Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites 2019

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

10. Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2017

Luigi Baudana Dragon

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

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

9. Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Fiano 2017

Chalk Hill Fiano

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

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

8. Ovum Wines Oregon Big Salt 2017

ovum big salt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

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

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

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

5. Domaine Stéphane Ogier Viognier de Rosine 2016

Viognier de Rosine

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

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

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

LAS Vino MR Chardonnay

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

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

This Margaret River Chardonnay has character for days!

3. Rafael Palacios Valdeorras “As Sortes” 2016 

As Sortes

14.0%, RRP €46.00.  Distributed by Vinostito.

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

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

jean-baptiste ponsot rully

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

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

1. Julien Brocard La Boissonneuse Chablis 2017

CHABLIS-BOISSONNEUSE-JEAN-MARC-BROCARD

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

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

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

 


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

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

 

The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

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

Free Pour (Part 2 – Other Whites)

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.

Domaine Laguilhon Jurançon Sec 2017 (13.0%, RRP €19.99)

Jurancon Sec

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.

Maximin Grünhaus  “Maximin” Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.0%, RRP €19.99)

Maximin Grünhaus, Maximin Riesling

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)

Moncontour Vouvray Sec

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!

Blank Canvas Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2013 (13.0%, RRP €22.99)

Gruner Veltliner 2013

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 Marlborough Classic Riesling 2015 (12.5%, RRP €23.99)

Framingham Wine Company Limited

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)

KAIKEN ULTRA CHARDONNAY

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)

Santiago Ruiz BS NV

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)

Domaine des Ballandors Quincy

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)

LAS Vino MR Chardonnay

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.

 

The Free Pour Series:

Tasting Events

Six Top Whites from the Ely Big Tasting

ely-bar-brasserie-private-wine-room

The Ely Big Tasting is now something of an institution on the Dublin wine scene, giving interested wine drinkers a chance to try a wide variety of wines from Ely’s suppliers.  Some of them are already established favourites and some are shown to gauge interest from punters.  Over the several events that I’ve attended (Spring and Autumn each year) it has been interesting to see the camaraderie and some good natured competition between the importers.

Here are six of my favourite whites from the Autumn 16 event:

D’Arenberg “The Money Spider” South Australia Roussanne 2010 (13.2%, Febvre)

money-spider

Roussanne is one of the most important grapes in France’s Rhône Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon.  Innovative McLaren Vale producers d’Arenberg decided to plant white Rhône varieties given how successful the Rhône varieties Shiraz/Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are in the Vale.  And the theory paid off!  Nutty and peachy, it’s full of interesting flavours that you just don’t find in the usual supermarket suspects of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.  Seek it out!

Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Setz Weinwiertel 2015 (Wine Mason)

gemischter-satz-cropped

Lovely field blend of 17 different varieties. These vines are all planted in the same vineyard and are harvested and vinified together. When Ingrid took on the family vineyards she had to rely on her grandmother to identify which variety was which!

The result in the glass is both complexity and drinkability – what more could you want?

In case you were curious, the varieties are:

Chardonnay, Müller Thurgau, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Grauburgunder, Pinot Blanc, Frühroter Veltliner, Neuburger, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Sämling, Roter Veltliner, Grauer Vöslauer, Hietl Rote, Weiße Vöslauer and Silberweiße.

More info here.

Trimbach Alsace Vieilles Vignes Riesling 2012 (13.0%, C+C Gilbey’s)

riesling-selection-de-vieilles-vignes-2012-trimbach

This Vieilles Vignes (“Vee-ay Veen”, Old Vines) Riesling is a step above the standard Riesling (which I like) and slots in below Trimbach’s premium Cuvée Frédéric Emile.  The VV is only made in certain years (2009 was the release previous to this 2012) so my guess is that Trimbach only decide to make it when they have more quality fruit than they need for “Fred”.

Ther fruit is sourced from the lieux-dits (named vineyards) Rosacker, Muehlforst, Vorderer Haguenau and Pflaenzer.  Being old, the vines yield less grapes than in their youth, but the resultant wines have more intense and complex flavours.  This wine is mainly available in bars and restaurants (such as Ely!) rather than wine merchants and is worth calling in for on it own!

Lucien Aviet “Cuvée des Docteurs” Arbois-Jura 2011 (13.0%, La Rousse)

lucien

The Jura region – nestled in the hills between Burgundy and Switzerland – has been making wine for a long time, but has only recently stepped into the limelight.  The area’s Vin Jaune has been regarded as an interesting diversion but now the table wines are receiving lots of attention – due in no small part to Wink Lorch’s excellent book.

