SuperValu’s French wine sale runs until 20th September, both online and in their stores. Here are a few of their wines which I’ve tried and can heartily recommend:
Domaine de Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes De Grandlieu Sur Lie 2015 (12.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
From the western reaches of the Loire, Muscadet is best known for somewhat neutral flavours and searing acidity – it’s the perfect match for oysters and other shellfish. However, the better vignerons in the area can produce something that offers much more. Based around the Lac de Grandlieu, the subregion of Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu was only established in 1994, almost 60 years after the generic appellation, and represents a fraction of total production.
This has initial notes of tropical fruit (though not over the top), with a touch of creaminess from the time on lees, followed by a long mineral finish. There’s plenty of acidity but it’s not at all austere. Try this instead of a Picpoul!
Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux Du Giennois Alchimie 2015 (13.0%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)
Coteaux du Giennois is a Sauvignon Blanc-only appellation close to the more famous Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire’s central vineyards. Alchimie has been a favourite of mine over the past few vintages, and the 2015 is great. It’s all about the Gs: gooseberry, grapefruit and grass, appealingly fruity in the mouth. It’s definitely French Sauvignon (well this is the French wine sale after all!) but it’s accessible enough to appeal to fans of the grape grown in other countries.
La Vigne Des Sablons Vouvray 2015 (12.0%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)
Third Loire wine, third grape! Vouvray is Chenin Blanc country, and is one of the best places for the grape. Always with Chenin’s intrinsic acidity, it can be still or sparkling and range from austerely dry to very sweet. This version is just off dry – there’s a little residual sugar on the finish if you really look for it, but it’s more about apple fruitinessand balancing the fresh acidity than adding sweetness. At 12.0% the alcohol is fairly modest, which is probably no bad thing when it’s so damned drinkable!
Hommage Du Rhône Vinosobres 2015 (15.0%, €15.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)
Vinsobres is a little known name which is not surprising as it has only existed as an appellation in its own right since 2006. Before that it was part of the second tier of the Rhône wine pyramid as Côtes du Rhône Villages-Vinsobres which gives more of a clue as to its contents – mainly Grenache with support from Syrah and other local grapes.
Black fruit are to the fore: black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant. While the southern Rhône is much more consistent from year to year than, say, Bordeaux or Burgundy, this is from the excellent 2015 vintage and it packs a punch at 15.0%! This is something to buy in the sale and drink on dark winter nights with a hearty stew.
The Ely Big Tasting is now something of an institution on the Dublin wine scene, giving interested wine drinkers a chance to try a wide variety of wines from Ely’s suppliers. Some of them are already established favourites and some are shown to gauge interest from punters. Over the several events that I’ve attended (Spring and Autumn each year) it has been interesting to see the camaraderie and some good natured competition between the importers.
Here are six of my favourite whites from the Autumn 16 event:
D’Arenberg “The Money Spider” South Australia Roussanne 2010 (13.2%, Febvre)
Roussanne is one of the most important grapes in France’s Rhône Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon. Innovative McLaren Vale producers d’Arenberg decided to plant white Rhône varieties given how successful the Rhône varieties Shiraz/Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are in the Vale. And the theory paid off! Nuttyand peachy, it’s full of interesting flavours that you just don’t find in the usual supermarket suspects of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. Seek it out!
Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Setz Weinwiertel 2015 (Wine Mason)
Lovely field blend of 17 different varieties. These vines are all planted in the same vineyard and are harvested and vinified together. When Ingrid took on the family vineyards she had to rely on her grandmother to identify which variety was which!
The result in the glass is both complexity and drinkability – what more could you want?
This Vieilles Vignes (“Vee-ay Veen”, Old Vines) Riesling is a step above the standard Riesling (which I like) and slots in below Trimbach’s premium Cuvée Frédéric Emile. The VV is only made in certain years (2009 was the release previous to this 2012) so my guess is that Trimbach only decide to make it when they have more quality fruit than they need for “Fred”.
