Tag: Semillon

Selection from Febvre – Part 2

Selection from Febvre – Part 2

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)

Deutz

Classique is 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 citrus on 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)

Nocturne

The blend for this cuvée is 40% Chardonnay then 30% each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – but it’s the dosage which 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)

Fumee

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)

Muscat

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)

Vat 5

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 golden colour and has the distinctive honey and mushroom botrytis notes on the nose.  On the palate it has an amazing intensity of flavour – honey and stone fruit with a touch of caramel and 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))

Marquesado

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 chai to 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.

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A Fun Blind Tasting Event

rrapid_blocks

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:

  1. Geographical Origin
  2. Grape(s)
  3. ABV %
  4. Vintage
  5. Price Band

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)

marques-cava

sparkling-1

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)

tesco-finest-champagne

sparkling-2

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)

provo-regia-arinto

white-1

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)

semillon

white-2

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)

20-barrels

red-1

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)

diemersfontein-pinotage

red-2

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**

 

 

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #07 – Bethany G6 Barossa Semillon 2010

Bethany_vineyard
Bethany Vineyards (Credit: Bram Souffrau)

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.

Bethany G6 Barossa Semillon 2010 (12.5%, €18.45, O’Briens)

Bethany-G6-Semillon

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!

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet Wines of 2015

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet Wines of 2015

I love sweet wines, whether with dessert, instead of dessert, or at any time I fancy them. They can actually pair well with savoury dishes of many types, depending on their prominent flavours, richness, acidity and sugar levels.  For example, late harvest Gewurztraminer from Alsace is amazing with foie gras, and off dry to medium wines often work well with exotic Asian fare.

There are several methods of making sweet wines, the simplest being to leave the grapes on the vine while they continue to produce sugars, and harvest them later.  A further step is to allow noble rot (botrytis cinerea) to attack the grapes and dry them out, thereby concentrating the sugars.  Other traditions involve sun or air drying to reduce water levels.

Whichever way is used, balance is the key, particularly the balance between sugar and acidity.  This means that even lusciously sweet wines can avoid being cloying, which is usually a turn off.

Here are ten of the sweet wines which really impressed me in 2015:

 

10. Berton Riverina Botrytis Semillon 2013 (€9.99 (375ml), Aldi)

Berton_Botrytis_Semillon-500x500

I first tried a Berton wine from Coonawarra, my favourite red wine region of the world.  It was perhaps a little less fruit forward than some from the area but had the most pronounced spearmint aromas that I’ve ever encountered in a wine (for the avoidance of doubt this is a positive for me!)

The Riverina area in the middle of New South Wales is an irrigated bulk wine producing region, and is where many of Australia’s inexpensive bottles (and boxes!) are produced. Due to humidity close to the major rivers it is also a source for excellent botrytis style stickies (as the locals call them), including the fabulous De Bortoli Noble One.

Semillon’s thin skins make it particularly susceptible to noble rot – which is why it is so successful in Sauternes and Barsac – and so it proves in Berton’s version.  I’m not going to claim that this has the intensity of Noble One but it does a damned good impression – and at a far lower price.  Amazing value for money!

9. Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardia “Nectaria” Botrytis Riesling 2009 (€19.99 (375ml) Sweeney’s of Glasnevin  and Carry Out Off-Licence in Ongar, Dublin 15)

2015-09-15 18.04.56

Familiarity with Spanish or another romance language reveals that this is a Late Harvest style, with the addition of Botrytis characters.  It was one of the stand out wines of the Chilean Wine Fair – though being different in a sea of Sauvignon, Carmenère and Cabernet probably helped.

As you may or may not know, Miguel Torres wines are the Chilean outpost of the Spanish Torres family’s operations, with quality and value both prominent.  The key to this wine is the streak of acidity cutting through the sweetness – the hallmark of a great Riesling dessert wine.  

8. San Felice Vin Santo 2007 (€19.49 (375ml) O’Briens)

Vin Santo

As someone who generally likes Italian wine and has a soft spot for sweet wines, I’ve nearly always been disappointed by Vin Santos I’ve tried. I don’t think my expectations were too high, it’s just that the oxidative (Sherry-like) notes dominated the other aspects of the wines.

This is different – perfectly balanced with lovely caramel and nut characters.  It’s made from widely grown grapes Trebbiano Toscano (75%) and Malvasia del Chianti (25%) which aren’t generally known for their character, but it’s the wine-making process that makes the difference.  Bunches of grapes are dried on mats to reduce water content then pressed as normal.  After fermentation the wine is aged five years in French barriques then a further year in bottle.   A real treat!

7. Le Must de Landiras Graves Supérieurs 2004 (Direct from Château)

Le Must de Landiras

White Graves – particularly those from the subregion of Pessac-Léognan – are in my opinion the most underappreciated of all Bordeaux wines.  Even less commonly known are the sweeter wines from the area – and to be honest the average wine drinker would be hard pressed to know when there’s often no mention of sweetness on the bottle, they are just “expected to know” that “Graves Supérieures” indicated higher sugar rather than higher quality.

Being close to Sauternes shouldn’t make the production of sweet wines a surprise, but then few people carry a map around in their head when tasting!

Simply put, this is probably the best sweet Graves I’ve ever had.  See this article for more details.

6. Longview Epitome Late Harvest Riesling 2013 (€16.99, O’Briens)

2015-10-15 13.34.30

Riesling in Australia is nearly always bone dry and dessert wines usually use Semillon for late harvest styles or Rhône varieties for fortifieds, but when done well they can be sensational.

This was such a hit at the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting that two other of my fellow wine writers picked it out for recommendation, namely Richie Magnier writing as The Motley Cru and Suzi Redmond writing for The Taste.  Imagine the softness of honey with the fresh zip of lime at the same time – something of a riddle in your mouth, but so moreish!

5. De Trafford Straw Wine 2006 (€29.50 (375ml), Kinnegar Wines)

de trafford strawwinelabel00-1_m

In its home region of the Loire, Chenin Blanc comes in all different types of sweetness, with and without botrytis.  Its natural acidity makes it a fine grape for producing balanced sweet wines.

David Trafford picks the Chenin grapes for his straw wine at the same time as those for his dry white, but then has the bunches dried outside for three weeks before pressing. After a very long fermentation (the yeast takes a long time to get going in such a high sugar environment) the wine is matured in barriques for two years.

I had the good fortune to try this delicious wine with David Trafford himself over dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar – for a full report see here.  Apricot and especially honey notes give away the Chenin origins, and layers of sweetness remain framed by fresh acidity.

 

4. Pegasus Bay Waipara “Encore” Noble Riesling 2008 (~£25 (375ml) The Wine Society

2015-08-14 20.40.35[

This is the gift that keeps on giving…I bought my wife a six pack of this wine a few years ago, as it was one we really enjoyed on our honeymoon tour of New Zealand, and she is so parsimonious that we haven’t finished them yet!

This is in a similar vein to the Epitome Riesling but has more botrytis character – giving a mushroom edge, which is much nicer than in sounds – and additional bottle age which has allowed more tangy, tropical fruit flavours to develop and resolve.  A truly wonderful wine.

See this article for more details.

3. José Maria da Fonseca “Alambre” ® DO Moscatel de Setúbal 2008 (€6.45, Portugal)

2015-06-20 13.23.19

I had been meaning to try a Moscatel de Setúbal since a former colleague from the area told me about it.  A holiday to the Algarve provided the perfect opportunity, and I found this beauty in the small supermarket attached to the holiday complex we stayed in – at the ridiculous price of €6.45!

Moscatel / Muscat / Moscato is one of the chief grapes used for dessert wine around the Mediterranean – and can make very dull wines.  This is by some margin the best I’ve tasted to date!   I’m sure most people would swear that toffee had been mixed in, the toffee flavours are so demonstrative.

See this article for more details.

2. Chateau Dereszla Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2006 (€38.95 (500ml) The Corkscrew)

Château Dereszla Tokaji

Tokaji is one of the great sweet wines of the world – in fact it’s one of the great wines of the world full stop.  It’s usually a blend of a normal grapes and botrytised grapes in differing proportions, the actual blend being the main indicator of sweetness.

Apricot and marmalade are the first things which spring to mind on tasting this, though time has added toffee and caramel notes.  This is the sort of wine that I would happily take instead of dessert pretty much any time!

See this article for more details.

 

1. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2013 (Liberty, from good wine merchants)

2015-09-17 15.06.48

I first came across this wine at Ely Wine Bar on my wife’s birthday a few years ago.  After a filling starter and main course neither of us had room for dessert, but fancied something sweet; Ely is a treat for winelovers as it has an unrivaled selection of wines by the glass, so like a kid in a sweetshop I ordered a flight of different sweeties for us to try:

2014-08-02 23.15.01-2

All four were lovely but it was the Ben Ryé which stood out.

At a later trade event put on by Liberty Wines, I noticed that this was one of their wines open for tasting.  With a room full of hardened trade pros (and myself) it was amusing to notice how many people just dropped by the sweet and fortified for a drop of this!

My mate Paddy Murphy of The Vine Inspiration also covered this wine.

 

Don’t forget to also check out Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz of 2015 and Top 10 Whites of 2015!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make Mine a Double #04 – White Graves (of the Bordeaux Kind)

Make Mine a Double #04 – White Graves (of the Bordeaux Kind)

This series of articles each covers two wines that have something in common, and most likely some point of difference. Compare and contrast is the order of the day – so make mine a double!

The South-Western district of Bordeaux is known as the Graves after the gravelly soil which predominates and produces a wide range of classic red and white Bordeaux. Although much less well known than the famous communes of the Médoc on the left bank and St-Emilion and Pomerol on the right bank, Graves was actually producing quality wines even before Dutch engineers drained the marshy Médoc peninsula. In fact, Samuel Pepys even made mention of the well-established “Ho Bryan” in his eponymous diary written in the 1660s.

There are producers of top quality white wine in the rest of Bordeaux but the Graves is easily the leader for whites. Apart from Haut Brion, which was one of the original four First Growths, the remainder of the Graves was omitted from the 1855 Bordeaux Classification; the Classification of Graves was first published in 1953 for reds and whites were added in the 1959 update.

Grave Vineyards
Grave Vineyards (Credit: vingnobledebordeaux.com)

The best part of the northern Graves surrounding the villages of Pessac and Léognan has had its own appellation since 1987, though the wines still show (usually Grand Vin de) Graves or Bordeaux on the label.

A word of caution for the uninitiated: whereas Bordeaux Supérieur AOC is a red wine made with slightly stricter regulations on yields and minimum alcohol (which is nowadays exceeded in most years anyway) than standard Bordeaux AOC, Graves Supérieures AOC is actually a sweet wine! It is similar in style to the more famous sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, though usually less intense and complex. Both sweet and dry whites are generally a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes with a dash of the third ranked white grape Muscadelle.

Having done a tour of the Graves Wine Route many years ago I can personally attest to their quality! Sadly availability in Ireland is very limited indeed. Here are a couple I have tasted and enjoyed recently.

Château Simon Graves 2013 (€15.95, Cases Wine Warehouse) 12.5%

Château Simon Graves 2013
Château Simon Graves 2013

Although based in Barsac and specialising in sweeter wines, Château Simon also produces 12,000 bottles a year of white Graves from three hectares.  Fermentation (to dryness) is in oak; batonnage is carried out for several months to add creamy lees character.

Château Simon
Château Simon

Tangy! Honey and soft white fruit from the Sémillon (50%), citrus freshness from the Sauvignon Blanc (50%). Definitely more than the sum of its parts, the two grapes work perfectly together. Lively enough to work as an aperitif or with seafood, but enough body to accompany chicken and stronger poultry, or even pork. Great value for money.

Le Must de Landiras du Château Terrefortes des Chons Graves Supérieures 2004 (direct from the Château)

Le Must de Landiras du Château Terrefortes des Chons Graves Supérieures 2004
Le Must de Landiras du Château Terrefortes des Chons Graves Supérieures 2004

A different beast entirely. If my warning above wasn’t enough, the deep golden colour should let you know that this is pretty sweet. Brought to a DNS Wine Club barbecue by my mate Paul W, it is apparently just about ready to drink according to the producer – at over ten years old.

Les Chons is smack bang halfway between the villages of Sauternes and Barsac, and the Grand Vin is indeed a Sauternes.  However, they also own other vineyards in the Graves and this is the resulting wine.

Many of the Graves Supérieures I’ve tried in the past have been disappointing – some sweetness, but not enough to qualify as a dessert wine, and not concentrated enough to be interesting as a medium / off-dry wine. This blows all of them out of the water – easily the best I’ve tasted from the region and on a par with a very good Sauternes. Honey and baked apples show on the nose and palate, with an unctuously sweet mouthfeel, but balanced by acidity. Outstanding.

Some Highlights from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Reds and Sweet

Some Highlights from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Reds and Sweet

Following on from my review of the sparkling and white wines in part one, here are the red and sweet wines which impressed me at the O’Briens Wines Autumn Press Tasting:

Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012 (€10.99)

Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012
Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012

Navarra (or Navarre in English) is a wine region in the north of Spain close to the more famous Rioja.  It used to be well-known for its rosados but now produces plenty of quality reds and whites, from both indigenous and international grape varieties.  In fact, the old Garnacha vineyards previously used for simple rosés are now being put to a more noble use in reds such as this one.  The other grapes in the blend are the local Tempranillo and the international Merlot.

It’s unmistakably Spanish, with bold red and black fruit cossetted in a basket of vanilla. This is smooth and very easy to drink on it’s own, but would stand up to beef or lamb with aplomb.  Great value for money.

Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011 (€15.99)

Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011
Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011

The Spanish speakers among you may have spotted from the label that this was matured in oak for 12 months, and thereby qualifies for the Crianza designation.  The oak used was mainly French (80%) with the balance American.

Jumilla is a region on the rise, as modern viticultural and vinification techniques are applied to some old bush vine vineyards.  Monastrell (the Rhône’s Mourvèdre) dominates the blend here with beefiness and spice, augmented by Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and a little Merlot.  The fruit is black rather than red – and it almost explodes out of the bottle.

Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009 (€42.00)

ongview The Piece Shiraz 2009
Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009

Longview are based in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia, just into the hills above….err…Adelaide!  Known as a cool(er) climate region, it can produce sublime Chardonnays and is now getting a serious reputation for Shiraz: Shaw + Smith excel at both.  “The Piece” is their top wine with all grapes handpicked, sorted and fermented in four separate one tonne open fermenters. It was aged for 24 months in new and old 300 litre French oak hogsheads.

At five years of age the wine has now settled down and is beginning to unfurl its petals.  It has sweet black fruit with soft integrated oak.  Medium acidity and silky tannins provide the structure for balance and additional ageing if you can resist drinking it now.

Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007 (€75.00, €67.00 in Nov/Dec)

Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007
Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007

How much? you might ask.  Yes, it’s an expensive bottle, but it’s a high end wine, and if you feel like splashing out for Christmas this would be perfect.  2007 was a good year for Bordeaux’s southerly Sauternes subregion so it should last for at least a decade from now.

On opening the wine has a divine, honey and apricot nose that you just want to inhale all day.  This follows through onto the palate, and while it’s definitely a dessert wine, there’s enough acidity to provide balance and stop it being cloying.

If you are a fan of foie gras then a glass of this would be a sublime match.

Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989 (€27.99)

Gerard Bertrand AOC Muscat de Rivesaltes 1989
Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

For me this was the standout wine of the tasting.  For those not familiar with the term, a Vin Doux Naturel is a fortified sweet wine where grape spirit is added early in the fermentation process to kill off the yeast, stopping fermentation and leaving some of the natural sugars from the grapes.  The Muscat grape is a staple for this job, especially around the Mediterranean, but Grenache offers an alternative style in several appellations.

The  Rivesaltes appellation takes its name from the town of the same name in the Roussillon area, which means “High Banks” in Catalan.

The Muscat versions are often sweet, simple and grapey, nice but nothing to write home about. This 25 year old Rivesaltes demands you buy a big book of stamps!

Time has caused the colour to fade from the wine – Grenache doesn’t tend to hold on to its colour that well anyway – but in return there are layers upon layers of complexity.  You could lose yourself for an hour just smelling the aromas, before diving into the heavenly Christmas pudding palate.  Spice up your wine selection here!

