Spit Festival is an annual event showcasing some exceptional wines from four of Ireland’s key boutique wine importers. Most of their wines are from small, family run wineries who practise organic, biodynamic or natural techniques.
Here are just of few of the biodynamic wines I loved from the 2018 event (# number refers to the trade tasting booklet):
#23 Domaine Turner Pageot Le Blanc 2017 (RRP ~€23 WineMason)
A previous vintage of this wine was a favourite of mine at the WineMason portfolio tasting and it’s great to see the 2017 is also showing very well. A blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, the later undergo contact with their skins for around a month. This gives lovely mouthfeel and a bit of grip – it’s not a full orange wine, but it gives you a good idea of what to expect from the full blown orange experience (aka “Les Choix”!)
Leclerc Briant was the first organic and biodynamic producer in Champagne (Demeter certified in 2003) – no easy feat considering the marginal climatic conditions there. They are based in the Vallée de la Marne so it’s no surprise to see that Pinot Meunier is a large component of the blend (40%) along with Pinot Noir (40%) and Chardonnay (20%). The grapes come from a single harvest, despite no vintage being declared on the bottle, and lees ageing is well in excess of the 15 month minimum for an NV (in fact it’s around the minimum 36 months required for a vintage Champagne). Dosage is very low at 4 g/L; it could be labelled as Extra Brut” if they so desired.
Thanks to the majority of black grapes, it’s red fruit that really comes to the fore on the nose and palate, with raspberry, redcurrant and even cranberry making an appearance. There’s also a lovely brioche character from the time on the lees, and a crisp lemony finish from the Chardonnay. Some fantastic elements, but taken together the whole package is even better!
Bodegas Ponce (probably sounds more dignified in Spanish) is based in Manchuela, a high altitude region east of Madrid, which also happens to be one of the main homes of the Albillo/Albilla grape. It’s a highly aromatic grape, sometimes being added in to reds from Ribero del Duero for extra fragrance and elegance. With the extended cool growing season in Manchuela it shows green apples and a touch of spice, with lots of texture – even being slightly waxy. A brilliant match for shellfish, veal or pork.
#105 Monte dei Roari Custoza “Boscaroi” 2017 (RRP ~€18, GrapeCircus)
This Venetian beauty is a blend of four grapes:
Trebbiano di Soave (famous for Soave, obviously!)
Garganega (also Soave)
Fernanda (aka Cortese – best known for Gavi)
Trebbianello (another version of Trebbiano)
…all gently fermented in amphorae, and bottled without fining or filtering. The result is dry, pale and interesting – more subtle than most, but beautiful nonetheless. The nose is floral and there is an array of fresh, juicy fruits on the palate, particularly grapefruit and other citrus. Would be amazing paired with a delicate white fish.
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” 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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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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1. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru XXX Pinot Gris XX (XX%, RRP XX)
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 a pair of outstanding wines from the Languedoc that I tried for the first time earlier this year:
Domaine Turner Pageot “Le Blanc” Coteaux du Languedoc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €23, though currently only in restaurants)
At first the name of this producer might mislead you in to saying “Turner” with French pronunciation, just like Palmer of Margaux, but in fact it is the surname of anglophone Karen Turner, the Australian lady who is half of this partnership. The other half is her other half, Frenchman Emmanuel Pageot. After over ten years of making wine around the world, they set up a domaine together in the Languedoc of just 3.5 hectares, now expanded to 10 Ha. These 10 Ha are split over 17 different parcels, mainly facing north or north west (which makes sense in these southerly latitudes. Viticulture is biodynamic – they even feature quotations from Rudolf Steiner on their website.
Le Blanc is a blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, though the latter punches above its weight due to 30 days of fermentation on skins to extract as many varietal aromas as possible. This wine therefore gives an introduction to the orange wine category. It’s quite full bodied for a white and combines stone fruit (apricot, peach) with nuts, beeswax and tropical fruits. A very impressive wine.
Domaine Turner Pageot “Les Choix” Vin de France 2014 (13.5%, RRP €39, though currently only in restaurants)
If Le Blanc was an introduction into orange wine, then Les Choix is at the forefront. This is 100% Marsanne from steep north – north-west slopes, fermented in whole bunches. The juice spends five weeks being macerated on the skins, including regular pigeages(punching down the floating cap of solids) and wild yeast fermentation is not temperature controlled – this helps to bring the funk!
Perhaps showing the power of suggestion, I did imagine some orange notes when tasting this orange wine – and what a great ambassador for the category it is! It has texture and tannin but fruit too – an incredibly complex wine that deserves serious consideration and contemplation. Orange wine is still something of a rarity, but wines like this show what they can do; they really do belong in their own category beside red, white and rosé!
Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store. Here are a few of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:
Doran Vineyardsis the baby of Irish born Edwin Doran, partnered by South African winemaking legend André (“Adi”) Badenhorst. “Baby” is actually quite apt as the winery was redeveloped as recently as 2012.
This wine is quite an unusual blend, one that could only really be from South Africa: 57% Chenin Blanc, 22% Grenache Blanc and 21% Roussanne. The nose has citrus, herbs and floral notes; the wine is soft and supple in the mouth with fresh apple, stone fruit, citrus and a hint of nuts. This blend is lovely to drink on its own but is also very food friendly.
Clos Cazalet Tursan Carpe Diem 2015 (12.5%, RRP €16.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
Tursanis one of the lesser known appellations of south west France, spanning the border between the new regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie. It also has a lesser known grape at the heart of its white wines – the delightfully named Baroque which must be between 30% and 90% of the blend. The balance is made up by a combination of Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc. Reds are based on Tannat (40% maximum), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Clos Cazalet is one of the few independent producers in Tursan. Their Carpe Diem comprises 60% Gros Manseng, 30% Baroque and 10% Petit Manseng. This blend gives a full “here comes the Lilt man” tropical experience – pineapple, peach, pear and grapefruit. it’s soft and round in the mouth, a perfect summer drink!
Mas des Agrunelles Barbaste 2016 (13.0%, RRP €22.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
We’re on a go-slow here – well a go-sloe to be exact, as Agrunelles are sloes which are common round this area. And what an area – a part of the Languedoctraditionally not used for viticulture given the cool micro-climate, and instead given over to sheep grazing and charcoal production.
The Domaine was set up by Frédéric Porro of Domaine La Marèle and Stéphanie Ponson of Mas Nicot as the antithesis of bulk cooperative grape production – each small plot is harvested and vinified separately so production is spread over a large number of different wines, though volumes of each are small. It is also worthy of note that Mas des Agrunelles is both organic and biodynamic.
Barbasteis a blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne and Marsanne; it’s a thing of beauty, tangy yet soft(some oxidative softening, perhaps?) with spicy pear and fennel flavours. Very moreish!
Mas des Agrunelles Camp de Lèbre 2015 (12.5%, RRP €27.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
Another wine from Mas des Agrunelles…whereas Barbaste means “white frost” in Occitan (the local language), Camp de Lèbre means “Field of hares”, as the local varmints help themselves to the tasty wine buds in spring. This is a varietal wine, being 100% Carignan Blancplanted on clay and limestone.
The first line of my tasting notes was: “What the hell is that? it’s Magnificent!” There’s lots of texture and roundness in the mouth (possibly from some time in oak?). Aniseed and herbs partner soft pip and stone fruit – deliciously tangy!
The Ely Big Tasting is now something of an institution on the Dublin wine scene, giving interested wine drinkers a chance to try a wide variety of wines from Ely’s suppliers. Some of them are already established favourites and some are shown to gauge interest from punters. Over the several events that I’ve attended (Spring and Autumn each year) it has been interesting to see the camaraderie and some good natured competition between the importers.
Here are six of my favourite whites from the Autumn 16 event:
D’Arenberg “The Money Spider” South Australia Roussanne 2010 (13.2%, Febvre)
Roussanne is one of the most important grapes in France’s Rhône Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon. Innovative McLaren Vale producers d’Arenberg decided to plant white Rhône varieties given how successful the Rhône varieties Shiraz/Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are in the Vale. And the theory paid off! Nuttyand peachy, it’s full of interesting flavours that you just don’t find in the usual supermarket suspects of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. Seek it out!
Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Setz Weinwiertel 2015 (Wine Mason)
Lovely field blend of 17 different varieties. These vines are all planted in the same vineyard and are harvested and vinified together. When Ingrid took on the family vineyards she had to rely on her grandmother to identify which variety was which!
The result in the glass is both complexity and drinkability – what more could you want?
This Vieilles Vignes (“Vee-ay Veen”, Old Vines) Riesling is a step above the standard Riesling (which I like) and slots in below Trimbach’s premium Cuvée Frédéric Emile. The VV is only made in certain years (2009 was the release previous to this 2012) so my guess is that Trimbach only decide to make it when they have more quality fruit than they need for “Fred”.
Ther fruit is sourced from the lieux-dits (named vineyards) Rosacker, Muehlforst, Vorderer Haguenau and Pflaenzer. Being old, the vines yield less grapes than in their youth, but the resultant wines have more intenseand complexflavours. This wine is mainly available in bars and restaurants (such as Ely!) rather than wine merchants and is worth calling in for on it own!
Lucien Aviet “Cuvée des Docteurs” Arbois-Jura 2011 (13.0%, La Rousse)
The Jura region – nestled in the hills between Burgundy and Switzerland – has been making wine for a long time, but has only recently stepped into the limelight. The area’s Vin Jaune has been regarded as an interesting diversion but now the table wines are receiving lots of attention – due in no small part to Wink Lorch’s excellent book.
Whereas Vin Jaune and some other Jura wines are deliberately exposed to oxygen during their production, this Chardonnay is in the ouillé “wee-ay” style – the barrels are topped up to prevent a flor forming or major oxidative notes. It’s therefore much more my cup of tea – or glass of wine! The wild yeasts used are reflected somewhat in the wild flavours, so this isn’t for everyone, but every wine enthusiast should try it at least once.
La Fief du Breil “La Haye Fouassière” Muscadet Cru Communal 2013 (12.5%, Wines Direct)
Anyone who has holidayed on the Atlantic coast of France and has enjoyed the seafood there is almost certain to have tried Muscadet, from the western reaches of the Loire. It’s a wine while is often maligned outside of an accompaniment for oysters, and if we take the average quality of all wines produced then that’s probably not too unfair. However, some producers are very quality conscious and can make some fantastic wines in the region.
This cuvée spends 14 months on the lees, giving a very creamy texture, but remains refreshing thanks to vibrant acidity. It will partner well with seafood but is just downright delicious on its own.
Brookland Valley “Verse 1” Margaret River Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, Liberty)
Compared to most of the producers above, Brookland Valley is a newcomer – they were established in Margaret River in 1983 (compared to 1626 for Trimbach!) While heritage and history are nice, at the end of the day it’s what’s in the glass that counts. Verse 1 is their “entry level” range, with Estateabove that and Reserveat the top.
This Chardonnay is a cracker, still young perhaps but full of flavour. Racy grapefruit and lemon are set against brioche, vanilla and nuts. It’s well balanced with a long finish. If drinking in the next year or so then decant for half an hour before drinking, if you can.
Here are a couple of lovely French whites from the excellent 2015 vintage, both fairly moderate in alcohol at 12.5% but very different in style:
Saint Auriol Chatelone Corbières 2015 (12.5%, €12.99 at SuperValu / Centra)
Corbières is the biggest Appellation Contrôlée within the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region of France, the central part of southern France stretching from the Spanish border across the Mediterranean coast up to Provence. It’s obviously a sunny place so has long been the source of easy-drinking, fruity reds which are produced in abundance. It is very much a region on the up, with a new wave of quality-conscious producers making their own wines with low yields rather than selling grapes to the local co-operative.
This is a white Corbières, which makes up only around 2% of the AOC’s production, so it is something of a rarity. The wine is a blend of grapes popular in the Rhône, Provence and Languedoc – Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc & Bourboulenc. The vines face south-east so they get plenty of sun but not too much heat in the afternoon.
Each of the grapes adds something to the wine – there’s soft pear, appleand stone fruit, a touch of citrusand nuttynotes – and a delightful texture. The back label suggests drinking between 10C and 12C – so make sure it’s not served straight from a domestic fridge which would be too cold.
The back label also has another surprising snippet: the producer reckons the wine will keep for 6 years or more if stored well – if you are the sort of person who likes to see how a wine evolves and gains in complexity over time then this would be a great bottle to try it with!
La Vigne Des Sablons Vouvray 2015 (12.5%, €14.99 at SuperValu / Centra)
Still in France but further north, Vouvray is made in the Touraine region around the city of Tours. Touraine region wines can be red, white, rosé or sparkling; reds are made from Gamay, Pinot Noir, Côt (Malbec) and Breton (Cabernet Franc), amongst others with Sauvignon Blanc and Pineau Blanc de la Loire (Chenin Blanc) the main white grapes.
Vouvrayis east by north east of Tours and is predominantly Chenin country. The sweetness of the wines varies considerably from producer to producer, and particularly from vintage to vintage – warmer years mean more sugar in the grapes and usually more sugar in the finished wine.
This bottle by La Vigne des Sablons is off-dry or perhaps a touch sweeter, but doesn’t taste overtly sweet due to Chenin’s naturally high acidity. The main notes are freshand bakedapple, drizzled with a touch of honey. It’s dangerously drinkable! A great introduction to Vouvray from which you could explore others.
2015 has been an excellent year for wine in Dublin, especially from a personal perspective. As well as the usual trade tastings, which one can never take for granted, I have been lucky enough to be invited to several excellent wine dinners and receive samples from many new suppliers and retailers – thanks to all.
Here are ten of the white wines which made a big impression on me during the year. The order is somewhat subjective – this is wine tasting after all – and I’m sure the list would look a little different on another day.
10. Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC “Alchimie” 2014 (€14/€10, SuperValu)
A fruit driven Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, just outside Sancerre, which is just so damned drinkable. It has some of the explosiveness of a Marlborough savvy but more restrained, so it wouldn’t be out of place at the table. It’s well worth the regular price but is a total steal when on offer. See more here.
9. Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.99, Honest 2 Goodness)
Whites from South West France continue to impress me with their intense, but balanced, flavours from mainly indigenous grapes – and all at keen prices. This is one of the best I’ve ever tasted from the area. See more here.
8. Château Mas “Belluguette” Coteaux de Languedoc 2012 (€20.95, Molloys)
A premium white wine from the Languedoc, but without a silly price tag. This was one of the biggest surprises of the year – I just hadn’t been expecting such an exuberant white wine from the Languedoc. The blend is: Vermentino 40%, Roussanne 30%, Grenache 20%, Viognier 10%, with each grape variety is vinified separately in oak barrels for a month. 50% of the blend goes through malolactic fermentation and it is blocked for the remainder. The final blend is then aged in 2/3 French and 1/3 American oak for 4 months.
Molloy’s wine consultant Maureen O’Hara dubbed this a “Dolly Parton” wine – I’d have to say it’s got a lot of front!
7. Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling, Central Otago (€19.99, Curious Wines)
Although owned by a famous actor, this estate does not make “celebrity wine”. Pinot Noir is the speciality of Two Paddocks, with excellent premium and single vineyard bottlings, but they also make a small amount of Riesling, benefitting from the cool (almost cold!) climate of the southerly most wine region in the world.
“Picnic” is their more accessible, everyday range, for both Pinot and Riesling, and here we have the latter. It’s just off-dry with lots of Golden Delicious apple, honey and citrus, with a fresh streak of acidity through the middle. It actually reminded me of a still version of Nyetimber’s 2007 Blanc de Blanc, one of my favourite English sparklers!
6. Argyros Estate Santorini Atlantis 2013 (€15.49, Marks and Spencer)
An excellent Assyrtiko based-blend from the Greek Island of Santorini, linked to the legend of Atlantis. Old vines and steep slopes contribute to excellent intensity, with lemony flavours and floral aromas. Such a drinkable and versatile wine.
Yes you read that correctly, this is a €35 Vinho Verde! However, although it shares geography and grape variety with many Vinho Verdes, it is made in a totally different style. It retains the central fresh core of Alvarinho (aka Albariño in Galicia) yet has a creamy complexity from oak and lees stirring.
In one of the first DNS tastings of 2015 this was tied neck and neck with Rafael Palacios’ famous As Sortes – it’s that good. See the full article on The Taste here.
4. Hugel Pinot Gris “Jubilee” 2000 (€52 in West Restaurant @ The Twelve Hotel)
One of the highlights of 2015 was a trip away to The Twelve Hotel in Barna, just outside Galway City, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. It’s our favourite hotel in Ireland, and one that we choose for special occasions. Check out their full wine list here.
Hotel Restaurant wine lists can often be very dull / safe / boring, depending on your point of view, so it warms the cockles of this wino’s heart to see such a well put together list. It was General Manager & Sommelier Fergus O’Halloran who first got me into Pecorino (see here), but on this occasion it was something else which was really worth writing home about.
Hugel is one of the two large and well-known family producers in Alsace, the other being Trimbach which also sports yellow labels on its bottles. Both are located in achingly pretty villages and have excellent ranges. Jubilee signifies Hugel’s premium range, made from fruit in their Grand Cru Sporen and Pflostig vineyards. As a general rule I like Pinot Gris to have some sweetness to go with the distinctive apricot & honey flavours and oily texture – this doesn’t disappoint! Getting a fifteen year old wine of this quality for €52 in a restaurant is amazing!
3. Albert Bichot Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru “Moutonne” Monopole 2012 (€109.95, The Corkscrew)
This was the highlight of a focused burgundy tasting given upstairs at Stanley’s by Ben and Barbara of WineMason. As a big fan of Chablis, especially Premier and Grand Cru, I was excited to taste the area’s famous “eighth Grand Cru”. There are seven Grands Crus recognised by the French national appellations organisation (INAO), though those names appear after “Appellation Chablis Grand Cru Contrôlée”. La Moutonne is recognised, however, by the Chablis (UGCC) and Burgundy (BIVB) authorities.
The majority of the Moutonne vineyard (95%) is in the Grand Cru Vaudésir with a small part (5%) in Grand Cru Preuses, so you’d expect it to taste almost identical to Albert Bichot’s Grand Cru Vaudésir, which is made in the same way – but it doesn’t! This is put forward as a reason why Moutonne deserves its own Grand Cru status – but equally it might indicate that several Chablis Grand Crus are not homogenous across their climats. An interesting debate which needs further research – and I volunteer!
Whatever the nomenclature, it’s a stunning wine – beautifully intertwining minerality, citrus, floral notes and a light toastiness from 25% oak.
From South east Sicily comes something unlike anything you’ve tasted before – at least, a single wine containing all the flavours and aromas expressed by this wine. Tasted with family member Matteo Catani, this is a truly remarkable wine – it showed anise, almond, citrus, apple, and a hint of oxidation which added interest but did not detract from the fruit.
When many producers are churning out identikit Cabernets and Chardonnays, wines that are different and interesting like this really grab the attention.
1. Craiglee Sunbury Chardonnay 2011 (€33.95, winesdirect.ie, also available by the bottle and by the glass at Ely Wine Bar)
If you read my favourite White Wines of 2013 or 2014 then the fact that my favourite white tasted in 2015 is a Chardonnay shouldn’t be a surprise. I might be predictable, but it’s my favourite grape so I won’t apologise.
From a less well known part of Victoria, it shows butterscotch and toasty vanilla round a citrus core. It’s not the most expensive wine in my listing, and probably not the “finest”, but it is beautifully balanced and the one that I would most fancy opening at anytime!
Honest 2 Goodness (H2G for short) are a small family wine importers based in Glasnevin, Dublin. They specialise in family owned wineries throughout Europe, and in particular those with an organic, sustainable or biodynamic philosophy.
Here are a few of their wines that I enjoyed at their most recent Organic & Low Sulphite Tasting:
Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.95, 11.5%)
Typical South West France blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard, Ugni Blanc and Gros Manseng. Ripe green and red apples, fresh pears. Crisp acidity, light and fruity – so easy to drink on its own, but versatile with food.
Borgo Paglianetto Verdicchio di Matelica 2014 (€18.45, 12.5%)
Restrained nose; soft but textured on the palate, lemon and grapefruit combined. Tangy, don’t drink too chilled. Marche wines are really coming to the fore at the moment.
A favourite producer that I’ve covered several times. Grapefruit again, though not as juicy. A grown up wine that would excel with food.
Château Canet Minervois Blanc 2014 (€17.95, 13.0%)
50% barrel fermented; blend of Roussanne and Bourboulenc, both well known in the Rhône. Tangy, textured, pleasantly sour (Haribo Tangfastics). Plenty of mouthfeel and soft stone fruit. Moreish.
Casa Benasal by Pago Casa Gran Valencia 2012 (€18.95, 14.0%)
The Spanish equivalent of a GSM blend: Monstrell, Syrah and Garnacha Tintorera. Plum, blackberry, and blueberry on the nose, following through onto the palate. A full-bodied winter wine; lots of fruit with a light dusting of tannins on the finish. Perfect with stew or casserole (depending on where you heat the pot, apparently).
Château Segue Longue Monnier Cru Bourgeois Médoc 2010 (€25.95, 13.5%)
A trad Médoc blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Very perfumed on the nose, showing black fruits, spice and parma violets. Soft and voluptuous in the mouth – definitely from a warmer vintage. Classy.
Minervois is one of the names I remember from when I first got into wine as an impecunious student living in France for a year. Back in 1993 the appellation was still less than ten years old, and the wines were a small step up from the Vin de Pay d’Oc bottles on nearby shelves, but they were noticeably different from Bordeaux, Chinon and the like.
I was recently given a sample of Minervois to taste by the folks at Molloy’s Liquour Stores (an Irish off licence chain) so I thought I’d do a quick recap on some facts the Minervois delineated area:
One of the biggest wine areas within the Languedoc-Roussillon region with around 15,000 ha under vine.
Of this around 5,000 ha grow grapes for AOC wines, with the rest mainly Vin de Pays..
Historically, the region’s capital has been the village of Minerve
In addition to the main AOC Minervois there is also the longstanding AOC Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois (a vin doux naturel from the north east of the Minervois area) and the more recent AOC Minervois – La Livinière.
AOC Minervois covers 61 communes (villages, 16 in the Hérault and 45 in the Aude)
Maximum yields are 48 hl/ha
AOC regulations require the wine to be blended, so single varietals are necessarily Vin de Pays.
The vast majority of production is Red (84%) with some Rosé (13%) and a little White also made (3%)
The main grapes for red and rosé are Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre
The main grapes for white are Grenache, Bourboulenc, Maccabeu, Marsanne and Roussanne
Château du Donjon AOP Minervois Blanc 2014 (€12.95 Molloy’s)
So to the wine itself. And the first surprise for me, given my experience, was the colour – a rare Minervois Blanc! Before doing a bit of research I hadn’t even known about the whites, shame on me. The producer’s name translates as “Castle of the Keep” rather than directly relating to dungeons, but it’s pretty cool anyway.
Their Minervois Blanc is a blend of Vermentino and Roussane. Vermentino originally hails from Sardinia, though is also known as Rolle in the South of France, as Favorita in Piedmont. Roussane is well known in the Rhône and the rest of Southern France.
This is a fairly straight forward wine with lots of citrus and stone fruit, plus pleasant herb notes. It has good acidity which make it refreshing on a summer’s day, and could partner well with seafood or salad. Perfect for a summer picnic!
In February I was delighted to accept an invitation to an exciting wine and food event at Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar on St Andrew’s Street in Dublin. The wines were from Northern Rhône starYvesCuilleron, which gives us a full house of names.
The wines were selected by Wine Director Morgan Vanderkamer and introduced by Yves himself. As one of the few other French speakers I was given the honour of occasional interpreter. The amazing menu was put together by proprietor & Head Chef Stephen McArdle (nickname Stanley!) who takes inspiration from French cuisine in particular.
Cave Yves Cuilleron
Yves elucidates the history behind his family vineyards on his websitebut, en bref, he took over the family vineyards when his uncle retired in 1987 – he surprised his relatives by throwing himself into the family business. He has constantly innovated and invested since then, building a new cellar then later a new winery, and expanding his vineyards across most of the northern Rhône’s appellations.
For around ten years, Cuilleron wines have been brought into Ireland by Le Caveau.
Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar
Stanley’s has a wine bar on the ground floor, with a well-curated and interesting list by the bottle and by the glass. Where else could you try a mini-flight of skin contact orange wines?
Upstairs is the main dining room – light and airy during the day but feeling more sophisticated in the evening. The top floor has also been made available as a private dining room (no photos yet, it’s that new!)
The faux-military portraits are great talking points.
So now we’ve set the scene and done a bit of a guided tour, down to business with the food and wine!
This is a simple wine made to be drunk young, but is very approachable. I was lucky enough (by virtue of my linguistics) to be able to taste the single bottle of 2012 available. There’s fresh peach and a hint of honey with a touch of breadiness from time on the lees.
For his IGP wines, Yves tries to bring out the characteristics of the grape, which of course can be stated on the label for IGP wines but not for AOP wines. Marsanne is often partnered with Roussanne in the northern Rhône but here it shines on its own.
Cornas is a mono-cépage wine, i.e. it’s a 100% varietal under AOP regulations – and that variety is Syrah. Until relatively recently, Cornas wines were often rough round the edges, euphemistically termed “rustic”. They needed time in the bottle to soften up, and you just had to hope that there was enough fruit left by then.
Yves’s Cornas is modern, clean and fruity, without being “manufactured”. There’s power here but it’s from intensity of flavour rather than high alcohol. Black cherry, blackberry and plum combine with tobacco and spice – the latter particularly hitting it off with the gingerbread.
When it comes to foodstuffs, some people can be funny buggers. Unfortunately, I’m one of them – and rabbit is never on the menu in my house. Out of respect for my hosts and fellow dinners I tried the dish – and was astounded! I’ve been missing out on delicious things like this for years! Bunny owners better put some good latches on your hutches!
Up to 20% Viognier is permitted in the red wines of this appellation, as long as the grapes are cofermented, though in practice it is rarely that high. Traditionally Côte Rôtie is split between the Côte Brune in the north with dark, iron-rich schist and the Côte Blonde in the south with pale granite and schist soil. Yves is more a believer in the importance of each vineyard’s aspect, i.e. which direction it faces.
2009 was a very good, warm vintage across much of France, including the northern Rhône. This comes through in power, warmth and fruit – venturing more into the red fruit part of the spectrum than the Cornas. There’s also both floral and savoury notes on the nose – sounds like quite a contradiction, but lovel – and an amazing match with the rich venison!
This is a sweet, Late Harvest style with some botrytis (noble rot). The semi-dessicated grapes are hand-picked with several sorting stages from mid-October to mid-November, then pressed and left to settle.
It has around 100 g/L of residual sugar, but is soft and soothing without being cloying. A simple rule of thumb for dessert wines is, does the acidity balance the sugar? And in this case, undoubtedly yes!
As regular readers will know I’m far from a cheese fan myself, but I was told the Cashel Blue was lovely and went well with the Condrieu. I can attest, however, that the latter was lovely with the salted caramel.
Mascarpone, white chocolate, pear Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “La Petite Côte” 2013
This is the sort of wonderfully rich wine that a novice taster might think was sweet – it isn’t, but shows apparent sweetness due to abundant fruit and a slight oiliness in the mouth. It’s dry but not Sahara dry.
It was something of a bold selection – moving back to a dry wine to accompany dessert – but it worked because the dessert wasn’t super sweet, with acidity from the pear, and the honeyed notes from the wine.
Many thanks to Patrick, Stephen, Morgan and Yves for a fantastic evening!