Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #19 – Alan March

In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:

  • A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
  • A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it

It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.

The nineteenth installment in the Frankly Wines and Friends Music and Wine series comes from another fellow wine blogger Alan March.  The big difference between us is that I taste wines sat at home whereas Alan reports from the vineyard and cellar of a renowned Languedoc producer – he’s walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

While I respect the impact that David Bowie has had on English and world music I wouldn’t count myself as a devoted fan; I’m more of a Greatest Hits listener than scouring every track on a album.  However, where Alan and I agree is that Heroes is Bowie’s best ever track – it’s a masterpiece.

Of course Alan’s articles are mainly about Mas Coutelou, but in scanning his previous posts I noticed that he had reviewed the Sauvignon Blanc from a producer – Elgin Ridge – whose Chardonnay I reviewed myself quite recently, so that was an easy choice.


David Bowie – Heroes

When Frankie selected ‘Heroes’ I smiled. It is my favourite song. Bowie has been my musical hero for almost 50 years, my first gig was Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust in Newcastle City Hall. Through various guises he refreshed and widened my musical influences. In 1976, very ill through cocaine addiction, Bowie moved to Berlin to clean up. The three ‘Berlin’ albums (though only Heroes was recorded in Berlin) mark another shift, this time to European electronica, collaborating with Eno, Fripp and Visconti. The song itself is a reflection of time and place, the synthesisers and lyrics featuring Bowie’s observation of Visconti’s embrace with a lover by the Berlin Wall next to the recording studio.

Collaboration, bringing the best out of everyone plus his own touch of genius, intriguing lyrics and a deep and evolving sound, though Heroes has become one of those songs played almost too much it still makes me joyful every time I hear it. So, a wine to match it? Well, it has to be Jeff Coutelou’s La Vigne Haute (LVH).

2012 and 15 on Jeff’s table (Credit: Alan March)

I am biased of course. As my biography notes say spending time learning about soils, vines and wines was a huge change from my previous career. A former teacher himself, Jeff taught me about the vineyards, nature and natural winemaking.

Most Coutelou wines are blends, LVH is unusual in being from one grape, Syrah, and from one vineyard which faces north to avoid the hottest sun. It reflects the place with warmth, fruit and complexity from the various geological strands of La Garrigue. Hallmark Coutelou freshness is balanced by a depth of flavours. LVH is only made in years with exceptional fruit, Jeff extracts the best from the terroir. Like Heroes it is ageless but can be enjoyed at any time. For me, time in the Coutelou vineyards marked a period of healing just as Berlin did for Bowie.

Put the song and wine together and I am in heaven.

Elgin Ridge 282 Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon; so is this the grassy green of the Loire or the tropical fruits of Marlborough? Well, neither. Biodynamically grown, ducks for pest control, low enough SO2 levels for RAW – this is my kind of Sauvignon. The use of barrels, some new, adds a different flavour profile to the norm; creamier and fuller but cut through with green apples and freshness. Above all it is balanced and very drinkable.

I was tempted to select a Graceland period track from Paul Simon but opted instead for First Aid Kit’s ‘Emmylou’.

When the Söderberg sisters performed it live for TV on a Glastonbury show the harmonies and melody hooked me in. Those features made me pair it to the nominated wine. The nod to country music’s roots through Johnny and June, Gram and Emmylou whilst adding their own Swedish pop influence reflects the South African twist on Elgin Ridge’s wine. It is a country whose wines are quickly becoming top quality and regulars in my wine racks, Emmylou is a song whose quality makes it one of my most played these days.

This is the TV performance which made me stop:

Alan March

County Durham born and bred, I was a teacher for 34 years with a passion for learning. Two years of ill health for me including a ruptured Achilles and ongoing ME persuaded my wife and I to move to the Languedoc. A passion for wine had led to us holidaying in wine regions for many years and being in the Languedoc for most of the last 6-7 years (until the tribulations of 2020) meant that I could spend time learning about wine with my friend Jeff Coutelou. Planting, grafting and harvesting, bottling, labelling and promoting the wines has given me a deeper understanding of the world of wines, especially natural wines. My blog A March in the Vines was created to share my learning and I am grateful for the surprising numbers who read it. I am also on Twitter and Instagram.


The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series
No. Guest Name Music to pair Wine to pair
19 Alan March David Bowie – Heroes Elgin Ridge 282 Sauvignon Blanc
18 David Crossley Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere Dom. Rietsch Sylvaner Vieille Vigne
17 Mitchell Young Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness Montirius Vacqueyras “Garrigues”
16 Brad Horne Oasis – Champagne Supernova Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling
15 Liam Mycroft Eric Clapton – Bad Love Bodegas Garzon Albariño
14 Lee Isaacs The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter Domaine Jones Fitou
13 Sharon L Souls Of Mischief –  93 ‘Til Infinity Penfolds RWT
12 Tim Milford Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man Nyetimber Classic Cuvée
11 Mags McKee U2 with BB King –  When Love Comes to Town Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden
10 Cara Rutherford The Cure – Just Like Heaven Suertes del Marqués ‘7 Fuentes’
9 Melanie May The Cult –  She Sells Sanctuary Sipp Mack GC Rosacker Riesling
8 James Hubbard Gary Moore – Parisienne Walkways Penfolds Bin 707 Cab Sauv
7 Paul Moran Underworld – Rez Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
6 Nirina Plunkett Jamiroquai – Space Cowboy Club Remix Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace
5 Penny Sadler Fleetwood Mac – Dreams Bollinger Special Cuvée
4 Jim Dunlop The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road Man O’ War Valhalla Chardonnay
3 Avril Kirrane McMorrough Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why Joseph Cattin Riesling Reserve
2 Tim of Soliciting Flavours Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings Viña Tondonia Blanco
1 Sinéad Smyth Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You Mullineux Syrah

 

Make Mine A Double

Shining Lights [Make Mine a Double #66]

I’m in the very lucky position where I get to try lots of good and great wines on a regular basis, many of them sent as samples (especially in 2020!)  Sometimes, even among these wines, a few shine even brighter than the rest.  It’s often hard to put into words what makes them so special, though I do try.  Here are a couple of (unrelated) wines which stood out even in good company:

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own

Elgin Ridge 282 Elgin Chardonnay 2018

Elgin is South Africa’s coolest climate wine region, located about an hour’s drive south east of Cape Town.  Although now an exciting area for grapes, for many years it was known almost exclusively for its orchards, particularly apples and pears1; as a rule of thumb, agricultural land which is suitable for orchards is generally suitable for grapes.  Elgin is even cool enough for Riesling, with Paul Cluver’s wines leading the charge.

Elgin Ridge is the only winery in Elgin to be both certified organic and certified biodynamic (there is one other which is solely biodynamic).  It was founded by Brian and Marion Smith on the site of a former small (ten hectare) apple farm in 2007 and has remained in family hands since.  Their aim is to be self sufficient in terms of inputs (biodynamic preparations and cow manure) using sheep to control weeds and ducks to control insects and snails.

The figure 282 in the name of this wine, their flagship Chardonnay, refers to the vineyard’s altitude of 282 metres above sea level.  It pours lemon in the glass and initial aromas are predominantly of toasted coconut, indicating a fair bit of oak ageing.  Absolutely heavenly, if you like that sort of thing – which I do!  The coconut gives way to fabulous orchard fruits(!), smoke and spices.  On the palate this is a rich wine, with integrated oak and stone fruits and a touch of butterscotch.  There’s plenty of body and flavour, but this is no big butter bomb as there is a certain elegance and lightness to the finish.  In terms of style this brought to mind excellent southern hemisphere Chardonnays such as Smith + Shaw’s Adelaide Hills M3 and Man O’War’s Waiheke Island Valhalla.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €25.53
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Domaine Fournier Sancerre Les Belles Vignes 2019

For some reason 2020 has been the year of Sancerre for me, with lots of very enjoyable bottles showing that the average standard in the region is very high.  Even among those, this baby stood out.  But first a bit of background.

The maison mère2(!) is Fournier Père et Fils – to give it its full name – under which there are four Domaines:

  • Domaine Fournier (Sancerre &c.)
  • Domaine de Saint Romble (Sancerre)
  • Domaine des Berthiers (Pouilly-Fumé)
  • Domaine Paul Corneau (Pouilly-Fumé)

The full range of Domaine Fournier is detailed below.  As you might expect from one of the “Cuvées Appellations”, this wine is made from vines planted on the three key soil types of Sancerre: Silex, Caillottes and Terres Blanches.  The nose opens with ripe peach but also peach stone, sweet fruit reined in by acidity and a pleasant tartness.  On the palate there’s more fruit but on the citrus side of the spectrum, along with a touch of mown grass and green bell pepper.  Don’t mistake this for a Touraine Sauvignon plus, though; this is a smooth and gentle wine which showcases its different flavours on a long journey through your mouth.  A superior Sancerre.


The portfolio of Domaine Fournier comes under eight different labels:

  • Cuvées Grand Caillou: Sauvignon, Pinot Noir
  • Cuvées F: Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sauvignon
  • Cuvées Mmm: Rosé, Chenin
  • Cuvées Appellations: Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Rouge, Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Rosé, Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Blanc, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Rosé, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Rouge, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Blanc, Pouilly-Fumé “Les Deux Cailloux”, Pouilly Sur Loire “Les Marnes”
  • Cuvée Terroirs: Cuvée Silex, Cuvée Les Terres Blanches
  • Grandes Cuvées: Sancerre “L’Ancienne Vigne” Rouge, Pouilly-Fumé Grande Cuvée, Sancerre “La Chaudouillonne”, Sancerre “L’Ancienne Vigne Blanc
  • Single Vineyard Wines: Sancerre “Les Boffants”, Sancerre “Monts Damnés”
  • Cuvées Exceptionnelles: Menetou Salon Rouge “Sourire Aux Anges”, Sancerre “No. 22”, Sancerre “Vendanges d’Hélène”

1no cockney rhyming slang here, thank you

2French for parent company, literally “mother house”, which is a little ironic as it’s a “father and son” operation.

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Sherwood Forrester [Make Mine a Double #57]

What Would Robin Hood Drink (WWRHD) if he were around today?  What would make his men merry?  I put it to you that he would enjoy the fine wines of Sherwood Estate and Ken Forrester!

Robin Hood
Robin likes the “straight as an arrow” acidity of Sauvignon Blanc

These two fine producers make wines from several other varieties, but for comparative purposes I will review their equivalent Sauvignon Blancs:

 

Sherwood Estate Waipara Sauvignon Blanc 2018

sherwood estate waipara sauvignon blanc
No outlaws were harmed during the making of this wine

One mistake many people make is too assume that all New Zealand Sauvignons are from Marlborough.  Yes, the north east of the South Island is the biggest Sauvignon producing region and has become the ambassador for Kiwi wine, but Nelson (north west of the South Island), Wairarapa (south of the North Island) and Waipara (north of Canterbury on the South Island) also make some great examples.

In 1987 – still the early days of the modern NZ wine industry – Jill and Dayne Sherwood dived headlong into producing wine at West Melton, just west of Christchurch.  The industry was in turmoil at the time, but they were successful enough to survive and outgrow their West Melton property.  They then moved around an hour north into Waipara which was an area full of unrealised promise.  With their drive and perseverance they turned Sherwood Estate into one of the largest independent New Zealand wineries.

The firm now has six different vineyard sites around Waipara including Glasnevin, named after a famous district of Dublin.  Their wine offerings have also branched out (pun intended) to four different ranges plus two different sparklers.  The Sherwood range wines “are premium, everyday wines, made in a ‘hands-off’ style with little interruption in the winery” and consist of five varietals:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc

The Sauvignon Blanc we have here is unoaked and made conventionally.  The juice undergoes a cool fermentation for three weeks.  The must is then left on the fine lees for three months which adds depth.  The finished wine combines green (herbs, bell pepper, grass) and fruit (lime, lemon, grapefruit and passion fruit) notes.  This zesty wine shows how good Sauvignon Blanc can be outside Marlborough.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €21.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Ken Forrester Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2018

ken forrester sauvignon blanc reserve
Robin sympathizes with Ken’s status as a legend

Ken Forrester is something of a legend in Stellenbosch and South Africa as a whole.  He and his wife Teresa bought a derelict farm in 1993, though the property was created as far back as 1689.

All the pruning and harvesting work in the vineyard is done by hand for two reasons.  Firstly, it allows the vineyard team to pay very close attention to detail for quality reasons.  Secondly, it offers more employment for people in the local community.

There are currently four separate ranges which each have several blends and varietals:

  • Petit: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé (Grenache/ Viognier) , Natural Sweet (Chenin blend), Pinotage
  • Reserve: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Renegade (Rhône blend), Pat’s Garden Merlot
  • Icon: The FMC (Chenin), The Gypsy, (Rhône blend), T Noble Late Harvest (Chenin)
  • Cellar door exclusives – Sparklehorse MCC, Three Halves (Rhône blend), Roussanne, Dirty Little Secret TWO (Natural Chenin)

The grapes for the Reserve Sauvignon come from three are sourced from 3 vineyard sites scattered across the coastal region: Stellenbosch, Elim and Darling.  Some – though not all – are old vines, increasing concentration and depth of flavour.  After fermentation the wine spends eight weeks on fine lees.

For many years I have regarded South African Sauvignons as being stylistically half way between Loire and NZ styles, but I think it’s time we (I) forgot the comparisons and just regard them as their own thing.  This one has lots of green notes, but is not under-ripe; mangetout is then joined by some juicy stone fruit and the finish is long, crisp and clean. Unlike some other SA SBs I’ve tried, the alcohol is fairly restrained at 13.0%.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €17.95 (currently on offer at €15.95)
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #1 – Sinéad Smyth

In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time.  As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:

  • A piece of music –>  they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
  • A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it

It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!)  Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.

Kicking off the series is Sinéad Smyth, a fellow Dubliner (see her bio below).  For Sinéad’s wine I chose Mullineux Syrah from South Africa; this was one of the highlights of the Mullineux tasting I attended at the South African Embassy in Dublin last year with Kinnegar Wines, and it also showed very well at the DNS Wine Club South African tasting.

The track I chose for Sinéad was the French club hit “Music Sounds Better With You” by Stardust, an offshoot of Daft Punk.  I loved this song when it came out and it remains one of the songs which will call me onto the dancefloor, no questions asked!.

Mullineux Syrah

Mullineux Range Syrah

Hailing from Swartland just an hour away from Cape Town, Mullineux Syrah is a multi award-winning wine. Located in the Western Cape of South Africa, Swartland is renowned for its Syrah & Chenin Blanc. Winemaker Andrea Mullineux was awarded Wine Enthusiast’s International Wine Maker of the Year in 2016. Mullineux Syrah gives a true expression of the terroir of the area; Schist, Shale, Granite, Quartz & Iron soils make up the vineyards. Their approach to winemaking involves minimal intervention, with only minimal amounts of sulphur added in the cellar. Mullineux wines are unfined and unfiltered, which I think is a little like jazz music. Sometimes it can be a little bit underappreciated which is why I choose Baby I’m a Fool by Melody Gardot to pair with this wine.

It’s a smooth jazz number that at first listen, sounds like a simple refined tune, but if you listen back you’ll hear layers upon layers of individual elements that combine to make one easy listening song.

This silky Syrah is elegance defined. Half its grapes have been whole bunch fermented, giving it a strong backbone of tannins. Open an hour before you drink and allow this supple wine to open up fully, and while you do let yourself listen back to Melody Gardot’s mellow voice envelope your mind. Mullineux Syrah is a wine to be savoured, it’s a special wine that deserves your full attention, so I think this song is the perfect match!

The song begins with the most wonderful arrangement of strings, with soft notes gently rising and falling until a brief pause before a solo guitar plays, gently plucking its strings as the singer’s raspy voice joins.

Andrea Mullineux said she believes Syrah expresses the site on which it’s grown unlike any other variety, and that’s exactly what good jazz does. It makes you feel the emotions of the music. So uncork that bottle and pop on your favourite records.

Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You

When this song was released I was just 8 years old! I remember hearing it on the radio and throughout my house as my 3 older brothers made mix tapes (remember mix tapes? Waiting for your favourite song to come on the radio and the race to press record!). Every time I hear this song it makes me want to dance. The heavy beat of the drum and the repeating upstrokes on the guitar, it’s almost impossible not to bob your head or tap your feet along to the music.

To pair with this dancey, upbeat tune I thought of a tipple that would be perfect for parties and is a crowd-pleaser. Something that you can easily sip and raise a glass with while boogying down on the dance floor. I’ve chosen Casa di Malia Prosecco DOC from Boutique Wines. Produced in the Botter Winery (close to Venice) the grapes for their wines come from Tenuta Divici which is a collection of family-owned vineyards (all certified organic), on the hills around the area of Treviso.

Botter Prosecco

It’s crisp and full of refreshing citrus flavours of lemon zest and crisp green apple on the nose. Made with 100% Glera grapes this wine is organic with an ABV of 11% – so you won’t trip over your dancing shoes anytime soon.

While it would be nice with light appetisers or shellfish I think it’s the perfect aperitif. It’s light, fresh and well balanced. I also love the easy to reseal closure on the bottle, plus the label is absolutely beautiful.

Sinéad Smyth

Sinéad is a freelance food & travel writer from Dublin. With a BA in Culinary Arts and a Wine Spirit Education Trust Level 2 qualification this girl knows her food and wine. When she’s not feasting she’s exploring the world, seeking out the next great adventure. She has travelled extensively throughout Europe and even further afield to China and the Caribbean. You can find delicious food and travel inspiration on her site over at glamorousglobetrotting.com. You can also follow Sinéad’s adventures on Instagram and Twitter.


The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series
No. Guest Name Music to pair Wine to pair
14 Lee Isaacs The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter Domaine Jones Fitou
13 Sharon L Souls Of Mischief –  93 ‘Til Infinity Penfolds RWT
12 Tim Milford Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man Nyetimber Classic Cuvée
11 Mags McKee U2 with BB King –  When Love Comes to Town Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden
10 Cara Rutherford The Cure – Just Like Heaven Suertes del Marqués ‘7 Fuentes’
9 Melanie May The Cult –  She Sells Sanctuary Sipp Mack GC Rosacker Riesling
8 James Hubbard Gary Moore – Parisienne Walkways Penfolds Bin 707 Cab Sauv
7 Paul Moran Underworld – Rez Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
6 Nirina Plunkett Jamiroquai – Space Cowboy Club Remix Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace
5 Penny Sadler Fleetwood Mac – Dreams Bollinger Special Cuvée
4 Jim Dunlop The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road Man O’ War Valhalla Chardonnay
3 Avril Kirrane McMorrough Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why Joseph Cattin Riesling Reserve
2 Tim of Soliciting Flavours Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings Viña Tondonia Blanco
1 Sinéad Smyth Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You Mullineux Syrah
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)

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #15 – Barbara Boyle MW [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Barbara Boyle is an Irish MW and half of the dynamic husband and wife team WineMason, a specialist wine importer.  Regular readers might recognise that name from the numerous reviews of their wines I have posted this year! 


We did not drink wine at home when I was growing up.  Not an unusual statement for an Irish person growing up in the 1970s and 80s.  The very first time I drank wine with my family was Christmas Day 1985.  My Christmas eve induced hangover was hard to hide. My ever-sharp father looked into my sleep deprived eyes and instead of greeting me on Christmas day with scorn or an anecdote of the dangers of drinking, I was greeted with a glass of wine at dinner.  My father and I have enjoyed a glass of wine or two together every Christmas since.

BLANKbottle Moment of SilenceSeveral years before (1980) I had given my father a bottle of wine which I had purchased while in France on a school trip (I did not drink then for the record).  It was a Chenin Blanc from the Loire and he said that this Christmas day seemed like a fitting time to open it.  I am often surprised that we don’t yet represent any Loire wineries but this something I hope to fix over the next year.

Every year since that I have been working in the wine trade, my father asks me to assemble a case of something nice for him that we can enjoy together over the holiday period.  So, this year going into my father’s Christmas box are some wines that I am keen to open with him.

Moment of Silence 2015 Blank Bottle: this is a blend which includes that wonderful grape Chenin Blanc together with Grenache Blanc and Viognier. A soothing wine, perfect to shape a cold night in around. It’s made by Pieter Walser of BlankBottle Winery who I think it something of a genius and very good company to boot.  This cape white is a great example of the thrilling and delicious  wines that are being made in South Africa. And at Christmas who does not need a moment of silence.

Moment of Silence 2015 Blank Bottle, Wellington, South Africa (14.0%): available at around €24.95 from Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellar, Corkscrew, Sweeneys and Green Man Wines.


PUY14Emilien Château le Puy 2014: “Fabulous, powerful, inky, floral, perfumed, fruity and earthy, iron, edgy acidity.”  This is the note I made in June at a dinner in Chapter One of several vintages of this wine.  I am looking forward to returning to it at Christmas and this time from magnum.  The estate is situated at the second highest point of the Gironde which makes for later ripening and higher levels of acidity.  Predominantly Merlot and from an uncompromising bio-dynamic estate. To me this is Bordeaux as it should be.

Emilien Château le Puy 2014, Côtes de Francs, Bordeaux, France (13.0%): available for €38-40 (€81-85 for 150cl format) from Blackrock Cellar, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Greenman Wines, Kellys Off LIcence, and Clontarf Wines.

 

 

 

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Tasting Events

Another Brick In The Wall – Part 4

A medley of whites from the WineMason tasting earlier this year:

Bodegas Altos de Torona Rías Baixas Albariño Torre de Ermelo 2016 (12.4%, RRP €19 – Stockist TBC)

TORRE DE ERMELO_botella_4300pxh

Bodegas Altos de Torona is one of three producers in Rías Baixas who form part of the HGA Bodegas group.  HGA have holdings across many of northern Spain’s best wine areas including Rioja, Ribero del Duero and Ribeira Sacra.  This wine is from the O Rosal sub-zone, just 3.5km from the Miño River (which forms the border with Portugal) and 10km from the Atlantic Ocean.

Torre de Ermelo is made in a fresh – almost spritzy – style, with floral, citrus and mineral notes framed by a streak of acidity.  Great value for money!

 

Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18 at Green Man Wines)

Fossil

If your palate is just used to white wines from supermarkets then this might seem a little alien at first.  It bears no resemblance to the usual Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay – but then why should it?  This is a blend of three indigenous Portuguese grapes, Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires grown close to the Atlantic coast just north of Lisbon.

The name of the wine is a clue to the vineyard soil type – lots of limestone!  There are indeed mineral notes on this wine but lots more besides – soft fruit, herbs and flowers. Overall it’s a dry wine with lots of texture, a fine partner for lots of dishes.

 

BLANKbottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24 at Green Man Wines, Baggot St Wines, The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Red Island)

Blank

This is a very intriguing wine from a very interesting producer.  Pieter H. Walser is the man behind BLANKBottle and aims to make wines which highlight excellent South African terroir rather than the variety/ies that they are made from.  He buys in all his grapes rather than farming himself.  This all gives him flexibility so he can change the components of a blend from year to year or produce entirely new wines as a one-off; it also helps his wines to be judged on their contents rather than preconceptions about varieties.

Moment of Silence is a blend (for the 2016 vintage at least!) of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.  From 2015 onwards the grapes were sourced from seven different sites within Wellington.  This wine is quite round in the mouth with apple and stone fruit flavours.  The Viognier influence shines through as a touch of richness, but it isn’t oily.  A wine that deserves to be tried.

 

Rijckaert Arbois Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, RRP €23 at The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Redmonds)

Arbois

Belgian winemaker Jean Rijckaert founded his own estate in 1998 based on vineyards in the Maconnais and Jura, further east.  Of course the key variety shared by these regions is Chardonnay, which can reflect both where it is grown and how it is vinified.  Yields are low and intervention is kept to a minimum – once fermentation is complete the wines are left to mature without racking, stirring or anything else.

Jura Chardonnay comes in two distinct styles, oxidative and none-oxidative, depending on whether air is allowed into the maturing barrels; this is definitely the latter, (ouillé) style of Jura Chardonnay for which I have a marked preference.  It’s recognisably oaked Chardonnay but very tangy and food friendly.  A great way into Jura wines!

 

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 (14.0%, RRP €34 at 64 Wine & The Corkscrew)

Chenin

De Morgenzon translates as The Morning Sun which is a wonderfully poetic name, attached to a wonderful South African winery.  Although South Africa is usually labelled as “new world” when it comes to wine, vines have been planted in this part of Stellenbosch since the early 1700s.  Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum bought DeMorgenzon in 2003 and have transformed the estate and its wines.

The entry level DMZ Chenin is a very nice wine, clean and fresh, but this Reserve is a step above.  The vines were planted in 1972 (an auspicious year!) and interestingly were originally bush vines but recently lifted onto trellises.  People often wonder what makes one wine cost more than another similar wine, and in this case the picking in four different passes through the vineyard (to ensure optimum ripeness and balance) shows you why.  Fermentation takes place in French oak barrels (with wild yeast) followed by 11 months of maturation on the lees.  These really add to the flavour profile – there’s a little bit of funk from the wild yeast, lots of creaminess from the lees and soft oak notes from the barrels (only 25% were new).   This is a real treat!

 

Another Brick in the Wall series:

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Lidl Cabernets From South Africa and Australia [Make Mine a Double #28]

Cabernet Sauvignon is my favourite black grape and is a strong contender for best black grape in the world (as subjective as that is) along side Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Syrah.

Red_Mountain_Cabernet_Sauvignon_grapes_from_Hedge_Vineyards
Credit: Agne27 (Wikipedia)

Unlike the other candidates I have just mentioned, Cabernet is rarely seen as a varietal wine in its homeland (of Bordeaux), though in warm years it can reach over 80% of the best Pauillacs.  Despite relying on support from Merlot and others, Cabernet became a symbol of top Bordeaux and so was eagerly planted in new world countries who wanted to emulate Bordelais wines.   In the new world Cabernet is sometimes blended with other local specialities (Shiraz in Australia, Pinotage in South Africa, Malbec in Argentina) but also receives special attention in varietal wines.

The key advantage that these countries have is climate – Cabernet needs a lot of sunshine which is far from guaranteed n France’s Atlantic coast, but is more likely in the vineyards of the new world.

Here are a couple of everyday new world Cabernets from supermarket chain Lidl:

Cimarosa South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (14.0%, €6.49)

LIDL RSA CS

Perhaps the lion on the label makes this qualify as a “critter wine”, but I wouldn’t say that in front of the lion!  As indicated by the label it is rich and fruity, but also has a slight (pleasant) earthiness to it.  Tasted blind I might have guessed that this was a French Cabernet blend or even a Cape Blend – a South African red blend including local speciality Pinotage.

After all, even though South Africa is classed as a new world country when it comes to wine, some of its vineyards are very old and stylistically it is someway in between the old and new.

This Cabernet is nice and easy drinking on its own but I reckon would really shine with a beef or lamb stew.

Cimarosa Australian Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (13.5%, €6.69)

LIDL AUS CS

Moving east to Australia, this is another rich and fruity style according to the label, but is more recognisable as a varietal Cabernet with juicy blackcurrant and blackberry fruits. There’s a touch of vanilla here as well which really seals the deal for me.

South Eastern Australia is a huge region which enables wine producers to include grapes from South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales in the blend – but at this price it’s about the grape rather than a single vineyard, and it works well.

The food pairing suggestion on the back label is beef, though the fruit sweetness makes it a great mid week tipple on its own.

Decisions, decisions: these are both very good value for money and wines which I would happily recommend to try.  As I tend to drink wine on its own more often than with a meal then the Aussie shades it for me.

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Opinion, Tasting Events

Top M&S Whites

Last month I picked out six super sparklers from Marks and Spencer.  Now it’s time for some of my favourite M&S whites:

Domaine de la Pinte Arbois Chardonnay 2014 (12.5%, €23.50)

arbois

The region of eastern France is gradually gaining significant recognition for its wide variety of grapes and styles, many of which are particular to the area.  This is something more conventional, being a Chardonnay made in the “ouillé” style whereby evaporation losses are topped up to prevent too much oxygen in the barrel.  This has far more texture and flavour than you’d expect from a “Chardonnay” – it’s different but well worth a try.

Chapel Down Lamberhurst Estate Bacchus Reserve 2015 (11.5%, €19.50)

bacchus

I have been a keen supporter of English sparkling wine for over a decade, but I haven’t shared the same enthusiasm about English still wines.  However, there are a growing number of very good still wines that deserve your attention.  Bacchus was created in 1930s Germany – and is still grown there – but has found a second home in the cool English climate.  Chapel Down’s Reserve bottling is full of stone, tropical and citrus fruit. It’s well balanced and has a touch of residual sugar to counterpoint the mouth watering acidity.

Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 (13.0%, €15.50)

cupcake

The Central Coast on the front label is of course the Central Coast of California, which includes Santa Barbara of Sideways fame and Monterey County, where the majority of the Chardonnay grapes were sourced from.

Part of the fermented juice was matured in (mainly old, I reckon) oak barrels and part underwent softening malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks, followed by lees stirring.  When recombined this wine gives the best of both world – it has some oak, but not too much, and some creamy lees flavours. Great value for money – just don’t drink it too cold.

Atlantis Santorini 2015 (13.0%, €15.50)

atlantis

Santorini is my favourite wine region of Greece for whites, especially those made wholly or predominantly from Assyrtiko as this is.  Due to its latitude the island receives lots of sun but this is somewhat tempered by sea breezes.  It sees no oak nor malolactic fermentation so remains clean and linear.

Earth’s End Central Otago Riesling 2015 (12.5%, €20.50)

earths-end

Central Otago in the deep south of New Zealand is primarily known for its Pinot Noirs – and rightly so – but its long cool growing season is also suitable for Chardonnay and Riesling.  This has lovely lime notes, and an off dry finish perfectly balances the vibrant acidity.  With Haka instructions on the front, surely this would be a great present for a rugby fan?

Terre di Chieti Pecorino 2015 (12.5%, €15.00)

pecorino

Another recent favourite of mine is Pecorino, an everyday Italian white wine with far more character than the lakes of uninteresting Pinot Grigio that clog up most supermarket shelves.  Both oranges and lemons feature on the palate – it’s a great drop at a keen price.

Villiera Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016 (14.0%, €18.50)

villiera

Modest packaging belies a sublime wine, one of the most enjoyable South African Chenins I’ve had for a long time.  The complexity is due to the variety of choices made by winemaker Jeff Grier – a small amount of botrytised grapes was used, part of the wine went through malolactic and part did not, both new and second-use French oak barrels were used.  The end result is a marvel of honey and vanilla – amazingly complex for such a young wine.

Stepp Riesling *S* Kallstadter Saumagen 2015 (13.0%, €22.00)

stepp

Germany’s Pfalz region is beloved of the Wine Hunter himself, Jim Dunlop, and of course makes some great Riesling.  The alcohol of 13.0% is much higher than an average Mosel Riesling, for example, which indicates that this is likely to be significantly drier and more full bodied.  Apricot, lemon, lime and orange make an appearance – just such a lovely wine!

Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, €27.00)

red-claw

From one of Australia’s premium cool climate regions, this is a Chardonnay to make Burgundy lovers weep – or convert!  The fermented wines are matured on their lees in 500L barrels (over double the standard barrique of 225L) with no malolactic fermentation allowed, so freshness is maintained.  This is a grown up wine with lots of lees character and reductive notes.

Tasting Events

O’Briens Fine Wines Sale – My Selection

Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time.  Here is a selection of my favourites:

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)

 

viognier

I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed.  Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did!  I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side.  More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)

antan

This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent.  If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.

La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)

comtesse

This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world.  It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!

Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)

puligny

Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer?  This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now.  Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate.  Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!

Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)

caro

This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family.  At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes.  Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!

Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)

marques

When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas.  They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is).  Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla,  all in a soft and cosseting package.  Get in!

Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)

delheim

This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux.  The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs).  It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak!  More info here.

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)

cigalus

Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.