Opinion

Alsace from Bordeaux – with Millésima [Sponsored]

Bordeaux was the first wine region I fell in love with, no doubt influenced by the fact that I could visit several vineyards on a day trip from my parents’ home in the Charente Maritime.  To this day there is a map of “Le Vignoble de Bordeaux” in my kitchen which I bought in Saint-Émilion over twenty years ago.

Founded in the heart of Bordeaux in 1983, Millésima is a fine wine and en-primeurWhats in a name specialist which sells directly to consumers in 120 countries.  It is a family run company, now in the hands of second generation Fabrice Bernard who succeeded his father Patrick as CEO in 2017.

Before being invited to write this piece, I was already familiar with Millésima, both through online advertisements and their sponsoring of the Millésima Blog Awards (which my friends Michelle Williams and Mike Turner were winners of in 2016).

Looking further it appears to me that Millésima’s key strengths are:

  • Selection: they have 2.5 million bottles to choose from. The emphasis is on Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne, then other French regions and ten other countries.
  • Provenance: they source their wines directly from the producer so that their condition and (especially) their authenticity are guaranteed.
  • Packaging and delivery: they pride themselves on speedy deliveries which arrive in perfect condition. The wines I ordered were picked and packaged in a double-layered corrugated cardboard box covered with a thick layer of shrink-wrapped plastic.
  • Compliance: unlike some unscrupulous distributors I have heard of, they are fully compliant with the excise and tax regulations of the countries to which their wines are shipped. This is especially important in Ireland which (unfortunately) has the highest rates in Europe, and so puts Millésima on a level playing field with local importers.

So, when invited to try some wines from a Bordeaux-based fine wine supplier, what type of wine did I order?  That’s right, some of my beloved Alsace wines from the far side of the country!  But rather than being awkward, the decision was deliberate and common sense: it would show the breadth of Millésima’s range and would put me in an informed position when reviewing the wines.

To select a mixed case is simple: click on Special Offers on the far right of the top menu

Top Menu

Next menus

then Create your own tasting case

and My own tasting case.

 

The wines I chose mainly feature my two favourite grapes from Alsace – Riesling and Pinot Gris – from three top producers, and both young and aged examples:

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris “Heimbourg” 1997 (14.0%, €55* at millesima.ie)

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg 1997

Heimbourg is a lieu-dit or named vineyard close to Turckheim, the home village of Domaine Zind Humbrecht.  It receives a lot of sunlight as it faces onto the Munster Valley and hence isn’t overshadowed by the Vosges Mountains.

The wine pours bright gold into the glass – a combination of age, possibly some noble rot and the grape variety.  The nose is highly aromatic, mainly showing rich honey notes (I’m not a honey connoisseur, but those bees have been feasting on some pretty tasty nectar) and stewed figs.  One of the best noses I’ve ever experienced!

The palate reveals the wine to be mature with some rancio streaks, possibly just past its peak, and dry.  Being dry is no bad thing in itself but is something of a surprise given the amount of honey on the nose.  The fruit is subdued and mainly stewed, accompanied by walnuts and brazils.  For matching with food, think of mature cheeses and nuts or even slow roasted beef.

Maison Trimbach Pinot Gris Réserve Personnelle 1998 (13.0%, €45* at millesima.ie)

Maison Trimbach Pinot Gris Réserve Personnelle 1998

Trimbach is arguably the most famous producer in Alsace and its wines are well distributed.  Its main yellow label wines are often the default choice for Alsace, whereas its flagship Clos Sainte-Hune Riesling is regarded by many as the best wine of the region.  Sitting between the two are the premium range of Riesling (Cuvée Frédéric Emile), Gewurztraminer (Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre) and this Pinot Gris (Réserve Personnelle).

The nose is clean with no oxidative notes, showing cumquat, apricot, exotic spices such as cinnamon and star anise, wrapped up with some light honeyed notes.  The palate has medium flavour intensity and reflects the nose very well.  This is a tasty, lively wine which isn’t going to improve further and would be best drunk sooner rather than later, but it would still be going strong in a year or two.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris “Herrenweg de Turckheim” 1999 (13.5%, €48 at millesima.ie)

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Herrenweg de Turckheim 1999

The Herrenweg is the vineyard where Zind Humbrecht’s HQ is based, on a complex mixture of sand, silt, clay and alluvial deposits.  Grapes here tend to ripen quickly and be very expressive.

When poured this Pinot Gris was an amazing amber colour – perhaps even burnished copper!  The nose is primarily stewed and some fresh stone fruit, with spice and honey.  It’s relatively subtle on the palate with the same notes but all of them are intertwined – the interplay between them is intriguing.  There’s still a little sweetness on the finish to accompany the honey aromas and flavours.

Domaine Marcel Deiss Alsace Riesling 2017 (13.0%, €28* at millesima.ie)

Domaine Marcel Deiss Riesling 2017

Domaine Marcel Deiss is an estate founded on tradition, but tradition for a reason.  Based in Bergheim, just a few clicks from Ribeauvillé, the Domaine is known for its focus on field blends – how wine was made in Alsace (and much of Europe) for centuries, before different grape varieties were properly identified and planted separately.  This, however, is from the Deiss vins de fruits or vins de cépages range – more about their grape variety than the locality where they were grown.  As with the entire range, this Riesling is Certified Organic and made following biodynamic principles from Deiss’s own vineyards only.

There’s a veritable array of citrus on the nose: lemon, lime, grapefruit and more.  The first sip shows that it has a little more body that you’d expect from a dry Riesling.  It’s young, fresh, citrus, mineral and steely with a long, dry finish.  This is quite a serious wine, but then, Riesling is a serious business!

Domaine Marcel Deiss Langenberg 2013 (12.5%, €39* at millesima.ie)

Domaine Marcel Deiss Langenberg 2013

The Langenberg is from Deiss’s Lieux-Dits range which consists of nine different named vineyards with their own distinctive terrior.  They don’t have Grand Cru status but when Alsace Premier Cru is established I’d bet that many of these nine would be included.   The Deiss website explains that Langenberg is a field blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Beurot, Muscat and Pinot Noir.  To the best of my knowledge Pinot Beurot is simply a synonym for Pinot Gris, but as that is already listed it might be a particular clone.

This is a highly aromatic wine with a wealth of tropical notes: pineapple, grapefruit, guava, banana, coconut, passionfruit and exotic spices all feature.  It has a silky, generous texture in the mouth.  The enticing palate is full of the tropical fruits found on the nose (mainly contributed by the Pinots Grises and the Muscat) but brought round to a crisp conclusion by the Riesling component.  A magnificent wine!

 


*Note: all prices include Irish Duty and VAT and are the relevant prices for individual bottles as part of a mixed selection.

Disclosure: this is a sponsored post, but all opinions remain my own.

 

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Tasting Events

Fruit and Balance [Alsace Vault Vol. 1]

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Françoise Gilley (L) & Agathe Bursin (R)

Last year, thanks to the generosity of Françoise and Seán Gilley of Terroirs in Donnybrook, Dublin, I had the opportunity to meet one of the young stars of Alsace wine, Agathe Bursin.  And not only meet her, but to have her guide us through a tasting of her wines and then try the wines with the excellent food of Forest Avenue.

Like many people in Alsace, Agathe Bursin had a connection to winemaking when she grew up, although not directly from her parents like some.  In her small infant school she was the only girl along with four boys; that is, four boys who all wanted to be a tractor driver on their family’s vineyards, so it was only natural for the young Agathe to dream of this as well.

Secondly, while her family had been selling their grapes to the local cooperative since 1956, her grandfather did make some small amount of wine for family consumption – and Agathe was fascinated by the equipment and the process.

Fast forward several years to 2000, and she graduated in Oenology, but when her first wines were made back home in accordance with her textbooks, they didn’t feel like her wines at all.  She learnt from this minor setback and took an entirely new approach; stripped back and providing a gentle hand of direction only when required.

Since then she has followed organic and biodynamic practices (though has not sought certification) including the use of herbal teas in the vineyard and only indigenous yeast for fermentation.  Interestingly, it is the yeast present in the cellar rather than the vineyard that usually win the biochemical war that is fermentation.  She neither encourages nor discourages malolactic fermentation, it is simply permitted to happen if it happens.  Thankfully though, it usually happens spontaneously in the red wines and not in the whites.

Agathe’s Domaine now totals around 5.5 hectares, split over the Grand Cru Zinnkoepflé and the Lieux-dits Bollenberg, Dirstelberg, Strangenberg, all around her home village of Westhalten.  The split of varieties is: 5% Muscat, 15% Pinot Gris, 20% Riesling, 20% Gewurztraminer and 20% Sylvaner.  Some of the vines are co-planted – more on which later.

Here are my tasting notes on the wines, with the rider that je ne crache pas les blancs….

mdePinot Noir Strangenberg 2015 is from grapes grown on marl and limestone soil.  The grapes are hand picked then partially de-stemmed (40% – 60% depending on the vintage).  There is no cold soak; fermentation begins in stainless steel tanks with eight days of maceration (longer would lead to the wine being too vegetal) before being transferred into used 228 litre pièces to complete the two months of fermentation.  Maturation is for 20 months.  This Pinot Noir shows bright red and black cherry fruit; it’s a smooth wine that has taken a touch of weight and roundness from its time in oak but very little obvious flavour.

Dirstelberg Riesling 2016.jpgRiesling Dirstelberg 2016 is grown on the highest vineyard in Alsace at 500 metres above sea-level.  The soil is red sandstone, sheltered from the wind but still cool (which Riesling prefers).  The vines are trained as Double Guyot which tends to give small berries.  According to Agathe, with age these wines take on chalky, mineral characters rather than diesel.  At this young age it is racy, nervous and tangy, full of fresh citrus – lime lemon and grapefruit – and orange blossom.

mdePinot Blanc Parad’Aux 2016 is a blend of Pinot Blanc and its close relation Auxerrois.  The former has high acidity (which is why it is so popular in Crémant d’Alsace) whereas the latter is quite floral and has moderate acidity.  The two varieties are co-fermented and the local yeast naturally leaves a little bit of residual sugar (6 g/L) which comes across as roundness rather than sweetness (Agathe believes her indigenous yeast are “quite lazy”).  Soft stone fruits are the order of the day here, with a touch of peach, apricot and nectarine.

mdeL’As de B 2016 is a proper field blend, where the different varieties are all planted in the same plot, are harvested and then vinified together.  Bizarrely, while the different varieties would normally ripen at different times in their own blocks, when planted together they mature together!  The blend is – are you ready for this? – 5% Muscat, 15% Pinot Gris, 20% Gewurztraminer, 20% Riesling, 20% Pinot Blanc and 20% Sylvaner.  The residual sugar for the blend falls between 10 and 20 g/L depending on vintage.  The 2016 shows lots of spice, with the Gewurz and Pinot Gris particularly showing through.   Interestingly, although the blend stays the same from year to year, different grapes seem to come to the fore with each vintage.

mdeL’As de B 2008 shows how well this wine can age – it still shows great freshness as well as development, but is not yet fully mature.  It seems soft and gentle, as though it had settled in to itself with age.

As I speak reasonable French I presumed that “As de B” signified “L’As de Bursin”, i.e Bursin’s Ace, but this is not the case.  The grapes all come from the Bollenberg; the story is that when the blend was first vinified, someone chalked “Edelzwicker” on the tank – the traditional Alsace blend – but as Edelzwicker is not usually a field blend, Agathe didn’t want to use that term.  Instead she preferred “Assemblage de Bollenberg”, but as that was far too long she settled for L’As de B – and the name stuck.

Dirstelberg Pinot Gris 2016.jpgPinot Gris Dirstelberg 2016 is grown on the same red sandstone as the Riesling.  RS is off-dry at 14 g/L which is my preferred style for the grape.  The palate has delicious quince and pear plus exotic spices.  It is rich but nowhere near cloying.

Per Agathe, with age the Pinot Gris Dirstelberg gains notes of smoke, toast and flint – this sounds very intriguing and something I hope to experience for myself in the not too distant future!

mdeGewurztraminer Dirstelberg 2016 is the wine which gave Agathe the most worry.  On the Dirstelberg, Gewurz naturally produces lots of leaves, but as winds tend not to be strong there is a significant risk of bunch rot if they are not trimmed back.  Once harvested, the grapes are given a very gentle pressing over 6 to 8 hours in order to extract only moderate phenolics – this also results in the wine looking somewhat paler than the average young Gewurz.  This is a gentle, restrained Gewurztraminer that really does live up to Agathe’s desire for fruit and balance.  If only more could be like this, I think the grape would have more fans.

mdeRiesling Grand Cru Zinnkoeplé Vendanges Tardives 2015 shows how sweet Riesling can be a magnificent, balanced rapier.  Residual sugar of 65 g/L is the counterpoint to thrilling, racy acidity.

It’s still very young and tangy – and very enjoyable – but has years of magnificence ahead of it.  If I had a case or two, then yes I’d be tempted to dive in now and again, but I think, despite the expletives of joy in my tasting notes, this is one that will be legendary in a decade’s time.

mdeGewurztraminer Grand Cru Zinnkoeplé Vendanges Tardives 2015 is getting on for the longest name of any wine I’ve ever reviewed!  Harvesting took place at the beginning of November, so this is a true Vendanges Tardives.

Obviously sweeter on the palate than the Riesling above – both in terms of higher RS at 89 g/L and softer acidity – this is a mighty fine example of late harvest Gewurz.  Compared to some it’s relatively muted – but as the grape can be such an overblown, blousy, tart’s boudoir, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

 


Post Script: Does Agathe drive a tractor now?  You bet she does!

 

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz 2019

My interest in good and great bubbly is well known, so there are some crackers in my Top 10 Fizz this year.  It’s dominated by Champagnes, which reflects both my preferences and the wines that I’ve been able to taste in the last year or so – but try as many as you can and make your mind up for yourself:

10. Champagne Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2009

Beaumont des Crayeres Fleur Blanche

12.0%, RRP €47.00.  Distributed by O’Briens.

Co-operative Beaumont des Crayères’ regular bottle is their Grande Réserve NV which is a very acceptable bottle itself, but this vintage Blanc de Blancs is a whole new level.  For non-francophones, the name “Fleur Blanche” simply translates as “White Flower” which both hints at its composition and evokes its aromas.  The palate shows evidence of extended lees ageing with lovely toasted brioche topped by citrus and stone fruit.  2009 is a very good vintage so this is something that you could lay down and enjoy a bottle every so often over the next decade.

9. Champagne Laherte Frères Extra Brut “Ultradition” NV

laherte freres champagne nv

12.5%, RRP €53.00.  Distributed by GrapeCircus.  Also see related article here.

This Champagne is part of the Pinot Meunier comeback (more on which later) – the region’s third grape variety is somewhat unloved as it doesn’t have the cachet of the big two – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – nor, according to many, the same ageing potential.  However, Meunier has plenty of character of its own which can really shine through when it’s done properly as in the hands of the Laherte brothers.  The nose evokes flowers but the palate has both red and citrus fruit plus some nice leesy notes.

8. Champagne Leclerc-Briant Brut Réserve NV

leclerc briant brut reserve

12.0%, RRP €62.00.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Another Meunier dominated non vintage Champagne with an extra brut dosage, this is a lively, fruity little number that tastes fresh rather than dry – it has lots of red fruit but they tend towards redcurrant and even cranberry, a sign of zippy acidity.  Depending on your personal preferences, this could be laid down for several years for it to round out and develop more complexity with bottle age – or just enjoy right now!

7. Champagne Salon Cuvée “S” Le Mesnil 2007

Salon 2007

12.0%, RRP €530.  Distributed by Pembroke Wines.

Salon is something of a legend in Champagne circles, but amongst regular and even enthusiast wine drinkers it is not well known – mainly down to the very small production volumes and minimal advertising (oh yes, and the price).  All the grapes are sourced from one of the Côte des Blancs’ best Grand Cru villages, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  It’s a special enough place that master blenders Krug released their first single vineyard Champagne from there: Krug Clos Le Mesnil.  Salon only produce a single, vintage wine and then only in very good years; 2007 is only the 38th release since the first in 1921, and the 2008 is only going to be released in magnum format (form an orderly queue please).  So how is the 2007?  Intense, bready, taut, young…almost raw in fact.  But the inherent splendour can be guessed at – if you are prepared to wait a while then break open the piggy bank and stash a bottle or two.

6. Arcari + Danesi Franciacorta “Dosaggio Zero” 2013

franciacorta dosaggio zero arcari danesi

12.5%, RRP €60.  Distributed by GrapeCircus. Also see related article here.

This is the best Franciacorta I have tasted by a country mile.  It has no dosage but doesn’t need one – there’s loads of juicy fruit sweetness without any extra sugar.  Talking of which, Arcari + Danesi don’t even use sugar or the second alcoholic fermentation, but rather grape juice from their own harvest.  If you’ve been underwhelmed by the Franciacortas available where you are (and I was) then this shows you how good they can be.

5. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée MV

picture 86377

12.5%, RRP €61.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

More and more English sparkling wines are coming to the market each year and the overall quality keeps getting higher, but for me Nyetimber are still top of the pops.  So how do they stay ahead of the chasing pack?  A relentless drive to improve has made their Classic Cuvée better with each subsequent release.  Is there a ceiling?  I don’t know, but it will be fun finding out!

4. Champagne Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis NV

Champagne Cuvee Paradis Brut Alfred Gratien

12.0%, RRP £125.00 (magnum).  Distributed in the UK by The Wine Society.

Alfred Gratien doesn’t receive the kudos that some of the big houses do, but their no-nonsense Champagnes have plenty of fans.  This is a magnum of their top offering; with several years post-disgorgement it’s on the mature side (which is a good thing) but has plenty of years left (also a good thing).  I’ve tried it twice in the past 18 months and it was even better the second time.  If you can get your hands on some, do!

3. Champagne Gosset Grand Millésime 2004

Gosset Grand Millesime 2004

12.0%, RRP €95. Distributed in Ireland by Mackenway and in the UK by BBR.

The oldest extant Champagne house, Gosset was founded in 1584 – before Champagne wines were even sparkling.  They have a fantastic range, with the Petite Douceur Extra Dry Rosé and Blanc de Blancs also being big favourites of mine.  I’ve  been lucky to try the Grand Millésime 2004 several times recently and it’s truly magnificent – such finesse and complexity.  It’s even found a fan in my dad who doesn’t normally bother with anything sparkling.  The blend is 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, neither of which go through malolactic fermentation, preserving freshness. A minimum of six years’ ageing on lees before disgorgement is not as long as some prestige cuvées but helps to generate lots of interesting creamy, nutty and fruity notes.  A real treat!

2. Champagne R&L Legras Cuvée Exceptionelle Saint-Vincent 1996

r-l-legras-saint-vincent-blanc-de-blancs-grand-cru-brut

12.0%.  Distributed in the UK by BBR.  Also see related article here.

While this is also a treat, it’s not for everyone as it is quite mature in style (apparently, some people don’t like mature Champagne – what gives?).  But I bloody love it!  From the  village of Chouilly, this is 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay.  Quite tight and structured on release, a dozen or so additional years of bottle ageing have added layers of spice and baked apple onto the citrus and brioche framework.  This is mature but far from tired, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it.

1. Champagne Dom Pérignon P2 2000

Dom Pérignon 2000 P2

12.5%, RRP €420.  Distributed in Ireland by Edward Dillon; retailed by SIYPS.

Even people quite familiar with Dom Pérignon – it is the best selling luxury cuvée, after all – might not be aware of the house’s P2 and P3 Oenothèque releases.  The “standard” or “regular” (how inadequate those words sound!) Dom Pérignon 2000 was released in 2008 after disgorgement the previous year, so after six or so years on the lees.  Some of the wines were held back and aged on lees for an additional nine years, apparently the wine’s second peak (or “Plenitude“).  The result is not just more autolytic notes, but it’s a turbocharged Dom Pérignon, with nuts, cream, coffee, honey….the list goes on, as it stands as one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted (of any type).  Yes, it’s just over double the price of the current release of DP, (around €200) but it’s not that much more than the DP Rosé which I think it is far better than.  If you get chance to taste this, you must.

 


The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

  • Top 10 Whites
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • Top 10 Reds
  • Top 10 Sweet
  • Top 10 Value Whites
  • Top 10 Value Reds
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Ireland
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Alsace

 

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 4 – GrapeCircus)

gc_logo_web_square

Last – but no means least – of our awesome foursome from Spit is GrapeCircus.  Enrico’s wines are the most “edgy” of the whole gang (if you’ve got a moment, some are edgier than U2’s guitarist walking along the side of the Cliffs of Moher watching Tom Cruise film “Edge of Tomorrow” on his Samsung phone.)  This means that even open minded wine geeks such as myself won’t necessarily like every wine in a tasting line-up, but it’s highly likely that we will love lots of them!

Here are five that I loved from SPIT:

Laherte Frères Champagne Extra Brut “Ultradition” NV (12.5%, RRP €53.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin, Meath & Galway; Fallon & Byrne Exchequer St & RathminesBlackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Mitchell & SonSIYPS)

laherte freres champagne nv

Founded in 1889, Laherte Frères is now in the hands of the sixth and seventh generation of the family.  The latter is represented by Aurelien Laherte who has spearheaded the estate’s move to organic and biodynamic practices.  A key strength is their use of over 350 old oak barrels to ferment each parcel separately, giving lots of options when putting together each cuvée.

“Ultradition” is of course a portmanteau of “ultra” and “tradition”, though at 4g/L the dosage is extra brut rather than ultra brut.  The blend is 60% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir (including 40% reserve wines).  The nose is quite floral with a touch of biscuitiness.  Fresh red and citrus fruit dominate the palate

Agusti Torello Mata Xarel-lo “Xic” 2017 (11.0%, RRP €18.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin, Meath & Galway; Green Man Wines, Terenure; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Ashes of Annascaul; SIYPS)

augusti torello mata xarel-lo xic

Xarel-lo is best known as one of the three traditional Cava grapes, along side Macabeo and Parellada.  Agustí Torelló Matá does indeed make Cava but this is a single varietal still offering designed to be fun and drinkable.  It does drinkable in spades, so delicious and moreish!  The palate abounds with fresh quince, apple, grapefruit and lime.  This is a stunning wine that really drinks ahead of its price point.

Meinklang “Burgenlandweiß” 2017 (11.0%, RRP €19.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin & Galway; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Ashes of Annascaul; SIYPS)

meinklang burgenlandweiss

So now to Austria’s Burgenland and an aromatic white blend from biodynamic producer Meinklang.  And it’s aromatic as hell!  Enrico made sure I tasted this when he showed it at the Ely Big Tasting as he knew it’s my kind of wine (he’s a shrewd man).  A blend of 50% Grüner Veltliner, 40% Welschriesling and 10% Muscat, this is just a downright delicious liquid that puts a smile on your face when you sniff it and a sh*t-eating grin when you drink it!

Welschriesling’s origins have yet to be discovered.  Also known as Riesling Italico, Olaszrizling, Laški Rizling or Graševina, it is unrelated to “true” (Rhine) Riesling or Schwarzriesling (better known as Pinot Meunier).

Le Due Terre “Sacrisassi” Bianco 2014 (13.0%, RRP €49.00 but on-trade only at the moment)

sacrisassi bianco le due terre

This wine is exactly why independent wine festivals like SPIT are important – they give trade, press and public an opportunity to try wines that they otherwise would not have the chance or the yen to try.  The hefty price tag and lesser known region of production might put many off, but this is a wine that, once tried, goes straight into the “special treat” category.

A blend of 70% Fruliano (the grape formerly known as Tocai) and 30% Ribolla Gialla, on tasting this wine has the “wow factor”, such depth of flavour.  It shows wonderful soft stone fruit at the core, surrounded by an envelope of sea-spray freshness.

Roccalini Barbaresco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €47.00 at Green Man Wines, Terenure; Sheridans Galway)

roccalini barbaresco

Paolo Veglio follows the traditional “hands off” winemaking practices of Barbaresco, making wines that would be considered by many to be “natural” (though more on that another day.)  As well as their overall quality, Paolo’s wines are known for their drinkability and their texture.  Too often (for me at least), 100% Nebbiolo wines are too tannic and a little on the thin side, even though they might have prodigious levels of alcohol.  At Roccalini they use a traditional third way of extracting colour and flavour from the grape skins; instead of punching down or pumping over, they wedge sticks in the top of the concrete fermenters which keep the cap submerged

This is a thick, chewy, viscous, amazing Barbaresco that needs to be tried!

 

The SPIT series:

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 2 – Nomad)

nomad

While WineMason’s specialities are Portugal, Austria, Germany and South Africa, Nomad is a Burgundy specialist outfit.  Of course, the range has seen additions from other regions – particularly in France – but Burgundy is still at the heart of the portfolio.  As with all of the SPIT crew, Nomad’s wines are generally from small producers who practise sustainable, organic or biodynamic viticulture, but they remain fairly conventional – though excellent – in taste.

Here are five of Nomad’s best that caught my eye at SPIT.

Leclerc Briant Champagne Brut Reserve NV (12.0%, RRP €62.00 at SIYPS; 64 Wine, Glasthule & Green Man Wines, Terenure)

leclerc briant brut reserve

Leclerc Briant was the first organic and biodynamic producer in Champagne – no mean feat when the cool and sometimes damp climate is taken into account.  They are based in the Vallée de la Marne where Pinot Meunier is most at home, and it shows in the blend: 65% Pinot Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay.

30 months on the lees (double the minimum requirements for a non vintage Champagne) softens out the wine somewhat, meaning that a low dosage of 4g/L is all that’s required.  The Pinot(s) dominance really comes through in the red fruits flavour profile – raspberry, redcurrant and cranberry.  A lively, clean and refreshing Champagne!

Domaine des Ardoisieres Vin des Allobroges-Cevins “Schiste” 2015 (12.0%, RRP €51.00 at SIYPS, Martins Off-Licence, Fairview & Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown)

domaine des ardoisieres schiste

If Tolkein’s Dwarves drank a wine, it would be from Savoie, made in the shadow of Mont Blanc.  Like the other wines in Brice Omont’s biodynamic range, Schiste is labelled after the soil type on which it is grown.  The grapes are a mix of the fairly well-known and the almost unknown: 40% Jacquère, 30% Roussanne, 20% Malvasia and 10% Mondeuse.

My Tolkein reference might be far-fetched, but there is definitely something other-worldly about this wine.  It somehow manages to combine butter and sweet stone fruits with zippy citrus, and has a very long, soothing finish.  A remarkable wine!

Domaine JB Ponsot Rully “En Bas de Vauvry” 2016 (13.0%, RRP €29.90 at SIYPSGreen Man Wines, Terenure, Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown)

jean-baptiste ponsot rully

As vineyard and grape prices have rocketed in Burgundy’s heartland of the Côte d’Or, many producers have been looking further south to the Maconnais where costs are much lower, but the astute have also been investing in the Côte Chalonnaise which lies in between the two.  Rully is my favourite village from the Chalonnaise, and in good hands can produce some seriously good wine.

BOOM!!  This is one of the best wines I tasted in the last twelve months*.

I’ve enjoyed previous vintages of Ponsot’s Rully, but this is easily my favourite yet.  It has a mesmerising nose of pear and peach; they follow through onto the palate and are joined by apricot, apple and a hint of citrus.  It’s soft, gently oaked and obviously young, but drinking so well at the moment.  Decant it or use a big glass – you won’t rue your choice!**

Domaine Bachelet-Monnot Puligny Montrachet 2016 (13.0%, RRP €79.00 at SIYPS and Martins Off-Licence, Fairview)

bachelet-monnot puligny-montrachet

After the exuberance of the Rully, we now take a step back to enjoy the power and elegance of an excellent Puligny-Montrachet.  There are some obvious oak notes on the nose, smoky and leesy, with soft pip fruit and citrus on the palate.  It’s still quite tight – probably a criminal offense to drink right now – but if I had a few bottles I would take the risk and enjoy!

Domaine Audoin Marsannay Cuvée Marie Ragonneau 2015 (13.0%, RRP €42.00 at SIYPS and 64 Wine, Glasthule)

domaine audoin marsannay cuvee marie ragonneau

Marsannay is the most northerly village-level appellation in the Côte de Nuits, extending almost into Dijon itself, and the most recent as it was created in 1987.  It is also the only Burgundy village appellation which can produce the trio of red, white and rosé wines.

Domaine Audoin’s Marsannay is somewhat serious and savoury, but what a wine!  A complex melange of red and black fruit, plenty of acidity and fine tannins.  It might sound strange to the average wine drinker, but this €40+ Burgundy is great value for money!

 

The SPIT series:

 

* Actual tasting note includes the sentence “F*cking hell, that’s a bit of all right, innit?” Perhaps my notes were scribbled on by a passing cockney…

** Sorry

Tasting Events

Free Pour (Part 3 – Fizz)

For part 3, we now cover a trio of sparkling wines that most impressed me from Liberty Ireland’s portfolio:

Ca’ Morlin Prosecco Superiore Spumante Asolo NV (11.0%, RRP €29.99)

Asolo Prosecco Superiore.jpg

Although Prosecco continues to dominate the market for fizz in these parts, I usually don’t care for it; a single glass is often enough, and sometimes too much.  Prosecco Superiore DOCG is another kettle of fish – indeed another drink – entirely.  There are two main sub-regions – the larger Conegliano Valdobbiadene and the lesser known Asolo which we have here.  Quite simply this is one of the best Proseccos I’ve tasted, and while that might sound like being damned by faint praise, it isn’t – this is worthy of your attention.

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée MV (12.0%, RRP €61.99)

picture 86377

When Nyetimber brought out their 2009 vintage Classic Cuvée it was hailed as their best yet, as was the 2010 which followed.  The subsequent Multi-Vintage (MV) version was rated even better, and even Nyetimber fanbois such as myself could not help reserving a bit of skepticism for the claims – isn’t this what the Bordelais are wont to do?  The proof of the fizz is in the tasting, so to speak, and in my not-so-humble opinion the MV is on another level still from the already very good vintage Classic Cuvée.  Good enough, in fact, that it was the fizz I chose to celebrate my wedding anniversary on a trip away with my wife to The Twelve in County Galway.

For a touch of perspective, I recently retasted (drank!) the 2009.  With several years bottle age it now shows softly baked apples, caramel and cinnamon -what a divine combination!  The MV is obviously a little fresher in style but does show a little more red fruit character, despite the assemblage being broadly similar (MV: 60% Chardonnay / 30% Pinot Noir / 10% Pinot Meunier; 2009: 55% Chardonnay / 26% Pinot Noir / 19% Pinot Meunier).  For those who like good Champagne, this is in the same class as Charles Heidsieck and Bollinger.

Champagne Devaux “Cuvée D” NV (12.0%, RRP €67.99)

Cuvee D Champagne Devaux

Even though discussions on extending the permitted vineyard area for Champagne are (seemingly permanently) ongoing, it is noteworthy that some parts of the region are still recovering their former glory.  The southerly Côte des Bar is one such region, with a few key producers flying the flag like Drappier, Albert Beerens and Devaux.  Pinot Noir is king down here, with only around 10% of vines being Chardonnay and less than half that being Pinot Meunier (There are also minuscule amounts of Champagne’s other four grapes down here: Arbane, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Petit Meslier.)

For their top “Cuvées D” (plural because the bottle and magnum are a little different), 40% of the blend is Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs (what better place?!), Vitry and Montgueux plus 60% locally grown Pinot Noir.  Only the finest first-run juice “cœur de cuvée” is used for the base wine, 90% of which is fermented in stainless steel and 10% in 300 litre old oak barrels.  The reserve wines are very interesting: a quarter of them are kept in a “perpetual cuvées” (sometimes called a “perpetual solera”, but there is only a single layer of barrels from which older blended wines are drawn and to which newer wines are added.)  The reserve wines make up 40% of a standard bottle or 50% of a magnum.  After the prise de mousse the wines are matured for five years (bottle) or seven years (magnum) – several factors in excess of the mandatory minimum 15 months!

It’s a while since I tried a bottle of Cuvée D but I can happily report that – en magnum – it is a magnificent wine, with a combination of freshness and mature notes, red fruit and citrus, with lots of lovely brioche.  Time to find myself a case of mags I think!

The Free Pour Series:

 

Tasting Events

Biodynamic Beauties from #Spit18

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)

Turner Pageot Le Blanc

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”!)

#35 Champagne Leclerc Briant Brut Réserve NV (RRP ~ €62, Nomad Wine Importers)

Leclerc Briant

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!

#81 Bodegas Ponce Reto 2017 (RRP ~ €21.50, Vinostito)

Reto

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)

Monte Dei Roari

This Venetian beauty is a blend of four grapes:

  1. Trebbiano di Soave (famous for Soave, obviously!)
  2. Garganega (also Soave)
  3. Fernanda (aka Cortese – best known for Gavi)
  4. 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.

Information, Opinion

brandinG wiNe

Celebrity wine is not a new thing and it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.  among the “celebs” with their name attached to a wine are people from sport (golfers Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Greg Norman…), the music business (Cliff Richard, Madonna, Sting…) and the film industry (Jolie-Pitt, Sam Neill, Francis Ford Coppola).

The degree of involvement varies significantly; some of them are simply adding their name to the label of a wine made entirely by someone else, whereas others such as Francis Ford Coppola come from a family with a tradition of winemaking and are directly involved.  Sam Neill’s Central Otago wines have been recognised for their intrinsic excellence and are aimed at serious wine aficionados with regards to their price, style and availability.

Flamboyant chat show host Graham Norton was approached by New Zealand newcomers Invivo in 2011 to see if he’d like to try their wines, and he liked them so much that he ended up producing his own varietal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with them from the 2014 vintage onwards.

To that were soon added a New Zealand Rosé (Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Marlborough (50%), Gisborne (30%), Hawke’s Bay (20%)) and a South Australian Shiraz.  Last year the Sauvignon and the Rosé accounted for 10% of all Kiwi wines sold in Ireland.  Norton isn’t involved in the vineyards but he does have the final call on the blend – even single varietal wines are usually a blend of different sources of fruit – so he does more than just add his name to the label.

How have the wines become so successful?  In my view there are a number of factors:

  • The wine categories themselves are well known and popular (there’s no Graham Norton Franciacorta, for example)
  • Each wine is made in a very approachable, drinkable style to appeal to a large number of people
  • There’s a good match between the populism of Norton’s TV programmes and the style of the wines – unpretentious and accessible

Invivo_web_Prosecco600x600px1_grande

The latest addition to the portfolio is “Graham Norton’s Own Prosecco DOC Extra Dry”.  It follows the same principles as the previous wines – Prosecco is the most popular type of sparkling wine in the UK and Ireland, and it’s made in a medium-dry style (confusingly labelled Extra Dry, but that won’t put many people off).

As the (much bigger) UK market is more of a target than Ireland, the decision to go for a fully sparkling Spumante style rather than Frizzante makes sense – the wire cage over cork closure projects more quality than the latter’s bit of string.  It does make the wine a little more expensive in Ireland than it needed to be due to the double duty attached to Spumante (as is the case for Champagne, Cava, Crémant etc) but the retail price of €17.99 at Tesco Ireland should still see it flying off the shelves!

What will come next?  My guess is either a Pinot Grigio or an Argentinian Malbec…

 

Tasting Events

A few treats from SuperValu (part 1)

The wine market in Irish supermarkets is a tough one to get right, balancing what consumers think they want, what they actually want, and trying to stock better and/or more different wines in a low margin, competitive environment.

One key trend – which is not unique to the Irish market – is the preference among many consumers for richer red wines.  At the lower end of the market, many of these wines contain significant amounts of residual sugar, but consumers think they only like dry wines – and what they don’t know can’t hurt them, I suppose.  It’s not for me to tell people their tastes are wrong, it’s just that I don’t share them.

Here are some of the delicious reds that I tasted recently at SuperValu’s Secret Garden Party:

 

Trisquel Family Collection Magnum 2013 (14.0%, RRP €49.99, currently €20, at SuperValu)

Aresti Family Collection

This is top of the bill for a very good reason – the special offer!  Unlike many wines with such significant reductions (Hardy’s Crest, I’m looking at you), this is actually worth the full price and isn’t a label that just exists to be discounted.  The wine is built on Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (20%) and Petit Verdot (8%), with a little Rhône included for interest in Syrah (12%) and Petite Sirah (10%).  The nose is just amazing, luscious black fruit, chocolate, coffee and exotic spice.  On the palate it is a little restrained, so it could play a good role with food as well as on its own.  I’m dropping a few hints to the family about a bottle for myself!

 

Albert Glas Pfalz Pinot Noir Black Label 2014 (13.5%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Riesling BL 2017

Like the equivalent Riesling (see part 2) the Black Label Pinot Noir from Albert Glas is made with  premium fruit and fermented in local oak barrels.  Thankfully, the oak isn’t overdone so there is only a little noticeable on the palate.  Instead, the oak adds textures and depth to the plush red fruit.  For my money this is nicer than most Burgundy at the same price.

 

Dona Ermelinda Reserve Palmela Red 2015 (14.5%, RRP €85 for 6 at SuperValu, will be on offer at €50 for 6 from 20th August)

dona ermelinda palmela

The Palmela region is close to Lisbon and best known for its reds.  Here local grape Castelão is the mainstay with 70% of the blend, and the international Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon make up the balance with 20% and 10% respectively.  This is a proper Portuguese red, with rich and powerful black fruit framed by tobacco notes and soft tannins.  An excellent wine for a barbecue!

 

Nugan Estate Langhorne Creek Single Vineyard Zinfandel 2015 (15.0%, RRP €16.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Single Vineyard Zinfandel - bottle shot 1

California’s Zinfandel is of course also known as Primitivo in Puglia and (the harder to say) Tribidrag and (the even harder to say) Crljenak Kaštelanski in Croatia.  All of these are warm climate areas, so why not also in South Australia?  It’s a big and bold wine, lots of fun and nicely straddling the red and black fruit border.  There’s a touch of sweetness on the finish but the tannin stops it becoming too jammy.

Information

Alsace Blends

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!

Edelzwicker

 

Edelzwicker

Edelzwicker is 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!

Gentil

hugel gentil alsace

Gentil is 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:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Muscat
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling

Pinot Blanc

Paul Ginglinger Pinot Blanc

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
  • Auxerrois
  • Pinot Gris
  • 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 Laquenexy but 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!

Muscat

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Muscat Alsace

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 (Zotzenberg and Kaefferkopf) do not allow any Muscat at all.

Crémant d’Alsace

dopff irion cremant d alsace brut

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)
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Auxerrois
  • Chardonnay (although not permitted in still Alsace wines, an exception is made for Crémant )

Field Blends

BURG Domaine Marcel Deiss

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:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Muscat
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Sylvaner
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling

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.