As a wine drinker, it’s always good to revisit favourites – might they have changed, or my palate? The familiar offers reassurance and a chance to recalibrate.
Here is one of my favourite Marlborough Sauvignons that I have tasted regularly over the past decade – can’t wait to see how the next vintage tastes!
Disclosure:sample kindly provided for review
Astrolabe Marlborough “Province”Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.5%, €19.95 down to €15.95, O’Briens)
This is the standard Sauvignon from Simon Waghorn and team at Astrolabe, formerly known as “Voyage” but now dubbed “Province” to reflect the fact that it is a blend of fruit from different Marlborough sub-regions.
Compared to some Marlborough SBs it is on the savoury side, with a little fruit sweetness on the mid palate but a very dry finish rather than the tropical flourish of some. The technical notes show it has only 1.4 g/L of residual sugar which bears out the subjective style.
The main notes of this 2015 are green bell pepper, gooseberryand grapefruit– there’s a definite tartness to it which would make it fantastic with salad or seafood. If drinking on its own I’d recommend taking it out of the fridge for 20 – 30 minutes before opening. This wine really hits the spot!
Now it’s the turn for white wines to shine – here are ten of the best still dry whites which shone in 2016:
10. Feudo Luparello Sicilia Grillo – Viognier 2015
A novel blend of indigenous Sicilian and international grapes, this wine is more than the sum of its parts. Local Grillo is fresh and textured, more dry than fruity, whereas Viognier adds a voluptuous touch. This is how blended wines should work!
See herefor the full review (and the Nero d’Avola – Syrah blend!)
9. Nugan Estate Riverina Dreamer’s Chardonnay
A “supermarket wine” made from “unfashionable” Chardonnay in a region known for its bulk wines, on paper this wine should be pap – but it works, in fact it works a treat! In Ireland (at least) the main parameter for wine consumers in supermarkets in price, especially if a promotional offer is involved. Given the high rates of duty and tax squeezing the cost side of the equation it’s not easy to find everyday wines that are actually enjoyable (though plenty are drinkable).
Nugan Estate’s “Personality” Single Vineyard series ticks all the boxes for me, and this was narrowly my favourite of the lot. See herefor my review of the full range.
Although the label might look like an impressionist’s take on Health & Efficiency, the wine inside is fantastic – great with seafood, but gentle and fruity enough to be enjoyed on its own. If only all Albariños were this good!
The “other” white grape of Burgundy (ignoring the small amounts of Pinots Blanc and Gris) which is definitely a second class citizen, and is so poor on its own that the Kir cocktail was invented to find a palatable use for it – or so the received wisdom goes.
There’s some element of truth in this, but Aligoté is usually grown on less-favoured sites and with a focus on yields rather than flavour, so it takes a brave producer to break out of this cycle and give the grape the attention it deserves. The Goisot family are such a producer, based in the Sauvignon Blanc outpost of Saint-Bris. This Aligoté is unlike any other I have tasted – it actually has colour unlike most which are like pale water, and an intensity of white flower and spicy pear flavours which reveal the age of the vines.
6. Gaia Wild Ferment Santorini Assyrtiko 2013
When I put together a “wild” wine tasting for DNS Wine Club last year, there were a few obvious candidates that couldn’t possibly be missed from the line-up – this being one of them. I had recommended it several times in the past so I was hoping it would live up to its reputation – especially tasted blind – and it certainly did! Overall this was the favourite wine of the tasting, showing the funky flavours of wild yeast fermentation but still plenty of lovely citrus fruit and crisp acidity.
5. Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016
A common complaint levelled at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – and Marlborough in particular – is that “they all taste the same”. There is some truth in this – the aromatics are generally recognisable before the first glass has even been poured and they are never short of acidity – but if you taste different examples side by side then there are clear differences. The alternative styles of SB are another thing, of course, with wild yeast barrel fermentation and oak ageing used to make a different type of wine (see this article for more information).
4. Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
This isn’t a wine for everybody, but it’s a wine everybody should try at least once. Based mainly on Listan Blanco grapes from ten plots in Tenerife’s Valle de La Orotava, it’s so different that at first it’s hard to describe using everyday wine terms – it’s not fruity or buttery – perhaps nutty and waxy? Sounds strange, but it’s an interesting and very enjoyable wine.
3. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2014
Domaine Zinck’s Portrait Series wines are fine examples of regular AOC Alsace wines and show the town of Eguisheim in a good light. Take the step up to the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, however, and you move into different territory; not just in terms of the elevation of the vines, but a much more intense catalogue of aromas and flavours. Even a young example such as this 2014 is delightful, but with the capacity to age for a decade or two and continue developing.
2. Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011
Narrowly pipping its countryman, Sipp-Mack’s Grand Cru Riesling is from another exalted site: the Rosacker vineyard near Hunawihr, in between Ribeauvillé (where Trimbach is based) and Riquewihr (home to Hugel). It has both primary fruit and mineral notes, and performs fantastically at the table.
For such a stunning wine it is relatively inexpensive at around €30 retail. See herefor the full review.
1. Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014
When I have favourite wines that I taste regularly over the years, I try not to repeat myself too much in my Top 10 review articles. Given that I am lucky enough to taste several thousand wines over the course of an average year, it’s not such a difficult line to take…apart from M3!! The 2014 is still very young, but it’s a delight to drink now. Adelaide Hills is now possibly second to Tasmania for trendy cooler climate Aussie wines, but for me it’s still number one.
Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, and hence the colour pink. This often means that rosé wines are promoted at this time of year, but as they aren’t generally my thing I thought I would recommend a dozen wines of differing hues from O’Briens, who are offering 10% back on their loyalty card (or wine savings account as I call it).
These wines are mainly higher priced for which I make no excuse – these are treats for yourself and / or your significant other! Of course, they would make a nice treat for Mother’s Day or at any time of year…
Chateau Kirwan Margaux Troisième Cru 2010 (€95.00)
The last of Bordeaux’s fantastic four vintages within eleven years (2000, 2005 2009, 2010) allows this Margaux to show its class but be more approachable than in leaner years. You could keep this for another decade or two if you didn’t want to drink it yet. Decant for several hours after opening if you can, and serve with beef.
One of Penfolds’ top Cabernet Sauvignons which combines power, fruit and elegance. 2010 happened to be a great vintage in South Australia as well, so if you’re climbing the quality tree it’s a good time to do it. Being a Cab means it’s all about cassis, intense blackcurrant aromas and flavours, with some vanilla to go with it.
This is a very interesting wine for the geeks out there as it is a custom blend of parcels from well known appellations from around Bordeaux including Paulliac, Graves and Canon-Fronsac. It was created by JM Cazes group winemaker Daniel Llose and O’Briens Head of Wine Buying Lynne Coyle MW. Oh, and it tastes wonderful as well!
Ata Rangi is one of stars of Martinbrough, an hour or so drive from Wellington in the south of New Zealand’s North Island. Crimson is their second wine intended to be drunk while young rather than laid down, but it is first rate in quality. Beats any Pinot from France at this price point.
This isn’t a token rosé, it’s a proper Champagne which happens to be pink. Lanson’s house style is based on preventing / not encouraging malolactic fermentation in the base wines, meaning they remain fresh and zippy even after the secondary alcoholic fermentation which produces the fizz. Texture is key here as well, and the lovely red fruits have a savoury edge. You could even drink this with pork or veal. Great value when on offer.
Another Champagne which is even less expensive, but still a few steps above most Prosecco and Cava on the market. The regulations for non vintage Champagne stipulate a minimum of 15 months ageing on the lees, but the lovely toasty notes from this show it has significantly more than that. Punches well above its price.
The Loire Valley is home to a multitude of wine styles, including Crémant (traditional method sparkling) such as this. Made from internationally famous Chardonnay and local speciality Chenin, it doesn’t taste the same as Champagne – but then why should it? The quality makes it a valid alternative, not surprising when you learn that it’s owned by Bollinger!
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is a great way to get into serious quality Port without paying the full price for Vintage Port. Whereas the latter is bottled quickly after fermentation and laid down for many years, LBV spends time maturing in casks. There it slowly loses colour and tannin but gains complexity. Graham’s is one of the most celebrated Port Houses and their LBV is one of the benchmarks for the category.
Grand Cru Chablis is a very different beast from ordinary Chablis. It’s often oaked, though sympathetically rather than overpoweringly, and can develop astounding complexity. Among the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grand Crus, Les Clos is often regarded as the best of the best. At just over five years from vintage this is still a baby – it would be even better in another five years but it might be impossible to resist!
Pouilly-Fuissé is probably the best appellation of the Maconnais, Burgundy proper’s most southerly subregion which borders the north of Beaujolais. The white wines here are still Chardonnay, of course, but the southerly latitude gives it more weight and power than elsewhere in Burgundy. Oak is often used in generous proportions as the wine has the fruit to stand up to it. This Château-Fuissé is one of my favourites from the area!
It’s a Sauvignon Blanc, but then it’s not just a Sauvignon Blanc. Kevin Judd was the long time winemaker of Cloudy Bay, finally branching out on his own a few years ago. The wild yeast and partially oaking give this a very different sensibility from ordinary Sauvignons. It’s not for everybody, but those that like it, love it!
One of my favourite New Zealand wines, full stop. I have mentioned this wine several times over the past few years…mainly as I just can’t get enough of it! It’s made in Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay so has more weight than, say, a Marlborough Chardonnay, but still enough acidity to keep it from being flabby. Tropical fruit abounds here – just make sure you don’t drink it too cold!
Until fairly recently I was very happy with Marlborough Groovies.
But then thanks to some excellent tastings in Dublin I began to realise that, although New Zealand GVs are very nice, they are only analogous to the simpler style of those from Austria. Outside of those, there’s a whole world of flavours and textures to try – see here.
And now, I’ve changed my mind again!
This is why:
Nautilus Estate Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2011
I’m a big fan of Nautilus Wines, especially their lovely fizz and gorgeous Chardonnay (one of the best in New Zealand in my opinion). It’s great that they’ve planted other aromatic grapes as Marlborough’s dry and cool, long growing season is perfect for them.
Normally this style of Grüner is one that is supposedly best drunk young – which is pretty much true for Marlborough Sauvignons. Alongside citrus and stone fruit and a dash of white pepper, there’s loads of freshness which makes them a joy to drink. But once the freshness is gone, you can’t get it back – there’s no Shake n’ Vac solution here.
But this wine was inadvertently left till four years after vintage, and yes a little of the freshness had gone, but it was replaced by some lovely toasty notes – just like you would expect from a good Aussie Semillon.
It’s a delicious wine, I just wish I’d held on to my other bottles for longer!
It just goes to show: most wine is drunk far too young!
Please ponder that message and put a few “ordinary” bottles aside to try in a few years.
One of the best parts about becoming a blogger has been meeting other bloggers from near and far – from literally round the corner to the other side of the world. Reading their blogs has been interesting in itself, but has also been very helpful in learning how to make my own blog better. Everyone I have met has been polite, pleasant and generous.
For some time now I had been meaning to try collaborating with some of my fellow bloggers – and then I hit on the idea of asking them to contribute a recommendation for a Valentine’s Day wine. A cheesy romantic link to V-Day was optional – it could just be a wine that the writer really liked and so would recommend – and just a couple of lines was requested, though some wrote more.
I was bowled over by the reaction – everyone I asked agreed to join in! Some even gave the background as to why a particular wine was romanic for them.
