Tasting Events

Selection from Febvre – Part 1

Wine importer Febvre has operated in Ireland for over 50 years, representing some big brands and others not as well known.  Here is a selection of the wines I enjoyed at their recent tasting event:

Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Blanc 2016 (11.5%, RRP €13.50 at Malthouse, Trim; Grapevine, Ballymun; Ennis Gourmet Store)


If the image on the bottle doesn’t give away its origin, then the name of the wine certainly does – Le Petit Gascoûn comes from Gascony in South West France.  The white is a blend of Colombard and Ugni Blanc – the latter rarely seen in a table wine in France, though it’s a mainstay of Armagnac and Cognac.  It’s a highly aromatic wine with peach, pineapple and lychees on the nose, with those notes continuing on the palate, rounded off by a fresh, crisp finish.  Fantastic value for money.

Herdade de Esporão Monte Velho Alentejo Branco 2015 (13.5%, RRP €13.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; 1601, Kinsale)

Monte Velho

As with many Portuguese wines, unless you’re very familiar with the country’s wines you might not have heard of the constituent grapes of this wine: Antão Vaz, Roupeiro and Perrum.  I assure you that they are genuine grape names and not just a lot of randomly assembled letters!  (Plus, Perrum is the Portuguese name for Andalusia’s Pedro Ximénez.)  There’s lots of texture and flavour here, stone fruits with a herbal edge.  It’s pleasant drinking on its own, but I’d imagine wonderful with tarragon chicken.

Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé 2015 (13.0%, RRP €29.95 at Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown; Jus de Vin, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St)

tracy PF

On the opposite site of the Loire from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé isn’t quite as famous and is only around half the size.  For me, the wines of Pouilly-Fumé are more consistent, however, possibly due to fewer négotiants trading on the reputation of the appellation rather than the quality of their wine.  Château de Tracy is a serious contender for best producer on the right bank, and this wine shows why: supple, concentrated fruit with no hard edges, full of fresh grapefruit and gooseberry.  Just delicious!

Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; Lilac Wines, Fairview)


Tucked out of the way just south east of Blenheim, Lawson’s Dry Hills is one of Marlborough’s relatively unheralded family wineries, but produces some excellent wines – I’m still holding on to my last few bottles of their 2008 Chardonnay which is stunning. Their Riesling has been a firm favourite of mine for at least a decade.  This 2014 is developing nicely and, while still showing primary lime, lemon and elderflower notes, is also starting to give some lovely petrol aromas.  Just off-dry with 8.2g/L of residual sugar, it’s a lovely summer tipple on its own or with plenty of different recipes.

d’Arenberg the Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2015 (13.1%, RRP €16.95 at O’Briens Wines; Gerrys, Skerries; SuperValu; Egans, Portlaoise; Bradleys, Cork)

Hermit Crab

d’Arenberg are one of the few McLaren Vale producers who use traditional basket presses and other traditional techniques for gentler handling of the fruit and therefore better wine.  The Hermit Crab is from their “Originals” range and is a blend of two white Rhône grapes;  58% Viognier and 42% Marsanne for the 2015 vintage.  While the Viognier is the senior partner in the blend, it doesn’t dominate the wine with overblown floweriness and oiliness (though some might like that) due to the cool fermentation process which reins in those aspects.  It has tangy peach and apricot with subtle nuts, herbs and spice.  Well worth a try if you fancy something different!

Jordan Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50 at Martins, Fairview & Londis, Malahide)


Somewhat confusingly there are two prominent Jordans – Jordan Wine Estate of Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Jordan Vineyard & Winery of Alexander Valley (California).  This is most definitely the former, run by husband and wife team Gary and Kathy Jordan since 1993.  They also produce an unoaked Chardonnay which is nice, but this is the real McCoy, the full Monty, the..[ok I’ll stop there] of which 92% is fermented in Burgundian 228L pièces (the remainder tank fermented).  The wine was also matured for nine months in a mixture of barrels (45% new, 30% second-fill and 25% third-fill) for texture as well as flavour.  It’s not over the top, but it is fairly oaky – and I love it!  there’s plenty of buttered toast from the the oak but also pineapple and racy citrus flavours – a well balanced wine!

Tasting Events

Lidl French Whites for February

As well as their permanent range which has an emphasis on good value bottles for everyday drinking, discount supermarket Lidl also offer limited quantities of slightly more upmarket wines at different points during the year.

22nd February 2016 will see the Ireland launch of their special French wines, only available while stocks last – and some will be so limited that you’ll have to strike up a friendship with someone from Lidl Customer Services!

Here are 5 whites which impressed me:

Ernest Wein Alsace Pinot Blanc Pfaffenheim 2014 (€9.99)

Ernest Wein Alsace Pinot Blanc 2014

An underrated and understated grape; round in the mouth and very pleasant drinking, lovely apple and lemon fruit.  Great to drink on its own or with white fish or poultry.  A versatile wine that should please nearly everyone – and a steal at a tenner!

Roesslin Alsace Riesling 2014 (€9.99)

Roesslin Alsace Riesling 2014.jpg

If the Pinot Blanc was round then this is spiky – lots of fresh acidity with zippy lemon and lime fruit.  It’s not the most intense Riesling I’ve come across, but it’s a great introduction for newbies – and it’s varietally true enough to keep Riesling lovers (such as myself) happy.

P. de Marcilly Chablis 2014 (€12.99)

P de Marcilly Chablis 2014

WOW!  One of the best  AOP Chablis that I’ve tasted in a long time – it’s an appellation that often disappoints as bulk producers trade on the famous Chablis name, but this really delivers – textbook minerality with citrus fruits, and a little more body than I’d expect. Excellent value for money!

Chablis Premier Cru 2014 (€19.99)

Chablis Premier Cru 2014

This has all of the above and more – more concentration, more minerality, more body, more fruit…altogether a superior wine – it’s up to you whether you think it’s worth the €7 premium over the baby brother – if possible you need to try both at the same time to arrive at an informed decision.

André Saujot Pouilly-Fumé “Les Grandes Chaumes” 2014 (€14.99)

Andre Saujoy Pouilly Fume LesGrandes Chaumes 2014.jpg

So now to the Loire, and one of the most celebrated areas for Sauvignon Blanc. Gooseberry, grapefruit and grassiness are the dominant notes, with some stony minerality at the core. It doesn’t have the passionfruit tropical notes of a Marlborough savvy, but it’s tangy and delicious in its own right.  A great example of Loire Sauvignon.


Also check out my Top 5 Reds from the same tasting.

Tasting Events

Highlights of The Coman’s Silent Tasting Part Three

So part one focused on Peter Lehmann’s Barossa gems and included a joke about hand gestures.  Part two covered the wines of Lapostolle from Chile and Ochoa from Navarre, with a reference to Björk “It’s All So Quiet” (you all got that, right?  right??)

Now part three will showcase a flight of Sauvignons, amongst others, and the disclosure of why this tasting wasn’t as silent as it should have been.

The Sauvignon Blancs

The first flight looks at some of the more memorable Sauvignon Blancs brought in by Comans.

McKenna Sauvignon Blanc 2013

McKenna Sauvignon Blanc 2013
McKenna Sauvignon Blanc 2013

This is an exclusive to Comans as it’s bottled especially for them by Undurraga.  The name celebrates the historical connections between Ireland and Chile in the person of Irish-born Captain John Juan McKenna who played an important role in the rebellion of 1810.  Take a few minutes to read the details in Tomas Clancy’s post here.

It’s unusual for me to recommend an inexpensive  Chilean Sauvignon, but this is well made.  You’d never mistake it for Marlborough, but if you find some of those too much then this is a little more restrained.  The key word here is grapefruit – fruit sweetness but also acidity, making it tangy and refreshing.

Sablenay Touraine AOC Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Sablenay Touraine Sauvignon 2012
Sablenay Touraine Sauvignon 2012

In terms of bang for your buck, reliability and availability, it’s pretty hard to beat a Touraine Sauvignon.  If I were drawing up a hypothetical restaurant wine list it’s the first thing I’d put on there.

This one has the typical grassy notes of a French Sauvignon, but also sweet tropical fruit and grapefruit.  It’s much more expressive that your average Touraine, a better bet than a lower quality no-name Sancerre.  Perfect for summer on the patio!

La Rochetais AOC Pouilly Fumé 2012

La Rochetais Pouilly Fumé 2012
La Rochetais Pouilly Fumé 2012

This is a lovely, pure, almost “Riesling-like” linear wine.  It’s also an accessory to an embarrassing incident.  Now as you know at pro tastings there’s no swallowing, everything is spat – if you want to taste several dozen wines and remain upright, never mind drive home afterwards, it’s the only way forward.  Plus, not having so much alcohol in your bloodstream means your senses aren’t dulled and you can focus more on the tasting.

At the time of the tasting I was still recovering from a nasty chest infection – a colleague semi-seriously asked me if I had tuberculosis.  Now imagine a sudden coughing fit when you’ve got a mouthful of Loire Sauvignon that you’re swilling round and trying to interpret.  Instinct says spit now…but I wasn’t close to a spittoon, and so almost choked.

Thankfully the assembled members of the press were very kind and didn’t mock me which they would have been entitled to do.  Though one kind gentleman did suggest I describe this wine as “one which took me breath away”.

My friends, even wine-tasting can be an extreme sport at times!

Château de Sancerre AOC Sancerre 2012

Chateau de Sancerre 2012
Château de Sancerre 2012

Forget own label Sancerres in the French supermarkets, this is the real deal.

The Château is owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family who Chilean operation featured in Part Two.  Both properties show the advantages of cooperation between winemakers from different areas; while the French influence can be seen in Lapostolle’s Sauvignon Blancs, for me there is a definite new world aspect to Château Sancerre – a roundness and suppleness to the fruit which make it caress the inside of your mouth.

The vineyards span four different soil types which, when blended intelligently, results in a complex yet focused wine.

Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2012

At the NZ Sauvignon Masterclass before the annual trade tasting this year, Kevin Judd et al. took us through how the marked differences in weather between 2012 and 2013 translated into markedly different flavour profiles.  Since then I’ve found it remarkably easy to identify 2012s blind – much greener, especially asparagus, and less tropical notes.

This Wither Hills 2012 wasn’t tasted blind but the asparagus character came straight through (I like it, some don’t), but with a tangy grapefruit finish.  Dare I suggest this would be amazing with an asparagus starter?

Undurraga TH Sauvignon Blanc (Single Vineyard) 2013

Undurraga TH Leyda Valley  Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Undurraga TH Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013

So what is this?  It’s a premium, single vineyard Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.  Given how many Chilean Sauvignons are around £6 / €10 it’s quite surprising to see a producer move upmarket.  The first tasting note I wrote was “who’s just mowed their lawn” – it’s that distinctively grassy!

The grapes are sourced from a vineyard in Leyda Valley, which is only 9 miles / 14 km from the cooling Pacific Ocean.  There are some great Pinot Noirs coming from that area, but that’s a story for another day.  This 2013 vintage wine also belies its age – it has a smoother mouthfeel than one might expect from such a young wine.

So the key questions – is it a success?  Is it worth the extra money?  Right now I’d be happy to drink it, but I probably wouldn’t spend €24 of my own money in a wine merchants.  However, I reckon this will actually evolve over the next few years, so I’d be very interested to taste an example with some more bottle age to see where it goes.

The Best Of The Rest

If you’re all Sauvignoned out, here are some of the other whites which stood out for me:

Dr L Riesling 2010

Dr Loosen Riesling 2010
Dr Loosen Riesling 2010

For those scared or wary of Riesling, Dr Ernst Loosen’s entry level bottling is a great place to start. It’s fairly simple, though it has enough acidity to evolve more complexity over a decade.  It’s fresh and fruity with a touch of residual sugar, but it’s pleasant and balanced – so moreish!

Of course Dr L makes more profound and expensive Rieslings, but the true nature of the bargain is that you won’t feel like you’re missing out even if you’re a Rieslingphile.

Also check out this post from Tim Milford.

Salterio Albariño DO Rias Biaxas 2012

Salterio Albarino DO Rias Baixas 2012
Salterio Albariño DO Rias Baixas 2012

I like Albariños on the whole, but my main beef with them is that they often don’t offer enough bang for the buck.  Meet Salterio’s offering which is a great value example from Rias Baixas.  It won’t be the best you’ve ever tasted but it’s remarkable at the price.

Protos Verdejo DO Rueda 2012

Protos Verdejo DO Rueda 2012
Protos Verdejo DO Rueda 2012

Not much to add here as I’ve recommended this Rueda several times before – it’s a cracker!

Muga Barrel Fermented White Rioja 2013

Muga White Barrel Fermented 2013
Muga White Barrel Fermented 2013

Rioja’s Viura (also Catalonia’s Macabeo) is a fairly neutral grape.  By neutral, I mean thin and often lacking in flavour.  This makes it a good base component for Cava, but can make for an uninspiring dry still white.  The winemakers of Rioja have long used two main techniques to add interest to their whites – oxidisation and barrel ageing.  As a personal preference I’m not yet a convert to oxidised styles, so such examples from Rioja leave me cold.

Happily for me, this Muga example is clean as a whistle and definitely worth a try.  It has 10% Malvasia in the blend and was fermented in new French barriques.  Maturation on the lees adds to the creamy texture, but it is tangy and fresh – a great example at a fairly modest price.

Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royal Brut NV

Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royal Brut NV
Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut NV

Good Cava and other traditional method sparklers are better than poor Champagne (the type you often see in the supermarkets at 50% off).  But good Champagne holds its own, in my opinion.

This is an almost-equal-parts blend of the main Champagne grapes – Chardonnay for lemon and freshness, Pinot Noir for red fruit and body, plus the often unfairly maligned Pinot Meunier for  white fruit and floral notes.

The Cuvée Royale has three years on the lees prior to disgorgement – far beyond the minimum for not vintage – and this is where the extra body and creaminess come from.  It’s far better value than a special offer Champagne.