Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #11 – Mags McKee

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.

For the eleventh edition of this series we are in the capable hands of Mags McKee, a great friend and fellow DNSer (even though she lives south of the Liffey) . Mags has a long held passion for wine and has taken it to the next level with The Wine Pair, a wine bar and shop she opened with her husband Canice.  When I quizzed Mags on her taste in music, among many things she mentioned both U2 and the Blues, so there was an immediately obvious choice: a fantastic track from U2’s Rattle & Hum album featuring guitar and vocals from Riley B. King, aka the King of the Blues BB King.  This was in fact the track that really turned me on to the blues and it has since been one of my favourite genres.

There were so many wines I’ve tasted with Mags at consumer and DNS tastings over the years that I was spoiled for choice. Running through the wine list of The Wine Pair to narrow it down, I spotted one of my favourite Austrian reds: Pittnauer Zweigelt “Heideboden”. I was lucky enough to meet Gerhard Pittnauer and taste through his wines a few years ago.

When Love Comes to Town – U2 with BB King

I was delighted when Frankie gave me my music choice When Love Comes to Town – U2 with BB King as I am a big fan of U2, with Rattle and Hum being one of my favourite U2 albums. I am also an avid Blues fan and love the edge that the King of the Blues brings to this version. I know it may seem weird to some but listening to Blues makes me happy.

Love coming to town automatically made me think of a sparkling wine and as this is a rock song with the addition of the wonderful BB King what better than a naturally sparkling Pétillant Naturel, or Pet Nat for short. Pet Nat is made in the ‘methode ancestrale’, i.e. bottled before primary fermentation has finished (i.e. with yeast still alive and sugar remaining)  which then continues to ferment in the bottle, finishing relatively dry with pleasantly frothy bubbles.

A great natural Pet Nat I have been enjoying recently and a firm favourite with The Wine Pair customers is the deliciously ripe and Dangerously drinkable, Tour de Gendres. Its frothy bubbles release delicious tart orchard fruit and citrus notes. The bright acidity balances the slight sweetness as it dances on the tongue reminding me of how we have boogied to this great song.

Chateau-Tour-des-Gendres-pet-nat

This interesting and fun to drink Pet Nat is made from predominantly Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc (30%) by Luc di Conti in Bergerac, Southwest France, close to Bordeaux. Luc farms biodynamically on his 54 hectare vineyard, located on the bank of the Dordogne River, and uses seaweed, and other natural resources, to nourish the soil. The de Conti family has run the farm here since the early 1900s, but only in 1986 did Luc de Conti and his brother, Jean, decide to plant the vineyard and embark on a new adventure of viticulture and winemaking. In 1994, they became the first in the region to move away from pesticides and chemicals and turn to 100 percent organic farming.

The grapes from low yielding vines are allowed to fully ripen and are manually crushed. Partial fermentation, with indigenous yeasts, is in stainless steel vats with final fermentation in the bottle. It is bottled without fining, filtering or the addition of sulphur making it vegan friendly and a little cloudy.

This is wonderfully drinkable, and would be a great alternative for Prosecco drinkers looking for something a little more interesting while still being easy and fun to drink and its only 11% ABV.

We usually have it as an aperitif but I think it would go great with Sushi or Smoked fish. My cheese pairing for this would be a goat’s cheese maybe a St Tola or Cooleeney, Gortnamona to bring even more love to town.

This bright vibrant wine certainly brings Love to Town for me and its fantastic label from is pretty cool too. If you haven’t tried it yet “catch that flame” and “jump on that train”.

Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden

Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden

My wine choice from Frankie, Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden, was again one my favourites so gave me a great excuse to drink more and think about my choice of music for this wine.

I am a big fan of the high quality wines coming from Austria and my first visit to Vienna was booked for the end of March this year. I was really looking forward to trying some great Austrian wines whilst there but it didn’t happen due to Covid-19. The disappointment of my cancelled trip is reflected in my music choice – Vienna Calling by Falco. The lively and glamorous song from 1985 was the follow on hit to his other big hit song Rock me Amadeus.

A Mozart piece may have been an obvious choice for this wine but my eclectic music choices are hugely influenced by the 80’s and I love electronic music. Falco and his music sits in the genre of West German Rock, Neue Deutsche Welle “New German Wave”) which is originally derived from post punk and new wave with electronic influences, so I’m sure the music scene in Austria in the mid 80s was greatly influenced by one of my favourite groups Kraftwerk. Anyway, there is a nod to a Viennese waltz at the start of the song.

In the mid 80s, while Falco was rocking Amadeus, the Austrian wine industry was rocking in the midst of scandal and chaos , Gerhard Pittnaur, then only 18, started the Weingut Pittnauer business in Burgenland in the eastern corner of Austria. He had to train himself to make wine and chose to farm the indigenous grapes of the region. He thinks to ‘grow’ wine rather than to ‘make’ it in the cellar. Gerhard and his wife Brigitte decided to create what they call living wines. All work is done manually from composting to pruning. There is no calendar that drives them. Nothing is rushed: they believe in quality over speed. They taste for perfect ripeness, select the cleanest grapes, and begin the wine in the cellar.

Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden is 100% Zweigelt. Zweigelt is the most popular red wine variety in Austria and originates from the crossing of St. Laurent with Blaufrankisch. It is characterised by its cherry fruit and a juicy, soft style. This wine is bursting with red cherries, blueberries, blackberries and plums with hints of violet and black pepper. It’s an elegant wine with a long complex finish. As Falco says ‘Oh o Ho’.

This is one of my go to wines for a cheese and meat platter as it pairs well with most cheeses and cured meats and its acidity stands up to any pickled accompaniments giving no taste clashes.

Platter

So Hello, Vienna is still calling me and I will get there but until I do I can still enjoy great Austrian wines.

Mags McKee

Mags is one half of The Wine Pair, the other being Canice (who, in an amazing coincidence, also has the surname McKee!)  They opened The Wine Pair late last year with the aim of providing an informal neighbourhood wine bar where people could relax with a favourite glass (or carafe, or bottle) and choose small cheese or charcuterie plates to pair with it.  They also offered the option of take-home sales and in these Covid-19 affected times they have been busy offering collection and local delivery.

As well as their website you can find The Wine Pair on Instagram or Twitter.  They also have their own Twitter accounts: Mags & Canice.

Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Sherwood Forrester [Make Mine a Double #57]

What Would Robin Hood Drink (WWRHD) if he were around today?  What would make his men merry?  I put it to you that he would enjoy the fine wines of Sherwood Estate and Ken Forrester!

Robin Hood
Robin likes the “straight as an arrow” acidity of Sauvignon Blanc

These two fine producers make wines from several other varieties, but for comparative purposes I will review their equivalent Sauvignon Blancs:

 

Sherwood Estate Waipara Sauvignon Blanc 2018

sherwood estate waipara sauvignon blanc
No outlaws were harmed during the making of this wine

One mistake many people make is too assume that all New Zealand Sauvignons are from Marlborough.  Yes, the north east of the South Island is the biggest Sauvignon producing region and has become the ambassador for Kiwi wine, but Nelson (north west of the South Island), Wairarapa (south of the North Island) and Waipara (north of Canterbury on the South Island) also make some great examples.

In 1987 – still the early days of the modern NZ wine industry – Jill and Dayne Sherwood dived headlong into producing wine at West Melton, just west of Christchurch.  The industry was in turmoil at the time, but they were successful enough to survive and outgrow their West Melton property.  They then moved around an hour north into Waipara which was an area full of unrealised promise.  With their drive and perseverance they turned Sherwood Estate into one of the largest independent New Zealand wineries.

The firm now has six different vineyard sites around Waipara including Glasnevin, named after a famous district of Dublin.  Their wine offerings have also branched out (pun intended) to four different ranges plus two different sparklers.  The Sherwood range wines “are premium, everyday wines, made in a ‘hands-off’ style with little interruption in the winery” and consist of five varietals:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc

The Sauvignon Blanc we have here is unoaked and made conventionally.  The juice undergoes a cool fermentation for three weeks.  The must is then left on the fine lees for three months which adds depth.  The finished wine combines green (herbs, bell pepper, grass) and fruit (lime, lemon, grapefruit and passion fruit) notes.  This zesty wine shows how good Sauvignon Blanc can be outside Marlborough.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €21.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Ken Forrester Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2018

ken forrester sauvignon blanc reserve
Robin sympathizes with Ken’s status as a legend

Ken Forrester is something of a legend in Stellenbosch and South Africa as a whole.  He and his wife Teresa bought a derelict farm in 1993, though the property was created as far back as 1689.

All the pruning and harvesting work in the vineyard is done by hand for two reasons.  Firstly, it allows the vineyard team to pay very close attention to detail for quality reasons.  Secondly, it offers more employment for people in the local community.