Ther fruit is sourced from the lieux-dits (named vineyards) Rosacker, Muehlforst, Vorderer Haguenau and Pflaenzer. Being old, the vines yield less grapes than in their youth, but the resultant wines have more intenseand complexflavours. This wine is mainly available in bars and restaurants (such as Ely!) rather than wine merchants and is worth calling in for on it own!
Lucien Aviet “Cuvée des Docteurs” Arbois-Jura 2011 (13.0%, La Rousse)
The Jura region – nestled in the hills between Burgundy and Switzerland – has been making wine for a long time, but has only recently stepped into the limelight. The area’s Vin Jaune has been regarded as an interesting diversion but now the table wines are receiving lots of attention – due in no small part to Wink Lorch’s excellent book.
Whereas Vin Jaune and some other Jura wines are deliberately exposed to oxygen during their production, this Chardonnay is in the ouillé “wee-ay” style – the barrels are topped up to prevent a flor forming or major oxidative notes. It’s therefore much more my cup of tea – or glass of wine! The wild yeasts used are reflected somewhat in the wild flavours, so this isn’t for everyone, but every wine enthusiast should try it at least once.
La Fief du Breil “La Haye Fouassière” Muscadet Cru Communal 2013 (12.5%, Wines Direct)
Anyone who has holidayed on the Atlantic coast of France and has enjoyed the seafood there is almost certain to have tried Muscadet, from the western reaches of the Loire. It’s a wine while is often maligned outside of an accompaniment for oysters, and if we take the average quality of all wines produced then that’s probably not too unfair. However, some producers are very quality conscious and can make some fantastic wines in the region.
This cuvée spends 14 months on the lees, giving a very creamy texture, but remains refreshing thanks to vibrant acidity. It will partner well with seafood but is just downright delicious on its own.
Brookland Valley “Verse 1” Margaret River Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, Liberty)
Compared to most of the producers above, Brookland Valley is a newcomer – they were established in Margaret River in 1983 (compared to 1626 for Trimbach!) While heritage and history are nice, at the end of the day it’s what’s in the glass that counts. Verse 1 is their “entry level” range, with Estateabove that and Reserveat the top.
This Chardonnay is a cracker, still young perhaps but full of flavour. Racy grapefruit and lemon are set against brioche, vanilla and nuts. It’s well balanced with a long finish. If drinking in the next year or so then decant for half an hour before drinking, if you can.
Molloys Liquor Stores is a off licence group with 10 outlets around Dublin plus their website www.molloys.com. Their range is biased towards cost-conscious everyday bottles, but as they import many of them exclusively they can cut out the middle-man and offer good value for money.
Here are some of the highlights from their recent press tasting:
Champagne Jean Comyn “Harmonie” Brut NV (€34.99)
It’s a bakery in a bottle! An amazing brioche nose points to extended ageing on the lees – the minimum for a non vintage Champagne is 15 months but I would guess at double that or more. There’s fresh strawberry on the attack (from Pinots Noir and Meunier) followed by lemon (from Chardonnay), and a crisp finish.
This won a silver medal at last year’s IWC which is impressive for an unknown (to me at least) brand. Please don’t buy Moët, buy this instead – it’s far nicer.
Decoding the label tells us that this Prosecco is fully sparkling (Spumante) and north of off-dry – confusingly Extra Dry means no such thing, but consumers like to thinkthat they like dry wines. This is the most expensive of the five Proseccos that Molloys import – the extra tax on Spumante compared to Frizzante ensures it’s not one of the cheapest – but I think it’s also the best value.
I don’t mind a glass of Prosecco but I rarely fancy a second – this is an exception to that rule. This has a grapey nose (go figure!) and then pear and red apple on the palate, wrapped in a creamy lemon mousse. It’s not trying to be Champagne but it is a grown up drink that should please most.
Colombelle l’Original IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2013 (€8.99)
Gascony is more famous for its brandy – Armagnac – than for its wines. Thankfully this means that they remain a relative bargain. Colombard is usually the main grape, supported by Ugni Blanc and / or Sauvignon Blanc for a bit of extra zip. This example comes from Producteurs Plaimont, a quality and value conscious cooperative from South West France.
And it’s wonderful! So much fruit – ripe, round apples and peachy stone fruit – but with a crisp finish. This isn’t amazingly complex but it’s a very enjoyable tipple – and at a modest 11.0% abv a glass or two in the week won’t hurt. I’d serve this as an aperitif or as a match for roast chicken or a mild curry.
Beauvignac Chardonnay, IGP Pay d’Oc (€10.49)
In addition to various Pay d’Oc varietals, this modern producerCave Pomerols also makes AOP Picpoul de Pinet.
Tropical fruit is the order of the day here – pineapple, passionfruit and grapefruit dance around the nose. A touch of vanilla also becomes apparent on the palate suggesting some light oak ageing, but it’s well integrated and doesn’t jar at all. Malolactic fermentation is deliberately blocked which gives it a crisp, fresh finish.
So many inexpensive Chardonnays taste artificial but this is a nice drop. Would be amazing with scallops!
Heritiers Dubois AOC Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur lie 2012 (€11.49)
If you’ve ever shopped in a French supermarket you will no doubt have noticed a half dozen different bottles of Muscadet on sale. You might even have tried a few – after all, they’re quite inexpensive in France. But the odds are, you didn’t go back and buy more of the same. Muscadet’s reputation is not the best at the moment, mainly due to low quality / high yield production which results in austere, acidic and fruitless swill.
But every cloud and all that – those producers who do care about quality are unable to command high prices due to the general reputation of the area – and that means there are bargains to be had!
Sèvre et Maine is a subregion of Muscadet but doesn’t signify that much as it accounts for 80% of all Muscadets. Sur Lie means the wine was matured on its lees, i.e. the dead yeast cells left over from fermentation. This gives it a creamy texture and a bit more interest in terms of flavour.
So how does this taste? Full of lemon zest! It’s not austere, though it is racy and lean. It cries out for shellfish or delicate white fish. I expected not to like this, but it surprised me!
Château Bonnin Pichon AOC Lussac-St-Emilion 2008 (€15.49)
Lussac is one of the four satellite villages that can suffix the coveted name of St-Emilion to their wines. These villages don’t reach the heights attained in St-Emilion proper, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t offer some well made, drinkable wine. 2008 was a pretty-good-but-not-excellent vintage in Bordeaux; modern viticulture and winemaking means that the best can be brought out of whatever nature has presented.
As normal for right bank Bordeaux it’s Merlot that takes the lead (81%), with Cabernet Franc (15%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (4%) playing supporting roles. Oak, fruit and tannin are well balanced now and would evolve slowly over the next five years or so. I would guess some proportion of American oak given the flavour profile The fruit is dark – plum , blackberry and blackcurrant.
Drink this on its own or with red meat such as beef or lamb.
Gran Passione IGT Rosse del Veneto 2013 (€14.99)
From the hinterland of Venice, this big and velvety red is perfect a perfect winter’s night. Tannin and acidity are present and correct – it is very young – so decant for a few hours if you have chance, or serve with a hearty stew.
Think of this as a baby Amarone – it weighs in at 14.5% – but less complex and certainly cheaper! The grapes aren’t stated but I would guess at the typical Corvina / Rondinella / Molinara.
Cellier des Princes AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (€24.99)
The world famous southern Rhône appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape perhaps faces the opposite challenge to Muscadet – its reputation is so good that pretty much any bottle carrying its name can be sold for a premium, so someproducers churn out very average wine and put it in a fancy bottle. Thus the cheapest CNDP may not be a bargain at all.
Thankfully Molloys have got it right with this selection! It’s principally Grenache (90%), with Mourvèdre (5%) and Syrah (5%). Weighing in at a whopping 15%, this has bags of dark black fresh and dried fruit and Christmas spice. It’s wonderfully big and robust but velvety and smooth. It’s really far too young to drink now – it will open up a lot more over the next five to ten years – but it’s so delicious that it would be too tempting!
It might seems strange, but I’m posting my 2014 Wine Resolutions before my 2013 Best Wines, mainly because it will be shorter.
So, here are a few of the wines I’m hoping to drink (more of) this year:
Yes, that’s right, Muscadet – the classic example of a bone-dry white wine. It’s supposed to be perfect with white fish and sea food, but as I don’t eat that much sea food at home I’ve nearly always tried it on its own. The Melon de Bourgogne grape doesn’t have that much flavour, so some of the better growers let it mature on its lees (dead yeast cells and other solid matter) to give it a bit more oomph. And that helps (a bit).
And how does it taste? Well, frankly, many of the bottles I’ve had over the years have been somewhere between vinegar and paintstripper. It’s usually very high in acidity with no residual sugar (RS) and the lack of flavour can make it taste thin and just, well, unpleasant.
However, as one of my favourite sayings goes: “It’s never too late to lose a prejudice”, so perhaps a few better bottles might change my mind. Muscadet is often cited as underpriced for its quality, and as a Yorkshireman getting VFM is a good thing. I’m thinking I might have to include a few different Muscadets in a mixed case from The Wine Society…
Most people with a bit of wine knowledge realise that Cava’s image is quite poor in the UK (where I’m from) and Ireland (where I live). It’s made in the traditional method like Champagne, but although the Chamapgne grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are permitted nowadays, Cava is often made from the indigenous grapes Macebeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. Perhaps I’m being a snob here, but these grapes don’t sound that promising as base material for great sparkling wine. Whenever I’ve put a Cava into a flight of sparklers in a blind tasting it has been spotted by most of the tasters, usually because of its relative lack of refinement and a certain earthiness.
Cava is often one of the cheapest sparkling wines in the supermarket which sounds a bit crazy when you consider the production method, more costly than Prosecco’s tank method, for example. So how do they make it so cheaply? Firstly, grape yields are higher than Champagne (which are already high for a quality wine), so the same vineyard area produces more grapes. Secondly, many producers buy in grapes from growers, and the market price for grapes in Catalonia (where ~95% of Cava is made) is much lower than in Champagne. Thirdly, the miniumum length of the second fermentation in bottle is only nine months for non-vintage compared to fifteen in Champagne. Use of Gyropalettes (machines which enable riddling to be done in bulk in a much shorter period) is another significant cost saving and is now standard for Cava. Of course, some Champagne houses do use them as well. Finally, due to its place in the market there is far far less spent on marketing and publicity for Cava compared to Champagne.
So why am I going to try more Cava in 2014? After some interesting twitter discussions with Alex Hunt MW (@alexhuntmw), Lenka Sedlackova (@lenkster) and others last year I decided to ignore the dross and look for the best that Cava has. I took down some recommendations:
Raventos I Blanc
I will also be scouring the Cava section of the Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & sparkling wine which I was lucky enough to be bought for Christmas. If you like fizz, buy this book!
Another target for 2014 for which I will be gleaning info from that book is:
This is Italy’s quality traditional method sparkling wine made in Lombardy. I must confess I haven’t tasted a single sip to date! Franciacorta gets some good press, but as the volume of production is relatively low (about a tenth of Champagne) and domestic demand is high, very little is exported.
Some of the top producers I will try to find:
Ca’ Del Bosco
Prestige Cuvée Champagnes
This resolution is very much wallet dependant! I’ve had many different vintages of Dom Perignon (it was the fizz on tap in Emirates First Class to and from our honeymoon in New Zealand) and tried Krug’s Grand Cuvée, Veuve Clicquot’s La Grande Dame and Louis Roederer’s Cristal, but there are still several top Champagnes I would like to try – even if that’s a taste rather than buying a bottle: