Tasting Events

Whites From Off The Beaten Track [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 2]

After the Champagnes of Laherte Frères in Part 1, we now turn to a trio of unusual whites.  They aren’t that obscure, but they aren’t going to appear in your local supermarket.  They are all made by small, family owned producers who prefer to do work in the vineyard rather than the winery.  Note: I tasted these wines back in February this year so some outlets may well have moved onto the 2019 vintages of the respective wines.

M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz Weiss 2018

Martin and Anna Arndorfer are part of the new generation in Austria, acknowledging their respective families’ deep ties to their region of Kamptal but breaking free and setting down their own roots.  Their approach might be described as “hands-off”, but that would belittle the work they do in the vineyard, fully respectful of nature’s gifts.

This is the first time I have reviewed the M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz (field blend), though I have previously reviewed their single varietal 2015 Grüner Veltliner  and their 2016 Vorgeschmack white.  As the latter is no longer available and consisted of the same blend (80% Grüner Veltliner & 20% Riesling) as this wine I believe it is simply a matter of renaming.

Those familiar with the component varieties – hopefully a decent majority of you – should be able to imagine its style; decent body with lots of spice and pip fruit, but a racy finish.  Apples and pears meet lemon and lime?  What’s not to like?

Burja “Petit Burja” Zelen 2018

When faced with this label most wine drinkers would be forgiven for thinking “what even is that?”  (Confession: I thought exactly that!)  So: “Burja” is the name of the estate, “Zelen” is the name of the grape and “Petit Burja” is the name of the bottling.  Burja is run by Primož Lavrenčič who named it after the Mistral-like wind which can blow through the vines.  Zelen is a local grape variety named after the Slovenian word for ‘green’ which is the colour that it apparently takes on when fermenting.  The estate is run on both organic and biodynamic lines.

So how does this unusual grape taste?  It doesn’t taste exactly like anything else, but in a word, great!  It’s highly aromatic, with floral and citrus notes to the fore.  These continue onto the palate which is juicy and tangy, but also mineral and linear.  This wine could be the jolt that your palate needs!

Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Blanc 2018

I have reviewed the red wine from this stable before; Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge was the Frankly Wines #2 Value Red of 2017.  The Domaine has been run by Italian Laura Semeria for 13 years; she has woven the new (converting viticulture to organic and then biodynamic) with the old (maintaining local varieties including the rare Romorantin).  The vines cover a surface area of 20 hectares and vary in age up to 80 years old.

Just as the Arndorfer wine above, this is an 80/20 blend, but this time 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Chardonnay (yes, Chardonnay is grown in the Loire!)  This blend is rarely seen in France, nor even Australia or New Zealand, but does occur in northern Italy.  Although unusual, the blend is seamless, showing floral, herby and citrus notes.  It’s a light yet thrilling, real wine.


GrapeCircus 2020:

Tasting Events

Champagne Laherte Frères [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 1]

Champagne Laherte Frères is based in the village of Chavot, a ten minute drive south-ish of Epernay.  The estate was established in 1889 by Jean-Baptiste Laherte and was expanded incrementally over the generations.  The estate is named after sixth generation brothers Christian and Thierry, though I couldn’t confirm if they were the first to make the big leap from growing grapes to making their own Champagne.  Thierry’s son Aurélien has been a part of the firm for the last fifteen years.

Laherte’s 11.38 hectares of vineyards are covered in detail on their website.  The majority are in villages of the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay, split 4.22 ha planted to Chardonnay, 3.88 to Pinot Meunier and others 1.18 ha.  A further 1.48 of Pinot Meunier is in the Vallée de la Marne and 0.62 of Chardonnay on the Côte des Blancs.  They have identified 75 different plots which are vinified separately; 80% of the wines are fermented and matured in wood barrels or casks.

Credit: Laherte Frères

Since 2011 Laherte has also bought in grapes from growers who farm around 4 hectares in the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs; of course these growers share the same philosophy.

This is our way of celebrating the terroir: by respecting differences, promoting uniqueness, and letting the soil express itself.

In his excellent book on Grower Champagne “Bursting Bubbles”, Robert Walters makes some excellent point about the style and quality of Grower Champagnes in general.  Firstly, many who make Champagne under the Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) label are simply much smaller versions of the big Houses; it is those who focus on their terroir and allowing their wines to express it that can make great Grower Champagnes.  Secondly, small producers who take such care but also buy a small amount of grapes from close contacts – and therefore have the Négociant-Manipulant (NM) label – can also make excellent terroir Champagnes.

Aurelien Laherte was noted as a promising grower in Bursting Bubbles, but of course as the firm now buys in grapes  they are classed as NM.  Walters specifically mentions Jacquesson & Fils as an example of terroir focused small houses, but I believe that Laherte Frères would also qualify for that accolade.

Laherte make a large number of different wines, grouped into three different types.  The wines in blue are reviewed below.

  • Ultradition: Brut, Brut Rosé, Brut Blanc de Blancs
  • Special & Original Cuvées: Ultradition Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut
  • Terroir Fundamentals Cuvées: Les Beaudiers (Rosé de Saignée Meunier), Les Longues Voyes (Blanc de Noirs 1er Cru), Les 7 (all 7 Champagne grapes in a “solera” system), Les Vignes d’Autrefois (Old Vine Meunier), Les Grandes Crayères (Vintage Blanc de Blancs)

Champagne Laherte Frères “Ultradition” Extra Brut NV

This is a blend of the three main varieties: 60% Pinot Meunier (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and Pinot Noir (10%).  40% of the total is from reserve wines which are kept in barrel and add complexity.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked for a portion of the base wines to give a mix of roundness and freshness.  Those base wines also spend six months on their lees while maturing.

Ultradition Extra Brut has an amazing nose of lifted floral, citrus and pear aromas; so lifted, in fact, that you feel like you’ve got the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building.  In the mouth it pulls off the trick of being both creamy and fresh, briochey and citrusy, with a lively mousse and a satisfying, fresh finish.

Champagne Lahertes Frères Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut NV

This is a “Rosé d’Assemblage”, incorporating both saignée and pressée techniques.  Made solely from old vine Pinot Meunier, it consists of 30% macerated wine, 10% red wine and 60 % white wine.  40% of the later is from reserve wines aged in barrels.  Vinification is the same as for the Ultradition Extra Brut, though dosage is even lower at 2.5 g/L.

The nose is full of juicy red fruits that leap out of the glass.  On the palate they are further defined as strawberry, cherry and raspberry.  The dosage is low, even for an Extra Brut, but the quality of the fruit and the fact they are picked when fully ripe means that more is not required.  The fruits are so fresh and vivid that, if tasted blindfolded, you’d be peeking to see if any berries were floating in your glass.

Champagne Lahertes Frères Blancs de Blancs “Les Grandes Crayères” 2014

This is a single vineyard, single variety, single vintage wine made from one of Laherte’s best sites.  As you might be able to guess from the name “Les Grandes Crayères” the vines are grown on chalky soils.  Not in the Côte des Blancs, however, but rather in their home village of Chavot where the chalk  in some plots is only 20 cm down.  Unlike the other cuvées above, MLF is totally blocked for this wine to preserve acidity as the wine ages over the years.

The Champagne geeks among you might wonder what the single variety is; for the vast majority of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes this would automatically be Chardonnay, but when a producer makes a wine with all seven permitted varieties (five white, two black) then it could be any one of five.  But it’s Chardonnay!

And what a Chardonnay!  The nose has layers of flowers, lime and toast plus a little candied peel.  In the mouth it is creamy yet fresh and refined, with mineral notes and a certain tanginess.  This is an amazing wine that could be nothing else than a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.


GrapeCircus 2020:

Opinion

GrapeCircus Round 2

Another round of fantastic whites from GrapeCircus!

Disclosure: samples kindly provided for review, opinions are my own

Cantina Roccafiori Bianco “Fiorfiore” 2015 (14.0%, RRP €22.00 at Sheridan’s, Mitchell & Son and SIYPS)

Roccafiori 2

We met Roccafiori’s Fiordaliso in Round 1; whereas that was a blend of 85% Grechetto di Todi and 15% Trebbiano Spoletino, their flagship wine Fiorfiore is 100% Grechetto di Todi.  It’s matured in large (5,000L) Slavonian oak casks which add texture and complexity but very little actual oak flavour.  This is a grown up, powerful and savoury wine which still manages to be fresh – a wine for contemplation.

La Marca di San Michele Verdicchio “Saltatempo” 2016 (12.5%, RRP €21.00 at Sheridan’s, Mitchell & Son)

Saltatempo 2

The La Marca di San Michele estate in Cupramontana was founded by siblings Alessandro Bonci, Beatrice Bonci, and Daniela Quaresima in 2007.  They are certified organic and take a low intervention approach.  This Verdicchio has quite a floral nose but plenty of apple and pear to go with it.  In the mouth it’s lithe and fluid, fruit and minerality competing for your attention.  Just a stunning wine that you won’t be able to resist!

M&A Arndorfer Vorgeschmack White 2016 (11.5%, RRP €21.00 at Sheridan’s and SIYPS)

Arndorfer Vorgeschmack white 2016 2

Vorgeschmack means a “taster” as in an introduction.  The Arndorfers have both red and white Vorgeschmacks which are both blends; 80% Zweigelt and 20% Pinot Noir for the red and 80% Grüner Veltliner plus 20% Riesling for this white.  I really like their straight GV but this is even more interesting – two of Austria’s key white grapes combining to make a tangy, fresh combination.  Very versatile for food matching!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tasting Events

GrapeCircus Round 1

Led by Venetian Enrico Fantsia, GrapeCircus is an Irish wine importer that specialises in natural, vibrant wines from Italy and other parts of Europe.  His wines are stocked at famous Irish cheesemonger Sheridan’s (with whom he has a partnership) and elsewhere. Here are a few of my favourites:

Cantina Roccafiori Roccafiori Bianco “Fiordaliso” 2015 (12.5%, RRP €17.95 at Sheridans Cheesemongers, SIPYS, Mitchell & Son, Green Man Wines)

Roccafiore Bianco Fiordaliso 2015

Umbria is one of Italy’s less-heralded wine regions, but rising standards have caused its wines to be increasingly sought out.  Roccafiore is situated in the hills of Todi and runs on a natural and environmentally-friendly basis, even going so far as to use solar power for their energy needs.  Fiordaliso is a blend of local grapes Grechetto di Todi (85%) and Trebbiano Spoletino (15%).  It’s a dry, crisp wine with Granny Smith apples and fresh citrus zest.

M&A Arndorfer Strass Im Sassertale Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2015 (12.5%, RRP €18.95 at Sheridans Cheesemongers, SIPYS)

Arndorfer GV

Martin & Anna Arndorfer both come from well respected winemaking families in Kamptal, Niederösterreich, but have become recognised for the purity and originality of their own wines.  This is a clean, dry introduction to Austria’s signature grape Grüner Veltliner.  Minimal intervention allows the characteristics of the variety to shine through – soft pip fruit and floral notes, medium body and a white pepper kick to the finish.

Roncus Friuli Ribolla Gialla 2016 (12.0%, RRP €22.50 at Sheridans Cheesemongers, SIPYS, Green Man Wines)

Roncus Ribolla Gialla

Ribolla Gialla is probably my favourite native Italian white grape as it just has so much character.  It’s a speciality of Friuli in the north east of Italy, bordering Austria and Slovenia, where local grape Friulano (aka Sauvignonasse, Sauvignon Vert) is also prominent.  Roncus’s example has plenty of soft pip fruit but also intriguing aromas and flavours of almond.  As I love almonds, perhaps that’s why I love this wine so much?

Domaine Vinci Côtes Catalanes “Coyade” 2014 (12.0%, RRP €31.50 at Sheridans Cheesemongers, SIPYS, Green Man Wines)

Vinci Cotes Catalan Coyade

Domaine Vinci’s Olivier Varichon and Emanuelle Vinci take a natural approach to winemaking, using wild yeast for fermentation and bottling with no fining or filtration.  It seems fitting that a wine from French Catalonia uses grapes also found on the Spanish side of the border – Maccabeu (aka Macabeo, 70%), Grenache Blanc (20%) and Carignan Blanc (10%).  Maccabeu can be somewhat boring neutral, but given some diurnal variation from altitude and sensible yields it can produce interesting, aromatic wines such as Coyade.  This is a fresh, mineral wine which would partner well with shellfish and other seafood, but has enough flavour and interest to be delightful on its own.

Tenuta Ansitz Dornach Pinot Bianco “XY” 2010 (12.5%, RRP €38.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers, SIYPS, Mitchell & Son)

Pinot Bianco XY

Trentino / Alto Adige has both Italian and Austrian roots, so there’s no surprise that the gamut of grape varieties runs from Pinot Grigio to Müller-Thurgau.  However, this Alpine region also makes some classy Pinot Bianco – a grape which is often suited to everyday drinking but is rarely treated seriously.  The “XY” cuvée is treated more like a Chardonnay than a Pinot Blanc – it spends at least twenty months on the lees in second use French oak barriques, giving it texture and flavour.  There’s a little vanilla from the oak but more nuts and toastiness, all on top of fresh apple and citrus.  This is a refined, poised wine which would turn any white Burgundy-lover’s head.