There are currently four separate ranges which each have several blends and varietals:

  • Petit: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé (Grenache/ Viognier) , Natural Sweet (Chenin blend), Pinotage
  • Reserve: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Renegade (Rhône blend), Pat’s Garden Merlot
  • Icon: The FMC (Chenin), The Gypsy, (Rhône blend), T Noble Late Harvest (Chenin)
  • Cellar door exclusives – Sparklehorse MCC, Three Halves (Rhône blend), Roussanne, Dirty Little Secret TWO (Natural Chenin)

The grapes for the Reserve Sauvignon come from three are sourced from 3 vineyard sites scattered across the coastal region: Stellenbosch, Elim and Darling.  Some – though not all – are old vines, increasing concentration and depth of flavour.  After fermentation the wine spends eight weeks on fine lees.

For many years I have regarded South African Sauvignons as being stylistically half way between Loire and NZ styles, but I think it’s time we (I) forgot the comparisons and just regard them as their own thing.  This one has lots of green notes, but is not under-ripe; mangetout is then joined by some juicy stone fruit and the finish is long, crisp and clean. Unlike some other SA SBs I’ve tried, the alcohol is fairly restrained at 13.0%.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €17.95 (currently on offer at €15.95)
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Make Mine A Double

A Lidl Bit Chile For Summer? [Make Mine a Double #55]

How well do you know Chile?  It’s the slim country running down to the west of the Andes to the Pacific Ocean:

Chile Chili
Credit: Nolo Sanchesky (via The Language Nerds, Facebook)

Joking aside, here’s how the country is broken down into different wine regions:

WoC_Map2
Credit: Wines of Chile winesofchile.org

The two wines we are looking at here are from different – though relatively close – sub-regions.  If you find the capital Santiago on the map above and head due north into the Aconcagua region you find the Aconcagua Valley and thus the Aconcagua Mountain after which the region is named.  Best known for red wines – including Errázuriz’s super-premium “Seña” – it also makes fuller bodied whites.

South west of Santiago and on the coast is the Leyda Valley, attached to the more established San Antonio Valley.  Due to the influence of the Pacific the climate is cool here and so the best performing varieties tend to be Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.  In Ireland at least, Leyda Valley has become a name to look out for on the label of these wines.

The two wines below are available from Lidl Ireland as a limited release from Thursday 21st May, while stocks last.

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided as samples, but opinions remain my own

V Selection Valle de Leyda Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva 2019

211113 Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva Valle de Leyda €9.99

Emblazoned with a Chilean flamingo, this Sauvignon Blanc has the label “Gran Reserva” – a term with no standing in Chile – the grapes were picked barely 12 months ago – but nevertheless designed to communicate a high quality level.  Sauvignon Blanc is a key white variety for Chile and is often recognisable in blind tastings by strong hints of fennel.

Any hints of fennel are subtle in this wine, but the overwhelming aroma and flavour is of asparagus!  It’s not that rare in Sauvignons as such but it ordinarily tends to be just a component of the nose and / or palate.  The only other I can think of with such an asparagus bias is the very cool climate Astrolabe Kekerengu SB from the southern part of Malborough.  But it’s not just asparagus, there’s also lime and lemon rounding off the palate and a lovely crisp, clean finish.  This Leyda Valley wine is perfect for salads and seafood.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

V Selection Valle del Aconcagua Chardonnay Gran Reserva 2018

242485 Chardonnay Aconcagua €10.99

The national bird of choice for this Chardonnay is the Humboldt penguin, what a cute little thing!  Again we have a Gran Reserva, but at least this one is two years old.  There’s a tropical tinge to the nose, though not overpowering.  This does continue though to the palate but it is very restrained; tasted blind I would probably have guessed it to be from southern Burgundy.  There’s a lot of texture on the wine, partially from the high altitude vineyard and partially from the use of (mainly seasoned) oak.

Don’t make the mistake of drinking this wine straight from the fridge; give it at least half an hour and drink from your biggest wine glass for extra swirlage.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €10.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Conclusion

These are both good wines that offer very good value for money.  Compared to the New Zealand pair I reviewed previously that are part of the same release, I am not quite as enthusiastic, but they are both worth a try – unless you hate asparagus, in which case you should pass on the Sauvignon and just head for the Chardonnay!

 

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Make Mine A Double

Single Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs [Make Mine a Double #53]

For Sauvignon Blanc Day, what better wines to be comparing than two Marlborough Sauvignons.  There are some people who don’t care for the variety and / or the particular expression that is created in Marlborough – perhaps it’s just “tall poppy syndrome” – but I’m not one of the naysayers.   Marlborough Sauvignon is now one of the key recognisable styles in the world of wine and has many imitators, though few are successful.

That said, although nearly all of them would be recognised blind (many at the point where the wine is opened), there are significant variations in style and flavour profile within the region.  Some of that is down to terroir; my humble palate can often distinguish between Savvy made in the Awatere Valley from one made in the Wairau Valley (and of course that’s before smaller terroir differences are considered).  There’s also the winemaker and his or her desired style.

Here we have two Marlborough Sauvignons which share many things: they come from the same single vineyard, and therefore obviously the vines are owned by the same person, they are made from the same grape variety by the same wine maker.  Yet they are different!  In what way?  Why?  Read on!

Disclosure: these bottles were both kindly provided for review, but opinions remain my own.

Insight Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018

insight vineyard marlborough sauvignon blanc

Marlburians Fleur McCree and Hemi Duns bought an old sheep farm in the Waihopai Valley (part of the Marlborough’s Southern Valleys sub-region) in 2002.  They planted their 41 hectares with grapes, initially selling the grapes to large companies but then setting up as a producer themselves.  They recruited Eveline Fraser (formerly of Cloudy Bay) to be their winemaker; a less well known label, perhaps, but less pressure from the owners.

Also known by the locals as “Spy Valley” due to the NZ government monitoring station there – and even giving this nickname to the Spy Valley winery – the Waihopai is cooler than the main Wairau Valley (which is home to esteemed names such as Cloudy Bay, Nautilus and Te Whare Ra).  This cooler micro-climate tends to give a less exuberant, more subtle wine, and that’s what we have here with this Insight Vineyard 2018.  It has plenty of green notes (I prefer herby to herbaceous as the latter makes me think of eating foliage (perhaps that’s just me) plus the exotic fruit notes that are the calling card of Kiwi Sauvignon.  However, they do not dominate the wine which is relatively light and lithe; it’s not as though someone has mixed your wine with pineapple juice!

This is a food-friendly style of Marlborough Sauvignon that will also make you reach for a second glass – or more – and a bargain at the sale price.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €18.95 down to €12.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Pounamu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019

pounamu marlborough sauvignon blanc

Pounamu is Fleur’s new label, named after a greenstone found in New Zealand and treasured by Maori, that is often handed down from generation to generation.  The website states that the vines are “grown on two terraces and three different areas within the single vineyard.  The lower terraces contain stony silt loam soils with fine sandy loam topsoil and gravels over alluvial gravels.  Considerable stone is evident in the topsoil profile.  Upper terraces contain friable silt loams over blocky silt loams on gravels.

I asked Fleur about the difference between the two wines (apart from the branding, obviously).  She replied that “although they’re both from our vineyards we are utilising different blocks, different rows, picking at slightly different times and different levels of ripeness.  Then Eveline looks at all the different parcels (cuvées ) and blends according to range….the theme for both though is: authenticity.  A strong sense of place”  Thus we are looking at differences of  style rather than quality!

The key note from the Pounamu for me was grassiness – there’s more than a little of Touraine Sauvignon about it.  On the nose there are also hints of nettles, flowers, citrus and tropical fruits.  The palate has a clean and fresh attack, with juicy grapefruit joining on the mid-palate, and a long, crisp finish.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €19.95 down to €14.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Conclusion

These wines obviously share a common origin and sensibility, but the difference is obvious enough to be apparent to most winelovers.  I could not place one over the other, but rather think of them as best in slightly different situations; for an aperitif or with shellfish I would favour the Pounamu, whereas for slightly richer fare or drinking on its own I’d take the Insight.

 

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Single Bottle Review

A Bourgeois Sauvignon

Henri Bourgeois is one of the most well-respected producers in the Loire’s Central vineyards, with 72 hectares on both the Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé sides of the river.  Different sources give slightly different nuances to their description of the soil types, but the company’s website classifies them as the following three types:

  • Clay-limestone, which gives rise to fresh, fruity vintages;
  • Kimmeridgian marls, the memories of fossilised shells from the Jurassic Era that give intense flavours of exotic fruits and a superb structure;
  • Flint, which initiates elegant wines with smoky, roasted notes and minerality of great finesse.

Pouilly

One of the first things than a serious wineaux learns is the difference between Pouilly-Fumé (a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc) and Pouilly-Fuissé (a Chardonnay from the Mâconnais in southern Burgundy).

Later they may stumble across the oddity that is AOP Pouilly-sur-Loire…an appellation based around the same Loire town as Fumé but based predominantly on the Chasselas grape (which is more at home in Valais (Switzerland), Baden (Germany) and Alsace (France)).

The love of Sauvignon Blanc also took the family to Marlborough where they make Clos Henri, a New Zealand Savvy with a French sensibility.

Here’s a Bourgeois wine I tried and enjoyed recently:

Disclosure: bottle was kindly provided for review, opinions remain my own

Henri Bourgeois Pouilly Fumé La Porte de l’Abbaye 2018

Henri Bourgeois Porte de l Abbaye Pouilly Fumé

For a Sauvignon this was only lightly aromatic, more subtle than those of the antipodes, but that’s no bad thing.  The palate has hints of grapefruit and gooseberry but it’s mainly lemon which shines.  The finish is long and mineral.  Overall this is somewhat on the simple side, but very pure and enjoyable.  It would be at its best with seafood – perhaps some shellfish to match the Jurassic soils on which it was grown.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €25.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens shops and obrienswine.ie
Tasting Events

Lidl French Whites Spring 2020

Lidl Ireland have just launched a range of French wines which will be available for a limited time only – until stocks run out.  Below are brief notes on six whites that would be making their way into my trolley: two from Burgundy, two from the Loire and two from Alsace.

Wally AOP Touraine Sauvignon 2018 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Wally Sauvignon Blanc

There are several different Touraine appellations in the Loire Valley but this is the one which removes any doubt as to which grape variety you will be drinking.  While not reaching the heights of Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy and the other Sauvignon based wines further east, Touraine is the French standard bearer for inexpensive fresh, tasty Sauvignon Blanc.

Wally has a very expressive Sauvignon nose – grass, gooseberry and grapefruit.  These notes continue through to the palate, but there are no rough edges – it’s (almost) smooth in texture.  Great value for money!

Comte d’Ardières AOP Sancerre 2018 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Lidl Sancerre

Probably the most famous Sauvignon appellation, Sancerre is one of the most prestigious wine regions of France.  Despite that, quality and style can vary as there are multiple soil types and aspects.  I don’t know who the Count of Ardières was, but the wines named after him are very elegant and mineral in style.  There’s also lots of fresh citrus and a long tangy finish.  Worth trying with delicate white fish or oysters.

Collin-Bourisset AOP Coteaux Bourguignons 2018 (13.0% €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Collin Bourisset Coteaux Bourguignons Blanc

For those not familiar, Coteaux Bourguignons is an appellation that covers the whole of Burgundy proper and Beaujolais, for both red and white wines.  It can thus be made with fruit from all over the region, but is often a label used for wines from the south around the Maconnais / Beaujolais border.  The grapes for this white are not given, but on tasting it appears to me to be substantially or totally Chardonnay.  It has some oak on the nose and palate plus citrus and stone fruit.  This is proper white Burgundy, a steal for a tenner!

AOP Chablis 2018 (12.5%, €12.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Lidl Chablis 2018

After the trials and tribulations of frost and hail over consecutive years, Chablis producers had to put up their prices so that they could still make a living.  The phrase “there’s no more cheap Chablis” was uttered many times.  Thankfully, the 2018 harvest was the best in 20 years according to the president of the Chablis Commission, so things are returned to normal.

At €12.99 this would definitely be considered a “cheap Chablis”, though I’d wager Lidl’s average bottle price is several Euros less.  It has the classic Chablis nose of citrus and soft malolactic character.  The palate shows red and green apples, lemon and lime fruits plus stony minerality.  This is an excellent wine for the price and was the standout wine of the tasting!

Camile Meyer AOP Alsace Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2018 (13.0%, €10.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Alsace Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes

When it comes to wine Irish people rarely have a sweet tooth, and usually eschew anything with more than a few grams of residual sugar.  Perhaps this is because of ‘Nam-like flashbacks from sweet, unbalanced, flabby German whites from decades past (you know the ones I’m talking about), who knows.  This means that the limited number of Alsace Gewurztraminers available in supermarkets are usually quite dry.  There’s nothing wrong with that in itself – each to his own – but for me Gewurz needs a bit of RS to complement its round, rich character.

And here’s the perfect example at an inexpensive price point.  It’s VERY Gewurz on the nose, with lychees, Turkish delight and rose petals.  The aromas continue on the palate but a little more subdued, but matched nicely by an off-dry finish.

