Tag: Rias Baixas

Another Brick In The Wall – Part 4

A medley of whites from the WineMason tasting earlier this year:

Bodegas Altos de Torona Rías Baixas Albariño Torre de Ermelo 2016 (12.4%, RRP €19 – Stockist TBC)

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Bodegas Altos de Torona is one of three producers in Rías Baixas who form part of the HGA Bodegas group.  HGA have holdings across many of northern Spain’s best wine areas including Rioja, Ribero del Duero and Ribeira Sacra.  This wine is from the O Rosal sub-zone, just 3.5km from the Miño River (which forms the border with Portugal) and 10km from the Atlantic Ocean.

Torre de Ermelo is made in a fresh – almost spritzy – style, with floral, citrus and mineral notes framed by a streak of acidity.  Great value for money!

 

Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18 at Green Man Wines)

Fossil

If your palate is just used to white wines from supermarkets then this might seem a little alien at first.  It bears no resemblance to the usual Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay – but then why should it?  This is a blend of three indigenous Portuguese grapes, Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires grown close to the Atlantic coast just north of Lisbon.

The name of the wine is a clue to the vineyard soil type – lots of limestone!  There are indeed mineral notes on this wine but lots more besides – soft fruit, herbs and flowers. Overall it’s a dry wine with lots of texture, a fine partner for lots of dishes.

 

BLANKbottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24 at Green Man Wines, Baggot St Wines, The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Red Island)

Blank

This is a very intriguing wine from a very interesting producer.  Pieter H. Walser is the man behind BLANKBottle and aims to make wines which highlight excellent South African terroir rather than the variety/ies that they are made from.  He buys in all his grapes rather than farming himself.  This all gives him flexibility so he can change the components of a blend from year to year or produce entirely new wines as a one-off; it also helps his wines to be judged on their contents rather than preconceptions about varieties.

Moment of Silence is a blend (for this vintage at least!) of 65% Chenin Blanc with the balance split between Chardonnay and Viognier.  From 2015 onwards the grapes were sourced from seven different sites within Wellington.  This wine is quite round in the mouth with apple and stone fruit flavours.  The Viognier influence shines through as a touch of richness, but it isn’t oily.  A wine that deserves to be tried.

 

Rijckaert Arbois Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, RRP €23 at The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Redmonds)

Arbois

Belgian winemaker Jean Rijckaert founded his own estate in 1998 based on vineyards in the Maconnais and Jura, further east.  Of course the key variety shared by these regions is Chardonnay, which can reflect both where it is grown and how it is vinified.  Yields are low and intervention is kept to a minimum – once fermentation is complete the wines are left to mature without racking, stirring or anything else.

Jura Chardonnay comes in two distinct styles, oxidative and none-oxidative, depending on whether air is allowed into the maturing barrels; this is definitely the latter, (ouillé) style of Jura Chardonnay for which I have a marked preference.  It’s recognisably oaked Chardonnay but very tangy and food friendly.  A great way into Jura wines!

 

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 (14.0%, RRP €34 at 64 Wine & The Corkscrew)

Chenin

De Morgenzon translates as The Morning Sun which is a wonderfully poetic name, attached to a wonderful South African winery.  Although South Africa is usually labelled as “new world” when it comes to wine, vines have been planted in this part of Stellenbosch since the early 1700s.  Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum bought DeMorgenzon in 2003 and have transformed the estate and its wines.

The entry level DMZ Chenin is a very nice wine, clean and fresh, but this Reserve is a step above.  The vines were planted in 1972 (an auspicious year!) and interestingly were originally bush vines but recently lifted onto trellises.  People often wonder what makes one wine cost more than another similar wine, and in this case the picking in four different passes through the vineyard (to ensure optimum ripeness and balance) shows you why.  Fermentation takes place in French oak barrels (with wild yeast) followed by 11 months of maturation on the lees.  These really add to the flavour profile – there’s a little bit of funk from the wild yeast, lots of creaminess from the lees and soft oak notes from the barrels (only 25% were new).   This is a real treat!

 

Another Brick in the Wall series:

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The Fifth Element – Part 2

The Fifth Element – Part 2

Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store.  Here are some more of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:

Quinta da Raza Grande Escolha Vinho Verde 2016 (12.0%, €17.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

quinta da raza 2

North west “Green” Spain’s best known white wines are probable the Albariños of Rías Baixas (see below).  Less well known are the Alvarinhos of northern Portugal, just the other side of the Minho river in the Vinho Verde region.  Alvarinho is just one of several local grapes which are often blended to make refreshing, easily approachable young wines.  Some of them are a notch or two above that, however, and Quinta da Raza’s Grande Escolha is one of them.  This is a blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura, also known as Treixadura in Galicia.  Although modest in alcohol (12.0%), it is packed full of flavour – melon and fruit polos! (I shit you not!)  great value for money.

Bodegas Zarate Rías Baixas Albariño 2015 (12.5%, €21.25 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)
zarate 2

The Zarate family have been making wine in the Salnes Valley for over 300 years and have been at the forefront of modern winemaking in the area.  This is their “entry level” Albariño, made from vines with an average age of 35 years.  It’s made in the normal style – clean, fresh, young, fruity – but is a great example of that style.  It shows a variety of citrus: lemon, lime and grapefruit and has a long, clean finish.

Mahi Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.5%, €22.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Mahi SB

Brian Bicknell is regarded as one of the most accomplished winemakers in Marlborough.  He did a tour of duty that took him from the antipodes to Hungary, France, Chile and finally back to New Zealand.  After five years of planning, Mahi made their first vintage in 2001 and then established their winery in Renwick (pictured above from my visit) in 2006.  The grapes come from owned and rented vineyards, currently extending to five varieties (but no Riesling yet, which is a pity!)

This is Mahi’s standard Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s a world away from the Marlborough Sauvignon on offer in the local supermarket – in fact, it’s one of the best examples of straight Sauvignon you can find.  It shows grapefruit, gooseberries and cut grass, green but ripe, and wonderfully balanced.

Mahi Boundary Road Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (14.0%, €25.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Mahi Boundary Road

Whereas the regular Sauvignon above is blend from across all Mahi’s vineyards, this is a single vineyard wine, but also a different expression of the grape through different winemaking techniques.  The vines are in a north-facing (the warmest aspect in the southern hemisphere) plot close to the edge (hence “Boundary Farm”) of Blenheim.  The grapes are handpicked compared to the normal practice of machine harvesting.  They are whole-cluster pressed, fermented with wild yeast in French oak barriques and then matured in the barrel for a further eleven months.  The result is a totally different style of wine: smoky, oaky and intense funky flavours over a lemon, lime and orange citrus core.  If anything, this 2014 was slightly too smoky on the finish for me, but as it’s only just been released I would expect it to calm down somewhat and integrate more over the coming months and years.  Smoked salmon anyone?

Bodegas Zarate Rías Baixas Tras da Viña 2015 (12.5%, €29.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

TRAS_DA_VINA

Tras da Viña is a tiny hillside parcel of only 0.6 hectares, facing south for maximum sunshine.  The Albariño vines were replanted in 1965 so they were celebrating their 50th birthday for this vintage.  Such age has given the wine a fantastic intensity of flavour, and a very long finish.  It is classic Albariño, with a slightly saline edge, but much more than that – lithe and liquid on the tongue.  This is a refined wine that would be perfect for delicately flavoured dishes, flattering them rather than overpowering them.

Domaine Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru “Fourchaume” 2015 (13.0%, €32.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

Fevre

Fourchaume is generally rated in the top echelon of Chablis’s Premiers Crus, with an easterly aspect that bathes it in the morning sun – this promotes ripeness without overblown alcohol or losing freshness.  Domaine Fèvre have 10 hectares in the middle of the Cru, all based on Kimmeridgian limestone.  Fermentation and maturation on fine lees take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.  This is a grown up Chablis, already very approachable despite the young age.  Tangy citrus and mineral notes combine with a delightful texture and sublime poise.  Top class Chablis!

 

The Fifth Element Series:

Top Selection of Whites [Make Mine a Double #26]

UK wine importers Top Selection have an enviable portfolio of exclusive niche wines (and spirits) across the price spectrum.  Here are a couple of their fresh whites which impressed me recently:

Angel Sequeiros Rías Baixas Albariño “Evoe” 2013 (13.0%, £17.50 at Top Selection)

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Not long after gourmets and gourmands started using the term “food porn”, winelovers hit back with the equally hyperbolic “wine porn”.  Although the term is supposed to be figurative, it’s not far off the literal truth for this bottle!

Founder Angel Sequeiros bought the already-established Finca Quinta Gaviñeira on his return to Galicia in 1960.  The Rías Baixas estate is 100% Albariño and is now run by Angel’s son Clement.  Clement has been making his own mark with the estate since his first release in 2009.

It’s floral, fresh, and gently fruity – pleasant drinking on its own but not so intense that you couldn’t bring it to the table.  This is one of the most balanced Albariños I’ve tried!

Apparently, “evoe” in English means “an exclamation of Bacchic frenzy” – and looking at the label I’d say that’s not too far off the mark!

Villa Mattielli Soave Classico Campolungo 2015 (13.0%, £17.00 at Top Selection)

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As I have opined many a time and oft* on this blog, Soave from the Veneto in north eastern Italy continues to be unfairly looked down on because of the inexpensive and unexpressive bulk wine made in the region.  In fact, going back to the 1970s, Soave sales in some export markets rivalled that of Chianti.  In spite of the burgeoning quality of many other Italian wines, Chianti is still seen as the “go-to” Italian red wine in export markets, whereas Soave has been overtaken by the infamous Pinot Grigio (most of which, itself, is not exactly characterful).

landscape_soave
Soave vineyards (Credit: Alessandro Pighi)

Thankfully Villa Mattielli are a quality-orientated family producer with 30 hectares of vines across the Soave Classico and Valpolicella DOCs.  Winemaker Roberta is the fourth generation of the family to run the firm, along with her husband Giacomo and her sister Valeria.

The wine has a lovely orange and peach nose; it explodes with the same in the mouth, round and luscious.  Unlike many Italian white wines, it has too much flavour for oysters or delicate white fish – instead try it with king scallops or garlic and ginger prawns.

*The wine is made in the area around Venice, hence the literary reference**

**Don’t tell me you didn’t get the reference!

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Spanish Treats from O’Briens

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Here are a few of my favourite Spanish wines available at O’Briens – and until 17th August they are on sale with 20% or more off, so it’s a great time to snap them up!

Martín Códax Rías Baixas Albariño 2013 (12.5%, €17.95 down to €14.36 at O’Briens)

21089-Martin-Codax-Albarino j

The fresh one: Named after a literary hero from Galicia in northwest Spain, this wine also uses the celebrated local grape Albariño.  While some examples can be a little too tart for my taste, several months of ageing on the lees before bottling and a few years’ rest make this wonderfully round, though still fruity and refreshing.  Expect citrus and soft stone fruit notes.

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Capellanía 2010 (13.5%, €24.95 down to €19.96 at O’Briens)

15WSP010-Capellania j

The Marmite one: this is generally a love or loathe type of wine due to the deliberate introduction of some oxygen during the winemaking process – i.e. giving it a slight “Sherry” taste.  It’s how traditional style white Rioja is made – and to be honest I’m all for it as technically better modern examples are often a bit dull.  I also tasted a 2005 vintage recently and it was still going strong, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it!

Torres Ribero del Duero Crianza Celeste 2012 (14.0%, €21.95 down to €17.56 at O’Briens)

Celeste

The regular one: Although it’s fairly well distributed, this is a classy wine that always delivers – it’s a regular tipple for me.  It’s made from Tempranillo which is of course the mainstay of red Rioja, but the hotter days and cooler nights of the Ribero del Duero give the local variant a thicker skin and hence the wine has more colour and flavour – dark berries with a pinch of spice!

Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €30.45 down to €24.36 at O’Briens)

13WSP007-Monte-Real-Gran-Reserva j

The surprising one: This wine was one of the stand outs for me at the O’Briens Spring Wine Fair.  When it comes to Rioja I don’t usually go for a Gran Reserva as they can be woody and dried out from too much time in oak, but this was a revelation.  30 months in American oak followed by 3 years in bottle have set it up superbly.  The strawberry fruit is so, so soft with vanilla on the side, and a slight smoky edge to the wine.  The oak is definitely noticeable but it’s now well integrated.  A fabulous wine!

Marques de Murrieta Castillo De Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2007 (14.0%, €85.00 down to €68.00 at O’Briens)

Castillo Ygay j

The no-expense spared one: Yes, this is an expensive wine, but it is counted among the best in Spain, so if you’re splashing out then why not?  It’s a blend of 86% Tempranillo and 14% Mazuelo (a.k.a. Carignan) matured in oak for 28 months.  It tastes pretty damned amazing, but it’s still a baby – put a couple of bottles away for a special occasion in a few years time!

My Favourites from the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting (Part one)

James Nicholson is an award-winning wine merchant based in Northern Ireland.  For over 35 years he has been supplying wines wholesale, to restaurants and to the public, all over the island of Ireland.

James Nicholson, Crossgar
James Nicholson, Crossgar

I was recently invited to their “Meet The Winemakers” tasting event in Dublin – a great opportunity to speak to the people who produce the wine, and of course to taste it!

