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)
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!
Lidl Ireland’s annual French Wine event sees several dozen French wines added to the racks in their stores, from 30th September onwards while stocks last. These are some of the whites which grabbed my attention at the press tasting. They aren’t going to be the best examples of their type as the price tags are very modest, but they offer a great introduction to the various styles and represent very good value for money.
Château Petit Mouta “Sélection Les Carmes” 2018 (12.0%, €10.99 at Lidl)
White Bordeaux is often overlooked, especially AOC Graves which is generally a step up from Bordeaux Blanc and Entre-Deux-Mers but still offers great value. This “Sélection Les Carmes” cuvée is mainly Sauvignon Blanc (90%) with the remainder (10%) Semillon. The nose shows lots of lovely green aromas – gooseberry, grapefruit and granny smith apples – with hints of tropical fruits. On the palate it is tangy and fresh with those green notes coming through again. It has more body than a Loire Sauvignon due to extra ripeness and the presence of Semillon in the blend. The finish is clean and long-lasting, with no oak evident. Great value for money.
Domaine Deux Vallons Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie 2018 (12.0%, €8.99 at Lidl)
As I have opined many times on these pages, Muscadet (100% Melon de Bourgogne of course) has an indifferent reputation which is partially deserved – there are plenty of this, acidic and flavourless examples out there (see those in French supermarkets). However, this example does have some character; yes, it is very dry but it has a very pleasing minerality to accompany the light citrus palate. The finish is mouth-wateringly acidic, so it cries out for shellfish or nibbles.
Wally Touraine Blanc 2018 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl)
Whether the “Wally” in question is a fool, a pickled gherkin or simply a bloke called Walter is moot. The wine is a 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire; it has the usual gooseberry and grapefruit notes, but also grass…freshly mown grass, and is not too far removed sticking your head into a pile of grass cuttings and inhaling. It’s a fairly simple wine to go with salads, goats cheese or with itself at a party.
Madame Claude Parmentier Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2017 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl)
We now move to the southern Rhône, and if the Sauvignons above could be said to be “vertical” on the palate then this is much more “horizontal” – not that you will be on your back after a glass, but rather than it’s broad in the mouth, much more about texture than flavour. Like me you might guess that this is predominantly Grenache and so it is: 70% Grenache Blanc, 15% Roussanne and 15% Marsanne. If you haven’t had this type of wine before then it’s well worth a try – something completely outside the Sauvignon / Chardonnay / Pinot Grigio mainstream.
Collin Bourisset Coteaux Bourguignons Blanc 2018 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl)
“Coteaux Bourguignons” means “Burgundian Hills”, and can be made anywhere in greater Burgundy, from Chablis and Auxerre in the north to Beaujolais in the south. There are red and white variants (the red version of this wine is in the next post) which can be made from several grape varieties, though Pinot Noir and Gamay are most common for the reds and Chardonnay and Aligoté for the whites. This example is 100% Chardonnay and has a ripe, fruity nose which expresses its southerly roots. On the palate it seamlessly blends citrus (lemon and lime), pip fruit (red and green apples) and tropical fruit (melon and pineapple). This is a very well put together unoaked Chardonnay that’s tasty and tangy.
Expression de Saint Mont 2017 (13.0%, €8.99 at Lidl)
And so to the star of the show, a fantastic white wine from South West France. The blend was not available but I suspect it is predominantly Gros Manseng supported by Colombard, Ugni Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc. The nose is very expressive, full of melon and mango. It’s round in the mouth as they follow through onto the palate, though in a restrained manner. A lovely fresh finish is the perfect ending. I’ve been praising Côtes de Gascogne and Saint Mont for years now, and with wine this good for little money this make a very good case for the region.
Following on from part 1 which mainly featured Loire Sauvignon Blancs, this part 2 looks at some of the Bordeaux wines which will feature in the SuperValu French Wine Sale running from 5th to 26th September in store and online. As previously mentioned, the sale includes some “Special Guest Wines” which are available for a limited time only – marked with *.
Château Moulin Lafitte 2014 (12.5%, €18.99 down to €14.00 at SuperValu)
This Château is located just above the River Garonne as it stretches out eastwards after Langon. The soil is mainly clay (80%) which adds power to the wines and makes it perfect for Merlot. The blend of this 2014 is 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, such is the power and roundnessof the wine that it feels significantly higher than its stated 12.5% alcohol. A very nice Claret.
Château Pey La Tour Bordeaux 2016 (14.5%, €19.99 down to €9.99 at SuperValu)
In the Entre-Deux-Mers region again, this time with a Vignobles Dourthe property. Dourthe was founded in 1840 and now have over a dozen Châteaux across Bordeaux plus some two dozen branded wines. The blend for this bottling is 90% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It results in a soft, fruity wine which is simultaneously smooth and powerful.
Château Sissan Grande Réserve Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux 2016 (13.5%, €23.99 down to €11.99 at SuperValu)
The Château Sissan estate extends over 25 hectares in Cadillac, Entre-Deux-Mers, just over the River Garonne from Sauternes. It benefits from gravel soil, up to 4 metres deep in places, no doubt left by the Garonne as its course has gradually changed over the centuries. The blend is 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon – with more of the latter than normally seen in this part of Bordeaux due to the free draining gravel soil (which is seen in the likes of Pessac-Léognan and Pauillac). The nose is rather spicy (apparently due to the Cab) and interesting. The palate is generous with plush red and black fruit, soft tannins and a spicy finish. Delicious!
Lady De Mour Margaux 2016 (13.0%, €34.99 down to €20.00 at SuperValu)
Left bank Bordeaux is not usually that approachable in its youth, but if any of the top four appellations are worth committing infanticide with then its the supple wines of Margaux. Lady De Mour consists of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot; after fermentation the wine receives 12 to 15 months in French oak, a quarter of which is new. It does taste wonderful but it’s the mouthfeel rather than the specific flavours which really shine – like velvet wrapped in satin! This is amazingly approachable for a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend, but then it is Margaux and the excellent De Mour group (who also produce another favourite Château Tayet)
Château Tour Baladoz Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2015 (14.0%, €44.99 down to €25.00 at SuperValu)
Château Tour Baladoz is situated just three kilometres south east of the village of Saint-Emilion, with 70% of its vines on the plateau and 30% on slopes. Sources differ on the assemblage for the 2015, but given the warm year this seems reasonable: 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. After a cold maceration, each parcel is vinified separately depending on the variety, age of the vine and terroir. Maturation is for 17 months in oak barrels (70% new) sourced from ten (!) different coopers. It has a beautifully fragrant nose which exudes class. The palate shows silky tannins with chewy, soft fruit. This is an accessible but classy wine.
Château La Garde Pessac Léognan Rouge 2010* (14.0%, €49.99 down to €30.00 at SuperValu)
All the reds above have been fairly young, spanning 2014-16. This is something different, a left bank Bordeaux which is starting to mature – and from an excellent vintage too. I tend to think of Pessac wines as having a similar blend to Margaux, which rings true when you compare La Garde to Lady De Mour above: it consists of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. Maturation is for 14 months in specially selected barrels, of which a third were new. Tasted from decanter, this was glorious, with notes of graphite, spice, plum, blackberry, and even a savoury meatiness! This is definitely a treat wine which deserves matching with a good meal.
Château Roumieu Sauternes 2014 (14.0%, 375ml, €19.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
Bordeaux does have some great (dry) whites, but the excellence of its sweet wines is even more overlooked. These wines are very expensive to produce, as the grapes are only harvested when the bunch is at the right stage of noble rottenness (is that a word?) necessitating many passes through the vineyard. The amount of juice per vine is also very low as botrytis reduces the water content. But the payoff? Amazing sweet wines.
Château Roumieu has some celebrated next door neighbours in Châteaux Climens and Doisy-Védrines. The blend is fairly typical with 89% Semillon, 10% Sauvignon Blanc and 1% Muscadelle. Still in its youth, this 2014 is very intense with marmalade, apricot and floral notes. Obviously a sweet wine – I’d guess north of 100 g/L residual sugar – it is nevertheless nicely balanced and just so lovely to drink!
As I started in the reverse order from normal, part 1 looked at the red wines in Lidl Ireland’s French Wine Cellars promotion and now part 2 looks at the whites. As with the reds, Bordeaux is well represented, but Burgundy also has some decent quaffing whites for your consideration. Here are my brief notes:
Jean Cornelius Alsace Riesling 2017 (12.5%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)
I’ve tried and liked previous vintages of this wine. It’s straight-up, straight-forward Alsace Riesling – dry, clean and unoaked, with nice lime and lemon freshness. No, it doesn’t have the concentration of the best producers’ wines, but it makes for a nice mid week sip on its own, or with a big tureen of moules marinères.
Les Celliers du Bellay Touraine Sauvignon 2016 (12.0%, €7.99 at Lidl Ireland)
Ask people to name a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley and the chances are they will say “Sancerre” or perhaps “Pouilly Fumé”, but the lesser-know appellations such as Touraine can be the source of very drinkable wines too – without the hefty price tags. At €7.99 this really is a bargain – it has more character than you’d expect for €10, never mind €8. Grapefruit is the theme, clean, fresh, juicy and zesty.
Château La Payrère Bordeaux Blanc 2018 (11.5%, €7.99 at Lidl Ireland)
Both the dry and sweet wines of Bordeaux usually feature Sauvignon Blanc, with or without companions Semillon, Muscadelle or even Sauvignon Gris. This dry Bordeaux Blanc has a lovely fragrant nose with green pepper and gooseberry – all suggesting a large proportion of Sauvignon. Fairly light in alcohol, this is another great sunshine sipper or pair with a fancy salad.
Château Rivière Lacoste Graves Blanc 2017 (12.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)
The Bordelais love drinking white Graves as it means they don’t have to resort to whites from the other place – Burgundy! As with the reds, the best Graves whites are made in the separate sub-appellation of Pessac-Léognan, but the Graves AOC has plenty ot offer. This Château Rivière Lacoste is quite rich for a white Bordeaux – white possibly some Semillon in the blend adding texture and some stone fruit notes.
Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune 2016 (12.5%, €14.99 at Lidl Ireland)
The Hautes Côtes de Beaune – like their counterpart the Hautes Côtes de Nuits – come from the upper slopes of the ridge running down the middle of Burgundy. Most of the “fine wine” is further down the slopes, but climate change and better winemaking has significantly improved the quality of wines from these more exposed areas. The first sniff is greeted with a lovely oaky nose, and a taste reveals great texture and mouthfeel, broad but fresh. It’s very nice now but would benefit from another six months’ rest before being enjoyed.
Collin-Bourisset Mâcon-Villages 2017 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)
The Mâconnais is the most southerly sub-region of Burgundy proper, and with the more southerly latitude comes more heat and sunshine. This results in wines which are somewhat New World in style – and that’s what we have here. This Mâcon-Villages is quite tropical and broad, but wears no new oak. Swirl this in a big glass and don’t drink too cold.
De Oliveira Lecestre Chablis 2017 (13.0%, €17.99 at Lidl Ireland)
Chablis has a certain cachet so its wines are never cheap. They can be good value, although for me the best value is usually up at Premier and Grand Cru level. AOC Chablis is nearly always unoaked and mineral which this example from De Oliveira Lecestre is, but unlike poor Chablis it isn’t lean or austere. Instead it’s chalky, mineral, and fresh, a great way to try Chablis at a reasonable cost.
Val de Salis Pays d’Oc Chardonnay 2017 (13.5%, €8.99 at Lidl Ireland)
This is the first Chardonnay in this article which isn’t from Burgundy, and it shows – it’s very different in style from all the others above. It has more body and texture, and a definite herbal edge (not uncommon in Languedoc wines). Try with prawns in garlic and herbs, and save a glass for the chef!
DNS Wine Club were recently treated to a sneak peak of the sweet wines shown to the Irish press. The trio below were the standouts, but please remember – sweet wines are not just for dessert!
Château Rieussec Sauternes 2014 (14.0%, RRP €50.00 (375ml) at O’Briens)
We start with the smallest bottle and lowest abv yet highest price – and all these facts are related. Sauternes is an expensive wine to produce, as botrytised grapes (shrivelled by noble rot) contain less juice than normal grapes, and picking them at optimum levels often requires several passes in the vineyard.
Château Rieussec is one of 11 Premiers Crus (just below the sole Premier Cru Supérieur of Château d’Yquem) established by the 1855 Classification. It was bought by the Lafite branch of the Rothschilds in 1984 and benefitted from their marketing and distribution efforts, though (thankfully) pricing is still a fraction of Lafite-Rothschild’s Grand Vin. A second sweet wine (Carmes de Rieussec) and a dry white (R de Rieussec) complete the range.
This 2014 is made from the traditional Sauternes blend of Sémillon (93%), Sauvignon Blanc (5%) and Muscadelle (2%) and is an exuberant delight for the senses. Still very young, it has a highly perfumed nose of stone fruit, whisky marmalade and ginger. The spice is somewhat muted on the palate at present, as apricot, peach and citrus dominate, wrapped in an envelope of sweetness that is cosseting but not cloying. As one DNS member put it “this tastes of money” – it’s a fabulous, beautiful wine.
Gérard Bertrand Banyuls 2011 (16.0%, RRP €23.95 (750ml) at O’Briens)
Along with Maury and Rivesaltes, Banyuls is one of the three Vin Doux Naturelproducing areas in Roussillon, French Catalonia. As with the VDNs produced throughout France, grape spirit is added early on during fermentation to kill the yeast, leaving plenty of sugar left in the juice – and plenty of alcohol too! This is the same method as used in Porto, so the end result is not unlike Port.
Grenache is the king in these parts, not least because of the grape’s ability to produce high sugar levels and moderate tannin levels. Bottling is relatively quick after mutage as Grenache is susceptible to unwanted oxidation if left in oak, but once under cork the wine can last for decades.
At 16.0% Gérard Bertrand’s Banyuls comes in at around the same as some Californian and Italian wines – and tastes lighter than the vintage Port it was tried against. Grenache Gris supports the mainstay Grenache Noir and adds elegance. Fruit is the key here, both dried and fresh, with a little tannin and acidity supporting the show. This would be superb with some fruit cake but perfect for contemplation on its own.
Bethany Old Quarry Tawny NV (19.0%, €24.95 (750ml) at O’Briens)
Most of us don’t associate fortified wines with Australia, but for the majority of the twentieth century locally produced “port” and “sherry” dominated the market. Once dry table wines had taken off, the Grenache and Shiraz vines that were the source of grapes for fortifieds were still used to some extent, but as varieties they fell behind Cabernet Sauvignon in the fashion stakes, so many older vines were sadly ripped up and replaced. Thankfully, some still survive and make brilliant port style wines – though of course they can’t be labelled as such in the EU – and are the highlight of many winelovers’ discoveries on visiting Australian cellar doors.
This is a rare example which is available up here – in Ireland at least. Produced by the ever-excellent Geoff Schrapel at Bethany in the Barossa, it is a blend of late harvested Grenache and Shiraz, aged together in old oak casks for an average of ten years before bottling. As with tawny Port, this gives a lighter – almost brown – colour to the wine, with dried fruit and nutty flavours. This is a delightful drink, especially in the coming darker months, and has more flavour than most Ports at this price.
After part 1 (the reds), here are the whites that I really enjoyed at SuperValu’s recent Secret Garden Part event:
Duo des Mers Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2017 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)
This is a lovely fresh blend of Sauvignon Blanc from Gascony (Atlantic) and Viognier from the Languedoc (Mediterranean), hence two different seas. As such, the best label of origin it can have is “Vin de France” which is usually seen on cheap bulk wine (a rule of thumb is that the more specific / small the area is, the better the wines are.) However, this really is an exception – the Sauvignon (70%) provides fresh green fruit with zip and the Viognier (30%) gives rich peach and pineapple – a great combination which is more than the sum of its parts (and after all, isn’t that what blends are supposed to be?)
Combeval Grande Cuvée SCG 2017 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)
Nothing to do with the Sydney Cricket Ground, this is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (60%), Colombard (20%) and Gros Manseng (20%), all from Gascony. It’s another successful blend from LGI, this time with local grapes Colombard (a very under-rated grape) and Gros Manseng. The grapes are cold macerated for 24 hours which helps to extract aromas and flavours from the skins without any harshness, and then the juice is taken off and kept on big lees (bits!) at just above freezing for a further 20 days. And the result of this high-tech winemaking? Just farking gorgeous!
Nugan Estate Dreamer’s Chardonnay 2013 (14.0%, RRP €13.99 at SuperValu)
Regular readers should need no introduction to this wine, just to say that it still tastes great and is a total bargain! There’s plenty of toasty oak and rich fruit, but a crisp, clean finish. Lovely drinking!
Trisquel Series Origen Semillión 2017 (12.5%, RRP €16.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)
This wine was a big surprise, not necessarily the quality (which I expected to be high), but the style; the juice has two months contact with the skins which makes it somewhat an orange wine – and I never expected to see one of those in a supermarket! Depending on where it’s grown and when it’s picked, Semillon can be light and fresh or a bit more tropical – and of course that’s just the dry wines, it’s a very important grape for sweet wine production in many countries.
One of the reasons Semillon is so treasured for sweet wines is the thinness of its skins, thus making it relatively easy to attract botrytis if the conditions are right. This also means than when made in an orange style, it’s lighter and more accessible than many other grapes.
I think this is one of the most interesting wines available in an Irish supermarket – fresh apple and pear with a slight tartness like a Granny Smith’s apple chopped into grapefruit juice. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me!
Albert Glas Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.0%, RRP €15.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)
This is a “Trocken” (dry-but-fruity) Riesling from the Pfalz in Germany – one of the best regions for Riesling in the country. Now made by third generation winemaker Dominik Glas, there is in fact a wide range of different Rieslings and other grapes made by the winery – this is their “standard” level. But there’s nothing basic about it – lovely green apple and lime fruit shine brightly while a kiss of sugar and a streak of acidity compete for your attention on the finish. A lovely wine.
Albert Glas Black Label Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.0%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)
Apart from the obvious (the colour of the label), the main differences of this wine are the sourcing of fruit from better vineyards and the use of oak. Don’t run away, though, the wine isn’t “oaky” – only 20% is fermented in oak (the rest in stainless steel) and the barrels are old so they don’t impart a flavour to the wine – just more body, depth and openness. Dominik Glas is proud of the fact that the oak trees come from a Pfalz forest, so the trees and the vines are in the same soil. The net effect of all of this is to produce a more complex and satisfying wine which needs to be tried.
Kim Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.0%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)
The standard Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is one of the better to come out of Marlborough, but the smaller production (“Small Parcels”) Spitfire Sauvignon is well worth the extra few quid for the upgrade, particularly in a year like 2017 which didn’t hit the heights of 2015 and 2016. It’s very citrusy like the little brother, but also shows sweet tropical fruit on the mid palate. Absolute text book Marlborough Savvy.
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.
When I was asked to put on a wine tasting event for a birthday party, I asked what format the host wanted and the average level of wine knowledge among the guests. He replied that he was open about the format but that the partygoers would have varying levels of interest and knowledge in wine (a couple of heathens not even liking wine!) Furthermore, there would be different groups within the guests, so an arrangement which got them to mix well would be preferable.
The format we agreed on was one that has worked well for me at many events in the past, and has been progressively honed over the years. I split the guests into two teams, led by the birthday boy and his wife respectively. Six wines were served blind: two sparkling, two white and two red. For each wine, the teams had to guess five aspects:
Now, blind tasting is actually pretty difficult even for seasoned professionals, so to make things a bit more reasonable there were 5 answers to chose from for each question, for each wine. The teams could then go for more points if they were pretty sure what the wine was (e.g. choosing “Italy – Veneto” for origin and “Glera” for grape(s) if they thought it was a Prosecco) or hedging their bets.
As for the wines selected? The host is a fan of classic Bordeaux and Burgundy but wanted to try other styles, so he asked me to choose some personal favourites. I sourced them from Tesco (supermarket) and Sweeney’s wine merchants, so that if attendees liked the wines they would have a reasonable chance of finding them later.
So without further ado, here are the wines and the options for each question:
Marqués de la Concordia Cava 2013 (11.5%, €17.99 at Sweeney’s)
Both teams guessed this was a Cava and had it in the right price band. I’m not a fan of cheap Cava but this is actually a nice bottle at a pretty nice price. I’d much prefer to drink this than most budget Proseccos!
Tesco Finest Vintage Grand Cru Champagne 2007 (12.5%, €35.00 at Tesco)
Perhaps the proliferation of cheaper Champagnes at Lidl and Aldi have changed people’s preconceptions of how much Champagne costs, as both teams selected €20 – €30. The biggest Champagne brand in the world – Möet & Chandon – is usually listed at €50+…but I reckon this is far better, at a significantly lower price.
Prova Regia Arinto VR Lisboa 2014 (12.0%, €13.00 at Sweeney’s)
This is an old favourite of mine from the days of Sweeney’s regular tastings. It now comes in two versions, the above pictured Vinho Regional and a slightly more upmarket DOC. Whispers of “It’s Riesling, look at the bottle” were heard, and I can see the logic (the bottles were wrapped in foil so the silhouette was visible). Several tasters thought it didn’t taste of much at all, and I’d have to agree to a certain extent – it’s definitely worth trading up to the DOC for more flavour intensity.
McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Hunter Valley Semillon 2005 (12.0%, €19.99 at Tesco)
This was a really polarising wine, and one that totally misled tasters as to its age – most thought it a 2015 or 2014, when in fact it was from the 2005 vintage! Hunter Valley Semillon is one of the true original styles to have come from Australia. Unoaked, it is all fresh lemon in its youth, but with significant bottle age it gains toastiness and rich flavours. This is a bottle you can buy now and hide in the bottom of a wardrobe for a decade!
Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014 (13.5%, €26.00 at Sweeney’s)
Probably the best-received wine of the evening! This is a lovely wine, and one that beats off most of the competition at anything close to the price. Its richness and spiciness (for a Pinot Noir) did lead some to think it was a Shiraz – understandable. This was the wine which people queued up to snap the label of so that they could seek it out!
Diemersfontein Pinotage 2014 (14.0%, €23.00 at Sweeney’s)
Another polarising wine, with several not sure if they liked it or not – and to be fair, it’s not for everyone. This is the “Original Coffee and Chocolate Pinotage” and I happen to like it – don’t listen to the Mochas (sorry!) Of course the grape and origin weren’t explicitly listed so they were both “other” – a bit sneaky on my part? Perhaps…
**If you are interested in having a wine tasting party or other event then please ask me for details**
Hunter Valley Semillon is rightly regarded as an “Australian Original”, with magnificent examples coming from Tyrrell’s, McWilliam’s and the like. Picked early in the harvest season it is generally light and fairly modest in alcohol – and, it has to be said, somewhat simple in flavour when young. However, over time it grows in complexity with layers of honey and toastiness added to the primary citrus. It often tastes oaked when it has been nowhere near an oak barrel.
Barossa Semillon, made around a thousand miles to the west, is a different beast entirely. The grapes are usually picked when fully ripe and maturation in oak barrels is common for Semillon, just as for Shiraz, Cabernet and Chardonnay.
The Barossa Valley is based around the small towns of Tanunda, Nuriootpa and Angaston, north east of Adelaide in the state of South Australia. It’s a very picturesque area – well yes, most wine regions are – but in particular shows the rich Germanic heritage of the area. The small village of Bethany is the home of Bethany Wines. It was the first part of the Barossa to be settled, with the Schrapel family planting their first vines in 1852. The family firm is now run by brothers Geoff and Robert Schrapel from the 5th generation and some of their children now forming the 6th generation.
Among the Bethany portfolio is this delicious Semillon. The alcohol is not that high at 12.5% but is a few pips higher than a traditional Hunter Valley Sem. During maturation it spent some time in French hogsheads which is definitely discernible, though not at all overdone. In both aromas and flavours there’s a blend of fresh citrus and mellow honey – and it’s totally delicious!
It’s sort of like drinking a dry Sauternes – which might sound funny, but actually makes a bit of sense when you consider that Semillon is one of the main grapes in Sauternes and is often barrel aged. And the G6 monicker? That refers to the 6th generation of the Schrapel family of course!