There’s so much dull Prosecco made that it could probably have its own lake in north east Italy, but a little searching can bring great rewards in terms of both outright quality and interest. On one hand there are some fantastic Col Fondo Proseccos which are aligned with the natural wine movement and low intervention. There are also some quality conscious producers – particularly in the DOCG areas of Conegliano, Valdobbiadeneand Asolo– who strive for more interesting wines through planting on hillsides, harvesting at low yields and controlling quality.
One of Valdobbiadene’s innovators, Ca’ Salina, has chosen another route for one of its wines, using technology as a way to produce a cleaner wine:
Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions my own
Ca’ Salina are located in the heart of the Valdobbiadene DOCG area and have an excellent reputation for quality. However, this offering does not carry the DOCG label – or even the lesser DOC tag – due to innovative methods used in the production process.
The “Flotation Method” is designed to remove from the juice anything which isn’t directly from the grapes – yeast, bacteria, other fungi and anything else coming in from the vineyard. Air is mixed into the must using a centrifuge pump which creates billions of tiny bubbles. Their electrostatic charge attracts the impurities and so the bubbles and detritus all rise to the top as a dark foam over a perfectly clear juice. This process takes a few hours, after which the foam is removed and selected yeasts are added to begin the second fermentation.
The purity of the must means that for this wine no sulphur is added at any part of the process. Of course naturally occuring sulphites are still present, as in all wine, but at the very low level of 10 mg/L compared to the legal limit of 210 mg/L. The dosage is on the light side at 8 g/L, making this a Brut.
And the most important part – the taste! Firstly, this is unmistakably a sparkling wine from north east Italy, no matter whether it has the DOCG label or not. Made from 100% Glera (the grape formerly known as Prosecco) is has lovely citrusand pearnotes, with just a touch of biscuitand brioche. The modest dosage allows the refined fruit to come through without being swamped in sugar and leaves a crisp finish. This is better than pretty much all Prosecco you will find in a supermarket.
I don’t know if this new technique will catch on, but in the hands of a good producer such as Ca’ Salina it can make a very good 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
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…
For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two. This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while. I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.
Julia Phillips founded Just Perfect Wines to further her passion for wines and apply her knowledge of marketing. She works with family firms in the DOCG regions of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene and Asolo.
A Twist on Prosecco for Christmas
This Christmas I am particularly looking forward to sharing with friends a couple of my Prosecco based wines which both have something a little different about them.
The first is ‘Giorgia’, my new Italian sparkling wine. It’s made by one of my Prosecco wineries, Ca’Salina, using Glera grapes from the premium Prosecco region, Valdobbiadene – however, it can’t be called Prosecco as it’s made in a different way (the floatation tank method).
The result is an amazing well-balanced sparkling wine with fruity notes, plus a subtle layer of complexity that you tend to get from wines made in the Champagne method, with aromas of honey, butter and brioche, giving a clean and fresh taste. A Brut style with 8g sugar/ litre, 11.5% abv and wait for this….no added sulphites, so in theory no hangover! Just perfect don’t you think?! Something I shall be putting to the test with friends over the festive season, perhaps even one for Christmas Eve when you want to enjoy a good wine but don’t want to feel any ill effects the next day.
My second wine is the beautiful ‘Furlan Rosé Spumante Brut’. As Rosé Prosecco doesn’t exist, this pink sparkler comes close being a blend of Glera, Manzoni Bianco (a white grape which adds complexity and increases the abv to 12%) and Cabernet Sauvignon. I really love this blend; the gorgeous pink colour and the wonderful aromas and taste of strawberries and cream is divine.
I’m sure this one will be making an appearance on Christmas Day.
Both wines have a RRP of £17.99 and are available from www.justperfectwines.com, Amazon or il Gusto stores in Staffordshire.
Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as Rosé Prosecco , as the DOC and DOCG rules do not permit it, but if they did then this wine would be a great example. Furlan was founded in the 1930s and is now in the hands of the third generation. They have vineyards in the DOCG Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, DOC Treviso and DOC Piave areas, producing sparkling and still wines from indigenous and international grape varieties.
Let’s start with the blend: 70% Glera, 27% Manzoni Bianco and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Of course Glera is the grape formerly known as Prosecco, so no surprise there. Manzoni Bianco is intriguing – it’s a (deliberate) cross between Riesling and Pinot blanc, created nearly a century ago by Professor Luigi Manzoni at Italy’s oldest school of oenology located in Conegliano. Among the many crosses created by the eminent professor, this is probably the most successful and is well established in the Veneto. And finally, Cabernet Sauvignon adds the magical colour.