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny (€23.99)

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny
Bethany Old Quarry Tawny

The obvious word missing from the name of this wine is “Port”, and that’s because it’s from Australia not Porto.  Most people are very familiar with Australian table wine but aren’t aware that fortified wines were the majority of the industry’s output until the 1970s.  Port and Sherry imitations dominated the domestic market but were never able to compete with the real deal overseas.  Nowadays the proportion of production devoted to fortifieds is small with virtually nil exported.

Happily this is one of the bottles in that small rounding error, made from the traditional Barossa fortifieds grapes of Grenache and Shiraz.  Barrel ageing has given it some wonderfully intense raisin and nutty “rancio” characters.

Try this as an alternative to LBV or Tawny Port.

 

 

An Impromptu Quartet

Sometimes it’s nice to plan events well in advance, as the anticipation is part of the enjoyment.  But it’s also nice to be a bit more spontaneous and do something at short notice.  At the suggestion of my better half we invited a few friends round for dinner – and of course some bottles of wine were opened to accompany her amazing dishes.

Here are a few of the whites that really stood out for me:

Château Carbonnieux Blanc Pessac-Léognan 2008

Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Leognan 2008
Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Léognan 2008

This somewhat aristocratic looking wine is from the heartland of the Graves subregion of Bordeaux.  The Pessac-Léognan AOC was carved out of the middle of the Graves AOC in 1987 to highlight the finest terroir of the area.  Although it is home to many fine reds, including the 1855 1st Growth Haut-Brion, Pessac is where the top echelon of Bordeaux’s dry whites are made.

Château Carbonnieux is in the commune of Léognan and is a classed growth under the 1959 Graves classification.  As you’d expect from a Bordeaux white it is a Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blend, but with a lovely vanilla envelope from some gentle oak ageing.

This type of wine can age gracefully for a decade or more, though for me it is à point right now.  There are still the grapefruit and hints of honey from its youth but now its pleasantly round.

Jean-Philippe Fichet Le Meix Sous Le Château Meursault 2010

Jean-Philippe Fichet Meursault 2010
Jean-Philippe Fichet Le Meix Sous Le Château Meursault 2010

Meursault is the archetypal oaked Chardonnay, though of course it doesn’t say so on the label.  Being a self-confessed oak lover – when it’s done right, of course – it’s one of the labels I gravitate towards in Burgundy.

Jean-Philippe Fichet has lots of small parcels dotted in and around Meursault – see the map on his excellent website.  This wine is from a 1/2 hectare Lieu-dit (a named area which doesn’t have Premier Cru or Grand Cru status) near the centre of Meursault itself. The vines are 50 to 60 years old which comes through in the concentration of flavour.  As 2010 was a warm vintage there are plenty of tropical notes in addition to the brioche from the oak, neither dominating.  This was a “bin-end” from The Wine Society – a definite winner for me!

Also see Jamie Goode’s report of his visit here.

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010 (Waiheke Island)

Man O'War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010
Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010

Man O’War are a fantastic producer based in Waiheke Island, a short ferry ride from Auckland in New Zealand.  Their Bordeaux blend “Ironclad” and Syrah “Dreadnaught” are big and bold reds – not for those who prefer shy and retiring types – and the whites are similarly forthright.

The 2011 vintage of this was a highlight for me of the NZ Trade Tasting at the beginning of the year.  It’s a really tropical wine which might be too much for some – but not for me!

The key to balance in this wine is that malolactic fermention is blocked, meaning it retains some zesty acidity and isn’t flabby.  Can you imagine candied pineapple that isn’t teeth-achingly sugary?  There you go!

Château Princé Côteaux de l’Aubance 2007

Château Princé Côteaux de l'Aubance 2007
Château Princé Côteaux de l’Aubance 2007

The Loire Valley wine region is actually a collection of quite different subregions which specialise in different grapes and types of wine.  Just for reds, for example, Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Malbec and Pinot Noir are all used.  There are some great sparkling wines and classy rosés plus world famous dry whites such as Sancerre and Muscadet.

But for me the real gems of the Loire are the often overlooked sweet whites.  Most are based on the Chenin Blanc grape which means they have acidity to balance the sugar and stop the wines being cloying.

The best sites are the slopes leading down to the Loire and its many tributaries, including the Layon, Aubance and Louet.

