Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2017

Here are ten fantastic whites which really impressed me in 2017 and I plan on drinking more of in 2018!

10. Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône Cuvée Zéphyr 2016 (14.0%, RRP €22.99)

les_deux_cols_cuvee_zephyr

“Les Deux Cols” translates literally as “The Two Hills” but also refers to the two founding colleagues Simon Tyrrell and Charles Derain.  Now joined by Gerard Maguire perhaps they will look to plant on another hill?  I’m an admirer of Les Deux Cols’ main red wine, the Cuvée d’Alizé, but for me their white blend on is another level entirely.  Made from very 100% Roussanne it manages to have richness and freshness at the same time, lovely texture and zestiness.

9. Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95)

lawsons

Marlborough started out as a fairly corporate production area, but gradually smaller grapegrowers began making their own wines.  This was the story for Ross and Barbara Lawson who began making their own wines in 1992 after twelve years of supplying others.  And what a great decision that was!  Among the many great wines they make is this delicious off-dry Riesling, full of racy lemon and lime plus elegant floral notes.

8. Turner Pageot Les Choix 2014 (13.5%, RRP €39)

les-choix

This was one of the highlights of the Winemason portfolio tasting, a skin contact wine with finesse.  Maceration is for five weeks which is much shorter than some orange wines – and personally I think it shows in that the underlying character of the Marsanne grapes still shines through.  This isn’t a wine for everyone but it’s very interesting and very drinkable at the same time – what more could you ask for?

7. Jordan Stellenbosch Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50)

Jordan Barrel Fermented Chardonnay

Just to clarify, this wine is made by Jordan Wine Estate (of Stellenbosch, South Africa) as opposed to Jordan Vineyard & Winery (of Sonoma County, California); as it happens, both produce great Cabernet and Chardonnay, and it’s the latter which has made this list.  As the name indicates the wine was fermented (and then matured) in French oak barrels, giving a lovely biscuity creaminess.  I like this style of wine in general but this is a great example, complex yet balanced, and seriously good value.

6. Mahi Boundary Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €26)

mahi-boundary-road

A barrel-fermented style of Sauvignon from a single vineyard in Marlborough.  Like the Jordan above, this was a little tight on release in early 2017 but had really blossomed in the second half of the year.  My money would be on increasing complexity over the next three to five years.  Very good wine for the money.

5. Greywacke Wild Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €34.99)

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2

Kevin Judd’s barrel-fermented Sauvignon has made regular appearances in this blog’s Top 10 lists over the years, chiefly because it’s so damn interesting.  I have nothing against regular Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs (in fact I often like them) but this style gives so much more, and bridges the gap to Chardonnay for those torn between the two grapes.  Wild yeast and barrel fermentation give intriguing funky and toasty notes

4. La Chablisienne Grand Cuvée 1er Cru 2015 (13.0%, RRP €34.95)

CHABLISIENNE_GRANDE_CUVEE

I’m a big fan of La Chablisienne’s range, from the everyday Petit Chablis up to the superlative Grands Crus.  The Grand Cuvée is a blend of grapes from seven different Premier cru sites with an average vine age of 25 years.  It has a fair bit of oak – more than you might expect from a Chablis – but it is integrated seamlessly, lending a bit of body plus notes of toast and spice.  This is an elegant wine which knocks spots of many more expensive wines from the Côte d’Or.

3. Blank Canvas Marlborough Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €36.99)

Blank Canvas Chardonnay

It would be a little misleading to call Matt Thomson “the Michel Roland of the southern hemisphere” not least because his involvement as a consultant doesn’t overshadow the wines, but his advice is much in demand.  After more than 20 vintages in each of the southern (for Saint Clair and others) and northern (for Alpha Zeta and others) hemispheres, Matt decided to get off the merry go round and focus on his personal project Blank Canvas.  This 2016 is the first vintage of Chardonnay and it’s a big winner!  It has the funky notes I’d expect from a wild-yeast barrel ferment but with a gliding, ethereal finish that leaves you wanting more.

2. BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24)

BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016

And so to a bottle which has caused almost everyone who has tasted it to sit up and pay attention – not least for the concept of a wine whose blend can change from vintage to vintage – and not naming the constituent varieties on the front means the wine drinker isn’t thinking about them (apart from me because I’m a wine geek!)  The 2016 is made from Chenin Blanc from four different sites, plus Grenache Blanc and Viognier (Chardonnay is no longer in the mix).  After being fermented in barrel the wine rests on its lees for twelve months.  It’s a big mouthful, this wine; peach and apricot with cream and nuts.

1. Domaine Zinck Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen 2011 (13.0%, RRP €48)

gc-rangen-pinot-gris

It was difficult to choose between Philippe Zinck’s Grand Cru offerings (first world problems) but the added complexity and richness of the Pinot Gris won me over.  The Grand Cru of Rangen is the most southerly of Alsace so, when combined with the vertiginous steepness of its slopes, gives the wines considerable power.  Of course, power on its own is nothing – when combined with acidity and complexity it can make a great wine such as this.  Move over Riesling, Pinot Gris is King!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru XXX Pinot Gris XX (XX%, RRP XX)

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Tasting Events

The Fifth Element – Part 4

A medley of reds from the Quintessential Wines tasting earlier this year:

 

Bodegas Mengoba Flor de Brezo by Gregory Perez Mencia 2015 (13.0%, RRP 23.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

 

Mengoba Flor de Brezo

Mencia is definitely a trendy grape at the moment, riding the light red zeitgeist.  It is usually unoaked, fairly moderate in alcohol and high in acidity.  But it isn’t for me – usually!  This is the wine that breaks that rule.  In addition to Mencia it has a good proportion (40%) of Garnacha Tintorera – better known as Alicante Bouschet, a rare teinturier grape with red flesh and juice.

Despite his Spanish sounding name, Gregory Perez is a Bordelais, but he has worked in Bierzo for around fifteen years.  He takes a natural, sustainable approach to his wine making with as little intervention as possible.  This bottle shows how good wines in the area can be.  It shows soft black (and some red) fruit, with a touch of smokiness adding interest.  It’s a supple and approachable wine, with fresh acidity and soft tannins.

 

Mas des Agrunelles Coteaux du Languedoc L’Indigène 2014 (13.0%, RRP €19.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

Mas Des Agrunelles L'Indigene

Made by the team of Stéphanie Ponsot & Frédéric Porro, this is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, the indigenous grapes of the Languedoc (hence the name!)  Interestingly, among the sites where grapes are selected for this cuvée the plots of Syrah face west and those of Grenache face east.  I would imagine (and I’m happy to be corrected) that this is to tame the Grenache slightly (morning sun tends to have a little less heat) while letting the Syrah ripen more fully with afternoon heat.

This is a powerful, savoury wine which makes you sit up and take note.  It’s fiery and smoky, with black pepper, black fruit and tapenade.

 

Vigne Medaglini Montecucco Sangiovesi L’Addobbo 2013 (14.0%, RRP €24.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

vegni-medaglini-l-addobbo-montecucco-sangiovese

Montecucco Sangiovesi is one of the lesser known DOCs in Tuscany – it’s not a variant of Chianti and neither is it a Super Tuscan.  Based in the hills around Mount Amiata in the province of Grosseto, it is a historic region for wine, but agriculture is mixed – olives and cereals are also grown.  Whereas Montecucco Rosso DOC has a minimum of 60% Sangiovesi, this DOC requires a minimum of 85% (in line with EU varietal labelling).

The Vigne Medaglini estate borders the Brunello di Montalcino which augers well.  This bottling is 100% Sangiovesi and has typical varietal notes of red and black cherry, tobacco and liquorice, but softened out by the 15 to 18 months spent in a mixture of barriques and (larger) tonneaux.

 

Mahi Marlborough Pinot Noir 2015 (14.0%, RRP €28.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Mahi Marlborough Pinot Noir 2015

A cool climate makes Marlborough a good bet for Pinot Noir, but the first plantings didn’t work out that well as they were often inferior clones and not planted in the most appropriate places.  Lessons have been learned now and there is growing number of producers who are making excellent Pinot Noir.

The first word I wrote on tasting this Mahi Pinot was “woah!” (am I channelling The Drunken Cyclist?  It’s full of supple strawberries and fresh raspberries; despite the 14.0% abv it’s not at all jammy, though it does have considerable body and power behind it – something I tend to associate more with Martinborough and Central Otago than Marlborough.  Definitely one of the best Pinots from the region.

 

Ar.Pe.Pe. Valtellina Superiore Sassella Riserva “Rocce Rossa” 2007 (13.5%, RRP 76.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

ArPePe Sassella Rocce Rosse 2007

Ar.Pe.Pe. is one of the most famous producers in the Alpine region of Valtellina, the most northerly wine region of Lombardy.  Nebbiolo is the speciality here, known locally as Chiavennasca but with the higher altitude it is often lighter than the more famous Barolo and Barberesco from Piedmont.

This was the third of three Ar.Pr.Pe. wines shown by Quintessential, and definitely a step or three above the baby brothers (not that they are exactly cheap themselves).  In comparison it is lighter, more delicate, ethereal – just a finer wine altogether.  It still has Nebbiolo’s trademark tannin and acidity – and that’s ten years after vintage – but they are a pleasant framework for the bright red cherry fruit and herbsA stunning wine.

 

The Fifth Element Series:

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!

Tasting Events

The Fifth Element – Part 2

Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store.  Here are some more of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:

Quinta da Raza Grande Escolha Vinho Verde 2016 (12.0%, €17.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

quinta da raza 2

North west “Green” Spain’s best known white wines are probable the Albariños of Rías Baixas (see below).  Less well known are the Alvarinhos of northern Portugal, just the other side of the Minho river in the Vinho Verde region.  Alvarinho is just one of several local grapes which are often blended to make refreshing, easily approachable young wines.  Some of them are a notch or two above that, however, and Quinta da Raza’s Grande Escolha is one of them.  This is a blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura, also known as Treixadura in Galicia.  Although modest in alcohol (12.0%), it is packed full of flavour – melon and fruit polos! (I shit you not!)  great value for money.

Bodegas Zarate Rías Baixas Albariño 2015 (12.5%, €21.25 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)
zarate 2

The Zarate family have been making wine in the Salnes Valley for over 300 years and have been at the forefront of modern winemaking in the area.  This is their “entry level” Albariño, made from vines with an average age of 35 years.  It’s made in the normal style – clean, fresh, young, fruity – but is a great example of that style.  It shows a variety of citrus: lemon, lime and grapefruit and has a long, clean finish.

Mahi Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.5%, €22.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Mahi SB

Brian Bicknell is regarded as one of the most accomplished winemakers in Marlborough.  He did a tour of duty that took him from the antipodes to Hungary, France, Chile and finally back to New Zealand.  After five years of planning, Mahi made their first vintage in 2001 and then established their winery in Renwick (pictured above from my visit) in 2006.  The grapes come from owned and rented vineyards, currently extending to five varieties (but no Riesling yet, which is a pity!)

This is Mahi’s standard Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s a world away from the Marlborough Sauvignon on offer in the local supermarket – in fact, it’s one of the best examples of straight Sauvignon you can find.  It shows grapefruit, gooseberries and cut grass, green but ripe, and wonderfully balanced.

Mahi Boundary Road Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (14.0%, €25.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Mahi Boundary Road

Whereas the regular Sauvignon above is blend from across all Mahi’s vineyards, this is a single vineyard wine, but also a different expression of the grape through different winemaking techniques.  The vines are in a north-facing (the warmest aspect in the southern hemisphere) plot close to the edge (hence “Boundary Farm”) of Blenheim.  The grapes are handpicked compared to the normal practice of machine harvesting.  They are whole-cluster pressed, fermented with wild yeast in French oak barriques and then matured in the barrel for a further eleven months.  The result is a totally different style of wine: smoky, oaky and intense funky flavours over a lemon, lime and orange citrus core.  If anything, this 2014 was slightly too smoky on the finish for me, but as it’s only just been released I would expect it to calm down somewhat and integrate more over the coming months and years.  Smoked salmon anyone?

Bodegas Zarate Rías Baixas Tras da Viña 2015 (12.5%, €29.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

TRAS_DA_VINA

Tras da Viña is a tiny hillside parcel of only 0.6 hectares, facing south for maximum sunshine.  The Albariño vines were replanted in 1965 so they were celebrating their 50th birthday for this vintage.  Such age has given the wine a fantastic intensity of flavour, and a very long finish.  It is classic Albariño, with a slightly saline edge, but much more than that – lithe and liquid on the tongue.  This is a refined wine that would be perfect for delicately flavoured dishes, flattering them rather than overpowering them.

Domaine Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru “Fourchaume” 2015 (13.0%, €32.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

Fevre

Fourchaume is generally rated in the top echelon of Chablis’s Premiers Crus, with an easterly aspect that bathes it in the morning sun – this promotes ripeness without overblown alcohol or losing freshness.  Domaine Fèvre have 10 hectares in the middle of the Cru, all based on Kimmeridgian limestone.  Fermentation and maturation on fine lees take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.  This is a grown up Chablis, already very approachable despite the young age.  Tangy citrus and mineral notes combine with a delightful texture and sublime poise.  Top class Chablis!

 

The Fifth Element Series: