Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2017

Here are ten fantastic whites which really impressed me in 2017 and I plan on drinking more of in 2018!

10. Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône Cuvée Zéphyr 2016 (14.0%, RRP €22.99)

les_deux_cols_cuvee_zephyr

“Les Deux Cols” translates literally as “The Two Hills” but also refers to the two founding colleagues Simon Tyrrell and Charles Derain.  Now joined by Gerard Maguire perhaps they will look to plant on another hill?  I’m an admirer of Les Deux Cols’ main red wine, the Cuvée d’Alizé, but for me their white blend on is another level entirely.  Made from very 100% Roussanne it manages to have richness and freshness at the same time, lovely texture and zestiness.

9. Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95)

lawsons

Marlborough started out as a fairly corporate production area, but gradually smaller grapegrowers began making their own wines.  This was the story for Ross and Barbara Lawson who began making their own wines in 1992 after twelve years of supplying others.  And what a great decision that was!  Among the many great wines they make is this delicious off-dry Riesling, full of racy lemon and lime plus elegant floral notes.

8. Turner Pageot Les Choix 2014 (13.5%, RRP €39)

les-choix

This was one of the highlights of the Winemason portfolio tasting, a skin contact wine with finesse.  Maceration is for five weeks which is much shorter than some orange wines – and personally I think it shows in that the underlying character of the Marsanne grapes still shines through.  This isn’t a wine for everyone but it’s very interesting and very drinkable at the same time – what more could you ask for?

7. Jordan Stellenbosch Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50)

Jordan Barrel Fermented Chardonnay

Just to clarify, this wine is made by Jordan Wine Estate (of Stellenbosch, South Africa) as opposed to Jordan Vineyard & Winery (of Sonoma County, California); as it happens, both produce great Cabernet and Chardonnay, and it’s the latter which has made this list.  As the name indicates the wine was fermented (and then matured) in French oak barrels, giving a lovely biscuity creaminess.  I like this style of wine in general but this is a great example, complex yet balanced, and seriously good value.

6. Mahi Boundary Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €26)

mahi-boundary-road

A barrel-fermented style of Sauvignon from a single vineyard in Marlborough.  Like the Jordan above, this was a little tight on release in early 2017 but had really blossomed in the second half of the year.  My money would be on increasing complexity over the next three to five years.  Very good wine for the money.

5. Greywacke Wild Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €34.99)

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2

Kevin Judd’s barrel-fermented Sauvignon has made regular appearances in this blog’s Top 10 lists over the years, chiefly because it’s so damn interesting.  I have nothing against regular Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs (in fact I often like them) but this style gives so much more, and bridges the gap to Chardonnay for those torn between the two grapes.  Wild yeast and barrel fermentation give intriguing funky and toasty notes

4. La Chablisienne Grand Cuvée 1er Cru 2015 (13.0%, RRP €34.95)

CHABLISIENNE_GRANDE_CUVEE

I’m a big fan of La Chablisienne’s range, from the everyday Petit Chablis up to the superlative Grands Crus.  The Grand Cuvée is a blend of grapes from seven different Premier cru sites with an average vine age of 25 years.  It has a fair bit of oak – more than you might expect from a Chablis – but it is integrated seamlessly, lending a bit of body plus notes of toast and spice.  This is an elegant wine which knocks spots of many more expensive wines from the Côte d’Or.

3. Blank Canvas Marlborough Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €36.99)

Blank Canvas Chardonnay

It would be a little misleading to call Matt Thomson “the Michel Roland of the southern hemisphere” not least because his involvement as a consultant doesn’t overshadow the wines, but his advice is much in demand.  After more than 20 vintages in each of the southern (for Saint Clair and others) and northern (for Alpha Zeta and others) hemispheres, Matt decided to get off the merry go round and focus on his personal project Blank Canvas.  This 2016 is the first vintage of Chardonnay and it’s a big winner!  It has the funky notes I’d expect from a wild-yeast barrel ferment but with a gliding, ethereal finish that leaves you wanting more.

2. BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24)

BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016

And so to a bottle which has caused almost everyone who has tasted it to sit up and pay attention – not least for the concept of a wine whose blend can change from vintage to vintage – and not naming the constituent varieties on the front means the wine drinker isn’t thinking about them (apart from me because I’m a wine geek!)  The 2016 is made from Chenin Blanc from four different sites, plus Grenache Blanc and Viognier (Chardonnay is no longer in the mix).  After being fermented in barrel the wine rests on its lees for twelve months.  It’s a big mouthful, this wine; peach and apricot with cream and nuts.

1. Domaine Zinck Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen 2011 (13.0%, RRP €48)

gc-rangen-pinot-gris

It was difficult to choose between Philippe Zinck’s Grand Cru offerings (first world problems) but the added complexity and richness of the Pinot Gris won me over.  The Grand Cru of Rangen is the most southerly of Alsace so, when combined with the vertiginous steepness of its slopes, gives the wines considerable power.  Of course, power on its own is nothing – when combined with acidity and complexity it can make a great wine such as this.  Move over Riesling, Pinot Gris is King!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru XXX Pinot Gris XX (XX%, RRP XX)

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Information

Colour me White – 10 Reasons Why Colour Varies in White Wines

Have you ever wondered why white wine varies in colour?

Some are almost water white, while others can be lemon though to golden amber.  Surely there must be some logic to this?

Of course there is, but there are lots of inter-related factors which affect the colour of white wines.  Let’s have a look at them one by one.  Hold on to your hats, this might get a bit geeky by the end…

1. Oak

Angel_Oak_Tree_in_SC
Oak Tree (credit: DannyBoy7783)

More specifically maturation in new(er) small(er) oak barrels adds colour.  Certain types of wine are more likely to be barrel aged – Californian Chardonnays, for example – so much so, in fact, that you can see the difference before your nose gets anywhere near the glass.

See this post from 2014 for a more detailed discussion on oak.

2. Sweetness

Botritised Aszú Grape berries for Tokaji
Botritised Aszú Grape berries for Tokaji

The sweeter a wine is, the darker it will generally be. If you take a dessert wine (such as Hungary’s famous Tokaji) which comes in varying levels of sweetness, the depth of colour is a good guide to the level of residual sugar.

In fact, even on the basis of a mobile phone snap on twitter, I’ve had people make a good guess as to the number of Puttonyos* of a Tokaji – totes amazeballs, as the kids say nowadays.

(* putts for short, refers to the number of buckets of sweet grape paste added to a vat of fermenting wine)

3. Age

Age
Age

As a general truism, red wine gets paler with age and white wines get darker.  An illustration: the unique red and white wines of Chateau Musar in Lebanon move closer and closer in appearance as they mature in bottle.  Even Champagne goes golden when mature.

If you’ve got a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that looks quite golden though a clear glass bottle, the chances are that it is past its best…

4. Grape

Gewürztraminer
Gewurztraminer

This factor is the one that most people would guess at. Some white grapes have a slightly darker juice than others which affects what you see in your glass. Good examples of this from my favoured region of Alsace are Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.

The Spanish region of Rueda is known for its excellent yet inexpensive whites made from the fairly clear Verdejo grape, but wines of the same vintage do vary in hue. This is down to a certain proportion of Viura in the blend, a permitted grape in Rueda and Rioja plus Catalonia under the name Macabeo. So there you go!

5. Oxygen

Oxygen
Oxygen

Oxygen is both the friend and the enemy of all wine, red, white and all the diverse colours in-between.

a) Oxidised – when exposed to too much oxygen white wines go darker in hue quite quickly. When it happens this can be known as premature oxidation, or premox for short, and has spoiled many a white Burgundy lover’s treasures.

b) Oxidative – this descriptor is used when a wine is deliberately exposed to oxygen, for example with traditional white Rioja.  This style of wine will generally be darker than one in a non-oxidative style.

6. Skin contact

Orange Wine Skin contact
Orange Wine

The biggest fundamental difference between red and white wines is not the colour of the juice when grapes are pressed – with some exceptions, the juice is normally clear. The difference in colour is down to the time that the juice for red wines has in contact with the skins so that colour, flavour and tannin is leached out.

A very short time gives a rosé, an extended period can give an opaque, dense looking wine.

If you use the red wine approach with white grapes you get….orange wine! This is actually a very ancient method of wine making that has become trendy again. It’s arguable that, rather than being a darker type of white wine, orange is actually its own class of wine by itself.

7. Bâtonnage

Bâton
Bâton (the ones for stirring wine look a little different)

This is a fancy French term for stirring with a stick (which sounds somewhat less glamourous).  After fermentation some styles of white wine are left to stand on their lees, i.e. the spent yeast cells which have turned sugar into alcohol. It is particularly useful in Burgundy where it gives a certain creaminess to Chardonnay.

Wines made with lees contact tend to be markedly paler than those fermented in stainless steel and then transferred to cask for barrel maturation because darker pigments are absorbed by the lees.

8. Acidity

Acid
Acid

White wine colour is also affected by the wine’s levels of pH and the amount of acid (usually given as the equivalent in grams of tartaric acid for the chemists out there).  Very simply, more acidity leads to paler white wines.

9. Filtration

charcoal
charcoal

As part of the modern winemaking process, wines are usually filtered before bottling to remove any tiny particles which might give them a cloudy appearance. It depends on the substance used, but some such as charcoal will lighten a wine as tiny coloured particles (as well as some of the flavour) are removed.

10. Sulphur

Sulphur
Sulphur

Sulphur occurs naturally in wine, which is why pretty much every bottle in the shop has the caution “Contains Sulphites”.  Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is added as a preservative agent at different parts of the wine-making process, and in different amounts.  There is a growing movements among artisan and “Natural” winemakers to reduce or even eliminate these additions.

Particularly in tandem with a low pH (i.e. high acidity), high SO2 concentration has a bleaching effect and removes colour from wine.

Of course, it’s difficult to see the effect in isolation as those producers who don’t add sulphur are often the same ones who allow skin contact…

Conclusion

Of course, these factors don’t act in isolation, and it might be several of them in concert which apply to a particular wine. For example, a traditional white Rioja is likely to be made from Viura, barrel matured and made in an oxidative style. Add a few years in the cellar then you will have quite an amber wine.

It’s not possible to point to any of these factors individually, but we can have a damned good guess!