Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Value Whites of 2017

2017 was another fantastic year of wine and I’ve been lucky to taste a great many superb wines.  For the first time, this year my Top 10s include Value Whites and Value Reds as lower priced wines often lie in the shadow of their more expensive counterparts.  Even so, there were many wines I had to leave off these lists.  Let me know what your favourites were in the comments!

10.  Gaia Monograph Assyrtiko 2016 (13.0%, RRP €14.95)

Gaia Monograph Assyrtiko

Whereas the big brother Wild Ferment Assyrtiko comes from the variety’s home in Santorini, the Monograph is sourced from Nemea which is also well known for its red wines, particularly Agiorgitiko.  The Monograph is a cleaner, straight-up style without any wild yeast or barrel-fermentation characters, but is a true expression of the grape itself.

9. Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18.00)

Fossil

If ever there was a wine which added weight to the theory of soil types directly affecting wine taste, this is it, the very mineral “Fossil” made from vines grown on limestone on the coast just north of Lisbon.  Local grapes Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires combine to give floral aromas with a palate of soft white fruit with a wide streak of minerality.  Refreshing to sip on its own, this also make a great match for seafood.

8. Callia “Alta” Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%, RRP 12.99)

Pinot Grigio

My general dislike of disinterest in Pinot Grigio is well documented, though it does have a few exceptions.  And any wine that gets included on one of my top 10 lists must be exceptional – and this is!  It has recognisable Grigio qualities (indeed some which make it as far as being Pinot Gris-like) but without the diluteness and general lack of flavour that much of the mass-produced Italian swill exhibits.  Lovely drinking.

7. Château Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes 2015 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)

Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes

Although Burgundy is thought to be the birthplace of Chardonnay and is still its spiritual home, the prestige of the region means that value for money is often better sought elsewhere.  Normally that would be in the New World, but Limoux in the Languedoc is an alternative closer to home.  As it’s in the south of France we tend to think of the Languedoc as being very warm and only good for bulk wine, but excellence is being rediscovered and cooler subregions are making some great wine.  There’s a fair bit of oak here but actually more creamy lees character .  Cracking Chardy for the money!

6. Domaine Eloy Saint-Véran 2016 (13.0%, RRP €14.99)

Domaine Eloy Saint Veran

Saint-Véran is one of my go-to Burgundy appellations.  Of course the producer still makes a big difference, but my experience has been generally very positive with this Mâconnais area across the board, despite a reasonable price tag (for Burgundy!)  This was full of peach and pear with a slight nuttiness to it.  Given a big thumbs up by DNS Wineclub!

5. Viña Leyda Falaris Hill Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, RRP €16.95)

leyda-falaris-chardonnay_1

For me this single vineyard Chardonnay represents even better value for money than its slightly less expensive counterpart, Leyda’s Reserva Chardonnay.  The fruit is ripe but still fresh, and sitting on a nice cushion of oak (25% new).  This isn’t the Chardonnay to convert haters, or even those sitting on the fence, but those who like it will love it.

4. Loosen Dr L Riesling 2015 (8.5%, RRP €14.00)

Dr L Mosel Riesling 2015

Riesling is perhaps the one grape that separates dabblers in wine from true wine lovers, though it’s rarely seen in supermarkets, so it’s at the multiples and independents where Riesling has a loving home.  The current fashion for Riesling is to be dry, which can mean austere when acidity is very high.  The Mosel tradition is to leave a fair bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity, for the entry level wines at least.  Dr Loosen makes the archetype, with the sugar and acidity combining to reinforce the zesty fruitiness.  Such a delicious wine that can be drunk at any time.

3. Vía Arxéntea Monterrei 2016 (14.0%, RRP €14.95)

Vía Arxéntea Treixadura Godello Monterrei

Treixadura and Godello share equal billing on this beauty from Galicia’s smallest DO, Monterrei.  It’s something of an enigma with tropical fruit, smokiness, minerality and freshness all rolled together.  You might enjoy dissecting its elements at your leisure, but the reality is that this delicious blend is a quaffer’s delight!

