Make Mine A Double

Wine Review: Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté and Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Aligoté

Aligoté is on the comeback trail, a grape which used to looked down upon for its acidity and rusticity is now producing treasured wines, especially in its homeland of greater Burgundy.  I recently praised one inexpensive specimen of Bourgogne Aligoté from Lidl, but now we have two more accomplished examples from well reputed producers:

Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté 2017

Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté

Maison Ambroise have been a favoured Burgundy producer of mine for several years.  The family grow and source grapes from 20 hectares split over 20 different appellations.  Of those available in Ireland, the Hautes Côtes de Nuits white and Côtes de Nuits Villages red are excellent mid range wines.  The entry level here is the red and white pair of Lettre d’Eloïse, while there are other treats available such as the stunning Nuits-St-Georges “Haut Pruliers”.

Ambroise’s Aligoté tucks in just behind the Lettre d’Eloïse Chardonnay in the range.  It has an intriguing nose of pear, citrus and herbs.  Textbook strong acidity make this a fresh wine, but fleshy texture and ripe citrus notes also give it some body.  There’s also a strong mineral streak which is almost metallic in character.  This is a tangy, mouth-watering and delicious example of the grape.  Ambroise themselves suggest pairing it with fish, and especially Sushi.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €20
  • Stockists: The Wine Pair; Avoca; Le Caveau Kilkenny; MacGuiness wines; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Martins Off License; Station to Station wines; Listons
  • Source: purchased from The Wine Pair

Domaine Michel Lafarge Raisins Dorés Bourgogne Aligoté 2018

If Ambroise is small with 20 hectares, then Domaine Michel Lafarge is even smaller at about half the size.  Based in Volnay, the Domaine is now run by Frédéric and his daughter Clothilde, the second and third generation respectively.  The estate is certified organic and biodynamic, with a low-intervention approach to winemaking.  

Whereas Ambroise’s vines are 40 years old, Lafarge’s Aligoté vines are more than twice that.  After whole-cluster pressing, fermentation takes place spontaneously with wild yeast in stainless steel tanks.  The wine is then matured between three and six months in older oak barrels, depending on the vintage.  Before bottling the wine may be fined and / or filtered, again vintage-dependent.

I don’t think I’m doing this bottle of Raisins Dorés (Golden Grapes) a disservice by saying that it’s fairly similar to the Ambroise, but more so: aromas and flavours are much more concentrated, there’s more smoke and fleshy texture, and such a long finish.  It’s almost as though this is the wine that Riesling and Albariño want to be when they grow up.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €32
  • Stockists: the current allocation of 32 bottles for Ireland has already sold out.
  • Source: media sample

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that the Lafarge is the better of these two wines in my eyes (or should that be “in my mouth”?), but the real question is their comparative quality to price ratio.  Which is the better value for money?  The extremely low availability of the Lafarge take it out of the buying equation right now, but I’d say that the two wines are equal in the VFM stakes.  If you just want to spend €20 then buy the Ambroise, but if you can spend just over €30 and can find the Lafarge wine then snap it up!


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Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

A Pair of Pretty Pinots [Make Mine a Double #58]

Pinot Noir can be tricky to make well.  It is very particular about the climate it’s grown in – not too hot, not too cold.  Here are a pair of antipodean cool climate Pinots that are worth your hard-earned:

Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2018

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir

The Yarra Valley is part of the Port Philip zone which surrounds Melbourne in Australia.  Its proximity to Melbourne makes it a popular wine tourism destination; indeed, my first trip there was on a day trip wine tour from Melbourne.  That should not detract from its status as one of the best cool climate regions of Australia, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir starring – both still and sparkling.

Innocent Bystander was founded in 1996 by Phil Sexton after selling his previous Margaret River venture Devil’s Lair.  Innocent Bystander (IB) wines are often blends from multiple sites to achieve complexity and balance at a reasonable price point.  Alongside IB, in 1998 Sexton also began creating single vineyard wines under the Giant Steps label.

The Pink Moscato explosion in Aussie wine led to a large increase in volumes being made and sold by IB, so Sexton sold it to another family owned Victorian wine producer – Brown Brothers of Milawa – in order to concentrate on Giant Steps.  Once picked IB’s grapes now make a three hour journey in refrigerated trucks to be crushed at Brown Bros’ winery.  Sexton’s Yarra Valley tasting room wasn’t part of the transaction so Brown Bros bought and converted a brewery – formerly run by Phil Sexton!

The wines in the Innocent Bystander portfolio include the following:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Chardonnay
  • Moscato
  • Pinot Gris
  • Gamay
  • Gamay / Pinot Noir blend
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo
  • Arneis

It’s the last two which are the most unusual for Australia, and therefore piqued my interest, though sadly they haven’t yet made their way to Ireland.

In the main this Pinot Noir is fruit-driven: raspberry, blackberry and tart red cherries dominate the nose and palate, though there are also herb and spice notes in the background.  It is not, however, a “fruit-bomb”; acidity and gentle tannins provide a framework against which the fruit can sing, and boy do they sing!

Framingham Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017

Framingham Pinot Noir

Marlborough’s Framingham is probably the most respected producer of Riesling in New Zealand, but has added additional varieties across its three ranges:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Viognier
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Montepulciano
  • Pinot Noir

Their wines are all very well crafted and offer a substantial step up from everyday Marlborough wines, but prices are sensible.  The firm’s winemaker for 18 years was Dr Andrew Hedley, who was then succeeded by the returning Andrew Brown at the beginning of this year (what a year to join!)  In between his stints at Framingham, “Brownie” had worked in several cool climate regions including Alsace, so he has great experience with Riesling.

Framingham’s own vineyards and those of partner winegrowers are all in the Wairau Valley, the central open plain of Marlborough which is on a mixture of alluvial and clay soil.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately, with grapes from clay soils in particular receiving more time on the skins.  MLF and maturation takes place in new (20%) and used French oak barrels, before final blending and bottling.  No fining or filtering is carried out to preserve flavour and mouthfeel.

When speaking to Jared Murtha (Framingham’s Global Sales Manager) earlier this year  I remarked that the Pinot Noir seemed more like a Martinborough Pinot than a typical Marlborough one to me.  This was meant as a compliment and taken as one, as I find many Marlborough Pinot Noirs to be light, simple and less than interesting.  Jared replied diplomatically that Framingham aren’t aiming to make a “smashable” wine, but rather one which is a little more serious and gastronomic.

And hell have they succeeded!  It has typical Pinot red fruit notes – cherry and wild strawberry – but also layer upon layer of smoky, spicy and savoury characters.  There are lovely round tannins giving the wine additional structure.  Umami fans will love this wine!

Conclusion

These two wines are made from the same grape variety in neighbouring countries (yeah, still quite a journey) and are close in price, so a like for like comparison is perfectly fair.  The most obvious difference, though, is their style.  The Innocent Bystander is a great, fruit-forward all-rounder and would really appeal to the casual wine drinker.  The Framingham is a different proposition, more savoury and serious, and would shine the brightest in a setting with food – though it’s not a “this needs food” wine.  My preference would be to spend the extra €4 on the Framingham … but if someone offers me a glass of Innocent Bystander I would be delighted.

 

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