I’m not a V-day person, but I’ll go for Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc, because a friend served it as the white wine at their wedding which was one of the most beautiful and romantic weddings I’ve attended.
It was a beautiful summer day and it really was the perfect wine for it.
Crafted by brothers Giovanni and Alberto Masini on their family’s estate near Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy. The vineyards are certified organic, and the brothers do not use chemicals in any process of winemaking, including sulphur and additives. Wines are left unfiltered and unfined.
Not for the faint of heart, this will funkafy your Valentines Day. Inky violet red with pink bubbles, black cherry and blackberry flavours ride along a current of vivacious fizz, backed by barn door funky earth notes and a cleansing acidity that harmonises with the fruity, dry finish.
Blend of Lambrusco Grasparossa, Lambrusco Maestri and Malbo Gentile
Many of the producer tastings I’ve been at in the past year have been solely focused on red wines, but as I tend to drink much more white at home that hasn’t been such a hardship. Many of the retailer tastings have been very broad and included a few standout whites, so a few of those are included below.
I haven’t thought too deeply about the order of wines 10 down to 4, but the top 3 are definitely in order!
10. Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
All wines were wild ferment until a few decades ago, but cultured yeast is now the norm for mass produced wines – it’s more reliable and predictable in terms of fermentation performance, flavours and alcohol levels. Wild yeast can often give wilder, but more interesting flavours.
This Greek Assyrtiko from O’Briens is included because it’s just so different from anything else I tasted in the year – it really brings the funk!
9. Bruno Sorg Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Pinot Gris 2010
One of my favourite Alsace producers, Bruno Sorg have a broad range of varietals at different quality levels, and all are excellent for the price tag. From near their home in Eguisheim this Grand Cru Pinot Gris is silky and rich, off-dry without being sweet, textured without being stuffy. I did try some other countries’ Pinot Gris offerings, but Alsace is still where it’s at in my book.
8. Eric Texier Opâle 2012
This ethereal Mosel-style Rhône white stood out for me at The Big Rhône Tasting at Ely– partly because it was so different from the (delicious) Rhône reds, but mainly because of its sheer audacity and brilliance.
This should be drunk in small sips from a small glass, perhaps with company, but once you taste it you won’t want to share!
7. Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
The only white varietal tasting I went to all year was Austria’s signature grape Grüner Veltiner. The biggest surprise for me was not the excellent quality, it was the versatility of the grape – it’s such a chameleon, depending on where and how it’s made.
The Lamm Reserve was my overall favourite from the tasting at Wine Workshop – and perhaps it’s no coincidence given my proclivity for Pinot Gris that I preferred an example of Grüner which somewhat resembles Pinot Gris.
6. Dog Point Section 94 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is so ubiquitous on our shelves that it’s often taken for granted, ignored for being old hat or dismissed after tasting the poorer examples churned out at a discount in supermarkets. Even if you are a little bored of regular Savvy, there are alternatives, as I posted back in 2013.
A big differentiator of the alternative Marlborough Sauvignons is that they can age gracefully for several years, becoming more complex and interesting; many regular SBs shine very brightly in the year they are harvested then fade quickly.
And so I was lucky enough to taste the 2010 vintage of Dog Point’s Section 94 at the James Nicholson Xmas Tasting. Dog Point don’t make a duff wine, they range from very good to amazing – and this was now firmly in the latter class.
5. Rolly Gassmann Alsace Planzerreben de Rorschwihr Riesling 2008
A bin-end special from The Wine Society that turned out to be sublime, if difficult to pronounce. Rolly Gassmann is a renowned producer of Alsace and I had hoped to visit on my last trip there, but it wasn’t to be (too many great wineries, too little time!)
Thankfully this Riesling magically transported me to the hills of Rorschwihr. It’s just off-dry, balancing the racy acidity and lifting the fruit. At six years from vintage it had started to develop some really interesting tertiary notes – but it must have the best part of a decade still to go. I doubt my other bottle will last that long!
4. Man O’War Valhalla Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2010
This is one of the wines that was open at several different tastings during the year, but despite having a few bottles in at home I always had a taste, it’s just that good. Not exactly a shy and retiring type, this Chardonnay has loads of tropical fruit, with a little bit of candied pineapple among the fresh.
It’s well oaked, both in the sense of quantity and quality. Chablis lovers might look elsewhere, but Meursault lovers might change allegiance. A perennial favourite.
3. Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2008
Jeffrey Grosset is the King of Australian Riesling. I bought a case of the Polish Hill Riesling with the same vintage as my son, with the intention of drinking a bottle on (or around) his birthday for the next decade or so. This bottle is a few years older, and a few years wiser – the difference in development is noticeable.
Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene – whatever your petroleum spirit of choice, the 2008 has it nicely developing, though the steel backbone of acidity will keep it going for many a year.
2. Shaw + Smith M3 Vineyard Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012
I was lucky enough to taste Shaw + Smith’s seminal Chardonnay several times during 2014 – with the good folks of Liberty Wines at their portfolio tasting, a bottle with a stunning meal at Ely Bar & Brasserie, and a glass in a small flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar.
The King Is Dead, Long Live The King! Another wine I tried for the first time as part of the flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar, this is perhaps the Californian Chardonnay. After all, in beating some of Burgundy’s best Chardonnays in the Judgement of Paris it really put California on the maps as a producer of top level whites.
And as much as I wanted my beloved M3 to be the best, Montelena eclipsed it for 2014. Even as a young wine it is very approachable but with so much depth. It’s the sort of wine you could happily taste the same vintage of over several decades.
Due to personal circumstances I didn’t have a big birthday bash this year, so instead our New Year’s Eve party became the opportunity to try lots of fizz!
Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV
The kick-off wine at the Wine Society’s 2014 Dublin tasting proved to be a worthy opener again. Made by the Californian offshoot of Louis Roederer from four of their top vineyards, it is definitely made to the high standards of its Champenois maison mère.
Full bodied like the Brut Premier at home, it does, however, reverse the house blend of around two thirds Pinot Noir to Chardonnay, instead being 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir.
As well as bready characters from time on the lees this also has depth from reserve wines which have been aged in oak. This is probably the finest Californian fizz I have tasted to date.
Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV
A fairly simple Prosecco brought by a guest, it was pleasant enough not to be passed over, and considering I didn’t have any Prosecco open myself (damn, not again!) it was a nice contrast to some of the bigger names.
Lightly sparkling (a Frizzante with a screw top, no less) with gentle apple and grape flavours, it’s a wine to enjoy rather than contemplate. For some reason it does really well in the Netherlands!
Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs NV
I bought this own label 100% Chardonnay from UK supermarket Sainsbury’s a couple of years ago when there was a double-bubble promotion on. It’s actually good enough at full price but I couldn’t resist stocking up.
Two years later on and the citrus freshness is still there, but additional bottle age has brought a bit more body and complexity. It could still serve well as an aperitif but with more richness it could accompany roast chicken.
I wonder how many bottles bought at the same time made it this long – not many I’d wager!
Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV
Méthode Cap Classique is the South African term for traditional or Champagne method, and Mr Beck helpfully puts “Chardonnay . Pinot Noir” on the front label for those who aren’t sure. Graham Beck is renowned as one of the best producers of fizz in the country
On the nose this had a slightly spirit quality, as though there was a trace of stronger alcohol in there. It wasn’t apparent on the palate which was sophisticated and dry – one of the driest New World sparklers I’ve tried – with creaminess and richness from the lees. A very good effort, especially considering the relatively modest pricetag.
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007
The first significant quality producer of English sparkling wine goes from strength to strength. 2007 was one of the first vintages seen from start to finish by head winemaker Cherie Spriggs and husband Brad Greatrix, elevating the already serious quality to a higher plane.
So how does this bottle taste? Apple pie! No, seriously – amazingly intense apple flavours backed up by pastry notes from the lees and then bottle ageing. Seriously delicious!
Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004
Non vintage Möet didn’t fare very well when tasted double blind in the previous Glasnevin Fizz Fest, but as I’ve enjoyed the house’s prestige cuvée every time I’ve tried I’d, I thought I’d give the middle ground of Möet Grand Vintage a go.
Being a vintage Champagne it was guaranteed to have a longer minimum period on the lees (36 months v 15 for NV) and this came through on the palate. However, the fruit behind it wasn’t good enough to support the yeastiness – it tasted as though there was a hole in it, if a drink can said to have a hole in it!
Most people preferred the Sainsbury’s own label fizz, which tells you all you need to know!
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
Widely acknowledged as their best vintage yet, Nyetimber’s Champagne Blend from 2009 had showed well previously. Perhaps context is more important than we think, because tasted straight after the Möet Grand Vintage this was fantastic, even better than I expected.
The 2009 Classic Cuvée blend is 55% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier. The Pinots are more obvious with soft red fruit on the attack, but then the Chardonnay’s citrus and soft stone fruits follow closely behind. It’s very elegant and polished, and should continue to develop over the next decade and more.
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
The Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on Champagne’s Côte des Blancs is the source of Krug’s famed single vineyard Clos du Mesnil. Whereas that tends to retail at £600 or more per bottle, the village’s co-operative makes an excellent Blanc de Blanc that retails closer to £30 – a twentieth of the Krug price!
I had snapped up some magnums of the 1999 vintage a few years ago in a bin-end sale – and what a bargain they turned out to be!! Champagne (and wine in general) matures more slowly in a magnum than in a regular 75cl botle, but authors such as Tom Stevenson also content that sparkling wine matures better in the larger format. Without a comparative tasting for myself I will take Tom’s word for it, but the evidence provided by these magnums is definitely in favour of the argument.
Somewhat yellow in the glass from ageing, the wine is full of yeasty, bready characters on the nose. This follows through onto the sumptuous palate, with citrus and soft stone fruit playing a supporting role. A very long finish makes this an excellent fizz – what a shame I’ve only got one bottle left!
Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999
Context rears its head again – and not in a good way this time. Tasted among the other sparklers this appeared somewhat flat. It wasn’t unpleasant, just a different type of drink.
I hope to try it again in 2015 to see how it shows then.
Cloudy Bay Pelorus Marlborough 2009
Cloudy Bay’s NV and Vintage sparklers are probably the best value wines in their range, especially considering the extra work that goes into making fizz. Unlike its compatriot Lindauer or Australia’s Jacob’s Creek Sparkling, they are serious wines make with great attention to detail. We served Pelorus NV for the toast at our wedding in 2009!
As you’d expect in a serious offering from Marlborough, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the grapes used, and like vintage Champagne it gets at least three years maturing on the lees. There’s apple, citrus and bready notes on the nose, followed by a creamy palate with more apple and then roasted almonds. It’s only a youngster so there’ more to come!
Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV
The last bottle opened before we moved onto some reds was this Blanc de Blancs Crémant d’Alsace from one of the region’s best co-operatives. They produce a wide range of still wines and several sparklers – this was my favourite when we visited in 2013. Not widely known outside France, Crémant d’Alsace is actually the second most popular source of sparkling wine in France.
The blend is supposedly a secret but I remember 100% Chardonnay being whispered at the tasting counter. Perhaps because it’s not seen as an Alsatian grape? It’s not permitted in still Alsace wines, but is allowed in Crémant, sometimes with Pinot Blanc and other varieties.
As is the norm in Alsace, this displayed more primary fruit than flavours from lees ageing. We’re talking citrus, apple and quince here, so more of an aperitif style, but very enjoyable nevertheless.
