Henri Bourgeois is one of the most well-respected producers in the Loire’s Central vineyards, with 72 hectares on both the Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé sides of the river. Different sources give slightly different nuances to their description of the soil types, but the company’s website classifies them as the following three types:
Clay-limestone, which gives rise to fresh, fruity vintages;
Kimmeridgian marls, the memories of fossilised shells from the Jurassic Era that give intense flavours of exotic fruits and a superb structure;
Flint, which initiates elegant wines with smoky, roasted notes and minerality of great finesse.
One of the first things than a serious wineaux learns is the difference between Pouilly-Fumé (a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc) and Pouilly-Fuissé (a Chardonnayfrom the Mâconnais in southern Burgundy).
Later they may stumble across the oddity that is AOP Pouilly-sur-Loire…an appellation based around the same Loire town as Fumé but based predominantly on the Chasselas grape (which is more at home in Valais (Switzerland), Baden (Germany) and Alsace (France)).
The love of Sauvignon Blanc also took the family to Marlborough where they make Clos Henri, a New Zealand Savvy with a French sensibility.
Here’s a Bourgeois wine I tried and enjoyed recently:
Disclosure: bottle was kindly provided for review, opinions remain my own
Henri Bourgeois Pouilly Fumé La Porte de l’Abbaye 2018
For a Sauvignon this was only lightly aromatic, more subtle than those of the antipodes, but that’s no bad thing. The palate has hints of grapefruitand gooseberrybut it’s mainly lemonwhich shines. The finish is long and mineral. Overall this is somewhat on the simple side, but very pure and enjoyable. It would be at its best with seafood – perhaps some shellfish to match the Jurassic soils on which it was grown.
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.
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 Colombardand 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, pineappleand 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)
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, Roupeiroand 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 PedroXiménez.) 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)
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)
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 peachand apricotwith subtle nuts, herbsand 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!
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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.
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
Not much to add here as I’ve recommended this Rueda several times before – it’s a cracker!
Muga Barrel Fermented White Rioja 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
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.