Tasting Events

Lidl France 2019 (part 1 – Whites)

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)

Chateau Petit Mouta Graves AOC, €10.99

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)

Domaine Deux Vallons Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie AOP, €8.99

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)

Wally Touraine AOC Blanc, €9.99

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)

Mme. Claude Parmentier Côtes du Rhône AOP, €9.99

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)

Collin Bourisset Coteaux Bourguignons 2018, €9.99

“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)

Expression de Saint Mont AOP, €8.99

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tasting Events

Super French Wines (part 2)

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)

CH Moulin Lafitte

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 roundness of 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)

Pey la Tour.jpgIn 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)

Chateau Sissan Grand Reserve

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)

Lady De Mour Margaux

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)

Tour Baladoz

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)

CH.La Garde 2010

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)

Sauternes Roumieu

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!

Tasting Events

Lidl French Wine Cellars (part 2 – white)

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)

Jean Cornelius Alsace Riesling, €9.99

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)

Les Celliers du Bellay Touraine Sauvignon, €7.99Ask 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)

Château la Peyrère Bordeaux Blanc, €7.99

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)

Château Rivière Lacoste Graves, €9.99

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)

Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune, €14.99

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)

Collin-Bourisset Bourgogne Mâcon-Villages AOP, €9.99

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)

De Oliveira Lecestre Chablis, €17.99

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)

 

Val de Salis Pays d'Oc Chardonnay €8.99

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Tasting Events

Dream Sweets (Are Made Like This)

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)

Chateau Rieussec 2014 Half Bottle

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)

 

Gerard Bertrand Banyuls

Along with Maury and Rivesaltes, Banyuls is one of the three Vin Doux Naturel producing 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)

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny

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.

Tasting Events

A few treats from SuperValu (part 2)

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)

Duo Des Mers

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)

Combeval-BG-Auth-blanc

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)

Dreamers Chardonnay

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)

Trisquel Semillon

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)

Albert Glas Riesling

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)

Riesling BL 2017

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)

KIM Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc

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.

 

 

 

 

Tasting Events

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.

Tasting Events

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)

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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**

 

 

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

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!

Opinion

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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

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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)

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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)

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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:

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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

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.