After the Champagnes of Laherte Frères in Part 1, we now turn to a trio of unusual whites. They aren’t that obscure, but they aren’t going to appear in your local supermarket. They are all made by small, family owned producers who prefer to do work in the vineyard rather than the winery. Note: I tasted these wines back in February this year so some outlets may well have moved onto the 2019 vintages of the respective wines.
M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz Weiss 2018
Martin and Anna Arndorfer are part of the new generation in Austria, acknowledging their respective families’ deep ties to their region of Kamptal but breaking free and setting down their own roots. Their approach might be described as “hands-off”, but that would belittle the work they do in the vineyard, fully respectful of nature’s gifts.
This is the first time I have reviewed the M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz (field blend), though I have previously reviewed their single varietal 2015 Grüner Veltliner and their 2016 Vorgeschmack white. As the latter is no longer available and consisted of the same blend (80% Grüner Veltliner & 20% Riesling) as this wine I believe it is simply a matter of renaming.
Those familiar with the component varieties – hopefully a decent majority of you – should be able to imagine its style; decent body with lots of spice and pip fruit, but a racy finish. Apples and pears meet lemon and lime? What’s not to like?
When faced with this label most wine drinkers would be forgiven for thinking “what even is that?” (Confession: I thought exactly that!) So: “Burja” is the name of the estate, “Zelen” is the name of the grape and “Petit Burja” is the name of the bottling. Burja is run by Primož Lavrenčič who named it after the Mistral-like wind which can blow through the vines. Zelen is a local grape variety named after the Slovenian word for ‘green’ which is the colour that it apparently takes on when fermenting. The estate is run on both organic and biodynamic lines.
So how does this unusual grape taste? It doesn’t taste exactly like anything else, but in a word, great! It’s highly aromatic, with floral and citrus notes to the fore. These continue onto the palate which is juicy and tangy, but also mineral and linear. This wine could be the jolt that your palate needs!
I have reviewed the red wine from this stable before; Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge was the Frankly Wines #2 Value Red of 2017. The Domaine has been run by Italian Laura Semeria for 13 years; she has woven the new (converting viticulture to organic and then biodynamic) with the old (maintaining local varieties including the rare Romorantin). The vines cover a surface area of 20 hectares and vary in age up to 80 years old.
Just as the Arndorfer wine above, this is an 80/20 blend, but this time 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Chardonnay (yes, Chardonnay is grown in the Loire!) This blend is rarely seen in France, nor even Australia or New Zealand, but does occur in northern Italy. Although unusual, the blend is seamless, showing floral, herby and citrus notes. It’s a light yet thrilling, real wine.
Champagne Laherte Frères is based in the village of Chavot, a ten minute drive south-ish of Epernay. The estate was established in 1889 by Jean-Baptiste Laherte and was expanded incrementally over the generations. The estate is named after sixth generation brothers Christian and Thierry, though I couldn’t confirm if they were the first to make the big leap from growing grapes to making their own Champagne. Thierry’s son Aurélien has been a part of the firm for the last fifteen years.
Laherte’s 11.38 hectares of vineyards are covered in detail on their website. The majority are in villages of the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay, split 4.22 ha planted to Chardonnay, 3.88 to Pinot Meunier and others 1.18 ha. A further 1.48 of Pinot Meunier is in the Vallée de la Marne and 0.62 of Chardonnay on the Côte des Blancs. They have identified 75 different plots which are vinified separately; 80% of the wines are fermented and matured in wood barrels or casks.
Since 2011 Laherte has also bought in grapes from growers who farm around 4 hectares in the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs; of course these growers share the same philosophy.
This is our way of celebrating the terroir: by respecting differences, promoting uniqueness, and letting the soil express itself.
In his excellent book on Grower Champagne “Bursting Bubbles”, Robert Walters makes some excellent point about the style and quality of Grower Champagnes in general. Firstly, many who make Champagne under the Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) label are simply much smaller versions of the big Houses; it is those who focus on their terroir and allowing their wines to express it that can make great Grower Champagnes. Secondly, small producers who take such care but also buy a small amount of grapes from close contacts – and therefore have the Négociant-Manipulant (NM) label – can also make excellent terroir Champagnes.
Aurelien Laherte was noted as a promising grower in Bursting Bubbles, but of course as the firm now buys in grapes they are classed as NM. Walters specifically mentions Jacquesson & Fils as an example of terroir focused small houses, but I believe that Laherte Frères would also qualify for that accolade.
Laherte make a large number of different wines, grouped into three different types. The wines in blueare reviewed below.
Ultradition: Brut, Brut Rosé, Brut Blanc de Blancs
Special & Original Cuvées:Ultradition Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut
Terroir Fundamentals Cuvées: Les Beaudiers (Rosé de Saignée Meunier), Les Longues Voyes (Blanc de Noirs 1er Cru), Les 7 (all 7 Champagne grapes in a “solera” system), Les Vignes d’Autrefois (Old Vine Meunier), Les Grandes Crayères (Vintage Blanc de Blancs)
Champagne Laherte Frères “Ultradition” Extra Brut NV
This is a blend of the three main varieties: 60% Pinot Meunier (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and Pinot Noir (10%). 40% of the total is from reserve wines which are kept in barrel and add complexity. Malolactic fermentation is blocked for a portion of the base wines to give a mix of roundness and freshness. Those base wines also spend six months on their lees while maturing.
Ultradition Extra Brut has an amazing nose of lifted floral, citrus and pear aromas; so lifted, in fact, that you feel like you’ve got the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building. In the mouth it pulls off the trick of being both creamy and fresh, briochey and citrusy, with a lively mousse and a satisfying, fresh finish.
Champagne Lahertes Frères Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut NV
This is a “Rosé d’Assemblage”, incorporating both saignée and pressée techniques. Made solely from old vine Pinot Meunier, it consists of 30% macerated wine, 10% red wine and 60 % white wine. 40% of the later is from reserve wines aged in barrels. Vinification is the same as for the Ultradition Extra Brut, though dosage is even lower at 2.5 g/L.
The nose is full of juicy red fruits that leap out of the glass. On the palate they are further defined as strawberry, cherry and raspberry. The dosage is low, even for an Extra Brut, but the quality of the fruit and the fact they are picked when fully ripe means that more is not required. The fruits are so fresh and vivid that, if tasted blindfolded, you’d be peeking to see if any berries were floating in your glass.
Champagne Lahertes Frères Blancs de Blancs “Les Grandes Crayères” 2014
This is a single vineyard, single variety, single vintage wine made from one of Laherte’s best sites. As you might be able to guess from the name “Les Grandes Crayères” the vines are grown on chalky soils. Not in the Côte des Blancs, however, but rather in their home village of Chavot where the chalk in some plots is only 20 cm down. Unlike the other cuvées above, MLF is totally blocked for this wine to preserve acidity as the wine ages over the years.
The Champagne geeks among you might wonder what the single variety is; for the vast majority of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes this would automatically be Chardonnay, but when a producer makes a wine with all seven permitted varieties (five white, two black) then it could be any one of five. But it’s Chardonnay!
And what a Chardonnay! The nose has layers of flowers, lime and toast plus a little candied peel. In the mouth it is creamy yet fresh and refined, with mineral notes and a certain tanginess. This is an amazing wine that could be nothing else than a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.
A new Kiwi label “Hãhã” has just been launched in Ireland, but it’s not a spoof – Hãhã is actually a Mãori word meaning savoury and luscious. It was established less than ten years ago in 2011 by four families, and is still owned by the same folk. Their wines hail from Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough and include most of the most popular varieties from New Zealand: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. There are also sparkling wines and rosé in the portfolio (with the Hawke’s Bay rosé even having a dash of Malbec).
As the wines have just been launched only the key wines are currently available in Ireland. Here are two that I tried and enjoyed recently:
Disclosure: bottles were kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own
Hãhã Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019
The nose shows citrus (lime and lemon) plus ripe green bell peppers. These notes continue though onto the palate, and unusually for Marlborough Sauvignon there are no real tropical notes. Despite the green notes this is a mellow rather than sharp wine; it’s very mouthwatering but the acidity is fresh and pleasant rather than harsh.
If I had tasted this blind it would have stumped me as to its real origins – I might have guessed a classy Italian or German Sauvignon (if you haven’t tried examples from those countries then my postulation was a compliment!) Despite Marlborough Sauvignon’s popularity, even its fans would admit that it’s often too aromatic and exuberant to make a good partner for food, but Hãhã Sauvignon is a delicious exception to this rule!
Hãhã’s Marlborough Pinot Noir is one of the top wines in their range. As you’d expect it’s fruity, and a lighter style of Pinot, but despite the fruit it’s not simply a smashable wine. The nose is lovely, with rich strawberry, raspberry, cherry plus spice and a touch of mocha. In the mouth it’s smooth and medium bodied, with the red fruit now joined by black. Tannins are present but modest. Overall this is a supple, easy-to drink wine that would also serve well at the dinner table.
Returning to the translation of Hãhã for a moment, I don’t think that “luscious” is that apt for these wines, but “savoury” definitely is! They manage to bridge the worlds of quaffing wine and serious food wine. They both have fruit but a superb savoury aspect which makes them very easy to like.
And, for those who were clubbing in the mid ’90s, this is the track which immediately sprang to mind when writing this piece:
Pinot Noir can be tricky to make well. It is very particular about the climate it’s grown in – not too hot, not too cold. Here are a pair of antipodean cool climate Pinots that are worth your hard-earned:
Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2018
The Yarra Valley is part of the Port Philip zone which surrounds Melbourne in Australia. Its proximity to Melbourne makes it a popular wine tourism destination; indeed, my first trip there was on a day trip wine tour from Melbourne. That should not detract from its status as one of the best cool climate regions of Australia, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir starring – both still and sparkling.
Innocent Bystander was founded in 1996 by Phil Sexton after selling his previous Margaret River venture Devil’s Lair. Innocent Bystander (IB) wines are often blends from multiple sites to achieve complexity and balance at a reasonable price point. Alongside IB, in 1998 Sexton also began creating single vineyard wines under the Giant Steps label.
The Pink Moscato explosion in Aussie wine led to a large increase in volumes being made and sold by IB, so Sexton sold it to another family owned Victorian wine producer – Brown Brothers of Milawa – in order to concentrate on Giant Steps. Once picked IB’s grapes now make a three hour journey in refrigerated trucks to be crushed at Brown Bros’ winery. Sexton’s Yarra Valley tasting room wasn’t part of the transaction so Brown Bros bought and converted a brewery – formerly run by Phil Sexton!
The wines in the Innocent Bystander portfolio include the following:
Gamay / Pinot Noir blend
It’s the last two which are the most unusual for Australia, and therefore piqued my interest, though sadly they haven’t yet made their way to Ireland.
In the main this Pinot Noir is fruit-driven: raspberry, blackberry and tart red cherries dominate the nose and palate, though there are also herb and spice notes in the background. It is not, however, a “fruit-bomb”; acidity and gentle tannins provide a framework against which the fruit can sing, and boy do they sing!
Marlborough’s Framingham is probably the most respected producer of Riesling in New Zealand, but has added additional varieties across its three ranges:
Their wines are all very well crafted and offer a substantial step up from everyday Marlborough wines, but prices are sensible. The firm’s winemaker for 18 years was Dr Andrew Hedley, who was then succeeded by the returning Andrew Brown at the beginning of this year (what a year to join!) In between his stints at Framingham, “Brownie” had worked in several cool climate regions including Alsace, so he has great experience with Riesling.
Framingham’s own vineyards and those of partner winegrowers are all in the Wairau Valley, the central open plain of Marlborough which is on a mixture of alluvial and clay soil. Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately, with grapes from clay soils in particular receiving more time on the skins. MLF and maturation takes place in new (20%) and used French oak barrels, before final blending and bottling. No fining or filtering is carried out to preserve flavour and mouthfeel.
When speaking to Jared Murtha (Framingham’s Global Sales Manager) earlier this year I remarked that the Pinot Noir seemed more like a Martinborough Pinot than a typical Marlborough one to me. This was meant as a compliment and taken as one, as I find many Marlborough Pinot Noirs to be light, simple and less than interesting. Jared replied diplomatically that Framingham aren’t aiming to make a “smashable” wine, but rather one which is a little more serious and gastronomic.
And hell have they succeeded! It has typical Pinot red fruit notes – cherry and wild strawberry – but also layer upon layer of smoky, spicy and savoury characters. There are lovely round tannins giving the wine additional structure. Umami fans will love this wine!
These two wines are made from the same grape variety in neighbouring countries (yeah, still quite a journey) and are close in price, so a like for like comparison is perfectly fair. The most obvious difference, though, is their style. The Innocent Bystander is a great, fruit-forward all-rounder and would really appeal to the casual wine drinker. The Framingham is a different proposition, more savoury and serious, and would shine the brightest in a setting with food – though it’s not a “this needs food” wine. My preference would be to spend the extra €4 on the Framingham … but if someone offers me a glass of Innocent Bystander I would be delighted.
In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:
A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it
It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.
Our ninth contributor to this series is the magnificent Melanie May. Amongst other wines she mentioned that Riesling is her favourite white grape so of course I had to select an Alsace Riesling. But not any Alsace Riesling, Sipp Mack’s Grand Cru Rosacker which has been a favourite of mine for the best part of a decade. The 2011 was an amazingly big and heady vintage (at 14.0%!) which will remain in my top wines tasted, but the 2014 is a more elegant and subtle expression at 13.0%. At around €30 in Ireland it is sensationally good value for money.
On the music side I chose a perennial favourite from the mid ’80s which straddled the rock and goth genres. Billy Duffy’s powerful riffs help propel the song forward but for me it’s Nigel Preston’s pounding drums which really make the song excel. This was Preston’s last track with The Cult, and didn’t even feature in the video as his replacement Mark Brzezicki featured instead.
Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2014
When Frankie asked me to contribute to his wine and music blog series I jumped at the chance. Not only because it gives me an opportunity to combine my love of writing, wine and music, but also my love of psychology too.
A little background, I used to take photographs of musicians and travelled around the UK snapping bands like The White Stripes, Razorlight, Stereophonics and The Libertines. My life revolved around going to gigs and backstage parties. Of course, that rock and roll lifestyle is well behind me now but my love of music is still as strong as ever.
Nowadays, I am a food and drink and travel writer and I have a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines. Before becoming a full-time writer though, I was studying to become a Clinical Psychologist and did my dissertation in Neuroscience.
Through my studies in psychology, I became aware of how different sensory experiences complement each other. There has been a few studies showing how music effects the perception and taste of wine. Did you know that people will buy significantly more expensive wine if classical music is playing than if the Top 40 is on? Apparently classical music encourages consumers to look for quality wines. Try it in your wine shop and see!
So, this pairing wine and music challenge is right up my street! I love this stuff.
I told Frankie that Riesling was my favourite white. So, when he asked me to pair a song to the 2014 Sipp Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker my mouth instantly started watering. I had not tried that particular wine before, but knowing Frankie’s love of Alsace wine, I knew this was going to be a cracker.
And I was right. What a beautiful wine.
On the nose, the wine is floral with loads of juicy apple and bright citrus notes and a hint of petrol coming through too. The flavours are granny smith apples, cut red apple and baked apple too, lemon and lime. There is a wonderful chalky minerality to it too. It has an elegant mouthfeel and a long finish. It is super delicious.
The bright acidity and citrus notes of this wine are well matched to an upbeat pop song. The minerality and high acidity give this wine great structure, so I picked a song with a similar tight structure. The wine, with its delightful floral aromas and fruity flavours, is playful on the palate and even though it is high in acid it is quite smooth too. So, again, the song I chose is playful and smooth. The wine also has a great purity, it’s not encumbered with oak or other interfering wine making techniques, much like the matching song.
The song I paired with the 2014 Sipp Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker is Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles – quite possibly my all time favourite band.
Good Day Sunshine is a bight and breezy, structured pop song – it is one of just a handful Beatles songs to use contiguous choruses. It is a pure pop song with no exotic instruments or tape loops. It is just Paul singing, Lennon harmonising and a piano and drums and very little guitar on the backing track. So, like the wine, it is bright, has great structure and is pure in taste and style.
Both the wine and the song capture the essence of carefree sunny days and both are good-mood enhancing. What a combo.
This wine is perfect for a barefoot picnic in the grass and this feel-good song is a magic, musical accompaniment.
I truly believe that when you pair the right wine with the right music, you get a heightened sensory experience that hits all the right notes. Maybe, one day, wine labels will say: ‘pairs well with shellfish and The Beatles’.
She Sells Sanctuary – The Cult
When Frankie asked me to pair a wine with the song ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ by The Cult I knew exactly what wine to choose: Château VincensLes Graves De Paul Cahors 2014
She Sells Sanctuary has been described as ‘a goth milestone’ and ‘quite possibly the most famous goth-rock song’. So, a fitting pairing is a ‘black’ wine. Well, I was hardly going to choose a Champagne, goths aren’t exactly known for being bubbly now, are they?
Black wine is Malbec from Cahors in France and its dark colour is caused by a high concentration of polyphenols from the Malbec grape skins.
This particular wine I choose has a dark label and gothic script – goths love flourishes like that. This bottle will therefore co-ordinate perfectly with their crushed velvet jackets and the writing is big enough to read though all their eye makeup.
This wine tastes best if you let the air at it for a little while, so pour it into your best chalice or goblet and leave it to breathe whist you go write some awful poetry.
When you listen to She Sells Sanctuary you’ll notice the soft build-up of the intro and then Ian Astbury’s impassioned vocals before the drama of the instrumental break hits. There is a great structure to this song and that’s thanks to pop producer Steve Brown, he worked with Wham!.
The wine also follows a similar trajectory. When you first sniff you get a soft build up of aromas like dark fruits, bramble, tobacco and woody spices. Then, when you first sip, you taste the fruit but it is balanced out with lovely savoury, smoky and spicy flavours. Then the drama of the mineral backbone, hint of oak and smooth tannins hit. This wine is intense, rich and elegant with great structure. Just like the song. As for the impassioned vocals? Well, this is a heartfelt wine with a sense of place. You can taste the terroir. It also has a restrained power, much like the vocal style of the lead singer.
Like most goths, this wine isn’t fully mature. The oak and tannins means you could age it for a few more years. I think ageing would smooth everything out just a tad more and let those lovely savoury flavours develop too.
With a wine this intense and rich you can pair it with big intense food. I chose to pair mine with steak because of its high iron content, cause, let’s face it, most goths look anaemic.
I think pairing a goth-rock song with a black wine helps keep the proper morbid mood, don’t you think? However, as this particular song has expressive pop overtones, I think this expressive, fruit-driven wine with smooth tannins and good structure is a harmonious match.
Overall, it’s a rich, complex and age-worthy wine that is delicious to drink now but could be something even more special if left to age for a few more years. It might even get a cult following!
It’s not hard to see why some wines from Cahors have a cult following! Get it? Cult? The Cult?
I’ll get my coat.
Melanie May is a food and wine writer and travel journalist from Dublin. She won the ‘Best Newcomer’ award at the 2019 Travel Extra Travel Journalist of the Year Awards and she is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers and is a Guild of Fine Food, Great Taste Judge.
Her love of wine began in her early 20s when she worked in a wine shop in Dublin and she has been developing her palate and tasting skills ever since. She has a WSET Level 2 Award in Wines & Spirits and a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and uses this knowledge to inform the wine articles she writes for her blog, Travel Eat Write Repeat.
The spotlight has been shining on Savoie* wine since Wink Lorch published her authoritative book Wines Of The French Alps (available to buy directly from Wink hereand check out David Crossley’s review here) in July 2019. The area is on France’s eastern borders with Italy and Switzerland – and in fact only became a permanent part of France in 1860 when it was ceded by Italy under the Treaty of Turin.
Savoie is actually further north than you might think** – in the outline map above it is level with Cognac – and given its Alpine elevation it is distinctly cool. The main grape varieties of the area are Altesse (aka Roussette), Gringet, Jacquère, Mondeuse and Roussanne (aka Bergeron), with all but Roussanne being indigenous. In the more frost prone areas only local varieties are hardy enough, and the long growing season brings out their aromatic qualities.
Fabien Trosset comes from a well-established winemaking family with a speciality for Mondeuse, the key red variety of Savoie. He and his partner Chloé took over some family vineyards in 2011 and added more from another branch in 2013, taking their total to 16 hectares. The soils are either limestone or clay and the aspect is generally south-facing. The vines are up to 90 years old for some of the Mondeuse plots, 30 for their Altesse and 15 for Roussanne. The wine featured below is made from Jacquère which doesn’t even feature on their website or in Wink’s book, so I’m assuming it’s a very new addition!
Domaine Trosset Savoie “Or Blanc” 2018
“Or Blanc” translates as “white gold”, and this seems to be a fitting moniker as the wine is made from 100% Jacquère, the most important white grape in Savoie. The vineyards are at an altitude of 600 metres above sea-level – higher than any Alsace Grand Cru sites, as a comparison. This is a wine which could be pictured in the dictionary for the definition of “freshness”: a chalky minerality dominates, with crisp acidity and gentle garden herbs. There is fruit too in the form of a racy lime streak
A dry wine at just 11.0% is very rare these days, but it doesn’t feel diminished in any way. This is a delicious, interesting wine that deserves to be better known. I’m looking forward to trying some more of Fabien and Chloé’s wines in the future.
Now part of New Zealand wine folklore, Cloudy Bay Vineyards was set up at the beginning of the Marlborough gold-rush (grape-rush?) in 1984 by David Hohnen. Hohnen was no stranger to innovation as he had set up the pioneering Cape Mentelle in Margaret River in 1970. As he was based in Western Australia, he recruited fellow Australian Kevin Judd to actually make the wines.
Cloudy Bay was one of the main producers which put Marlborough Sauvignon on the world map of wine, and such was demand that it often outstripped supply – it was frequently only available from merchants on allocation. Over the years as other vineyards were established, Cloudy Bay was able to increase its supply of grapes but also had more competitors in the market. Perhaps due to the expertise of luxury goods company LVMH who acquired it in 2003, Cloudy Bay has still managed to command a price premium over all its direct competitors.
Although hardly cheap at €35 and upwards in Ireland, the “straight” Sauvignon Blanc is one of the least expensive wines of the Cloudy Bay range. The other include non-vintage and vintage sparkling Pelorus (which we had served for the toast at our wedding), Pinot Noirs from Marlborough and Central Otago, the excellent Chardonnay and a barrel-fermented wild yeast Sauvignon called Te Koko.
The 2019 vintage was released in Ireland at the beginning of November, so this is a very young wine, but awkward and angular it is not. It has an unmistakably Marlborough Sauvignon nose with intense citrus and tropical fruits. They are joined on the palate by juicy grapefruit and gooseberry. There is plenty of acidity, but it presents as mouthwatering freshness and zip rather than being strong enough to make you wince. There’s a certain roundness and texture which is absent from many other Savvies. Hating on Sauvignon is quite common nowadays, but I think this wine is good enough to win plenty of converts.
Thirty years on, Cloudy Bay is still at the top of the pile – though its price reflects the renown of its brand as much as the quality of the wine.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Gibney’s, Malahide; Londis, Malahide; Sweeneys D3, Fairview; Martin’s, Fairview; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Redmond’s Ranelagh; Mitchell’s, Glasthule & CHQ; Blackrock Cellars; Donnybrook Fair; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Bradley’s, North Main St, Cork; 1601 Kinsale; Wine Centre, Kilkenny; McCambridge’s, Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford.
Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions remain my own.
“New World” is not a great term as it basically means “outside Europe”, so it includes many different countries which are different in style. Just for convenience, it allows us to look at a selection wines from California, Central Otago, Southern Australia and Ningxia, all available from Liberty Wines.
I’ve been a fan of the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc / Viognier blend for some time (see review here) but as this is Napa then the Cabernet is the real deal. Pine Ridge Vineyards was first established in Stags Leap District in the late 70s with a single vineyard next to a – you guessed it – pine ridge. Their vineyards now number 12 and total 80 hectares over five Napa sub-zones: Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Carneros, Howell Mountain and Oakville. Pine Ridge produce a number of different wines, including several from individual sub-zones, but this is a blend across the five.
This bottle is labelled as a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon but that is 91% of the blend, with the balance made up by 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. 35% of the 2016 was aged in new American oak for 18 months, giving creamy vanilla to go with the blackcurrant, cherry and blackberry notes. This is a big, lush, heady wine that is not light and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s not for those who like racy reds but it’s imposing and delicious.
Ningxia is of course the most important Chinese region for wine. Some years ago I reviewed Château Changyu Moser XV 2008 which had an abv of 12.5% and was reminiscent of old school Bordeaux (think mid ’90s). The Pretty Pony is a very good wine, regardless of origin. It has oak, lovely black fruit and is already showing a nice bit of development. This is not like old school Bordeaux – this is like modern Bordeaux!
When Central Otago Pinot Noir began to enter into the consciousness of wine drinkers it was almost the opposite of Marlborough Pinot – big, bold and powerful – with alcohol to match. It was almost a Pinot Noir for Cabernet drinkers – no bad thing in my eyes as Cab is my favourite black grape – but times, and the wines, have changed. Now elegance and balance are to the fore, without losing the intensity that made them such a hit in the first place. This is a great example of Central Pinot – especially for the relatively modest price. It has a core of ripe red fruit and a slight smoky, savoury edge that gives it some seriousness.
Another Central Pinot, but totally different in style. Burn Cottage has been practising biodynamic since the first vines were planted in 2003, and there is a low intervention approach to winemaking. Whole bunch fermentation allows the wine’s aromas to develop fully – it smells…special, for want of a better term. This is a fine, fine wine which delights all the senses but the mind too.
Like many McLaren Vale vineyards, Mitolo has Italian roots through its founder Frank Mitolo. It also has an influx of German genes through winemaker and business partner Ben Glaetzer, scion of the Barossa producer Glaetzer wines. The Mitolo portfolio is split into three ranges: Jester, Small Batch and Single Vineyard.
The G.A.M. Shiraz was the first wine produced by Mitolo; it’s not an alternative to GSM which is prevalent in the Vale, but actually stands for the initials of Frank’s three children, Gemma, Alex and Marco. The fruit is sourced from a vineyard belonging to family friends and fellow Italian immigrants the Lopresti vineyards, in particular their “Chinese Block”. As it’s located at the bottom end of McLaren Vale, the block benefits from cooling sea breezes. The vines are over 40 years old and are planted on a type of clay. Fermentation is kept on the cool side to preserve fruit flavours and then fermentation is in French oak (30% new, 70% used) for 15 months. Only at that point are barrels given final selection for inclusion in the G.A.M. Shiraz.
Aussie Shiraz is a great crowd-pleaser but this is way above that – it has phenomenal structure and intense, opulent-but-not-jammy black fruit. The Jester Shiraz is a great introduction to the style at a little over half the price of the G.A.M., but I’d argue that the latter is more than twice as good and represents great value at this price point.
Grosset Gaia Clare Valley 2014 (14.0%, RRP €66.99 at good independents nationwide)
Grosset are best known for their Rieslings, especially the Polish Hill and Springvale bottlings, but they also make some great reds too, including a Pinot Noir and this “Gaia” Bordeaux blend. I say Bordeaux blend though its precise proportions of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc would rarely be found in the Gironde. At five years old this 2014 still has bright berry, blackcurrant and plum fruit. It does have a dry leathery side, with grippy tannins and good acidity. As this is Clare there is of course a screwcap closure; a challenge to the Bordelais to catch up? This will be drinking well for years and years.
A few firsts for me with this wine. Firstly, it’s from the Croatian province of Istria, and although I’ve had Croatian wines before, never (knowingly) one from Istria. Secondly, 30% of the blend is contributed by a grape I’ve never heard of – Teran – though I have heard of the Refosco family of which it is a member. The remaining components are much more familiar – Merlot (60%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) – as are the French barrels in which the wine is matured for 15 months. The vineyard is located in Brdo (surely a place name with too few vowels) in Central Istria. The winemaker is pioneer and living legend Ivica Matošević.
The French and local varieties complement each other well – the Merlot gives plum and dark chocolate notes, filling the mid palate, while the Teran gives fresh, ripe-but-tart forest fruits. Overall, it’s velvety smooth goodness all the way.
Though I’m far from an expert in Piedmontese wines, it’s easily understandable that there are differences even within DOC and DOCG areas. Franco Massolino sources his Nebbiolo grapes from several plots in the Commune of Serralunga d’Alba at an altitude of 320m – 360m. The soils are mainly limestone and the vines age from 10 up to 60 years old. Serralunga d’Alba is regarded as one of the best parts of Barolo and produces well-structured wines that can age for decades, so it’s a little surprising that this 2014 is already so accessible – softer and more approachable, in fact, than Massolino’s 2016 Langhe Nebbiolo. The nose is floral with forest fruits and the palate has rich, smooth black and red fruits, kept fresh by a streak of acidity.
One of the unique things about this producer is that they have reduced their output over the last twenty years, more than halving production from 180,000 bottles to 80,000 bottles from the same 25 hectares of vines, all with an eye to improving quality. It seems to have worked! Established by Aldo Conterno himself in 1969, nowadays his son Stefano is the winemaker, with his other sons running the business. The Cicala name comes from the single vineyard where the grapes are sourced from. This 2014 is half a percent lighter in alcohol than other recent vintages, but it’s no lightweight – it’s an immense wine, though not impenetrable. The nose is enticing and rewarding; it’s worth just enjoying the rose and tar aromas for a while before even taking a sip. On the palate there’s still plenty of oak evident, but balanced by ripe fruits. This is an “Oh wow” wine.
The Petra estate is large compared to the Barolos above at 300 hectares. It was created close to the Tuscan coast by the Moretti family of Bellavista fame (particularly known for their Franciacorta). This is Super-Tuscan territory, borne out by the blend: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese. However, this is not a Bordeaux copy; it has some similarities with Médoc wines but tastes Italian – whether due to terroir or the 10% Sangiovese is up for debate. With ripe red and black fruits framed by tannin and acidity, this is a well put-together wine that offers better value than most Bordeaux at this price.
This is the Petra estate’s top wine, a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The must is fermented in open top 100 hl vessels, then matured in barriques, of which 30% are new. It has a highly perfumed nose, full of violets and a whiff of vanilla. There’s lots of structure here, but also juicy cherry, blackberry and blueberry fruit. At five years old this is still in the flushes of youth, so I’d expect it to keep evolving and improving over the next decade or so. A Super-Tuscan which is expensive, but doesn’t cost the earth.
Great wines have been made around the village of Ama for centuries, but the Castello di Ama winery was only founded in the 1970s by a group of local families who were keen to revive the area’s vinous fortunes. Over the years they developed a significant range of Chianti wines – including several single vineyard wines that became part of the Gran Selezione classification – plus some IGTs including a Pinot Nero and a Chardonnay.
However, a significant milestone was in 2010 when parts of each of the four vineyards were planted with new, high quality clones of Sangiovese. As Sangiovese is prone to mutate quicker than many varieties (as in the case with Pinot Noir), a co-ordinated project within the Chianti Classico region was launched to improve the genetic material in the vineyards. Of course, this cannot be done in a single go without huge quality and cashflow issues so it is done piecemeal. Once the new vines were old enough to bear good grapes they were harvested and blended into a new cuvée, simply known as “Ama”.
Vineyard Technical Data (from website):
Total vineyard area: 80 hectares (198 acres)
Vineyard names: Bellavista, Casuccia, San Lorenzo and Montebuoni
Exposure: North-West, South-East
Soil: clay and calcareous
Altitude: 460-525 metres above sea level.
Training system: vertical trellis with single Guyot
For me there is a lot of ordinary Chianti around (although this could be said for many well-known regions) and the wines can be quite thin and tannic without any fruit to counterbalance. Despite 2015 being a warm and excellent year, the indicated alcohol of Ama is only 12.5%, which is a touch lighter than I would have expected both before and after tasting it.
Wine Technical Data (assembled from website):
Blend: 96% Sangiovese, 4% Merlot
2015 Harvest dates:22nd September (Merlot), 5th to 8th October (Sangiovese)
Yeasts: Ambient yeasts
Fermentation time: 25 days (varieties fermented separately)
Malolactic fermentation: Yes, in stainless steel tanks
Maturation: After blending, in second-use tight-grained oak casks
Bottled: January 2017
This is a smooth, quite powerful and spicy wine which is recognisably Sangiovesi and recognisably Chianti but is quite self-assured. To have these results from such young vines is a testament to the plan of using new clones, the potential of the site and very accomplished wine-making. After being disappointed too often this has renewed my love of Chianti!