While part 1 covered my favourite white wines from the Lidl France “sale”, this part 2 looks at reds from Burgundy, the Rhône, Bordeaux and the Languedoc:
Les Paroisses Côte de Beaune-Villages 2016 (13.0%, €16.99 at Lidl)
“Les Paroisses” means “The Parishes“; it’s made from 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the southern part of the Côte d’Or, Burgundy. Although I liked this wine I musty give it a health warning – it’s a bit stinky! Although this funk is probably a fault (such as brettanomyces) it didn’t put me off – and there was plenty of red fruit on the nose as well. It pours light in the glass as you’d expect from Burgundy. The palate is soft and round, very inviting. This is Proper Burgundy!
Comtes de Lorgeuil “Les Pierres” Cabardès 2016 (13.5%, €9.99 at Lidl)
Cabardès is just inside the northwestern border of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, just north of the tourist trap that is Carcassonne. As an AOC it is much smaller (500 ha) than its Languedoc neighbours Minervois (5,100 ha) or Corbières (15,000 ha), and due to its position between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, its vignerons are required to grow grape varieties from both coasts and blend them (with at least 40% of both) in the finished wine.
This wine has a slight Atlantic bias with 40% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon versus 30% Syrah and 10% Grenache. It’s thick and chewy in the mouth, quite savoury with lots of black fruit. It is a little bit rustic, but it’s charming too – a great winter wine to have with hearty food.
Château Roque le Mayne Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux 2017 (14.0%, €14.99 at Lidl)
Castillon-la-Bataille is on the north bank of the Dordogne, to the east of the much more famous Saint-Emilion. It’s quite an up-and-coming sub-region at the moment, with quality rising all the time. The blend is 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec. It has a ripe, expressive nose with explosive black fruit. The palate is rich, oaked and smooth – there are lovely soft tannins. A very fruity wine, but still recognisably Bordelais.
Collin-Bourisset Coteaux Bourguignons Rouge 2018 (14.0%, €8.99 at Lidl)
As I mentioned in part 1, Coteaux Bourguignons can be red or white and covers the whole of Beaujolais and Burgundy proper. Collin-Bourisset is based in Beaujolais so it makes sense that this is 100% Gamay. It has a typical Gamay nose of blueberries and damsons. It has a juicy palate of red and black fruit and very soft tannins. It’s quite a light wine with decent acidity so perfect for lunchtime with a platter of charcuterie.
Dame de Clochevigne Rasteau 2018 (14.5%, €9.99 at Lidl)
Now “Cloche” means “Clock” and “Vigne” means “Vine” so does “Clochevigne” mean “Vineclock“? Perhaps we could ask the Dame. The southern Rhône is GSM territory and this Rasteau fits that template perfectly: 76% Grenache, 22% Syrah and 2% Mourvèdre. The juicy red fruit is thick and chewy – it’s a meal all in itself. Black olive and liquorice finish keep a savoury edge. Drink with a spoon!
Vinsobres Cru des Côtes du Rhône 2017 (14.5%, €9.99 at Lidl)
This Vinsobres is pretty similar to the Rasteau above, perhaps a touch softer. The blend here is 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre. The extra year it has compared to the Rasteau really helps the wine to settle and relax, though decanting (a simple jug is all that’s really required) would help the strawberry and raspberry fruit to shine.
“New World” is not a great term as it basically means “outside Europe”, so it includes many different countries which are different in style. Just for convenience, it allows us to look at a selection wines from California, Central Otago, Southern Australia and Ningxia, all available from Liberty Wines.
I’ve been a fan of the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc / Viognier blend for some time (see review here) but as this is Napa then the Cabernet is the real deal. Pine Ridge Vineyards was first established in Stags Leap District in the late 70s with a single vineyard next to a – you guessed it – pine ridge. Their vineyards now number 12 and total 80 hectares over five Napa sub-zones: Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Carneros, Howell Mountain and Oakville. Pine Ridge produce a number of different wines, including several from individual sub-zones, but this is a blend across the five.
This bottle is labelled as a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon but that is 91% of the blend, with the balance made up by 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. 35% of the 2016 was aged in new American oak for 18 months, giving creamy vanilla to go with the blackcurrant, cherry and blackberry notes. This is a big, lush, heady wine that is not light and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s not for those who like racy reds but it’s imposing and delicious.
Ningxia is of course the most important Chinese region for wine. Some years ago I reviewed Château Changyu Moser XV 2008 which had an abv of 12.5% and was reminiscent of old school Bordeaux (think mid ’90s). The Pretty Pony is a very good wine, regardless of origin. It has oak, lovely black fruit and is already showing a nice bit of development. This is not like old school Bordeaux – this is like modern Bordeaux!
When Central Otago Pinot Noir began to enter into the consciousness of wine drinkers it was almost the opposite of Marlborough Pinot – big, bold and powerful – with alcohol to match. It was almost a Pinot Noir for Cabernet drinkers – no bad thing in my eyes as Cab is my favourite black grape – but times, and the wines, have changed. Now elegance and balance are to the fore, without losing the intensity that made them such a hit in the first place. This is a great example of Central Pinot – especially for the relatively modest price. It has a core of ripe red fruit and a slight smoky, savoury edge that gives it some seriousness.
Another Central Pinot, but totally different in style. Burn Cottage has been practising biodynamic since the first vines were planted in 2003, and there is a low intervention approach to winemaking. Whole bunch fermentation allows the wine’s aromas to develop fully – it smells…special, for want of a better term. This is a fine, fine wine which delights all the senses but the mind too.
Like many McLaren Vale vineyards, Mitolo has Italian roots through its founder Frank Mitolo. It also has an influx of German genes through winemaker and business partner Ben Glaetzer, scion of the Barossa producer Glaetzer wines. The Mitolo portfolio is split into three ranges: Jester, Small Batch and Single Vineyard.
The G.A.M. Shiraz was the first wine produced by Mitolo; it’s not an alternative to GSM which is prevalent in the Vale, but actually stands for the initials of Frank’s three children, Gemma, Alex and Marco. The fruit is sourced from a vineyard belonging to family friends and fellow Italian immigrants the Lopresti vineyards, in particular their “Chinese Block”. As it’s located at the bottom end of McLaren Vale, the block benefits from cooling sea breezes. The vines are over 40 years old and are planted on a type of clay. Fermentation is kept on the cool side to preserve fruit flavours and then fermentation is in French oak (30% new, 70% used) for 15 months. Only at that point are barrels given final selection for inclusion in the G.A.M. Shiraz.
Aussie Shiraz is a great crowd-pleaser but this is way above that – it has phenomenal structure and intense, opulent-but-not-jammy black fruit. The Jester Shiraz is a great introduction to the style at a little over half the price of the G.A.M., but I’d argue that the latter is more than twice as good and represents great value at this price point.
Grosset Gaia Clare Valley 2014 (14.0%, RRP €66.99 at good independents nationwide)
Grosset are best known for their Rieslings, especially the Polish Hill and Springvale bottlings, but they also make some great reds too, including a Pinot Noir and this “Gaia” Bordeaux blend. I say Bordeaux blend though its precise proportions of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc would rarely be found in the Gironde. At five years old this 2014 still has bright berry, blackcurrant and plum fruit. It does have a dry leathery side, with grippy tannins and good acidity. As this is Clare there is of course a screwcap closure; a challenge to the Bordelais to catch up? This will be drinking well for years and years.
The end of summer in Ireland means it’s time for SuperValu’s French Wine Sale, running from 5th to 26th September in store and online. As well as the usual favourites there will be a dozen “Special Guest Wines” which are available for a limited time only – marked with *.
Part 2 will look at some great Bordeaux wines from the sale; this part 1 looks at some of the others I enjoyed:
La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc Vin de France 2018* (12.5%, €11.99 down to €9.00 at SuperValu)
For this cuvée La Perrière blended Sauvignon Blanc grapes from their home in the Loire with others sourced from the Languedoc and the Gers, adding ripe southern fruit to crisp Loire grapes. In my view this has been very successful as overall it presents appealing ripeness with a fresh finish. The nose and palate reflect the Gs: gooseberry, grapefruit and grass.
La Petite Perrière Rosé 2017* (11.5%, €11.99 down to €9.00 at SuperValu)
It is rare for me to recommend a rosé, and outside of quality sparkling or excellent wines like Domaine Tempier of Bandol, I actually prefer the simpler, cheaper wines to the fancier ones. This doesn’t have a celebrity owner or producer, but it’s accessible and affordable, with appealing red fruit and a fresh finish. Why can’t more rosés be like this?
Alma Cersius Coteaux de Béziers Rouge 2017* (13.5%, €14.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
The IGP Coteaux de Béziers is in the Languedoc’s Hérault department and up until 2015 was known as Coteaux-du-Libron, the change effected for better name recognition. The IGP regulations are very wide in terms of permitted grape varieties, but the three used here are among the most well known: 50% Syrah, 25%Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a fruit forward wine with very soft tannins, showing blackcurrant, plum and raspberry notes. A great quaffing wine to have in the cupboard when friends pop round for a drink.
Coteaux du Giennois Alchimie 2018 (13.5%, €14.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
In years past I have reviewed the 2014and 2015vintages so it’s fair to say that it’s a favourite. The vines are on sandy soil, deposited when the Loire was broader and slow-moving at the edges. This makes for a soft, gentle wine which it great for sipping. Wild yeast fermentation adds a bit of interest.
Guy Saget Sancerre 2018 (13.0%, €19.99 down to €15.00 at SuperValu)
Into more serious territory now, a wine aged for seven months on the lees in stainless steel tank. This is an expressive wine with a slightly saline, mineral character backed up by floral notes and tangy fruit. The 2018 vintage is drinking now but if well kept should develop nicely over the next few years.
Guy Saget Pouilly-Fumé 2016 (12.5%, €19.99 down to €15.00 at SuperValu)
From Sancerre we now cross directly from the left (southern) bank of the Loire to the right bank and Pouilly-Fumé. Sancerre has a more rolling landscape and more diverse soils, whereas Pouilly-Fumé is flatter, and also closer to the river. We also have an additional two years of bottle age with this 2016, which shows white flowers and green fruit in an elegant package.
Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne NV* (12.0%, €26.99 down to €19.00 at SuperValu)
This was one of my highlights of the tasting, an excellent traditional method sparkling from the Chablis area (the black grapes coming from the Auxerrois). Simmonet-Febvre is in fact the only producer of Crémant de Bourgogne in the far north of Burgundy and has been making it since 1840. The blend is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, with the wine resting on its lees after the second fermentation for 24 months. This is notably well in excess of the 9 months required for non-vintage crémant and even the 15 months required for NV Champagne. On pouring it has a nice weight to it, with citrus and red fruits lifted by some bready notes. A classy wine!
Mégalithe Sancerre 2016* (12.5%, €29.99 down to €22.00 at SuperValu)
Now we have a different beast entirely. Of course this is 100% Sauvignon Blanc but 40% of the must is fermented (with wild yeast) and matured in new French oak. Over this eight to nine month period the fine lees are stirred regularly. The other 60% is vinified in stainless steel and the two batches blended before bottling. It has a little more weight and funk than the Guy Saget wines above but not that much compared to, say, Greywacke Wild Sauvignon. This is a gentle, gorgeous wine that will drink well now and for the next few years.
Louis Latour Meursault 2017* (13.5%, €59.99 down to €42.00 at SuperValu)
As long as I have been into wine Meursault has been a premium wine with a premium price. After the Montrachet twins it’s the next most celebrated white wine commune of the Côte de Beaune, with a reputation for medium to full bodies oak-aged wines. Louis Latour’s history goes back to 1797 and has been in family hands ever since. Outside of the Côte d’Or the firm also owns Simmonet-Febvre (see above) and produces wines in the Ardèche.
The Louis Latour 2017 Meursault is fermented in oak barrels where it also goes through MLF. Maturation is also in medium toast oak barrels (from its own cooperage), 15% of which are new. This is a generous wine with lovely heft and mouthfeel, full of soft fruits and a touch if vanilla from the oak. 2017 is a fairly accessible vintage but if put away for another year it would be even more of a treat.
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-primeur 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
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:
Heimbourgis 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)
Trimbachis 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)
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 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)
The Langenbergis 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.
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….
Pinot 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.
Riesling 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.
Pinot 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.
L’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.
L’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.
Pinot 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!
Gewurztraminer 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.
Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoeplé Vendanges Tardives 2015shows 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.
Gewurztraminer 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!
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
12.0%, RRP £125.00 (magnum). Distributedin 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
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!
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
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.
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 likeevery wine in a tasting line-up, but it’s highly likely that we will lovelots of them!
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
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.
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)
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.
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!
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 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!
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!
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!**
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!
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!
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)
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)
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!
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.