With 13 g/L of residual sugar, this technically creeps into the Extra Dry bracket, though to be honest the Brut label it has is a better descriptor – the sugar balances the acidity well and adds to the fruitiness without making it overtly sweet.
On pouring this has a lovely strawberry nose, then a smorgasbord of fresh red fruit on the palate – redcurrant, raspberry and strawberry – plus some pear and floral notes. For me the key is the balance between fruit and sweetness, this would make an excellent wine for the table as well as aperitivo!
Disclosure: sample kindly provided for tasting; opinions are mine and mine alone.
With the Rio Olympics looming over the horizon, what better time to sample Brazil’s vinous delights. What? Brazilian wine? Yes indeed, and though as a whole the country isn’t a viticultural paradise there are some tasty wines being made there. Here are a couple from M&S that I tried recently:
Riosecco Sparkling Glera NV (11.5%, €13.29)
Rioseccois a portmanteau of Rioand Prosecco, a not too subtle hint that this is a Brazilian alternative to Italy’s Prosecco. Before 2009 the grape used in DOC Prosecco was often referred to as by the same name, which meant that other areas could use the Prosecco name without being made in the same region (…or even country). When the even stricter DOCG was created in 2009 the old synonym Glerawas adopted, and that’s what we have on this Latin American bubbly.
It’s pleasantly fruity but refreshing and dry on the finish. A better effort that many ordinary Proseccos. Give it a try!
I tasted this without looking closely at the information provided and was a bit stumped – I just didn’t know what to make of it. “Can I get back to you on this?” I told my notepad. Then, noticing the blend was 70% Riesling and 30% Pinot Grigio, it started to make sense.
It has the refreshing acidity and citrus bite of Riesling plus a bit of the rounder fruit and texture from Pinot Grigio. This could actually pass for an Alsace blend from a cooler year – not quite as round as an average Edelzwicker as it doesn’t have any Pinot Blanc. It’s a well made, modern wine which deserves to be sipped while sitting in the sun.
After a show of hands at the previous meet, the theme of the most recent DNS Wine Club tasting was FUN! Wine can be a very technical and complicated subject, and as something of a geek that often appeals to me, but at the end of the day the main point of wine is pleasure.
So how do you make a tasting more fun? Play games! But which games? I divided the DNS gang into two teams, opened some fizz and gave them their first task.
I reviewed John Wilson’s book “Wilson On Wine 2015 – The Wines To Drink This Year” hereand refer to it frequently. For each wine reviewed there are lots of details, especially on the background of the wine, along with a fairly short tasting note. As tasting is such a subjective thing (and taste too, but that’s for another day) I wondered how easy it would be to identify wines from their tasting note alone…
Each team was given a sheet with two columns; the first had ten wine names and the second had ten tasting notes taken from John’s book. Two wines were sparkling, four white and four red. Each column was in alphabetical order and the objective was to match the tasting notes to the correct wine.
Bernhard Ott Fass4 Grüner Veltliner 2013
A superb, light, elegant wine, with piquant dark cherry and blueberry fruits.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut NV
Almond blossoms on the nose; light, elegant, sophisticated crisp green fruits with excellent Minerality. A perennial favourite.
Coca y Fito DO Terra Alta Jaspi Blanc 2012
An exuberant, fresh wine bursting with pineapples and tropical fruits.
Jeio Prosecco DOCG Valdobiadenne Spumante Brut NV
Bracing and herby with an inviting texture and a snappy dry finish.
Kasarí Zorah Areni Noir 2012
Delectably light and tangy but with rosehips and fresh, piquant red fruits. Great with food.
Moric Burgenland Blaufränkish 2012
Fresh pear and peach fruits with a good lively citrus edge
Pieropan Soave Classico 2013
Intriguing, lifted fragrant black cherries with good acidity and a light earthiness, finishing on a smooth note. Different and delicious wine.
Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero 2013
Pure piquant damson fruits, good acidity and a lightly tannic finish. Delicious.
Santa Rita Medalla Real Leyda Valley Chardonnay 2011
Restrained peach and apple fruits with subtle toasted nuts and a core of citrus acidity.
Thymiopolous Naoussa Xinomavro 2013
Succulent ripe fruits cut through with a delicious minerality and great length.
You might want to try this at home. Bear the following hints in mind that were given on the night:
As both columns are in alphabetical order it is possible that a wine may still be lined up opposite its true tasting note, though most aren’t.
The longest tasting note belongs to (probably) the most expensive white wine.
The Prosecco note should be very easy to identify as it nearly always tastes of one particular fruit.
One of the wines includes a colour in its name (though not in English) which is included in the corresponding tasting note (in English).
