Tasting Events

DNS host Wilson on Wine (Part 1)

It has become something of a tradition at DNS Wine Club for one of our events every year to be a fun event based on Irish Times wine columnist John Wilson’s annual book, “Wilson On Wine”.  Here’s the post I did on our first such event back in 2015 which explains how it works in more detail.  If you have a wine tasting / drinking group of six or more people then I highly recommend giving it a go.

John Wilson

For the first time, DNS were joined by the main man himself.  John is a complete gentleman, and was unfailingly polite despite the far-fetched tales told about each wine by the club (which is all part of the fun of “call my wine bluff”).  As I was keeping tight control of the answers he was left to guess the wine along with the rest of the gang, but of course he was spot on every time.

This first article will focus on the less expensive wines which shone on the night – all of course featured in Wilson On Wine 2019.

Aldi Exquisite Collection Crémant du Jura 2014 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at Aldi)

Aldi Exquisite Cremant du Jura

This fizz will be familiar to many as it’s a reliable, great value for money crémant which is perfect for parties.  So much so, in fact, that it has appeared in every edition of Wilson On Wine to date.  During our tasting it suffered from following a more sophisticated (and more expensive) Champagne, but I’d rather drink this than the vast majority of Prosecco on the market.

Pequenos Rebentos Vinho Verde 2017 (11.5%, RRP €15.50 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

Vinho Verde

For me Vinho Verde usually falls into one of two categories – cheap and cheerful blends of local grapes or slightly more serious varietal Alvarinho, with the latter coming from the premium subregion of Monção & Melgaço.  This is one of the cheap and cheerful types in terms of price and grapes, but for me rises above its lowly origins.  The typical citrus and saline notes are present, but the fruit is so damn juicy!  It has a certain je ne sais quoi which makes it one of the best Vinho Verdes I’ve ever tried.

Bairrada Messias Bairrada Selection 2014 (13.5%, RRP €12.65 at Karwig Wines)

bairrada messias selection family wines tinto

Here we have another inexpensive Portuguese wine which rises above its modest origins.  In decades past Bairrada was mainly a source of rough and ready bulk wine that was sold by the carafe in restaurants, but like many “lesser” European wine regions, quality has increased significantly with modern equipment and a firm eye on quality.  The clay soils here are best known for the Baga grape, but this wine is actually more of a Douro (or Port) blend as it’s made with Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca.  Red and black fruits abound, but again with a nice dash of acidity.  This is a really well put together wine that I’d be happy to drink any time of the year.

Ingata Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €18.00 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

Ingata SB

Outside of a few brands such as Villa Maria and Brancott Estate, less expensive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is something I tend to avoid.  It tends to be overly aromatic and intensely acidic – it gets plenty of attention with the first few sips but even a second glass is often too much.  Trading up to the likes of Tinpot Hut, Mahi or Greywacke more than pays back the price differential.  Here is one that breaks the mold -it’s a true but gentle expression of Marlborough Sauvignon, with all its components in balance.  In fact, this is even worth a try for folks who “don’t like New Zealand Sauvignon” -they might be pleasantly surprised

 

Apart from the Aldi Crémant I hadn’t tasted any of these wines before, yet they really shone above and beyond their price tags.  That’s one of the real positives of being able to rely on someone pre-tasting wines for you!

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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:

Opinion, Tasting Events

Fine Time (Part 1 – NZ & Australia)

There are few words that bring joy to a winelover’s ears as much as “fine wine sale”.  Below are some of the Kiwi and Aussie wines included in Irish chain O’Briens’ fine wine sale that I have tried and enjoyed this year.  I will leave the discussion on what constitutes “fine wine” for another day!

Note: links now added as O’Briens have also taken the fine wine sale online.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (13.1%, €33.95 down to €26.95 at O’Briens)

cloudy bay sauvignon blanc

The one Savvy to rule them all – Cloudy Bay brought Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to international attention and acclaim, for a while it sat alone at the top of the tree. Nowadays it has company – not least Greywacke, made by Cloudy Bay’s founding winemaker Kevin Judd, and Dog Point, also made by former CB winemakers.

But it’s in difficult vintages such as 2017 where the premium labels really earned their stripes; lots of grey rot was present in the grapes of bulk producers – a byproduct of being paid for quantity over quality – so the careful selection and sorting of upmarket producers like Cloudy Bay made a huge difference to the finished wine.  This is so much smoother and less aggressive than everyday Marlborough Sauvignon that it’s almost like a different wine!

Man O’War Dreadnought Waiheke Island Syrah 2014 (14.6%, €35.45 down to €26.95 at O’Briens)

man-o-war-dreadnought-syrah-2014

Man O’War’s nautically named Flagship range always go down a treat chez moi – and they are indeed a treat, especially the Valhalla Chardonnay.  Here we have their Dreadnought Syrah, perhaps a little riper and fuller-bodied than the Syrahs of Hawke’s Bay, but still recognisably Kiwi.  Black fruit and blueberries are framed by oak (though now integrating well) and tannins (present but ripe).  A fantastic wine!

