Although my favourite rosés are often Champagnes, my favourite Champagnes aren’t often rosés. If you followed this then you will realise that it takes a very good pink fizz to get my recommendation – and here are TWO stunners I tasted chez Tindals earlier this year:
Champagne Gremillet Brut Rosé NV (12.0%, RRP €50.00 at Searsons)
Champagne Gremillet is situated in the Côte des Bar, the most southerly of Champagne’s subregions which lends itself to Pinot Noir dominated wines. It was founded by Jean-Michel Gremillet in 1979, now joined by his children Anne and Jean-Christophe. They have 33 hectares of their own vines, split 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay, and purchase grapes from around 80 other growers each harvest.
This rosé is from their “entry level” range, if there is such a thing in Champagne. As you’d expect it is Pinot dominant, with the blend being 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. The colour comes from the addition of 10% red wine, and 20% of the total is from reserve wines of several prior vintages. The blend spends at least 22 months on the lees and dosage is fairly standard at 9g/L. This is a lovely, soft rosé that is neither too acidic nor too sweet, but shows bright red and black fruit in a very approachable Champagne. For the quality in the bottle this is a real bargain.
Champagne Henriot Brut Rosé NV (12.0%, RRP €80.00 at Searsons)
Champagne Henriot are more than a Champagne house – they also own Bouchard Père et Fils (Côte de Beaune), William Fèvre (Chablis) and Villa Ponciago (Beaujolais). Based in Reims, Henriot are known for their Chardonnay-dominant wines (their Blanc de Blancs is fantastic) mainly sourced from chalk soils.
The Brut Rosé is a blend of Montagne de Reims Pinot Noir (50%) and Meunier (10%) with the balance (40%) Chardonnay; around 12% of red wine is included. 70% of the grapes are from Grand or Premier Cru villages, and reserve wines make up 35% of the blend. Maturation on the lees is for three years with dosage at 9g/L or less.
The nose shows abundant lifted aromas of citrus and red fruits. On the palate it is very gentle, perhaps not as immediate as the Gremillet, but instead elegance personified. Juicy grapefruit and lemon are joined by fresh raspberries and strawberries – very delicious indeed!
Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, and hence the colour pink. This often means that rosé wines are promoted at this time of year, but as they aren’t generally my thing I thought I would recommend a dozen wines of differing hues from O’Briens, who are offering 10% back on their loyalty card (or wine savings account as I call it).
These wines are mainly higher priced for which I make no excuse – these are treats for yourself and / or your significant other! Of course, they would make a nice treat for Mother’s Day or at any time of year…
Chateau Kirwan Margaux Troisième Cru 2010 (€95.00)
The last of Bordeaux’s fantastic four vintages within eleven years (2000, 2005 2009, 2010) allows this Margaux to show its class but be more approachable than in leaner years. You could keep this for another decade or two if you didn’t want to drink it yet. Decant for several hours after opening if you can, and serve with beef.
One of Penfolds’ top Cabernet Sauvignons which combines power, fruit and elegance. 2010 happened to be a great vintage in South Australia as well, so if you’re climbing the quality tree it’s a good time to do it. Being a Cab means it’s all about cassis, intense blackcurrant aromas and flavours, with some vanilla to go with it.
This is a very interesting wine for the geeks out there as it is a custom blend of parcels from well known appellations from around Bordeaux including Paulliac, Graves and Canon-Fronsac. It was created by JM Cazes group winemaker Daniel Llose and O’Briens Head of Wine Buying Lynne Coyle MW. Oh, and it tastes wonderful as well!
Ata Rangi is one of stars of Martinbrough, an hour or so drive from Wellington in the south of New Zealand’s North Island. Crimson is their second wine intended to be drunk while young rather than laid down, but it is first rate in quality. Beats any Pinot from France at this price point.
This isn’t a token rosé, it’s a proper Champagne which happens to be pink. Lanson’s house style is based on preventing / not encouraging malolactic fermentation in the base wines, meaning they remain fresh and zippy even after the secondary alcoholic fermentation which produces the fizz. Texture is key here as well, and the lovely red fruits have a savoury edge. You could even drink this with pork or veal. Great value when on offer.
Another Champagne which is even less expensive, but still a few steps above most Prosecco and Cava on the market. The regulations for non vintage Champagne stipulate a minimum of 15 months ageing on the lees, but the lovely toasty notes from this show it has significantly more than that. Punches well above its price.
The Loire Valley is home to a multitude of wine styles, including Crémant (traditional method sparkling) such as this. Made from internationally famous Chardonnay and local speciality Chenin, it doesn’t taste the same as Champagne – but then why should it? The quality makes it a valid alternative, not surprising when you learn that it’s owned by Bollinger!
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is a great way to get into serious quality Port without paying the full price for Vintage Port. Whereas the latter is bottled quickly after fermentation and laid down for many years, LBV spends time maturing in casks. There it slowly loses colour and tannin but gains complexity. Graham’s is one of the most celebrated Port Houses and their LBV is one of the benchmarks for the category.
Grand Cru Chablis is a very different beast from ordinary Chablis. It’s often oaked, though sympathetically rather than overpoweringly, and can develop astounding complexity. Among the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grand Crus, Les Clos is often regarded as the best of the best. At just over five years from vintage this is still a baby – it would be even better in another five years but it might be impossible to resist!
Pouilly-Fuissé is probably the best appellation of the Maconnais, Burgundy proper’s most southerly subregion which borders the north of Beaujolais. The white wines here are still Chardonnay, of course, but the southerly latitude gives it more weight and power than elsewhere in Burgundy. Oak is often used in generous proportions as the wine has the fruit to stand up to it. This Château-Fuissé is one of my favourites from the area!
It’s a Sauvignon Blanc, but then it’s not just a Sauvignon Blanc. Kevin Judd was the long time winemaker of Cloudy Bay, finally branching out on his own a few years ago. The wild yeast and partially oaking give this a very different sensibility from ordinary Sauvignons. It’s not for everybody, but those that like it, love it!
One of my favourite New Zealand wines, full stop. I have mentioned this wine several times over the past few years…mainly as I just can’t get enough of it! It’s made in Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay so has more weight than, say, a Marlborough Chardonnay, but still enough acidity to keep it from being flabby. Tropical fruit abounds here – just make sure you don’t drink it too cold!
As I wrote several articles for Glass Of Bubbly Magazine in 2015 I had an understandable focus on fizz during the year, and I was fortunate to be invited to a number of excellent sparkling wine tastings.
Here are ten bottles of bubbles which impressed me during the year:
10. Cordorníu Anna Blanc de Noirs (€10, Madrid airport)
There is so much ordinary Cava around, especially in supermarkets, that’s it’s easy to look past the category completely. The market is dominated by two large players, Freixenet and Cordorníu, whose everyday bottles are…everyday quality, at best. Part of this is due to the indigenous grapes usually used, which are rarely seen in a bottle of fizz outside their homeland.
Cordorníu’s Anna range is a significant step up in quality, using Chardonnay for a Blanc de Blancs and Pinot Noir for a Blanc de Noirs. In my Francophile eyes, using the two most renowned Champagne grapes for superior bottlings is no coincidence. Pinot gives it some lovely red fruit flavours, and time on the lees adds beautiful brioche notes. I was lucky to receive this as a present and shared it with wine blogger friends in early 2015.
9. Man O’War Tulia Blanc de Blancs 2009 (€37, O’Briens)
Because of the importance attached to time spent on the lees in Champagne and other quality sparkling wine regions it is easy to forget that there is an alternative – time maturing in bottle after disgorgement. It doesn’t give the same results, but here is an example of a delicious fizz which has had only nine months on the lees but a further five or more years in bottle.
Chardonnay is often lean and clean when used in fizz but Man O’War’s Waiheke Island grapes give Tulia sumptuous, ripe exotic fruit flavours. This often sells out soon after a consignment arrives, so grab it while you can.
8. Champagne Oudinot Brut NV (€39, M&S)
One of the plus points of 2015 was getting much better acquainted with Marks and Spencer’s wine range, as I’ve only had the odd bottle from them previously. This is their house Champagne (though not a private or own label) but deserves to be taken seriously as a wine.
The info from M&S states that it is 100% Chardonnay, though to me it tastes quite a bit richer than I’d expect if that were the case. It does have crisp acidity and bright citrus notes which make it versatile and very drinkable.
7. Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-sec NV (N/A in Ireland)
One of the surprises for me at the Grandes Marques Champagne tasting held in Dublin was the number and quality of the sweeter styles of Champagne. So much so, in fact, that it inspired me to write a Glass Of Bubbly article titled “Sugar, Sugar – The Divergence of Sweetness in Champagne” (you know how I like a cheesy title).
Piper-Heidsieck’s offering in the sweeter category is dubbed “Sublime” – and it’s an apt moniker as it’s probably the best sweet sparkling I’ve ever tried. Cuvée Sublime is assembled from over a hundred different base wines, aged and blended over four years. There’s something of a Danish pastry about it – candied fruit, pastry and sweet vanilla, just sumptuous!
6. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010 (Liberty)
The 2009 vintage was hailed as the best yet for Nyetimber, especially since the wife and husband team Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix took charge of winemaking. Hearing that 2010 was even better still made me a touch wary of hype, but on tasting it I had to agree!
This is delicious now but I’m looking forward to tasting it with a little more age behind it.
5. Drappier Brut Nature Sans Soufre (POA, The Corkscrew)
The Côtes des Bar is sometimes looked down upon by the Champenois of the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs, but in the hands of a great producer the vines down here can create magic. Champagne Drappier is one such producer, and although they have a majority of Pinot Noir vines, they also specialise in making Champagne from some of the almost forgotten – but still permitted – grapes of the region, including Arbane and Petit Meslier.
Furthermore, they have much lower sulphite levels than most other producers, requiring extremely fastidious handling and hygiene. This bottle goes even further – it has no dosage, so is bone dry, but also no sulphur added at all. Wonderfully aromatic on the nose, it is fresh and dry – though not austere – on the palate. Brut zero Champagnes are often slightly out of kilter, but this doesn’t miss the sugar at all – the true sign of a great Champagne that lives up to the motto of “Vinosity and Freshness”!
4. R&L Legras Cuvée Exceptionelle St Vincent 1996 (€147, BBR)
As Champagne vintages go, the debate over whether 1995 or 1996 was the better still continues. This wine makes a strong case for the latter! Old Chardonnay vines help produce intensely concentrated citrus flavours and aromas – and although it is now 20 years old it still tastes youthful – it should see out another 10 years without a problem.
R&L Legras is a small Grower based in the north of the Côte des Blancs, probably my favourite subregion of Champagne. The quality of the wines is reflected in the number of Parisian Michelin starred restaurants which list them – the purity of the fruit is incredible.
3. Gusbourne Estate Late Disgorged Blanc de Blancs 2007 (Gusbourne Library)
Although its first vintage (2006) was only released in 2010, Gusbourne Estate of Kent is already part of the top echelon of English sparkling producers, and is gradually expanding the range of wines it produces. In addition to the regular Blanc de Blancs, Rosé and traditional blend, they also put aside a few bottles of their 2007 Blanc de Blancs for later disgorgement, i.e. it spent an additional three years in bottle on the lees on top of the normal three year ageing period.
Tasting it alongside the regular 2008 BdB showed the additional time made a huge difference to the wine – softer in acidity and sparkle, yet more textured, and oodles (technical term that!) of brioche character. It was obviously still a sparkling wine yet had transcended that, just like mature Champagne does in its own way.
I feel privileged to have tried this and I look forward to more “experiments”!
2. Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2005 (€150, O’Briens, Mitchell & Sons)
Even fans of Blankety Blank fizz like myself can’t help but love Bollinger with its richness and red fruit. It has a fantastic reputation and image, yet unlike some Grandes Marques it delivers on those promises. The non vintage Special Cuvée is probably the best big name NV you can get without spending silly money, and the prestige vintage La Grande Année (LGA) measures up well to the likes of Dom Pérignon at less than two thirds the price.
The Irish launch of LGA 2005 was held at the trendy Marker Hotel in Dublin. To my surprise the LGA was actually outshone by another wine – its rosé counterpart! I don’t normally choose rosé Champagne but this was outstanding – gingerbread, spice, strawberry and lemon plus toasted brioche. Just a fabulous wine!
