Spit Festival is an annual event showcasing some exceptional wines from four of Ireland’s key boutique wine importers. Most of their wines are from small, family run wineries who practise organic, biodynamic or natural techniques.
Here are just of few of the biodynamic wines I loved from the 2018 event (# number refers to the trade tasting booklet):
#23 Domaine Turner Pageot Le Blanc 2017 (RRP ~€23 WineMason)
A previous vintage of this wine was a favourite of mine at the WineMason portfolio tasting and it’s great to see the 2017 is also showing very well. A blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, the later undergo contact with their skins for around a month. This gives lovely mouthfeel and a bit of grip – it’s not a full orange wine, but it gives you a good idea of what to expect from the full blown orange experience (aka “Les Choix”!)
Leclerc Briant was the first organic and biodynamic producer in Champagne (Demeter certified in 2003) – no easy feat considering the marginal climatic conditions there. They are based in the Vallée de la Marne so it’s no surprise to see that Pinot Meunier is a large component of the blend (40%) along with Pinot Noir (40%) and Chardonnay (20%). The grapes come from a single harvest, despite no vintage being declared on the bottle, and lees ageing is well in excess of the 15 month minimum for an NV (in fact it’s around the minimum 36 months required for a vintage Champagne). Dosage is very low at 4 g/L; it could be labelled as Extra Brut” if they so desired.
Thanks to the majority of black grapes, it’s red fruit that really comes to the fore on the nose and palate, with raspberry, redcurrant and even cranberry making an appearance. There’s also a lovely brioche character from the time on the lees, and a crisp lemony finish from the Chardonnay. Some fantastic elements, but taken together the whole package is even better!
Bodegas Ponce (probably sounds more dignified in Spanish) is based in Manchuela, a high altitude region east of Madrid, which also happens to be one of the main homes of the Albillo/Albilla grape. It’s a highly aromatic grape, sometimes being added in to reds from Ribero del Duero for extra fragrance and elegance. With the extended cool growing season in Manchuela it shows green apples and a touch of spice, with lots of texture – even being slightly waxy. A brilliant match for shellfish, veal or pork.
#105 Monte dei Roari Custoza “Boscaroi” 2017 (RRP ~€18, GrapeCircus)
This Venetian beauty is a blend of four grapes:
Trebbiano di Soave (famous for Soave, obviously!)
Garganega (also Soave)
Fernanda (aka Cortese – best known for Gavi)
Trebbianello (another version of Trebbiano)
…all gently fermented in amphorae, and bottled without fining or filtering. The result is dry, pale and interesting – more subtle than most, but beautiful nonetheless. The nose is floral and there is an array of fresh, juicy fruits on the palate, particularly grapefruit and other citrus. Would be amazing paired with a delicate white fish.
I’ve already picked my five favourite reds, now here are five of the whites which stood out for me at the Ely Big Tasting:
Bride Valley Brut Reserve 2014 (12.0%, RRP ~ €54, Liberty Wines)
Bride Valley is a producer named after a place of the same name in Dorset on the south coast of England (it’s between Hampshire and Devon (I had to check as I’m a Northerner myself). The estate is owned by Steven Spurrier and his wife Arabella; Steven is a former wine merchant, a wine educator and a wine writer, and is perhaps most famous for hosting the “Judgement of Paris” in 1976 (though he wasn’t too happy to be portrayed by a 60+ year old Alan Rickman in Bottle Shock!). The soil is said to be similar to Champagne, though I think it’s probably more technically accurate to say that Champagne has similar soil to this part of Dorset as the village of Kimmeridge(whence Kimmeridgian) is close by!
The blend is “typically” 50% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, the three main Champagne grapes, though not seen in these proportions that often. It’s not the most complex English sparkler I’ve tried, though that’s understandable as it’s a very young estate – but it’s simply a delicious wine, and dangerously quaffable!
O Luar do Sil Valdeorras Godello Sobre Lias 2015 (13.5%, RRP ~ €30, Mitchell & Son)
The Rodero Villa family had been making fine Ribero del Duero wines at Pago de los Capellanes for two decades before they set up an outpost in Galicia, north west Spain. Valdeorras is Godello country with a cool climate that encourages a long growing season and lots of aromatic compounds in the wines. “O Luar do Sil” apparently means “The Reflection of the Moon on the river Sil” – though I presume this only applies at night…
Anyway, the wine itself is delicious – fresh, green fruit with creamy richness from six months on fine lees. Wines like this reinforce my view that Godello can make wines equally as good as – if not better than – Galicia’s other prominent white grape Albariño.
I’ve already written about this wine in 2017 but I make no excuses for repeating myself – it’s an excellent wine. Don’t think that this is “just another Marlborough Sauvignon”, it’s far more than that: smoky, funky and citrusy all at the same time. If anything I think this is tasting better than it did earlier in the year, but should keep on developing for several years.
Maison Ambroise Côtes de Nuits Villages Blanc 2013 (13.0%, RRP ~ €28, Le Caveau)
Maison Ambroise are better known for their red wines (as is the Côtes de Nuits in general), with a history going back to the 18th century. The vineyards were reinvigorated by Bertrand Ambroise in 1987 and the amount of land under vine increased to 21 hectares. Organic certification came in 2013.
Oak is used sparingly to add complexity and mouthfeel – details weren’t immediately available but I suspect that any new oak was only a fraction of the total. This is a superlative white – for a relatively modest outlay – so beware, it might just be the wine that gets you hooked on white Burgundy!
Jean Thévenet Domaine de la Bongran Viré-Clessé 2010 (14.0%, RRP ~ €33, Wines Direct)
Viré-Clessé is in the Maconnais, the southernmost sub-region of Burgundy proper before Beaujolais, so the fruit is nearly always riper than Chablis at the other (northern) end of Burgundy. Jean and Gautier Thevenet go even further with their Domaine de la Bongran grapes – they leave them on the vine for several weeks longer than all their neighbours, resulting in powerful wines. The high sugar levels at harvest time combined with natural yeast means that fermentation can take months and months. Such is the richness of the wine that you might think there’s oak used along the way, but not a bit of it. This is an unusual style of Chardonnay that really needs to be tried!
Retailer Marks and Spencer have an excellent wine range, and in line with their aspirational target consumers they aren’t afraid to go up market now and again. Here are six of Marks and Sparks’ super sparklers:
This is a blend of two out of the three traditional white Cava grapes, being 75% Macabeo and 25% Parellada (no love for Xarel-lo this time!) For those not aware, Cava is made in the same way as Champagne (the “traditional method”) from a delimited area of Spain, most of which is in Catalonia near Barcelona. This is a step above the bargain basement Cava which does the label no good – it’s nice and toastybut balanced.
It’s not like me to recommend a rosé so be assured this is a lovely drop! Produced by Segura Viudas, this is made from 100% Trepat, a local black grape which can give Cava lots of character. It has lots of red fruit and herbal notes which give it a savoury edge. Would be perfect with lots of starter dishes.
English sparkling wine producers are very good at the Blanc de Blancs style (in my humble opinion), mainly because they allow the English trademark acidity to come through, but with the edges smoothed off with substantial lees ageing. This effort from Sussex producer Ridgeview is quite freshand linearbut has the toasty lees characters which I love.
Louis Vertay Brut NV (12.0%, 10.5 g/L, €48.00)
I’ve never met Monsieur Vertay but his Champagne is a cracker. It’s a blend of equal parts of the three main Champagne grapes – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier – from the 2013 harvest with some older reserve wines added. The two Pinots make themselves known through lovely red fruit on the attack and mid palate with citrus notes from the Chardonnay finishing it off. Give it to me now!
Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV (12.0%, 10.0 g/L, €60.00)
Although most well known for their Prestige Cuvée Cristal, Louis Roederer also make some fine Champagne at lower price points. At €60 retail this is five times the price of Cavas above but less than a third that of Cristal, and for this Champagne lover it is worth buying as a treat. The blend is 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier, with 10% of the total coming from reserve wines. It’s a sumptuous, textured, gorgeous wine.
Oudinot Cuvée Tradition Magnum NV (12.0%, 10.0 g/L, €75.00)
Although this has a higher price than the Louis Roederer there’s an important word in the description – MAGNUM! There’s something quite decadent about drinking from a magnum of Champagne, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m a fan. I don’t know if it has the status officially, but I think of Oudinot as M&S’s house Champagne – and that’s no bad thing. The blend is 50% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier – the extra Chardonnay comes through as extra citrusand freshness, so it would be great as an aperitif.
If you live outside the UK you might not know that the 23rd of April is St George’s Day, Georgie boy being the “patron saint” of England. Celebrations are so muted that, in general, you might not even know about the day if you do live in the UK.
But there’s no one quite as patriotic as an ex-pat, so I was determined to quaff some quality English sparkling on the day!
100% Chardonnay (of course). Of all of the three tasted, this was the most “English” in style, if there is such a thing; it’s the racy acidity which really stands out, making it perfect as an aperitif. Fresh Granny Smith apples dominate the nose, joined by citrus and minerality on the palate. This is the current release but I think it will keep on developing for years to come.
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
55% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier. Probably the best Classic Cuvée (i.e. traditional Champagne blend) so far, this was on promotion at the ridiculously low price of €45 at Ely Wine Bar (where the above snap was taken) as part of Dublin Wine Festival.
Red fruit from the two Pinots arrives first followed by citrus from the Chardonnay. For research purposes I tried it both in a Champagne flute and in a normal white wine glass. It seemed fizzier in the first but a little softer and fruitier in the latter – an interesting experiment.
Ridgeview Grosvenor 2007
With a wine-making history almost as old as Nyetimber, Ridgeview are part of the establishment. For those who have heard Moët & Chandon’s fairytale about Dom Pérignon, here is Ridgeview’s take on sparkling wine:
Ridgeview’s trade mark MERRET™ is in honour of Englishman Christopher Merret. In 1662 he presented a paper to the Royal Society in London which documented the process of making traditional method sparkling wines. This was 30 years before the technique was documented in champagne. To celebrate Merret’s achievements Ridgeview has kept a London connection when naming our range of wines.
This was a different thing entirely. Amazing layers of tropical fruit and sweet brioche competed for attention. I would never have imagined that something this exotic was made in England. I can’t see this improving any further, but there was still underlying acidity to keep it all together. If you see any of this in your local wine shop, snap it up!
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!
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:
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:
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:
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
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)
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)
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!
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
Molloys Liquor Stores is a off licence group with 10 outlets around Dublin plus their website www.molloys.com. Their range is biased towards cost-conscious everyday bottles, but as they import many of them exclusively they can cut out the middle-man and offer good value for money.
Here are some of the highlights from their recent press tasting:
Champagne Jean Comyn “Harmonie” Brut NV (€34.99)
It’s a bakery in a bottle! An amazing brioche nose points to extended ageing on the lees – the minimum for a non vintage Champagne is 15 months but I would guess at double that or more. There’s fresh strawberry on the attack (from Pinots Noir and Meunier) followed by lemon (from Chardonnay), and a crisp finish.
This won a silver medal at last year’s IWC which is impressive for an unknown (to me at least) brand. Please don’t buy Moët, buy this instead – it’s far nicer.
Decoding the label tells us that this Prosecco is fully sparkling (Spumante) and north of off-dry – confusingly Extra Dry means no such thing, but consumers like to thinkthat they like dry wines. This is the most expensive of the five Proseccos that Molloys import – the extra tax on Spumante compared to Frizzante ensures it’s not one of the cheapest – but I think it’s also the best value.
I don’t mind a glass of Prosecco but I rarely fancy a second – this is an exception to that rule. This has a grapey nose (go figure!) and then pear and red apple on the palate, wrapped in a creamy lemon mousse. It’s not trying to be Champagne but it is a grown up drink that should please most.
Colombelle l’Original IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2013 (€8.99)
Gascony is more famous for its brandy – Armagnac – than for its wines. Thankfully this means that they remain a relative bargain. Colombard is usually the main grape, supported by Ugni Blanc and / or Sauvignon Blanc for a bit of extra zip. This example comes from Producteurs Plaimont, a quality and value conscious cooperative from South West France.
And it’s wonderful! So much fruit – ripe, round apples and peachy stone fruit – but with a crisp finish. This isn’t amazingly complex but it’s a very enjoyable tipple – and at a modest 11.0% abv a glass or two in the week won’t hurt. I’d serve this as an aperitif or as a match for roast chicken or a mild curry.
Beauvignac Chardonnay, IGP Pay d’Oc (€10.49)
In addition to various Pay d’Oc varietals, this modern producerCave Pomerols also makes AOP Picpoul de Pinet.
Tropical fruit is the order of the day here – pineapple, passionfruit and grapefruit dance around the nose. A touch of vanilla also becomes apparent on the palate suggesting some light oak ageing, but it’s well integrated and doesn’t jar at all. Malolactic fermentation is deliberately blocked which gives it a crisp, fresh finish.
So many inexpensive Chardonnays taste artificial but this is a nice drop. Would be amazing with scallops!
Heritiers Dubois AOC Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur lie 2012 (€11.49)
If you’ve ever shopped in a French supermarket you will no doubt have noticed a half dozen different bottles of Muscadet on sale. You might even have tried a few – after all, they’re quite inexpensive in France. But the odds are, you didn’t go back and buy more of the same. Muscadet’s reputation is not the best at the moment, mainly due to low quality / high yield production which results in austere, acidic and fruitless swill.
But every cloud and all that – those producers who do care about quality are unable to command high prices due to the general reputation of the area – and that means there are bargains to be had!
Sèvre et Maine is a subregion of Muscadet but doesn’t signify that much as it accounts for 80% of all Muscadets. Sur Lie means the wine was matured on its lees, i.e. the dead yeast cells left over from fermentation. This gives it a creamy texture and a bit more interest in terms of flavour.
So how does this taste? Full of lemon zest! It’s not austere, though it is racy and lean. It cries out for shellfish or delicate white fish. I expected not to like this, but it surprised me!
Château Bonnin Pichon AOC Lussac-St-Emilion 2008 (€15.49)
Lussac is one of the four satellite villages that can suffix the coveted name of St-Emilion to their wines. These villages don’t reach the heights attained in St-Emilion proper, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t offer some well made, drinkable wine. 2008 was a pretty-good-but-not-excellent vintage in Bordeaux; modern viticulture and winemaking means that the best can be brought out of whatever nature has presented.
As normal for right bank Bordeaux it’s Merlot that takes the lead (81%), with Cabernet Franc (15%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (4%) playing supporting roles. Oak, fruit and tannin are well balanced now and would evolve slowly over the next five years or so. I would guess some proportion of American oak given the flavour profile The fruit is dark – plum , blackberry and blackcurrant.
Drink this on its own or with red meat such as beef or lamb.
Gran Passione IGT Rosse del Veneto 2013 (€14.99)
From the hinterland of Venice, this big and velvety red is perfect a perfect winter’s night. Tannin and acidity are present and correct – it is very young – so decant for a few hours if you have chance, or serve with a hearty stew.
Think of this as a baby Amarone – it weighs in at 14.5% – but less complex and certainly cheaper! The grapes aren’t stated but I would guess at the typical Corvina / Rondinella / Molinara.
Cellier des Princes AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (€24.99)
The world famous southern Rhône appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape perhaps faces the opposite challenge to Muscadet – its reputation is so good that pretty much any bottle carrying its name can be sold for a premium, so someproducers churn out very average wine and put it in a fancy bottle. Thus the cheapest CNDP may not be a bargain at all.
Thankfully Molloys have got it right with this selection! It’s principally Grenache (90%), with Mourvèdre (5%) and Syrah (5%). Weighing in at a whopping 15%, this has bags of dark black fresh and dried fruit and Christmas spice. It’s wonderfully big and robust but velvety and smooth. It’s really far too young to drink now – it will open up a lot more over the next five to ten years – but it’s so delicious that it would be too tempting!
Liberty Wines are a wine importers based in the UK and Ireland with an exciting range of Italian, Australian, New Zealand and other quality wines which are sold to restaurants and independent wine merchants. As well as the quality of their wines they are renowned for the quality of their service to customers and for the representation they give to the producers.
Although it is difficult to select only a few of their wines – as the average quality level is so high – below are my favourite sparkling wines shown at their February and October tastings.
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
If you’ve read much of my blog before you might have gathered that I’m quite a fan of Nyetimber – not (just) for patriotic reasons but because I really rate it as a sparkling wine. And thankfully, I’m not in a minority, as the increasing quality level has been recognised in several competitions – and the 2009 is the best yet.
55% Chardonnay then 25% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier gives it a balanced assemblage of the classic (!) Champagne grapes. It really is fresh and creamy with a bit of soft flesh behind it. I can’t wait to try the Tillington Single Vineyard bottling from the same year!
Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011
A relative newcomer to the English sparkling wine scene. 71% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, 9% Pinot Meunier. Spent time in old Burgundy barrels – though fairly young so obviously not that long!
Very fresh and zesty lemon flavours from the Chardonnay, with a creamy finish. Would be great as an aperitif but could partner well with white fish and seafood.
70% Pinot Noir from the Côte des Bar and 30% Chardonnay from the Côte des Bar, Côte des Blancs and Vitry. Only the first pressing juice is used and 20% of the reserve wines were kept in large oak casks. Malolactic fermentation (MLF) was blocked for a third of the base wine to preserve freshness. It spends three years minimum on the lees, more than double the stipulated period. The key tasting note for me was apples – all manner of apples – stewed apple compote, baked apple pie, fresh apples off the tree. Just delicious!
Champagne Devaux “D de Devaux” La Cuvée NV
60% Pinot Noir from Côte des Bar and 40% Chardonnay from Côte des Blancs and Montgueux. This is a more prestige cuvée but still not from a single vintage; at least 35% of the reserve wines was aged in large oak casks. Spends a minimum of five years on the lees then a further six to nine months post disgorgement.
Although a fairly similar assemblage to the Grande Réserve NV this is a step up in quality and is a different style – altogether more sumptuous and rich, decadent almost. Hell, if you can’t be decadent drinking Champagne now and again, what has life come to?
Champagne Devaux Vintage 2004
97% Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs and 3% Pinot Noir from the Côte des Bar – so this is almosta blanc de blancs. It spent 7 to 8 years on the lees (gives it a lovely creamy character) and then a further year post disgorgement before release (which helps it settle down and integrate properly). Fantastic lemon citrus flavours come through from the Chardonnay.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV
Founded by the original “Champagne Charlie”, this house is now one of the most respected in the whole of Champagne – Tom Stevenson gives them rapturous praise. The Brut NV is one of the strongest on the market this side of luxury cuvées such as Krug. Since coming into common ownership with Piper-Heidsieck (originally founded by an uncle of Charles) a few years ago, quality continues to rise.
40% of the blend is made up of reserve wines (the maximum permitted amount) of up to ten years old. The precise assemblage isn’t disclosed but is undoubtedly Pinot heavy given the richness. Three years maturation on the lees gives some lovely brioche notes.
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995
As much as I love the quality sparklers above, mature Champagne is in a different category entirely. This is 100% Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs – 4 Grands Crus and 1 Premier Cru village. The nervy acidity it had at bottling served to preserve it as it took on new aromas and flavours over the years. Simple lemon has been replaced with brioche, nuts and candied fruit. It has the voluptuous texture without sweetness of salted caramel.
This is a complete Champagne which doesn’t need anything else with it, and in fact is so satisfying that it doesn’t need anybody else with it – I’d want to drink it all by myself!
Part One introduced the different types of producer, the grapes and the main areas of Champagne. Now we look at different grower Champagnes from different subregions of the area.
Wine Workshop Grower Champagne Tasting
In mid August I ventured again to The Wine Workshop in Dublin for a fab tasting of Grower Champagnes, hosted by Morgan VanderKamer. Thanks to my friend Una who helped with the photos!
Réné Geoffroy “Expression” Cumières 1er Cru NV (Vallée de la Marne)
Champagne Réné is now run by Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, son of Réné and grandson of Roger who first moved from just producing grapes to making Champagne. Although they have an elegant maison in Aÿ, 14 out of their total 17 hectares under vine are in the Premier Cru village of Cumières, in the heart of the Vallée de la Marne. The family can trace their roots in the same village back to the 17th century. Production volume is 9,000 cases per year of which 500 are vintage.
This is the top cuvée made by Geoffroy, always made from a blend of two different years. The assemblage is given as 50% PM 30% C 10% PN – though that would leave me feeling a little short-changed. All the grapes are hand picked and a traditional “Coquard” press is used. Parcels are fermented separately to help decide on the blend furether down the line. Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) is blocked to retain fresh acidity. A proportion of the reserve wines are aged in oak to add texture.
Compared to many sparkling wines this tasted a little less fizzy – more like a Perlé style, which used to be known as Crémant before that was appropriated for traditional method sparkling wines from other French regions.
Roberdelph NV Charly-sur-Marne (Vallée de la Marne)
All because…the lady loves…RoberDelph! This was my friend Una’s favourite of the evening. The most Pinot Meunier-biased Champagne of the tasting (the assemblage of the current bottling is 75% PM, 16% C, 9% PN, though it may fluctuate a little), it had a certain earthiness…it would be amazing with Mushroom risotto.
As a NV it is usually based substantially on one year with around 30% reserve wines from three previous years.
RoberDelph have just 5 1/2 hectares under vine round the village of Charly at the western end of the Vallée de la Marne (the Marne of course being the river after which the Département is also named). Their vineyards are composed of 20 different small parcels with different soils and are farmed using “lutte raisonné” methods – think similar to organic but pragmatic rather than dogmatic. They are now run by the 5th and 6th generations of the Robert family.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Cuvée Cuis 1er Cru NV (Côte des Blancs)
Olivier and Didier Gimonnet are the grandsons of Pierre Gimonnet who expanded the family business from grape growing to producing their own Champagne in 1935. They have been growing grapes in Cuis since 1750.
They have 28 hectares of Chardonnay within the Côte des Blancs (plus a couple of small plots of Pinot Noir elsewhere):
– Cuis and Vertus Premiers Crus
– Cramant, Chouilly and Oger Grands Crus
They make a single non vintage (for which they use the more romantic term Sans Année) and five different vintage cuvées which aim to maintain the house style while showcasing the great terroirs of the Côtes des Blancs. Above all they value elegance, finesse, minerality and freshness, with everything in balance.
The high percentage of old vines at this estate sets it apart from many others. There is always a trade off with vine age – yields tend to decline with age, but the resulting juice becomes more and more concentrated – it’s quantity versus quality.
Watch out for their Spécial Club bottlings which are Gimonnet’s flagship – grapes are selected from their oldest vines, go through MLF and then over five years ageing on the lees.
Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Cru NV, Avize, (Côte des Blancs)
I’ve been a fan of Denis Varnier’s Champagnes since I first visited him in Avize in early 2012. I sneaked this into the tasting and it threw some of the tasters. It had much more body and texture than usual for a blankety blank. Oak? No, that would be the five years (minimum) on the lees.
Denis eschews oak and blocks MLF to keep the wines as fresh and pure as possible. The grapes for this bottling are grown in a walled vineyard in Avize called Clos du Grand-Père, named after Denis’s maternal Grandfather Jean Fannière who became a Champagne producer when already in his 50s.
V-F produce another premium Chamapgne called Jean Fannière Origine – it’s a similar style and quality level to St-Denis but made with grapes from Cramant and a lower dosage.
Jacquinot et Fils Blanc de Noirs NV (Cote des Bar)
The Côtes des Bar is a Pinot Noir stronghold – it accounts for 87% of the vines there. This is a 100% Pinot Noir so it has some real guts – layers of red fruit with enough body to accompany the main course of a meal.
The Jacquinot estate dates back to the French revolution. Pierre Jacquinot expanded the family vineyard holdings just after first world war, at the same time becoming a grape broker and Champagne wine merchant, adding his own pressing centre in 1929 and starting to make wine. In 1947 with his 2 sons Jacques and Jean-Guy he created the brand Champagne Jacquinot et Fils. Jacques looked after sales and Jean-Guy developed the vineyard. Jean-Manuel Jacquinot, Jean-Guy’s son, Oenologist in charge of production since 1998 is now running the Estate with the help of François Nicolet, Jacques’s son- in-law.
Other Jacquinot wines of note include the White Symphonie which has 10 years on the lees and their top bottling Harmonie which has 14 years!
Dravigny-Godbillon “Cuvée Ambre” NV, Ecuille
What a delightful label! *cough* But hey, if people aren’t going to buy it because of the cover then there’s more to go round for those of us who value the contents! The good folks at Ely Wine Bar in Dublin obviously share the same opinion as it’s on their list next to the big guns of Taittinger and Bollinger. As it’s a small producer they only export to two countries – Denmark and Ireland!
The blend is 70% PN, 25% C, 5% PM, so there is plenty of strawberry goodness but wrapped in a lemon envelope. The Chardonnay keeps it fresh enough that it doesn’t tire after a few glasses.
Guy Charlemagne Le Mesnil-sur-Oger Grand Cru 2004 (Côte des Blancs)
Did anyone else get the pun? Mesnillésime is a portmanteau of Le Mesnil sur Oger, the Côte des Blancs village where Champagne Guy Charlemagne is based, and Millésime, the French word for vintage. Krug’s super-premium single vineyard vintage Clos Le Mesnil comes from the same village – it’s probably the best source for Chardonnay in the whole of Champagne.
This is the firm’s top bottling, being 100% Chardonnay from having spent spends six years maturing on the lees before disgorgement, and gets a light dosage of 4g/L so qualifies as extra brut. The mousse is more persistent than Jeremy Paxman…it’s so creamy and goes on and on. Lemon meringue, crème fraîche, the flavour keeps on coming.
Although this was by some distance the most expensive Champagne at the tasting, in the not-so-humble opinion of this taster it was the best value of all!.