Simple map of the Coteaux de l'Aubance [Source: Wikipedia]
Simple map of the Coteaux de l’Aubance [Source: Wikipedia]

Being so close to water creates the humid conditions that encourage noble rot, which reduces the water content of grapes and concentrates the sugar, acidity and flavour.

This 2007 was among a stash I picked up several years ago from the excellent Maison du Vin de Saumur – worth a four hour round trip to Saumur on its own.  At seven years old it’s still a baby, but has fantastic concentration.  There’s honey on the nose but a whiff of funk from the botrytis – it is a fungus after all.  On the palate there are noticeable Chenin characteristics of apple and greengage with luscious tropical fruit notes.  It’s a fully sweet wine but the zing of acidity keeps it fresh and interesting.

 

Lower Alcohol Wines That Taste Good!

For those brave souls that clicked on this to read more, stick with me – this won’t be full or moralising on the evils of alcohol or telling you to drink less.  I’ll leave that to puritans and the government, respectively.  Neither will I be looking at Weightwatchers or Slimming World branded wines which reportedly taste of goat’s piss.  Having tasted neither the diet wines nor hircine urine this is hearsay, but I will leave that trial to others.

Instead I’d like to cover a few wines that I like which happen to be lower in alcohol than the 14%+ blockbusters which populate wine shelves nowadays.  If you fancy a couple of glasses on a school night that won’t leave you with a heavy head in the morning, this is the way to go.

As a general rule, these wines are grown in relatively cool climates.  The moderate sunshine means that grapes aren’t as high in sugar at harvest, but they should still have plenty of flavour.  Lower alcohol is a finished wine is the result of lower sugar at harvest and / or fermentation being stopped by the winemaker before all the sugar has turned to alcohol, which obviously leaves some residual sweetness.

There are lots of other viticultural and vinification techniques which can be used to moderate alcohol levels, including:

  • Picking early
  • Canopy management
  • Clonal selection
  • Yeast selection
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Spinning cone
  • Watering down (!)

So what should you try?

Mosel Riesling

Many consider the Model to be the spiritual home of the Riesling grape.  The cool climate imparts a fierce acidity to the wine, so fermentation is often stopped before all the sugar has turned to alcohol, leaving some to soften the affect of the acidity.  Alcohol levels of 8% are not uncommon here – that’s half the abv of some blockbusters from Australia and California!

German (and Austrian) wines have a fairly complex quality hierarchy based on the sugar at the time of harvest, though the RS in the finished wine is more of a stylistic choice.  If you see Trocken then the wine should taste pretty dry.

Hunter Valley Semillon

I have already established myself as a fan of this style, delicious as a fresh blast of lemon or as a mature, honey and toast loaded beauty.  Alcohol levels here are usually between 10.0% and 11.5% – but they don’t feel to be lacking it when you drink them, the sign of a good, balanced wine.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth is a good entry level, though of course Tyrrell’s Vat 1 is the famous star of the area.

Vinho Verde

North and East of the Port producing region Douro, Vinho Verde produces light white, rosé and red wines.  They exhibit fresh acidity and sometimes a light spritz and may not exceed 11.5% apart from one exception*.  Vinho Verde doesn’t have the best reputation, but this is undeserved – the wines won’t be the most complex but they can be delightful in summer.  Modern wine-making techniques have dramatically improved the average quality level.

*The exception is for Alvarinho (the same grape as Albariño just over the border into Galicia) from the areas around the town of Monção

Moscato d’Asti

Erm are we getting into Asti Spumante territory here?  Yes we are!  But don’t worry, like many bad memories of the ’70s, the modern truth is actually far more palatable than the shuddering recollections of the past.

This is a fizzy dessert wine made soley from the grapey grape, Moscato (often known as Muscat).  It often clocks in as low as 5% so it’s the same as many beers, but please use a wine glass, not a pint glass!

North East Italian Reds

The twins of Valpolicella and the even lighter Bardolino are made from Corvina (great), Rondinella and Molinara (neither that great) in the Veneto area between Venice and Lake Garda.  Nowadays the turbocharged Amarone della Valpolicella takes the column inches in wine reviews – and I happen to be a big fan – but at ~15% it doesn’t meet what we’re after here.  The regular table wines can be very pleasant drinking but weighing in at 11.5% or so.  There are unsubstantiated rumours that the beefier Valpolicella wines have been pumped up with stronger southern Italian reds, but surely the wine industry is free from adulteration nowadays??

Forrest Estate ‘The Doctors’

Forrest Estate in Marlborough was set up by the husband and wife team Dr John and Dr Brigid Forrest in 1988.  As well as the usual grapes Marlborough fare they make wine with a few more unusual grapes.  One of these is the Austrian black grape St Laurent which makes a light to medium bodied wine somewhere in between Pinot Noir and cool climate Syrah, though its parentage is still unproven. This comes under their sub brand The Doctors’ and has a lunchtime-friendly 11.0% on the label.

They also make a Riesling under this label which has a Mosel-like 8.5% – give it a try!

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My Favourite Wines of 2013 – The Whites

A long overdue follow up to my favourite reds of 2013.  See also my favourite fizz of 2013.

Zind-Humbrecht Alsace Pinot Gris “Heimbourg” 2002*

Zind-Humbrecht Heimbourg Pinot Gris 2000
Zind-Humbrecht Heimbourg Pinot Gris 2000

When you have your first taste of wine, and it’s good, you might nod appreciatively or even exclaim “mmm, that’s nice” (which my Mum says to everything from JP Chenet to Grange). But when we tasted this fine, fine example of Alsace Pinot Gris the reaction was an astonished “oh…” around the room as everyone stared at their glass and wondered how much depth of flavour could possibly come from a glass of wine.  It was almost like being told an age old secret about life, it was a moment I will never forget. Like many Alsace Pinot Gris this was off-dry, very rich and almost oily in viscosity.  It wasn’t a perfect match for the starter it was paired with, but that didn’t matter – it was happy by itself.  Zind-Humbrecht is one of the most quality-conscious houses in the region, run on biodynamic practices by the brilliant Olivier Humbrecht MW.  It has plots within several of the best Grand Cru vineyards, though this is a simple “lieu-dit”.

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011
Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011

One of the top few Chardonnays from New Zealand and a personal favourite; I try to taste one bottle of every vintage, but sometimes I don’t succeed – it’s several!  This wine featured in my post on the New Zealand Trade Tasting – I make no apologies for repeating myself, it deserves the plaudits.  Open a bottle from the fridge and see how it evolves over the next hour or so, if you are able to resist drinking it quicker than that.

Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Valley Semillon 2000

Tyrrell's Vat 1 Hunter Semillon 2000
Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Semillon 2000

When Neil McGuigan, 2012 International Winemaker of the Year in the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC), gave a tutored tasting at the pop-up vineyard in Temple Bar, he stated that Hunter Semillon is one of the two wine styles original to Australia and not reproduced elsewhere in the world.  The other is the less well known liqueur Muscat from Rutherglen (perfect with Xmas pudding!)

I agree with him there, though he also provocatively called Sauvignon Blanc a “second rate grape” (I think there’s a lot of jealousy of Marlborough’s success with savvy).  The beauty of Hunter Semillon is that it can be drunk young as light, fresh and citrus, but it also ages and develops magnificently over time.  Often light in alcohol but not the worse for it, it develops toasty notes with time in bottle.  For me, it’s a waste to drink it young.

The originator of the style is Tyrrell’s, one of the big names of the Hunter.  Almost causing a family feud, the head winemaker of the time kept back a batch of the company’s best Semillon and released it at six years of age.  Thankfully (for us all) it was a success, and now Vat 1 has a claim to best varietal Semillon in the world.

I opened this bottle at the end of last year, so it was over thirteen years from harvest – and it still tasted young and fresh, though with plenty of toast and honey coming through on the nose and palate.  I think this would continue improving for another five to ten years.

Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2010

Despite all the ABC (“Anything But Chardonnay”) naysayers, Aussie Chardonnay goes from strength to strength.  It has moved with the times, so more (relatively!) cool regions are used, picking is earlier, malolactic fermentation can be partially blocked and the use of oak is more judicious.  Margaret River has the Leeuwin Estate Art Series and Cullen Kevin John superstars, Penfolds maintains a multi-regional blend for its “white Grange” Yattarna and Victoria’s Giaconda produces fabulous Chardonnay near Beechworth.  This is the star of the Adelaide Hills and comes from a family firm

Trimbach Cuvée Frédérique Emile Alsace Riesling 2004

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling 2004
Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling 2004

Trimbach are one of the oldest houses in Alsace, and also one of the biggest.  Like many of the larger producers they offer different quality levels at different price points.  The undisputed heavyweight champion is Clos Ste Hune Riesling, from a single walled vineyard within the Rosacker Grand Cru, up on the hills overlooking Ribeauvillé (probably my favourite town in Alsace).  This is a contender for best dry Riesling in the world and is “indestructible” according to Finian Sweeney of Sweeney’s wine merchants in Dublin.  This is a wine for the long haul, and has a pretty eye-watering price compared to most Alsace Riesling, though looks somewhat reasonable next to any Grand Cru Burgundy. Much more accessible and better value is the Riesling from the next tier down, the gold labelled Reserve Personnelle range’s Cuvée Frédéric Emile.  This is made from ripe low-yielding 45+ year old vines in the Geisberg and Osterberg climats, fermented to full dryness.  It has a mineral edge and an acidic backbone, but much more body and citrus flavour than the standard yellow label range.  This 2004 example was bought with birthday wine vouchers (you see mes amis, I am not that difficult to buy for!) and was showing plenty of development – the colour had deepened, the nose had started showing diesel notes on top of the citrus, and the palate opened out.  Friends who tasted this with me called it “the best Riesling they had ever tasted” – and I’d have to agree (so far).  Great value for money!

Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Casablanca Valley Chardonnay 2011

This is an old-fashioned premium Chilean Chardonnay.  I’m a sucker for the style in general, as long as it’s well executed.  The 2011 is still very young, and it would benefit from a couple of years so the oak and fruit integrate more.  This is a polarising wine.

Interestingly on Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages it receives two very differing reviews:

  1. Oaked like its going out of fashion. Which it is. Old fashioned new world Chardonnay – all tropical fruit and sweaty oak.  (15/20) [Richard Hemming]
  2. Sweet and spicy. Quite substantial but very satisfying. Finishes slightly suddenly after a great start. (16.5/20) [Jancis Robinson]

So, like a lot of issues in wine, it comes down to taste (sorry!) and personal preference.

Sémillon and Sauvignon – Together In Perfect Harmony?

Sweeneys Wine Merchants in Glasnevin, North Dublin, are both my favourite merchants to visit and happen to be my local wine shop, so I was sure to drop in to see what bargains they had on offer in their summer wine sale.  Everything they had more than a couple of bottles of was open for tasting so it was “try before you buy” for about a dozen whites and reds, with a solitary rosé holding station in the middle.

Of course I tried all of them (just for completeness, you understand), but which most piqued my interest?  There turned out to be a theme – all were Sémillon / Sauvignon Blanc blends, but from different areas.

Around ten years ago I did a “wine-walk” at the London Fine Food & Wine Show with the theme “Sémillon and Sauvignon – better on their own or together?”  Wine walks are informative and good craic – a wine writer / personality / celebrity takes you on a tour of the show, stopping to taste around half a dozen or so wines from all over the show and talks you through them.  I find them more engaging than the classroom-style talks, even if they can get a bit crowded at the peak times of the show.

Nowadays Sauvignon Blanc is most closely associated with Marlborough and New Zealand in general, since the Cloudy Bay and Montana phenomenon.   Sémillon (usually without the accent) is most commonly seen on its own in Australia – it has become a speciality of the Hunter Valley in NSW.  But, like many grapes grown round the world they both originated in France.  Before the Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc explosion it was best known as the variety behind Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, plus some slightly lesser status Loire whites.

Both grapes are allowed in White Bordeaux (along with Muscadelle which is less common) and it is together where they can reach the heights.  Sauvignon gives the freshness and acidity, Sémillon the richness and body.

So what were the beauties I picked up?

Thomas Barton Graves Blanc 2007

A famous name from South West Bordeaux.

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Chateau Bonnet Entre Deux Mers 2009

An oaky wine from Bordeaux, in between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.

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Hollick Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2007

A blend of grapes from the Coonawarra and Mount Benson areas on the Limestone Coast in South Australia.

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Clairault Swagman’s Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2005

From Margaret River in Western Australia – a rare area in Australia known for blending the two grapes together.

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