AOP Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV (12.0%, €12.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Crémant d'Alsace Brut NV

France’s second best selling sparkling wine is represented by this fresh and fruity little number.  It’s made in the traditional method and is fully sparkling so is a steal at this price (given the double duty on such wines in Ireland).  This is a great alternative to Prosecco; fun and fruity but drier and better balanced.

 

 

 

 

Tasting Events

Unfinished Sympathy

After a little reflection, one of the most important characteristics of a great winemaker (in my humble opinion) is sympathy for the vineyards they pick from and the grapes that they harvest.  Underlying this are intelligence, knowledge, and more than a little humility.

Many winemakers develop this sympathetic nature over the course of decades with a small number of plots of land and as few as two or even just one grape variety, as is the case in Burgundy.  Indeed, sometimes it’s an ancestral connection with knowledge that has been passed down in the family for generations.

In stark contrast to the timescale of the Burgundians, I give you Pieter Hauptfleisch Walser of BLANKbottle.  Pieter has 58 different varieties growing all over the Western Cape, though you won’t see them mentioned on the bottle.  A few months ago, thanks to WineMason I had the opportunity to try eight of this wines which were new to the Irish market (and only available in very small quantities).  Each has an intriguing backstory and a interesting label to go with it.

with apologies for the quality of my snaps…

Rabbitsfoot 2018 (14.5%, RRP ~ €30)

BLANKbottle Rabbits Foot 2018

We start with a Sauvignon Blanc, but not that you would probably recognise at first – it’s not like a Loire or Kiwi Sauvignon, and to be honest it’s not even like other South African Savvies, although perhaps some could be though of as baby versions of this.  It has more body, texture and alcohol than most Sauvignons, still grassy but with spicy notes.  Tasted blind my first guess would have been Grüner Veltliner!

Full details here

BOBERG 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €33)

BLANKbottle BOBERG 2018

Boberg means “on top of the mountain” and the mountain is pictured on the label – but not on its own.  It is depicted as being overlooked by seven generations of Pieter’s family who lived on the farm next to it.  These Chenin Blanc vines are old and low yielding, and have recently been certified organic.  For 2018 they were picked early and fermented in old French oak barrels with natural yeast.  The wine is fresh but with real depth; a whole basket of Granny Smith apples with a few Golden Delicious and lemons.

Full details here

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018 (13.0%, RRP ~ €33)

BLANKbottle Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018

Pieter found these vines while on his travels and took a backroad shortcut to get to his next appointment – the name means “shortcut to Cape Town”.  The grape variety used is even more obscure (especially in South Africa): Fernão Pires!  If you’re a fan of Portuguese wine then it might not be so obscure as it is grown throughout Portugal, sometimes under the moniker Maria Gomes.  It’s a highly aromatic grape, somewhere in the realm of Gewurztraminer and Viognier, though fairly gentle (Alsace aficianados: think of Klevener de Heiligenstein).  I liked this wine though it didn’t shine quite as brightly for me as the two whites above.

Full details here

B.O.E.T. 2017 (14.0%, RRP ~ €36)

BLANKbottle B.O.E.T. 2017

It’s fairly well known among wine geeks that South Africa’s signature variety Pinotage was created as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (the Rhône’s Cinsault, then known as Hermitage in South Africa).  This wine is something of a family reunion as it features all three grapes, though Pinotage is dominant with small amounts of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir.  On the nose I would never have guessed this to be a Pinotage blend – my best guess would perhaps have been a Languedoc red.  The palate is lighter, with medium body, lithe red fruit and good acidity.  This is the perfect example of BLANKbottle’s labelling philosophy – those who would be put off by the varieties might well love this wine if tasted without knowing.  I certainly loved it!

Full details here

My Koffer 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €37)

BLANKbottle My Köffer 2018

This is single vineyard Cinsaut (without the “l” as usually spelt in South Africa) – a variety known for high yields and large berries which is often used to make rosé or inexpensive bulk red wine.  It’s not a grape I taste as a single varietal very often, but if it’s as good as this then I definitely should.  The nose is all cherries, following through onto the palate where they are joined by exotic spices.  The finish is pleasantly dry.

Full details here

My eie Stofpad 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €38)

BLANKbottle My eie Stofpad 2017

This wine is principally Cabernet Franc but also has a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, all from different vineyards, so it’s technically a Bordeaux blend.  It tastes nothing like a Bordeaux, with thick mouthfeel and ripe blackcurrant fruit.  There’s a savoury edge as well plus fine grained tannins.  An excellent wine.

