Which makes better Sauvignon Blanc, the Loire Valley or Marlborough?
The Loire versus Marlborough debate about which region makes the best Sauvignon Blanc will rumble on for years to come, with each side proclaiming victory. The Loirists can point to the fact that they have the original home of Sauvignon Blanc and the famous duo (amongst others) of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Marlboroughites may boast that very few people even knew what Sauvignon Blanc was before they started making it a world famous variety, and no other region can rival their Savvy’s aromatics.
Domaine Henri Bourgeois and Clos Henri
On the sidelines we have Sancerre based producer Domaine Henri Bourgeois, now in the capable hands of the tenth generation of winemakers, who has ventured down to Aotearoa to establish their own take on Marlborough Sauvignon, Clos Henri. It was set up in Marlborough’s most popular subregion, Wairau Valley, which has greywacke (whence Kevin Judd’s outfit takes its name) soil, essentially gravels and pebbles laid down over millennia by the wandering Wairau river. Viticulture is practising, but not certified, organic
Clos Henri has six wines, three whites (Sauvignon Blanc) and three reds (Pinot Noir) with three labels each:
Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc: 8 – 13 year old vines on greywacke
Bel Echo Sauvignon Blanc: 9 – 13 year old vines on clay
Petit Clos Sauvignon Blanc: 3 – 7 year old vines on greywacke and clay
Clos Henri Pinot Noir: 8 – 13 year old vines on clay
Bel Echo Pinot Noir: 8 – 13 year old vines on greywacke
Petit Clos Pinot Noir: 3 – 7 year old vines on clay and greywacke
Note how greywacke is the optimum soil for Sauvignon and clay for Pinot.
Clos Henri “Petit Clos” Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019
As you can ascertain from the information above, Petit Clos Sauvignon Blanc is made using young vines predominantly grown on greywacke soil. Following Sancerre practices, vines are planted close together to make them compete for nutrients and encourage them to focus their energy on producing fruit more than foliage. Clos Henri is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks to best preserve aromatics, but it also enjoys three months of bâtonnage which both helps preserve the wine and gives it a creamy, rounded texture.
The noses shows grassy aromas (harking back to Sancerre again), plus citrus notes such as lime and grapefruit. These continue onto the palate where they are joined by some lighter tropical notes – pineapple and passionfruit. This wine has a dry finish and excellent length. It is far more elegant than the vast majority of Marlborough Sauvignons, and that’s where the Bourgeois family’s Loire expertise comes into play – it really is the best of both worlds.
September 2021 sees the introduction of a new batch of wines to Lidl Ireland shelves. Some have been there before but not on a permanent basis; the idea is that a special batch of wines are released into stores and once they are gone, they are gone. Some eventually become regular listed wines and are available all year round.
Here are two whites that I tried recently and enjoyed:
Blume Rueda Verdejo 2020
Rueda is a region in central / NW Spain that is best known for white wines made from the Verdejo grape. However, there are almost a dozen permitted varieties:
Traditional white varieties: Verdejo, Viura, Sauvignon blanc, Palomino Fino
Newly approved white varieties: Chardonnay, Viognier
Authorised black varieties: Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Garnacha.
The cheapest Ruedas can be a little too simple, but this example is simply delicious – full of citrus and ripe stone fruits, all coalescing into a lip-smackingly tasty wine that will be finished quickly. This is probably the best Rueda I’ve tried under €13 in Ireland.
Stockists:Lidl Ireland stores
Château Jourdan Bordeaux Blanc 2019
White Bordeaux is an under-rated wine category in my opinion, all the way from AOC Bordeaux like this one, Entre-Deux-Mers, Graves and the top wines of Pessac-Léognan which can rival the Grand Crus of Burgundy for complexity and excellence. There are actually a good number of permitted varieties in white Bordeaux:
Common traditional grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle
New introductions: Alvarinho, Petit Manseng, Liliorila
Although Semillon is still the most widely planted white grape, Sauvignon Blanc is catching up fast, especially for unoaked dry whites where freshness is a key virtue.
The assemblage of this wine isn’t given but I’d hazard a guess at 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. It’s highly aromatic with grapefruit, gooseberry and grass on the nose (the 3 Gs of SB) along with some quince and stone fruit. The palate is fresh with tangy, succulent citrus fruit.
This is a well-made, inexpensive, everyday drinking wine. It’s the sort of wine that would be perfect with a salad at luncheon (especially with its modest 11.5% ABV), as an aperitif with nibbles or as an accompaniment to seafood.
Stockists:Lidl Ireland stores
I was very taken with the Château Jourdan and it offers great value at a tenner, but the Bloom Rueda was even tastier in my opinion – and at a Euro less it should be snapped up.
Other wines included in the Lidl Ireland September Wine Cellar
Les Caves Gilles Gobin Touraine Sauvignon 2019 (€9.99)
Limited edition wines from Spain and Portugal at Lidl Ireland
Once again a new batch of limited release wines are going to be released into Lidl Ireland stores. The majority are red, plus one sweet white and two dry whites reviewed here. The others are listed at the bottom of this article.
Nivei Rioja Blanco 2018
White Rioja is traditionally mainly Viura, the same grape known as Macabeo in Catalonia, but since 2007 it can be made with up to nine different varieties:
Traditional varieties:Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca
Newly allowed local varieties:Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco and Turruntés
New non-local varieties:Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo
In finest Countdown Numbers Game fashion, this wine is made with one from the top row, two from the middle row and three from the bottom row (all in blue), though percentages were not available.
I have to be honest and admit that I committed a schoolboy error tasting this wine; on a warm, muggy day I poured myself a big glass from the fridge and sipped away. Of course it was nicely chilled, but far too chilled for tasting – it showed very little on the nose or the palate, but it was pleasant enough so I just mentalled tagged it as an inexpensive, inoffensive white wine. However, as I’d left the bottle out of the fridge, when I poured another glass the wine had opened up considerably! Aromas of citrus and stone fruit held my attention, then those notes followed through as flavours on the palate, lovely and tangy. For €9 it’s well worth a try.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Encostas de Caiz Vinho Verde 2019
Vinho Verde is the northern Portuguese wine region famous for its young (literally “green”) fresh whites. Around one in seven bottles is actually red, though they are seldom seen in Ireland or the UK. Vinho Verde has nine sub-regions, though it is rare to see their names on bottles apart from the most prestigious Monção e Melgaço.
The white grapes used in the region are classed as either “recommended” or “permitted” varieties:
Recommended white grapes:Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Batoca, Loureiro, and Trajadura
Permitted white grapes: Branco-Escola, Cainho de Moreira, Cascal, Douradinha, Esganinho, Esganoso de Castelo de Paiva, Esganoso de Lima, Fernão Pires, Lameiro, Rabigato, S. Mamede and Semilão
This wine helpfully gives the single variety on the front label – Avesso – and states the sub-region on the back label – Amarante. Avesso is known for its ability to produce higher than average alcohol for Vinho Verde, substantial body yet with good acidity. This example is true to form, being clean and fresh yet with plenty of oomph behind its stone and citrus fruits. There’s also a nice mineral streak which makes this much more complex than many of the wines available at Lidl. This is a must try summer white.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Other wines included in the event
Vespral Reserva Terra Alta 2016 €7.99
Fincas del Lebrel Rioja Reserva 2015 €12.99
Cardal Tejo 2019 €7.99
Pinha do Ribeiro Santa Dão 2019 €9.99
Saumur Champigny 2019 €9.99
Château Calvimont Graves 2018 €11.99
Domaine Tournants Lirac 2019 €11.99
How To Avoid Everything Western Cape Merlot €9.99 (South Africa)
Chloe California Pinot Noir 2019 €11.99 (USA)
Luna de Finca la Anita Grand Reserve Malbec €8.99 (Argentina)
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is an international success story, much aped by other wine regions to differing levels of success. Of course the wines are not a homogenous whole, with quality and style varying from producer to producer. So how do you find a good one? Of course you will get good advice at your local independent merchant, but there are also some crackers outside that. Whitehaven’s “Greg” is one of the best I’ve tasted in recent years, but first some context:
Marlborough and its Subregions
Marlborough has three main subregions:
Wairau Valley – mainly flat with gravelly soil, this is archetypal Sauvignon Blanc country. Meets the ocean to the east at Cloudy Bay, so eastern vineyards have more of a maritime influence.
Southern Valleys – as the plural suggests, this is a collect of several small valleys: Omaka, Fairhall, Brancott, Ben Morvan and Waihopai Valleys. Steeper sites, especially those on clay soils, are prized for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other varieties.
Awatere Valley – the furthest south of the three with cooler, often elevated sites that produce some Pinot Noir but especially a distinctive style of Sauvignon Blanc – easily distinguishable in a blind tasting.
After hauling anchor in Marlborough Sounds while weather a storm on their yacht, Greg and Sue White decided to set down roots and plant a vineyard in Marlborough. Whitehaven was therefore stablished in 1994 and was run by the couple until Greg’s untimely death in 2007. From that year the “Greg” label was affixed to special releases of Sauvignon Blanc and then Pinot Noir.
Whitehaven’s grapes come from 30 vineyards totalling 575 hectares across the three subregions. They can be classed as three different types: estate owned, estate managed and contract growers. The estate owned and managed vineyards are just under 40% of the total.