Although it was difficult to narrow it down, here are a few of the sparkling and white wines that I really liked:

Quinta Soalheiro Alvarinho Espumante 2012 (€28.50)

Quinta Soalheiro Alvarinho Espumante 2012
Quinta Soalheiro Alvarinho Espumante 2012

Heading south from Rías Baixas in Galicia takes you over the border into Portugal and Albariño becomes Alvarinho.  All good so far – and I often prefer the Portuguese stuff.  But what’s this – a fizzy version?

Made by the traditional method, i.e. there’s a second alcoholic fermentation in bottle, this is fresh and fruity – and it’s real rather than artificial fruit.  This might sound a bit silly – but it tastes just like you’d expect a fizzy version of Alvarinho to taste!

This is an excellent aperitif – and a refreshing different taste. 

Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012 (€30.50)

Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012
Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012

Nino Franco’s Primo Franco recently won the trophy for best Prosecco in Tom Stephenson’s “Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships”.  The fact that there is a Prosecco category at all is not a sop to the producers of off-dry fruity pop, but rather it’s recognition that Prosecco can be a serious sparkling if the producer wishes.

Produced from a single vineyard after which it is named, San Floriano is made by the Charmat (or tank) 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.

Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009 (€46.99)

Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009

My favourite wine of the whole tasting!

The Gusbourne Estate in south east England dates back to 1410, though sparkling wine production has a much more recent history – the first vintage was in 2006!  The main vineyard is on a south facing ancient escarpment in Appledore, Kent.  The soil are clay and sandy loam slopes – you might expect chalk given the proximity to the White Cliffs of Dover, but it does mean that Gusbourne copes better with wet weather and drought.

Blankety-blanks (as I childishly call them) are sometimes on the simple side but this spent a full three years on the lees which gives it lots of lovely bready characters, in addition to lemon sherbet from the Chardonnay.  Being an English sparkler it has lots of zippy acidity with a dosage of 10.5 g/L for balance (I guessed 10 – 11, can’t get much closer than that!)  This style of wine makes a great aperitif or goes wonderfully with seafood.

Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer 2013 (Loosen Estate) (€14.99)

Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer 2013
Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer 2013

Although I’m a huge fan of Alsace wines, sometimes I find the Gewurztraminers made there a little dry for my tastes.  Just like Pinot Gris, I prefer my Gewurz to have a little sweetness on the finish to match the richness of the mid palate.  This off dry German Gewürztraminer (note the umlaut over the u) ticks all the boxes for me!  The most aromatic of varieties, the nose is instantly recognisable, with rose petals and lychees jumping out of the glass.  Added to these on the palate is Turkish Delight.

Gewürz is something of a marmite variety, but this is an excellent introduction.

Château Beauregard Pouilly Fuissé Vers Cras 2011 (€37.00)

Château Beauregard Pouilly Fuissé Vers Cras 2011
Château Beauregard Pouilly Fuissé Vers Cras 2011

One of the first things aspiring wine geeks learn is the difference between Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé; although they’re both French and white they are stylistically very different.  The former is one of France’s top two Sauvignon Blanc areas, just over the river from the more celebrated Sancerre.  Pouilly-Fuissé is the most important appellation within the Mâconnais, the most southerly region of Burgundy proper.

Compared to the much more prestigious Côte d’Or, The Mâconnais has gentler slopes and mixed agriculture – and being a bit further south it gets more sun, so its grapes tend to be riper.  Accompanying that is a tendency to use oak barrels quite liberally, especially in the better appellations, so the wines become more New World in style.  Although the producer is still very important, Pouilly-Fuissé and St-Véran are white Burgundies that I would happily order from a restaurant wine menu without recognising the maker.

Château Beauregard is one of the top producers of Pouilly Fuissé.  Its standard 2012 bottling (€28.75) is showing very nicely now, but I would be a little more patient and pick up the single vineyard Vers Cras.  Although a year younger it had a lot more time in oak and so is not yet quite fully integrated.  There’s lots of tropical fruit and toasty vanilla from the barrel ageing.

It’s not the currently fashionable cool climate style but it’s a wine I’d happily drink all evening from big fishbowl glasses.

Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (€30.00)

Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010

This is Marlborough Sauvignon Jim, but not as we know it.

For those who don’t know Dog Point, the founders James Healy and Ivan Sutherland are both ex-Cloudy Bay.  As well as producing their own wine they sell grapes to other winemakers, including former colleague Kevin Judd who makes his Greywacke wines in their facility.

NZ Sauvignon can be sometimes be summed up as “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long” – it has riotous explosions of fruit in its youth but fades quickly.  This elegant example from Dog Point is designed to age and evolve positively.  It spent 18 months in older French oak barrels so has plenty of texture and refinement.  It has the tropical fruit of regular Savvy plus peach and other stone fruit – it’s just such a pleasure to drink.  There’s a funky edge from the wild yeast, and as malolactic fermentation was blocked there’s plenty of fresh acidity.

 

Part two looks at a few of my favourite reds from the tasting!

I Know What I Like – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – Part 3

So, Marlborough lovers, we did a tour of New Zealand in part one and then cast the Sauvignon Blanc net further in part two.  Now we can begin to look at the broader horizon of other grapes in a similar(ish) style.  This could run to 20,000 words so I will highlight the main wines that a savvy Savvy lover should try (see what I did there?) and ones which are fairly widely available.

Spanish Whites

Some of you might be perplexed at seeing Spanish whites mentioned as an alternative to Marlborough Sauvignon, especially given some of the oxidised muck that got produced there in the past.  But Spain is probably the most exciting European country for wine at the moment, reinventing itself and applying modern viticultural and wine-making techniques to traditional grapes and areas.

Many of these grapes are indigenous to Spain, and whereas some such as Garnacha and Cariñena were adopted elsewhere in the southern Mediterranean, lots of them remain rooted in España.

Rueda

So, to begin at the beginning; Rueda is a small principally white wine region between the rugged red regions of Toro and Ribero del Duero.  For much of its history it was planted with Jerez’s Palomino Fino grape and a rustic sherry style was made there.  A few dry whites were made here and there from the Verdejo grape, but this practice was substantially boosted by the Rioja house Marqués de Riscal and now this is the main output of the region.

I mention Rueda first as a Marlborough alternative for a couple of reasons: firstly, it can be made with Sauvignon Blanc, even as a single varietal (and is usually labelled thus).  Secondly, even if made with no SB it can often show plenty of Sauvignon characteristics.  Macebeo (aka Viura) is also permitted in the blend.

Which to try?  Rueda is one of the most reliable wines around, but some stand out more than others.  Telmo Rodroguez’s Basa was the first quality Rueda that turned my head and remains a firm favourite to this day.  Marqués de Riscal produce both Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo based wines here, so try both to compare and contrast.  A more recent discovery for me in both restaurants and wine merchants was Protos Verdejo – a fine example at a very reasonable price.

Protos Rueda Verdejo 2012

Albariño

Some wines are more known by their appellation, but others (even in the Old World) are better known by their principal grape.  Of course in Albariño’s case it could just be that the grape’s name is easier to pronounce for furriners than Rías Baixas, the main appellation in North West Spain where it is grown.  For the record it’s pronounced something like ree-ash bye-shass.

And it’s still fairly trendy, which means it can be overpriced, but the good ones are worth it.  And like Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes more complex examples are made with lees stirring and time in barrel.  For the latter, try something like Pazo Señorans Selección de Añada, or for a more straightforward, younger, example try something by Brandal.

Godello

The homeland of this grape is also North West Spain, both in Valdeorras (in Galicia, above Portugal) and Bierzo (just slightly further east, into Castilla Y Leon).  Again we have some pioneers to be thankful for.

Valdesil are the biggest vineyard owners and producers.  They make four different quality levels, starting with the fresh and simple Montenovo from vines around the Valdeorras area, then the Valdesil Sobre Lias which is more concentrated and has creamy lees characteristics.  Next up is  Pezas da Portela which (as linguists may guess) is made from individually vinified selected plots of the slate-soiled Portela vineyard.  Subtle oak tones add to the complexity.  Finally, the Valdesil range topper is Pedrouzos which has their oldest vines (claimed to be three generations old).

Telmo Rodriguez turns up here again (what’s the opposite of a bad penny?) with his Gabo do Xil Godellos.  This is and unoaked and refreshing example grown on granite and slate soils.

The King of Godello, if there were such a person, would probably be the quality fanatical Rafael Palacios.  His entry level Bolo is made in stainless steel whereas the Louro de Bolo spends four months in tight grained Norman oak foudres – the size means there is little obvious oak flavour imparted to the wine, but subtle oxygenation makes for a smoother wine.  Rafa’s top wine, reckoned by many to be the best white wine in Spain, is his As Sortes.  Still 100% Godello, but with more concentration and a lick of oak, it will develop over several years.

This is my personal favourite Godello – it isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it!

What this space for more Marlborough Sauvignon alternatives!

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