Oppie Koppie 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €39)

BLANKbottle Oppie Koppie 2017

This lovely Syrah reminded me of St Joseph or Hawke’s Bay on steroids – but not as ripe and juicy as most Aussie Syrah/Shiraz.  Perhaps we (I) just just stop with the comparisons and say it’s a great example of South African Syrah.  Whole bunch fermentation is used in varying degrees depending on the vintage (and in particular how ripe the stems are) – for this 2017 80% was whole bunch.  2017 was the first vintage that a little Syrah from Swartland and Cinsaut from Breedekloof were added to the main Syrah from Voor-Paardeberg, all for additional complexity.  The result is a fantastic red wine that is rich yet fresh, full of black and red fruit and spice, but no jamminess.

Full details here

B.I.G. 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €41)

BLANKbottle B.I.G. 2017

This is a single varietal blend; if that sounds strange it’s because it’s made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in eight different vineyards across South Africa.  Well, normally eight, from sea level up to mountain tops, except for the 2017 vintage which saw the fruit from two of the vineyards lost to smoke taint from fires – depicted on the label.  This is definitely a Cabernet Sauvignon but it’s not too far in character from the Cabernet Franc above, just a little richer and with more pronounced blackberry and blackcurrant fruit.  As you’d expect there are fine grained tannins to keep everything in check. A truly delicious wine.

Full details here

Opinion

O’Briens Fine Wine Sale 2019

The Irish off-licence chain O’Briens has various promotions on throughout the year, but probably the most eagerly awaited is the annual Fine Wine Sale.  This year it runs from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th December.  Below are the wines I’d be snapping up this year.  Note that I haven’t necessarily tried the vintage stated of each wine, but I have tasted them often enough over the years to comfortably recommend them.

Gaia Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Gaia-Assyrtiko-Wild-Ferment

I have previously written about the 2013 and 2016 vintages of this wine as well as its younger brother Monograph, and tasted it many times in between; it remains one of my favourite “mid-priced” white wines available in Ireland.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough  Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (13.0%, €35.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Cloudy-Bay-Sauvignon-Blanc

An iconic wine at a very reasonable price!  I recently tried the 2017 (which was maturing nicely) and the 2019 which, for such a young wine, was surprisingly settled and ready to go

Julien Brocard Chablis La Boissoneuse 2018 (12.5%, €29.95 down to €25.95 at O’Briens)

Brocard-La-Boissoneuse-Organic

The 2017 vintage was #1 in my Top 10 Whites of 2019 so any reduction in price of this fantastic organic, biodynamic Chablis makes it worth snapping up!

Chanson Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017 (12.5%, €34.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Chanson-Chablis-1er-Cru-Montmains

Chanson has been part of the Bollinger group for two decades and produces consistently good wines.  This Montmains is an excellent Premier Cru and while delicious now, deserves another five years or so before being opened.

Man O’War Waiheke Island Valhalla Chardonnay 2017 (14.5%, €32.95 down to €28.95 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

I wrote about the 2010 vintage (in 2014) the 2011 (in 2016) and the 2016 (earlier this year) and loved them all.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay which will please those who like bold wines – and that includes me.

L’Ostal Cazes Minervois La Livinière Grand Vin 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €20.95 at O’Briens)

L_Ostal-Cazes-Grand-Vin

The JM Cazes family who have long owned Lynch Bages in Bordeaux have spread their interests to the Rhône and Languedoc, amongst other places.  In my not-so-humble-opinion this Minervois La Livinère is the best value wine in their portfolio.

Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2015 (13.5%, €48.00 down to €42.00 at O’Briens)

Ch_teau-Franc-Maillet

The 2014 of this wine was very good, so the even better vintage of 2015 is definitely worth a shout.  This wine is worthy of a place on my Christmas dinner table, so it’s definitely worthy of yours, too!

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 (14.0%, €32.95 down to €23.95 at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Gran-Reserva

If you like Tempranillo-based wines but tend to favour Ribero del Duero, this a Rioja house which can match the black fruited savoury wines from there.  I have previously tried the 2010 Crianza which was great, but a Gran Reserva from 2008 should be even more of a stunner!

d’Arenberg  McLaren Vale Dead Arm Shiraz 2015 (14.6%, €54.95 down to €44.95 at O’Briens)

d_Arenberg-Dead-Arm-Shiraz

While Penfolds Grange prices have rocketed off into the stratosphere, here’s an iconic Aussie wine that is (relatively) more affordable – and approachable at a younger age, too, though if you manage to keep your hands away it will last for a decade or two.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (13.8%, €80 down to €68 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

The (virtual) ink has only just dried on my review of the 2012 vintage of this wine but it’s already included in the fine wine sale.  If you want to treat yourself for Christmas (2019 or 2029) then this is a great bet!

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Leyda, you got me on my knees! [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #25]

Chile’s Sauvignon Blancs are probably its vanguard in Ireland and the UK – the first experience that many wine drinkers will have of wines from Chile.  They are widely available in supermarkets, independent merchants and everywhere in between; they offer plenty of bang for the buck and are nearly always inexpensive.  But – and it’s a big but for me* – they don’t often offer elegance or anything out of the ordinary.

However – and that’s an equally big however – of the many wine regions in Chile, one is currently head and shoulders above the others for quality Sauvignon Blanc (and Pinot Noir) – the Leyda Valley.  The shift from Casablanca has really paid off.  Here’s an example I tried recently that hit the spot.

Disclosure: sample was kindly provided for review, but opinions remain my own

Undurraga Sibaris Gran Reserva Leyda Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (13.5%, RRP €13.99 at Reids Off-Licence, Enniscorthy; Fine Wines Group; Martins Off-Licence, Fairview)

Undurraga Sibaris Leyda Sauvignon Blanc

Undurraga is one of the bigger wine companies in Chile but has been in family ownership since it was founded in 1855.  They have 2,500 acres of vineyards in the Maipo and Colchagua valleys (the latter encompasses Leyda).  The winemaker for the Sibaris range is María del Pilar Díaz whose experience includes doing vintages in Marlborough, so she is the perfect person to make Sauvignon Blanc.

On opening, the nose is a mix of tropical and citrus fruits, with a herbal twang.  These notes follow through onto the palate and are fleshed out with some fennel and mineral character.  This is a fresh wine but with some texture.  It would be great as an aperitif or with seafood, but is elegant enough to be enjoyed on its own.  A superior Chilean Sauvignon but still inexpensive.

 

*Yes, I like big buts

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #24]

Now part of New Zealand wine folklore, Cloudy Bay Vineyards was set up at the beginning of the Marlborough gold-rush (grape-rush?) in 1984 by David Hohnen.  Hohnen was no stranger to innovation as he had set up the pioneering Cape Mentelle in Margaret River in 1970.  As he was based in Western Australia, he recruited fellow Australian Kevin Judd to actually make the wines.

Cloudy Bay was one of the main producers which put Marlborough Sauvignon on the world map of wine, and such was demand that it often outstripped supply – it was frequently only available from merchants on allocation.  Over the years as other vineyards were established, Cloudy Bay was able to increase its supply of grapes but also had more competitors in the market.  Perhaps due to the expertise of luxury goods company LVMH who acquired it in 2003, Cloudy Bay has still managed to command a price premium over all its direct competitors.

Although hardly cheap at €35 and upwards in Ireland, the “straight” Sauvignon Blanc is one of the least expensive wines of the Cloudy Bay range.  The other include non-vintage and vintage sparkling Pelorus (which we had served for the toast at our wedding), Pinot Noirs from Marlborough and Central Otago, the excellent Chardonnay and a barrel-fermented wild yeast Sauvignon called Te Koko.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (13.1%, €35 – €42, stockists below)

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (1)

The 2019 vintage was released in Ireland at the beginning of November, so this is a very young wine, but awkward and angular it is not.  It has an unmistakably Marlborough Sauvignon nose with intense citrus and tropical fruits.  They are joined on the palate by juicy grapefruit and gooseberry.  There is plenty of acidity, but it presents as mouthwatering freshness and zip rather than being strong enough to make you wince. There’s a certain roundness and texture which is absent from many other Savvies. Hating on Sauvignon is quite common nowadays, but I think this wine is good enough to win plenty of converts.

Conclusion

Thirty years on, Cloudy Bay is still at the top of the pile – though its price reflects the renown of its brand as much as the quality of the wine.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Gibney’s, Malahide;  Londis, Malahide; Sweeneys D3, Fairview; Martin’s, Fairview; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Redmond’s Ranelagh; Mitchell’s, Glasthule & CHQ; Blackrock Cellars; Donnybrook Fair; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Bradley’s, North Main St, Cork; 1601 Kinsale; Wine Centre, Kilkenny; McCambridge’s, Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford.

Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions remain my own.