Since Greg’s passing Sue has been supported by a team of winemakers, viticulturalists and office staff. Peter Jackson (no, not that one) is Chief Winemaker, Diana Katardzhieva is Senior Winemaker & Production Manager, Rowan Langdon is Winemaker and Jess Wilson is Viticulturist. Sue and Greg’s daughter Samantha joined the firm as Process Improvement Manager with her husband Josh as Sustainability Manager. Whitehaven therefore remains very much a family affair.
Whitehaven Wine Ranges
Whitehaven make four distinct ranges, all from Marlborough fruit. Wines in blue and bold are available in Ireland from O’Briens.
Mansion House Bay
Named after the place where Greg proposed to Sue, these are fun, everyday drinking wines.
Pinot Noir Rosé
Named after the Māori for “gift” or “contribution”, these wines are made by Whitehaven in partnership with LegaSea, a “non-profit organisation that works tirelessly to protect and restore New Zealand’s coastal fisheries.”
Lighter Sauvignon Blanc
Pinot Noir Rosé
This is the senior full range of wines which are “a powerful, elegant and consistent expression of Marlborough’s classical wine styles”.
Whitehaven “Greg” Awatere Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2020
How special a single vineyard wine can depend on the size of the vineyard – some are mahoosive! However, in the case of Greg Sauvignon Blanc the grapes are sourced from the Peter family’s Alton Downs Vineyard, just off the Awatere Valley Road. The vines are all mass selection clones in East-West row orientation are were machine-harvested on the evening of 30th March 2020. Note that harvesting by machine is preferred for Sauvignon Blanc as it tends to promote better quality.
Once picked the grapes were destemmed and pressed gently to minimise contact with the skins. The juice was left to settle at low temperatures then cool fermented – with specially selected cultured yeasts – in stainless steel tanks.
In the glass this wine is a very pale straw yellow with green tints. The nose is complex, with green notes of grapefruit, gooseberry and fresh (not tinned!) asparagus, along with herbs, mangetout and a mineral streak. The aromas continue through onto the palate which is beautifully balanced, poised between fruit sweetness, tangy green notes and fresh acidity. This wine was the absolute standout at an Aromatics virtual tasting I held with friends a few months ago and is destined to be a regular tipple chez Frankly Wines.
What’s the best inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc from SuperValu? Here are four Sauvignons from the current SuperValu sale, from four different countries: France, Australia, Chile and Argentina.
La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc 2019: The minerally one
It’s rather fitting that the producer of this wine is named after a stone quarry in Sancerre as it has a wonderful mineral streak through its core. Yes there are plenty of citrus notes too – lemon, lime and grapefruit – but they are along for the journey rather than being the destination themselves. This is a fresh style of Sauvignon Blanc that has more than a passing resemblance to a dry Alsace Riesling, which is obviously a positive in my book!
“Sauv Block” is some sort of pun on Prison Block / Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s fairly weak (yes, this is me saying this!) I’ve already covered the 19 Crimes Red Wine and its unusual packaging, so this time we will just consider the wine inside. It has some of the typical grapefruit and gooseberry notes on the nose but there are also more soft and tropical fruit aromas. The palate reflects this, with melon and pineapple alongside the green fruits.
The 19 Crimes SB doesn’t have the zing and freshness of a typical SB. I haven’t tasted enough Aussie single varietal Sauvignons to compare it to, but this wine seems almost like it’s made with a different grape variety – something like Godello – though I’m sure it’s not. In short, this is a Sauvignon Blanc for people who don’t normally go for this variety as they find it too sharp – but there’s nothing wrong with that! Well chilled it is fine for sipping in the sun.
Cepas Privadas Sauvignon Blanc 2019: The herby one
Most wine drinkers will be familiar with Argentina’s signature black grape Malbec and the largest wine region in the country, Mendoza. As Mendoza is principally a warm wine region it may surprise some to learn that it has cooler parts, cool enough to be suitable for Sauvignon Blanc.
The nose is initially all about green pepper and herbs, with touches of green fruits in the background. The palate is fresh and zippy, with a core of minerality around which citrus and herbs are wrapped. I don’t think this wine lives up to the normal RRP of €18, but for €8 it represents very good value.
Aresti Estate Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2020: The grapefruity one
Sauvignon Blanc is one of the key varieties for Chile, especially in Ireland where it is available in pretty much every supermarket, convenience store and off-licence. Hailing from Curicó Valley, Aresti are a family business with several ranges within their portfolio; Estate Selection appears to be their entry level for the Irish market.
It ticks all the boxes you’d expect from an inexpensive SB, but it’s key attribute is drinkability. It’s not going to challenge Sancerre or Marlborough but it’s a very pleasant drop for mid week or even the weekend.
These are obviously inexpensive wines which are for everyday drinking rather than a special treat. The 19 Crimes is noticeably different in style, but has its place. The other three are quite similar and very reasonable wines for sipping outside on a warm summer’s day (if we see one this year in Ireland!) – it comes down to small differences in flavours, aromas and drinkability. On that basis, my narrow favourite is the best all-rounded, the Aresti Estate Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2020.
When it comes to naming New Zealand’s wine regions, the significant region which is most often forgotten or overlooked is North Canterbury, close to the major city of Christchurch on the South Island. North Canterbury includes the sub-region of Waipara which is more often seen on wine labels (though not to be confused with Wairarapa which is at the bottom of the North Island and includes Martinborough). I’m not sure why Canterbury is overlooked – perhaps because it doesn’t specialise in Sauvignon Blanc? – but some great wines are made here.
Not too dissimilar to Marlborough which is further north on the South Island, Waipara is situated in the rain- (and wind-) shadow of the Southern Alps and is close to the sea, giving temperate summers with cool nights and dry autumns which allow grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness as their own pace. The most important varieties here are Riesling and Pinot Noir, though other aromatic whites and Chardonnay also do well.
To show how the terms can be used interchangeably, note that the sign above mentions Waipara whereas the website banner states “Fine North Canterbury Wine” under “Pegasus Bay”
Background to Pegasus Bay
It started with a doctor reading a book. The doctor was Neurologist Ivan Donaldson and the book was one of Hugh Johnson’s wine books, “Wine”, given to him by his then girlfriend Christine. The book lit a fire within him; he journeyed round many of Europe’s well-established wine regions, and on his return he planted Canterbury’s first vines in 1976. This first vineyard was in Mountain View, just south west of Christchurch, and was very experimental in nature. Ivan managed to fit in his wine hobby in between hospital and private consulting work.
Almost a decade later, Ivan and Chris decided to make the jump from a hobby to a proper enterprise. By now they had four sons, so it was a combined family effort to plant vines in the Waipara Valley. They named their winery Pegasus Bay after the large bay running from the City of Canterbury up to the mouth of the Waipara River.1
The first vintage was 1991 which Ivan made in his garage. The family gradually expanded the winery, cellar door, restaurant and gardens. All four sons are now involved in the winery, with the eldest – Matthew, a Roseworthy graduate – being chief winemaker. As well as estate wines under the Pegasus Bay label the Donaldsons also make Main Divide wines from bought in fruit.
Pegasus Bay Wine Styles and Philosophy
In a nutshell, Pegasus bay wines have something of a Burgundian sensibility but they reflect Waipara and the vintage in which they are made. In a interview that Ed Donaldson gave for the Wine Zealand Project2 in 2016 he expounds the family’s philosophy:
So what drives us is – hopefully – making better wine all the time
One of the advantages [we have is that] my brother Matt’s taken over the winemaking so he has a lot of time to experiment, and to tweak, and to change, and see the wines age, and the vines getting some vine age, and just seeing what works and what doesn’t work, and continually trying to evolve and make better wine.
Our winemaking style is to be true to ourselves, not trying to emulate anything. We have a lot of respect for the old world and its wine styles. We as a family drink a lot of wine from all over the world but we’re not necessarily trying to emulate them, we’re trying to make the best example of what we think expresses the region and the season as best we can. Trying not to follow trends, we try to make the best wine we can and find a home for it.
We’ve been members of the Sustainable Winegrowers Programme pretty much since its inception, and we make wine as naturally as possible.
Pegasus Bay Wine Ranges
There are two main ranges, Estate and Reserve. The Estate wines are (obviously) made only with their own fruit, and although they are perhaps the junior wines in the Pegasus Bay portfolio they are not what you or I would call “entry level”, which has connotations of lower quality, simpler wines for drinking very young. Make no mistake, the Estate wines are seriously good.
The Reserve range is a significant step up again, in both quality and corresponding prices. This range includes two botrytis sweet wines; a Semillon Sauvignon blend reminiscent of Sauternes and a Riesling which evokes the Rhine. The Reserve wines are named with an operatic theme as Chris Donaldson is an opera devotee.
The Vengence range has just two experimental wines whose composition varies from year to year. They are totally different in style from the main two ranges; they are fun and quirky rather than being serious. They give the winemakers the opportunity to play around with different vineyard and winery choices that they couldn’t just jump into with the main ranges.
Reserve: Bel Canto Dry Riesling, Aria Late Picked Riesling, Virtuoso Chardonnay, Prima Donna Pinot Noir, Maestro Merlot/Malbec, Encore Noble Riesling, Finale Noble Semillon Sauvignon
Vergence: Vergence White (Semillon blend), Vergence Red (Pinot Noir)
Wines in bold are reviewed below
Pegasus Bay Chardonnay 2017
As with most of Pegasus Bay’s vines, this Chardonnay is harvested from vines which are mainly ungrafted. The vines now average 30 years old and are planted on rocky soils which are free draining and low in fertility. These facts all lead to lower yields but with concentrated flavours. The climate is warm, rather than hot, yet with cool nights, so the growing season is long.
I mentioned above that there’s a Burgundian sensibility to Pegasus Bay wines, but in the case of this Chardonnay the winemaking is definitely Burgundian in nature. Multiple passes were made to hand harvest the fruit at optimum ripeness. The grapes were whole bunch pressed then transferred to 500 litre oak barrels, 30% new and 70% used. Spontaneous fermentation took place in these puncheons and the young wine was left to mature on its lees over winter and spring. Malolactic fermentation started naturally into the summer months, with the winemaking team halting it based on regular tasting to get the balance between fresh malic and round lactic acids.
When poured this Chardonnay is a normal lemon colour. On the nose there are citrus fruits but they initially take a side seat to outstanding “struck-match” reductive notes. There are also soft yellow fruits and a stony mineral streak. The palate is magnificent, a really grown up Chardonnay that balances fruit, tanginess, minerality, freshness, texture and roundness. This is one of the most complete Chardonnays I’ve had the pleasure of trying in many years.
Stockists: Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.
Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2016
This 2016 pours a medium intensity ruby red, consistent across the glass. The nose has lots of fruit, more black than red; the black fruits appear at first (blackberry and black cherry) but gradually cede attention to red (red cherry and pomegranate). Enticing savoury notes and spice complete the olfactory picture. It’s a very sophisticated and complex nose that deserves – nay demands – frequent revisits.
The palate is savoury and fruity in taste. Those same black fruits come to the fore but with black liquorice and black olive counterpoints, Fine grained tannins and acidity provide a fantastic structure, but this is a supple and sappy wine, not austere.
The alcohol is little higher than we usually see in a Pinot Noir, but the 14.5% does not stick out at all when tasting. This is a well-balanced wine, albeit a powerful one. When it comes to food pairing, Pinot Noir is often matched with mid level meats such as veal or pork – and to be fair this would be excellent with charcuterie – but this has the weight and intensity to match well with game, lamb or even beef.
Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule; World Wide Wines, Waterford: The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; La Touche Wines, Greystones; D-Six, Harolds Cross
Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling 2008
Pegasus Bay have four Rieslings in their portfolio, as befitting a top Waipara producer:
The Estate Riesling is produced every year
The Bel Canto (Reserve) Dry Riesling has a little botrytis and is made in two out of every three years, depending on vintage conditions
The Aria (Reserve) Late Picked Riesling is a late harvest style that often has a small proportion of Botryis grapes and is made roughly one on two years, vintage dependent
The Encore (Reserve) Noble Riesling is only made with fully botrytised berries, often requiring multiple passes, and of course when there are sufficient grapes in a particular vintage.
Only in very exceptional years such as 2008 and 2014 are all four styles made. The Riesling vines are on a rocky outcrop which has warm days but very cool nights, helping to maintain acidity and thus preserve freshness.
As the pure botrytis (and therefore sweetest) Riesling in their range, Pegasus Bay liken it in style to a Séléction de Grains Nobles (SGN) from Alsace or a Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) from Germany. When harvested the grapes are totally shrivelled and so produce a very small amount of juice – but such luscious juice! After clarification the juice is allowed to ferment naturally; when the yeast finishes its task there is plenty of residual sugar, though the precise figure is not published.
On the nose it’s instantly identifiable as Riesling, but with honey and tropical fruits to the fore. In addition to the pineapple, mango and grapefruit there are also hints of mushroom. The palate is beautiful but perhaps confounding for the uninitiated – it’s rich and sweet yet full of acidity, giving your palate a smorgasbord of experiences. The finish is amazingly long.
At 13 years of age this bottle has had plenty of development, possibly rounding off the acidity slightly while also tapering the apparent sweetness to some degree (the mechanism for which is not yet understood). It still has plenty of life left though – it could easily keep to the end of this decade.
RRP: €35 for 2016 vintage (375ml bottle)
Stockists: currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
Source: own cellar
Other Pegasus Bay Wines available in Ireland
In addition to the three wines reviewed above there are three further Pegasus Bay wines available in Ireland
Sauvignon / Semillon: RRP €29, Stockists: Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; The Corkscrew; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock
Bel Canto Dry Riesling: RRP €35, currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
Prima Donna Pinot Noir: RRP €75, Stockist: The Wine House, Trim
Frankly Wines and Pegasus Bay
Now, those who follow me on Instagram may realise that I live in the Dublin suburb of Glasnevin, also home to the National Botanic Gardens, the Irish Met office and the large Glasnevin cemetery. It was therefore a huge surprise when, while touring New Zealand on honeymoon, we suddenly realised that we were driving through Glasnevin, Canterbury. And where was our first stop? Pegasus Bay, of course!
1Ironically Pegasus Bay was originally known as “Cook’s Mistake” – I’m glad I didn’t find that out on my honeymoon!
After the Champagnes of Laherte Frères in Part 1, we now turn to a trio of unusual whites. They aren’t that obscure, but they aren’t going to appear in your local supermarket. They are all made by small, family owned producers who prefer to do work in the vineyard rather than the winery. Note: I tasted these wines back in February this year so some outlets may well have moved onto the 2019 vintages of the respective wines.
M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz Weiss 2018
Martin and Anna Arndorfer are part of the new generation in Austria, acknowledging their respective families’ deep ties to their region of Kamptal but breaking free and setting down their own roots. Their approach might be described as “hands-off”, but that would belittle the work they do in the vineyard, fully respectful of nature’s gifts.
This is the first time I have reviewed the M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz (field blend), though I have previously reviewed their single varietal 2015 Grüner Veltliner and their 2016 Vorgeschmack white. As the latter is no longer available and consisted of the same blend (80% Grüner Veltliner & 20% Riesling) as this wine I believe it is simply a matter of renaming.
Those familiar with the component varieties – hopefully a decent majority of you – should be able to imagine its style; decent body with lots of spice and pip fruit, but a racy finish. Apples and pears meet lemon and lime? What’s not to like?
When faced with this label most wine drinkers would be forgiven for thinking “what even is that?” (Confession: I thought exactly that!) So: “Burja” is the name of the estate, “Zelen” is the name of the grape and “Petit Burja” is the name of the bottling. Burja is run by Primož Lavrenčič who named it after the Mistral-like wind which can blow through the vines. Zelen is a local grape variety named after the Slovenian word for ‘green’ which is the colour that it apparently takes on when fermenting. The estate is run on both organic and biodynamic lines.
So how does this unusual grape taste? It doesn’t taste exactly like anything else, but in a word, great! It’s highly aromatic, with floral and citrus notes to the fore. These continue onto the palate which is juicy and tangy, but also mineral and linear. This wine could be the jolt that your palate needs!
I have reviewed the red wine from this stable before; Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge was the Frankly Wines #2 Value Red of 2017. The Domaine has been run by Italian Laura Semeria for 13 years; she has woven the new (converting viticulture to organic and then biodynamic) with the old (maintaining local varieties including the rare Romorantin). The vines cover a surface area of 20 hectares and vary in age up to 80 years old.
Just as the Arndorfer wine above, this is an 80/20 blend, but this time 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Chardonnay (yes, Chardonnay is grown in the Loire!) This blend is rarely seen in France, nor even Australia or New Zealand, but does occur in northern Italy. Although unusual, the blend is seamless, showing floral, herby and citrus notes. It’s a light yet thrilling, real wine.
In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:
A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it
It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.
The nineteenth installment in the Frankly Wines and Friends Music and Wine series comes from another fellow wine blogger Alan March. The big difference between us is that I taste wines sat at home whereas Alan reports from the vineyard and cellar of a renowned Languedoc producer – he’s walking the walk as well as talking the talk.
While I respect the impact that David Bowie has had on English and world music I wouldn’t count myself as a devoted fan; I’m more of a Greatest Hits listener than scouring every track on a album. However, where Alan and I agree is that Heroes is Bowie’s best ever track – it’s a masterpiece.
Of course Alan’s articles are mainly about Mas Coutelou, but in scanning his previous posts I noticed that he had reviewed the Sauvignon Blanc from a producer – Elgin Ridge – whose Chardonnay I reviewed myself quite recently, so that was an easy choice.
David Bowie – Heroes
When Frankie selected ‘Heroes’ I smiled. It is my favourite song. Bowie has been my musical hero for almost 50 years, my first gig was Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust in Newcastle City Hall. Through various guises he refreshed and widened my musical influences. In 1976, very ill through cocaine addiction, Bowie moved to Berlin to clean up. The three ‘Berlin’ albums (though only Heroes was recorded in Berlin) mark another shift, this time to European electronica, collaborating with Eno, Fripp and Visconti. The song itself is a reflection of time and place, the synthesisers and lyrics featuring Bowie’s observation of Visconti’s embrace with a lover by the Berlin Wall next to the recording studio.
Collaboration, bringing the best out of everyone plus his own touch of genius, intriguing lyrics and a deep and evolving sound, though Heroes has become one of those songs played almost too much it still makes me joyful every time I hear it. So, a wine to match it? Well, it has to be Jeff Coutelou’s La Vigne Haute (LVH).
I am biased of course. As my biography notes say spending time learning about soils, vines and wines was a huge change from my previous career. A former teacher himself, Jeff taught me about the vineyards, nature and natural winemaking.
Most Coutelou wines are blends, LVH is unusual in being from one grape, Syrah, and from one vineyard which faces north to avoid the hottest sun. It reflects the place with warmth, fruit and complexity from the various geological strands of La Garrigue. Hallmark Coutelou freshness is balanced by a depth of flavours. LVH is only made in years with exceptional fruit, Jeff extracts the best from the terroir. Like Heroes it is ageless but can be enjoyed at any time. For me, time in the Coutelou vineyards marked a period of healing just as Berlin did for Bowie.
Put the song and wine together and I am in heaven.
Elgin Ridge 282 Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon; so is this the grassy green of the Loire or the tropical fruits of Marlborough? Well, neither. Biodynamically grown, ducks for pest control, low enough SO2 levels for RAW – this is my kind of Sauvignon. The use of barrels, some new, adds a different flavour profile to the norm; creamier and fuller but cut through with green apples and freshness. Above all it is balanced and very drinkable.
I was tempted to select a Graceland period track from Paul Simon but opted instead for First Aid Kit’s ‘Emmylou’.
When the Söderberg sisters performed it live for TV on a Glastonbury show the harmonies and melody hooked me in. Those features made me pair it to the nominated wine. The nod to country music’s roots through Johnny and June, Gram and Emmylou whilst adding their own Swedish pop influence reflects the South African twist on Elgin Ridge’s wine. It is a country whose wines are quickly becoming top quality and regulars in my wine racks, Emmylou is a song whose quality makes it one of my most played these days.
This is the TV performance which made me stop:
County Durham born and bred, I was a teacher for 34 years with a passion for learning. Two years of ill health for me including a ruptured Achilles and ongoing ME persuaded my wife and I to move to the Languedoc. A passion for wine had led to us holidaying in wine regions for many years and being in the Languedoc for most of the last 6-7 years (until the tribulations of 2020) meant that I could spend time learning about wine with my friend Jeff Coutelou. Planting, grafting and harvesting, bottling, labelling and promoting the wines has given me a deeper understanding of the world of wines, especially natural wines. My blog A March in the Vines was created to share my learning and I am grateful for the surprising numbers who read it. I am also on Twitterand Instagram.
Lidl Ireland are launching their Christmas wines in two separate parts, the first of which is already underway. In addition to those limited release wines – marked * below – they are stocking up on new vintages of regular favourites. My reviews below are not unqualified recommendations; other wines of the same type are available which offer better quality, though not better value. I let you, dear readers, decide on whether each wine sounds like its worth putting in your trolley.
Disclosure: bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own
Clare Valley Riesling 2019*
This is a gentle Riesling, very drinkable and with no sharp edges. When compared to the best Clare Valley Rieslings such as Grosset Polish Hill or Petaluma Hanlin Hill it’s a much simpler wine, with a shorter finish and even has a touch of residual sugar. However, this is aimed at the casual drinker and I doubt that many people would be in the market for both styles; Lidl’s example is actually more approachable so might actually be more preferable for those looking for an easy-going (and less expensive) tipple.
When to drink: Whenever you like!
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva 2020
While the Riesling above isn’t very “Riesling” this 2020 Gran Reserva is VERY “Sauvignon Blanc”! By this I mean that it is very young and expressive, and needs a little more time before settling down. The key is one of the “Gs”, the aromas and flavours found in this Chilean Savvy:
Green (bell) pepper
For me the green pepper sticks out a little too much at the moment, so if you aren’t fond of that flavour then this wine isn’t for you. However, if you are ambivalent or like green capsicums then you might be a fan. Try decanting!
When to drink: With a fresh green salad or with goats cheese.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Il Santo Bevitore IGT Isola Dei Nuraghi 2019
This wine was a total unknown to me so I had to do a little research. Isole dei Nuraghi is an IGT which covers the whole of Sardinia. Many international grapes are used plus a few local specialities. My guess was that this was a Syrah / Merlot blend but I was unable to confirm this. The nose is smoky with red and black fruits. The palate has black cherries and sour red cherries, overlain by a touch of vanilla. Acidity is medium to high but not jarring.
When to drink: With just about anything apart from fish or seafood.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Barossa Valley Shiraz 2017*
In a similar vein to the Clare Valley Riesling, this is a very approachable, easy-going wine that doesn’t demand too much from its drinkers – it’s made in a deliberately commercial style. The nose shows blackberry, blackcurrant and a little vanilla. These notes continue through onto the palate but adding a little stewed fruit to the fresh. Light tannins round off the wine nicely, though the finish is a little short.
When to drink: Very quaffable on its own, or pair with richer foods.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Carménère Gran Reserva 2020
Carménère is one of Bordeaux’s six black grapes, though it’s hardly grown there at all these days. Instead it has become the flagship black grape of Chile, where it was mistaken for Merlot for over a century. In the glass it pours a bright purple, typical of the variety. The nose is lovely, with rich cassis, spice and blackberry. These notes are repeated on the palate though they are somewhat barged out of the way by our friend green pepper; these green pepper notes tend to appear in Carménère when the grapes are picked before they have reached full phenolic ripeness, often when they are harvested at the same time as the earlier-ripening Merlot. In this case, seeing the 14.5% alcohol, I wager that this wine was made from very warm vineyards where the sugar outpaced the flavours. At any rate, the finish is nice and smooth.
When to drink: Beef or lamb stew.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Corte Alle Mure DOCG Chianti Riserva 2015*
2015 was an excellent year throughout most of Italy so I was eager to try this Chianti Riserva. This isn’t what I’d call a polished wine, but it is very Chianti, by which I mean it has typical tobacco and liquorice on the nose, Morello cherries and a hint of oak on the palate. Acidity is prominent which makes it a food wine rather than a comfortable sipper
When to drink: Charcuterie or mixed Christmas leftovers.
I’m in the very lucky position where I get to try lots of good and great wines on a regular basis, many of them sent as samples (especially in 2020!) Sometimes, even among these wines, a few shine even brighter than the rest. It’s often hard to put into words what makes them so special, though I do try. Here are a couple of (unrelated) wines which stood out even in good company:
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own
Elgin Ridge 282 Elgin Chardonnay 2018
Elgin is South Africa’s coolest climate wine region, located about an hour’s drive south east of Cape Town. Although now an exciting area for grapes, for many years it was known almost exclusively for its orchards, particularly apples and pears1; as a rule of thumb, agricultural land which is suitable for orchards is generally suitable for grapes. Elgin is even cool enough for Riesling, with Paul Cluver’s wines leading the charge.
Elgin Ridge is the only winery in Elgin to be both certified organic and certified biodynamic (there is one other which is solely biodynamic). It was founded by Brian and Marion Smith on the site of a former small (ten hectare) apple farm in 2007 and has remained in family hands since. Their aim is to be self sufficient in terms of inputs (biodynamic preparations and cow manure) using sheep to control weeds and ducks to control insects and snails.
The figure 282 in the name of this wine, their flagship Chardonnay, refers to the vineyard’s altitude of 282 metres above sea level. It pours lemon in the glass and initial aromas are predominantly of toasted coconut, indicating a fair bit of oak ageing. Absolutely heavenly, if you like that sort of thing – which I do! The coconut gives way to fabulous orchard fruits(!), smoke and spices. On the palate this is a rich wine, with integrated oak and stone fruits and a touch of butterscotch. There’s plenty of body and flavour, but this is no big butter bomb as there is a certain elegance and lightness to the finish. In terms of style this brought to mind excellent southern hemisphere Chardonnays such as Smith + Shaw’s Adelaide Hills M3 and Man O’War’s Waiheke Island Valhalla.
For some reason 2020 has been the year of Sancerre for me, with lots of very enjoyable bottles showing that the average standard in the region is very high. Even among those, this baby stood out. But first a bit of background.
The maison mère2(!) is Fournier Père et Fils – to give it its full name – under which there are four Domaines:
Domaine Fournier (Sancerre &c.)
Domaine de Saint Romble (Sancerre)
Domaine des Berthiers (Pouilly-Fumé)
Domaine Paul Corneau (Pouilly-Fumé)
The full range of Domaine Fournier is detailed below. As you might expect from one of the “Cuvées Appellations”, this wine is made from vines planted on the three key soil types of Sancerre: Silex, Caillottes and Terres Blanches. The nose opens with ripe peach but also peach stone, sweet fruit reined in by acidity and a pleasant tartness. On the palate there’s more fruit but on the citrus side of the spectrum, along with a touch of mown grass and green bell pepper. Don’t mistake this for a Touraine Sauvignon plus, though; this is a smooth and gentle wine which showcases its different flavours on a long journey through your mouth. A superior Sancerre.