2. Mandrarossa “Ciaca Bianca” Fiano Sicilia 2016 (13.5%, RRP €15.95)

mandrarossa fiano ciaca bianca sicilia

Fiano is one of the newly rediscovered grapes that are starting to get a lot of notice.  Of course, they never went away – investment in modern winemaking equipment and a search for the new came together with some lovely clean, unoaked, well-crafted wines.  Compared to the other Fianos I have tried, however, this is something of an outlier – it just has so much flavour!  I got this as a present for my Marlborough Sauvignon-loving sister in law and she sang its praises.  This is a must-try wine.

1. Paul Ginglinger Alsace Pinot Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18.50)

Paul Ginglinger Pinot Blanc

And so it is.  What else could top my Top 10 value wines, if not a wine from my favourite white wine region of the world and one that is made with an undervalued grape: Alsace Pinot Blanc.  This is an unoaked example but is still pithy, with some nice texture.  It shows a nice array of fruit, from soft apple and pear through to refreshing citrus.  A remarkable wine for not that much money!.

 

 

 

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Opinion

Wines at Xmas #16 – Effi Tsournava [Guest Post]

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.

Effi Tsournava works in the UK wine trade and is currently Brand Manager at ‎Maisons Marques et Domaines Ltd.  She is also an established wine blogger at effidrinkswine.com.


Two wines to elevate your Christmas festivities game

2017 must have been the quickest year of my whole life!

It sound like such a cliché but I HONESTLY feel like Christmas was just a few months ago but certainly not almost 12 months ago! For this feeling of complete restlessness, I enjoy blaming my WSET Diploma course but at the same time, this is what has made this year so unbelievably exciting. Learning about the plethora of wine styles around the globe has made me even more curious and certainly thirstier!

Since I have been enjoying far too many beautiful wines at my WSET course this year to make you feel sorry for my workload, I thought it was only fair to branch out and introduce some other than Greek wines on the Tsournavas’ Christmas table this year and see how I can satisfy the delectable taste buds of my friends and family!


Schlum-Riesling-Saering-306x1147Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2014: I have always been a big fan of Riesling’s tantalising vibrancy of fruit and unmistakable freshness and complexity. Sometimes, it can be quite tricky to tempt people to try a variety that they either might have never heard of before or they did and didn’t particularly like!

Alsatian Riesling is characterised by this distinctive elegance and power with a tremendous amount of freshness and complexity but with lots of finesse and elegance.  This one from Schlumberger never ceases to surprise me!  The family owns more grand cru vineyards than anyone else in Alsace and their Saering shows a fantastic spectrum of sweet lime, waxed lemon, cold honey and elegant hints of minerality and kerosene. Delicious!

Excellent with curries, oriental cuisine, shellfish or even cabbage dolmades! I usually invite my friends over for pre-Christmas lunch and this would go down like a dream!

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2014 (12.5%): available for £17-£20 from The Wine Society, Davy’s, Harrods, Oxford Wine Company


Castello-Gran-Selezione-306x1043Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2013: Mazzei is one of the oldest and most important winemaking families in Italy with 25 generations of history. Sometimes, you need that much of experience in order to produce such a world class Sangiovese!  This wine is a cross between James Dean and Steve McQueen; a rare blend of charm, sophistication and seduction.

Awarded “Best Chianti” in the last Decanter World Wine Awards, this is the Sangiovese of dreams!  The result of 120 single vineyards and equal number of individual vinifications, made from 36 clones of Sangiovese (18 unique to Fonterutoli), this Italian red is the essence of “Super Chianti Classico”.  Tons of black berries, redcurrant and juicy red cherries, dark chocolate and finely ground coffee with the silkiest mouthfeel!  Is this how true love really feels like?  Try with Christmas lunch paired with wild boar sausages and steaks cooked with prunes.

Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2013 (14.0%): available for £45 – £50 from Harrods, Davy’s, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Il Toscanaccio, Petersham Cellar.


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #9 – Colly Murray [Guest Post]

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.

Colly Murray took the plunge into the wine trade and set up RetroVino in 2009.  Since then he has added dozens more boutique producers to his portfolio and has recently branched out into Sake.


Allende Rioja 2009Located in the hill town of Briones in Rioja Alta, Finca Allende led by Miguel Angel de Gregorio marries the old and the new, by embracing traditional grape varieties and ageing them in French oak.  The principal cuvée is this 100% Tempranillo aged for thirteen months in predominantly French oak.

