Tag: Pinot Blanc

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)

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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.

Bring Da Funk – De Bortoli Yarra Valley Wines

If you think you know Australian Wine, think again!

The Yarra Valley is an Australian wine region located east of Melbourne, Victoria, and close to the Mornington Peninsula wine region.  Its cool climate – especially in Australian terms – makes it perfect for Burgundy’s main grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Proximity to Melbourne has encourage lots of visitors and investors in the Yarra.

De Bortoli Wines was established in 1928 by Vittorio & Giuseppina De Bortoli and rapidly expanded under the direction of their son, the late Deen De Bortoli. Today the company is run by the third generation including MD Darren De Bertoli and his sister Leanne, plus Leanne’s winemaker husband Steve Webber.  The main operation is based in the Riverina, central New South Wales, which is where their world famous botrytised Semillon Noble One comes from.

Leanne and Steve Webber moved state in 1989 to set up a winery for De Bortoli’s Yarra Valley vineyards that the company had purchased in 1987.  I was lucky enough to visit in 2003 including a delicious lunch at their Italian influenced restaurant “Locale”.  The Yarra is now an excellent source of mid-tier and premium wines for De Bortoli.

Steve recently gave a masterclass in Dublin.  Not only were the wines excellent and the information interesting, Mr Webber is also a highly entertaining speaker!  PendulumA few of the key themes included the evolution of wine styles over the past decade or so and choosing to make “edgy” wines.

La Bohème Act 3 Pinot Gris & friends 2013

De Bortoli La Bohème Act Three
De Bortoli La Bohème Act Three

This is a blend of approximately 87% Pinot Gris (vines from the Upper Yarra which sit in a misty hollow where a lot of the cool air from the peaks flows down to) then Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Blanc from the slightly warmer Dixon’s Creek in roughly equal proportions.  2013 was the 3rd release and 2014 the 4th.

It is taut, mineral, racy and lean – it only has 3g/L of Residual Sugar but tastes like there’s a bit more from fruit sweetness, until the finish which is almost bone dry. aromaticsThis wine has plenty of texture so is a versatile option for the table – apparently Melbourne sommeliers are going mad for it at the moment.

Steve also makes a single vineyard Pinot Blanc in Dixon’s Creek

Windy Peak Chardonnay 2012

De Bortoli Windy Peak Chardonnay
De Bortoli Windy Peak Chardonnay

This is De Bortoli’s equivalent of a Macon, a mid level Chardonnay.  They want something to partner well with John Dory so strive to keep some sort of neutrality in the wine.too far

Some new oak used here (conditioning the barrels so they can be used again for the estate Chardonnay) but also older casks of different sizes and stainless steel.

Natural yeast is used rather than commercial, and no acid is added (very uncommon is Australia where Chaptalisation is seldom performed but acid is added to large commercial blends for balance.

In the Yarra, above 12.5% all the green characteristics are lost from Chardonnay, so De Bortoli like to pick while the grapes are still on the cusp.

The oak stuck out a bit for me – another year would see it nicely integrated.

Estate Grown Chardonnay 2012

De Bortoli Estate Grown Chardonnay
De Bortoli Estate Grown Chardonnay

Although Steve wasn’t setting out to compare the two Chardies, the (sensible) tasting order meant that we did just that. So what’s the difference?  As you might guess if you don’t have the memory of a goldfish, there’s no new oak in the Estate Chardonnay – yet it tastes less overtly oaky – it’s just more smooth and integrated. Again the casks are of different sizes giving slightly different results, from 225L barriques through 500L right up to 5700L foudres.  60,000 L is made of this v 400,000 L made of the Windy Peak.

Grapes are selected from 4 different plots on the “Winery Vineyard” at Dixon’s Creek with an average age into the mid 20s. The soils are a mix of sandstone, siltstone and limestone.  There is a little bit of “struck-match” reductive quality – this is especially common with screwcaps.  Steve is looking for a dry, bitter finish.  He always uses a screwcap for Chardonnay, the results are far better for consistency when ageing.  After 5 years the development would be linear, with a touch more roundness and nuttiness.

Due to the ridiculously high taxes on wine in Ireland, this premium wine is something like €28 on the shelf compared to €20 for the junior sibling – it really makes sense to trade up! 

Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2013

De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir
De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir

60% of the grapes were hand picked, the remainder machine harvested.  Hand picking is better for the fruit and still the best way to collect whole bunches.  bullshit

The Windy Peak Pinot Noir has the new oak barrels to condition them for the Estate Syrah
It shows lots of fruit on the nose and palate, particularly cherry and strawberry, but maintains savoury, with a dry finish.

Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2012

De Bortoli Estate Grown Pinot Noir
De Bortoli Estate Grown Pinot Noir

This is from older vineyards averaging around 25 years of age.  Steve calls it “a bit grubby”.  20% was whole bunch fermented so there’s some extra tannin and greenness from the stalks.  Not too much pigeage was performed  – probably only 4 punch downs during maceration and fermentation, and perhaps pumping over a couple of times.

This is very savoury with funky and wild flavours – no jam here!  It’s a grown up, interesting wine.  If you have an autumnal dish in mind then this would be an amazing partner for it.

La Bohème Act Four Syrah Gamay 2012

De Bortoli La Bohème  Act Four Yarra Valley Syrah Gamay
De Bortoli La Bohème Act Four Yarra Valley Syrah Gamay

This is a rarely seen (on front labels at least) blend consisting of 70% Syrah and 30% Gamay – 50% of each went through carbonic maceration, similar to the process used in Beaujolais for extracting fruit flavours without too much tannin from the skin. Steve compared it to wines from the Ardèche in southern France.pussy wine

So much acidity, this really makes your mouth water – it’s the Opal Fruits of wine.  Along with red and black fruit there’s a real dark chocolate sensibility and a bit of an edge. Definitely a food wine – many may find it a bit full-on by itself, but Steve doesn’t mind that!

Estate Grown Syrah 2010

De Bortoli Estate Grown Syrah
De Bortoli Estate Grown Syrah

The flavours I got from this included dark berries and graphite – what could be more mineral than that??

This is definitely a Syrah and not a Shiraz, in antipodean nomenclature – it wouldn’t look totally out of place in Hawkes Bay but it’s more Northern Rhône than Barossa. With a tasting sample in the glass it’s possible to read text through it – even at 4 years old that wouldn’t be possible with an inky black Barossa brute.brett

Plunging is done only when necessary – when it seems like it needs a little more tannin, otherwise they leave it alone and drink beer.  It has some whole bunch character – green stalkiness – though bizarrely this was less apparent in a year when 100% of the grapes were whole bunch.

Future Developments

Given the family’s ancestry it’s not surprising that Italian varieties are being put through their paces at the moment, though the team are refining their winemaking approach when dealing with them.

neglect

Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc are also believed to have potential in the Yarra – watch this space for more funky wines!

Fabulous Farmer Fizz – Grower Champagne – Part One

What is Champagne?

It’s a wine.

It’s a wine made in a certain way from grapes grown in a delimited area.

That’s it.  Yes it’s a load of fun, often a part of big celebrations, a bit of bling in a nightclub, or even launching a ship (don’t know about you but I always use Champagne when launching a ship), but for me they are secondary to Champagne’s identity as a wine.  Also, there is Increasing recognition that Champagne can play a part in accompanying many – or all – courses of a meal, as well as being an apéritif or a vin de plaisir.

Of course the luxury image of Champagne is no accident, it’s down to the marketing prowess of the Grandes Marques over the last century or so.  In their quest for a reliable, consistent wine the big houses buy grapes from all over the Champagne region, and blend them to create an ongoing house style – particularly with the non-vintage (NV) wines which are the vast majority of the bottles produced.

Maker's Mark

Thus, apart from a few ultra rare and ultra expensive select bottlings, Champagne made by the big houses doesn’t reflect a particular vineyard site.

Step up the Growers!  Despite the high capital costs of setting up, Champenois grape growers are increasingly setting up to produce their own Champagne – see RM in the box above.  They maintain a close link between the place the grapes are grown – the terroir –  and the final product in your glass.

Grapes – The Big 3 Stars

Most new areas producing quality sparkling wine will use the big three Champagne grapes, whether we’re talking Tasmania, Marlborough or Sussex.

Chardonnay (C) gives lifted lemon citrus notes, which make it the lightest grape out of the three.  All-Chardonnay cuvées need some serious ageing on the lees to gain complexity – they can be pleasant but rather simple if they are disgorged and released straight after the legal minimum ageing (15 months for NV).  Approx. 29% of total vines

Pinot Noir (PN) gives red fruit aromas and flavours – particularly strawberry and raspberry – just as you get in a still red Pinot Noir.  It also gives body and richness – sometimes even chewiness.  It’s this Pinot whose colour is used for rosé Champagne.  Approx. 38% of total vines

Pinot Meunier (PM) is often regarded as the ugly sister of the big three, and while it might be true to say that it doesn’t hit the heights of the other two on its own, it can play an excellent supporting role.  It tends to show soft fruit characteristics such as pear and lychee when young, and then a certain earthiness with more age.  Approx. 32% of total vines

Grapes – The Supporting Cast

If any of you did the maths from the three grapes above you will have noticed that the total proportion of Champagne’s area under vine represented by them is 99% – so what is planted in the remaining 1%?

These are four traditional grapes that have fallen out of favour in the area, but where they are planted the owners can keep on farming them.  Such minuscule amounts means the wines are very hand to get hold of, but if you fancy trying something different then Laherte Frères make a Champagne from all seven grapes.

Pinot Blanc is often a component of Crémant d’Alsace and Franciacorta (where it is known as Pinot Bianco.  It gives soft apple and citrus flavours.

Pinot Gris sometimes hides in Champagne under the pseudonym Fromenteau – but it’s really the same grape which does so well in Alsace and still pops up occasionally in Burgundy.  When picked early it (as is often the case in Italy) it can show high levels of acidity which of course make it ideal for sparkling wine.

Petit Meslier is an appley variety that has a flagwaver based in – rather bizarrely – South Australia’s Eden Valley!  In a region best known for dry as a bone Riesling, Irvine Wines make a varietal Petit Meslier sparkling wine which they claim was the first to be commercially bottled anywhere in the world

Arbane also has a champion, but this time in Champagne itself.  The house of Moutard Père et Fils make the only varietal Arbane Champagne.  Their vintage wine spends over 6 years on the lees so it’s the yeast rather than grape variety which are most apparent.

Home Ground

Champagne has a single Appellation for the whole region, but there are recognised sub regions within it.  They can be grouped as:

The Vallée de la Marne is the most equally balanced between the three main grapes – 24% Chardonnay, 36% P Meunier and 40% P Noir

The Montagne de Reims is the large hill (mountain is pushing it a bit!) just south of the city of Reims.  Here Pinot Meunier has the lead with 62% of the total.

The Côte des Blancs (which also has the more southerly Côte de Sezanne grouped with it for statistical purposes) is a chalky slope which majors in Chardonnay (82% overall and 95% in the central Côte itself – hence the name.

The Côte des Bar is the most southerly and highest of all the Champagne areas.  Pinot Noir is the king down here with 87% of the land under vine.

Part two will look at some specific grower Champagnes.