Whereas Vin Jaune and some other Jura wines are deliberately exposed to oxygen during their production, this Chardonnay is in the ouillé “wee-ay” style – the barrels are topped up to prevent a flor forming or major oxidative notes.  It’s therefore much more my cup of tea – or glass of wine!  The wild yeasts used are reflected somewhat in the wild flavours, so this isn’t for everyone, but every wine enthusiast should try it at least once.

La Fief du Breil “La Haye Fouassière” Muscadet Cru Communal 2013 (12.5%, Wines Direct)

le_fief_du_breil_1

Anyone who has holidayed on the Atlantic coast of France and has enjoyed the seafood there is almost certain to have tried Muscadet, from the western reaches of the Loire.  It’s a wine while is often maligned outside of an accompaniment for oysters, and if we take the average quality of all wines produced then that’s probably not too unfair.  However, some producers are very quality conscious and can make some fantastic wines in the region.

This cuvée spends 14 months on the lees, giving a very creamy texture, but remains refreshing thanks to vibrant acidity.  It will partner well with seafood but is just downright delicious on its own.

More info here (downloads).

Brookland Valley “Verse 1” Margaret River Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, Liberty)

bv

Compared to most of the producers above, Brookland Valley is a newcomer – they were established in Margaret River in 1983 (compared to 1626 for Trimbach!)  While heritage and history are nice, at the end of the day it’s what’s in the glass that counts.  Verse 1 is their “entry level” range, with Estate above that and Reserve at the top.

This Chardonnay is a cracker, still young perhaps but full of flavour.  Racy grapefruit and lemon are set against brioche, vanilla and nuts.  It’s well balanced with a long finish.  If drinking in the next year or so then decant for half an hour before drinking, if you can.

More info here.

Long

I Know What I Like – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – Part 2

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.  Jordan of 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 Cluver from 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!

A long-time staple for me was Errazuriz; fruity refreshing and reliable – if you find one of their single vineyard bottlings then it’s definitely worth a punt.  Viña Leyda’s single vineyard Garuma Sauvignon Blanc Valdivieso’s Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and Viña Litoral’s Sauvignon Blanc all show the rising star for SB: the Leyda Valley.

Step 8 – Over The Ditch

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.

 

Also check out the Sauvignon Blanc masterclass at the beginning of my post on the New Zealand trade tasting in January.

Part 3 will consider some non-Sauvignon Blanc based wines which might appeal as alternatives to the might of Marlborough.

I hope you liked this post, please leave a comment or sign up for updates if you haven't done so already. 

 

Tasting Events

Sémillon and Sauvignon – Together In Perfect Harmony?

Sweeneys Wine Merchants in Glasnevin, North Dublin, are both my favourite merchants to visit and happen to be my local wine shop, so I was sure to drop in to see what bargains they had on offer in their summer wine sale.  Everything they had more than a couple of bottles of was open for tasting so it was “try before you buy” for about a dozen whites and reds, with a solitary rosé holding station in the middle.

Of course I tried all of them (just for completeness, you understand), but which most piqued my interest?  There turned out to be a theme – all were Sémillon / Sauvignon Blanc blends, but from different areas.

Around ten years ago I did a “wine-walk” at the London Fine Food & Wine Show with the theme “Sémillon and Sauvignon – better on their own or together?”  Wine walks are informative and good craic – a wine writer / personality / celebrity takes you on a tour of the show, stopping to taste around half a dozen or so wines from all over the show and talks you through them.  I find them more engaging than the classroom-style talks, even if they can get a bit crowded at the peak times of the show.

Nowadays Sauvignon Blanc is most closely associated with Marlborough and New Zealand in general, since the Cloudy Bay and Montana phenomenon.   Sémillon (usually without the accent) is most commonly seen on its own in Australia – it has become a speciality of the Hunter Valley in NSW.  But, like many grapes grown round the world they both originated in France.  Before the Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc explosion it was best known as the variety behind Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, plus some slightly lesser status Loire whites.

Both grapes are allowed in White Bordeaux (along with Muscadelle which is less common) and it is together where they can reach the heights.  Sauvignon gives the freshness and acidity, Sémillon the richness and body.

So what were the beauties I picked up?

Thomas Barton Graves Blanc 2007

A famous name from South West Bordeaux.

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Chateau Bonnet Entre Deux Mers 2009

An oaky wine from Bordeaux, in between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.

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Hollick Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2007

A blend of grapes from the Coonawarra and Mount Benson areas on the Limestone Coast in South Australia.

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Clairault Swagman’s Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2005

From Margaret River in Western Australia – a rare area in Australia known for blending the two grapes together.

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