Tag: Pinot Blanc

A is for Alsace, Z is for Zinck

A is for Alsace, Z is for Zinck

Domaine Zinck of Eguisheim

I was introduced to the wines of Domaine Zinck by Charles Derain of Nomad Wine Importers a few years ago, and have been lucky enough to taste them several times since, including the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling which was my personal standout of last year’s SPIT festival.

The Zinck portfolio is split into four distinct ranges:

  • the everyday Portrait series which typify their variety
  • the Terrior series which are from smaller, better plots
  • the Grand Crus, the top of the Alsace quality ladder
  • Crémants, sparkling wines for celebration and fun

Earlier this year I was treated to a tasting of some standout wines from the range at Dax Restaurant in Dublin, hosted by Philippe Zinck and Charles Derain, followed by an interesting discussion over lunch (with more wine of course).  Full disclosure: I was a guest of Nomad Wines, but all opinions on the wines are my own (unless noted).  Of course, tasting French wines in a French restaurant with Frenchmen meant I had to wear my England rugby jacket!

Philippe’s Perspective

Philippe’s father Paul started the winery with 2.5 hectares in 1964, although his parents already had some vines on their farm.  Paul gradually improved quality and expanded the land under vine – it had reached 6 hectares by the mid 70s and 8 hectares when Philippe took over in 1997.  Philippe accelerated the expansion so that by 2017 the Domaine covered 20 hectares and employed 8 people.

But even more than quantity, Philippe kept striving to improve quality, going fully organic in 2011 and practising biodynamics in some vineyards.  He looks for purity and finesse in his wines, balance rather than power, and an authentic expression of where they are made.

What’s new?  is a question asked of Philippe by some people in the wine trade – perhaps seeking new blends and new varieties – but each vintage is a new chapter in the story of Domaine Zinck.  With only six years since full organic conversion, there are decades of tweaking viticulture and vinification for each variety in each plot – there are no limits in sight!

The biggest challenges are generally natural – the weather patterns in each vintage.  Straight forward global warming could be taken into account, but climate change (i.e. more unpredictable, changeable weather) is far more difficult to manage.

Producing such fresh wines with unrelenting summer temperatures into the 40s centigrade is a major achievement.  Lots of sunshine and high temperatures could over-amplify the aromatics, letting them get out of kilter, so the canopy is left as full as possible to shade the grapes.

Damp weather (particularly mist and fog) increases the chance of rot and other unwanted diseases, so the canopy is trimmed to allow air to circulate better.   If there’s too much rainfall then grass is allowed to grow in between the rows; the grass competes for the water so the vines don’t get too much.

Sylvaner is a variety that is much under-rated; in decades past when quantity was key, Sylvaner would produce plenty of grapes but with little character at these high yields.  Now that the variety is being given a fair crack of the whip it is producing some good wines that are worthy of interest.  Although not one of the four “noble grapes” of Alsace, Sylvaner is now permitted in one Grand Cru – Zotzenberg.

One of the key challenges facing Alsace as a region is the huge gap between AOC Alsace and the Grands Crus.  Additionally, some of the boundaries of certain Grands Crus are thought to be too wide and not suitable for all the varieties that are grown there.  One important addition to the region is the introduction of Alsace Premier Cru.  Philippe believes that this is definitely going to happen and he would look to have his Terroir series wines classed as Premier Cru.  Whether Grand Cru regulations get tightened up is another story.

As the only black grape in the cool climate of Alsace, Pinot Noir hasn’t received much attention – in fact the resulting red wines are often treated more like rosés (quite pale and served at 10ºC in restaurants!)  However, the combination of better understanding of how the grape performs in different local microclimates and warmer vintages has enabled some very good Pinots to be produced – so much so that Pinot Noir from vineyards within certain Grand Crus (such as Réné Muré’s “V” from Vorbourg) will be granted Grand Cru status.

So now onto the wines!

Domaine Zinck Portrait Pinot Blanc 2016 (12.5%, RRP €18 at SIYPS)

portrait pinot blanc

For Charles, one of the key attractive features of Domaine Zinck is that it is one of the few producers who don’t make their wines too sweet – especially the “everyday” Portrait series.  Even if there is some residual sugar the wines are balanced and not “sugary”.

Philippe noted that the 2016 Pinot Blanc is lighter than 2015 – the latter was a very warm vintage.

This is a fresh and fruity wine full of apple and quince.  There’s a very round mid palate but a crisp finish which makes it very versatile.

 

Domaine Zinck Terroir Sylvaner 2014

terroir sylvaner

Made from 35 year old vines on clay and limestone soil.  This is highly aromatic!  No dilute plonk here, this is probably the best Sylvaner I’ve ever tasted.  Flinty and a touch smoky.  Elegant and great for food matching.

 

Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €34 at SIYPS)

gc eichberg riesling

The Eichberg (literally “oak mountain”) is mainly clay soil (good for water retention) and combined with a hot vintage has produced an amazing Riesling.  This is a rich, profound wine even in its youth – and it should cellar well to the end of the next decade.  The nose alone is fabulous and worth the entrance fee – complex citrus notes where you can pick out different fruits as you inhale.  This is a dry Riesling, yes, but it’s far from austere and is so delicious right now that it would take an immense amount of self discipline to lay down!

 

Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Goldert Gewurztraminer 2013

gc goldert gewurz

The Goldert Grand Cru is just to the north of Gueberschwihr with mainly east-facing slopes, and is most renowned for Gewurz and Muscat.  Zinck’s Gewurz vines are 50 years old giving intense, concentrated flavours.  On tasting, I can only describe it as fecking huge in the mouth!  It’s so soft and round, but has an amazing fresh finish.  Charles finds some Gewurztraminers to be almost like a lady’s perfume (or in pre-PC days one might have said “smell like a tart’s boudoir”), but this is perfectly balanced.

 

 

Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Rangen Pinot Gris 2011 (13.0%, RRP ~ €48 at SIYPS)

gc rangen pinot gris

Rangen is the most southerly Grand Cru of Alsace, with steep slopes on volcanic soil. and a river of the bottom of the slope which helps botrytis develop.  Domaine Zinck buys grapes from Rangen as it doesn’t own vineyards down there.  Yields are low and 60% of the vines are on south facing slopes.

This wine is the perfect example of why Pinot Gris is narrowly my second favourite grape from Alsace – it’s so complex, rich and spicy.  Ginger is complemented by star anise and liquorice, but to be honest the longer you taste it the more flavours you recognise.  Isn’t that what makes wine interesting?  Residual sugar is 30 g/L but it’s perfectly integrated and finishes off dry.

 

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Alsace Wines in Lidl Autumn French Wine Sale

As in previous years Lidl Ireland are having a French wine sale this autumn, starting on 25th September.  “Sale” means different things to different people – here it doesn’t mean price reductions on existing lines but rather a limited release of certain French wines which aren’t all sale all year round.

The wines come from several different regions including Bordeaux, Rhône valley, the Loire, the Languedoc and Burgundy; but of course I have chosen to focus on my favourite white wine region of the world, Alsace!

Jean Cornelius Trio

Disclosure: samples kindly provided for review

Jean Cornelius Alsace Sylvaner 2016 (12.0%, €8.99 at Lidl Ireland)

 

Jean Cornelius Sylvaner

Sylvaner is often looked down upon as one of the poor relations in Alsace, though that has much to do with grape farmers being paid for quantity rather than quality – Sylvaner can produce high yields but becomes dilute and lacking in flavour.  In the hands of a good vigneron it can produce good wines, though it’s more of a quaffing wine than one for contemplation.

This Jean Cornelius 2016 is a great introduction to the grape, if you didn’t know it before. It’s clean, unoaked and dry, which are all normal for Sylvaner in Alsace, despite misconceptions about the bottle shape (don’t mention the “L word”!) If you like Riesling and Pinot Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay then give this a try, as it sits somewhere in the middle of them flavour-wise – there’s a touch of apple and a touch of citrus, making it great for shellfish, subtle fish dishes or as an aperitif – went great with green olives!

 

Jean Cornelius Alsace Pinot Blanc 2016 (12.0%, €8.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Jean Cornelius Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc is the great all-rounder of Alsace; it’s fruity and supple, rarely austere (which Riesling can be) but not as exotic as Gewurztraminer (see below) or its sibling Pinot Gris. In fact there’s a trick which Alsace producers can use – other grapes!  Now they can’t just put any old grapes in, but a dash of Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir (without skin contact of course) or Auxerrois is permitted.

Crunchy apple and pear are the key flavours here.  As the wine warms a little in your glass it goes from Granny Smith to Golden Delicious, but always finishes dry and crips.

 

Jean Cornelius Alsace Gewurztraminer 2016 (12.5%, €7.99 (50cl) at Lidl Ireland)

Jean Cornelius Gewurztraminer

Gewurztraminer – more easily shortened to Gewurz – is very different from most other grapes.  It’s highly aromatic and has a distinctive exotic perfume that can divide drinkers (a true “Marmite grape”).  Due to the ease with which the variety produces sugar it is often made somewhat sweet – on the listing I received this wine is described as moelleux i.e. sweet, but it isn’t classified as either Vendange Tardive or Sélection de Grains Nobles which are the Alsace terms for certain classes of sweet wines.

And on pouring this revealed itself to be a typical Gewurz – rose petals and Turkish delight.  There’s a little fruit sweetness which adds to the round flavours in your mouth, but it finishes perfectly dry – in fact there’s even a little acidity on the finish, something which isn’t always associated with Gewurz.

 

These wines won’t set the world alight, but they are a great introduction to the wines of Alsace and are good representatives of their varieties.

 

Another Brick In The Wall – Part 2

WineMason is an Irish wine importer run by husband and wife team Ben Mason and Barbara Boyle MW.  They specialise in wines from Germany, Portugal and Austria, but their expanding portfolio now encompasses France, South Africa, Spain and Italy.

Here are four of the Germanic whites (three from Germany, one from Austria) that I really enjoyed at their tasting earlier this year.

German wine regions
German Wine Regions (in French!) Credit: DalGobboM

 

Geil Rheinhessen Pinot Blanc 2016 (12.0%, RRP €17 at Baggot St Wines, Clontarf Wines, Lilac Wines, Martin’s Off Licence, Blackrock Cellar, D-Six, Greenman Wines, Listons, McHughs, Mortons Galway, Mortons Ranelagh, Nectar OTGV, Sweeney’s, WWC)

Pinot-Blanc-Rheinhessen

Rheinhessen, sometimes known as Rhine Hesse in English (or Hesse Rhénane in French as on the map above), is the largest of Germany’s 13 wine regions.  It produces plenty of ordinary wine, but the best sites in the hands of a good producer can produce fantastic wines.  Johannes Geil-Bierschenk is an innovative young producer based in Bechtheim.  In particular he focuses on low yields, early pressing of whites and fermentation with indigenous yeast.

Just as in Alsace, Pinot Blanc (also known as Weissburgunder) is usually under-rated in Germany, but here makes for a very appealing and easy-drinking wine.  It’s dry and fresh with citrus and stone fruit notes.  A long finish seals the deal – and great value at €17

Geil Rheinhessen Riesling 2016 (12.0%, RRP €17 at Baggot St Wines, Clontarf Wines, Lilac Wines, Martin’s Off Licence, Blackrock Cellar, D-Six, Green Man Wines, Listons, McHughs, Mortons Galway, Mortons Ranelagh, Nectar OTGV, Sweeney’s, WWC)

riesling-geil 2

Geil’s most extensive variety is Riesling which is bottled from different terroirs and in different styles.  This is the straight forward dry Riesling which – I must whisper quietly – stands up against many similar examples from my beloved Alsace.  It has zippy lime and tangy lemon notes – very refreshing indeed!

Max Ferd. Richter Zeppelin Riesling 2015 (11.0%, RRP €18 at The Corkscrew, McHughs, Blackrock Cellar, Mitchells, 64 Wines, Nectar, Martin’s Off Licence, Lilac Wines, Green Man Wines, D-Six)

max-ferd-zeppelin

And so to another German Riesling, but this time from the Mosel and quite different in style.  In contrast to the modern Geil labels above and the more traditional ones on the rest of the Max Ferd. Richter range, this has an art deco style label harking back to the time of the Zeppelin airships.  The link is no marketing gimmick as wines from Mulheim (Max Fed. Richter’s home) were actually served on the Zeppelins!

So how does it taste?  Yum yum yum is the answer!  There’s a little bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity and enhance the fruitiness, but it’s by no means a sweet wine.  One of the most drinkable wines I’ve had this year!

Groiss Weinviertel Gemischter Satz 2016 (12.5%, RRP €21 at Green Man Wines, The Corkscrew, 64 Wines)

groiss gemischter satz

This wine is always a crowd-pleaser – but for a good reason: it’s fab!  The 2015 vintage was showing really well when I tasted it at the Ely Big Tasting last year.  It’s no ordinary wine though, despite its charms and moderate price tag – it’s a field blend of (at least) 17 different varieties:

Chardonnay, Müller Thurgau, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Grauburgunder, Pinot Blanc, Frühroter Veltliner, Neuburger, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Sämling, Roter Veltliner, Grauer Vöslauer, Hietl Rote, Weiße Vöslauer and Silberweiße.

Winemaker and owner Ingrid Groiss is a firm fan of traditional viticulture and vinification, hence an old-school wine where the different varieties are planted together, harvested at the same time and vinified together.  It’s full of tangy peach and apricot but dry, mineral and fresh.  This is a wonderful wine that you must try.

Make Mine A Double #15 – Unusual Alsace

raisins
Grapes at Domaine Christian Dock, Heiligenstein

There are a few types of Alsace wine that most wine lovers are very familiar with – Riesling and Gewurztraminer for example – and aficionados will also know about the Crémants and Vendanges Tardives wines.  However, here are a couple that are really off the beaten track – but no less delicious for it!

Christian Dock Klevener de Heiligenstein 2011 (13.5%, bought from producer)

2016-04-21 19.28.03

When Gewurz is great it can be really great – such as this pair.  However, even when it’s as good as that it’s not necessarily a supping wine – it can be so rich that one glass is fab, but enough.  This related grape is less expressive, usually drier, and much more quaffable.  So what the heck is it?

We begin with the Traminer grape which is thought to have originated in the town of Tramin an der Weinstraße, previously in the Austria-Hungary County of Tyrol and now in South Tyrol / Alte Adige in northern Italy (the town didn’t move but the border did). Traminer made its way north to the Jura mountains where it became known as Savagnin Blanc (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc), though it differs very slightly from its antecedent.  Here it is still produced for Savagnin table wine, Vin de Paille and Vin Jaune.