The Overall Verdict
This was no professional trade tasting – all samples were drunk and enjoyed – so there’s somewhat less than 100% objectivity here, but my rankings would be:
Is there any other grape which is so divisive by synonym? Possibly Syrah and Shiraz, but even then style does not necessarily follow naming convention.
Now, you may have seen the warning on my Twitter bio that “Views and taste in wine may offend” – and I find most Pinot Grigios undrinkable – the best that can be said about them is that they are wet and contain alcohol (but then, the same could be said of aftershave). Often they are thin, acidic and lacking in flavour.
The derogatory term I use is “Chick Water“. I will leave you to guess the derivation!
Pinot Grigio is of course the Italian term for the grape whereas Pinot Gris is the lesser known French equivalent. The en vogue term nowadays is “spiritual home”, and if anywhere could make a claim to be the spiritual home for Pinot Gris it is Alsace, one of my favourite wine regions in the world. There is already a lot of good Pinot Gris being made in New Zealand, which is well suited to aromatic varieties, and the cooler parts of Australia.
Mini Pinot Gris Tasting At Ely Wine Bar
As is my wont, I recently popped into my home-from-home Ely Wine Bar in Dublin and thought I try a few different Pinot Gris served there by the glass:
Verus Vineyards Ormož Pinot Gris 2012
Ormož is in North Eastern Slovenia, near the border with Hungary. Although I knew wine is produced in Slovenia I didn’t know there were “international” grapes planted there. Set up by friends and winemakers Danilo, Božidar and Rajkowho, Verus Vineyards focus on improving quality while making their wines a true expression of their origins.
As the first of the three in the line up, it was fresh with pleasant lemon notes, slightly sour but in an appealing way. There was only just a hint of sweetness on the finish – it wasn’t apparent at all at first, but as the wine warmed up slightly in the glass it tickled the tastebuds. On tasting blind would have had no idea it wasn’t from a better established /known country – I will definitely look out for more of their wines.
Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Gris 2012
The Yarra Valley is one of the premium wine producing areas of Australia – and one of the most exciting – check out my post on De Bortoli Yarra Valley. Innocent Bystander specialise in making good value varietal wines that reflect their Yarra origins. They use 100% hand picked fruit, wild ferments and gravity-flow winemaking techniques, plus minimal filtration and fining – this is definitely on the low-intervention side.
The 2012 has a lovely texture that would make it a great food wine, though it drinks very well on its own. The main flavours are stone fruit, pear, apple and lychee, backed up by plenty of acidity!
Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011
Kevin Judd needs no introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway. He was the chief winemaker at Cloudy Bay from its inception and launch to its 25 year anniversary. He finally left and started his own virtual winery – he bought grapes and rented winery space from former Cloudy Bay colleagues who left themselves to set up Dog Point Winery.
Although Kevin’s Sauvignons, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir take most of the limelight, his Pinot Gris is an excellent example of the variety. It’s properly off dry, rich and oily – the most Alsace-like. Flavours of peach and nectarine dominate, with a hint of crystalline ginger and cinnamon. This would be amazing with Asian food but is just so lovely to contemplate on its own.
Heading south from Rías Baixas in Galicia takes you over the border into Portugal and Albariño becomes Alvarinho. All good so far – and I often prefer the Portuguese stuff. But what’s this – a fizzy version?
Made by the traditional method, i.e. there’s a second alcoholic fermentation in bottle, this is fresh and fruity – and it’s real rather than artificial fruit. This might sound a bit silly – but it tastes just like you’d expect a fizzy version of Alvarinho to taste!
This is an excellent aperitif – and a refreshing different taste.
Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012 (€30.50)
Nino Franco’s Primo Franco recently won the trophy for best Prosecco in Tom Stephenson’s “Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships”. The fact that there is a Prosecco category at all is not a sop to the producers of off-dry fruity pop, but rather it’s recognition that Prosecco canbe a serious sparkling if the producer wishes.
