Although red wine is the king in northern Spain – especially going west / south west from Navarra, Rioja, Ribero del Duero, Cigales and Toro – there is an outlier: Rueda and its refreshing whites. Established as a Denominacíon de Origen (DO) as recently as 1980, Rueda is now established as an ultra-reliable source of easy-drinking white wines. There are four permitted white varieties:
Verdejo (indigenous to Rueda, not too dissimilar to Sauvignon Blanc in profile)
Viura (the white grape of Rioja, aka Macabeo in Cava)
Palomino Fino (the main Sherry grape, also used for Sherry-style fortifieds in Rueda)
SuperValu Ireland recently won Best Supermarket Wine Outlet 2019 in the Sunday Business Post Gold Star Awards. Below are two contrasting Rueda wines which are on special promotion from 14th Feb to 6th Mar 2019.
Disclosure: both wines kindly supplied as samples, opinions remain my own
Blume Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €11.99 down to €8.00 at SuperValu)
This is a very green style of Sauvignon – which is neither criticism or praise, simply an observation – with gooseberry, grapefruit, grass and green pepper notes. It has striking acidity which make it great for pouring at parties or acting as a foil for shellfish. Tasted blind it could be taken for a Loire Sauvignon such as a Touraine, so goat’s cheese would be another great pairing (I’m speaking hypothetically here as I don’t do cheese!)
Viña Albali Rueda Verdejo 2017 (13.0%, RRP €11.99 down to €8.00 at SuperValu)
From 100% Sauvignon Blanc to 100% Verdejo, the autochthonous grape of Rueda. The label shows the herons which famously nest in the area – another indigenous species. This is a clean, unoaked wine with a little more body than the Blume above, and is somewhat softer in nature – the acidity is less obvious and the fruits are more rounded – some juicy peach and pear in among the citrus. This would also be a great party wine but could partner well with a range of dishes, from salads or seafood to poultry.
Both these wines are inexpensive at their regular price and are fair value. They show two different sides to the Rueda region and so are interesting to try together. On a warm day (perhaps difficult to imagine in Ireland right now) I’d take the refreshing savvy, otherwise I’d chose the Verdejo.
After another successful O’Briens Wine Fair, I find myself with the usual predicament of too many good wines to recommend. I have therefore picked my 10 favourite whites listed at €15.00 or under – before any promotional offers.
Examining the list shows that:
Several varieties are repeated: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Colombard and (unoaked) Chardonnay
Several places are repeated: Chile, the Loire and Gascony
From which you could draw certain conclusions:
Obviously, there’s a link between variety and place!
Certain varieties are better for making good yet inexpensive wines
Oak is a significant cost so is seldom used for the least expensive wines
Here are the ten wines:
Domaine Duffour Côtes de Gascogne 2016 (12.0%, €11.45 or 2 for €20 during summer at O’Briens)
From the land of d’Artagnan (and Dogtanian as well, for all I know) come probably the best value white wines of France – Côtes de Gascogne of south west France. Nicolas Duffour is a big fan of local star Colombardwhich gives ripe melon flavours; Ugni Blanc (more commonly distilled into Cognac or Armagnac) adds freshness while Gros Manseng (well-established in Jurançon) gives complexity. Summer in a glass!
Viña Chocálan Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)
This wine is so grassy that you might wonder if you have face-planted into a pile of mown grass. It’s fresh and linear, with a juicy citrus finish. Tasted blind I would probably have guessed it hailed from the Loire Valley, perhaps a Touraine, but this is actually from a family run winery in Chile’s Maipo Valley.
Famille Bougrier Les Hauts Lieux Chenin Blanc 2015 (12.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)
The Bougrier Family make several Loire wines (their Sauvignon Blanc was just 45 cents too much to make it into this article) labelled as Vin de France, giving them flexibility over grape sourcing and varietal labelling. I found the Chenin just off dry, emphasizing the ripe stone and pip fruit, with the acidity keeping it fresh. So drinkable!
Viña Leyda Chardonnay Reserva 2014 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)
This Chardonnay is unoaked but is not a lean-Chablis like wine (the 14.0% alcohol might have been a clue). Viña Leyda are based in the Leyda Valley (no surprise there) and so are close enough to benefit from cooling coastal breezes – these help extend the growing season and help to increase intensity of flavour while maintaining aromatics. This is a great example of ripe but unoaked Chardonnay, full of tropical fruits and citrus.
Domaine Langlois-Château Saumur Blanc 2014 (12.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)
The Maison des Vins de Saumur is one of my favourite places to taste wine in France – it has close to a hundred wines of all types from the Anjou-Saumur sub-region of the Loire. The white wine of Saumur itself are unfairly overlooked in favour of Vouvray and other appellations for white and Saumur’s own reds and rosés. Of course this is Chenin Blanc and its perfect balance of acidity and fruit sweetness makes it a great drink to sip on a nice sunny day.
Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)
Los Vascos is a project of the Lafite branch of the Rothschild family, sourcing wines from both Argentina and Chile. This Chilean Sauvignon is very racy and less exuberantly aromatic compared to many – it’s probably closer to a Touraine Sauvignon or even a Chablis than most Savvies (Marlborough it ain’t!) Appealing mineral noteswould make it a great accompaniment for oysters or other shellfish.
Hijos de Alberto Gutiérrez Monasterio de Palazuelos Rueda Verdejo 2016 (13.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)
Rueda and its Verdejo is often overlooked in favour of Albariño and Godello from north west Spain. And that’s ok with me as Rueda wines are consistently good quality and good value for money. This one has lovely melon and citrus notes, so soft and approachable that you will be pouring a second glass quickly!
Boatshed Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.0%, €14.95 down to €11.95 for May at O’Briens)
Different Sauvignons from Marlborough offer flavours from a wide spectrum, but often concentrating on one part of it. This seems to have nearly all of them! There’s tropical and green fruit such as passionfruit, grapefruit, gooseberry and pineapple, but also green pepper and asparagusnotes. Compared to – say – the Los Vascos Sauvignon, it’s probably the other end of the spectrum – a wine great for quaffing on its own.
Producteurs Plaimont Labyrinthe de Cassaigne Côtes de Gascogne 2015 (11.5%, €13.95 down to €9.95 for May at O’Briens)
This is a single estate Côtes de Gascogne from the north of the area, close to Condom (make your own jokes please). Tropical fruit from Colombard and Gros Manseng make this a real Vin de Plaisir – and fairly light in alcohol at 11.5%. Good value for money at €14, great value at €10!
Los Vascos Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)
Like its sister Sauvignon above, this unoaked Chardonnay has a great deal of mineralitywhich make it ideal for shellfish and other seafood. It does have more body, however; enough to almost give it the feel of an oaked wine, though not the flavour. The finish is zesty citrus and stays with you for quite some time.
After a show of hands at the previous meet, the theme of the most recent DNS Wine Club tasting was FUN! Wine can be a very technical and complicated subject, and as something of a geek that often appeals to me, but at the end of the day the main point of wine is pleasure.
So how do you make a tasting more fun? Play games! But which games? I divided the DNS gang into two teams, opened some fizz and gave them their first task.
I reviewed John Wilson’s book “Wilson On Wine 2015 – The Wines To Drink This Year” hereand refer to it frequently. For each wine reviewed there are lots of details, especially on the background of the wine, along with a fairly short tasting note. As tasting is such a subjective thing (and taste too, but that’s for another day) I wondered how easy it would be to identify wines from their tasting note alone…
Each team was given a sheet with two columns; the first had ten wine names and the second had ten tasting notes taken from John’s book. Two wines were sparkling, four white and four red. Each column was in alphabetical order and the objective was to match the tasting notes to the correct wine.
Bernhard Ott Fass4 Grüner Veltliner 2013
A superb, light, elegant wine, with piquant dark cherry and blueberry fruits.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut NV
Almond blossoms on the nose; light, elegant, sophisticated crisp green fruits with excellent Minerality. A perennial favourite.
Coca y Fito DO Terra Alta Jaspi Blanc 2012
An exuberant, fresh wine bursting with pineapples and tropical fruits.
Jeio Prosecco DOCG Valdobiadenne Spumante Brut NV
Bracing and herby with an inviting texture and a snappy dry finish.
Kasarí Zorah Areni Noir 2012
Delectably light and tangy but with rosehips and fresh, piquant red fruits. Great with food.
Moric Burgenland Blaufränkish 2012
Fresh pear and peach fruits with a good lively citrus edge
Pieropan Soave Classico 2013
Intriguing, lifted fragrant black cherries with good acidity and a light earthiness, finishing on a smooth note. Different and delicious wine.
Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero 2013
Pure piquant damson fruits, good acidity and a lightly tannic finish. Delicious.
Santa Rita Medalla Real Leyda Valley Chardonnay 2011
Restrained peach and apple fruits with subtle toasted nuts and a core of citrus acidity.
Thymiopolous Naoussa Xinomavro 2013
Succulent ripe fruits cut through with a delicious minerality and great length.
You might want to try this at home. Bear the following hints in mind that were given on the night:
As both columns are in alphabetical order it is possible that a wine may still be lined up opposite its true tasting note, though most aren’t.
The longest tasting note belongs to (probably) the most expensive white wine.
The Prosecco note should be very easy to identify as it nearly always tastes of one particular fruit.
One of the wines includes a colour in its name (though not in English) which is included in the corresponding tasting note (in English).
Yes, most of these hints are fairly esoteric / tenuous / difficult – but that’s how I roll!
ROUND 2 – Call My (Wine) Bluff
For those know aren’t familiar with it, Call My Bluff is a long-running UK game show where celebrity contestants on a team take it in turn to give three definitions of an obscure word, only one of which is correct. The other team then tries to choose the correct definition and discard the bluffs.
The wine version has a similar structure, but instead of word definitions the guessing team has to divine which of three tasting notes they are given match the wine in their glass and their mouth!
For five white wines and three red wines, these are the choices which were proffered:
(A) Famille Bougrier Les Hautes Lieux Vin de France Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(B) José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
(A) Dog Point Section 94 2008
(B) Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
(C) Greywacke Marlborough Wild Sauvignon 2012
(A) Frantz Saumon Minérale+ Montlouis 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
(B) Château Bouscassé Madiran 2007
(C) El Castro de Valtuille Bierzo 2013
(A) Aldi Lot 01 Uco Valley Malbec-Cabernet 2013
(B) Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
(C) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(A) Château Milhau-Lacugue “Les Truffières” Saint Chinian 2010
(B) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(C) Taltarni Heathcote Shiraz 2008
For the guessing team, some of the choices were more difficult if there was a similarity between the choices, e.g. for White 1 there were 2 regions and 2 grapes over 3 wines.
It was actually easiest to bluff when the reader didn’t know if they were giving the note for the correct wine or not! I suppose it is good to know that most people aren’t good liars, even if it’s just for fun.
ROUND 3 – Match the Critic (Encore)
Now the kicker to see if everyone had been paying attention! A double list – similar to that handed out in Round 1 – was given to each team, this time with eight wine names and tasting notes. But these weren’t just any wines taken from John’s book – they were the eight that everyone had tasted in Round 2! So of course, this final round had double points awarded.
Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
A delicious modern style of Bordeaux with light creamy cassis fruits and a smooth easy finish.
Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
A subtle and delectable blend of citrus and green fruits with a touch of honey
Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
Exhilarating precise acidity with pristine green fruits. Inspiring, thrilling wine.
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
Fresh, tangy, lemon and grapefruit, balanced out by clean green fruits, and a dry finish.
Good, deeply satisfying wine with firm, dark ripe fruits and a dry finish.
José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2013
Light toasted nut aromas, fresh textured pineapples fruits and excellent length. Great wine at a very reasonable price.
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches
Lightly toasted notes combined with peaches, almonds and honey. Unusual and perfectly formed.
Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
Succulent and ripe, filled with dark cherry fruits dusted with spices
Blind tasting, even single blind, is difficult. Tasting notes are subjective, and, unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to understand someone else’s when you’re tasting the same wine they had. Context is very important so knowing the background to a wine can give you a lot of clues about why it tastes a certain way and where it’s headed.
So, Marlborough lovers, we did a tour of New Zealand in part one and then cast the Sauvignon Blanc net further in part two. Now we can begin to look at the broader horizon of other grapes in a similar(ish) style. This could run to 20,000 words so I will highlight the main wines that a savvy Savvy lover should try (see what I did there?) and ones which are fairly widely available.
Some of you might be perplexed at seeing Spanish whites mentioned as an alternative to Marlborough Sauvignon, especially given some of the oxidised muck that got produced there in the past. But Spain is probably the most exciting European country for wine at the moment, reinventing itself and applying modern viticultural and wine-making techniques to traditional grapes and areas.
Many of these grapes are indigenous to Spain, and whereas some such as Garnacha and Cariñena were adopted elsewhere in the southern Mediterranean, lots of them remain rooted in España.
So, to begin at the beginning; Rueda is a small principally white wine region between the rugged red regions of Toro and Ribero del Duero. For much of its history it was planted with Jerez’s Palomino Fino grape and a rustic sherry style was made there. A few dry whites were made here and there from the Verdejo grape, but this practice was substantially boosted by the Rioja house Marqués de Riscal and now this is the main output of the region.
I mention Rueda first as a Marlborough alternative for a couple of reasons: firstly, it can be made with Sauvignon Blanc, even as a single varietal (and is usually labelled thus). Secondly, even if made with no SB it can often show plenty of Sauvignon characteristics. Macebeo (aka Viura) is also permitted in the blend.
Which to try? Rueda is one of the most reliable wines around, but some stand out more than others. Telmo Rodroguez’s Basa was the first quality Rueda that turned my head and remains a firm favourite to this day. Marqués de Riscal produce both Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo based wines here, so try both to compare and contrast. A more recent discovery for me in both restaurants and wine merchants was Protos Verdejo – a fine example at a very reasonable price.
Some wines are more known by their appellation, but others (even in the Old World) are better known by their principal grape. Of course in Albariño’s case it could just be that the grape’s name is easier to pronounce for furriners than Rías Baixas, the main appellation in North West Spain where it is grown. For the record it’s pronounced something like ree-ash bye-shass.
And it’s still fairly trendy, which means it can be overpriced, but the good ones are worth it. And like Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes more complex examples are made with lees stirring and time in barrel. For the latter, try something like Pazo Señorans Selección de Añada, or for a more straightforward, younger, example try something by Brandal.
The homeland of this grape is also North West Spain, both in Valdeorras (in Galicia, above Portugal) and Bierzo (just slightly further east, into Castilla Y Leon). Again we have some pioneers to be thankful for.
Valdesilare the biggest vineyard owners and producers. They make four different quality levels, starting with the fresh and simple Montenovo from vines around the Valdeorras area, then the Valdesil Sobre Lias which is more concentrated and has creamy lees characteristics. Next up is Pezas da Portela which (as linguists may guess) is made from individually vinified selected plots of the slate-soiled Portela vineyard. Subtle oak tones add to the complexity. Finally, the Valdesil range topper is Pedrouzos which has their oldest vines (claimed to be three generations old).
Telmo Rodriguez turns up here again (what’s the opposite of a bad penny?) with his Gabo do Xil Godellos. This is and unoaked and refreshing example grown on granite and slate soils.
The King of Godello, if there were such a person, would probably be the quality fanatical Rafael Palacios. His entry level Bolo is made in stainless steel whereas the Louro de Bolo spends four months in tight grained Norman oak foudres – the size means there is little obvious oak flavour imparted to the wine, but subtle oxygenation makes for a smoother wine. Rafa’s top wine, reckoned by many to be the best white wine in Spain, is his As Sortes. Still 100% Godello, but with more concentration and a lick of oak, it will develop over several years.
This is my personal favourite Godello – it isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it!
What this space for more Marlborough Sauvignon alternatives!
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