A pink-skinned mutation (of either Traminer or Savagnin Blanc) called Savagnin Rose then developed, and was allegedly taken north from Chiavenna in Italy (Cleven or Kleven in German).  An aromatic mutation of this then became Gewürztraminer (literally Spicy Traminer) in Germany and Alsace.

However, in the village of Heiligenstein (near Barr) and its surrounds in northern Alsace there are still some plantings of Savagnin Rose – known as Klevener de Heiligenstein – which is what we have here.  Further confusion is caused by Klevner (only 2 ‘e’s) which is either a synonym for Pinot Blanc or a blend which can contain Pinots Blanc, Gris and Noir plus Auxerrois.

Unfortunately production is fairly small so it’s a rarity, but if you ever come across a bottle then you must try it – still off-dry, soft and round but more subtle than most Gewurztraminers. Like its offspring I think it would be great with Asian food.

Christian Dock is a small family producer in the village that I happened to stop at in passing.  Like most producers they make the full range of Alsace wines and I recommend you try any you can get your hands on.

Domaine Zind Humbrecht “Zind” Vin de France 2013 (13.0%, RRP €23.95, jnwine.com)

1

So first of all you may notice that this isn’t an Appellation Alsace Controllée wine, or any Appellation at all come to that, despite being made by one of the region’s most celebrated producers, Zind-Humbrecht.  This is because it doesn’t satisfy the AOC rules for Alsace and there is no junior Vin de Pays or IGP designation for the area so it has to fall all the way down to Vin de France.  And where does it fall short of the rules?  Chardonnay! *gasp*

This is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Auxerrois.  You never see the former on an Alsace label as it’s not considered to be a local grape, but it is permitted in Crémant d’Alsace (as in many other crémants around France).  Occasionally a small percentage might find its way into a Pinot blend, but that’s strictly on the QT.

Auxerrois (this version of it, at least – it’s also the synonym for grapes such as Malbec and Valdiguié) is a full sibling of Chardonnay, as they both have Gouais Blanc and Pinot as parents (due to the Pinot family’s genetic instability it’s not always possible to tell the colour of a particular parent).  Although this is considered a local grape, it too nearly always ends up in blends.

Despite not being an AOC wine this was special.  It showed lots of citrus and white fruit, but also minerality and some pleasant reductive characteristics.  My friend Mags said it reminded her of a good white Burgundy – though at a much lower price!

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Other “Make Mine A Double” Posts

A February Feast, part 1

A February Feast, part 1

The end of January to April is a very busy time in the Dublin wine calendar, with lots of country, producer and distributor portfolio tastings.  Among the many excellent events is Tindal’s Portfolio Tasting at the swanky Marker Hotel in Dublin’s Dockland.  I had less than sixty minutes to taste so had to pick and choose; here are the white wines which impressed me most.

Domaine William Fevre Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2012 (€45, Searsons (online & Monkstown) and 64 Wine (Glasthule))

2016-02-23 14.09.46

William Fevre is undoubtedly in the top echelon of Chablis producers with an extensive range across the chablis hierarchy.  This Premier Cru is better than some Grand Crus I have had, combining zingy acidity, minerality and ripe fruit. Drinking well now but will continue evolving over the next decade.

Domaine William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros “Côte Bouguerots” 2009 (€90, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Gibneys (Malahide))

2016-02-23 14.09.50

Moving up to Grand Cru level and an older, warmer vintage brings even more complexity, fruit sweetness and integration.  There is still Chablis’s trademark stony minerality and acidity, so it remains refreshing.  Would pair well with white and seafood up to gamebird.

Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault “Les Clous” 2013 (€47.50, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

Colline_de_Corton

Whereas a ripe Chablis might conceivably fool you into thinking it came from further south in Burgundy, the converse could not be said of this Meursault – it is decidedly of the Côte d’Or.  Bouchard was established close to 300 years ago and have expanded their land under vine at opportune moments.

Meursault is probably my favourite village in the Côte de Beaune, and is the archetype for oaked Chardonnay.  This being said, the use of oak is often judicious, and so it is here; there’s plenty of lemon and orange fruit with a little toastiness from the oak.  Very nice now, but a couple more years of integration would make it even better.

Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2013 (€27.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Parting Glass (Enniskerry))

Kidnappers Vineyard

This is a cool climate Chardonnay from one of my all time favourite producers, Craggy Range.  The origin of the usual name is explained on their website:

Its namesake, Cape Kidnappers, comes from an incident that occurred during Captain Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. When Cook attempted to trade with the native Maori in an armed canoe, a Tahitian servant of Cook’s interpreter was seized. The servant later escaped by jumping into the sea after the canoe was fired upon.

Hawke’s Bay does have some fairly warm areas, with the well-drained Gimblett Gravels in particular perfect for growing Syrah and Bordeaux varieties, but cooler parts are located up in the hills or – as in this case – close to the coast.  The aim is apparently to emulate Chablis; with only a little bit of older oak and clean fruit, it’s definitely close.  The 2013 is drinking well now but will benefit from another year or two – the 2008s I have in my wine fridge are really opening up now!