Produced from a single vineyard after which it is named, San Floriano is made by the Charmat (or tank) method like all other Prosecco, but has four months on the lees while in tank, and therefore picks up a little autolytic character. It’s also dry and savoury, so it tastes like a serious wine – you could easily drink this with a meal as well as the usual aperitif.
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009 (€46.99)
My favourite wine of the whole tasting!
The Gusbourne Estate in south east England dates back to 1410, though sparkling wine production has a much more recent history – the first vintage was in 2006! The main vineyard is on a south facing ancient escarpment in Appledore, Kent. The soil are clay and sandy loam slopes – you might expect chalk given the proximity to the White Cliffs of Dover, but it does mean that Gusbourne copes better with wet weather and drought.
Blankety-blanks (as I childishly call them) are sometimes on the simple side but this spent a full three years on the lees which gives it lots of lovely bready characters, in addition to lemon sherbet from the Chardonnay. Being an English sparkler it has lots of zippy acidity with a dosage of 10.5 g/L for balance (I guessed 10 – 11, can’t get much closer than that!) This style of wine makes a great aperitif or goes wonderfully with seafood.
Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer 2013 (Loosen Estate) (€14.99)
Although I’m a huge fan of Alsace wines, sometimes I find the Gewurztraminers made there a little dry for my tastes. Just like Pinot Gris, I prefer my Gewurz to have a little sweetness on the finish to match the richness of the mid palate. This off dry German Gewürztraminer (note the umlaut over the u) ticks all the boxes for me! The most aromatic of varieties, the nose is instantly recognisable, with rose petals and lychees jumping out of the glass. Added to these on the palate is Turkish Delight.
Gewürz is something of a marmite variety, but this is an excellent introduction.
Château Beauregard Pouilly Fuissé Vers Cras 2011 (€37.00)
One of the first things aspiring wine geeks learn is the difference between Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé; although they’re both French and white they are stylistically very different. The former is one of France’s top two Sauvignon Blanc areas, just over the river from the more celebrated Sancerre. Pouilly-Fuissé is the most important appellation within the Mâconnais, the most southerly region of Burgundy proper.
Compared to the much more prestigious Côte d’Or, The Mâconnais has gentler slopes and mixed agriculture – and being a bit further south it gets more sun, so its grapes tend to be riper. Accompanying that is a tendency to use oak barrels quite liberally, especially in the better appellations, so the wines become more New World in style. Although the producer is still very important, Pouilly-Fuissé and St-Véran are white Burgundies that I would happily order from a restaurant wine menu without recognising the maker.
Château Beauregard is one of the top producers of Pouilly Fuissé. Its standard 2012 bottling (€28.75) is showing very nicely now, but I would be a little more patient and pick up the single vineyard Vers Cras. Although a year younger it had a lot more time in oak and so is not yet quite fully integrated. There’s lots of tropical fruit and toasty vanilla from the barrel ageing.
It’s not the currently fashionable cool climate style but it’s a wine I’d happily drink all evening from big fishbowl glasses.
Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (€30.00)
This is Marlborough Sauvignon Jim, but not as we know it.
For those who don’t know Dog Point, the founders James Healy and Ivan Sutherland are both ex-Cloudy Bay. As well as producing their own wine they sell grapes to other winemakers, including former colleague Kevin Judd who makes his Greywacke wines in their facility.
NZ Sauvignon can be sometimes be summed up as “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long” – it has riotous explosions of fruit in its youth but fades quickly. This elegant example from Dog Point is designed to age and evolve positively. It spent 18 months in older French oak barrels so has plenty of texture and refinement. It has the tropical fruit of regular Savvy plus peach and other stone fruit – it’s just such a pleasure to drink. There’s a funky edge from the wild yeast, and as malolactic fermentation was blocked there’s plenty of fresh acidity.