Make Mine A Double

Give Me A Riesling [Make Mine a Double #61]

As Sonny Fodera almost said, “Give Me A Riesling”.  Of course that’s a bit silly – who wants just one Riesling?  Riesling is known as one of the most terroir-transparent grapes around, i.e. the aromas, flavours and texture of the wine are very dependent on where it is grown.  Wine-making techniques to influence the style of the wine are used sparingly – oak influence is rarely seen, for example – but there is one major decision that winemakers take: to vinify the wine dry or to leave some residual sugar.  Here are two excellent Rieslings which showcase different styles:

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

Petaluma Hanlin Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2016

petaluma-hanlin-hill-riesling

Petaluma is a premium wine producer located in the Adelaide Hills, just east of the city of Adelaide.  They were founded in 1976 with the aim of making excellent wines from the regions and vineyards most suited to each variety.  Their range has expanded gradually and now includes:

  • White Label (everyday wines): Dry Rosé, Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris, Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide Hills Shiraz, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Crozer Sparkling: Adelaide Hills Non Vintage Sparkling, Adelaide Hills Non Vintage Sparkling Rosé, Piccadilly Valley Vintage Sparkling
  • Petaluma Project Co. (experimental bottlings): Barbera, Malbec
  • Yellow Label & Specials (top tier range): Hanlin Hill Riesling, Cane Cut Clare Valley Riesling, Essence Botrytis (Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend), Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay, B&V Vineyard Adelaide Hills Shiraz, Coonawarra Merlot, Evans Vineyard Coonawarra (Cab Sauv / Merlot / Shiraz blend), Tiers Chardonnay

Clare Valley is in South Australia, almost due north from Adelaide and at the top of the Mount Lofty Ranges (Australia’s literal naming convention strikes again).  Even within this small region there are significant stylistic differences, most easily illustrated by Grosset’s Polish Hill and Springvale Rieslings. 

Although Riesling is the king here, there are red wines made from varieties that are more closely associated with warmer climates: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  This apparent departure from the norm is because of the high diurnal range which gives the black grapes enough sun and heat but cools down enough at night to keep the Riesling grapes happy.

This Riesling – as the name suggests – is from the Hanlin Hill single vineyard which sits at 550 metres altitude.  At four years from vintage it still pours a pale lemon colour.  Lime and slate open the aromas along with grapefruit and peach stone.  There’s a very light whiff of kerosene but its lack of intensity shows that this wine is till fairly young.

On the palate this wine is very clean (but not Clean!) and fresh, but still pithy and with some body.  It’s very dry (probably technically dry, i.e. as dry as fermentation could take it) as is the norm in the Clare Valley, but the mid-palate has plenty of fruit sweetness with peach and grapefruit joining racy lemon and juicy lime. 

This bottle opened up more as I returned to taste it over several days; if consuming in one sitting I would actually recommend decanting it, not something I would usually think of for Rieslings.  And I liked it so much, I think I will definitely find some more of this…and hopefully taste it with some more age!

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €31.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

 

Selbach-Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2017

selbach-wehlener-sonnenuhr

I’ve already explained the subregions of the Mosel in a recent post, so I won’t repeat it all here.  You may remember my reference to “the famous sundial vineyards” of the Bernkastel District…well the German for sundial is Sonnenuhr so we have one of those here!  

Selbach-Oster is a very traditional producer based in Zeltingen in the Middle Mosel, with a family history in wine spanning four centuries (to date!)  The business has two sides: a negociant operation J. & H. Selbach which uses bought in fruit, and the estate proper Weingut Selbach-Oster.  Their vineyards amount to 24 hectares in total and are located in Zeltinger itself plus Wehlen and Graach:

  • Zeltinger Himmelreich
  • Zeltinger Schlossberg
  • Zeltinger Sonnenuhr
  • Wehlener Sonnenuhr
  • Graacher Domprobst

The biggest giveaway as to the style of this wine is the alcohol: 8.5% abv.  The relatively low alcohol – even for a northerly country such as Germany – indicates that some of the sugar in the grapes has not been fermented and so is present as residual sugar.  The trend in Germany is for drier wines, even Rieslings which have usually had some sweetness to them, so this is very much a traditional style.

I was unable to find a residual sugar figure for this wine so my best guess as to its sweetness would be medium – definitely sweeter than off-dry but not into dessert wine territory.  However, due to its thrilling acidity, the sweetness is received by the palate as fruitiness more than sugariness.  Although sugar isn’t volatile (i.e. smellable) there are sweet notes on the nose of this wine.  It isn’t that complex though…just totally delicious!

  • ABV: 8.5%
  • RRP: €20.45
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Conclusion

Tasted back to back these two wines are remarkably different, yet share some vital things in common: citrus aromas and flavours, lifted aromatics and the minerality plus racy acidity that typifies Riesling.  The Mosel example is easier to like but the Clare Riesling is more cerebral; pick the one you feel in the mood for!

 

And for those who might recognise the song alluded to in the title, here’s Sonny Fodera ft. Janai – Give Me A Riesling Reason

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

Single Bottle Review

Riesling With a Difference – Marc Kreydenweiss Andlau Riesling

Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss

The Domaine dates back to the 1600s but gained its current name when Marc took over in 1971.  His son Antoine has been involved for over 20 years and took over running the Domaine in 2007.  The total area under vines is now 13.5 hectares including four Grand Cru sites in the vicinity of their Andlau base.

Alsace Wine Route

Here’s an extract from the Alsace Wine Route map to help you get your bearings:

Andau, Eichhoffen and Mittelbergheim are just below the town of Barr.

See the full Alsace Wine Route map here

One of the defining features of Alsace is its mosaic of thirteen soil types, the result of complex geological activity over time.  The term mosaic is particularly apt as the soils can change over very short distances.

There are, however, some groupings which can act as a guide.  The Sub-Vosges hills have six of the thirteen soil types and Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss has several across its small holdings.

From their website:

The diversity of the soils is an added advantage for the wines. The vineyard is planted 80% on slopes or half-hills, in south-south-east exposition.

The soil composition is complex, with pink sandstone, granite, schist gray/blue or black, sediment, limestone that bring finesse, minerality and freshness to the wines.

The vineyard is located in a radius of 10 km around the village of Andlau, but also to the neighboring villages as Eichhoffen, Mittelbergheim and Barr.

Like most Alsace producers they make sweet wines (Vendanges Tardives (VT) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (SGN)) and spirits, but still dry wines are the focus.  There are three main ranges of wines, in ascending quality:

Fruit [Driven] Wines:

  • Kritt Pinot Blanc
  • Andlau Riesling
  • Lerchenberg Pinot Gris
  • Kritt Gewurztraminer
  • Kritt Klevner
  • Pinot Boir Alsace Blanc (a white blend)
  • Pinot Boir Pinot Noir

Terroir wines

  • La Fontaine aux Enfants – Pinot Blanc
  • Stierkopf (Pinot Blanc & Riesling)
  • Clos Rebgarten (Gewurztraminer)
  • Clos du Val d’Eléon (Riesling & Pinot Gris)
  • Clos Rebberg (Riesling)

Grands Crus

  • Wiebelsberg Grand Cru (Riesling)
  • Moenschberg Grand Cru (Pinot Gris)
  • Kastelberg Grand Cru (Riesling)
  • Kirschberg de Barr Grand Cru (Pinot Noir)

The Fruit and Terroir wines are made from their own grapes and those of close friends, but the Grands Crus are entirely Domaine grapes.

In terms of viticulture they have nearly a full house of postmodern winemaking terms: Organic, Biodynamic and Natural.  Conversion to biodynamics started under Marc himself in 1989, with certification from 1991.

I have tried the Kritt Gewurztraminer several times (and liked it), so when I spotted a bottle of the Andlau Riesling I had to extend my empirical knowledge of the producer:

Marc Kreydenweiss Andlau Riesling 2017

marc-kreydenweiss-andlau-riesling

This Riesling is made from grapes of the Domaine and from growers André and Yann, over 2.2 hectares in the foothills abutting the Grand Cru Wiebelsberg.  The sub-soil is a pink sandstone known as “Grès des Vosges” which is known to impart a minerality to Riesling.  The wine is certified Organic by Demeter and certified Biodynamic by Biodyvin.

On pouring it is clean and clear, a light lemon colour and a little lighter than the Kritt Gewurz.  The nose is a big surprise, given the conventionality of the Gewurz: it has a distinctly “natural” aspect.  For those not familiar with natural wine, it often has a certain rawness or earthiness which defies easy description but is very recognisable.  Beyond that there are juicy stone fruit aromas.

The default flavour notes for Riesling are lime and lemon, but this wine is different – fleshy stone fruit appear again, with suggestions of fruit sweetness but actually resolutely dry.  The finish is long, mineral, slightly sour (though not unpleasantly so).  I found this wine improved over the course of an hour so it needs a bit of air and not to be drunk too cold.

Conclusion

This wine may be a little strange for the uninitiated, but if you already like natural wines or are willing to be a little adventurous then this is an excellent example to try.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: ~ €22
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores

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

A Cheeky Pair of Pinots From Romania [Make Mine a Double #52]

Since the turn of the millennium the most notable Romanian exports have been the Cheeky Girls, a pair of identical twin sisters who – somehow – had 4 top 10 hits in the UK. While their music was aimed at pre-teens, Romania has much better products for adults: wine!

When I got into wine in the early/mid ’90s, Deulu Mare Pinot Noir from the south of Romania was a staple in the supermarkets, which had a much better range back then.  Romania is reportedly the sixth largest producer of wine in Europe, making wines from:

  • International varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
  • Mid / Eastern European varieties such as Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch
  • Romanian varieties such as Tămâioasă Românească and Busuioacă de Bohotin

Little Romanian wine seems to hit our shores these days, but the Wildflower range are welcome recent arrivals.

Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2018

wildflower pinot grigio

As a confirmed Grigio skeptic I approached this wine with caution, but rather than being dilute this wine was light; the difference might seem subtle but it’s important.  The nose is attractive, floral and fruity.  On the palate the fun continues with fresh citrus and pip fruit, and a clean crisp finish.  This isn’t a complex wine, and doesn’t pretend to be, but it’s perfect for a mid-week glass or three.

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €13.95 (until 1st June: €9.00, 6 for €50)
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Wildflower Pinot Noir 2018

wildflower pinot noir

As Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow well, i.e. make reasonable wine out of, an inexpensive one might raise an eyebrow or two.  However, this is recognisably Pinot Noir with its medium intensity colour, fragrant nose and supple palate.  It’s light enough that twenty minutes in the fridge before pouring at a barbecue would be perfect.  It has soft red fruit – raspberry, cherry and strawberry – and gentle tannins, with fresh acidity for added structure.  Just remember to use a wine glass and not a pint glass!

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €13.95 (until 1st June: €9.00, 6 for €50)
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Conclusion

These wines – and their counterpart Wildflower Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz – are described as “party wines” by O’Briens.  For me this has two slightly different connotations;

  1. It could be the cheap-as-chips / industrially produced swill that a host will lay on at a big party or function while they drink something else (we all know one of those kind of people).  The kind of wine that you wince slightly while drinking, but you drink anyway because there’s no alternative
  2. Or, it could be an easy drinking wine that a party host is happy to drink with his guests because wine isn’t the focus of the party, but the crowd are likely to consume quite a lot of it!

The Wildflower Pinots Grigio and Noir definitely fall into the second category.  They are acceptably priced at €13.95 (especially the Pinot Noir) but a complete steal when on offer for €9.  Given the current lock down the potential for partying is rather limited…but for those who work from home (and thus don’t have to drive) or are furloughed and want a great VFM tipple, fill your boots!

 

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

Single Bottle Review

A Bourgeois Sauvignon

Henri Bourgeois is one of the most well-respected producers in the Loire’s Central vineyards, with 72 hectares on both the Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé sides of the river.  Different sources give slightly different nuances to their description of the soil types, but the company’s website classifies them as the following three types:

  • Clay-limestone, which gives rise to fresh, fruity vintages;
  • Kimmeridgian marls, the memories of fossilised shells from the Jurassic Era that give intense flavours of exotic fruits and a superb structure;
  • Flint, which initiates elegant wines with smoky, roasted notes and minerality of great finesse.

Pouilly

One of the first things than a serious wineaux learns is the difference between Pouilly-Fumé (a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc) and Pouilly-Fuissé (a Chardonnay from the Mâconnais in southern Burgundy).

Later they may stumble across the oddity that is AOP Pouilly-sur-Loire…an appellation based around the same Loire town as Fumé but based predominantly on the Chasselas grape (which is more at home in Valais (Switzerland), Baden (Germany) and Alsace (France)).

The love of Sauvignon Blanc also took the family to Marlborough where they make Clos Henri, a New Zealand Savvy with a French sensibility.

Here’s a Bourgeois wine I tried and enjoyed recently:

Disclosure: bottle was kindly provided for review, opinions remain my own

Henri Bourgeois Pouilly Fumé La Porte de l’Abbaye 2018

Henri Bourgeois Porte de l Abbaye Pouilly Fumé

For a Sauvignon this was only lightly aromatic, more subtle than those of the antipodes, but that’s no bad thing.  The palate has hints of grapefruit and gooseberry but it’s mainly lemon which shines.  The finish is long and mineral.  Overall this is somewhat on the simple side, but very pure and enjoyable.  It would be at its best with seafood – perhaps some shellfish to match the Jurassic soils on which it was grown.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €25.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens shops and obrienswine.ie
Opinion

O’Briens Fine Wine Sale 2019

The Irish off-licence chain O’Briens has various promotions on throughout the year, but probably the most eagerly awaited is the annual Fine Wine Sale.  This year it runs from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th December.  Below are the wines I’d be snapping up this year.  Note that I haven’t necessarily tried the vintage stated of each wine, but I have tasted them often enough over the years to comfortably recommend them.

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

Gaia-Assyrtiko-Wild-Ferment

I have previously written about the 2013 and 2016 vintages of this wine as well as its younger brother Monograph, and tasted it many times in between; it remains one of my favourite “mid-priced” white wines available in Ireland.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough  Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (13.0%, €35.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Cloudy-Bay-Sauvignon-Blanc

An iconic wine at a very reasonable price!  I recently tried the 2017 (which was maturing nicely) and the 2019 which, for such a young wine, was surprisingly settled and ready to go

Julien Brocard Chablis La Boissoneuse 2018 (12.5%, €29.95 down to €25.95 at O’Briens)

Brocard-La-Boissoneuse-Organic

The 2017 vintage was #1 in my Top 10 Whites of 2019 so any reduction in price of this fantastic organic, biodynamic Chablis makes it worth snapping up!

Chanson Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017 (12.5%, €34.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Chanson-Chablis-1er-Cru-Montmains

Chanson has been part of the Bollinger group for two decades and produces consistently good wines.  This Montmains is an excellent Premier Cru and while delicious now, deserves another five years or so before being opened.

Man O’War Waiheke Island Valhalla Chardonnay 2017 (14.5%, €32.95 down to €28.95 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

I wrote about the 2010 vintage (in 2014) the 2011 (in 2016) and the 2016 (earlier this year) and loved them all.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay which will please those who like bold wines – and that includes me.

L’Ostal Cazes Minervois La Livinière Grand Vin 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €20.95 at O’Briens)

L_Ostal-Cazes-Grand-Vin

The JM Cazes family who have long owned Lynch Bages in Bordeaux have spread their interests to the Rhône and Languedoc, amongst other places.  In my not-so-humble-opinion this Minervois La Livinère is the best value wine in their portfolio.

Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2015 (13.5%, €48.00 down to €42.00 at O’Briens)

Ch_teau-Franc-Maillet

The 2014 of this wine was very good, so the even better vintage of 2015 is definitely worth a shout.  This wine is worthy of a place on my Christmas dinner table, so it’s definitely worthy of yours, too!

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 (14.0%, €32.95 down to €23.95 at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Gran-Reserva

If you like Tempranillo-based wines but tend to favour Ribero del Duero, this a Rioja house which can match the black fruited savoury wines from there.  I have previously tried the 2010 Crianza which was great, but a Gran Reserva from 2008 should be even more of a stunner!

d’Arenberg  McLaren Vale Dead Arm Shiraz 2015 (14.6%, €54.95 down to €44.95 at O’Briens)

d_Arenberg-Dead-Arm-Shiraz

While Penfolds Grange prices have rocketed off into the stratosphere, here’s an iconic Aussie wine that is (relatively) more affordable – and approachable at a younger age, too, though if you manage to keep your hands away it will last for a decade or two.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (13.8%, €80 down to €68 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

The (virtual) ink has only just dried on my review of the 2012 vintage of this wine but it’s already included in the fine wine sale.  If you want to treat yourself for Christmas (2019 or 2029) then this is a great bet!

Opinion, Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Spearmint Rhino [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #26]

Cabernet from Napa and Sonoma is a key part of California wine’s reputation – big, bold, ripe, and not for the faint hearted.  Some wines have almost become parodies of the style, with too much oak, too much extraction and too much alcohol.  Thankfully, they aren’t all like that, and balance is becoming more fashionable again.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (14.2%, RRP €80 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

 

The Alexander Valley AVA is part of Sonoma County and was purportedly named after the first man to introduce vines to the area in 1843, Cyrus Alexander.  After prohibition it remained a bulk wine area until the late ’60s when innovative, quality winemaking returned to the area.  For all my talk of balance above, the wines here are still powerful and voluptuous.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the leading black varieties and Chardonnay for white.

Silver Oak was set up in 1972 by business partners Raymond Twomey Duncan and Justin Meyer.  They originally set out to make just top notch Cabernet Sauvignon, matured in American Oak and able to repay decades of cellaring.  Napa Valley Cabernet and this Alexander Valley Cabernet are the twin kings of the winery, with other varieties released under the related Twomey label.

The 2012 vintage of this wine consists of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon with just a 2% splash of Merlot.  Seven years after vintage it is settling down nicely and ready to drink, but should develop for a further 15 years if kept well.  The nose has powerful blackcurrant and red fruit aromas with vanilla from two years in oak.  Cassis is also present on the muscular palate, along with a distinct spearmint streak and cocoa powder.  Fine grained tannins seal the deal.

This is a very well made, enjoyable wine.  It may look expensive without context, but for this quality in the Médoc even more money would be exchanged.  Due to its heft this should be saved for a treat (who drinks €80 bottles on a weekday, anyway?) to be shared with fellow wine lovers.  And what a treat!

Disclaimer: there is no link between this wine and the Spearmint Rhino clubs

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Attractive Opposites [Make Mine a Double #46]

Despite its fall out of fashion with the Sauvignon [Blanc] and Pinot [Grigio] set, Chardonnay remains one of the great grape varieties of the world.  It is beloved of winemakers who love to use their skills to craft something beautiful, yet it is also a transparent grape when the winemaker lets the terroir do the talking.

Here are a tasty pair of Chardies made in very differerent styles from opposite ends of the earth, northern Burgundy and northern New Zealand.

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

Jean-Marc Brocard Petit Chablis 2018 (12.5%, €22.95 down to €17.95 until 1st Sept 2019 at O’Briens stores)

Jean Marc Brocard Petit Chablis

Regular readers may remember that Julien Brocard’s Chablis La Boissoneuse was the Frankly Wines Top White of 2019; when Julien joined the family firm he was allowed to treat that vineyard as a special project and hence it has his name on.  Even though he now runs the whole firm he has left all the other wines as Jean-Marc Brocard, including this organic Petit Chablis.

AOC Petit Chablis is for Chardonnay made from vineyards around Chablis which have Portlandian soil compared to the Kimmeridgian soil of Chablis and its Crus.  This is treated in more detail in Rosemary George MW’s excellent Third Edition of The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois (review in the pipeline) but the difference is not huge.

It may not have the status of a Chablis proper but deserves respect in its own right.  If well made (an important qualifier), Petit Chablis is an attractive, unoaked and fruit-driven wine, and that’s exactly what we have here.  It’s a fresh, zippy wine but smooth at the same time.  It offers lemon, lime and grapefruit notes with a hint of exotic fruit.  Definitely recommended!

Man O’War Valhalla Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, €32.95 down to €29.95 until 1st Sept 2019 at O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie)

Man O War Valhalla Chardonnay

And now to another hemisphere, a country more famous for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but where Chardonnay makes compelling wines in pretty much every region: New Zealand.  The Man O’War winery is based on the eastern coast of Waiheke Island, which is close to Auckland.  The legend is that:

It was along this coastline that Captain James Cook came to anchor during his first voyage around the islands of New Zealand in 1769. Upon sighting the ancient stands of magnificent Kauri trees ashore, Cook noted in his journals that they would make ideal masts for the Man O’ War warships of the Royal Navy. Thus the name Man O’ War was bestowed upon this unique land.

Valhalla is a premium Chardonnay in the Man O’War range, made from selected barrels which house grapes from hilltop volcanic vineyards (giving finesse) and some on sheltered clay slopes (which give power).

The grapes are hand harvested and pressed in whole bunches before undergoing a wild yeast fermentation without temperature control.  After alcoholic fermentation, malolactic fermentation is blocked to preserve freshness.  Maturation takes place in a mix of new and used French oak puncheons – for 2016 this was 36% new and 64% seasoned.

While many wine drinkers expect new world wines to be very similar from year to year, most of New Zealand does experience vintage variation.  Just as in Europe, the key is to make the best possible wine each year given the raw materials that nature provides.  The alcohol on this wine proves the point: for 2016 it is 13.5% but has been a whole point higher in other years.

It pours quite golden in the glass which gives a good clue as to what you’re getting into.  The powerful nose has ripe citrus and pineapple cubes, and there’s no doubt that oak has played a part.  The citrus is joined by fleshier fruit on the palate, but still balanced by a streak of acidity.  The decision to block malo means there is no butteriness, and while I like that in some wines it would be overpowering and out of place here.  At around three and a half years from harvest this 2016 is absolutely singing, but would be enjoyable for several more years to come.  Truly a wine fit for a feast with the gods!

 

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Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Right Bank 2014s [Make Mine a Double #42]

As any good sci-fi geek knows, 42 is Deep Thought’s Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, and so it’s fitting that the theme of this 42nd edition of Make Mine a Double is Bordeaux, probably the most important wine region in the world (and definitely the most self-important).  Bordeaux was the first wine region I got to know reasonably well and remains the reference for many other country’s red wines.

These two wines are both from the Merlot-dominated right bank, where Cabernet Sauvignon is nearly always a minor player – if it plays a part at all – and Cabernet Franc can play a great supporting role.  Saint Emilion is the star appellation on the right bank, with Pomerol less famous but home to the legendary Château Petrus.  Fronsac is less well known still, but often offers great value.  These two wines are both from the very good but not amazing 2014 vintage – Red Bordeaux 2014s are rated 8/10 by Berry Brothers & Rudd and 7/10 by The Wine Society.

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

Château Clos du Roy Fronsac 2014 (14.0%, €29.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Chateau Clos du Roy Fronsac 2014

The name of this producer translates literally as the Castle of the King’s Walled Garden.  Horticulture aside for a moment, this is a blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.

The nose is tremendous, with dark fruit (plums, blackcurrants, blackberries), chocolate and spices.  The fruit is very ripe on the palate – this is a powerful wine.  Fine grained tannins give a satisfying dry edge to the finish.  Although still quite young this is drinking magnificently now.  At the reduced price it would be worth buying a few and seeing how it evolves over the next decade.

Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2014 (13.5%, €42.95 down to €34.35 at O’Briens)

Chateau Franc-Maillet 2014

You might just be able to make out “Depuis 1919” on the bottle shot above, as it was started by a soldier returning from the First World War.  It has been in the same family since, who now make wines in Pomerol (plus satellite AOC Lalande de Pomerol), and Saint-Emilion (plus one of the four satellite AOCs, Montagne-Saint-Emilion.)  The blend is 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc.

The nose is spicy and smoky with red and black fruits.  On the palate there is a whole variety of red (red cherry, raspberry, cranberry) and black (plum, black cherry and blackberry) fruits.  There are also some subtle vanilla notes from maturation in barrique and ripe tannins.

Conclusion

In my opinion these are two excellent wines that do a great job of representing their appellations and right bank Bordeaux in general.  There’s little to chose between them in quality; it’s more a question of a slight difference in style between the power and spice of the Fronsac and the elegance, cherry and vanilla of the Pomerol.  Both for me please!

 

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