Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #19 – Alan March

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 nineteenth installment in the Frankly Wines and Friends Music and Wine series comes from another fellow wine blogger Alan March.  The big difference between us is that I taste wines sat at home whereas Alan reports from the vineyard and cellar of a renowned Languedoc producer – he’s walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

While I respect the impact that David Bowie has had on English and world music I wouldn’t count myself as a devoted fan; I’m more of a Greatest Hits listener than scouring every track on a album.  However, where Alan and I agree is that Heroes is Bowie’s best ever track – it’s a masterpiece.

Of course Alan’s articles are mainly about Mas Coutelou, but in scanning his previous posts I noticed that he had reviewed the Sauvignon Blanc from a producer – Elgin Ridge – whose Chardonnay I reviewed myself quite recently, so that was an easy choice.


David Bowie – Heroes

When Frankie selected ‘Heroes’ I smiled. It is my favourite song. Bowie has been my musical hero for almost 50 years, my first gig was Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust in Newcastle City Hall. Through various guises he refreshed and widened my musical influences. In 1976, very ill through cocaine addiction, Bowie moved to Berlin to clean up. The three ‘Berlin’ albums (though only Heroes was recorded in Berlin) mark another shift, this time to European electronica, collaborating with Eno, Fripp and Visconti. The song itself is a reflection of time and place, the synthesisers and lyrics featuring Bowie’s observation of Visconti’s embrace with a lover by the Berlin Wall next to the recording studio.

Collaboration, bringing the best out of everyone plus his own touch of genius, intriguing lyrics and a deep and evolving sound, though Heroes has become one of those songs played almost too much it still makes me joyful every time I hear it. So, a wine to match it? Well, it has to be Jeff Coutelou’s La Vigne Haute (LVH).

2012 and 15 on Jeff’s table (Credit: Alan March)

I am biased of course. As my biography notes say spending time learning about soils, vines and wines was a huge change from my previous career. A former teacher himself, Jeff taught me about the vineyards, nature and natural winemaking.

Most Coutelou wines are blends, LVH is unusual in being from one grape, Syrah, and from one vineyard which faces north to avoid the hottest sun. It reflects the place with warmth, fruit and complexity from the various geological strands of La Garrigue. Hallmark Coutelou freshness is balanced by a depth of flavours. LVH is only made in years with exceptional fruit, Jeff extracts the best from the terroir. Like Heroes it is ageless but can be enjoyed at any time. For me, time in the Coutelou vineyards marked a period of healing just as Berlin did for Bowie.

Put the song and wine together and I am in heaven.

Elgin Ridge 282 Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon; so is this the grassy green of the Loire or the tropical fruits of Marlborough? Well, neither. Biodynamically grown, ducks for pest control, low enough SO2 levels for RAW – this is my kind of Sauvignon. The use of barrels, some new, adds a different flavour profile to the norm; creamier and fuller but cut through with green apples and freshness. Above all it is balanced and very drinkable.

I was tempted to select a Graceland period track from Paul Simon but opted instead for First Aid Kit’s ‘Emmylou’.

When the Söderberg sisters performed it live for TV on a Glastonbury show the harmonies and melody hooked me in. Those features made me pair it to the nominated wine. The nod to country music’s roots through Johnny and June, Gram and Emmylou whilst adding their own Swedish pop influence reflects the South African twist on Elgin Ridge’s wine. It is a country whose wines are quickly becoming top quality and regulars in my wine racks, Emmylou is a song whose quality makes it one of my most played these days.

This is the TV performance which made me stop:

Alan March

County Durham born and bred, I was a teacher for 34 years with a passion for learning. Two years of ill health for me including a ruptured Achilles and ongoing ME persuaded my wife and I to move to the Languedoc. A passion for wine had led to us holidaying in wine regions for many years and being in the Languedoc for most of the last 6-7 years (until the tribulations of 2020) meant that I could spend time learning about wine with my friend Jeff Coutelou. Planting, grafting and harvesting, bottling, labelling and promoting the wines has given me a deeper understanding of the world of wines, especially natural wines. My blog A March in the Vines was created to share my learning and I am grateful for the surprising numbers who read it. I am also on Twitter and Instagram.


The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series
No. Guest Name Music to pair Wine to pair
19 Alan March David Bowie – Heroes Elgin Ridge 282 Sauvignon Blanc
18 David Crossley Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere Dom. Rietsch Sylvaner Vieille Vigne
17 Mitchell Young Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness Montirius Vacqueyras “Garrigues”
16 Brad Horne Oasis – Champagne Supernova Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling
15 Liam Mycroft Eric Clapton – Bad Love Bodegas Garzon Albariño
14 Lee Isaacs The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter Domaine Jones Fitou
13 Sharon L Souls Of Mischief –  93 ‘Til Infinity Penfolds RWT
12 Tim Milford Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man Nyetimber Classic Cuvée
11 Mags McKee U2 with BB King –  When Love Comes to Town Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden
10 Cara Rutherford The Cure – Just Like Heaven Suertes del Marqués ‘7 Fuentes’
9 Melanie May The Cult –  She Sells Sanctuary Sipp Mack GC Rosacker Riesling
8 James Hubbard Gary Moore – Parisienne Walkways Penfolds Bin 707 Cab Sauv
7 Paul Moran Underworld – Rez Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
6 Nirina Plunkett Jamiroquai – Space Cowboy Club Remix Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace
5 Penny Sadler Fleetwood Mac – Dreams Bollinger Special Cuvée
4 Jim Dunlop The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road Man O’ War Valhalla Chardonnay
3 Avril Kirrane McMorrough Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why Joseph Cattin Riesling Reserve
2 Tim of Soliciting Flavours Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings Viña Tondonia Blanco
1 Sinéad Smyth Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You Mullineux Syrah

 

Make Mine A Double

Shining Lights [Make Mine a Double #66]

I’m in the very lucky position where I get to try lots of good and great wines on a regular basis, many of them sent as samples (especially in 2020!)  Sometimes, even among these wines, a few shine even brighter than the rest.  It’s often hard to put into words what makes them so special, though I do try.  Here are a couple of (unrelated) wines which stood out even in good company:

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

Elgin Ridge 282 Elgin Chardonnay 2018

Elgin is South Africa’s coolest climate wine region, located about an hour’s drive south east of Cape Town.  Although now an exciting area for grapes, for many years it was known almost exclusively for its orchards, particularly apples and pears1; as a rule of thumb, agricultural land which is suitable for orchards is generally suitable for grapes.  Elgin is even cool enough for Riesling, with Paul Cluver’s wines leading the charge.

Elgin Ridge is the only winery in Elgin to be both certified organic and certified biodynamic (there is one other which is solely biodynamic).  It was founded by Brian and Marion Smith on the site of a former small (ten hectare) apple farm in 2007 and has remained in family hands since.  Their aim is to be self sufficient in terms of inputs (biodynamic preparations and cow manure) using sheep to control weeds and ducks to control insects and snails.

The figure 282 in the name of this wine, their flagship Chardonnay, refers to the vineyard’s altitude of 282 metres above sea level.  It pours lemon in the glass and initial aromas are predominantly of toasted coconut, indicating a fair bit of oak ageing.  Absolutely heavenly, if you like that sort of thing – which I do!  The coconut gives way to fabulous orchard fruits(!), smoke and spices.  On the palate this is a rich wine, with integrated oak and stone fruits and a touch of butterscotch.  There’s plenty of body and flavour, but this is no big butter bomb as there is a certain elegance and lightness to the finish.  In terms of style this brought to mind excellent southern hemisphere Chardonnays such as Smith + Shaw’s Adelaide Hills M3 and Man O’War’s Waiheke Island Valhalla.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €25.53
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Domaine Fournier Sancerre Les Belles Vignes 2019

For some reason 2020 has been the year of Sancerre for me, with lots of very enjoyable bottles showing that the average standard in the region is very high.  Even among those, this baby stood out.  But first a bit of background.

The maison mère2(!) is Fournier Père et Fils – to give it its full name – under which there are four Domaines:

  • Domaine Fournier (Sancerre &c.)
  • Domaine de Saint Romble (Sancerre)
  • Domaine des Berthiers (Pouilly-Fumé)
  • Domaine Paul Corneau (Pouilly-Fumé)

The full range of Domaine Fournier is detailed below.  As you might expect from one of the “Cuvées Appellations”, this wine is made from vines planted on the three key soil types of Sancerre: Silex, Caillottes and Terres Blanches.  The nose opens with ripe peach but also peach stone, sweet fruit reined in by acidity and a pleasant tartness.  On the palate there’s more fruit but on the citrus side of the spectrum, along with a touch of mown grass and green bell pepper.  Don’t mistake this for a Touraine Sauvignon plus, though; this is a smooth and gentle wine which showcases its different flavours on a long journey through your mouth.  A superior Sancerre.


The portfolio of Domaine Fournier comes under eight different labels:

  • Cuvées Grand Caillou: Sauvignon, Pinot Noir
  • Cuvées F: Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sauvignon
  • Cuvées Mmm: Rosé, Chenin
  • Cuvées Appellations: Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Rouge, Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Rosé, Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Blanc, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Rosé, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Rouge, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Blanc, Pouilly-Fumé “Les Deux Cailloux”, Pouilly Sur Loire “Les Marnes”
  • Cuvée Terroirs: Cuvée Silex, Cuvée Les Terres Blanches
  • Grandes Cuvées: Sancerre “L’Ancienne Vigne” Rouge, Pouilly-Fumé Grande Cuvée, Sancerre “La Chaudouillonne”, Sancerre “L’Ancienne Vigne Blanc
  • Single Vineyard Wines: Sancerre “Les Boffants”, Sancerre “Monts Damnés”
  • Cuvées Exceptionnelles: Menetou Salon Rouge “Sourire Aux Anges”, Sancerre “No. 22”, Sancerre “Vendanges d’Hélène”

1no cockney rhyming slang here, thank you

2French for parent company, literally “mother house”, which is a little ironic as it’s a “father and son” operation.

 

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

Opinion, Tasting Events

Fine Time (Part 2 – France)

There are few words that bring joy to a winelover’s ears as much as “fine wine sale”.  Below are some of the French wines included in Irish chain O’Briens’ fine wine sale that I have tried and enjoyed this year.  I will leave the discussion on what constitutes “fine wine” for another day!

Note: these offers are in-store only, and for a short time.

Julien Brocard La Boissonneuse Chablis 2017 (13.0%, €28.45 down to €21.95)

CHABLIS-BOISSONNEUSE-JEAN-MARC-BROCARD

After studying engineering Julien Brocard joined the family firm in the 90s.  At first he concentrated on some special wines before eventually taking over the reins from his father.  Although he doesn’t necessarily use the term itself, he has followed the principle of Kaizen – continuous improvement in the vineyard, winery and onwards.

This is a very special wine indeed, and not just because it is from organic and biodynamically grown grapes – no easy thing in the northern climes of Chablis.  It’s simply the most accomplished and interesting Chablis I’ve ever tasted.  Yes it’s on offer in the Fine Wine Sale, but to be honest this is an absolute steal at its regular price.  There’s vibrant lemon and lime and a funkiness which I find really appealing.  The only reason for you not to buy this wine is to leave more for me!

Domaine des Sénéchaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2015 (14.5%, €43.95 down to €29.95 at O’Briens)

Domaine_des_Senechaux_CNDP

This wine has two prestigious  names behind it – Châteauneuf-du-Pape of course and the JM Cazes family of Lynch Bages fame.  Complexity comes through three distinct soil types: stony clay-limestone, deep sand and mollassic sandstone.  The assemblage is the traditional GSM blend, with 64% Grenache, 19% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre plus a dash of Vaccarèse and Cinsault (2% together).  It’s a great example of CNDP which has some serious competition at €44, but is an absolute steal at €30!

Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinière 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €18.95 at O’Briens)

L Ostal Cazes Grand Vin

The Grand Vin of L’Ostal Cazes is probably my favourite wine of the JM Cazes family, especially when value for money comes into the equation.  It’s made in one of the top appellations of the Languedoc  – Minervois La Livinière – which has as few as 30 producers.  The blend is 90% Syrah plus 10% Grenache, all aged for 15 months in French oak barrels.  There’s no mistaking that this is predominantly Syrah based, though it’s richer and spicier than the northern Rhône’s reds.  This is the perfect wine for cold winter nights.

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus Rouge 2015 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95 at O’Briens)

cigalus rouge 4

This is a premium cuvée from Gérard Bertrand, rugbyman (a word which works equally well in French as in Irish English) turned biodynamic winemaker.  The blend for Cigalus is (I hope you’re sitting down): Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Caladoc.  The last grape is a cross of Grenache and Malbec that is grown here and there in the Languedoc but is not generally permitted in AOC wines.  As this is an IGP there’s no issue!  Given the long list of grapes it’s no surprise that the wine is a mouthful, but in a good way – smooth and rich, it’s a very satisfying wine full of fruits of the forest.  Definitely one to quaff with a stew or a good book!

Château Phélan Ségur Saint-Estèphe Cru Bourgeois 2015 (13.5%, €70.00 down to €50.00)

Phelan Segur

Buy this wine, but don’t drink it.  I’m serious!  Well, sort of…I mean don’t drink it now, but lay it down out of sight and out of mind for several years before opening it.  You will reap the rewards.

With obvious Irish roots, Phélan Ségur is officially a Cru Bourgeois but is often talked about as being of Cru Classé…erm…class.  2015 was a great vintage in Bordeaux so this is definitely one to snap up if you can.  The blend is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot giving a mix of blackcurrant and plum with a structure that will stand it in good stead for the long haul.  Second wine Frank Phélan is worth its €39.95 so for a tenner more this is a bargain.

Also see my NZ & Aus picks in part 1

Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Magic from Marsannay [Make Mine a Double #34]

Sylvain Pataille trained as an Oenologist in Bordeaux but applies his knowledge and skills in his beloved Marsannay, both on his own rented vineyards and as a consultant to a dozen or so other producers.  His vines are in conversion to Biodynamic and yields are low, so his wines are a rare sight!  Here are two of his whites that I tried and loved:

Sylvain Pataille Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €30 at Baggot Street Wines)

Pataille Aligote

The second coming of Aligoté continues unabated.  So long relegated to the lowly fate of a house carafe (and usually unnamed at that) or even more demeaningly with crème de cassis as a Kir, when treated with respect Aligoté can produce quality, interesting wines.  Sylvain Pataille makes this one that is clean as a whistle but has a wonderful herby and smoky nose. The palate is fantastically mineral and fresh with a lot of character.  Drink as an aperitif, with shellfish and smoked salmon, or just as a vin de plaisir.

 

Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP ~ €52 but mainly available in upscale restaurants)

Pataille Marsannay Blanc

Although this wine is hardly “cheap”, Marsannay is one of the Burgundy appellations where value is to be found, an increasingly rare phenomenon. Everything’s relative, of course, but this wine is seriously impressive at the price.  Pataille takes a hands off approach; the vineyards are organic, he follows Biodynamic methods and sulphur is only added (very lightly) at bottling.

This cuvée is a blend from five separate  Marsannay parcels which are lightly pressed and fermented, then mature in oak for 18 months.  Only a third of the oak is new, and even then it’s not overt on the palate; it does add to the body and texture of the wine. There’s a very pleasant spiced pear aspect and a bracing, zippy lemon finish.  Proper white Burgundy!

 

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