Yes, most of these hints are fairly esoteric / tenuous / difficult – but that’s how I roll!
ROUND 2 – Call My (Wine) Bluff
For those know aren’t familiar with it, Call My Bluff is a long-running UK game show where celebrity contestants on a team take it in turn to give three definitions of an obscure word, only one of which is correct. The other team then tries to choose the correct definition and discard the bluffs.
The wine version has a similar structure, but instead of word definitions the guessing team has to divine which of three tasting notes they are given match the wine in their glass and their mouth!
For five white wines and three red wines, these are the choices which were proffered:
(A) Famille Bougrier Les Hautes Lieux Vin de France Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(B) José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
(A) Dog Point Section 94 2008
(B) Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
(C) Greywacke Marlborough Wild Sauvignon 2012
(A) Frantz Saumon Minérale+ Montlouis 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
(B) Château Bouscassé Madiran 2007
(C) El Castro de Valtuille Bierzo 2013
(A) Aldi Lot 01 Uco Valley Malbec-Cabernet 2013
(B) Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
(C) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(A) Château Milhau-Lacugue “Les Truffières” Saint Chinian 2010
(B) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(C) Taltarni Heathcote Shiraz 2008
For the guessing team, some of the choices were more difficult if there was a similarity between the choices, e.g. for White 1 there were 2 regions and 2 grapes over 3 wines.
It was actually easiest to bluff when the reader didn’t know if they were giving the note for the correct wine or not! I suppose it is good to know that most people aren’t good liars, even if it’s just for fun.
ROUND 3 – Match the Critic (Encore)
Now the kicker to see if everyone had been paying attention! A double list – similar to that handed out in Round 1 – was given to each team, this time with eight wine names and tasting notes. But these weren’t just any wines taken from John’s book – they were the eight that everyone had tasted in Round 2! So of course, this final round had double points awarded.
Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
A delicious modern style of Bordeaux with light creamy cassis fruits and a smooth easy finish.
Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
A subtle and delectable blend of citrus and green fruits with a touch of honey
Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
Exhilarating precise acidity with pristine green fruits. Inspiring, thrilling wine.
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
Fresh, tangy, lemon and grapefruit, balanced out by clean green fruits, and a dry finish.
Good, deeply satisfying wine with firm, dark ripe fruits and a dry finish.
José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2013
Light toasted nut aromas, fresh textured pineapples fruits and excellent length. Great wine at a very reasonable price.
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches
Lightly toasted notes combined with peaches, almonds and honey. Unusual and perfectly formed.
Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
Succulent and ripe, filled with dark cherry fruits dusted with spices
Blind tasting, even single blind, is difficult. Tasting notes are subjective, and, unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to understand someone else’s when you’re tasting the same wine they had. Context is very important so knowing the background to a wine can give you a lot of clues about why it tastes a certain way and where it’s headed.
For the first of my posts on Valentine’s Wines I thought I would try something a little bit different from the norm. My wife and I invited her elder brother Andrew and his girlfriend Paula round for dinner to and to try some different wines in advance of Valentine’s Day.
It’s good to hear the opinions of other people – wine tasting can be very social and lots of fun. I heartily recommend you try forming your own tasting panel now and again, with friends from absolute novices to MWs.
Before we get into the wines, here is the delicious meal they accompanied:
Cantaloupe Melon drenched in Pineau des Charentes
Slow Roasted Loin of Pork with a Bramley apple glaze, server with roasted potatoes, julienne carrots and petits pois, roasted root vegetables, apple and citrus jus
Apple Strudel with Cornish Vanilla Ice cream and / or Homemade Vanilla Custard
Selection of: Brie de Meaus, Abbaye du Mont des Cats, Diliskus semi-soft Herbed.
Disclosure: the wines tasted below were kindly provided by O’Briens, but opinions are entirely our own.
Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV (€20.99, currently €17.99)
Valentine’s connection: who doesn’t like popping the cork on some fizz?
The label “Extra Dry” on Prosecco is usually a misnomer – the wine is often on the sweet side. A little sweetness can make Prosecco very easy to drink and is one of the factors behind its current boom in sales. However, Rizzardi’s style is actually dry on the palate. Being a Spumante it had a proper cork and was fully sparkling.
On tasting the main flavours we noted were pip fruit such as Granny Smith’s apple and pear, citrus (even Lemon Sherbet) and a sour sweetness (if that makes any sense) – a bit like the sensation from Sour Squirms sweets.
A little sweetness did come through on the finish once it had warmed up a little in the glass (it was served straight from a domestic fridge).
Andrew 5 [not a fan of fizz]
Paula 8 [can I have another glass please?]
Jess 4 [found it too dry]
Frankie 7 [preferred it to most other Proseccos]
This wine clearly divided opinion on the panel, but that’s no bad thing. Hopefully the comments give you the information to decide whether this Prosecco is for you, or perhaps try a sweeter one.
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013 (€14.49, currently €12.99, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: say it with (white) flowers
Although labelled as a Vin de France, which could come from almost anywhere in France, this was made in the Corbières region of the Languedoc, quite close to the Mediterranean coast. The name property name “Les Auzines” comes from the Occitan meaning “little leaves from the oak tree”, owned by Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife Neasa Corish.
The blend is based on Grenache Gris, with perhaps a dash of Grenache Blanc. It is classed as an oaked white as 85% was fermented and aged in second and third-use oak barrels, but although it has gained texture and complexity it doesn’t taste typically “oaky”.
Smooth and rich but tangy, it shows flavours of Macadamia nuts, lime, gravel and mineral, fennel, lavender and other herbs – it’s really interesting. Alcohol is surprisingly modest at 11.5% – it doesn’t feel lacking in any way.
Andrew 7 [Nuts and gravel]
Paula 8 [Soft and easy-drinking]
Jess 7 [A white wine for red wine drinkers]
Frankie 8 [what a find!]
Fleurs Blanches was an amazing match for the main course – perhaps helped by the dash of Fleurs Blanches which went in the jus. O’Briens’ notes reckon that it “bears a closer resemblance to fine Burgundy than to Corbiéres” – I would clarify that by saying it could double for maturefine Burgundy – it’s that good!
Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013 (€22.99, currently €19.99, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: woo your Valentine with a classy, classic white wine.
Sancerre was the first wine region famous for varietal Sauvignon Blanc, but as is the way with Appellation-based fame, it is open to use and abuse. If you’ve ever bought a Sancerre in a French supermarket then you will know that quality can be very variable…
So what to do? Find a good producer, of course – or a greatproducer, such as Henri Bourgeois.
Minerality is a buzzword in wine at the moment, but the chalk soils of HB’s vineyards impart a magnificent flint character to his wines. The very name “Porte de Caillou” means Pebble Gate, so that should give you an idea!
As well as the minerality (liked by one taster to sucking on gravel!), there’s lots and lots of fruit: very green, but ripe, fruit such as gooseberry and grapefruit, plus a little restrained tropical fruit. There’s lots of acidity but it’s smooth rather than spiky, with more body and texture than you might expect from a Sauvignon.
Andrew 8 [An integrated continuum from the nose though to the palate]
Paula 7 [Lovely and fresh]
Jess 6 [Prefer fruity Sauvignons]
Frankie 8 [Classic Sancerre!]
Food friendly Sauvignon that the Kiwis are now trying to emulate. This shows how Sancerre should be done, and why it became a classic in the first place.
Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007 (€17.49, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: an appeal to the finer things in life – and seductive in the glass.
Named after the Mediaeval Latin for “New Art” (as in New Technique), this is a blend of 40% Tempranillo (well known in Rioja and elsewhere in Spain), 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot (both from Bordeaux). Its home region of Navarra had non-native (mainly French) varieties planted from the 1980s onwards, so now winemakers have a wide choice of ingredients.
As a Gran Reserva it has spent eighteen months maturing before being bottled – the producer mentions nine months in French oak so I’m guessing a further nine in a larger format of vessel. Alcohol is punchy but not overblown at 14.0%.
It shows smoke rather than vanilla characters from the oak, followed by red fruit (strawberry) moving into black fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry) and a savoury finish. There’s perhaps an edge of leather and liquorice but they don’t dominate. Overall the impression is of fruit sweetness, plenty of tannin, well balanced.
Andrew 8 [My kind of wine, fruit and tannin together]
Paula 9 [My favourite wine of the night]
Jess 9 [Easy going, smooth, could drink this every day]
Perfectly poised between (fruit) sweet and (tannin) savoury, this was a big hit with everyone. It was a good match for the cheese but would also be great with beef, lamb or venison. Without the renown of Rioja, the winemakers of Navarra have really upped their game. The only downside to this wine was that a Lussac St-Emilion tasted afterwards was dry and thin in comparison!
Despite not making a personal trip to Champagne in 2014, it was an excellent year for fizz, rounded off by a big fizz tasting on New Year’s Eve.
During the year I observed that nearly all retailers in Ireland have very good Champagne and sparkling wine on their shelves, whether from a recognised big producer or not.
More and more countries are now making top rate sparklers to satisfy the increased international demand for bubbles: old favourite Cloudy Bay Pelorus from New Zealand was joined by Roederer Estate Quartet from the USA and Quinta Soalheiro Alvarinho Espumante from Portugal.
Despite my intentions at the beginning of the year, I didn’t taste any excellent Cava during 2014 and Franciacorta remains an enigma – more tasting needed on both fronts! I also hear of sparkling Arneis from north west Italy which I will endeavour to seek out.
So what were the hits in 2014? As you will see, I tried some outstanding new (and established) English sparkling wine plus some excellent Champagnes.
10. Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011
Just like that crappy advert for Shake n’ Vac from the 80s, this English fizz really puts the freshness back! As hinted at by the term “Classic Cuvée, this is made with the three main Champagne grapes. As the blend is 71% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 9% Pinot Meunier it has a fresh and lively aspect to it – a great start to a party!
I would be interested to taste the same bottle with a bit of age to see how it develops.
9. Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012
Or to give it its full name Nino Franco Vigneto Della Riva di San Floriano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior DOCG. If that sounds a mouthful, it is – but in a good way. I was keen to try it at the James Nicholson tasting after hearing it had been recognised by Mr Fizz himself, Tom Stevenson.
As I often say, when trying most Prosecco one glass is enough for me, a second means a really good wine – well this is “give me the bottle and I’ll finish it on my own” good. In case that wasn’t quite obvious enough – I really like it!
This single vineyard bubbly is made by the Charmat method like all other Prosecco, but has four months on the lees while in tank, and therefore picks up a little autolytic character. It’s also dry and savoury, so it tastes like a serious wine – you could easily drink this with a meal as well as the usual aperitif.
8. Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs NV
Several people who like Champagne but aren’t that well-acquainted with English sparkling wine have been surprised by the proportion of English fizz that has a vintage, i.e. made from grapes harvested in a single year. Given the vagaries of the English climate – even more unreliable than that of northern France – you might expect many more non vintage wines where reserve wines have been used to smooth out less than perfect years.
I’m not sure why this is the case – it could be that so many English wineries are new and haven’t had the time or spare cash to lay down lots of reserve wines – but here’s an exception to the norm.
Irishman Dermot Sugrue has done a wonderful job with the Wiston Rosé, but the combination of creamy bubbles, refreshing lemon sherbet and hints of tropical fruit blew me away. If you like your fizz and you haven’t tried this yet, sort it out!
7. Leon Launois Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2006
As I mentioned in the introduction, the big retailers in Ireland have put a lot of effort into their house Champagnes as there were some very creditable bottles tasted this year.
Among the best were Jean Comyn “Harmonie” Brut NV (from Molloys), Bissinger Premium Cuvée Brut NV (from Lidl) and Beaumont des Crayères Grand Réserve NV (from O’Briens).
However, my favourite – and one that exceeded my expectations of a house Champagne – is Aldi’s Léon Launois Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2006. From the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs, this 100% Chardonnay has spent half a decade on the lees giving it lovely brioche character supporting refreshing lemon.
6. Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009
First, an admission: on meeting a well-presented chap at the James Nicholson tasting with the hand-written name badge “Charlie Holland-Gusbourne” I leapt to the conclusion that this was an English toff with a double barrelled-name showing the fruits of his ancestral estate. Prior research or even just paying attention would have revealed that Charlie Holland is the award-winning winemaker fromGusbourne. I’m still blushing.
Anyway, trying Gusbourne’s wines for the first time impressed me, and the Blanc de Blancs was my overall favourite. Fairly young still but with three years minimum on the lees behind it, this will continue to improve and add layers of complexity over the coming years. 2009 was an excellent vintage in England!
5. Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV
This is a non-vintage, but as a “prestige cuvée” it deserves the more fitting moniker “multi-vintage” as used by Krug for their Grande Cuvée, for example. I took this as an interloper to Morgan Vanderkamer’s Grower Champagne tasting and it was tricky to guess (almost) blind
It had much more body and texture than usual for a Blanc de Blancs. But rather than maturing base wines in oak, it’s the extended ageing on the lees (five years minimum) and the excellent fruit that give the oomph. Denis Varnier eschews oak and blocks MLF to keep the wines as fresh and pure as possible.
The grapes for this bottling are grown in a walled vineyard in Avize called Clos du Grand-Père, named after Denis’s maternal Grandfather Jean Fannière who moved on from “just” growing grapes to being a fully-fledged Champagne producer when already in his 50s.
4. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
I had three opportunities to taste Nyetimber’s “best vintage yet” over the course of 2014.
Firstly with the nice people of Liberty where it showed well.
In the middle of the year I took my wife to Ely Wine Bar for her birthday. After a few bubbles at home she wasn’t in the mood for any more when we arrived at Ely, but she changed her mind when she saw Nyetimber on the list.
Then finally I popped a bottle on New Year’s Eve – and it was better than ever! Perhaps the bottle on my wife’s birthday hadn’t really shone as much as it should have done after a heavyweight rosé Champagne (so heavyweight that I put it in my Top 10 Reds of the year!) But in a more sympathetic context it was magnificent, and the Pinot really shone through.
3. Dom Pérignon 1995
You know how when you’re having a ball of a time at a party, and you open a bottle that, in a more sober frame of mind, you might have saved for a special or at least contemplative occasion? If you’ve been there, did it feel like a waste?
Sometimes, it’s not a waste! Thus it was when I popped my oldest bottle of Dom Pérignon, from the excellent vintage of 1995 – it was just sumptuous!
As part of the drinks group Moët-Hennessey (itself part of luxury goods group LVMH), Moët et Chandon NV is much more about marketing than wine quality. Unfortunately, the Moët vintage was also a disappointment this year. But the prestige cuvée is still the real deal, in my opinion, despite the large quantities produced.
I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned this year is that even Champagne has to be kept until the right age and the right moment – whenever that comes – and then it can be a transcendental experience.
2. Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 1999 (Magnum)
This modest co-operative-produced Champagne was a delight over Christmas (I think I had a magnum to myself on Christmas morning) and the star of the night at the NYE Glasnevin Fizz Fest.
As you might gather from the name, it’s another excellent aged Blanc de Blancs from Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger, one of the top few villages for Chardonnay in Champagne. It has the trademark yeasty, bready characters on the nose., followed by a sumptuous palate of citrus and soft stone fruit. Just delicious.
1. Charles Heidsieck Cuvée des Millénaires 1995
Even in the context of all the excellent sparkling wine I tried in 2014, there was only ever going to be one winner for me.
The Charles NV is pretty good, but this is on another level entirely. Almost two decades maturing in the cellar has brought aromas and flavours of brioche, nuts and candied fruit in addition to refreshing citrus. It has the voluptuous texture without sweetness of salted caramel. It’s time to sell a kidney and buy a case.
Due to personal circumstances I didn’t have a big birthday bash this year, so instead our New Year’s Eve party became the opportunity to try lots of fizz!
Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV
The kick-off wine at the Wine Society’s 2014 Dublin tasting proved to be a worthy opener again. Made by the Californian offshoot of Louis Roederer from four of their top vineyards, it is definitely made to the high standards of its Champenois maison mère.
Full bodied like the Brut Premier at home, it does, however, reverse the house blend of around two thirds Pinot Noir to Chardonnay, instead being 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir.
As well as bready characters from time on the lees this also has depth from reserve wines which have been aged in oak. This is probably the finest Californian fizz I have tasted to date.
Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV
A fairly simple Prosecco brought by a guest, it was pleasant enough not to be passed over, and considering I didn’t have any Prosecco open myself (damn, not again!) it was a nice contrast to some of the bigger names.
Lightly sparkling (a Frizzante with a screw top, no less) with gentle apple and grape flavours, it’s a wine to enjoy rather than contemplate. For some reason it does really well in the Netherlands!
Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs NV
I bought this own label 100% Chardonnay from UK supermarket Sainsbury’s a couple of years ago when there was a double-bubble promotion on. It’s actually good enough at full price but I couldn’t resist stocking up.
Two years later on and the citrus freshness is still there, but additional bottle age has brought a bit more body and complexity. It could still serve well as an aperitif but with more richness it could accompany roast chicken.
I wonder how many bottles bought at the same time made it this long – not many I’d wager!
Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV
Méthode Cap Classique is the South African term for traditional or Champagne method, and Mr Beck helpfully puts “Chardonnay . Pinot Noir” on the front label for those who aren’t sure. Graham Beck is renowned as one of the best producers of fizz in the country
On the nose this had a slightly spirit quality, as though there was a trace of stronger alcohol in there. It wasn’t apparent on the palate which was sophisticated and dry – one of the driest New World sparklers I’ve tried – with creaminess and richness from the lees. A very good effort, especially considering the relatively modest pricetag.
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007
The first significant quality producer of English sparkling wine goes from strength to strength. 2007 was one of the first vintages seen from start to finish by head winemaker Cherie Spriggs and husband Brad Greatrix, elevating the already serious quality to a higher plane.
So how does this bottle taste? Apple pie! No, seriously – amazingly intense apple flavours backed up by pastry notes from the lees and then bottle ageing. Seriously delicious!
Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004
Non vintage Möet didn’t fare very well when tasted double blind in the previous Glasnevin Fizz Fest, but as I’ve enjoyed the house’s prestige cuvée every time I’ve tried I’d, I thought I’d give the middle ground of Möet Grand Vintage a go.
Being a vintage Champagne it was guaranteed to have a longer minimum period on the lees (36 months v 15 for NV) and this came through on the palate. However, the fruit behind it wasn’t good enough to support the yeastiness – it tasted as though there was a hole in it, if a drink can said to have a hole in it!
Most people preferred the Sainsbury’s own label fizz, which tells you all you need to know!
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
Widely acknowledged as their best vintage yet, Nyetimber’s Champagne Blend from 2009 had showed well previously. Perhaps context is more important than we think, because tasted straight after the Möet Grand Vintage this was fantastic, even better than I expected.
The 2009 Classic Cuvée blend is 55% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier. The Pinots are more obvious with soft red fruit on the attack, but then the Chardonnay’s citrus and soft stone fruits follow closely behind. It’s very elegant and polished, and should continue to develop over the next decade and more.
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
The Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on Champagne’s Côte des Blancs is the source of Krug’s famed single vineyard Clos du Mesnil. Whereas that tends to retail at £600 or more per bottle, the village’s co-operative makes an excellent Blanc de Blanc that retails closer to £30 – a twentieth of the Krug price!
I had snapped up some magnums of the 1999 vintage a few years ago in a bin-end sale – and what a bargain they turned out to be!! Champagne (and wine in general) matures more slowly in a magnum than in a regular 75cl botle, but authors such as Tom Stevenson also content that sparkling wine matures better in the larger format. Without a comparative tasting for myself I will take Tom’s word for it, but the evidence provided by these magnums is definitely in favour of the argument.
Somewhat yellow in the glass from ageing, the wine is full of yeasty, bready characters on the nose. This follows through onto the sumptuous palate, with citrus and soft stone fruit playing a supporting role. A very long finish makes this an excellent fizz – what a shame I’ve only got one bottle left!
Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999
Context rears its head again – and not in a good way this time. Tasted among the other sparklers this appeared somewhat flat. It wasn’t unpleasant, just a different type of drink.
I hope to try it again in 2015 to see how it shows then.
Cloudy Bay Pelorus Marlborough 2009
Cloudy Bay’s NV and Vintage sparklers are probably the best value wines in their range, especially considering the extra work that goes into making fizz. Unlike its compatriot Lindauer or Australia’s Jacob’s Creek Sparkling, they are serious wines make with great attention to detail. We served Pelorus NV for the toast at our wedding in 2009!
As you’d expect in a serious offering from Marlborough, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the grapes used, and like vintage Champagne it gets at least three years maturing on the lees. There’s apple, citrus and bready notes on the nose, followed by a creamy palate with more apple and then roasted almonds. It’s only a youngster so there’ more to come!
Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV
The last bottle opened before we moved onto some reds was this Blanc de Blancs Crémant d’Alsace from one of the region’s best co-operatives. They produce a wide range of still wines and several sparklers – this was my favourite when we visited in 2013. Not widely known outside France, Crémant d’Alsace is actually the second most popular source of sparkling wine in France.
The blend is supposedly a secret but I remember 100% Chardonnay being whispered at the tasting counter. Perhaps because it’s not seen as an Alsatian grape? It’s not permitted in still Alsace wines, but is allowed in Crémant, sometimes with Pinot Blanc and other varieties.
As is the norm in Alsace, this displayed more primary fruit than flavours from lees ageing. We’re talking citrus, apple and quince here, so more of an aperitif style, but very enjoyable nevertheless.
The Overall Verdict
This was no professional trade tasting – all samples were drunk and enjoyed – so there’s somewhat less than 100% objectivity here, but my rankings would be:
Molloys Liquor Stores is a off licence group with 10 outlets around Dublin plus their website www.molloys.com. Their range is biased towards cost-conscious everyday bottles, but as they import many of them exclusively they can cut out the middle-man and offer good value for money.
Here are some of the highlights from their recent press tasting:
Champagne Jean Comyn “Harmonie” Brut NV (€34.99)
It’s a bakery in a bottle! An amazing brioche nose points to extended ageing on the lees – the minimum for a non vintage Champagne is 15 months but I would guess at double that or more. There’s fresh strawberry on the attack (from Pinots Noir and Meunier) followed by lemon (from Chardonnay), and a crisp finish.
This won a silver medal at last year’s IWC which is impressive for an unknown (to me at least) brand. Please don’t buy Moët, buy this instead – it’s far nicer.
Decoding the label tells us that this Prosecco is fully sparkling (Spumante) and north of off-dry – confusingly Extra Dry means no such thing, but consumers like to thinkthat they like dry wines. This is the most expensive of the five Proseccos that Molloys import – the extra tax on Spumante compared to Frizzante ensures it’s not one of the cheapest – but I think it’s also the best value.
I don’t mind a glass of Prosecco but I rarely fancy a second – this is an exception to that rule. This has a grapey nose (go figure!) and then pear and red apple on the palate, wrapped in a creamy lemon mousse. It’s not trying to be Champagne but it is a grown up drink that should please most.
Colombelle l’Original IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2013 (€8.99)
Gascony is more famous for its brandy – Armagnac – than for its wines. Thankfully this means that they remain a relative bargain. Colombard is usually the main grape, supported by Ugni Blanc and / or Sauvignon Blanc for a bit of extra zip. This example comes from Producteurs Plaimont, a quality and value conscious cooperative from South West France.
And it’s wonderful! So much fruit – ripe, round apples and peachy stone fruit – but with a crisp finish. This isn’t amazingly complex but it’s a very enjoyable tipple – and at a modest 11.0% abv a glass or two in the week won’t hurt. I’d serve this as an aperitif or as a match for roast chicken or a mild curry.
Beauvignac Chardonnay, IGP Pay d’Oc (€10.49)
In addition to various Pay d’Oc varietals, this modern producerCave Pomerols also makes AOP Picpoul de Pinet.
Tropical fruit is the order of the day here – pineapple, passionfruit and grapefruit dance around the nose. A touch of vanilla also becomes apparent on the palate suggesting some light oak ageing, but it’s well integrated and doesn’t jar at all. Malolactic fermentation is deliberately blocked which gives it a crisp, fresh finish.
So many inexpensive Chardonnays taste artificial but this is a nice drop. Would be amazing with scallops!
Heritiers Dubois AOC Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur lie 2012 (€11.49)
If you’ve ever shopped in a French supermarket you will no doubt have noticed a half dozen different bottles of Muscadet on sale. You might even have tried a few – after all, they’re quite inexpensive in France. But the odds are, you didn’t go back and buy more of the same. Muscadet’s reputation is not the best at the moment, mainly due to low quality / high yield production which results in austere, acidic and fruitless swill.
But every cloud and all that – those producers who do care about quality are unable to command high prices due to the general reputation of the area – and that means there are bargains to be had!
Sèvre et Maine is a subregion of Muscadet but doesn’t signify that much as it accounts for 80% of all Muscadets. Sur Lie means the wine was matured on its lees, i.e. the dead yeast cells left over from fermentation. This gives it a creamy texture and a bit more interest in terms of flavour.
So how does this taste? Full of lemon zest! It’s not austere, though it is racy and lean. It cries out for shellfish or delicate white fish. I expected not to like this, but it surprised me!
Château Bonnin Pichon AOC Lussac-St-Emilion 2008 (€15.49)
Lussac is one of the four satellite villages that can suffix the coveted name of St-Emilion to their wines. These villages don’t reach the heights attained in St-Emilion proper, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t offer some well made, drinkable wine. 2008 was a pretty-good-but-not-excellent vintage in Bordeaux; modern viticulture and winemaking means that the best can be brought out of whatever nature has presented.
As normal for right bank Bordeaux it’s Merlot that takes the lead (81%), with Cabernet Franc (15%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (4%) playing supporting roles. Oak, fruit and tannin are well balanced now and would evolve slowly over the next five years or so. I would guess some proportion of American oak given the flavour profile The fruit is dark – plum , blackberry and blackcurrant.
Drink this on its own or with red meat such as beef or lamb.
Gran Passione IGT Rosse del Veneto 2013 (€14.99)
From the hinterland of Venice, this big and velvety red is perfect a perfect winter’s night. Tannin and acidity are present and correct – it is very young – so decant for a few hours if you have chance, or serve with a hearty stew.
Think of this as a baby Amarone – it weighs in at 14.5% – but less complex and certainly cheaper! The grapes aren’t stated but I would guess at the typical Corvina / Rondinella / Molinara.
Cellier des Princes AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (€24.99)
The world famous southern Rhône appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape perhaps faces the opposite challenge to Muscadet – its reputation is so good that pretty much any bottle carrying its name can be sold for a premium, so someproducers churn out very average wine and put it in a fancy bottle. Thus the cheapest CNDP may not be a bargain at all.
Thankfully Molloys have got it right with this selection! It’s principally Grenache (90%), with Mourvèdre (5%) and Syrah (5%). Weighing in at a whopping 15%, this has bags of dark black fresh and dried fruit and Christmas spice. It’s wonderfully big and robust but velvety and smooth. It’s really far too young to drink now – it will open up a lot more over the next five to ten years – but it’s so delicious that it would be too tempting!