1. Krug Grande Cuvée NV
Krug is possibly the most prestigious sparkling wine in the world. No ordinary NV this – Krug prefers the term “multi-vintage”. In fact, this wasn’t even an ordinary bottle of Krug – it was one that I had been keeping in my wine fridge for several years and decided to crack open to celebrate my second blogaversary – I had been writing for two years to the day – just before the opening of new wine bar The Cavern.
Sipping it in the sun, watching people go by, was one of the most relaxing experiences I could imagine. I managed to interpret the serial numbers on the bottle to find that it was bottled at least four years previously, which was reflected in the more mature notes coming through.
I love mature Champagne, and now I can say that I love mature Krug!
Being a bit of a geek (in wine, but other things as well) and possibly with a few ADHD tendencies, I’m a sucker for patterns and lists. On my recent holiday in Portugal I started jotting down the different colours associated with wine, whether often used in descriptions, grape names or something else, and came up with A LIST.
Now, this is only from my own thoughts, so I’ve very happy to add any suggestions that you may have (leave a comment or send a Twitter message).
And did I mention I’m partially colourblind? That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…
So, in alphabetical order…
A WSET term for a deep dark gold colour, often apt for aged / oaked / sweet wines.
Georgian Amber Wine is made in the traditional way in clay pots (a bit like amphorae) called Quevris which are buried underground.
As a general rule, the grapes that make red wine are black, not red.
Some always have black as part of their name – e.g. Pinot Noir – where there are different versions of the grape in different colours.
Some black grapes don’t usually need the suffix “Noir” as they are far better known than their siblings, unless a comparison is being made – e.g. Grenache is assumed to be the black version (as opposed to Blanc or Gris), but sometimes it is annotated as Grenache Noir.
The famous Black wine of Cahors which is a deep, dark, opaque Malbec blend.
The definition of Black Wine according to the motto of the Domaine Le Bout du Lieu: “If you can see your fingers through the glass, it’s not a Cahors.”
Pinot Meunier is sometimes known as Schwarzriesling – literally “Black Riesling” – in Germany!
Blau is of course German for “blue”, so this variety commonly found in Austria is a blue Frankish grape, evoking Charlemagne and his empire.
In Hungary the grape is known as Kékfrankos, which has the same literal meaning but sounds like a Greek ailment.
A term used to describe Californian rosé, especially the sweetish stuff made from Zinfandel.
What any self-respecting wino does when drinking the above wine (miaow!)
Obviously a shade of red, it’s usually connected to older red wines
For some reason Burgundy as a colour only ever refers to the region’s red rather than white wines.
Quite well established as a colour outside of the wine world…I bet few garment wearers think of Pinot Noir…
The oft litigious organisation that represents Champagne, the CIVC, don’t like Champagne being used as a colour when not directly connected to one of their member’s products.
However, it’s probably too late, the cat is out of the bag for describing a silvery-goldy colour – and to be honest, should they really complain if it’s an Aston Martin?
The well known term for red Bordeaux wine.
However, the term actually originates from Clairette, a dark rosé style wine still made in Bordeaux (and was actually how most Bordeaux looked back in the day).
Now often used to mean wine- (or blood-) coloured.
A WSET approved term for a mid shade of red, in between Ruby (another gemstone) and Tawny.
Mature and / or sweet white wine is often described as gold, particularly Tokaji.
Burgundy’s heartland subregion of the Côte d’Or is literally the “Slope of Gold”.
While “green wine” might not sound that pleasant a concept, it is of course the literal translation of Vinho Verde from northern Portugal.
By extension, used as a term for certain flavours which either invoke youth or the taste of something green (e.g. asparagus in Sauvignon Blanc)
Mid coloured grapes such as Pinot Gris (yay!) or the Italian equivalent Pinot Grigio (boo!)
Vin Gris (literally “Grey Wine”) is the term used for a white(ish) wine made from black grapes.
Often has a little more colour than a Blanc de Noirs, e.g. the Gamay-based AOC Côtes de Toul from Lorraine.
Quite a trendy type of wine at the moment, basically making a wine from white grapes using red wine methods, particularly lots of contact between the juice and the skins – different but interesting.
Orange Muscat is a variant of the ancient but popular Muscat family
Also a wine growing town in New South Wales, Australia, whose symbol is an apple – go figure!
In fairness, orchard regions are often good for making wine.
David Bird (author of Understanding Wine Technology) makes a valid point asking why we use the term rosé in English when we say red and white quite happily instead of rouge and blanc.
While reading a book on Port I came across a new colour category of grape: Roxo
Many grapes – and actually many wines – look quite purple, but Portugal is the first country I have seen to actually have a recognised term for it.
Obviously the huge category of red wine as a whole.
Tinta / Tinto, the Portuguese and Spanish words for red (when applied to wine) is used for many grape varieties and their pseudonyms, including Tinto Aragon and Tinta Cão.
One of the few grapes in French to have red in its name is Rouge du Pays, also known as Cornalin du Valais or Cornalin.
However, without Red Wine would faux-reggae band UB40 have been so popular? Everything has its downsides…
A bright shade of red, usually signifying a young wine.
A style of Port, often the least expensive, bottle young and so retains a bright red colour.
The grape Ruby Cabernet is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, though usually included in cheap fruity blends.
A light shade of red, tending to brown, usually signifying an older but not necessarily fully mature wine
A style of Port which has usually been aged in wood rather than bottle, with colour fading over time.
White wine, of course, which covers a multitude of grapes and styles
White grapes (well many of them are of course more green than white) particularly those whose name includes white (in English or any other language) to distinguish them from darker coloured siblings, e.g. Pinot Blanc / Pinot Bianco / Weissburgunder.
Of course the Jura’s famous “Vin Jaune” (literally “yellow wine”) leaps to mind here.
Ribolla Gialla (thanks Jim) is the yellow version of Ribolla, generally found in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy and over the border into Slovenia.
For a long time I was almost purely a red wine drinker. Then, due for inconvenient minor health reasons I had to give up red wine, so I became solely a white wine drinker. That led me to putting some serious “research” into white wine, so now although I drink red again, over 70% of my cellar is white.
But what about rosé? It’s neither fish nor fowl, neither red nor white – why does it even exist?
It’s the duck-billed platypus of wine!
It doesn’t have the freshness of white or the pleasing body of red – it falls between two stools and does neither thing well.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s the fastest growing wine category in France, so if you venture into a French supermarket you will see more pink than white – what gives?
This isn’t a rant about pink things for the sake of it – I’m quite metrosexual in my dress sense and will happily wear pink shirts and / or ties.
And then the solution finally dawned on me. If it’s any good, treat a rosé like a light red and chill it very slightly, but drink it out of proper red wine glasses. That’s what I did with this delicious Masi rosato.
I do keep harping on about the temperature of wine, but it’s so important for acidity, sweetness, aromas and flavours.
It turns out I’ve been drinking rosé wrong all this time!
I’m often suspicious of marketing in the wine world, perhaps because my original profession is far from the creative side of things. In particular, I have wondered if marketing budgets trump wine quality itself – there are a few big brands whose wines I think are just swill – you know the ones I mean.
But are marketing and quality wine mutually exclusive? Here’s a wine that puts that to the test. Disclosure: the bottle was kindly supplied by O’Briens
Lanson Rosé NV “Valentine’s” (€54.99, currently €44.99, O’Briens)
This is Lanson’s non-vintage rosé Champagne in special packaging. I have some colour-blindness, but even I can tell it’s VERY PINK. It comes with a pen so that you can use it as a Valentine’s message to your spouse / partner / crush.
Most readers will be more interested in the contents than the packaging – this is a wine blog after all. So how is the liquid inside?
Lanson is not yet that well-known on the Irish market but is among the top few in the UK. They block malolactic fermentation in the base wines, so the end product remains very fresh tasting – and it works! The acidity isn’t fierce, but this remains far more refreshing than some rosés (in particular) which can be insipid.
The assemblage is 32% Chardonnay, 53% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier, which shows on the nose as red fruit, and then to taste there’s lots of fresh strawberry and raspberry with a citrus lift.
I’m not a rosé drinker in general, but quality rosé Champagne is really growing on me.
And the packaging – is it Romantic, Tacky or Kitsch?
In my opinion it’s all three, but then so is Valentine’s day!
It was nearly impossible to reduce this list down to 10 reds so there are lots of magnificent wines that didn’t make the cut – some fine Chilean Pinots in particular. Pinot is well represented from numbers 10 to 8…
Very few quality American wines make it to Irish shores, and so discovering Cline Cellars Pinot Noir at the Big Ely Tasting was a revelation. After tasting it again with Fred and Nancy Cline at the James Nicholson Tasting (and some of their other wines) I was definitely a firm fan.
You’d never mistake it for Burgundy, but to be honest it knocks spots off most red Burgundy under €30. It’s on the big side for Pinot but it has poise and balance so that all its components remain in harmony.
9. Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011
This stood out as my favourite Pinot of the whole Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin. While Marlborough wineries are still working out how to get the best out of Pinot Noir, their Wairarapa counterparts across the Cook Strait can already be considered masters of the grape.
One of the top few producers in New Zealand, Ata Rangi is one of the well established Martinborough vineyards making outstanding Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in addition to Pinot Noir. This has fruit and power, but is soooo smooth that a bottle can disappear in a frighteningly short time!
8. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002
Yes, I’ve included a Champagne among my reds of the year! But I have my reasons…
Like many rosé Champagnes, particularly those with some age on them, this was actually closer to a still Pinot Noir than a young white Champagne. And for good reason when you look how it’s made. 70% of the blend is Pinot Noir from Grand Cru villages, of which around 13% from Bouzy is added as red wine. This is then topped off with 30% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger and Chouilly.
I opened this on the day we celebrated my wife’s birthday – something to enjoy while we got ready to go out. My wife wasn’t that impressed by it, but that just meant more for me! The texture is the key for me – it wasn’t that fizzy or zippy, but it had an amazing Pinot nose and soft red fruit on the palate. I don’t tend to drink much rosé but this shows what it can do.
7. Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2009
The so-called Baron Of The Barossa, who sadly passed away in 2013, Peter Lehmann was the maker of several ranges of Barossa gems. They started above the level of everyday wines but went right up to this flagship – more expensive than most people would spend on a regular basis but nowhere near the price of other Aussie icons such as Hill Of Grace or Grange.
At the Comans silent tasting, the 2009 showed that it’s still young and would reward patient cellaring, but it’s so drinkable now that it’s hard to resist. It’s made in a rich, concentrated old-vine style which is defiantly and definitively Barossa, but there are layers and layers of complexity. It packs a punch but also makes you think.
6. Château Pesquié Ventoux Artemia
I was lucky enough to taste three different vintages of this southern Rhône superstar during the year – the 2012 from bottle and the 2006 from magnum at the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely, and then the 2005 from magnum at a jaw-droppingly excellent food and wine dinner at Belleek Castle (more to come on that!)
Although its home of Ventoux is situated in the southerly reaches of the Rhône, the cool winds coming off the Mont de Ventoux and Valcluse mountains help maintain acidity and freshness. Artemia is Château Pesquié’s premium bottling made of equal parts of Grenache and Syrah, both from low-yielding sites
The wines are rich and unctuous, with dark black fruit and spice competing for your attention. But it’s not all about big fruit, there’s also acidity and minerality there. I’m trying to see if I can get my hands on a few magnums for myself!
5. Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008
Forget Galaxy Chocolate, this is possibly the smoothest thing known to man – pretty unusual for a Chianti!
The biggest producer in Italy, family owned and run Antinoribought the estate in 1987 and set out to create the ultimate expression of Tuscan Sangiovese. Clones were specially selected to give velvet and acidity – hence the smoothness.
It has an amazing nose of red and black fruit, but these are joined on the palate by rich dark chocolate. It has an international sensibility but is unmistakably Chianti Classico. By some distance it’s the best Chianti I have tasted to date!
4. Torres Mas La Plana 2005
When wines are this good, choosing between different vintages much be like choosing between different children, but if a choice has to be made of all the different vintages tasted of Torres’ Cabernet flagship Mas La Plana then 2005 was the chosen one.
Although regarded as an interloper by many in Spain, Cabernet Sauvignon can actually thrive in the right settings. As it’s my favourite black grape I say boo to tradition and enjoy this blackcurrant beauty! Compared to an excellent Rioja there are quite noticeable differences – primarily black fruit rather than Tempranillo’s red strawberries and smokey French oak rather than big vanilla from American oak.
