SuperValu’s French wine sale runs until 20th September, both online and in their stores. Here are a few of their wines which I’ve tried and can heartily recommend:
Domaine de Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes De Grandlieu Sur Lie 2015 (12.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
From the western reaches of the Loire, Muscadet is best known for somewhat neutral flavours and searing acidity – it’s the perfect match for oysters and other shellfish. However, the better vignerons in the area can produce something that offers much more. Based around the Lac de Grandlieu, the subregion of Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu was only established in 1994, almost 60 years after the generic appellation, and represents a fraction of total production.
This has initial notes of tropical fruit (though not over the top), with a touch of creaminess from the time on lees, followed by a long mineral finish. There’s plenty of acidity but it’s not at all austere. Try this instead of a Picpoul!
Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux Du Giennois Alchimie 2015 (13.0%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)
Coteaux du Giennois is a Sauvignon Blanc-only appellation close to the more famous Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire’s central vineyards. Alchimie has been a favourite of mine over the past few vintages, and the 2015 is great. It’s all about the Gs: gooseberry, grapefruit and grass, appealingly fruity in the mouth. It’s definitely French Sauvignon (well this is the French wine sale after all!) but it’s accessible enough to appeal to fans of the grape grown in other countries.
La Vigne Des Sablons Vouvray 2015 (12.0%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)
Third Loire wine, third grape! Vouvray is Chenin Blanc country, and is one of the best places for the grape. Always with Chenin’s intrinsic acidity, it can be still or sparkling and range from austerely dry to very sweet. This version is just off dry – there’s a little residual sugar on the finish if you really look for it, but it’s more about apple fruitinessand balancing the fresh acidity than adding sweetness. At 12.0% the alcohol is fairly modest, which is probably no bad thing when it’s so damned drinkable!
Hommage Du Rhône Vinosobres 2015 (15.0%, €15.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)
Vinsobres is a little known name which is not surprising as it has only existed as an appellation in its own right since 2006. Before that it was part of the second tier of the Rhône wine pyramid as Côtes du Rhône Villages-Vinsobres which gives more of a clue as to its contents – mainly Grenache with support from Syrah and other local grapes.
Black fruit are to the fore: black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant. While the southern Rhône is much more consistent from year to year than, say, Bordeaux or Burgundy, this is from the excellent 2015 vintage and it packs a punch at 15.0%! This is something to buy in the sale and drink on dark winter nights with a hearty stew.
Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store. Here are some more of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:
Quinta da Raza Grande Escolha Vinho Verde 2016 (12.0%, €17.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)
North west “Green” Spain’s best known white wines are probable the Albariños of Rías Baixas (see below). Less well known are the Alvarinhosof northern Portugal, just the other side of the Minho river in the Vinho Verde region. Alvarinho is just one of several local grapes which are often blended to make refreshing, easily approachable young wines. Some of them are a notch or two above that, however, and Quinta da Raza’s Grande Escolha is one of them. This is a blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura, also known as Treixadura in Galicia. Although modest in alcohol (12.0%), it is packed full of flavour – melon and fruit polos! (I shit you not!) great value for money.
The Zarate family have been making wine in the Salnes Valley for over 300 years and have been at the forefront of modern winemaking in the area. This is their “entry level” Albariño, made from vines with an average age of 35 years. It’s made in the normal style – clean, fresh, young, fruity – but is a great example of that style. It shows a variety of citrus: lemon, lime and grapefruit and has a long, clean finish.
Brian Bicknellis regarded as one of the most accomplished winemakers in Marlborough. He did a tour of duty that took him from the antipodes to Hungary, France, Chile and finally back to New Zealand. After five years of planning, Mahi made their first vintage in 2001 and then established their winery in Renwick (pictured above from my visit) in 2006. The grapes come from owned and rented vineyards, currently extending to five varieties (but no Riesling yet, which is a pity!)
This is Mahi’s standard Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s a world away from the Marlborough Sauvignon on offer in the local supermarket – in fact, it’s one of the best examples of straight Sauvignon you can find. It shows grapefruit, gooseberries and cut grass, green but ripe, and wonderfully balanced.
Whereas the regular Sauvignon above is blend from across all Mahi’s vineyards, this is a single vineyard wine, but also a different expression of the grape through different winemaking techniques. The vines are in a north-facing (the warmest aspect in the southern hemisphere) plot close to the edge (hence “Boundary Farm”) of Blenheim. The grapes are handpickedcompared to the normal practice of machine harvesting. They are whole-cluster pressed,fermented with wild yeastin French oak barriques and then matured in the barrel for a further eleven months. The result is a totally different style of wine: smoky, oaky and intense funky flavours over a lemon, lime and orange citrus core. If anything, this 2014 was slightly too smoky on the finish for me, but as it’s only just been released I would expect it to calm down somewhat and integrate more over the coming months and years. Smoked salmon anyone?
Bodegas Zarate Rías Baixas Tras da Viña 2015 (12.5%, €29.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
Tras da Viña is a tiny hillside parcel of only 0.6 hectares, facing south for maximum sunshine. The Albariño vines were replanted in 1965 so they were celebrating their 50th birthday for this vintage. Such age has given the wine a fantastic intensity of flavour, and a very long finish. It is classic Albariño, with a slightly saline edge, but much more than that – lithe and liquid on the tongue. This is a refined wine that would be perfect for delicately flavoured dishes, flattering them rather than overpowering them.
Fourchaumeis generally rated in the top echelon of Chablis’s Premiers Crus, with an easterly aspect that bathes it in the morning sun – this promotes ripeness without overblown alcohol or losing freshness. Domaine Fèvre have 10 hectares in the middle of the Cru, all based on Kimmeridgian limestone. Fermentation and maturation on fine lees take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. This is a grown up Chablis, already very approachable despite the young age. Tangy citrus and mineral notes combine with a delightful texture and sublime poise. Top class Chablis!
After an all white Part 1, here are more of my favourite wines from Febvre’s recent portfolio tasting – fizz, sweet, rosé and red:
Champagne Deutz Brut Classique NV (12.0%, RRP €55.00 at On The Grapevine, Dalkey; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Wine Online)
Classiqueis very apt in the case of this Champagne as it is a blend of equal parts of the 3 classic Champagne grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. I narrowly preferred it to Taittinger’s equivalent NV Brut as it seemed slightly more lifted and elegant. It has a fine mousse when poured then citruson the attack (from Chardonnay) and red fruit on the mid palate (from the Pinots). There’s a lovely creamy leesiness to the body and a crisp, precise finish. For a few quid more this is waaay better than some more famous marques!
Champagne Taittinger Nocturne City Lights Sec NV (12.0%, RRP €58.00 at On The Grapevine, Dalkey; Higgins, Clonskeagh)
The blend for this cuvée is 40% Chardonnay then 30% each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – but it’s the dosagewhich marks it out as different from the Deutz above. Whereas Brut Champagne often has around 10g/L of residual sugar, this Sec has almost twice that at 17.5g/L; the next step up is Demi-sec which is around double that of a Sec. The apparent sweetness of the Nocturne is off-dry; there’s still some crispness and the sugar adds fruitiness and smoothness rather than sugariness. It’s a wine you can drink all night long!
Francois Lurton Les Fumees Blanches Rose Gris de Sauvignon 2016 (12.5%, RRP €24.99 at The Grape Vine, Ballymun; Leopardstown Inn Off Licence; 1601, Kinsale)
No my account hasn’t been hacked and your eyes aren’t deceiving you, this really is a rosé recommendation from yours truly. “But how can a Sauvignon make rosé?” I hear you ask – well it all depends on which Sauvignon is used – and this is a blend of both the familiar Sauvignon Blanc and its less well known sibling Sauvignon Gris. The colour comes from the skins of the latter which are grey~pink, but as they are paler than black grapes usually used to make rosé then they need more maceration time. The grapes are sourced from four different wine regions of France and blended to make a complex, delicious wine. It has lovely soft and inviting strawberry flavours, but with a slight edge to stop it being flabby.
Delas Freres Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2015 (15.0%, RRP €15.95 (half bottle) at On The Grapevine, Dalkey)
This is a fortified sweet wine which has been made in the southern Rhône for two thousand years! It is classed as a Vin Doux Naturel, literally a “Natural Sweet Wine”, meaning that its sweetness all comes from the original grapes. 95º grape spirit is added part way through fermentation, killing the yeast and leaving plenty of residual sugar. Of the hundreds of different Muscats (and Moscatos, Moscatels, Muskatellers etc.) only two can be used: Muscat blanc à petits grains and Muscat rouge à petits grains, both of which (obviously if you speak French) have small berries, and thus have more intense flavour.
De Bortoli Deen de Bortoli Vat 5 Botrytis Semillion 2009 (11.0%, RRP €13.75 (half bottle) at Wine Online)
De Bortoli’s Noble One stands as one of the best sweet wines in the world, so I was interested to try its “baby brother” named after the second generation of the family (and first to be born in Australia) Deen De Bortoli. It pours a lovely goldencolour and has the distinctive honeyand mushroombotrytis notes on the nose. On the palate it has an amazing intensity of flavour – honey and stone fruit with a touch of carameland ginger. It’s rich and sweet but not cloying, with a fantastic long finish.
Finca del Marquesado Rioja Crianza 2014 (13.5%, RRP €14.95 (though currently in restaurants only))
Whereas many Bodegas in Rioja source grapes and even wines from a multitude of growers, this wine from respected producer Bodegas Valdemar is made on a single Finca, or farm. After several years of planning and preparation, the vines were planted in 1984 in a fairly classic proportions: 70% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha and 5% Graciano. Being a Crianza means it has spent at two years or more maturing, at least a year of which must be in oak barrels – I would guess closer to 18 months in oak from the nose…it smells like a Médoc chaito me! (which is a good thing by the way). It’s still on the young side but has intense red and black fruit flavours with smoky oak notes.
Wine importer Febvre has operated in Ireland for over 50 years, representing some big brands and others not as well known. Here is a selection of the wines I enjoyed at their recent tasting event:
Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Blanc 2016 (11.5%, RRP €13.50 at Malthouse, Trim; Grapevine, Ballymun; Ennis Gourmet Store)
If the image on the bottle doesn’t give away its origin, then the name of the wine certainly does – Le Petit Gascoûn comes from Gascony in South West France. The white is a blend of Colombardand Ugni Blanc – the latter rarely seen in a table wine in France, though it’s a mainstay of Armagnac and Cognac. It’s a highly aromatic wine with peach, pineappleand lychees on the nose, with those notes continuing on the palate, rounded off by a fresh, crisp finish. Fantastic value for money.
Herdade de Esporão Monte Velho Alentejo Branco 2015 (13.5%, RRP €13.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; 1601, Kinsale)
As with many Portuguese wines, unless you’re very familiar with the country’s wines you might not have heard of the constituent grapes of this wine: Antão Vaz, Roupeiroand Perrum. I assure you that they are genuine grape names and not just a lot of randomly assembled letters! (Plus, Perrum is the Portuguese name for Andalusia’s PedroXiménez.) There’s lots of texture and flavour here, stone fruits with a herbal edge. It’s pleasant drinking on its own, but I’d imagine wonderful with tarragon chicken.
Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé 2015 (13.0%, RRP €29.95 at Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown; Jus de Vin, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St)
On the opposite site of the Loire from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé isn’t quite as famous and is only around half the size. For me, the wines of Pouilly-Fumé are more consistent, however, possibly due to fewer négotiants trading on the reputation of the appellation rather than the quality of their wine. Château de Tracy is a serious contender for best producer on the right bank, and this wine shows why: supple, concentrated fruit with no hard edges, full of fresh grapefruit and gooseberry. Just delicious!
Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; Lilac Wines, Fairview)
Tucked out of the way just south east of Blenheim, Lawson’s Dry Hills is one of Marlborough’s relatively unheralded family wineries, but produces some excellent wines – I’m still holding on to my last few bottles of their 2008 Chardonnay which is stunning. Their Riesling has been a firm favourite of mine for at least a decade. This 2014 is developing nicely and, while still showing primary lime, lemon and elderflower notes, is also starting to give some lovely petrol aromas. Just off-dry with 8.2g/L of residual sugar, it’s a lovely summer tipple on its own or with plenty of different recipes.
d’Arenberg the Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2015 (13.1%, RRP €16.95 at O’Briens Wines; Gerrys, Skerries; SuperValu; Egans, Portlaoise; Bradleys, Cork)
d’Arenberg are one of the few McLaren Vale producers who use traditional basket presses and other traditional techniques for gentler handling of the fruit and therefore better wine. The Hermit Crab is from their “Originals” range and is a blend of two white Rhône grapes; 58% Viognier and 42% Marsanne for the 2015 vintage. While the Viognier is the senior partner in the blend, it doesn’t dominate the wine with overblown floweriness and oiliness (though some might like that) due to the cool fermentation process which reins in those aspects. It has tangy peachand apricotwith subtle nuts, herbsand spice. Well worth a try if you fancy something different!
Jordan Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50 at Martins, Fairview & Londis, Malahide)
Somewhat confusingly there are two prominent Jordans – Jordan Wine Estate of Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Jordan Vineyard & Winery of Alexander Valley (California). This is most definitely the former, run by husband and wife team Gary and Kathy Jordan since 1993. They also produce an unoaked Chardonnay which is nice, but this is the real McCoy, the full Monty, the..[ok I’ll stop there] of which 92% is fermented in Burgundian 228L pièces (the remainder tank fermented). The wine was also matured for nine months in a mixture of barrels (45% new, 30% second-fill and 25% third-fill) for texture as well as flavour. It’s not over the top, but it is fairly oaky – and I love it! there’s plenty of buttered toast from the the oak but also pineapple and racy citrus flavours – a well balanced wine!
Well let me be the first to put my hand up and say that I don’t know Burgundy – though I’m trying! Given the sizeable tomes that are published seemingly every year, Burgundy is a complicated wine area that gets a lot of attention – it certainly takes up the most space in on my book shelves.
Though fairly simple in terms of grape varieties – as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir make up the vast proportion of plantings – Burgundy is a complex wine region in terms of appellations – there were 83 at the last count*. In an attempt to simplify the story for the average wine drinker, Burgundy is often broken down into the main sub-regions – see Phil My Glass’s Beginners’ Guide to Burgundy article.
Some commentators focus on the most celebrated Burgundy wines – those from the Côte d’Or – and pass over Chablis, the Côte Chalonnaise and the Maconnais. Of course the elephant in the room is Beaujolais and its Gamay reds, which are part of Burgundy according to some criteria, but are usually considered distinct from the rest.
Here are some wines from less-celebrated appellations within Burgundy – mostly generously donated by Nomad Wine Importers apart from the Saint-Bris which was kindly brought direct from the vineyard by Tony & Liz of DNS Wineclub.
Most wine drinkers have, of course, heard of Chablis, but far less well known is the larger area within which Chablis is situated – the Basse-Bourgogne. There are some reds up here – Irancyis an AOC producing light, delicate Pinot Noir (try M&S’s Irancy as an example of the style) – but white grapes are the majority, and apart from a few rows of Sacythat means Chardonnayand Sauvignon!
In 1850 there were 40,000 hectares of vineyards compared with around 7,500 in 2015 – there’s lots more potential in the area!
Auxerreis the largest town in the Yonne, with Chablis very close. Grapes from the hills around Auxerre qualify for their own appellation, which still (helpfully) has Bourgogne at the beginning for easier recognition by more casual drinkers. As with Chablis, the wines are 100% Chardonnay.
Based in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Guilhem (son) and Jean-Hugues (father) Boisot are known as the “Popes of Saint-Bris” for their outstanding local wines. They are certified organic and biodynamic, believing that high quality wines are only possible with meticulous care in the vineyard.
This Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre is flinty, smoky and fresh – it would stand up against pretty much any AOC Chablis I have tasted.
Domaine Sorin DeFrance Saint-Bris Sauvignon 2014(12.0%, bought at winery)
After promotion up from VDQS status in 2003, this is the only Sauvignon (Blanc and Gris) based AOC / AOP within Burgundy, based around the town of Saint-Bris-le-Vineaux.
Domaine Sorin DeFrance is the result of the marriage of Henry Sorin and Madeleine DeFrance, though the Sorin family have been making wine since 1577. Their Saint-Bris is 100% Sauvignon – I presume Sauvignon Blanc, though you never know. It is far more expressive than many French Sauvignons, showing notes of grass, nettles, elderflower, lychees and garden mint.
Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2014(12.5%, RRP €20 from: Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Lilac Wines, Redmonds, Mortons and SIYPS)
Although a traditional grape of Burgundy, as it has long been considered second class to Chardonnay, Aligotéwas relegated to inferior sites (just like Barberain Piedmont and Sylvanerin Alsace), and became something of a bulk wine where yields were more important than quality. Acidity was so fierce in those wines that local crème de cassis was often added to tame it, and thus the kircocktail was invented.
The search for something new (even if old) and authenticity has reawakened interest in Aligoté – especially when they are simply superb wines such as this one from Domaine Goisot. Although Bourgogne Aligoté can be made all over Burgundy, Goisot’s vines are in the Yonne. It has floral aromas and spicy pear flavours, all delivered with refreshing – but not austere – acidity.
Côte d’Or – Côte de Beaune
A simple rule of thumb is that many of the best red Burgundies come from the Côte de Nuits and the best whites are often found in the Côte de Beaune. Together they make up the Côte d’Or and have all but one of Burgundy’s Grand Cru AOCs. But to the west of the posh addresses of Beaune and on the top of the the main Côte d’Or escarpment is the appellation Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune.
Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune La Justice 2014(12.5%, €21 at Redmonds, Donnybrook Fair and SIYPS)
The Billards (not Billiards!) are based in Rochepot close to Beaune and have 17 hectares spread over 12 different appellations, both red and white. This wine is from the lieu-dit (or named vineyard) La Justice and is both fermented and matured in oak barrels, though the latter is mainly older oak. It is very approachable and drinkable now but has the structure and texture to develop over the coming five to ten years.
The Beaujolais wine area was legally attached to the Burgundy wine area though a civil case in 1930, reinforced by the decree in 1937 which created the Burgundy AOC. While arguments for an against continue, I’ll just concentrate on the wine – in particular the rare whites. Chardonnayis the principal white variety with small amounts of Aligoté, Melon(de Bourgogne, the Muscadetgrape) and Pinot Gris also planted.
Domaine des Nugues Beaujolais-Villages Blanc 2015(13.0%, RRP €18 at Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Martin’s Off licence and SIYPS)
In the northern marches of Beaujolais there has always been some overlap with the most southerly villages of the Maconnais, the most southerly region of Burgundy “proper”, but this is bona fide real-deal Beaujolais-Villages Blanc. Of course the -Villages part means that it is above standard Beaujolais but not made in one of the Crucommunes.
Gérard Gelin took over the domaine from his father in 1976, and now runs it as a joint venture with his son Gilles. They have 36 ha in total of which over 20 is in Beaujolais-Villages.
This wine is 100% Chardonnay from young vines, with some lees ageing to add character and texture. It’s quite floral on the nose then mainly citrus on the palate.
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.
As a wine drinker, it’s always good to revisit favourites – might they have changed, or my palate? The familiar offers reassurance and a chance to recalibrate.
Here is one of my favourite Marlborough Sauvignons that I have tasted regularly over the past decade – can’t wait to see how the next vintage tastes!
Disclosure:sample kindly provided for review
Astrolabe Marlborough “Province”Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.5%, €19.95 down to €15.95, O’Briens)
This is the standard Sauvignon from Simon Waghorn and team at Astrolabe, formerly known as “Voyage” but now dubbed “Province” to reflect the fact that it is a blend of fruit from different Marlborough sub-regions.
Compared to some Marlborough SBs it is on the savoury side, with a little fruit sweetness on the mid palate but a very dry finish rather than the tropical flourish of some. The technical notes show it has only 1.4 g/L of residual sugar which bears out the subjective style.
The main notes of this 2015 are green bell pepper, gooseberryand grapefruit– there’s a definite tartness to it which would make it fantastic with salad or seafood. If drinking on its own I’d recommend taking it out of the fridge for 20 – 30 minutes before opening. This wine really hits the spot!
Now it’s the turn for white wines to shine – here are ten of the best still dry whites which shone in 2016:
10. Feudo Luparello Sicilia Grillo – Viognier 2015
A novel blend of indigenous Sicilian and international grapes, this wine is more than the sum of its parts. Local Grillo is fresh and textured, more dry than fruity, whereas Viognier adds a voluptuous touch. This is how blended wines should work!
See herefor the full review (and the Nero d’Avola – Syrah blend!)
9. Nugan Estate Riverina Dreamer’s Chardonnay
A “supermarket wine” made from “unfashionable” Chardonnay in a region known for its bulk wines, on paper this wine should be pap – but it works, in fact it works a treat! In Ireland (at least) the main parameter for wine consumers in supermarkets in price, especially if a promotional offer is involved. Given the high rates of duty and tax squeezing the cost side of the equation it’s not easy to find everyday wines that are actually enjoyable (though plenty are drinkable).
Nugan Estate’s “Personality” Single Vineyard series ticks all the boxes for me, and this was narrowly my favourite of the lot. See herefor my review of the full range.
Although the label might look like an impressionist’s take on Health & Efficiency, the wine inside is fantastic – great with seafood, but gentle and fruity enough to be enjoyed on its own. If only all Albariños were this good!
The “other” white grape of Burgundy (ignoring the small amounts of Pinots Blanc and Gris) which is definitely a second class citizen, and is so poor on its own that the Kir cocktail was invented to find a palatable use for it – or so the received wisdom goes.
There’s some element of truth in this, but Aligoté is usually grown on less-favoured sites and with a focus on yields rather than flavour, so it takes a brave producer to break out of this cycle and give the grape the attention it deserves. The Goisot family are such a producer, based in the Sauvignon Blanc outpost of Saint-Bris. This Aligoté is unlike any other I have tasted – it actually has colour unlike most which are like pale water, and an intensity of white flower and spicy pear flavours which reveal the age of the vines.
6. Gaia Wild Ferment Santorini Assyrtiko 2013
When I put together a “wild” wine tasting for DNS Wine Club last year, there were a few obvious candidates that couldn’t possibly be missed from the line-up – this being one of them. I had recommended it several times in the past so I was hoping it would live up to its reputation – especially tasted blind – and it certainly did! Overall this was the favourite wine of the tasting, showing the funky flavours of wild yeast fermentation but still plenty of lovely citrus fruit and crisp acidity.
5. Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016
A common complaint levelled at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – and Marlborough in particular – is that “they all taste the same”. There is some truth in this – the aromatics are generally recognisable before the first glass has even been poured and they are never short of acidity – but if you taste different examples side by side then there are clear differences. The alternative styles of SB are another thing, of course, with wild yeast barrel fermentation and oak ageing used to make a different type of wine (see this article for more information).
4. Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
This isn’t a wine for everybody, but it’s a wine everybody should try at least once. Based mainly on Listan Blanco grapes from ten plots in Tenerife’s Valle de La Orotava, it’s so different that at first it’s hard to describe using everyday wine terms – it’s not fruity or buttery – perhaps nutty and waxy? Sounds strange, but it’s an interesting and very enjoyable wine.
3. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2014
Domaine Zinck’s Portrait Series wines are fine examples of regular AOC Alsace wines and show the town of Eguisheim in a good light. Take the step up to the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, however, and you move into different territory; not just in terms of the elevation of the vines, but a much more intense catalogue of aromas and flavours. Even a young example such as this 2014 is delightful, but with the capacity to age for a decade or two and continue developing.
2. Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011
Narrowly pipping its countryman, Sipp-Mack’s Grand Cru Riesling is from another exalted site: the Rosacker vineyard near Hunawihr, in between Ribeauvillé (where Trimbach is based) and Riquewihr (home to Hugel). It has both primary fruit and mineral notes, and performs fantastically at the table.
For such a stunning wine it is relatively inexpensive at around €30 retail. See herefor the full review.
1. Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014
When I have favourite wines that I taste regularly over the years, I try not to repeat myself too much in my Top 10 review articles. Given that I am lucky enough to taste several thousand wines over the course of an average year, it’s not such a difficult line to take…apart from M3!! The 2014 is still very young, but it’s a delight to drink now. Adelaide Hills is now possibly second to Tasmania for trendy cooler climate Aussie wines, but for me it’s still number one.
Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time. Here is a selection of my favourites:
Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)
I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed. Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did! I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side. More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.
Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)
This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent. If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.
La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)
This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world. It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!
Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)
Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer? This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now. Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate. Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!
Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)
This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family. At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes. Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!
Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)
When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas. They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is). Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla, all in a soft and cosseting package. Get in!
Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)
This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux. The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs). It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak! More info here.
Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)
Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.
There are lots of trends in wine which compete for our attention at the moment – orange wines, natural wines, organic, biodynamic, lutte raisonnée, skin contact, wild ferment, pet-nat, and many more. Some are almost interchangeable and some are ill-defined.
Against this backdrop, many producers continue to improve quality by taking care in the vineyard, first and foremost, and allowing the terroir to be expressed in the wine. One of the key ways of doing this is to use “wild” yeast, i.e. the yeast which occurs naturally in the vineyard, rather than commercial or cultured yeast.
Here are two wild yeast fermented wines from France which I tried recently:
Domaine des Chezelles Touraine Sauvignon 2015 (12.5%, €13.85 at Wines Direct)
Touraine Sauvignon is a banker for me, always fresh and fruity, great value for money…in a word, reliable. Although this might sound like damning with faint praise, it isn’t; while not hitting the heights of Loire neighbours Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, it’s the appellation I actually buy the most of.
Domaine des Chezelles practises wild yeast fermentation and organic techniques but haven’t been certified (which can be an expensive process). They’re using organic methods because they think it’s the right thing to do, rather than a sales tool.
In the glass it’s recognisably a Touraine Sauvignon, with lots of pleasant green flavours – gooseberry, grapefruit, green pepper and grass – but more exuberantly fruity than the norm. Drink as an aperitif or with dishes containing asparagus or shellfish.
Château La Baronne Corbières “Les Chemins” 2013 (14.5%, €22.75 at Wines Direct)
Corbières was one of the first Languedoc appellations that I became familiar with, but quality has certainly increased over the past 20 years or so. The reds (which are over 90% of all Corbières wines produced) are generally a blend composed of some or all of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault – what I call GSM-CC.
Les Chemins (“The Paths” or “The Ways”) is particularly interesting as it’s a naturally-produced wine from Corbières, but can’t be labelled as “natural” because of the sulphur levels – though no sulphur is added, the amount which occurs naturally is just over the threshold. The blend is Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvère – the Lignères Family who own the Château are particularly fond of Carignan so it is the biggest component of the wine.
On pouring the wine has a wonderfully fruity nose – fruits of the forest in particular. On the palate there are wondrous red and (mainly) black fruits – red and black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant. It’s the sort of wine that autumn really calls for!