Alsace is mainly known and loved for its stunning single varietal wines, but less widely known are its blends. In fact, there are even more types of blend than many wine lovers know, so, in advance of Alsace Wine Week, here’s a quick rundown of the six types I have counted!
Edelzwickeris probably the most well known Alsace blend. The word comes from the Alsace dialect for “noble blend” (it’s a Germanic dialect more closely linked to Swiss German than textbook German) although noble grapes aren’t a requirement nowadays. In fact, any of the officially permitted Alsace varieties can be blended in any proportion.
The grapes used are usually those from the less favoured sites and which aren’t required for varietal wines, and so the proportions change a little from year to year. However, despite their modest origins, Edelzwickers can be a very nice everyday wine – more than the sum of their parts!
Gentilis the French word for “kind”, though quite why the term was awarded to this style of wine I do not know. A Gentil is very similar to an Edelzwicker except that the four “noble grapes” of Alsace should be at least 50% of the blend:
Yes, Pinot Blanc is a variety, and a wine so labelled could be a varietal, but the rules in Alsace permit four grapes to be used:
Pinot Blanc itself
Pinot Noir (vinified white, i.e. no contact with the skins)
Auxerois is a sibling of Chardonnay and is sometimes given its full name Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexybut more often known as Pinot Auxerrois or Clevner/Klevner – though the latter is especially confusing as it is also the synonym for Pinot Blanc! Interestingly, the amount of true Pinot Blanc in still wines has fallen over the decades as it is in such high demand for Crémant!
There are three different members of the Muscat family allowed in Alsace wines:
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (White Muscat with small berries)
Muscat Rose à Petits Grains (Pink Muscat with small berries)
Muscat Ottonel (thought to be a descendent of Pinot Noir Précose, Chasselas and an unknown other member of the Muscat family)
Blends of these different varieties are allowed in AOC Alsace; however, most of the AOC Alsace Grands Crus do not permit a mix and two (Zotzenbergand Kaefferkopf) do not allow any Muscat at all.
Alsace’s traditional method sparkler is the second most popular in France (after Champagne, of course). It doesn’t have to be a blend, but usually is – with the exception of the rosé which has to be 100% Pinot Noir. The permitted varieties are:
Pinot Blanc(usually the biggest component)
Chardonnay(although not permitted in still Alsace wines, an exception is made for Crémant )
The final category is also probably the rarest, but also actually the most traditional: blends created from different varieties which are grown, picked and vinified together. The original practice for Edelzwicker was to make it from field blends, but now separate vinification before blending is mandatory. Instead, a few producers still make field blends the “old fashioned way”. Most notable of these is Domaine Marcel Deiss who make a broad range of “Cru d’Alsace” wines named by their lieu-dit rather than varieties. As an example, the Deiss Burg is nearly a full house as it contains:
On a smaller scale, Agathe Bursin’s “L’As de B” is also a field blend. The name is actually short for “L’Assemblage de Bollenberg ” – which translates as “Bollenberg Blend” – and contains the same six grapes as Burg.
Here are ten fantastic whites which really impressed me in 2017 and I plan on drinking more of in 2018!
10. Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône Cuvée Zéphyr 2016 (14.0%, RRP €22.99)
“Les Deux Cols” translates literally as “The Two Hills” but also refers to the two founding colleagues Simon Tyrrell and Charles Derain. Now joined by Gerard Maguire perhaps they will look to plant on another hill? I’m an admirer of Les Deux Cols’ main red wine, the Cuvée d’Alizé, but for me their white blend on is another level entirely. Made from very 100% Roussanne it manages to have richness and freshness at the same time, lovely texture and zestiness.
Marlborough started out as a fairly corporate production area, but gradually smaller grapegrowers began making their own wines. This was the story for Ross and Barbara Lawson who began making their own wines in 1992 after twelve years of supplying others. And what a great decision that was! Among the many great wines they make is this delicious off-dry Riesling, full of racy lemon and lime plus elegant floral notes.
8. Turner Pageot Les Choix 2014 (13.5%, RRP €39)
This was one of the highlights of the Winemason portfolio tasting, a skin contact wine with finesse. Maceration is for five weeks which is much shorter than some orange wines – and personally I think it shows in that the underlying character of the Marsanne grapes still shines through. This isn’t a wine for everyone but it’s very interesting and very drinkable at the same time – what more could you ask for?
7. Jordan Stellenbosch Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50)
Just to clarify, this wine is made by Jordan Wine Estate (of Stellenbosch, South Africa) as opposed to Jordan Vineyard & Winery (of Sonoma County, California); as it happens, both produce great Cabernet and Chardonnay, and it’s the latter which has made this list. As the name indicates the wine was fermented (and then matured) in French oak barrels, giving a lovely biscuity creaminess. I like this style of wine in general but this is a great example, complex yet balanced, and seriously good value.
A barrel-fermented style of Sauvignon from a single vineyard in Marlborough. Like the Jordan above, this was a little tight on release in early 2017 but had really blossomed in the second half of the year. My money would be on increasing complexity over the next three to five years. Very good wine for the money.
Kevin Judd’s barrel-fermented Sauvignon has made regular appearances in this blog’s Top 10 lists over the years, chiefly because it’s so damn interesting. I have nothing against regular Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs (in fact I often like them) but this style gives so much more, and bridges the gap to Chardonnay for those torn between the two grapes. Wild yeast and barrel fermentation give intriguing funky and toasty notes
4. La Chablisienne Grand Cuvée 1er Cru 2015 (13.0%, RRP €34.95)
I’m a big fan of La Chablisienne’s range, from the everyday Petit Chablis up to the superlative Grands Crus. The Grand Cuvée is a blend of grapes from seven different Premier cru sites with an average vine age of 25 years. It has a fair bit of oak – more than you might expect from a Chablis – but it is integrated seamlessly, lending a bit of body plus notes of toast and spice. This is an elegant wine which knocks spots of many more expensive wines from the Côte d’Or.
It would be a little misleading to call Matt Thomson “the Michel Roland of the southern hemisphere” not least because his involvement as a consultant doesn’t overshadow the wines, but his advice is much in demand. After more than 20 vintages in each of the southern (for Saint Clair and others) and northern (for Alpha Zeta and others) hemispheres, Matt decided to get off the merry go round and focus on his personal project Blank Canvas. This 2016 is the first vintage of Chardonnay and it’s a big winner! It has the funky notes I’d expect from a wild-yeast barrel ferment but with a gliding, ethereal finish that leaves you wanting more.
2. BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24)
And so to a bottle which has caused almost everyone who has tasted it to sit up and pay attention – not least for the concept of a wine whose blend can change from vintage to vintage – and not naming the constituent varieties on the front means the wine drinker isn’t thinking about them (apart from me because I’m a wine geek!) The 2016 is made from Chenin Blanc from four different sites, plus Grenache Blanc and Viognier (Chardonnay is no longer in the mix). After being fermented in barrel the wine rests on its lees for twelve months. It’s a big mouthful, this wine; peach and apricot with cream and nuts.
It was difficult to choose between Philippe Zinck’s Grand Cru offerings (first world problems) but the added complexity and richness of the Pinot Gris won me over. The Grand Cru of Rangen is the most southerly of Alsace so, when combined with the vertiginous steepness of its slopes, gives the wines considerable power. Of course, power on its own is nothing – when combined with acidity and complexity it can make a great wine such as this. Move over Riesling, Pinot Gris is King!
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1. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru XXX Pinot Gris XX (XX%, RRP XX)
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 Portraitseries which typify their variety
the Terriorseries 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 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 organicin 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.
Sylvaneris 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.
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
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)
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
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)
Rangenis 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. Gingeris complemented by star aniseand 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.
Once past the humongously big area that is “South Eastern Australia”, the next level of appellation is usually the state. As the biggest wine producing state it’s usually South Australia that is most prominent on the wine shelves, with perhaps Western Australia next (WA is a relatively small producer in volume terms though it does produce a good proportion of Australia’s quality wines). NSW has the Hunter Valley and others, but it’s those regions whose names make it onto labels.
Victoria has lots of quality wine regions such as the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Heathcote, but blends between them are not that common either. Here are a couple of Victorian wines I tried recently that are multi-region blends:
MWC Pinot Gris Victoria 2015 (13.5%, €18 down to €15 in September at Molloy’s)
The stylistic division between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris is quite a divider (and I’ve commented on it myself several times). The divide is now being blurred by many wine makers who want to make a fresh, mineral style but with a lot more flavour than bulk Italian Pinot Grigio – Fiona Turner at Tinpot Hut is one.
This example is quite rich, though not as sweet or oily as Alsace versions can be. There’s lots of tangy fruit flavours as a result of extended time on the skins. It’s got enough to please both crowds without selling out to either – a great achievement!
MWC Shiraz Mourvedre Victoria 2014 (14.0%, €18 down to €15 in September at Molloy’s)
Wines sold in the EU don’t have to mention minor parts of the blend if they are less than 15% in total, so mentioning the Mourvedre component of this 95% Shiraz 5% Mourvedre wine is a deliberate choice by the producers. That tells you something – they want to stand out from the crowd of varietal Shiraz and they also think that even 5% of a variety adds something to the final wine.
As its sibling above, this is a blend from different premium vineyards across Victoria. My educated guess would be that it contains a fair bit from the cooler southern regions such as Yarra Valley as it’s much lighter than most I’ve had from the warmer inland areas. In the mouth it’s nice and smooth, but well-balanced. It has the usual black fruit and spice but they are fresh rather than stewed or jammy. This Shiraz blend would be fantastic with a peppered steak!
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)
When Gewurz is great it can be really great – such asthis 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 Traminergrape 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 Rosethen 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)
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 Chardonnayand 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 Pinotas 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 mineralityand 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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2015 has been an excellent year for wine in Dublin, especially from a personal perspective. As well as the usual trade tastings, which one can never take for granted, I have been lucky enough to be invited to several excellent wine dinners and receive samples from many new suppliers and retailers – thanks to all.
Here are ten of the white wines which made a big impression on me during the year. The order is somewhat subjective – this is wine tasting after all – and I’m sure the list would look a little different on another day.
10. Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC “Alchimie” 2014 (€14/€10, SuperValu)
A fruit driven Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, just outside Sancerre, which is just so damned drinkable. It has some of the explosiveness of a Marlborough savvy but more restrained, so it wouldn’t be out of place at the table. It’s well worth the regular price but is a total steal when on offer. See more here.
9. Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.99, Honest 2 Goodness)
Whites from South West France continue to impress me with their intense, but balanced, flavours from mainly indigenous grapes – and all at keen prices. This is one of the best I’ve ever tasted from the area. See more here.
8. Château Mas “Belluguette” Coteaux de Languedoc 2012 (€20.95, Molloys)
A premium white wine from the Languedoc, but without a silly price tag. This was one of the biggest surprises of the year – I just hadn’t been expecting such an exuberant white wine from the Languedoc. The blend is: Vermentino 40%, Roussanne 30%, Grenache 20%, Viognier 10%, with each grape variety is vinified separately in oak barrels for a month. 50% of the blend goes through malolactic fermentation and it is blocked for the remainder. The final blend is then aged in 2/3 French and 1/3 American oak for 4 months.
Molloy’s wine consultant Maureen O’Hara dubbed this a “Dolly Parton” wine – I’d have to say it’s got a lot of front!
7. Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling, Central Otago (€19.99, Curious Wines)
Although owned by a famous actor, this estate does not make “celebrity wine”. Pinot Noir is the speciality of Two Paddocks, with excellent premium and single vineyard bottlings, but they also make a small amount of Riesling, benefitting from the cool (almost cold!) climate of the southerly most wine region in the world.
“Picnic” is their more accessible, everyday range, for both Pinot and Riesling, and here we have the latter. It’s just off-dry with lots of Golden Delicious apple, honey and citrus, with a fresh streak of acidity through the middle. It actually reminded me of a still version of Nyetimber’s 2007 Blanc de Blanc, one of my favourite English sparklers!
6. Argyros Estate Santorini Atlantis 2013 (€15.49, Marks and Spencer)
An excellent Assyrtiko based-blend from the Greek Island of Santorini, linked to the legend of Atlantis. Old vines and steep slopes contribute to excellent intensity, with lemony flavours and floral aromas. Such a drinkable and versatile wine.
Yes you read that correctly, this is a €35 Vinho Verde! However, although it shares geography and grape variety with many Vinho Verdes, it is made in a totally different style. It retains the central fresh core of Alvarinho (aka Albariño in Galicia) yet has a creamy complexity from oak and lees stirring.
In one of the first DNS tastings of 2015 this was tied neck and neck with Rafael Palacios’ famous As Sortes – it’s that good. See the full article on The Taste here.
4. Hugel Pinot Gris “Jubilee” 2000 (€52 in West Restaurant @ The Twelve Hotel)
One of the highlights of 2015 was a trip away to The Twelve Hotel in Barna, just outside Galway City, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. It’s our favourite hotel in Ireland, and one that we choose for special occasions. Check out their full wine list here.
Hotel Restaurant wine lists can often be very dull / safe / boring, depending on your point of view, so it warms the cockles of this wino’s heart to see such a well put together list. It was General Manager & Sommelier Fergus O’Halloran who first got me into Pecorino (see here), but on this occasion it was something else which was really worth writing home about.
Hugel is one of the two large and well-known family producers in Alsace, the other being Trimbach which also sports yellow labels on its bottles. Both are located in achingly pretty villages and have excellent ranges. Jubilee signifies Hugel’s premium range, made from fruit in their Grand Cru Sporen and Pflostig vineyards. As a general rule I like Pinot Gris to have some sweetness to go with the distinctive apricot & honey flavours and oily texture – this doesn’t disappoint! Getting a fifteen year old wine of this quality for €52 in a restaurant is amazing!
3. Albert Bichot Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru “Moutonne” Monopole 2012 (€109.95, The Corkscrew)
This was the highlight of a focused burgundy tasting given upstairs at Stanley’s by Ben and Barbara of WineMason. As a big fan of Chablis, especially Premier and Grand Cru, I was excited to taste the area’s famous “eighth Grand Cru”. There are seven Grands Crus recognised by the French national appellations organisation (INAO), though those names appear after “Appellation Chablis Grand Cru Contrôlée”. La Moutonne is recognised, however, by the Chablis (UGCC) and Burgundy (BIVB) authorities.
The majority of the Moutonne vineyard (95%) is in the Grand Cru Vaudésir with a small part (5%) in Grand Cru Preuses, so you’d expect it to taste almost identical to Albert Bichot’s Grand Cru Vaudésir, which is made in the same way – but it doesn’t! This is put forward as a reason why Moutonne deserves its own Grand Cru status – but equally it might indicate that several Chablis Grand Crus are not homogenous across their climats. An interesting debate which needs further research – and I volunteer!
Whatever the nomenclature, it’s a stunning wine – beautifully intertwining minerality, citrus, floral notes and a light toastiness from 25% oak.
From South east Sicily comes something unlike anything you’ve tasted before – at least, a single wine containing all the flavours and aromas expressed by this wine. Tasted with family member Matteo Catani, this is a truly remarkable wine – it showed anise, almond, citrus, apple, and a hint of oxidation which added interest but did not detract from the fruit.
When many producers are churning out identikit Cabernets and Chardonnays, wines that are different and interesting like this really grab the attention.
1. Craiglee Sunbury Chardonnay 2011 (€33.95, winesdirect.ie, also available by the bottle and by the glass at Ely Wine Bar)
If you read my favourite White Wines of 2013 or 2014 then the fact that my favourite white tasted in 2015 is a Chardonnay shouldn’t be a surprise. I might be predictable, but it’s my favourite grape so I won’t apologise.
From a less well known part of Victoria, it shows butterscotch and toasty vanilla round a citrus core. It’s not the most expensive wine in my listing, and probably not the “finest”, but it is beautifully balanced and the one that I would most fancy opening at anytime!
I was delighted to recently invite myself be invited to Classic Drinks‘ Portfolio Tasting at Fade Street Social Restaurant in the heart of Dublin. Classic supply both on and off trade in Ireland and given their portfolio of 800 wines there’s a good chance that the average Irish wine drinker has tried one.
Here are a few of the wines which stood out for me:
Champagne Pannier Brut NV (RRP €52.99)
Given my proclivities for quality fizz (a friend and fellow wine blogger dubbed me a “Bubbles Whore”, to which I have no retort) it was no surprise to see me making a beeline for the Champagne.
Louis-Eugène Pannier founded his eponymous Champagne house in 1899 at Dizy, just outside Epernay, later moving to Château-Thierry in the Vallée de la Marne. The current Cellar Master, Philippe Dupuis, has held the position for over 25 years. Under him the house has developed a reputation for Pinot-driven but elegant wines.
The Non Vintage is close to a three way equal split of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. The black grapes provide body and red fruit characters, but the good whack (technical term) of Chardonnay gives citrus, flowers and freshness. A minimum of 3 years ageing adds additional layers of brioche. It’s a well balanced and classy Champagne.
From near Venice comes this blend of local and international white varieties: Garganega 50%, Chardonnay 30%, Trebbiano di Soave 20%.
Garganega is probably most well known for being the basis of Soave DOC / DOCG wines, whose blends often include the other local grape here, Trebbiano di Soave. In fact, the latter is also known as Verdicchio in the Marche region where it is most popular.
So how is it? Amazing bang for your buck. More than anything this is peachy – so peachy, in fact, that you can’t be 100% convinced they haven’t put peaches in with the grapes when fermenting! More info here.
Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013 (RRP €13.99)
Angove was founded in the beautiful region of Mclaren Vale (just south of Adelaide in South Australia) in 1886, and are still family run and owned, now by the fifth generation. The company has sixteen sub-ranges which span a large range of quality levels (and price brackets).
So why doesn’t the new World do more of this type of blend? Lots of citrus zing from the Riesling with just a touch of peachy body and spicy aromas from the Gewurz. The precise blend was the matter of some contention, with both (40% / 60%) and (30% / 30%) being quoted, though my guess would be closer to 80% / 20% as otherwise Gewurz would totally steal the show on the nose.
This would be great as an aperitif or flexible enough to cope with many different Asian cuisines – Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese.
Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012 (RRP €20.99)
Internationally, Nelson is firmly in the shadow of Marlborough when it comes to both export volumes and familiarity with consumers. Although Nelson isn’t far from Marlborough at the top of the South Island, it gets more precipitation and produces wines of a different style.
Neudorf is one Nelson producer which has received accolades for its owners Tim and Judy Finn, and Seifried is another. From their website:
The Seifried family have been making stylish food-friendly wines since 1976. The range includes rich full Chardonnays, fine floral Rieslings, lively Sauvignon Blancs, warm plummy Pinot Noirs and intensely delicious dessert wines.
If you see the Seifried “Sweet Agnes” Riesling then snap it up, it’s delicious!
The 2012 Pinot Gris has an Alsace Grand Cru standard and style nose – so much stone fruit, exotic fruit and floral notes. On the palate these are joined by spice, pear and ginger. This would be a great food wine with its comforting texture
For my personal taste it would be even better with a touch more residual sugar than its 5g/L, but that’s just me and my Alsace bias. A lovely wine.
Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011 (RRP €32.99)
More than just Chardonnay, more than just Chablis…in fact this is more than just 1er Cru Chablis, it’s a great effort. There’s a hint of something special on the nose but it really delivers on the palate – it just sings.
Laroche tells us that the fruit is sourced from several Premier Cru vineyards such as Vosgros, Vaucoupins and Vaulignau (I don’t know if selection is alphabetical…) and then blended together so the wine is more than the sum of its parts.
The majority (88%) is aged in stainless steel and the remainder (12%) in oak barrels. The texture and palate weight might lead you to believe that more oak was involved, but this also comes from nine months ageing on fine lees and the minimal filtration. Full info here.
Thanks to Classic Drinks and venue hosts Fade Street Social!
Many of the producer tastings I’ve been at in the past year have been solely focused on red wines, but as I tend to drink much more white at home that hasn’t been such a hardship. Many of the retailer tastings have been very broad and included a few standout whites, so a few of those are included below.
I haven’t thought too deeply about the order of wines 10 down to 4, but the top 3 are definitely in order!
10. Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
All wines were wild ferment until a few decades ago, but cultured yeast is now the norm for mass produced wines – it’s more reliable and predictable in terms of fermentation performance, flavours and alcohol levels. Wild yeast can often give wilder, but more interesting flavours.
This Greek Assyrtiko from O’Briens is included because it’s just so different from anything else I tasted in the year – it really brings the funk!
9. Bruno Sorg Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Pinot Gris 2010
One of my favourite Alsace producers, Bruno Sorg have a broad range of varietals at different quality levels, and all are excellent for the price tag. From near their home in Eguisheim this Grand Cru Pinot Gris is silky and rich, off-dry without being sweet, textured without being stuffy. I did try some other countries’ Pinot Gris offerings, but Alsace is still where it’s at in my book.
8. Eric Texier Opâle 2012
This ethereal Mosel-style Rhône white stood out for me at The Big Rhône Tasting at Ely– partly because it was so different from the (delicious) Rhône reds, but mainly because of its sheer audacity and brilliance.
This should be drunk in small sips from a small glass, perhaps with company, but once you taste it you won’t want to share!
7. Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
The only white varietal tasting I went to all year was Austria’s signature grape Grüner Veltiner. The biggest surprise for me was not the excellent quality, it was the versatility of the grape – it’s such a chameleon, depending on where and how it’s made.
The Lamm Reserve was my overall favourite from the tasting at Wine Workshop – and perhaps it’s no coincidence given my proclivity for Pinot Gris that I preferred an example of Grüner which somewhat resembles Pinot Gris.
6. Dog Point Section 94 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is so ubiquitous on our shelves that it’s often taken for granted, ignored for being old hat or dismissed after tasting the poorer examples churned out at a discount in supermarkets. Even if you are a little bored of regular Savvy, there are alternatives, as I posted back in 2013.
A big differentiator of the alternative Marlborough Sauvignons is that they can age gracefully for several years, becoming more complex and interesting; many regular SBs shine very brightly in the year they are harvested then fade quickly.
And so I was lucky enough to taste the 2010 vintage of Dog Point’s Section 94 at the James Nicholson Xmas Tasting. Dog Point don’t make a duff wine, they range from very good to amazing – and this was now firmly in the latter class.
5. Rolly Gassmann Alsace Planzerreben de Rorschwihr Riesling 2008
A bin-end special from The Wine Society that turned out to be sublime, if difficult to pronounce. Rolly Gassmann is a renowned producer of Alsace and I had hoped to visit on my last trip there, but it wasn’t to be (too many great wineries, too little time!)
Thankfully this Riesling magically transported me to the hills of Rorschwihr. It’s just off-dry, balancing the racy acidity and lifting the fruit. At six years from vintage it had started to develop some really interesting tertiary notes – but it must have the best part of a decade still to go. I doubt my other bottle will last that long!
4. Man O’War Valhalla Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2010
This is one of the wines that was open at several different tastings during the year, but despite having a few bottles in at home I always had a taste, it’s just that good. Not exactly a shy and retiring type, this Chardonnay has loads of tropical fruit, with a little bit of candied pineapple among the fresh.
It’s well oaked, both in the sense of quantity and quality. Chablis lovers might look elsewhere, but Meursault lovers might change allegiance. A perennial favourite.
3. Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2008
Jeffrey Grosset is the King of Australian Riesling. I bought a case of the Polish Hill Riesling with the same vintage as my son, with the intention of drinking a bottle on (or around) his birthday for the next decade or so. This bottle is a few years older, and a few years wiser – the difference in development is noticeable.
Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene – whatever your petroleum spirit of choice, the 2008 has it nicely developing, though the steel backbone of acidity will keep it going for many a year.
2. Shaw + Smith M3 Vineyard Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012
I was lucky enough to taste Shaw + Smith’s seminal Chardonnay several times during 2014 – with the good folks of Liberty Wines at their portfolio tasting, a bottle with a stunning meal at Ely Bar & Brasserie, and a glass in a small flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar.
The King Is Dead, Long Live The King! Another wine I tried for the first time as part of the flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar, this is perhaps the Californian Chardonnay. After all, in beating some of Burgundy’s best Chardonnays in the Judgement of Paris it really put California on the maps as a producer of top level whites.
And as much as I wanted my beloved M3 to be the best, Montelena eclipsed it for 2014. Even as a young wine it is very approachable but with so much depth. It’s the sort of wine you could happily taste the same vintage of over several decades.
Is there any other grape which is so divisive by synonym? Possibly Syrah and Shiraz, but even then style does not necessarily follow naming convention.
Now, you may have seen the warning on my Twitter bio that “Views and taste in wine may offend” – and I find most Pinot Grigios undrinkable – the best that can be said about them is that they are wet and contain alcohol (but then, the same could be said of aftershave). Often they are thin, acidic and lacking in flavour.
The derogatory term I use is “Chick Water“. I will leave you to guess the derivation!
Pinot Grigio is of course the Italian term for the grape whereas Pinot Gris is the lesser known French equivalent. The en vogue term nowadays is “spiritual home”, and if anywhere could make a claim to be the spiritual home for Pinot Gris it is Alsace, one of my favourite wine regions in the world. There is already a lot of good Pinot Gris being made in New Zealand, which is well suited to aromatic varieties, and the cooler parts of Australia.
Mini Pinot Gris Tasting At Ely Wine Bar
As is my wont, I recently popped into my home-from-home Ely Wine Bar in Dublin and thought I try a few different Pinot Gris served there by the glass:
Verus Vineyards Ormož Pinot Gris 2012
Ormož is in North Eastern Slovenia, near the border with Hungary. Although I knew wine is produced in Slovenia I didn’t know there were “international” grapes planted there. Set up by friends and winemakers Danilo, Božidar and Rajkowho, Verus Vineyards focus on improving quality while making their wines a true expression of their origins.
As the first of the three in the line up, it was fresh with pleasant lemon notes, slightly sour but in an appealing way. There was only just a hint of sweetness on the finish – it wasn’t apparent at all at first, but as the wine warmed up slightly in the glass it tickled the tastebuds. On tasting blind would have had no idea it wasn’t from a better established /known country – I will definitely look out for more of their wines.
Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Gris 2012
The Yarra Valley is one of the premium wine producing areas of Australia – and one of the most exciting – check out my post on De Bortoli Yarra Valley. Innocent Bystander specialise in making good value varietal wines that reflect their Yarra origins. They use 100% hand picked fruit, wild ferments and gravity-flow winemaking techniques, plus minimal filtration and fining – this is definitely on the low-intervention side.
The 2012 has a lovely texture that would make it a great food wine, though it drinks very well on its own. The main flavours are stone fruit, pear, apple and lychee, backed up by plenty of acidity!
Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011
Kevin Judd needs no introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway. He was the chief winemaker at Cloudy Bay from its inception and launch to its 25 year anniversary. He finally left and started his own virtual winery – he bought grapes and rented winery space from former Cloudy Bay colleagues who left themselves to set up Dog Point Winery.
Although Kevin’s Sauvignons, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir take most of the limelight, his Pinot Gris is an excellent example of the variety. It’s properly off dry, rich and oily – the most Alsace-like. Flavours of peach and nectarine dominate, with a hint of crystalline ginger and cinnamon. This would be amazing with Asian food but is just so lovely to contemplate on its own.
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:
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.