Make Mine A Double

Hãhã – but it’s no laughing matter! [Make Mine a Double #60]

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 Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017

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.

Conclusion

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:

 

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Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

A Pair of Pretty Pinots [Make Mine a Double #58]

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

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir

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:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Chardonnay
  • Moscato
  • Pinot Gris
  • Gamay
  • Gamay / Pinot Noir blend
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo
  • Arneis

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!

Framingham Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017

Framingham Pinot Noir

Marlborough’s Framingham is probably the most respected producer of Riesling in New Zealand, but has added additional varieties across its three ranges:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Viognier
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Montepulciano
  • Pinot Noir

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!

Conclusion

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.

 

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Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Sherwood Forrester [Make Mine a Double #57]

What Would Robin Hood Drink (WWRHD) if he were around today?  What would make his men merry?  I put it to you that he would enjoy the fine wines of Sherwood Estate and Ken Forrester!

Robin Hood
Robin likes the “straight as an arrow” acidity of Sauvignon Blanc

These two fine producers make wines from several other varieties, but for comparative purposes I will review their equivalent Sauvignon Blancs:

 

Sherwood Estate Waipara Sauvignon Blanc 2018

sherwood estate waipara sauvignon blanc
No outlaws were harmed during the making of this wine

One mistake many people make is too assume that all New Zealand Sauvignons are from Marlborough.  Yes, the north east of the South Island is the biggest Sauvignon producing region and has become the ambassador for Kiwi wine, but Nelson (north west of the South Island), Wairarapa (south of the North Island) and Waipara (north of Canterbury on the South Island) also make some great examples.

In 1987 – still the early days of the modern NZ wine industry – Jill and Dayne Sherwood dived headlong into producing wine at West Melton, just west of Christchurch.  The industry was in turmoil at the time, but they were successful enough to survive and outgrow their West Melton property.  They then moved around an hour north into Waipara which was an area full of unrealised promise.  With their drive and perseverance they turned Sherwood Estate into one of the largest independent New Zealand wineries.

The firm now has six different vineyard sites around Waipara including Glasnevin, named after a famous district of Dublin.  Their wine offerings have also branched out (pun intended) to four different ranges plus two different sparklers.  The Sherwood range wines “are premium, everyday wines, made in a ‘hands-off’ style with little interruption in the winery” and consist of five varietals:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc

The Sauvignon Blanc we have here is unoaked and made conventionally.  The juice undergoes a cool fermentation for three weeks.  The must is then left on the fine lees for three months which adds depth.  The finished wine combines green (herbs, bell pepper, grass) and fruit (lime, lemon, grapefruit and passion fruit) notes.  This zesty wine shows how good Sauvignon Blanc can be outside Marlborough.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €21.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Ken Forrester Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2018

ken forrester sauvignon blanc reserve
Robin sympathizes with Ken’s status as a legend

Ken Forrester is something of a legend in Stellenbosch and South Africa as a whole.  He and his wife Teresa bought a derelict farm in 1993, though the property was created as far back as 1689.

All the pruning and harvesting work in the vineyard is done by hand for two reasons.  Firstly, it allows the vineyard team to pay very close attention to detail for quality reasons.  Secondly, it offers more employment for people in the local community.

There are currently four separate ranges which each have several blends and varietals:

  • Petit: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé (Grenache/ Viognier) , Natural Sweet (Chenin blend), Pinotage
  • Reserve: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Renegade (Rhône blend), Pat’s Garden Merlot
  • Icon: The FMC (Chenin), The Gypsy, (Rhône blend), T Noble Late Harvest (Chenin)
  • Cellar door exclusives – Sparklehorse MCC, Three Halves (Rhône blend), Roussanne, Dirty Little Secret TWO (Natural Chenin)

The grapes for the Reserve Sauvignon come from three are sourced from 3 vineyard sites scattered across the coastal region: Stellenbosch, Elim and Darling.  Some – though not all – are old vines, increasing concentration and depth of flavour.  After fermentation the wine spends eight weeks on fine lees.

For many years I have regarded South African Sauvignons as being stylistically half way between Loire and NZ styles, but I think it’s time we (I) forgot the comparisons and just regard them as their own thing.  This one has lots of green notes, but is not under-ripe; mangetout is then joined by some juicy stone fruit and the finish is long, crisp and clean. Unlike some other SA SBs I’ve tried, the alcohol is fairly restrained at 13.0%.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €17.95 (currently on offer at €15.95)
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

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Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #4 – Jim Dunlop

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.

The fourth part in this series is in the capable hands of Jim Dunlop, a canny Scotsman who loves wine but doesn’t take it too seriously.  The wine I chose for him was a New Zealand Chardonnay that I love (and have recommended many times in these pages) and that he had enjoyed on a recent trip to New Zealand: Man O’War’s Valhalla Chardonnay.

The song I chose for Jim was one that holds a dear place in my heart due to hearing it played many times on family holidays when I was young: The Long And Winding Road by The Beatles.  It’s only in the last decade that I’ve learned that Paul McCartney hated the additional strings and choir added by Phil Spector – and even cited it as a reason for leaving The Beatles.  However, it remains my favourite version and – in my opinion – one of the best songs ever made by the Fab Four.

Man O’ War Valhalla Chardonnay

When Frankie asked me to put music to wine and wine to music, it seemed a good thing as usually our preference is open a bottle and have memories of the area it has come from.

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

The wine I know is one of Frankie’s favourites and we would not have tasted it had he not mentioned while on our recent (non wine holiday) circumnavigation to visit Waiheke island while stopping over in Auckland. We will ever be grateful for that tip as Waiheke is a rather special island and it was there at lunch we selected Valhalla from Man O’ War winery. The winery is located in a distant spot on the island and we did not have time to visit it. This is probably the finest example of Chardonnay we have ever tasted but there again maybe the view out to sea and the sunshine helped a lot. Frankie has assured me that in wet grey Dublin it is still a magical wine.

So I had many songs to choose from but in the end I came down for Sing a Song of Love to me by Chris Rea.

The second verse is just right for this Chardonnay:

Cause if you sing a song of love to me

I will always find a smile

That will warm my cold cold heart

Just for a while

The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road

The song Frankie selected was The Long and winding Road

Here it was easy to make a choice for it is truly a long and very winding road to get to the winery from any direction, coming from the north taking the Spluga Pass from near the source of the Rhine over into to Italy and down to Valchiavenna there to find the glorious Nebbiolo of Valtellina.

spluga
Credit: Jim Dunlop

If you come at it from the east then you have the even more amazing Stelvio Pass. Both are squeaky bottom drives but most enjoyable. There are so many fine wines in this area but I have to make it one from our friend Mamete Prevostini and his wonderful Valtellina Superiore Riserva.

WP_20180907_13_54_09_Pro (2)
Credit: Jim Dunlop

Words fail me on this beauty which should be given time to sleep and not many have heard me propose that about wine.

mamete prevostini riserva valtellina superiore
Credit: Mamete Prevostini

Jim Dunlop

Jim is retired from a life involved with printing presses and packaging. He now enjoys the beauty of the world in “travels with Julia”, groundwork for a possible travel blog (that might happen if he ever gets round to it). Pre-COVID19 he seemed to be away on holiday more than at home, and even “non-wine” trips involved wine. Jim has semi-professional tasting experience in the wines of Northern Italy, Germany, New Zealand and the Canaries which he often shares on his Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Make Mine A Double

Lidl’s New Zealand Outlook

Lidl Ireland’s latest wine promotion is broadly termed “Iberian” – very broadly in fact as it includes Chile (Spanish speaking, granted) as well as Australian and New Zealand wines.  Kicking off on Thursday 21st May, the wines will be on limited release – once they are gone, they are gone.

Here I look at two examples from New Zealand.  The first is from NZ’s biggest and best known region – Marlborough – though isn’t a Sauvignon Blanc.  The second is from one of the longest standing NZ wine regions – Hawke’s Bay – which is roughly two thirds the way down the east coast of the North Island.  The brand Outlook Bay appears to be a Lidl private label, i.e. you only find these wines in their stores.

nz-regions.DcoCkA
Credit: nzwine.com

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided as samples, but opinions remain my own

Outlook Bay Marlborough P.G.R. 2019

242394 Outlook Bay Marlborough €9.99

P.G.R. stands for Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer1 & Riesling, though immediately below the wine name on the back label it gives the blend as Pinot Gris, Riesling & Gewürztraminer2, so P.R.G. would be a better name.  Perhaps PGR is now a “thing” in New Zealand, or sounds better in other languages?  Ours is not to reason why…

Although the blend might be unusual for New Zealand, it makes sense; all three grapes are classed as aromatic and the long, cool growing season in much of Aotearoa – particularly Marlborough – therefore suits them, just as it suits Sauvignon Blanc.  And where else is famous for its aromatic wines?  Alsace of course!  And as these are the three key Alsace grapes (in my opinion) I have no compunction in calling this an Alsace blend.

The nose is very floral (apple blossom?) with lychees – that’s the Gewurz3 showing its superpowers.  The palate is something of a conundrum; it has a gentle, juicy attack then a textured, dry mid-palate.  There’s round pear and apple yet spice as well.  There is a little sweetness here, but the slight (pleasant) bitter hints on the crisp, citrus finish resolve it as fruit sweetness rather than sugar.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Outlook Bay Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018

242393 Outlook Bay Chardonnay €9.99

Marlborough does make some remarkable Chardonnay, but Hawke’s4 Bay’s richer style seems to be more in demand at the moment, and that is where this wine hails from.  It’s unmistakably oaked Chardonnay on the nose, with toasted coconut and pineapple – almost like the coconut “mushrooms” and pineapple cubes that were around when I was a nipper – but not as synthetic.

The aromas continue through onto the palate which has a rich, creamy, tasty texture.  The sweetness promised by the tropical fruit on the nose is more moderate in the mouth; I would guess that a good proportion has been though MLF but not overwhelmingly so as there is lots of tangy freshness.

This isn’t going to covert (m)any people of the ABC = Anything But Chardonnay crowd, but for those in my ABC = Always Buy Chardonnay camp this is a cracking example and ridiculously good value for money at a tenner.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Conclusion

An easy one – buy both!!  These two wines are quite different in style, but happen to be styles that I’m very partial to.  They are well made and absolute bargains at the price.

 

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  1. Notice the German spelling with an umlaut
  2. It’s still there!
  3. Arghhh sorry I forgot it this time
  4. Hawke’s more often than not has the apostrophe, so I’ve put it in, even though the label omits it
Make Mine A Double

Single Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs [Make Mine a Double #53]

For Sauvignon Blanc Day, what better wines to be comparing than two Marlborough Sauvignons.  There are some people who don’t care for the variety and / or the particular expression that is created in Marlborough – perhaps it’s just “tall poppy syndrome” – but I’m not one of the naysayers.   Marlborough Sauvignon is now one of the key recognisable styles in the world of wine and has many imitators, though few are successful.

That said, although nearly all of them would be recognised blind (many at the point where the wine is opened), there are significant variations in style and flavour profile within the region.  Some of that is down to terroir; my humble palate can often distinguish between Savvy made in the Awatere Valley from one made in the Wairau Valley (and of course that’s before smaller terroir differences are considered).  There’s also the winemaker and his or her desired style.

Here we have two Marlborough Sauvignons which share many things: they come from the same single vineyard, and therefore obviously the vines are owned by the same person, they are made from the same grape variety by the same wine maker.  Yet they are different!  In what way?  Why?  Read on!

Disclosure: these bottles were both kindly provided for review, but opinions remain my own.

Insight Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018

insight vineyard marlborough sauvignon blanc

Marlburians Fleur McCree and Hemi Duns bought an old sheep farm in the Waihopai Valley (part of the Marlborough’s Southern Valleys sub-region) in 2002.  They planted their 41 hectares with grapes, initially selling the grapes to large companies but then setting up as a producer themselves.  They recruited Eveline Fraser (formerly of Cloudy Bay) to be their winemaker; a less well known label, perhaps, but less pressure from the owners.

Also known by the locals as “Spy Valley” due to the NZ government monitoring station there – and even giving this nickname to the Spy Valley winery – the Waihopai is cooler than the main Wairau Valley (which is home to esteemed names such as Cloudy Bay, Nautilus and Te Whare Ra).  This cooler micro-climate tends to give a less exuberant, more subtle wine, and that’s what we have here with this Insight Vineyard 2018.  It has plenty of green notes (I prefer herby to herbaceous as the latter makes me think of eating foliage (perhaps that’s just me) plus the exotic fruit notes that are the calling card of Kiwi Sauvignon.  However, they do not dominate the wine which is relatively light and lithe; it’s not as though someone has mixed your wine with pineapple juice!

This is a food-friendly style of Marlborough Sauvignon that will also make you reach for a second glass – or more – and a bargain at the sale price.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €18.95 down to €12.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Pounamu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019

pounamu marlborough sauvignon blanc

Pounamu is Fleur’s new label, named after a greenstone found in New Zealand and treasured by Maori, that is often handed down from generation to generation.  The website states that the vines are “grown on two terraces and three different areas within the single vineyard.  The lower terraces contain stony silt loam soils with fine sandy loam topsoil and gravels over alluvial gravels.  Considerable stone is evident in the topsoil profile.  Upper terraces contain friable silt loams over blocky silt loams on gravels.

I asked Fleur about the difference between the two wines (apart from the branding, obviously).  She replied that “although they’re both from our vineyards we are utilising different blocks, different rows, picking at slightly different times and different levels of ripeness.  Then Eveline looks at all the different parcels (cuvées ) and blends according to range….the theme for both though is: authenticity.  A strong sense of place”  Thus we are looking at differences of  style rather than quality!

The key note from the Pounamu for me was grassiness – there’s more than a little of Touraine Sauvignon about it.  On the nose there are also hints of nettles, flowers, citrus and tropical fruits.  The palate has a clean and fresh attack, with juicy grapefruit joining on the mid-palate, and a long, crisp finish.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €19.95 down to €14.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Conclusion

These wines obviously share a common origin and sensibility, but the difference is obvious enough to be apparent to most winelovers.  I could not place one over the other, but rather think of them as best in slightly different situations; for an aperitif or with shellfish I would favour the Pounamu, whereas for slightly richer fare or drinking on its own I’d take the Insight.

 

 

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

Make Mine A Double, Opinion, Tasting Events

Kiwi Chardonnays [Make Mine a Double #50]

Despite receiving flak from some, Sauvignon Blanc is still the key variety in New Zealand, accounting for 75.8% of the 2019 harvest.  There are three other varieties that lead the chasing pack; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris:

Picture1

As you can see, vintage variations account for a lot of the movement over the ten year period, but there is a definite upward trend in both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, with Chardonnay being fairly stable/stagnant (choose your own descriptor) in quantity.

Whereas Sauvignon Blanc is concentrated in Marlborough, which has the most distinctive style, the varieties above prosper in several NZ regions.  The most adaptable – in my opinion – is Chardonnay, which makes excellent wines in:

  • Auckland – e.g. Kumeu River
  • Gisborne – e.g. Wrights
  • Hawke’s Bay – e.g. Trinity Hill
  • Wairarapa – e.g. Ata Rangi
  • Nelson – e.g. Neudorf
  • Marlborough – e.g. Cloudy Bay
  • Canterbury – e.g. Bell Hill
  • Central Otago – e.g. Felton Road

Below are a couple of Chardonnays that impressed me at the recent “New Zealand in a Glass” tasting in Dublin.  They are both from the Villa Marie group, though different producers and quite different price points.

Vidal Legacy Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018 (13.5%, RRP €35 – €43 at winesoftheworld.ie)

vidal legacy chardonnay

Unlike many New Zealand wineries which were founded by immigrants from the Balkans, Vidal was founded by a Spaniard – Anthony Joseph Vidal – in 1905.  He planted vines in Hastings (Hawke’s Bay, not Sussex) and the winery is still based there today (I actually visited it with my wife in 2009).

The Vidal range has four levels (in order of increasing quality):

  • Estate
  • Reserve
  • Soler
  • Legacy

The two reds in the Legacy range are a Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot blend and a single varietal Syrah, both from the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawke’s Bay.  The sole Legacy white is this Chardonnay, but it stands alone proudly.  Unlike the wine below, quantities were relatively small (33 barriques which would produce less than 10,000 bottles) and from a single region.  Fermentation used wild yeast and took place in a mixture of new (45%) and old French barriques.  Maturation was for 10 months in those barriques (I assume with lees stirring) then a further 2 months in tank to blend the barrels together.

If I said I didn’t want to taste this wine, that might sound like I’m slating it…but I didn’t want to taste it as that would tear me away from its magnificent nose (Lady Gaga, you’ve got nothing on this wine!)  It’s obviously very young indeed, but it has amazing struck-match reductive aromas with rich fruit notes and toasty, tangy oak.  The palate is slightly less impactful as there’s an underlying freshness rather than butteriness, but it’s still fabulous.  For the price, this wine over-delivers.  Interestingly, on Vidal’s own website they offer this 2018 but also a mature release 2011.

Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Chardonnay 2018 (13.0%, RRP €14.99 at SuperValu & Centra stores)

Villa Maria East Coast Chardonnay

If you look at a map of New Zealand’s wine regions then you find the majority of them on the East Coast; the East Coast designation is therefore a useful label for inter-regional blends which doesn’t necessarily mean much in itself.  Without spending hours on the origin of the term, my instinct is that it was brought in to satisfy EU regulations (similar to South Eastern Australia) though happy to be proven wrong.

For this wine the fruit came mainly from the warm climes of Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, with a small dash from Marlborough for extra freshness.  The winemaking decisions were taken on a parcel by parcel basis; for some, indigenous yeast was used while others had cultured yeast; malolactic fermentation was encouraged – followed by bâtonnage – for some parcels while being blocked for others.  For all, fermentation took place “in contact with premium French oak”; given the modest price one might assume that the oak was in the form of chips or staves as there is no mention of actual oak barrels.

After all that, how did the wine turn out?  Very well indeed actually!  This entry level Chardonnay really surprised me as to how appealing it was.  The nose is balanced between pip fruit, stone fruit and oak tones, with a touch of flint and reduction.  There’s a real creamy texture from the lees work and tangy oak on top of the fruit.  It’s ready to drink now but another year or two wouldn’t hurt at all.

 

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

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Dog Point Chardonnay [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #27]

Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc is known throughout the wine drinking world and is the key export variety for New Zealand.  Although Pinot Noir is regarded as the next in line, for me Chardonnay is Aotearoa’s best grape, making excellent examples in nearly every Kiwi wine region.  Acidity is generally quite prominent, even after MLF, as this is mainly a cool climate country.  Here’s a bottle I tried recently with a bit of age on it:

Dog Point Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2012 (13.5%, RRP €36.50 (2016/7 vintages) at Blackrock Cellars, Baggot St Wines, Donnybrook Fair, The Corkscrew, jnwine.com)

Dog Point Chardonnay

I recently did an article on Cloudy Bay and mentioned that the head winemaker for many years was Kevin Judd.  As the company grew they took on more staff in the vineyard, in the winery and back office functions such as marketing.  Two of the winemaking team – Ivan Sutherland and James Healy – eventually decided to branch out and set up by themselves.

With the support of their wives Margaret and Wendy (respectively) they launched their 2002 vintage in early 2004.  They gradually expanded their range and make several different wines, including the excellent and age-worthy Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc (I tried the 2010 in 2014).

Interestingly, when Kevin Judd himself founded Greywacke later the same decade, he got agreement from his old colleagues at Dog Point to use their winery facilities.

At seven and a half years from vintage, this bottle is much older than most you will see around on the shelves in wine merchants; many have the 2016 or even 2017 vintages of the Chardonnay available (I bought this bottle from my old haunt Sweeney’s of Glasnevin which closed this summer.)  It has a very yeasty, toasty nose – possibly because of lees work while maturing.  The funk continues onto the palate where it is joined by soft citrus, pineapple and hints of stone fruit.  Trademark NZ acidity is still present to prevent the wine from being at all flabby.

This 2012 is probably at its peak and ready to decline gently, so I would not keep it for much longer if I had another bottle, but it’s drinking beautifully now.  If you buy a younger vintage, try keeping it a while (if you can keep it well) to see how it evolves.

 

Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 4 – New World Reds)

“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.

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (15.0%, RRP €72.99 at Blackrock Cellar; The Corkscrew; La Touche Wines, Greystones; McHugh’s; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Terroirs)

Pine Ridge Vineyards CabSauv NapaValley

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.

New Kanaan Pretty Pony 2013 (14.0%, €52.99 at Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; The Corkscrew; The Malt House; Mitchell & Son; Terroirs)

Kanaan Winery, `Pretty Pony` FS

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!

Akarua “Rua” Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 (14.0%, RRP €29.99 at Avoca; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Mitchell & Son; Red Nose Wine; 1601, Kinsale; www.wineonline.ie)

Akarua Rua Pinot Noir

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.

Burn Cottage Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 (13.5%, RRP €69.99 at The Corkscrew; www.wineonline.ie and good independents nationwide)

Burn Cottage Central Otago Pinot Noir

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.

Mitolo “G.A.M.” McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 (14.5%, RRP €39.99 at Blackrock Cellar; www.wineonline.ie and good independents nationwide)

Mitolo GAM Shiraz

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 Gaia

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.

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019

Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 2 – other whites)

In part 1 I mentioned that Liberty’s Portfolio Tasting is the biggest on the Irish wine trade calendar, and the evidence is below in the number of independent off licences which stock the wines I’ve recommended.  This part will focus on some delicious whites, mainly from Portugal but with an excellent Kiwi Sauvignon thrown in for good measure.

Framingham Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (12.5%, RRP €23.99 at 64 Wine; Avoca; Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Fallon & Byrne; Green Man Wines; JJ O’Driscoll, Cork; The Wine House, Trim; www.wineonline.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford)

Framingham Sauvignon Blanc

Unusually for Marlborough, Framingham started out producing just Riesling in 1994 and are still best known for that variety, in both dry (reviewed here) and botrytised styles.  However, here we have their Sauvignon Blanc, the variety for which Marlborough and New Zealand in general is best known.  While not in the funky wild yeast style, this is more interesting than most Marlborough Sauvignons, with real texture and depth of flavour, no doubt aided by partial maturation in acacia wood.  A special wine from a special producer.

Azevedo Loureiro / Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2018 (12.0%, RRP €16.99 at Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Bradleys, Cork; Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; Clontarf Wines; The Drink Store; Egans Wines, Portlaoise; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Grapevine, Dalkey; Myles Creek, Kilkee; The Wine House, Trim; McHugh’s; The Parting Glass; Redmonds of RanelaghThomas’s of Foxrock; Thomas Woodberry’s, Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford; www.wineonline.ie)

Azevedo Screwcap

At a high level it’s easy to split the wines of Vinho Verde into two types – the everyday tipples, usually blends, which are pleasant but not exciting, and the more serious varietal Alvarinhos, mostly from Monção & Melgaço.  However, there are some producers who take their blends more seriously, such as this single estate blend of Loureiro (70%) and Alvarinho (30%).  Lees stirring adds a little heft and texture, though the wine is still lovely and fresh with a long, zingy finish.

Azevedo Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde Reserva 2017 (12.0%, RRP €17.99 at Clontarf Wines; Gibney’s of MalahideMcHugh’sThomas’s of Foxrock; www.wineonline.ie)

Quinta Azevedo

From the same producer, this is like the wine above but more so.  It is crafted from the best Loureiro and Alvarinho grapes on the estate, given a 24 hour cold soak before fermentation.  It may seem contradictory, but this is both finer and more textured than the regular wine, with lifted aromatics of citrus and tropical fruit.  The Quinta wine is less obvious, but more rewarding.

Morgadio da Torre Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2017 (12.5%, RRP €25.99 at Bradley’s, Cork; Clontarf Wines; www.wineonline.ie)

Morgadio da Torre Alvarinho 2014_Packshot_sem fundo  (01)

This wine is from the Monção & Melgaço subregion which I mentioned above, the furthest one from the Atlantic and therefore with the potential to show more power and concentration.  The Quinta da Torre estate was established in 1603 and is now owned by Mafalda da Cunha Guedes and her relatives; the wines are made by Antonio Braga who is also the guiding hand behind Azevedo.  This is a fabulous example of Vinho Verde, and a fabulous Alvarinho in general.  It has sublime texture with a saline edge; the palate shows soft citrus and stone fruit, all framed by fresh acidity.

Duque de Viseu Dão Branco 2018 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Egans Wines, Portlaoise; Gibney’s Of Malahide; Myles Creek, Kilkee; www.wineonline.ie)

Duque de Viseu Branco

You call that a blend?  Hold my glass!  This Dão is made from four local grape varieties: Encruzado (43%), Malvasia Fina (30%), Bical (17%) and Gouveio (10%).  It’s an entirely different style of wine from the Vinho Verdes above, much softer and rounder.  It does show citrus notes but they are accents around soft stone and pip fruits.  This is an enticing wine, lovely and soft, inviting, with nice texture and a crisp finish.

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019