rully of the Côte Chalonnaise). The best have a distinct purity and racy acidity with subtle smoky gunflint aromas and flavours that can pair amazingly well with food.
Touraine is further towards the west and is a different proposition; it’s generally not as intense as those mentioned above but it is very reliable and very reasonably priced. As most who holiday in France know, a few bottles of Touraine are always a good bet from the supermarché.
Step 6 – The Inbetweeners
South Africa is usually classified as a “New World” country when it comes to wine, even though Constantia’s dessert wines were imported into Europe as far back as the 18th Century. In terms of style it lies somewhere between the stereotypical bright fruit of Australia and California and the reserved, subtle minerality of France and Italy. Of course that’s a sweeping generalisation, but hey, wine has plenty of those!
So which should you try? La Motte from Franschoek usually offer great value (though their organic version doesn’t taste appreciably better for a lot more money) Klein Constantia make claim to a foundation year of in 1685 (see, I wasn’t making it up) and also have a great QPR. Jordanof Stellenbosch (known as Jardin in the US to avoid confusion with Jordan of California) make a regular and barrel-fermented SB. Also look out for Paul Cluverfrom Elgin, Springfield Estate and Graham Beck.
Step 7 – Better Than It Ever Was
As I mentioned in my favourite sweet wines of 2013, a lot of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc was actually no such thing. Instead, it was more likely to be a mutation called Sauvignon Vert or Sauvignonasse – the pronunciation of the latter gives you an idea of its quality – a bunch of arse!
Vary rarely do I ever find a wine so unpalatable that I can’t finish it, and being a Yorkshireman I hate to see wine go to waste, but the last bottle I couldn’t finish was a cheapo Chilean SB I picked up at the corner shop. I tried chilling it within an inch of its life, then added some crème de cassis to make a bastardised kir, but even that wasn’t enough – down the sink it went!
But such examples are becoming more and more rare nowadays; if you chose a good brand you will rarely be disappointed. Not only are the vine types improving, but also the Chilean wine industry is continuing to explore new sites around the country. With its envious geography, the required coolness can come from altitude (into the Andes), latitude (south towards Antarctica) or cool sea breezes near the coast. The best is definitely yet to come!
I’m a big fan of (good) Aussie wine, but there’s an awful lot of very average industrial plonk made in the large irrigated inland areas of NSW, SA and Victoria. The Australian wine industry is quite jealous at the success of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. Much of their land under vine has a climate too warm to make good varietal SB – in particular it doesn’t cool down enough at night in summer. SB is grown in bulk but is often blended with other grapes, especially Semillon (as the classic white Bordeaux blend), Chardonnay or Colombard.
So where is reasonable Aussie Savvy made? A couple I would recommend trying are both from (relatively) cool parts of South Australia: Shaw + Smith of Adelaide Hills (who make the M3 Chardonnay that I rave about) and Katnook Estate of Coonawarra (who make fantastic varietal Cabernet, amongst others).
And if you are feeling slightly adventurous, try a Sauvignon/Semillon blend from Margaret River – there are several excellent producers such as Vasse Felix, Cullen, Cape Mentelle and Xanadu.
Step 9 A Tale Of Two Rivers
Bordeaux is world famous for its red wines, and to a large extent the Bordelais template for fine red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon blends aged in barriques) has been copied around the globe. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, white wine production has fallen significantly down to around 10% of the total – but as Bordeaux is such a large region this still means there’s a lot of white made here.
Although Sauvignon Blanc is most likely to have originated in the Loire Valley, it has been around in Bordeaux for several centuries. Nowadays it is one of the main white grapes of the area, either as a single varietal or blended with Sémillon (and sometimes a dash of Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc or even Sauvignon Gris). The sweet wines of Sauternes, Barsac, Loupiac and other appellations are based on the traditional blend but I will not cover them further here.
The two main rivers of Bordeaux are the Dordogne and the Garonne, and whites made in the large expanse between them can use the appellation Entre Deux Mers (calling a river a sea is somewhat hyperbolic!) This is the origin of a large proportion of dry Bordeaux white, ranging in quality from very average to very good, though rarely excellent. Chateau Bonnet is a mid range oaked blend which I covered here.
The best of all Bordeaux whites tend to come from the Pessac Léognan subregion, part of the Graves area to the south west of the city. Many Chateaux make both red and white wines, and for some the whites command higher prices than the reds. Château de France and Château de Fieuzal are personal favourites, expressing their oak maturation distinctly on the nose and palate.
One of the lesser Châteaux I discovered on my travels many years ago is located in the Côtes de Bourg. In both reds and whites, Château de Rousselet is a great example of small producers who are modernising, and offer both oaked and unoaked versions of their wines – fantastic value. The Château itself is really just a grand farmhouse, and the owners are more likely to be seen driving a tractor than a flash car.