St Hallett Old Block Barossa Shiraz 2014 (13.7%, €60.00 down to €48.00 at O’Briens)

St-Hallett-Old-Block-Shiraz-2014

Whereas the Dreadnought above is unmistakably Kiwi, this is unmistakably Barossa.  In fact the fruit is sourced from two sub-regions of the Barossa Zone, the Barossa Valley proper (62%) and the slightly cooler Eden Valley (38%) just to the east (note the ABV is a fairly moderate 13.7%.)  And “Old Block”?  That means OLD, with a minimum vine age for the 2014 of 80 years.  The result is a fabulous, concentrated wine with vibrant red and black berry fruit and fine tannins.

d’Arenberg Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 (14.5%, €54.95 down to €43.95 at O’Briens)

dArenberg Dead Arm Shiraz

Another iconic Aussie Shiraz, this time from McLaren Vale which is a short way south of Adelaide and a few clicks inland from the sea.  Cheeky chappie Chester Osbourne is still the head winemaker of this family firm, but despite the loud shirts and outgoing personality he really knows his stuff (the 2002 Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon was my top red of 2017.)   Intense red, purple and black fruit dominate the palate – this will be at its best in the years to come, but drinkable now, especially if decanted.

Also see my French picks in part 2

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

A Pair to Stock Up On! [Make Mine a Double #36]

Ahead of the O’Briens Wines annual wine sale (30th Aug to 23rd Sept) I’ve taken the opportunity to check in with a couple of my favourites from their range.

Astrolabe Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €22.45 down to €16.95 at O’Briens)

Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc

The Awatere Valley and regular Province Sauvignon Blancs from Astrolabe have been firm favourites of mine for close to a decade now.  The Province is a great all-rounder while the Awatere is more subtle, refined and food friendly.

I’m not one of those Marlborough Savvy haterz, but one of the downsides to such an aromatic and expressive wine is that it can overpower any delicate dishes it is paired with.  Awatere is the answer!  Instead of the typical tropical fruit notes we are greeted instead by light citrus, flowers and herbs.  It’s recognisably Marlborough but doesn’t have the usual overt fruitiness which is often perceived as sweetness – even if the wine is actually dry.  Treat yourself to an elegant Sauvignon!

Gaia Estate Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment

This is another perennial favourite of mine from – in my not so humble opinion – the best white wine region in Greece, Santorini – which happens to be a collapsed volcanic caldera in the Aegean.  Assyrtiko is the king of grapes here, and Gaia do a straight up version called Monograph which is a great introduction to the variety (and is a total steal at the current price of €11.95).

However, the Wild Ferment is on another level entirely.  A quick sniff after opening is enough for the wine to start showing its colours – fermentation with indigenous yeast gives it a wonderfully funky and exotic nose (not dissimilar from Kevin Judd’s Greywacke Wild Sauvignon).  This continues onto the palate where it’s joined by fresh lime and lemon.  This is a wine that deserves a BIG glass for extended swirling, or even decanting for half an hour before serving.  Perfect with mushroom risotto.

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Information, Opinion

brandinG wiNe

Celebrity wine is not a new thing and it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.  among the “celebs” with their name attached to a wine are people from sport (golfers Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Greg Norman…), the music business (Cliff Richard, Madonna, Sting…) and the film industry (Jolie-Pitt, Sam Neill, Francis Ford Coppola).

The degree of involvement varies significantly; some of them are simply adding their name to the label of a wine made entirely by someone else, whereas others such as Francis Ford Coppola come from a family with a tradition of winemaking and are directly involved.  Sam Neill’s Central Otago wines have been recognised for their intrinsic excellence and are aimed at serious wine aficionados with regards to their price, style and availability.

Flamboyant chat show host Graham Norton was approached by New Zealand newcomers Invivo in 2011 to see if he’d like to try their wines, and he liked them so much that he ended up producing his own varietal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with them from the 2014 vintage onwards.

To that were soon added a New Zealand Rosé (Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Marlborough (50%), Gisborne (30%), Hawke’s Bay (20%)) and a South Australian Shiraz.  Last year the Sauvignon and the Rosé accounted for 10% of all Kiwi wines sold in Ireland.  Norton isn’t involved in the vineyards but he does have the final call on the blend – even single varietal wines are usually a blend of different sources of fruit – so he does more than just add his name to the label.

How have the wines become so successful?  In my view there are a number of factors:

  • The wine categories themselves are well known and popular (there’s no Graham Norton Franciacorta, for example)
  • Each wine is made in a very approachable, drinkable style to appeal to a large number of people
  • There’s a good match between the populism of Norton’s TV programmes and the style of the wines – unpretentious and accessible

Invivo_web_Prosecco600x600px1_grande

The latest addition to the portfolio is “Graham Norton’s Own Prosecco DOC Extra Dry”.  It follows the same principles as the previous wines – Prosecco is the most popular type of sparkling wine in the UK and Ireland, and it’s made in a medium-dry style (confusingly labelled Extra Dry, but that won’t put many people off).

As the (much bigger) UK market is more of a target than Ireland, the decision to go for a fully sparkling Spumante style rather than Frizzante makes sense – the wire cage over cork closure projects more quality than the latter’s bit of string.  It does make the wine a little more expensive in Ireland than it needed to be due to the double duty attached to Spumante (as is the case for Champagne, Cava, Crémant etc) but the retail price of €17.99 at Tesco Ireland should still see it flying off the shelves!

What will come next?  My guess is either a Pinot Grigio or an Argentinian Malbec…

 

Tasting Events

A few treats from SuperValu (part 2)

After part 1 (the reds), here are the whites that I really enjoyed at SuperValu’s recent Secret Garden Part event:

 

Duo des Mers Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2017 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Duo Des Mers

This is a lovely fresh blend of Sauvignon Blanc from Gascony (Atlantic) and Viognier from the Languedoc (Mediterranean), hence two different seas.  As such, the best label of origin it can have is “Vin de France” which is usually seen on cheap bulk wine (a rule of thumb is that the more specific / small the area is, the better the wines are.)  However, this really is an exception – the Sauvignon (70%) provides fresh green fruit with zip and the Viognier (30%) gives rich peach and pineapple – a great combination which is more than the sum of its parts (and after all, isn’t that what blends are supposed to be?)

 

Combeval Grande Cuvée SCG 2017 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Combeval-BG-Auth-blanc

Nothing to do with the Sydney Cricket Ground, this is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (60%), Colombard (20%) and Gros Manseng (20%), all from Gascony.  It’s another successful blend from LGI, this time with local grapes Colombard (a very under-rated grape) and Gros Manseng.  The grapes are cold macerated for 24 hours which helps to extract aromas and flavours from the skins without any harshness, and then the juice is taken off and kept on big lees (bits!) at just above freezing for a further 20 days.  And the result of this high-tech winemaking?  Just farking gorgeous!

 

Nugan Estate Dreamer’s Chardonnay 2013 (14.0%, RRP €13.99 at SuperValu)

Dreamers Chardonnay

Regular readers should need no introduction to this wine, just to say that it still tastes great and is a total bargain!  There’s plenty of toasty oak and rich fruit, but a crisp, clean finish.  Lovely drinking!

 

Trisquel Series Origen Semillión 2017 (12.5%, RRP €16.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Trisquel Semillon

This wine was a big surprise, not necessarily the quality (which I expected to be high), but the style; the juice has two months contact with the skins which makes it somewhat an orange wine – and I never expected to see one of those in a supermarket!  Depending on where it’s grown and when it’s picked, Semillon can be light and fresh or a bit more tropical – and of course that’s just the dry wines, it’s a very important grape for sweet wine production in many countries.

One of the reasons Semillon is so treasured for sweet wines is the thinness of its skins, thus making it relatively easy to attract botrytis if the conditions are right.  This also means than when made in an orange style, it’s lighter and more accessible than many other grapes.

I think this is one of the most interesting wines available in an Irish supermarket – fresh apple and pear with a slight tartness like a Granny Smith’s apple chopped into grapefruit juice.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me!

 

Albert Glas Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.0%, RRP €15.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Albert Glas Riesling

This is a “Trocken” (dry-but-fruity) Riesling from the Pfalz in Germany – one of the best regions for Riesling in the country.  Now made by third generation winemaker Dominik Glas, there is in fact a wide range of different Rieslings and other grapes made by the winery – this is their “standard” level.  But there’s nothing basic about it – lovely green apple and lime fruit shine brightly while a kiss of sugar and a streak of acidity compete for your attention on the finish.  A lovely wine.

 

Albert Glas Black Label Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.0%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Riesling BL 2017

Apart from the obvious (the colour of the label), the main differences of this wine are the sourcing of fruit from better vineyards and the use of oak.  Don’t run away, though, the wine isn’t “oaky” – only 20% is fermented in oak (the rest in stainless steel) and the barrels are old so they don’t impart a flavour to the wine – just more body, depth and openness.  Dominik Glas is proud of the fact that the oak trees come from a Pfalz forest, so the trees and the vines are in the same soil.  The net effect of all of this is to produce a more complex and satisfying wine which needs to be tried.

 

Kim Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.0%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

KIM Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc

The standard Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is one of the better to come out of Marlborough, but the smaller production (“Small Parcels”) Spitfire Sauvignon is well worth the extra few quid for the upgrade, particularly in a year like 2017 which didn’t hit the heights of 2015 and 2016.  It’s very citrusy like the little brother, but also shows sweet tropical fruit on the mid palate.  Absolute text book Marlborough Savvy.

 

 

 

 

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)

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: