Tasting Events

DNS taste North America

One of the recent themes we explored at DNS WineClub was North American wines.  Barefoot and Blossom Hill represent the very commercial face of North American wine, manufactured in huge facilities in accordance with simple, fruity, easy-drinking recipes.  At the top end, Cult Cabernets can be spectacular.  However, there is fairly thin coverage in Europe of the wines in between these two extremes – and they’re the ones which offer most interest to winelovers.

California is the powerhouse of the USA and therefore the whole of North America; even though wines are made in the other 49 states, together they make up just 10% of the USA total.  In these parts the most available outside of the Golden State are probably the wines of Oregon and Washington State – we see very little from elsewhere, not even the hip wines of New York State’s Finger Lakes region.

Here are the five wines which shone the most at our tasting:

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Chenin Viognier 2014 (12.5%, RRP €24.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

pine ridge chenin viognier

If you ask a fairly knowledgeable wine drinker what grapes they associate with the Napa Valley, Cabernet would undoubtedly come first, followed by Merlot and Zinfandel, with possibly Chardonnay thrown in as a token white.  So here we have something quite unexpected in Napa – a blend of the Loire’s Chenin Blanc and the Rhône’s Viognier.  The blend is consistent from year to year at 80% Chenin and 20% Viognier, and a little residual sugar is left in to round off the acidity.  Most importantly, it really works as a wine – fresh green apple with a little rich apricot as a counterpoint.

Ovum Wines Oregon “Big Salt” 2017 (12.9%, @RRP €33.95 at Baggot Street Wines, Le Caveau and other good independents)

ovum big salt

Ovum are named after the concrete egg fermenters they use, reflected in the shape of the label of this Alsace-style blend from Oregon.  The grapes used are Riesling, Muscat & Gewurztraminer; the relative proportions are not stated, but the fact that spicy Gewurz doesn’t dominate the nose makes me think that it is probably 10% or less of the blend, with fresh Riesling taking the lead at around 55% and the aromatic Muscat being the balance of around 35% (all my own guesswork, happy to be proved wrong!) 

Again referring to my beloved Alsace, a blend of this quality would be from a Grand Cru vineyard, with the fascinating interplay of three fantastic varieties.  The name of the wine also rings true, with lovely saline elements.  This is an unusual wine which is in fairly short supply in Ireland, but it is worth seeking out.

Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017 (13.5%, RRP €39.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

Jim Clendenen is the star winemaker and owner of Au Bon Climat, one of the best producers in Santa Barbara County.  ABC is famous for its Pinot Noirs And Chardonnays – Jim is a Burgundy devotee – which come from a variety of different vineyards in the area.  The “Wild Boy” is less subtle than the regular wines, with lots of funk and noticeable oak, spicy pears and citrus.  Whatever magic he uses, this is a highly impressive wine!

The Four Graces Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2014 (13.1%, RRP €40.00 at Sweeney’s and other good independents)

the four graces pinot noir

Perhaps because I’d only tried a couple of lesser quality examples, my preconception of Oregon Pinot Noir was that it could be a bit thin and weedy, rarely living up to its price tag.  While this is no Central Otago clone, it nevertheless has plenty of body and an amazing velvety smoothness to it.  Dundee Hills are one of the best subregions of the Willamette Valley – on this evidence I will be looking out for it again.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Sparkling Ice Wine 2015 (9.5%, RRP €56 (375 ml) at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other good independents)

inniskillen sparkling ice wine

And now for something completely different – something I didn’t even know existed before I put together the wines for this tasting.  Yes, Niagara is famous for its Icewine, often made with the hybrid grape Vidal (which has a very complicated heritage that I’m going to skip over), but a sparkling version?  I didn’t know there was such a thing!  Once pressed, with the ice removed from the juice, specific yeast is added to the juice in a charmat tank so that the CO2 produced from fermentation is dissolved into the wine.  This is such a treat of a wine, with amazing tropical mango, guava and peach notes.  For many tasters, this was the wine of the night.  I really liked it but would probably prefer the still version for myself.

 

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Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 3 – VinosTito)

 

Logo emblema VT

The Spanish team (now with added Polish) at Vinostito have put a firm focus on low intervention winemaking – not for the sake of it, but for the authenticity and excellence of the wines it can produce.  Of course they have an extensive selection from Spain, but also other countries such as Portugal, Germany, France and Italy.

Here are five which really piqued my interest at October’s SPIT festival:

Weingut Immich-Batterieberg CAI Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.5%, RRP €21.50 at 64 Wine, Glasthule; Loose Canon, Drury St; Baggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Kelly’s Off-Licence, Clontarf)

immich batterieberg riesling kabinett cai

Immich-Batterieberg is one of the oldest estates in Germany’s Mosel, being noted in the first, second and now third millennium.  The Immich family themselves began making wine back in 1425, and were instrumental in the creation of the Batterieberg  between 1841 and 1845 using lots of explosives!

The CAI is a Trocken, i.e. dry style of Riesling, with an alcohol of 11.5% which is higher than many sweeter wines, but remains modest.  It isn’t bone dry, however, with just a touch of residual sugar which enhances the attractive, zippy fruit.  Full of Riesling Goodness!

Weingut Immich-Batterieberg Escheburg Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.0%, RRP €29.00 at 64 Wine, Glasthule)

escheburg

Compared to the CAI, this is somewhat drier, still young and tight – waiting for its wings to unfurl.  It’s made from superior grapes which don’t quite make it into the single cuvées.  The steep slate vineyard soils really show in the minerality of the wine, even though the minerals themselves are not technically soluble enough to be absorbed by the vines.  This is a fairly serious wine which would be at its best with shellfish or after some years to develop and open out.

Casa da Passarella Descoberta Dão Branco 2017 (13.0%, RRP €16.50 at On The Grape Vine, Dalkey; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview; Lilac Wines, FairviewBaggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Matson’s, Cork)

casa passarella

Dão wines aren’t particularly well known in Ireland, though they deserve more attention.  The region is situated about a third of the way down the country from the northern border and roughly equidistant from the Atlantic and the eastern border with Spain.  It sits on a granite plateau topped by well drained sandy soil – not too bad for quality wine!  This is a blend of local speciality Encruzado plus some Malvasia Fina and Verdelho.  It’s quite different from the by-the-glass selection in your local pub, with a lovely mouthfeel and richness to it, but not oiliness.  A dry, textured finish seals the deal.

Suertes del Marqués Trenzado 2016 (13.0%, RRP €25.00 at SIYPS, Baggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Clontarf Wines, Clontarf; Lilliput Stores, Stoneybatter)

trenzado

I’ve reviewed this wine at least once before, but no apologies for repetition will be forthcoming as it’s so damn good – and so damn interesting – that it never disappoints.  Suertes del Marqués are a relatively new outfit but they have access to plenty of older vines – the ones for this blend range between 10 and 150 years old, all in the Valle de La Orotava of Tenerife.  I say “blend” as the majority of the wine is Listán Blanco (aka Palamino of Sherry fame) but there are also dashes of Pedro Ximenez, Albillo Criollo, Gual, Marmajuelo and Malvasia.  As pictured on the front label, the vines are (mainly) trained with the traditional trellis system of cordón trenzado after which the wine is named.

For anyone studying wine this is a great example to do a model tasting note for as it shows so many different types of aroma and flavour: various citrus fruits, nuts and sea-washed pebbles on the nose, with the same on the palate but also a slightly waxy character.  It’s a fairly different wine but it’s one that’s easy to like and to love.

Luís Seabra Vinhos Xisto iLimitado Tinto 2016 (12.0%, RRP €22.00 at Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; 64 Wine, Glasthule; On The Grape Vine, Dalkey; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview; Lilac Wines, FairviewBaggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Matson’s, Cork)

luis seabra vinhos xisto ilimitado

Luís Seabra makes a fantastic range of wines in Portugal’s north, the Douro Valley and Vinho Verde regions.  His Douro wines are very different from the normal big reds found there, with lots of fruit, oak, tannin and alcohol.  His wines are lighter and judiciously oaked, but don’t lack in flavour or length.  As “Xisto” is the Portugese for “schist”, it’s not too hard to guess what type of soil the vines are planted in!

This 2016 is a blend of several grapes, some of which are coplanted in old and almost forgotten plots: 30% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Amarela, 20% Tinta Roriz, 10% Rufete, 10% Tinta Barroca, 5% Malvasia Preta and 5% Donzelinho Tinto.  Luís’s approach to grape variety selection and winemaking both lead to his wines being very interesting and very fresh.

I was browsing some new additions to the shelves of Baggot Street Wines in early 2018 and noticed several wines from Luis Seabra in Portugal.  What really caught my eye was the “REPROVADO / DISAPPROVED” warning notice on the back label of the 2015 Tinto – the first time I had ever seen anything like that on a wine label.

Speaking to the man himself a few weeks later at the Vinostito portfolio tasting, he recounted that when the wine was not allowed the Douro classification due to being “untypical” of the region, he sought permission to  put a warning label on.  The wine authorities had never received such a request previously, but they allowed it.

For the 2016 vintage (above) the Tinto was immediately given the Douro badge – I think the wine authorities learned their lesson!

 

The SPIT series:

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 1 – WineMason)

spit

SPIT is actually an acronym for Specialist Professional Independent Tasting, but to be honest that’s too much of a mouthful so I will stick to the shorter version.  SPIT brings together four of the best independent wine importers working in Ireland with trade tastings in Cork and Dublin plus an evening consumer event in Dublin.  This series of posts will cover some of my favourite wines tasted at the most recent SPIT fest in Dublin.

First up is WineMason:

wine-mason-logo

WineMason is an importer and agent of original and distinctive wines from Germany, Portugal, Austria, Spain, France, Italy and South Africa. We work with 50 wineries over 8 countries and have listed just under 300 wines. We distribute these wines to Ireland’s best restaurants, winebars and independent retailers. We help shape and build tailored wine lists for the on and off trade that are exciting, well priced and trending. From emerging wine regions to discovering the potential of local grape varieties, we are constantly evolving with the ever-changing wine world and we work to reflect this in the wines we sell.

Niepoort Redoma Douro Branco 2017 (13.0%, RRP €23.50 at  Redmonds of Ranalagh; SIYPS; Morton’s; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Blackrock Cellar)

niepoort redoma branco

Niepoort is one of the few famous Port houses which doesn’t have an English family name.  In fact their origins are Dutch, and fifth generation Dirk van der Niepoort has been head of the business since his father retired in 2005.  Niepoort are more than just a Port house, though; they make fantastic dry reds in the Douro, including some fairly eccentric wines such as Clos de Crappe.

And this is something else again, a Douro white made from a wonderous blend of local grapes: Rabigato, Códega do Larinho, Viosinho, Donzelinho and Gouveio.  It has a lovely, round texture but isn’t heavy – it dances around the tongue with sweet stone and pip fruit.

Keermont Terrasse Stellenbosch 2015 (13.5% RRP €29.50 at The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; SIYPS)

keermont terasse

The Keermont range so fantastic across the board that it was difficult to narrow my selection down at all.  The delightful white terrasse blocksblend “Terrasse” begged for inclusion, really punching above its weight.  The blend is 56% Chenin Blanc then roughly equal parts Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Helpfully, the Keermont website features this table of which blocks and which varieties are used in the 2015 vintage.  Each component is barrel fermented and matured separately, then blended before bottling.  Each variety adds something to the wine (which is the point of blends, I suppose) – there’s spiciness, fruit, acidity and richness all humming along together in harmony.

Keermont Stellenbosch Estate Reserve 2012 (14.5%, RRP €37.00 at Gibneys, Malahide; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; Blackrock Cellar)

keermont estate reserve

estate reserve blocks

The block figures on the right are for the 2013 vintage so there might be some small differences for the 2012 tasted, but the Estate Reserve is pretty much a red Bordeaux blend with a splash of Syrah.  The 2012 is nicely settled in now, still showing lots of pristine black fruit and a very Graves-like graphite edge.  The main difference between this wine and an actual red from Bordeaux is not the splash of Syrah – it’s that to get this amount of fruit and complexity from Bordeaux you’d have to pay double or more!

Keermont Topside Syrah 2014 (13.5%, RRP €53.00 at The Corkscrew, Chatham St. (also poured at Forest & Marcy))

keermont topside syrah

The previous two wines are from the “Keermont” range, sitting in the middle of the hierarchy above the “Companion” wines and below the “Single Vineyard” series.  Now we have one of the latter, which also features a Chenin Blanc, a Cabernet Franc and another (“Steepside”) Syrah.  The Topside Vineyard is well named, being high up on the west-facing slopes of the Stellenbosch Mountain Range.  The soil is mainly rock with some patches of sand, and with the altitude of 350 – 400m the wines grown here have a real freshness to them.  Compared to the Steepside, the Topside sees less oak (used 500 litre barrels only), has a full percent less alcohol and has more acidity.  There’s a place for both, but for me the Topside shows some of the best aspects of warm climate and cool climate Syrah in the same wine.  Bravo!

Emrich-Schönleber Halenberg Großes Gewächs (12.5%,  RRP €65.00 at 64 Wine (also poured at Dromoland Castle))

emrich-schonleber halenberg gg

Separate from the potential sweetness-based Prädikat system (which goes from Kabinett to Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short)), members of the VDP* may also be able to use the relatively new terms Erstes Gewächs or Großes Gewächs (GG) for their best dry wines.  I have to confess that I didn’t really understand the first few GG wines I tried – they were sort of nice but not exactly delicious drinking – and given their premium prices that put me off somewhat.

This wine, with more syllables than you shake a stick at,  shows me what I was missing out on.  With a few years behind it this Halenberg Riesling starts to reveal what a great GG can do.  There’s amazing sweet fruit on the attack and mid-palate, extraordinary length and a mineral, dry finish.

*VDP stands for Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter, so let’s just keep using VDP!

 

The SPIT series:

Tasting Events

Free Pour (Part 2 – Other Whites)

One of the other great strengths of Liberty Wines’ portfolio is its antipodean selection – so much so that they seem to have the largest number of wines open for tasting at both the NZ and Australian trade tastings in Ireland.  However, I’ve covered many of them before on Frankly Wines, so this article will review a few that I tried for the first time plus some fantastic European whites.

Domaine Laguilhon Jurançon Sec 2017 (13.0%, RRP €19.99)

Jurancon Sec

Jurançon wines are among the most under-rated in France, both the sweet (“Jurançon”) and dry (“Jurançon Sec”) styles.  Don’t base your opinions on the bottles available in French supermarkets, though – they tend to lack concentration and be pleasantly innocuous at best.  This is one of the best examples I’ve come across in Ireland, especially at a fairly moderate price.  Split 50/50 between local varieties Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, It shows plenty of ripe stone fruit, almost fleshy, but a crisp dry finish.

Maximin Grünhaus  “Maximin” Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.0%, RRP €19.99)

Maximin Grünhaus, Maximin Riesling

Mosel Riesling is one of the great wines of the world, but it’s rarely “cheap”.  This one is very reasonably priced and serves as a great introduction to the area.  The grapes are partly from the producer’s own estate and partly from contract growers in the Mosel region.  It shows white flowers, stone and citrus fruit plus minerality – a great example of Mosel Riesling, and/ great value for money!

Château Moncontour Vouvray Sec 2017 (13.0%, RRP €21.99)

Moncontour Vouvray Sec

Many of my comments above about Jurançon also hold true for the Chenin-derived wines of the Loire.  This Château Moncontour helpfully says “Sec” on the label, and it is dry – but not bone dry or austere.  There’s a touch of residual sugar (apparently 6.7 g/L for those who are interested in such things) but lots more fruit sweetness, balanced by fresh acidity.  Such a more-ish wine!

Blank Canvas Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2013 (13.0%, RRP €22.99)

Gruner Veltliner 2013

Matt Thomson is a legend in the world of wine – but he’s also a top bloke.  After doing both northern and southern hemisphere vintages for 20 years, he finally decided to make his own wine, partnered by his wife Sophie.  The Blank Canvas Chardonnay featured in my 2017 Top 10 whites so I was keen to try the Grüner.  The long, cool growing season in Marlborough is perfect for GV, as it is for other aromatics such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris.  This is a  cracker – smooth yet textured, nicely balanced between fruit sweetness and refreshing acidity.

Framingham Marlborough Classic Riesling 2015 (12.5%, RRP €23.99)

Framingham Wine Company Limited

Framingham are unusual in Marlborough – actually in the whole of New Zealand – in that Riesling is their biggest focus.  And boy, does it show!  The Classic is their “entry level” Riesling, but it gives a flavour of what the rest of the range holds.  This is particularly true of the 2015 as 10% of the grapes were botrytised, with nobly rotten grapes normally going into a special cuvée.   This is a lovely wine to drink but just AMAZING on the nose.  It has that hard-to-define “otherness” which only Riesling has (“Rieslingness”?)

Kaiken Ultra Mendoza Chardonnay 2016 (14.0%, RRP €24.99)

KAIKEN ULTRA CHARDONNAY

Rather than go west – which would have taken them into the Pacific, Montes headed east from Chile to Argentina and created Kaiken.  The fruit is sourced from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, mostly in cooler parts which give freshness and minerality – despite the 14.0% alcohol and partial (35%) maturation in new oak, this is far from the butter-bomb new world Chardonnays of the 1990s.  It has lots of tangy, tropical flavours, but mainly from the grapes rather than the oak.

Santiago Ruiz “O Rosal” Rías Biaxas 2017 (13.0%, RRP €24.99)

Santiago Ruiz BS NV

From the O Rosal subregion of Galicia’s Rías Biaxas, this is an Albariño blend with several other local varieties playing supporting roles: it consists of 76% Albariño, 11% Loureiro, 5% Treixadura, 4% Godello and 4% other.  I like Albariño as a grape, but – for all its popularity – it’s wines are more often simple than complex.  Simple doesn’t necessarily mean bad or boring, but there is definitely a place for interesting.  The O Rosal is quite long and serious; it’s a cerebral rather than obvious wine which definitely deserves a try.

Domaine des Ballandors Quincy 2017 (13.5%, RRP €24.99)

Domaine des Ballandors Quincy

After Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Quincy was the second Appellation Controllée created in France.  Since then it hasn’t really been at the forefront of drinkers’ minds – Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé stole the limelight and the column inches.  The upside is that quality wines from Quincy can offer great value for money.  The nose is very grassy, the palate herby with quince (no relation) and gooseberry notes.  This Sauvignon Blanc for adults.

L.A.S. Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €59.99)

LAS Vino MR Chardonnay

Margaret River is well known for its Bordeaux blends – Cabernet-Merlot reds and Semillon-Sauvignon whites – but also for some fantastic Chardies.  L.A.S. is actually an acronym, standing for “Luck of the weather, the Art of creating and the Science that underpins this creativity.”  This is world class, amazing stuff.  You need to try this wine.  Sell an organ.  Sell your car.  Even sell your house, but don’t sell your soul as this Chardonnay will capture it.

 

The Free Pour Series:

Tasting Events

A few treats from SuperValu (part 2)

After part 1 (the reds), here are the whites that I really enjoyed at SuperValu’s recent Secret Garden Part event:

 

Duo des Mers Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2017 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Duo Des Mers

This is a lovely fresh blend of Sauvignon Blanc from Gascony (Atlantic) and Viognier from the Languedoc (Mediterranean), hence two different seas.  As such, the best label of origin it can have is “Vin de France” which is usually seen on cheap bulk wine (a rule of thumb is that the more specific / small the area is, the better the wines are.)  However, this really is an exception – the Sauvignon (70%) provides fresh green fruit with zip and the Viognier (30%) gives rich peach and pineapple – a great combination which is more than the sum of its parts (and after all, isn’t that what blends are supposed to be?)

 

Combeval Grande Cuvée SCG 2017 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Combeval-BG-Auth-blanc

Nothing to do with the Sydney Cricket Ground, this is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (60%), Colombard (20%) and Gros Manseng (20%), all from Gascony.  It’s another successful blend from LGI, this time with local grapes Colombard (a very under-rated grape) and Gros Manseng.  The grapes are cold macerated for 24 hours which helps to extract aromas and flavours from the skins without any harshness, and then the juice is taken off and kept on big lees (bits!) at just above freezing for a further 20 days.  And the result of this high-tech winemaking?  Just farking gorgeous!

 

Nugan Estate Dreamer’s Chardonnay 2013 (14.0%, RRP €13.99 at SuperValu)

Dreamers Chardonnay

Regular readers should need no introduction to this wine, just to say that it still tastes great and is a total bargain!  There’s plenty of toasty oak and rich fruit, but a crisp, clean finish.  Lovely drinking!

 

Trisquel Series Origen Semillión 2017 (12.5%, RRP €16.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Trisquel Semillon

This wine was a big surprise, not necessarily the quality (which I expected to be high), but the style; the juice has two months contact with the skins which makes it somewhat an orange wine – and I never expected to see one of those in a supermarket!  Depending on where it’s grown and when it’s picked, Semillon can be light and fresh or a bit more tropical – and of course that’s just the dry wines, it’s a very important grape for sweet wine production in many countries.

One of the reasons Semillon is so treasured for sweet wines is the thinness of its skins, thus making it relatively easy to attract botrytis if the conditions are right.  This also means than when made in an orange style, it’s lighter and more accessible than many other grapes.

I think this is one of the most interesting wines available in an Irish supermarket – fresh apple and pear with a slight tartness like a Granny Smith’s apple chopped into grapefruit juice.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me!

 

Albert Glas Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.0%, RRP €15.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Albert Glas Riesling

This is a “Trocken” (dry-but-fruity) Riesling from the Pfalz in Germany – one of the best regions for Riesling in the country.  Now made by third generation winemaker Dominik Glas, there is in fact a wide range of different Rieslings and other grapes made by the winery – this is their “standard” level.  But there’s nothing basic about it – lovely green apple and lime fruit shine brightly while a kiss of sugar and a streak of acidity compete for your attention on the finish.  A lovely wine.

 

Albert Glas Black Label Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.0%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Riesling BL 2017

Apart from the obvious (the colour of the label), the main differences of this wine are the sourcing of fruit from better vineyards and the use of oak.  Don’t run away, though, the wine isn’t “oaky” – only 20% is fermented in oak (the rest in stainless steel) and the barrels are old so they don’t impart a flavour to the wine – just more body, depth and openness.  Dominik Glas is proud of the fact that the oak trees come from a Pfalz forest, so the trees and the vines are in the same soil.  The net effect of all of this is to produce a more complex and satisfying wine which needs to be tried.

 

Kim Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.0%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

KIM Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc

The standard Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is one of the better to come out of Marlborough, but the smaller production (“Small Parcels”) Spitfire Sauvignon is well worth the extra few quid for the upgrade, particularly in a year like 2017 which didn’t hit the heights of 2015 and 2016.  It’s very citrusy like the little brother, but also shows sweet tropical fruit on the mid palate.  Absolute text book Marlborough Savvy.

 

 

 

 

Information

Alsace Blends

Alsace is mainly known and loved for its stunning single varietal wines, but less widely known are its blends.  In fact, there are even more types of blend than many wine lovers know, so, in advance of Alsace Wine Week, here’s a quick rundown of the six types I have counted!

Edelzwicker

 

Edelzwicker

Edelzwicker is probably the most well known Alsace blend.  The word comes from the Alsace dialect for “noble blend” (it’s a Germanic dialect more closely linked to Swiss German than textbook German) although noble grapes aren’t a requirement nowadays. In fact, any of the officially permitted Alsace varieties can be blended in any proportion.

The grapes used are usually those from the less favoured sites and which aren’t required for varietal wines, and so the proportions change a little from year to year.  However, despite their modest origins, Edelzwickers can be a very nice everyday wine – more than the sum of their parts!

Gentil

hugel gentil alsace

Gentil is the French word for “kind”, though quite why the term was awarded to this style of wine I do not know.  A Gentil is very similar to an Edelzwicker except that the four “noble grapes” of Alsace should be at least 50% of the blend:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Muscat
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling

Pinot Blanc

Paul Ginglinger Pinot Blanc

Yes, Pinot Blanc is a variety, and a wine so labelled could be a varietal, but the rules in Alsace permit four grapes to be used:

  • Pinot Blanc itself
  • Auxerrois
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir (vinified white, i.e. no contact with the skins)

Auxerois is a sibling of Chardonnay and is sometimes given its full name Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy but more often known as Pinot Auxerrois or Clevner/Klevner – though the latter is especially confusing as it is also the synonym for Pinot Blanc!  Interestingly, the amount of true Pinot Blanc in still wines has fallen over the decades as it is in such high demand for Crémant!

Muscat

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Muscat Alsace

There are three different members of the Muscat family allowed in Alsace wines:

  • Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (White Muscat with small berries)
  • Muscat Rose à Petits Grains (Pink Muscat with small berries)
  • Muscat Ottonel (thought to be a descendent of Pinot Noir Précose, Chasselas and an unknown other member of the Muscat family)

Blends of these different varieties are allowed in AOC Alsace; however, most of the AOC Alsace Grands Crus do not permit a mix and two (Zotzenberg and Kaefferkopf) do not allow any Muscat at all.

Crémant d’Alsace

dopff irion cremant d alsace brut

Alsace’s traditional method sparkler is the second most popular in France (after Champagne, of course).  It doesn’t have to be a blend, but usually is – with the exception of the rosé which has to be 100% Pinot Noir.  The permitted varieties are:

  • Pinot Blanc (usually the biggest component)
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Auxerrois
  • Chardonnay (although not permitted in still Alsace wines, an exception is made for Crémant )

Field Blends

BURG Domaine Marcel Deiss

The final category is also probably the rarest, but also actually the most traditional:  blends created from different varieties which are grown, picked and vinified together.  The original practice for Edelzwicker was to make it from field blends, but now separate vinification before blending is mandatory.  Instead, a few producers still make field blends the “old fashioned way”.  Most notable of these is Domaine Marcel Deiss who make a broad range of “Cru d’Alsace” wines named by their lieu-dit rather than varieties.  As an example, the Deiss Burg is nearly a full house as it contains:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Muscat
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Sylvaner
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling

On a smaller scale, Agathe Bursin’s “L’As de B” is also a field blend.  The name is actually short for “L’Assemblage de Bollenberg ” – which translates as “Bollenberg Blend” – and contains the same six grapes as Burg.

Opinion

GrapeCircus Round 2

Another round of fantastic whites from GrapeCircus!

Disclosure: samples kindly provided for review, opinions are my own

Cantina Roccafiori Bianco “Fiorfiore” 2015 (14.0%, RRP €22.00 at Sheridan’s, Mitchell & Son and SIYPS)

Roccafiori 2

We met Roccafiori’s Fiordaliso in Round 1; whereas that was a blend of 85% Grechetto di Todi and 15% Trebbiano Spoletino, their flagship wine Fiorfiore is 100% Grechetto di Todi.  It’s matured in large (5,000L) Slavonian oak casks which add texture and complexity but very little actual oak flavour.  This is a grown up, powerful and savoury wine which still manages to be fresh – a wine for contemplation.

La Marca di San Michele Verdicchio “Saltatempo” 2016 (12.5%, RRP €21.00 at Sheridan’s, Mitchell & Son)

Saltatempo 2

The La Marca di San Michele estate in Cupramontana was founded by siblings Alessandro Bonci, Beatrice Bonci, and Daniela Quaresima in 2007.  They are certified organic and take a low intervention approach.  This Verdicchio has quite a floral nose but plenty of apple and pear to go with it.  In the mouth it’s lithe and fluid, fruit and minerality competing for your attention.  Just a stunning wine that you won’t be able to resist!

M&A Arndorfer Vorgeschmack White 2016 (11.5%, RRP €21.00 at Sheridan’s and SIYPS)

Arndorfer Vorgeschmack white 2016 2

Vorgeschmack means a “taster” as in an introduction.  The Arndorfers have both red and white Vorgeschmacks which are both blends; 80% Zweigelt and 20% Pinot Noir for the red and 80% Grüner Veltliner plus 20% Riesling for this white.  I really like their straight GV but this is even more interesting – two of Austria’s key white grapes combining to make a tangy, fresh combination.  Very versatile for food matching!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make Mine A Double

The sheep’s dangly bits! [Make Mine a Double #32]

I don’t know if its use is common outside the UK and Ireland, but the phrase “that’s the dog’s bollocks” is for some reason very high praise – as opposed to “that’s bollocks” which means that something is nonsense or useless.  So, when doing a bit of research into the Bocksbeutel of Franconia (Franken) I found that one of the purported origins of the name is due to the bottle’s resemblance to a ram’s scrotum (read more here) – who’d have thought it?  The bottle shape is protected under EU regulations, though is probably better known in these parts for Portuguese rosé.

Anyway, onto the wines – a pair of aromatic whites from Horst Sauer

disclosure: samples were kindly provided for review, opinions are my own

Horst Sauer Esherndorfer Lump Riesling Trocken 2016 (12.0%, RRP €23.60 at Karwig Wines, Carrigaline and karwigwines.ie)

 

Horst Sauer Escherndorfer Riesling Trocken 2

Even though Franken is better known for its Silvaner (it’s the best region in Germany for Silvaner) of course there’s great Riesling grown here as well.  Classed as a Trocken, this is definitely dry, though far from austere – I’m pretty sure there are a few grams of residual sugar balancing the fresh acidity.  There’s plenty of ripe fruit and minerality; it’s a well balanced and delicious wine with all its elements in perfect tension.

Horst Sauer Esherndorfer Silvaner Trocken 2016 (11.5%, RRP €20.90 at Karwig Wines, Carrigaline and karwigwines.ie)

Horst Sauer Escherndorfer Silvaner Trocken 2

So here we have Silvaner (with an “i”) rather than Sylvaner (with a “y”) as in Alsace, but it’s just the same grape.  I have previously described the grape as having characteristics in between Pinot Blanc and Riesling, but the additional minerality of this Horst Sauer Silvaner also brought to mind some aspects of Burgundy’s white grapes:

Silvaner (1)

Of course this is my personal interpretation but I’d be interested to hear other people’s take.  It’s a fairly subtle wine but it really grows on you.  With clean, fresh notes it makes a great aperitif or as a match for salads, fish and shellfish.

So which is the better wine?  I really enjoyed both, but, although the Silvaner is one of the best I’ve tried, I narrowly preferred the extra intensity of the Riesling.  Try them both and see which you prefer!

 

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Single Bottle Review

Wayne Thomas McLaren Vale Dry Riesling 2006 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #15]

Wayne Thomas McLaren Vale Dry Riesling 2006 (12.5%, €18.46 down to €16.61 at Karwig’s)

Disclosure: bottle kindly provided as a sample, opinions my own

When I think of Aussie Riesling I think of Clare Valley, Eden Valley and Great Southern – in that order.  As Australia has a fairly warm climate, higher altitude sites are often best for Riesling as it likes to be fairly cool.

But here’s one from McLaren Vale which is probably best known for its GSM blends.  The grapes are from the sandy Oliver Creek Vineyards of McLaren Flat.  Unfortunately, the winemaker Wayne Thomas passed away around ten years ago so there is no more of this wine being produced; his son is also in the wine business, but making quite different wines up in the Hunter Valley.

On the nose this shows lots of development: petrol and kerosene with a little tropical fruit.  The palate is textured and racy, with chalky, mineral notes and fresh lime and grapefruit.  The back label suggests 3 – 6 years ageing but this is still going very well – and an absolute bargain at the reduced price!

 

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2017

Here are ten fantastic whites which really impressed me in 2017 and I plan on drinking more of in 2018!

10. Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône Cuvée Zéphyr 2016 (14.0%, RRP €22.99)

les_deux_cols_cuvee_zephyr

“Les Deux Cols” translates literally as “The Two Hills” but also refers to the two founding colleagues Simon Tyrrell and Charles Derain.  Now joined by Gerard Maguire perhaps they will look to plant on another hill?  I’m an admirer of Les Deux Cols’ main red wine, the Cuvée d’Alizé, but for me their white blend on is another level entirely.  Made from very 100% Roussanne it manages to have richness and freshness at the same time, lovely texture and zestiness.

9. Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95)

lawsons

Marlborough started out as a fairly corporate production area, but gradually smaller grapegrowers began making their own wines.  This was the story for Ross and Barbara Lawson who began making their own wines in 1992 after twelve years of supplying others.  And what a great decision that was!  Among the many great wines they make is this delicious off-dry Riesling, full of racy lemon and lime plus elegant floral notes.

8. Turner Pageot Les Choix 2014 (13.5%, RRP €39)

les-choix

This was one of the highlights of the Winemason portfolio tasting, a skin contact wine with finesse.  Maceration is for five weeks which is much shorter than some orange wines – and personally I think it shows in that the underlying character of the Marsanne grapes still shines through.  This isn’t a wine for everyone but it’s very interesting and very drinkable at the same time – what more could you ask for?

7. Jordan Stellenbosch Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50)

Jordan Barrel Fermented Chardonnay

Just to clarify, this wine is made by Jordan Wine Estate (of Stellenbosch, South Africa) as opposed to Jordan Vineyard & Winery (of Sonoma County, California); as it happens, both produce great Cabernet and Chardonnay, and it’s the latter which has made this list.  As the name indicates the wine was fermented (and then matured) in French oak barrels, giving a lovely biscuity creaminess.  I like this style of wine in general but this is a great example, complex yet balanced, and seriously good value.

6. Mahi Boundary Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €26)

mahi-boundary-road

A barrel-fermented style of Sauvignon from a single vineyard in Marlborough.  Like the Jordan above, this was a little tight on release in early 2017 but had really blossomed in the second half of the year.  My money would be on increasing complexity over the next three to five years.  Very good wine for the money.

5. Greywacke Wild Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €34.99)

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2

Kevin Judd’s barrel-fermented Sauvignon has made regular appearances in this blog’s Top 10 lists over the years, chiefly because it’s so damn interesting.  I have nothing against regular Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs (in fact I often like them) but this style gives so much more, and bridges the gap to Chardonnay for those torn between the two grapes.  Wild yeast and barrel fermentation give intriguing funky and toasty notes

4. La Chablisienne Grand Cuvée 1er Cru 2015 (13.0%, RRP €34.95)

CHABLISIENNE_GRANDE_CUVEE

I’m a big fan of La Chablisienne’s range, from the everyday Petit Chablis up to the superlative Grands Crus.  The Grand Cuvée is a blend of grapes from seven different Premier cru sites with an average vine age of 25 years.  It has a fair bit of oak – more than you might expect from a Chablis – but it is integrated seamlessly, lending a bit of body plus notes of toast and spice.  This is an elegant wine which knocks spots of many more expensive wines from the Côte d’Or.

3. Blank Canvas Marlborough Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €36.99)

Blank Canvas Chardonnay

It would be a little misleading to call Matt Thomson “the Michel Roland of the southern hemisphere” not least because his involvement as a consultant doesn’t overshadow the wines, but his advice is much in demand.  After more than 20 vintages in each of the southern (for Saint Clair and others) and northern (for Alpha Zeta and others) hemispheres, Matt decided to get off the merry go round and focus on his personal project Blank Canvas.  This 2016 is the first vintage of Chardonnay and it’s a big winner!  It has the funky notes I’d expect from a wild-yeast barrel ferment but with a gliding, ethereal finish that leaves you wanting more.

2. BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24)

BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016

And so to a bottle which has caused almost everyone who has tasted it to sit up and pay attention – not least for the concept of a wine whose blend can change from vintage to vintage – and not naming the constituent varieties on the front means the wine drinker isn’t thinking about them (apart from me because I’m a wine geek!)  The 2016 is made from Chenin Blanc from four different sites, plus Grenache Blanc and Viognier (Chardonnay is no longer in the mix).  After being fermented in barrel the wine rests on its lees for twelve months.  It’s a big mouthful, this wine; peach and apricot with cream and nuts.

1. Domaine Zinck Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen 2011 (13.0%, RRP €48)

gc-rangen-pinot-gris

It was difficult to choose between Philippe Zinck’s Grand Cru offerings (first world problems) but the added complexity and richness of the Pinot Gris won me over.  The Grand Cru of Rangen is the most southerly of Alsace so, when combined with the vertiginous steepness of its slopes, gives the wines considerable power.  Of course, power on its own is nothing – when combined with acidity and complexity it can make a great wine such as this.  Move over Riesling, Pinot Gris is King!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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