It is serious and lively on the palate with power and great balance; broad and flavoursome combining fruity freshness and the elegant structure and finesse of a wine that is suitable for ageing.

We usually cook a roast lamb on Christmas eve and this is the perfect compliment.

Finca Allende Rioja 2009 (14.0%): RRP 28 from The Corkscrew, Mitchells CHQ and Drinkstore Stonybatter

 


winter riesling kloppberg ggWith young winemaker Stefan Winter at the helm, Weingut Winter has experienced a real breakthrough in the last decade. The talented winemaker from Rheinhessen has enchanted with individual wines whose minerality and cleanliness simply inspire. Stefan has managed to get his winery into the circle of German Prädikatsweingüter (VDP) and brought Weingut Winter to the top of Germany’s quality wine production designation.

The Riesling ‘Kloppberg’ is a Großes Gewächs (Great Growth) wine: a top-level, dry wine from a designated VDP site.  It has a vibrant elegance, complexity and ripe white fruit flavours, before finishing dry with mineral notes. This is my Christmas day wine to partner with the main event – the turkey dinner.

Weingut Winter Rheinhessen ‘Kloppberg’ Riesling 2015 (13.0%): RRP €40 from The Corkscrew

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #7 – Jim Dunlop [Guest Post]

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.

Jim Dunlop is a canny Scotsman who is seemly always on holiday somewhere – though that somewhere is usually a wine region whether in the Pfalz, northern Italy or the Canaries.


Antoniolo Gattinara 2006Many say Barolo or Barbaresco are the only wines that matter with regards to Nebbiolo but to the north of the Tanaro River and the Langhe, in Piemonte, there lies the Sesia River where both Gattinara and Ghemme are produced.  The wines here are more delicate and balanced than some of the forceful wine produced in the Langhe. This 2006 offering by Antoniolo is, for me, the top of the pile at Gattinara.  A classic red with a fantastic balance in the mouth, liquid velvet and so soothing – just right for a winter’s evening dinner.  This wine ages well, maybe for 10 to 15 years.

Antoniolo Gattinara DOCG 2006 (Piemonte, Italy): Purchased at Winery but similar offerings can be purchased from Tannico UK (Ave Price in UK: £20 to £30)


Riesling Rural trocken Weingut Heinrich Spindler PfalzFor me I always have a decision as to what is my favourite Riesling area, the top two being the Mosel or the Pfalz.  Recently my thinking is to prefer the more rounded style of the Pfalz compared with the austere style of the Mosel.  This offering from Spindler (based at Forst on the Weinstrasse near Deidesheim in the Pfalz) is just gob smacking amazing.  If anything, the 2015 harvest produced a better balance than the 2016.  Loads of Granny Smith on the front of the palate but huge soft fruit with balanced acidity at the rear of the palate and the finish goes on forever.

Heinrich Spindler Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2016 (12.0%): Purchased at the Weinhaus in Kallstadt, but similar offerings can be purchased from The Wine Society (Ave Price in UK: around £11)

 

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Make Mine A Double

A Pair of Old Friends [Make Mine a Double #31]

While very privileged to regularly taste new wines that expand the boundaries of my wine knowledge, it’s also nice once in a while to pop the cork on an old favourite; pleasure can come from familiarity as well as discovery.  Here are two old friends of mine:

 

Loosen Dr L Riesling 2015 (8.5%, €14.00 at Morton’s Ranelagh, Jus de Vine Portmarknock, Nolan’s Clontarf)

Dr L Mosel Riesling 2015

Ernst Loosen is one of the bigger producers in Germany’s Mosel, a strong candidate for the best place in the world to make Riesling.  He makes a wide range of wines from different vineyards, up to and including Grosses Gëwachs.  The Dr L wines are blends from different sites designed to make an approachable, everyday style.  There is a dry version but this is the off-dry to medium one with only 8.5% and a fair bit of residual sugar (43.2 g/L).  Of course there’s plenty of acidity in the wine’s backbone so the sweetness enhances the racy lime and lemon fruit rather than being just sugary.  The perfect introduction to Mosel Riesling!

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Peter Lehmann Clancy’s Barossa Red Blend 2013 (14.5%, €12.99 at Londis Malahide, Morton’s Ranelagh, O’ Donoghues O/L Cork, The Drink Store Manor Street, Nolan’s Clontarf)

Peter Lehmann Clancy's Barossa Red Blend 2013

I’m a long-time admirer of Peter Lehmann wines as their varietal Barossa range were a treat for me when I got into Aussie wine in the mid to late 90s.  More recently I’ve been lucky to taste the premium wines in the range, but this entry level red blend is still an enjoyable pour.   The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot – all from the Barossa Valley, and the relative proportions I’m sure change depending on the vintage.

While Cabernet is a slight favourite of mine ahead of Shiraz, the later does a good job of filling the hole in the mid palate which Cab can sometimes have (it’s not called the “doughnut grape” for nothing!)  There’s lots of juicy blackcurrant and blackberry with spice and a mocha finish.  This is a very appealing wine with a price that means you wouldn’t mind sharing it with “red wine drinkers” (people who say they love red wine but can’t name more than a handful!)

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Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, but opinions remain my own

 

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

Tasting Events

A is for Alsace, Z is for Zinck

Domaine Zinck of Eguisheim

I was introduced to the wines of Domaine Zinck by Charles Derain of Nomad Wine Importers a few years ago, and have been lucky enough to taste them several times since, including the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling which was my personal standout of last year’s SPIT festival.

The Zinck portfolio is split into four distinct ranges:

  • the everyday Portrait series which typify their variety
  • the Terrior series which are from smaller, better plots
  • the Grand Crus, the top of the Alsace quality ladder
  • Crémants, sparkling wines for celebration and fun

Earlier this year I was treated to a tasting of some standout wines from the range at Dax Restaurant in Dublin, hosted by Philippe Zinck and Charles Derain, followed by an interesting discussion over lunch (with more wine of course).  Full disclosure: I was a guest of Nomad Wines, but all opinions on the wines are my own (unless noted).  Of course, tasting French wines in a French restaurant with Frenchmen meant I had to wear my England rugby jacket!

Philippe’s Perspective

Philippe’s father Paul started the winery with 2.5 hectares in 1964, although his parents already had some vines on their farm.  Paul gradually improved quality and expanded the land under vine – it had reached 6 hectares by the mid 70s and 8 hectares when Philippe took over in 1997.  Philippe accelerated the expansion so that by 2017 the Domaine covered 20 hectares and employed 8 people.

But even more than quantity, Philippe kept striving to improve quality, going fully organic in 2011 and practising biodynamics in some vineyards.  He looks for purity and finesse in his wines, balance rather than power, and an authentic expression of where they are made.

What’s new?  is a question asked of Philippe by some people in the wine trade – perhaps seeking new blends and new varieties – but each vintage is a new chapter in the story of Domaine Zinck.  With only six years since full organic conversion, there are decades of tweaking viticulture and vinification for each variety in each plot – there are no limits in sight!

The biggest challenges are generally natural – the weather patterns in each vintage.  Straight forward global warming could be taken into account, but climate change (i.e. more unpredictable, changeable weather) is far more difficult to manage.

Producing such fresh wines with unrelenting summer temperatures into the 40s centigrade is a major achievement.  Lots of sunshine and high temperatures could over-amplify the aromatics, letting them get out of kilter, so the canopy is left as full as possible to shade the grapes.

Damp weather (particularly mist and fog) increases the chance of rot and other unwanted diseases, so the canopy is trimmed to allow air to circulate better.   If there’s too much rainfall then grass is allowed to grow in between the rows; the grass competes for the water so the vines don’t get too much.

Sylvaner is a variety that is much under-rated; in decades past when quantity was key, Sylvaner would produce plenty of grapes but with little character at these high yields.  Now that the variety is being given a fair crack of the whip it is producing some good wines that are worthy of interest.  Although not one of the four “noble grapes” of Alsace, Sylvaner is now permitted in one Grand Cru – Zotzenberg.

One of the key challenges facing Alsace as a region is the huge gap between AOC Alsace and the Grands Crus.  Additionally, some of the boundaries of certain Grands Crus are thought to be too wide and not suitable for all the varieties that are grown there.  One important addition to the region is the introduction of Alsace Premier Cru.  Philippe believes that this is definitely going to happen and he would look to have his Terroir series wines classed as Premier Cru.  Whether Grand Cru regulations get tightened up is another story.

As the only black grape in the cool climate of Alsace, Pinot Noir hasn’t received much attention – in fact the resulting red wines are often treated more like rosés (quite pale and served at 10ºC in restaurants!)  However, the combination of better understanding of how the grape performs in different local microclimates and warmer vintages has enabled some very good Pinots to be produced – so much so that Pinot Noir from vineyards within certain Grand Crus (such as Réné Muré’s “V” from Vorbourg) will be granted Grand Cru status.

So now onto the wines!

Domaine Zinck Portrait Pinot Blanc 2016 (12.5%, RRP €18 at SIYPS)

portrait pinot blanc

For Charles, one of the key attractive features of Domaine Zinck is that it is one of the few producers who don’t make their wines too sweet – especially the “everyday” Portrait series.  Even if there is some residual sugar the wines are balanced and not “sugary”.

Philippe noted that the 2016 Pinot Blanc is lighter than 2015 – the latter was a very warm vintage.

This is a fresh and fruity wine full of apple and quince.  There’s a very round mid palate but a crisp finish which makes it very versatile.

 

Domaine Zinck Terroir Sylvaner 2014

terroir sylvaner

Made from 35 year old vines on clay and limestone soil.  This is highly aromatic!  No dilute plonk here, this is probably the best Sylvaner I’ve ever tasted.  Flinty and a touch smoky.  Elegant and great for food matching.

 

Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €34 at SIYPS)

gc eichberg riesling

The Eichberg (literally “oak mountain”) is mainly clay soil (good for water retention) and combined with a hot vintage has produced an amazing Riesling.  This is a rich, profound wine even in its youth – and it should cellar well to the end of the next decade.  The nose alone is fabulous and worth the entrance fee – complex citrus notes where you can pick out different fruits as you inhale.  This is a dry Riesling, yes, but it’s far from austere and is so delicious right now that it would take an immense amount of self discipline to lay down!

 

Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Goldert Gewurztraminer 2013

gc goldert gewurz

The Goldert Grand Cru is just to the north of Gueberschwihr with mainly east-facing slopes, and is most renowned for Gewurz and Muscat.  Zinck’s Gewurz vines are 50 years old giving intense, concentrated flavours.  On tasting, I can only describe it as fecking huge in the mouth!  It’s so soft and round, but has an amazing fresh finish.  Charles finds some Gewurztraminers to be almost like a lady’s perfume (or in pre-PC days one might have said “smell like a tart’s boudoir”), but this is perfectly balanced.

 

 

Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Rangen Pinot Gris 2011 (13.0%, RRP ~ €48 at SIYPS)

gc rangen pinot gris

Rangen is the most southerly Grand Cru of Alsace, with steep slopes on volcanic soil. and a river of the bottom of the slope which helps botrytis develop.  Domaine Zinck buys grapes from Rangen as it doesn’t own vineyards down there.  Yields are low and 60% of the vines are on south facing slopes.

This wine is the perfect example of why Pinot Gris is narrowly my second favourite grape from Alsace – it’s so complex, rich and spicy.  Ginger is complemented by star anise and liquorice, but to be honest the longer you taste it the more flavours you recognise.  Isn’t that what makes wine interesting?  Residual sugar is 30 g/L but it’s perfectly integrated and finishes off dry.

 

Tasting Events

Another Brick In The Wall – Part 2

WineMason is an Irish wine importer run by husband and wife team Ben Mason and Barbara Boyle MW.  They specialise in wines from Germany, Portugal and Austria, but their expanding portfolio now encompasses France, South Africa, Spain and Italy.

Here are four of the Germanic whites (three from Germany, one from Austria) that I really enjoyed at their tasting earlier this year.

German wine regions
German Wine Regions (in French!) Credit: DalGobboM

 

Geil Rheinhessen Pinot Blanc 2016 (12.0%, RRP €17 at Baggot St Wines, Clontarf Wines, Lilac Wines, Martin’s Off Licence, Blackrock Cellar, D-Six, Greenman Wines, Listons, McHughs, Mortons Galway, Mortons Ranelagh, Nectar OTGV, Sweeney’s, WWC)

Pinot-Blanc-Rheinhessen

Rheinhessen, sometimes known as Rhine Hesse in English (or Hesse Rhénane in French as on the map above), is the largest of Germany’s 13 wine regions.  It produces plenty of ordinary wine, but the best sites in the hands of a good producer can produce fantastic wines.  Johannes Geil-Bierschenk is an innovative young producer based in Bechtheim.  In particular he focuses on low yields, early pressing of whites and fermentation with indigenous yeast.

Just as in Alsace, Pinot Blanc (also known as Weissburgunder) is usually under-rated in Germany, but here makes for a very appealing and easy-drinking wine.  It’s dry and fresh with citrus and stone fruit notes.  A long finish seals the deal – and great value at €17

Geil Rheinhessen Riesling 2016 (12.0%, RRP €17 at Baggot St Wines, Clontarf Wines, Lilac Wines, Martin’s Off Licence, Blackrock Cellar, D-Six, Green Man Wines, Listons, McHughs, Mortons Galway, Mortons Ranelagh, Nectar OTGV, Sweeney’s, WWC)

riesling-geil 2

Geil’s most extensive variety is Riesling which is bottled from different terroirs and in different styles.  This is the straight forward dry Riesling which – I must whisper quietly – stands up against many similar examples from my beloved Alsace.  It has zippy lime and tangy lemon notes – very refreshing indeed!

Max Ferd. Richter Zeppelin Riesling 2015 (11.0%, RRP €18 at The Corkscrew, McHughs, Blackrock Cellar, Mitchells, 64 Wines, Nectar, Martin’s Off Licence, Lilac Wines, Green Man Wines, D-Six)

max-ferd-zeppelin

And so to another German Riesling, but this time from the Mosel and quite different in style.  In contrast to the modern Geil labels above and the more traditional ones on the rest of the Max Ferd. Richter range, this has an art deco style label harking back to the time of the Zeppelin airships.  The link is no marketing gimmick as wines from Mulheim (Max Fed. Richter’s home) were actually served on the Zeppelins!

So how does it taste?  Yum yum yum is the answer!  There’s a little bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity and enhance the fruitiness, but it’s by no means a sweet wine.  One of the most drinkable wines I’ve had this year!

Groiss Weinviertel Gemischter Satz 2016 (12.5%, RRP €21 at Green Man Wines, The Corkscrew, 64 Wines)

groiss gemischter satz

This wine is always a crowd-pleaser – but for a good reason: it’s fab!  The 2015 vintage was showing really well when I tasted it at the Ely Big Tasting last year.  It’s no ordinary wine though, despite its charms and moderate price tag – it’s a field blend of (at least) 17 different varieties:

Chardonnay, Müller Thurgau, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Grauburgunder, Pinot Blanc, Frühroter Veltliner, Neuburger, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Sämling, Roter Veltliner, Grauer Vöslauer, Hietl Rote, Weiße Vöslauer and Silberweiße.

Winemaker and owner Ingrid Groiss is a firm fan of traditional viticulture and vinification, hence an old-school wine where the different varieties are planted together, harvested at the same time and vinified together.  It’s full of tangy peach and apricot but dry, mineral and fresh.  This is a wonderful wine that you must try.

Tasting Events

Selection from Febvre – Part 1

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

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

petit-gascoun-blanc

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

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

Monte Velho

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

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

tracy PF

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

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

Lawsons

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

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

Hermit Crab

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

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

Jordan

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

Tasting Events

Life After Malbec

As most people know, Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina.  It’s become the classic match for steak and anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s one of the few red wines that casual wine-drinking blokes are prepared to pay a little more for.

But as so often is the case, when a signature grape becomes almost synonymous with a country, other varieties are unfairly overlooked.  Here are a few examples of Life After Malbec:

Callia “Alta” Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%, RRP 12.99 at Fresh Stores; McHuhes; D-Six Harolds Cross; DrinkStore.ie; Donnybrook Fair)

Pinot Grigio

Regular readers may be quite flabbergasted by the inclusion of a Pinot Grigio, and it’s true that I rarely like wines labelled as such, but for me this wine is leagues ahead of the cheap “chick water” that flows out of Italy.  Compared to Alsatian Pinot Gris it does exhibit some of the varietal characteristics such as stone fruit and spiciness (particularly ginger) and has decent acidity, but it isn’t at all oily (which I like but isn’t for everyone). Just so nice to drink!