The 2005 still has loads of primary fruit, but has already developed some interesting cedar and tobacco notes. It’s in full bloom but has the structure to last until the end of this decade at least.
3. Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989
I didn’t taste enough sweet wines this year for them to deserve their own category, but this fortified Grenache muscled its way into the Reds list. A Vin Doux Naturel from the Roussillon in South West France, this is similar-ish to Rasteau from the Rhône and Maury close by in Roussillon – and not a million miles away from Port.
Unexpectedly this was my favourite wine from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Age has taken away with one hand – colour has faded significantly – and given back with the other – complexity writ large. It’s definitely a wine for the winter season but it’s something to look forward to. Class in a glass.
This was technically drunk in 2015 as it was popped after midnight on New Year’s Eve, but I love it so much I have to include it. A long time favourite producer since my visit to Coonawarra in 2000, and undoubtedly one of the standout in terms of consistent quality, Katnook Estate makes big cabs that are to die for.
This young example had fresh blackcurrants – so fresh and intense that you would swear you were actually chewing on them – with Coonawarra’s trademark eucalyptus providing additional interest. It’s my go-to red for good reason!
1. Penfolds Grange 2008
I am an unbashed fan of Australia’s first world class wine, and included some older vintages of Grange in my best wines of 2013. Without the 2008 for reference I’m pretty sure I would have picked the 2009 for the top spot this year – the 2009 was very nice indeed – but the 2008 was on another level altogether. Apparently it was awarded the full monty 100 points by both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator
Only a couple of years after release, it is still an absolute baby of course, but is actually drinkable now. It has tremendous concentration, and although you can find the American oak if you search for it, fruit dominates the nose and palate. Blackberry, blackcurrant and damson are tinged with choca-mocha and liquorice.
It’s an immense wine without being intimidating – At 14.5% the alcohol is fairly middling for an Aussie Shiraz, perhaps tempered by 9% fruit from the cooler Clare Valley. It’s made to last for decades, but unlike some flagship wines I tasted this year its elements are already harmonious.
As a “collectible” wine that has become bought more and more by investors, Grange has now moved firmly out of my price range. I am still tempted nevertheless!!
Due to personal circumstances I didn’t have a big birthday bash this year, so instead our New Year’s Eve party became the opportunity to try lots of fizz!
Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV
The kick-off wine at the Wine Society’s 2014 Dublin tasting proved to be a worthy opener again. Made by the Californian offshoot of Louis Roederer from four of their top vineyards, it is definitely made to the high standards of its Champenois maison mère.
Full bodied like the Brut Premier at home, it does, however, reverse the house blend of around two thirds Pinot Noir to Chardonnay, instead being 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir.
As well as bready characters from time on the lees this also has depth from reserve wines which have been aged in oak. This is probably the finest Californian fizz I have tasted to date.
Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV
A fairly simple Prosecco brought by a guest, it was pleasant enough not to be passed over, and considering I didn’t have any Prosecco open myself (damn, not again!) it was a nice contrast to some of the bigger names.
Lightly sparkling (a Frizzante with a screw top, no less) with gentle apple and grape flavours, it’s a wine to enjoy rather than contemplate. For some reason it does really well in the Netherlands!
Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs NV
I bought this own label 100% Chardonnay from UK supermarket Sainsbury’s a couple of years ago when there was a double-bubble promotion on. It’s actually good enough at full price but I couldn’t resist stocking up.
Two years later on and the citrus freshness is still there, but additional bottle age has brought a bit more body and complexity. It could still serve well as an aperitif but with more richness it could accompany roast chicken.
I wonder how many bottles bought at the same time made it this long – not many I’d wager!
Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV
Méthode Cap Classique is the South African term for traditional or Champagne method, and Mr Beck helpfully puts “Chardonnay . Pinot Noir” on the front label for those who aren’t sure. Graham Beck is renowned as one of the best producers of fizz in the country
On the nose this had a slightly spirit quality, as though there was a trace of stronger alcohol in there. It wasn’t apparent on the palate which was sophisticated and dry – one of the driest New World sparklers I’ve tried – with creaminess and richness from the lees. A very good effort, especially considering the relatively modest pricetag.
