Opinion

My Top 10 Fizz of 2014

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

Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011
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

Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano
Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano

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

Wiston Blanc de Blancs NV
Wiston 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

Léon Launois Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2006
Léon 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

Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009
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 from Gusbourne.  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

Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Gru Blanc de Blancs NV
Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Gru 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

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
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

Belle Epoque & Dom Perignon
Dom Pérignon 1995 (with a friend)

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)

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999

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

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995
Charles Heidsieck Blanc 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.

If you didn’t catch them before, check out my Top 10 Whites and Top 10 Reds of 2014.

 

Tasting Events

Glasnevin Fizz Fest 2014

After a second trip to Champagne and Alsace in 2013 I decided that my birthday party would be a sparkling wine tasting affair.  My review of the wines was posted under the grand name of Glasnevin Fizz Fest: the good the bad and the ugly.

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

Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV
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

Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV
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

Sainsbury's Blanc de Blancs NV
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

Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV
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

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007
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

Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004
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

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
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

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
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

Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999
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 Pelorus 2009
Cloudy Bay Pelorus 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

Cave de Turckheim Crémant d'Alsace Confidence NV
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:

  1. Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
  2. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
  3. Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV

Here’s to next year’s Fizz Fest!

Tasting Events

Some Highlights from the Molloys Press Tasting

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)

Champagne Jean Comyn "Harmonie" Brut NV
Champagne Jean Comyn “Harmonie” Brut NV

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.

Botter Prosecco DOC Spumante “Extra Dry” NV (€16.49)

Botter Prosecco DOC Spumante "Extra Dry" NV
Botter Prosecco DOC Spumante “Extra Dry” NV

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 think that 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)

Colombelle l'Original IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2013
Colombelle l’Original IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2013

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)

Beauvignac Chardonnay, IGP Pay d'Oc
Beauvignac Chardonnay, IGP Pay d’Oc

In addition to various Pay d’Oc varietals, this modern producer Cave 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)

Heritiers Dubois AOC Muscadet 2012
Heritiers Dubois AOC Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2012

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)

Château Bonnin Pichon AOC Lussac-St-Emilion 2008
Château Bonnin Pichon AOC Lussac-St-Emilion 2008

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)

Gran Passione IGT Rosse del Veneto 2013
Gran Passione IGT Rosso del Veneto 2013

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)

Cellier des Princes AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012
Cellier des Princes AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012

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 some producers 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!

 

 

Tasting Events

Barn-storming New Discoveries: Highlights of the H2G Tasting

So firstly to dispel any possible misunderstanding – H2G is short for Honest 2 Goodness as apposed to H2G2 which is shorthand for the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and its associated online encyclopediaSo not really alike.  At all.

So now we’ve established that, what is H2G?  It’s based around a farmers’ market held every Saturday in Glasnevin, north Dublin, run by brother and sister team Colm and Brid Carter.  In the main Colm handles the wine and Brid the food, though of course there’s some crossover.  They sell wines at the market, online and wholesale.  The portfolio is imported directly by them, and mainly consists of sustainably-made wines from family producers in Spain, Italy, France, Austria and Germany.

And why “Barn-storming”?  Well the high ceiling and large open door of the venue bring to mind a barn.  Apart from the lack of hay.  And animals.  So perhaps a chai in the Médoc would be a more appropriate analogy…

The tasting covered a large chunk of their portfolio, including sparkling, white, rosé and red.  Here I’ve picked out a few which really caught my attention, though the overall standard was very high.

Great version of a familiar wine: Enrico Bedin Prosecco DOC Veneto Frizzante NV

Bedin Prosecco DOC Treviso
Bedin Prosecco DOC Treviso

Yes that’s right, I’ve picked a Prosecco to start with!  Regular readers may remember that I don’t usually care too much for Prosecco.  Yes, it’s the base of the famous Bellini cocktail, but usually a single glass is all I can manage before switching to something else.  If it’s only average quality, I might not even finish the glass.

Now this example surprised me – it was very pleasant to drink without being too sweet or flabby.  It’s not a terribly complex drink, with notes of citrus, apple, pear and peach, but sometimes simple is just fine.

The Bedin winery is located in the foothills close to the mediaeval town of Asolo, known as the “Colli Asolani”, fairly close to Venice.  As well as Glera (the official new name for the Prosecco grape) there’s also Bianchetta Trevigiana grown here, though that is most often used for blending or making vermouth.

This is the lighter sparkling Frizzante version; due to the lower pressure it doesn’t need a Champagne-style cork and cage so can be sold with a simple crown cap.  Happily, these means less Irish duty than most fizz so the tippler wins for a change!

Familiar Grape From A New Producer: Weingut Setzer Setzer Weinviertel DAC Reserve Grüner Veltliner “8000”

Setzer "8000" Grüner Veltliner
Setzer “8000” Grüner Veltliner

Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s signature white grape, known as GruVee by the cool kids.  It’s a real mouthful in figurative and literal senses – it’s generally dry but more full-bodied than many other whites.  It deserves to be better known, though it’s always going to be more niche than Chardonnay.

If you like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling then you need to give Grüner a try.

So what’s special about this example?  The other GVs made by Setzer are very drinkable, but this premium version sets itself apart by both the quality of the soil and the unusually high vine density.  In this 15 hectare vineyard vine density is right up at 8,000 vines per hectare, supposedly imitating that of the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, rather than the region’s usual 3,000 vines per hectare.  The competition between vines lowers yields per vine, extends their potential lifespan and results in more intense flavours.

The soil itself is described as loess (look it up!) over gravel and limestone, coming from a raised seabed – perfect for drainage (vines don’t like wet feet).

A New Producer, New Appellation, New Grape: Chateau Saint-Go AOC Saint Mont

Chateau Saint-Go AOC Saint Mont

Although there’s a lot of tradition in the world of wine, things do move pretty fast at times.  This appellation is located in Gascony’s Gers Department and got promoted to AOC from VDQS (the next quality level down) in 2011.

The producer, Plaimont, is a consortium of cooperatives in South West France.  Their wine production covers the appellations of AOC Saint Mont, AOC Madiran, AOC Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and IGP Côtes de Gascogne

At the H2G tasting their entry level white “En La Tradition Blanc” was very nice, though on the simple side.  The Chateau Saint-Go itself was stunning, a wine you could happily contemplate all evening (as long as you could get a top up!)  Roundness and texture come from some oak ageing, but oak doesn’t dominate the palate.

And what is the new grape?  It’s made with Gros Manseng (which is familiar to lovers of Jurançon from further south), Petit Courbu (found in Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh AOC) and Arrufiac.  I have to confess I hadn’t heard of Arrufiac, but it transpires that its increasing popularity is mainly due to the raised profile from Plaimont.

So there you go, you never stop learning in the world of wine – and the educational experience is a fun one!

 

 

 

Short

#MWWC6 – Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #6 – Mystery

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This is the sixth installment of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, but the first one I have been able to enter.  The theme of “Mystery” was set by The Drunken Cyclist who won the previous month’s challenge.

Normally I read the other entries which are posted to get an idea, but on a couple of occasions I’ve seen other people have already had a great idea which was at the back of my mind – and plagiarism isn’t good, even the appearance of it.

So for this challenge I’ve gone way out of my comfort zone and attempted a short bit of fiction – something I haven’t done since English class at school!  A little inspiration came from the badge created by The Armchair Cyclist…

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The door was unlocked so I let myself into the hallway; the rain was coming down like bullets into the night so I needed to get out of the rain. I peeked round the corner – nobody there, so I headed down the stairs and took a seat at the bar.

“How are you Frank? What’ll you have?” said the bartender. He was new. His accent was strange..somewhere from the mid-Atlantic. His pale skin and red hair made him look like he would get sunburn from a lightbulb. He must have heard my name from the boss.

“Champagne. Bollinger. Vintage.”

“A glass?”

“No. A bottle” He obviously didn’t know me. Not. At. All.

“Two glasses then? Are you waiting for someone?”

“Do I look like I want company?” I growled. “Open the goddam bottle will you?”

The bartender opened the bottle with a brief sigh (the bottle, not him) and poured me a glass. He put the bottle in an ice bucket with a fancy towel over top. It said “Ely” on the towel.

I knocked back a mouthful – man, this was great stuff. Creamy, complex, red fruits and biscuit with a long finish. My kind of drink. In fact, it was my regular drink at Ely. Don’t get me wrong, I like some of the other fizzy stuff they had, but not the Italian or Spanish garbage – far too simple, far too easy.

I quaffed the rest of the glass then poured myself another. The bar owner walked in and nodded to me as he walked past. “On the usual, I see, Frank”. Obervant as usual. He was a nice guy, real friendly, but left me alone when I wanted to be.

“You still have eyes then, Fred” I muttered. “You know me, I know what I like.”

“Come on, my old friend, tonight you should try something else.” A raised eyebrow made him pause. “On the house!”

“Okay Fred, just to make you happy, I’ll try them again. Then you won’t ask me again, right?”

“Great, I’m sure you will like some of them, Frank!” He seemed excited, like a puppy. This had better be quick and had better get him off my case.

“Pour away, Fred. This here..” I tapped the bottle of Bollinger Grand Année. “This here is my benchmark. Whatever you give me has to match this baby.”

He took a bottle out of the fridge behind the bar and popped the cork. Reaching up, he grabbed a couple of glasses from the shelf above the bar.

“What the heck is that? That’s no Champagne cork!”

“My friend, this is frizzante Prosecco. It doesn’t need a big cork and wire cage, it’s not as fizzy as other sparklers.”

I didn’t like Prosecco. I hated it. In fact, I hated it with a loathing far beyond mere contempt. It was a chick’s drink. As Fred poured us both a glass, I looked round to make sure no-one else could see I was trying such an absurd drink.

Bam! Fruit all the way! But then it was gone, as quickly as it came, leaving a slight prick of acid in my throat. It was like using a water pistol instead of a real gun – surprise from the impact, but no lasting effect.

“Fred that’s nowhere near close,” I said. “I hope you’ve got something better than that”

“Coming right up, my friend.” He fished another bottle out of the fridge. This time it looked to have a regular Champagne cork.

Another pair of glasses. He poured again. At least this seemed to be properly fizzy.

“So you reckon this is better, huh? Where’s it from?” I asked.

“Just try it and see what you think, Frank.”

I took a mouthful. Nice and round in the mouth. Not sweet. Biscuitty. Chewy even. But then it faded quickly; far too simple. The label said Freixenet Elyssia. Sounded more like a medical complaint than a drink.

“Well Fred…it’s just like I thought. Those other drinks, now they’re just fine for other folks. But not for me, they’re far too simple. I need a bit of wonder in my beverages.  I need mystery.”

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