Domaines Schlumberger Alsace Pinot Blanc “Les Princes Abbés” 2013 (€18.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

72DPI 300PX Grand Cru Saering - Domaines Schlumberger

Another intriguingly named wine.  In 1298 the Abbots of the nearby Murbach Abbey were given the status of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Frederick II, and were henceforth known as Abbot Princes.

This is clean and somewhat simple, but fruity and expressive.  When done well, Pinot Blanc can be versatile and more approachable than many other of the Alsace varieties – it will go with lots of things, is well balanced and fruity enough to drink on its own.

Domaines Schlumberger Alsace Grand Cru Saering Riesling 2012 (€29.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

2016-02-23 13.49.33

Schlumberger have Riesling vines on several of their Grand Cru properties, and it’s a wine geek’s dream to taste them head to head to see what the difference in terroir makes.  All wines are organic and biodynamic; whether you place importance on these or not, the care that goes into them certainly pays dividends in the glass.

This 2012 Saering is still very young, showing tangy lime and grapefruit, but a pleasure to drink nevertheless.

Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives “Cuvée Christine” 2006 (€64 (750ml), Searsons (online & Monkstown))

kessler_1

This late harvest Gewurztraminer is named after the family member Christine Schlumberger who ran the firm for almost 20 years after the death of her husband, and was the grandmother of the current Managing Director Alain Beydon-Schlumberger.

All the fruit is picked late from the Kessler Grand Cru vineyard, packed into small crates so as not to damage the fruit, then taken to the winery for gentle pressing.  Fermentation can take from one to three months using ambient yeast.

On pouring, fabulous aromas jump out of the glass – flowers and white fruit.  They continue through to the palate, and although the wine feels round in the mouth it is tangy and fresh, far from cloying.  A seductive wine that exemplifies the late harvest style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lidl French Whites for February

Lidl French Whites for February

As well as their permanent range which has an emphasis on good value bottles for everyday drinking, discount supermarket Lidl also offer limited quantities of slightly more upmarket wines at different points during the year.

22nd February 2016 will see the Ireland launch of their special French wines, only available while stocks last – and some will be so limited that you’ll have to strike up a friendship with someone from Lidl Customer Services!

Here are 5 whites which impressed me:

Ernest Wein Alsace Pinot Blanc Pfaffenheim 2014 (€9.99)

Ernest Wein Alsace Pinot Blanc 2014

An underrated and understated grape; round in the mouth and very pleasant drinking, lovely apple and lemon fruit.  Great to drink on its own or with white fish or poultry.  A versatile wine that should please nearly everyone – and a steal at a tenner!

Roesslin Alsace Riesling 2014 (€9.99)

Roesslin Alsace Riesling 2014.jpg

If the Pinot Blanc was round then this is spiky – lots of fresh acidity with zippy lemon and lime fruit.  It’s not the most intense Riesling I’ve come across, but it’s a great introduction for newbies – and it’s varietally true enough to keep Riesling lovers (such as myself) happy.

P. de Marcilly Chablis 2014 (€12.99)

P de Marcilly Chablis 2014

WOW!  One of the best  AOP Chablis that I’ve tasted in a long time – it’s an appellation that often disappoints as bulk producers trade on the famous Chablis name, but this really delivers – textbook minerality with citrus fruits, and a little more body than I’d expect. Excellent value for money!

Chablis Premier Cru 2014 (€19.99)

Chablis Premier Cru 2014

This has all of the above and more – more concentration, more minerality, more body, more fruit…altogether a superior wine – it’s up to you whether you think it’s worth the €7 premium over the baby brother – if possible you need to try both at the same time to arrive at an informed decision.

André Saujot Pouilly-Fumé “Les Grandes Chaumes” 2014 (€14.99)

Andre Saujoy Pouilly Fume LesGrandes Chaumes 2014.jpg

So now to the Loire, and one of the most celebrated areas for Sauvignon Blanc. Gooseberry, grapefruit and grassiness are the dominant notes, with some stony minerality at the core. It doesn’t have the passionfruit tropical notes of a Marlborough savvy, but it’s tangy and delicious in its own right.  A great example of Loire Sauvignon.

 

Also check out my Top 5 Reds from the same tasting.

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #03 – Salwey RS Weissburgunder 2013

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #03 – Salwey RS Weissburgunder 2013

Pinot Blanc grapes (Credit: themightyquill)
Pinot Blanc grapes (Credit: themightyquill)

As I frequently say, to those who will listen (and even those who won’t), Pinot Blanc is an under-rated grape.  It is most widely produced as a varietal in Alsace, Northern Italy (as Pinot Bianco) and Germany (as Weissburgunder), though often plays an unheralded part of blends there as well.  Even the English are getting in on the act (yes Stopham Estate, I’m looking at you!)

When made in a sympathetic way, Pinot Blanc can be both fruity and fresh, with a little bit of body, making it very versatile at the table.  Unfortunately, the powers that be in Alsace (primarily the CIVA and INAO) don’t allow Pinot Blanc wines to be granted Grand Cru status when made on the best sites, yet Muscat (in my opinion not as good a grape in Alsace) based wines are permitted under Grand Cru appellations.

Might other Pinot Blanc regions have an answer to this quality dilemma?

In advance of their Meet the Winemaker Portfolio tasting on Friday 6th November (also more details here), JN Wines kindly sent me a bottle of German Pinot Blanc, labelled of course as Weissburgunder (the white grape from Burgundy).  It’s quite simply the finest example of the grape I’ve ever tasted!

Salwey RS (Reserve Salwey) Weissburgunder 2013 (jnwine.com, €21.99)

Salwey RS (Reserve Salwey) Weissburgunder 2013
Salwey RS (Reserve Salwey) Weissburgunder 2013

From the Kaisterstuhl (the “Emperor’s Chair”) hills in the wine region of Baden comes Weingut Salwey, producer of several Burgundy varietals.  The Reserve Salwey range is made with fully ripe grapes from older vines, vinified to dryness (Trocken is helpfully stated on the back label).  White wines are matured in a mixture of large vats (80%) and barriques (20%).

Salwey
Salwey

The oak ageing is perceptible on the nose, but doesn’t dominate the apple and citrus aromas.  These all flow through to the palate, which is given additional weight by the micro-oxygenation from time spent in wood.  It’s a lovely wine which is very enjoyable on its own (just don’t drink it too cold!) or paired with lighter fish and poultry.

Considering the quality, this is an absolute bargain!

Grosse Pointe Blanc de Blancs (NWTW #53)

A cursory search through my blog reveals that Blanc de Blancs is one of the wine styles I write about very frequently – mainly because I really like it as a style, and if there’s a bottle shown at a trade tasting I will make a beeline for it.

So when Mike over at Please Bring Me My Wine asked for suggestions beginning with B for New Wine This Week #53, I naturally piped up with Blanc de Blancs – and would you believe it, other voters on the poll (narrowly) agreed with me.

So a few important questions to be answered – what exactly is it? why do I like it? and what should a neophyte try?

What The Heck Is a Blanc de Blancs?

In my mind a true Blanc de Blancs is a white wine made with white grapes where there is a possibility that black grapes could also have been used.  The vast majority are traditional method sparklers such as Champagne:

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999

But before we dive into sparkling, there is a much less well known version; if you’re a real Alsace geek like me then you might think of different Pinots being used in white wine, and as long as the juice is taken off the skins quickly, even black grapes can be part of the blend. If it’s just from white Pinot grapes – i.e. Pinot Blanc – then it can be labelled as a Blanc de Blancs:

Hugel Blanc de Blancs
Hugel Blanc de Blancs

So after that small detour, let’s get back onto the main road.

Champagne was the region that popularised the term, and there it usually means a white fizz made from just Chardonnay without any juice from the black grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  There are some very small plantings of other grapes in Champagne that could go into a Blanc de Blancs, but they are rare indeed.

In other parts of France where traditional method Crémant is made, popular local grapes can be used to make a Blanc de Blancs, especially if they are high in acidity – Chenin Blanc in the Loire, Sauvignon in Bordeaux, Pinot Blanc in Alsace.

A fact often overlooked is that Chardonnay is sometimes permitted in the AOP rules for a fizz when it’s not allowed in the local still wine – sometimes even a 100% varietal Chardonnay such as this Crémant d’Alsace:

Cave de Turckheim Crémant d'Alsace Confidence NV
Cave de Turckheim Crémant d’Alsace Confidence NV

Other traditional method sparkling wine is often made with the main three Champagne grapes, whether Tasmania, Marlborough, California or southern England.

Why Do I Like It?

When it’s young, it’s fresh, floral and citrusy, and can be on the simple side.  But there’s nothing wrong with that – the perfect aperitif.

The best examples, particularly from the Côte des Blancs’ Grand Cru villages, have a haunting purity about them.

With extended lees ageing it takes on biscuit and brioche characters; while this is obviously true for other sparklers, Blanc de Blancs seem to be more coherent and integrated.

And of course many of the long-lived prestige cuvées are Blanc de Blancs – think of Charles Heidsieck’s Cuvée des Millénaires, Salon Le Mesnil, Krug Clos du Mesnil, and so on.

Do Try This At Home

If you see any of the wines above in the shop, then snap them up!

I also heartily endorse the Sainsbury’s Non Vintage Champagne Blanc de Blancs that Mike recommended on his site.  If you’re lucky you might see it on promotion when it can be ridiculously good value for money.

Some other Blankety Blanks that I’ve really enjoyed:

Clover Hill Sparkling 2003 (O’Briens, €31.99)

Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 (Aldi, €26.99, also covered here)

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV (£44.98, Majestic)

Wiston Estate, Blanc de Blancs NV (Le Caveau, €47.70, also covered here)

Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009 (James Nicholson Wine, £31.95 / €46.99, also covered here)

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007 (Berry Bros, £35.95, also covered here)

Now get supping!

Also check out Confessions of a Wine Geek’s post here

Highlights from the Lidl Xmas Tasting (Part one)

In the UK and Ireland, cost-conscious shoppers (i.e. most of them nowadays) are increasingly moving from traditional supermarkets to the German budget chains Aldi and Lidl.  So is there anything for the wine lover there?  A previous post covered the highlights from the Aldi press tasting, now I look at a few of my favourite fizzy and white wines from the Lidl Ireland press tasting:

Champagne Bissinger Premium Cuvée Brut NV (€29.99)

Champagne Bissinger Premium Cuvée Brut NV
Champagne Bissinger Premium Cuvée Brut NV

Straight to the main event: this is a long-standing favourite of mine from Lidl and my favourite wine of the whole tasting.  The blend is 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay so expect lots of strawberry on the nose and on the palate.  There’s also plenty of toasty and yeasty complexity, with a pleasing dry finish.  I suspect the dosage is quite modest compared to the standard Lidl offerings from Champagne, so less of a crowd-pleaser but better balanced.  I’d be happy to drink this anytime!

Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV (€10.49)

Crémant d'Alsace Brut NV
Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV

A couple of hours drive east from Reims takes you to Alsace, and France’s second most (domestically) consumed sparkling wine.  Of course Alsace has much more than that, but its fizz is very approachable and good value.  The grapes permitted include most of those allowed in still Alsace – Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc – plus the world’s favourite white grape for fizz, Chardonnay, which is definitely not permitted in still Alsace.  In practice Pinot Blanc is often the biggest component.

The minimum for non-vintage is nine months on the lees (c.f. fifteen in Champagne) so fruit is to the fore – and that’s what you get here.  Apple is the primary note, but there’s also a lovely honeyed aspect.  This is a fairly simple fizz but one that I would quaff in preference to most Prosecco or Cava.

Chablis AOC 2012 (€11.99)

Chablis AOC 2012
Chablis AOC 2012

From the most northerly outpost of Burgundy, Chablis is (almost always) a 100% varietal Chardonnay.  Especially at the basic AOC/AOP level, it is usually unoaked and steely rather than lush and buttery.  In fact, it’s not unknown for people who don’t like “Chardonnay” to love Chablis.  Go figure.  Now that the wine fashion needle is pointing firmly at “cool climate”, it’s a wonder that Chablis isn’t even more popular.

Vintage is important here, not for the vintage itself but for the age of the wine – Chablis is often released too young, but this has an extra year on many now appearing on the shelf. This has given it a bit of time to settle down and integrate. It shows typical green apple and lemon fruit on the palate with racy acidity to keep it fresh but not austere.  Smoked salmon starter over Christmas?  This would do nicely!

Mâcon-Villages AOP 2013 (€9.99)

Macon-Villages AOP 2013
Mâcon-Villages AOP 2013

Mâcon is the most southerly district of Burgundy proper, before the soils change to the granite of Beaujolais.  The top villages have their own AOCs – think Pouilly-Fuissé, St-Véran, etc. – then the next level down add their name to Mâcon, thus Mâcon-Igé and Mâcon-Uchizy.  Another level down again is Mâcon-Villages – still a good wine in the right hands.

Of course this is still Chardonnay, and as we’re quite far south here there’s often a tropical note to the fruit. This example showed lemon and ripe grapefruit with a pleasant round mouthfeel. There’s a touch of oak, I’d suggest a few months in one to three year old barrels, but it doesn’t dominate.

Gavi DOCG 2013 (€7.49)

Gavi DOCG 2013
Gavi DOCG 2013

So lightening does strike twice! After unexpectedly recommending a Gavi from arch rivals Aldi, I’m now doing the same at Lidl!  Again it’s not the most complex wine but it’s got plenty of pear and soft stone fruit. Acidity is high but refreshingly so – very drinkable.

Cimarosa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (€8.49)

Cimarosa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Cimarosa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013

2013 was a great year in Marlborough, and it shows in this well-made savvy. This is one to drink now rather than save for next summer, while it’s still got zing.  The nose is unmistakably Marlborough – grapefruit and passion-fruit – followed up by a big round mouthful of fruit. Great value for money.

Part two will cover my favourite red wines from the tasting.

Some Highlights from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Whites and Fizz

O’Briens Wine is the largest family-owned off licence group in Ireland with 32 stores, 20 of which are in greater Dublin.  They have 55 exclusive wineries in their portfolio and a wide selection in terms of country, grape and price level.  One of the distinguishing factors about O’Briens is the wine knowledge of their staff – it’s always nice to meet a wine enthusiast behind the counter.

Here are the sparklers and still whites which stood out for me at their Autumn Press Tasting last month:

Beaumont des Crayères Grand Réserve Champagne NV (€36.99, €29.99 in Nov/Dec)

Beaumont des Crayères Grand Reserve Champagne NV
Beaumont des Crayères Grand Réserve Champagne NV

This is proper Champagne, with slightly aggressive bubbles which could serve it well as an aperitif.  At first it is rich on the tongue from its Pinots Meunier (60%) and Noir (15%) followed by fresh lemon from Chardonnay (25%).

Made by a cooperative, this doesn’t reach the heights of something like Bollinger, but it’s much more quaffable than big brand duds such as Moët – and at a lower price.

Man O’War Tulia 2009 (€37.00, €33.00 in Nov/Dec)

Man O'War Tulia 2009
Man O’War Tulia 2009

Made by the Champagne method, this would never be mistaken for Champagne.  There’s too much primary fruit for that, but it’s a stylistic rather than qualitative difference in my eyes.  Any vintage Champagne has to spend at least 36 months on the lees after the second fermentation, but this only spent 9 months so don’t expect a bakery here.

Malolactic fermentation is blocked for freshness and balance – an essential decision. Interestingly the second fermentation is all handled by Marlborough’s sparkling experts No 1 Family Estate.  The fruit is tropical but stylish, I suspect partially due to the particular Chardonnay clones which were used.  This is no shrinking violet!

Kreydenweiss Kritt AOC Alsace Pinot Blanc 2013 (€16.99, €14.99 in Nov/Dec)

Kreydenweiss Kritt AOC Alsace Pinot Blanc 2013
Kreydenweiss Kritt AOC Alsace Pinot Blanc 2013

Pinot Blanc is one of the most under-rated grapes around, usually overlooked in favour of its flashier siblings Noir and Gris.  It tends to be light and fruity with enough going on to keep things interesting but not so much that it dominates any food it is paired with. Chicken or pork in a creamy sauce would be a great match.

As you might guess from the Germanic producer name but French grape name, this is from Alsace.  It’s soft and supple with ripe apple, pear and peach flavours.  It’s not bone dry, but the tiny bit of residual sugar adds body and roundness rather than sweetness.

Bellows Rock Chenin Blanc 2014 (€15.99, €9.99 in Nov/Dec)

Bellows Rock Chenin Blanc 2014
Bellows Rock Chenin Blanc 2014

Chenin Blanc is another under-rated grape, hailing from the Loire Valley in France, but also at home in South Africa.  It is usually recognisable in its many different variations – bone dry, off-dry, medium right up to lusciously sweet, or even sparkling.  My personal preference is the sweet stuff, especially Coteaux d’Aubance, Coteaux du Layon or Quarts de Chaume.  I rarely like the drier end of the spectrum.

One of my favourite sayings – about life in general, but can equally be applied to wine – is:

It’s never too late to lose a prejudice

This South African Chenin is dry – but I like it!  It has the honey and acidity of all Chenins with a rich, oily mouthfeel and a crisp dry finish.  It’s an absolute bargain on offer at €10!

Château de Fontaine Audon AOC Sancerre 2013 (€21.99, €18.99 in Nov/Dec)

Château de Fontaine Audon AOC Sancerre 2013
Château de Fontaine Audon AOC Sancerre 2013

Before Marlborough had seen a single Sauvignon vine, Sancerre was considered the world standard for the variety – and for some it still is, especially on the subtle mineral and green side compared to the antipodean fruit explosion that is Marlborough.  However, the fame of the appellation means that producers who favour quantity over quality can push yields up and intensity down, diluting the wine and the reputation of the area.

So not all Sancerres are the same, and it is important to pick one worthy of the label.  Pick this one!  Cut grass on the nose leads to gooseberry and grapefruit in the mouth.  It’s tangy but not sharp; the acidity feels slightly fizzy on your tongue.  This is the real deal.

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013 (€22.99)

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013

Sho’ nuff funky!  Assyrtiko is indigenous to the Greek island of Santorini in the South Aegean.  80 year old ungrafted low-yielding vines and natural yeast combine to produce something different, something wild.  Approach with caution, but you won’t find anything like this on the shelves of your local supermarket.

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2011 (€29.49, €26.99 in Nov/Dec)

I sneaked this in even though I didn’t actually taste the 2011 vintage, but I recently enjoyed the previous year so have no hesitation in recommending this.

Seguin Manuel AOC Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2011 (€45.00)

Seguin Manuel AOC Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2011
Seguin Manuel AOC Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2011

For white Burgundy there are few more renowned villages than Chassagne in the Côte d’Or.  Like its adjoining neighbour Puligny, the name of their shared vineyard Le Montrachet was added into the commune name in the late 19th century.  As this bottle is not from a designated Premier Cru vineyard it is known as a village wine.

2010 was a warm vintage throughout most of France and this shows through in the ripe fruit.  It’s Chardonnay of course – Pinot Blanc is permitted but rarely included – with a good dose of oak that is now nicely integrated.  Smoothness is the theme, and a finish that goes on and on.  It’s by no means cheap, but such a great tasting wine and long finish make it a worthwhile treat.

Reds and dessert wines in my next post.