Amalaya Torrontés / Riesling 2016 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Martin’s Off Licence; Red Island Wine Company; Red Nose Wine; World Wide Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s)
Amalaya

Apart from a few exceptions I rarely enjoy varietal Torrontés as I find it a bit too full on – too perfumed, too flowery, and in all honesty better suited as air freshener rather than wine.  The Hess Family have a solution with their Torrontés / Riesling blend – 85% of the former is freshened by 15% of the latter, and it really is more than the sum of its parts. This is one of my go-to Argentinian white wines.

Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay Grande Reserve 2014 (13.5%, RRP €23.99 at Searson’s)

Bousquet Chardonnay

The Bousquets are a southern French wine-making family, now into the fourth generation of vignerons.  They began looking into vineyard sites in Argentina in 1990 and took the plunge with a purchase in 1997.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay with eight to twelve months maturation in French oak, depending on the vintage.  I found the 2014 still a little young so would benefit from being decanted; when I tasted the 2011 in 2016 it was already well-integrated.  This level of quality costs much more in other countries!

Alta Vista Premium Bonarda 2012 (15.0%, €20.00 at Mitchell & Son)

Bonarda

Italian wine fans might be saying “Oh, Bonarda in Argentina? Makes sense with all the Italian migration to Argentina in the past”, and they’d be partially right – this isn’t the same grape as the Bonarda of Piedmont, but has been found to be the same as Deuce Noir which originated in the (formerly Italian, now French) region of Savoie.  This is a fairly big wine (15% abv!) with lots of red and black fruit but enough acidity to keep it fresh.

Bodegas Salentein Portillo Pinot Noir 2014 (14.3%, €12.99 at Wines On The Green; Baggot Street Wines; Clontarf Wines; Fresh, Stepaside; McCabes, Blackrock)

portillo-PinotNoir

Although widely planted in Chile, Pinot Noir is not that common in Argentina; it’s a finicky grape that needs fairly cool growing conditions and much of Argentina is just too warm.  Bodegas Salentein make several Pinots at different price points, and this is the entry level from their Portillo range.  Despite the low price tag this is proper Pinot Noir – it’s amazingly drinkable for the price.

Callia “Magna” Shiraz 2014 (14.5%, RRP €18.99 at Redmonds Ranelagh; Vintry Rathgar; World Wide Wines Waterford; Bradley’s Cork; Sweeney’s; McHughes)

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Callia’s “Magna” range sits above their “Alta” (see Pinot Grigio above) and “Selected” ranges.  All of Callia’s wines come from their home San Juan province, but for Magna wines the grapes come from specific sub-regions – in the case of the Shiraz (also labelled as Syrah in some markets) this is the Tulum Valley (don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either).  This Shiraz is round and full bodied with lots of delicious black fruit, but also some black olive / tapenade notes.

Opinion, Uncategorized

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet wines of 2016

As a wise man once said to me, don’t call them “dessert wines” as that implies they are only fit to drink with a dessert!  Categorising wines isn’t always an easy task, as even simple descriptors such as colour are open to interpretation (see this article).  Where do sweet wines fit in?  In the end, the label isn’t important, what’s in the glass is.

10. Tarin Pineau des Charentes Blanc Vieilli 3 Ans

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Pronounced the same as “Pinot”, this is the secret fortified drink of France’s west country. Made by adding eau de vie to grape must that has barely begun fermenting, it can only be produced in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments – also the home of Cognac. That’s no coincidence as the grape spirit used for Pineau is the same that is aged to eventually become Cognac.

This example has received 3 years of ageing which gives it a slight “rancio” character – enough to add interest but not so much that it dominates.  The only downside is that it is so moreish!

9. Sipp Mack Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2012

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This Gewurz isn’t intended to be a sweet wine as such, but given the grape’s natural flavour profile, low acidity and a bit of residual sugar it tastes far sweeter than other many wines of Alsace.  As a general rule I do like some sweetness in my Gewurz, and this Sipp Mack does deliver that, but with an incredible intensity of flavour thanks to its old vines. See here for the full review.

8. GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2015

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Moscato from Australia and elsewhere gained a lot of ground in recent years – fresh and fruity, sweet and easy to drink yet with very moderate alcohol, it became something of a party drink.  Hopefully this will shine a light back on Piedmont, the pioneering region of this style (though obviously not of the Muscat grape!)

Moscato d’Asti might also qualify as a party drink for some, but its true value is at the table, mainly with fruit based desserts where it excels.  The best – such as GD Vajra’s – have a mouthwatering balance of acidity and sweetness.  See here for the full review

7. Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese

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For many wine aficionados, Germany is the ultimate country for Riesling.  The sheer variety of styles is one of its key strengths, from bone-dry to intensely sweet, and just about every spot in between.  This Mosel Spätlese (late harvest) is just wonderful and was my narrow favourite of an all-Riesling tasting at DNS Wineclub.  See here for the full review

6. Zantho Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese 2012

zantho

Zantho is a joint venture between two famous names of Austrian wine, viticulturist Josef Umathum and winemaker Wolfgang Peck of Winzerkeller Andau.  As well as dry whites and reds they also make three dessert wines (pictured above) which are all glorious, with the TBA (for short) being my favourite.  Germanic grape Scheurebe works best as a sweet wine and excels in Zantho’s TBA from close to the border with Hungary.

5. Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV

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I’m a long standing fan of Nyetimber and I’ve been pleased to see them popping up here and there in Ireland.  When back in England in the summer I picked up a bottle of their Demi-Sec – which I haven’t yet seen here in Ireland – and took it to a DNS Wineclub tasting.  It was absolutely magnificent and reinforced my admiration for Brad Greatrix and Cherie Spriggs.

Not stated on the front label is that this is 100% Chardonnay, and therefore a Blanc-de-Blancs.  Dosage is 45g/L giving it perfect balance – typical English acidity is the counter to the sugar.  This was the first English Demi-Sec to be released but I would go further and state that it’s one of the top few Demi-Secs made anywhere in the world.

4. Domaine de Bois Mozé Coteaux de l’Aubance 2008

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The Loire Valley is probably France’s most underrated wine region and its Chenin based dessert wines probably the least well known – which is a total shame as they can be world class without a world class price.  Coteaux  de l’Aubance is even less well known than Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, but the best sites can yield beauties such as this. In my opinion these wines are the ultimate expression of Chenin Blanc – and this is still a youngster at nine years of age.

3. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2014

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The grape variety for this wine is known locally as Zibibbo, but further afield as Muscat of Alexandria – a very ancient grape.  “Local” here is the tiny island of Pantelleria which is between Sicily and Tunisia.  The grapes are dried after picking to concentrate the flavours and sugars, similar to “straw wines” elsewhere.  This is a wine of staggering complexity for such a young vintage, the biggest threat to ageing being its utter deliciousness!

2. Cascina Garitina Niades

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Many readers will be drawing a blank at the name of this wine which could have been in any (or all!) of my red, sparkling and sweet Top 10 lists.  Formerly carrying the DOCG of Brachetto d’Acqui, it could be thought of as the red equivalent of Moscato d’Asti – though even better, in this case.

When I tried it and tweeted about it, one wag did reply “can’t see the point” – and admittedly, before I tried it I can’t say it was missing from my life – but once tried this wine is never forgotten.  Fresh red fruit, acidity and sweetness combine to make wine heaven – it’s Eton Mess in a glass!

1. Léon Beyer Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 1998

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This was the unexpected runaway winner of the DNS Wineclub Alsace tasting, against some pretty stiff competition (including #2 in this Top 10).  Léon Beyer is based in the achingly beautiful village of Eguisheim and has Domaines Zinck and Bruno Sorg as neighbours.  “The house style is dry” said the lady at the counter, “apart from the sweet wines” – such as this rare Late Harvest Gewurz.  The Léon Beyer website give a drinking window of 10 to 20 years from vintage, but this tasted like it had another decade left at least.  If I had another bottle it would probably make my Top 10 sweet wines of 2026!