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007
The first significant quality producer of English sparkling wine goes from strength to strength. 2007 was one of the first vintages seen from start to finish by head winemaker Cherie Spriggs and husband Brad Greatrix, elevating the already serious quality to a higher plane.
So how does this bottle taste? Apple pie! No, seriously – amazingly intense apple flavours backed up by pastry notes from the lees and then bottle ageing. Seriously delicious!
Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004
Non vintage Möet didn’t fare very well when tasted double blind in the previous Glasnevin Fizz Fest, but as I’ve enjoyed the house’s prestige cuvée every time I’ve tried I’d, I thought I’d give the middle ground of Möet Grand Vintage a go.
Being a vintage Champagne it was guaranteed to have a longer minimum period on the lees (36 months v 15 for NV) and this came through on the palate. However, the fruit behind it wasn’t good enough to support the yeastiness – it tasted as though there was a hole in it, if a drink can said to have a hole in it!
Most people preferred the Sainsbury’s own label fizz, which tells you all you need to know!
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
Widely acknowledged as their best vintage yet, Nyetimber’s Champagne Blend from 2009 had showed well previously. Perhaps context is more important than we think, because tasted straight after the Möet Grand Vintage this was fantastic, even better than I expected.
The 2009 Classic Cuvée blend is 55% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier. The Pinots are more obvious with soft red fruit on the attack, but then the Chardonnay’s citrus and soft stone fruits follow closely behind. It’s very elegant and polished, and should continue to develop over the next decade and more.
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
The Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on Champagne’s Côte des Blancs is the source of Krug’s famed single vineyard Clos du Mesnil. Whereas that tends to retail at £600 or more per bottle, the village’s co-operative makes an excellent Blanc de Blanc that retails closer to £30 – a twentieth of the Krug price!
I had snapped up some magnums of the 1999 vintage a few years ago in a bin-end sale – and what a bargain they turned out to be!! Champagne (and wine in general) matures more slowly in a magnum than in a regular 75cl botle, but authors such as Tom Stevenson also content that sparkling wine matures better in the larger format. Without a comparative tasting for myself I will take Tom’s word for it, but the evidence provided by these magnums is definitely in favour of the argument.
Somewhat yellow in the glass from ageing, the wine is full of yeasty, bready characters on the nose. This follows through onto the sumptuous palate, with citrus and soft stone fruit playing a supporting role. A very long finish makes this an excellent fizz – what a shame I’ve only got one bottle left!
Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999
Context rears its head again – and not in a good way this time. Tasted among the other sparklers this appeared somewhat flat. It wasn’t unpleasant, just a different type of drink.
I hope to try it again in 2015 to see how it shows then.
Cloudy Bay Pelorus Marlborough 2009
Cloudy Bay’s NV and Vintage sparklers are probably the best value wines in their range, especially considering the extra work that goes into making fizz. Unlike its compatriot Lindauer or Australia’s Jacob’s Creek Sparkling, they are serious wines make with great attention to detail. We served Pelorus NV for the toast at our wedding in 2009!
As you’d expect in a serious offering from Marlborough, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the grapes used, and like vintage Champagne it gets at least three years maturing on the lees. There’s apple, citrus and bready notes on the nose, followed by a creamy palate with more apple and then roasted almonds. It’s only a youngster so there’ more to come!
Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV
The last bottle opened before we moved onto some reds was this Blanc de Blancs Crémant d’Alsace from one of the region’s best co-operatives. They produce a wide range of still wines and several sparklers – this was my favourite when we visited in 2013. Not widely known outside France, Crémant d’Alsace is actually the second most popular source of sparkling wine in France.
The blend is supposedly a secret but I remember 100% Chardonnay being whispered at the tasting counter. Perhaps because it’s not seen as an Alsatian grape? It’s not permitted in still Alsace wines, but is allowed in Crémant, sometimes with Pinot Blanc and other varieties.
As is the norm in Alsace, this displayed more primary fruit than flavours from lees ageing. We’re talking citrus, apple and quince here, so more of an aperitif style, but very enjoyable nevertheless.
The Overall Verdict
This was no professional trade tasting – all samples were drunk and enjoyed – so there’s somewhat less than 100% objectivity here, but my rankings would be: