My love for Alsace wines – especially its Rieslings – is without parallel, yet even I am forced to concede: Other Rieslings Are Available! Given the grape’s Germanic origins and it’s position as the most widely planted grape there (23% of vineyard area as of 2015) it is only fair to look to Germany. Of all Germany’s 13 wine regions, for me the most synonymous with quality Riesling is the Mosel.
The Mosel wine region had Saar–Ruwerappended to its name until 1st August 2007, and those two names still account for two of the six Mosel Districts (Bereiche). Also, adjacent to Luxembourg, the Obermoseland MoseltorDistricts are home to modest wines – still and sparkling – made from Elbing and other “lesser” grapes. The final two Mosel Districts are the most important. The Berg Cochem District is also known as the Terraced Mosel (Terrassenmosel) as many of its slopes are incredibly steep and are terraced so that they can be worked. The final District is Bernkastelwhich includes the famous sundial vineyards.
The Haag family have run their estate in Brauneberg, Bernkastel District, since 1605. I have previously reviewed their Brauneberger Juffer Grosses Gewächs Riesling and Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel. Now I turn to their “entry level” dry Riesling.
Disclosure: bottle was kindly given as a sample, opinions remain my own
Fritz Haag Mosel Riesling Trocken 2018
Weingut Fritz Haag hand pick their Riesling grapes for this wine from their slate-soil vineyards around their home base of Brauneberg. Fermentation takes place in both large wooden vats (for a touch of roundness) and stainless-steel tanks (for freshness). As many who are fluent in wine know “Trocken” means dry in German, so the fermentation is not stopped early to make the wine sweet (although Fritz Haag does make some brilliant sweet wines).
This estate Riesling pours a light lemon in the glass. The nose is full of citrus with lifted mineral tones – and unmistakable Riesling character.
The measured residual sugar is 7.5 g/L which would be creeping into off-dry territory for some grapes, but set against this Riesling’s acidity it merely tames the zing a little and brings out the fruitiness of the wine.
On the palate we find fleshy lime, grapefruit and peach combined – you don’t taste them individually but there’s a new super-fruit that combines all their characteristics! Light and lithe, a wine that dances on your tongue before disappearing down your throat. Once in your stomach it sends a direct signal to your brain for another taste! The finish is dry as you’d expect from a Trocken wine, but the fruit sweetness in the mid-palate banishes any thoughts of this being too dry.
The TL;DR review: tastes of deliciousness!
RS: 7.5 g/L
Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf wines; F.X. Buckley Victualler & Grocer; Jus de Vine; McHugh’s Off-Licences, Kilbarrack Rd & Malahide Rd; Nectar Wines; The Vintry; The Wine Pair; Sweeney’s D3; Avoca Ballsbridge; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Drink Store Stoneybatter; Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Lotts & Co.; Martins Off Licence; Terroirs, Donnybrook
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.
Our ninth contributor to this series is the magnificent Melanie May. Amongst other wines she mentioned that Riesling is her favourite white grape so of course I had to select an Alsace Riesling. But not any Alsace Riesling, Sipp Mack’s Grand Cru Rosacker which has been a favourite of mine for the best part of a decade. The 2011 was an amazingly big and heady vintage (at 14.0%!) which will remain in my top wines tasted, but the 2014 is a more elegant and subtle expression at 13.0%. At around €30 in Ireland it is sensationally good value for money.
On the music side I chose a perennial favourite from the mid ’80s which straddled the rock and goth genres. Billy Duffy’s powerful riffs help propel the song forward but for me it’s Nigel Preston’s pounding drums which really make the song excel. This was Preston’s last track with The Cult, and didn’t even feature in the video as his replacement Mark Brzezicki featured instead.
Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2014
When Frankie asked me to contribute to his wine and music blog series I jumped at the chance. Not only because it gives me an opportunity to combine my love of writing, wine and music, but also my love of psychology too.
A little background, I used to take photographs of musicians and travelled around the UK snapping bands like The White Stripes, Razorlight, Stereophonics and The Libertines. My life revolved around going to gigs and backstage parties. Of course, that rock and roll lifestyle is well behind me now but my love of music is still as strong as ever.
Nowadays, I am a food and drink and travel writer and I have a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines. Before becoming a full-time writer though, I was studying to become a Clinical Psychologist and did my dissertation in Neuroscience.
Through my studies in psychology, I became aware of how different sensory experiences complement each other. There has been a few studies showing how music effects the perception and taste of wine. Did you know that people will buy significantly more expensive wine if classical music is playing than if the Top 40 is on? Apparently classical music encourages consumers to look for quality wines. Try it in your wine shop and see!
So, this pairing wine and music challenge is right up my street! I love this stuff.
I told Frankie that Riesling was my favourite white. So, when he asked me to pair a song to the 2014 Sipp Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker my mouth instantly started watering. I had not tried that particular wine before, but knowing Frankie’s love of Alsace wine, I knew this was going to be a cracker.
And I was right. What a beautiful wine.
On the nose, the wine is floral with loads of juicy apple and bright citrus notes and a hint of petrol coming through too. The flavours are granny smith apples, cut red apple and baked apple too, lemon and lime. There is a wonderful chalky minerality to it too. It has an elegant mouthfeel and a long finish. It is super delicious.
The bright acidity and citrus notes of this wine are well matched to an upbeat pop song. The minerality and high acidity give this wine great structure, so I picked a song with a similar tight structure. The wine, with its delightful floral aromas and fruity flavours, is playful on the palate and even though it is high in acid it is quite smooth too. So, again, the song I chose is playful and smooth. The wine also has a great purity, it’s not encumbered with oak or other interfering wine making techniques, much like the matching song.
The song I paired with the 2014 Sipp Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker is Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles – quite possibly my all time favourite band.
Good Day Sunshine is a bight and breezy, structured pop song – it is one of just a handful Beatles songs to use contiguous choruses. It is a pure pop song with no exotic instruments or tape loops. It is just Paul singing, Lennon harmonising and a piano and drums and very little guitar on the backing track. So, like the wine, it is bright, has great structure and is pure in taste and style.
Both the wine and the song capture the essence of carefree sunny days and both are good-mood enhancing. What a combo.
This wine is perfect for a barefoot picnic in the grass and this feel-good song is a magic, musical accompaniment.
I truly believe that when you pair the right wine with the right music, you get a heightened sensory experience that hits all the right notes. Maybe, one day, wine labels will say: ‘pairs well with shellfish and The Beatles’.
She Sells Sanctuary – The Cult
When Frankie asked me to pair a wine with the song ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ by The Cult I knew exactly what wine to choose: Château VincensLes Graves De Paul Cahors 2014
She Sells Sanctuary has been described as ‘a goth milestone’ and ‘quite possibly the most famous goth-rock song’. So, a fitting pairing is a ‘black’ wine. Well, I was hardly going to choose a Champagne, goths aren’t exactly known for being bubbly now, are they?
Black wine is Malbec from Cahors in France and its dark colour is caused by a high concentration of polyphenols from the Malbec grape skins.
This particular wine I choose has a dark label and gothic script – goths love flourishes like that. This bottle will therefore co-ordinate perfectly with their crushed velvet jackets and the writing is big enough to read though all their eye makeup.
This wine tastes best if you let the air at it for a little while, so pour it into your best chalice or goblet and leave it to breathe whist you go write some awful poetry.
When you listen to She Sells Sanctuary you’ll notice the soft build-up of the intro and then Ian Astbury’s impassioned vocals before the drama of the instrumental break hits. There is a great structure to this song and that’s thanks to pop producer Steve Brown, he worked with Wham!.
The wine also follows a similar trajectory. When you first sniff you get a soft build up of aromas like dark fruits, bramble, tobacco and woody spices. Then, when you first sip, you taste the fruit but it is balanced out with lovely savoury, smoky and spicy flavours. Then the drama of the mineral backbone, hint of oak and smooth tannins hit. This wine is intense, rich and elegant with great structure. Just like the song. As for the impassioned vocals? Well, this is a heartfelt wine with a sense of place. You can taste the terroir. It also has a restrained power, much like the vocal style of the lead singer.
Like most goths, this wine isn’t fully mature. The oak and tannins means you could age it for a few more years. I think ageing would smooth everything out just a tad more and let those lovely savoury flavours develop too.
With a wine this intense and rich you can pair it with big intense food. I chose to pair mine with steak because of its high iron content, cause, let’s face it, most goths look anaemic.
I think pairing a goth-rock song with a black wine helps keep the proper morbid mood, don’t you think? However, as this particular song has expressive pop overtones, I think this expressive, fruit-driven wine with smooth tannins and good structure is a harmonious match.
Overall, it’s a rich, complex and age-worthy wine that is delicious to drink now but could be something even more special if left to age for a few more years. It might even get a cult following!
It’s not hard to see why some wines from Cahors have a cult following! Get it? Cult? The Cult?
I’ll get my coat.
Melanie May is a food and wine writer and travel journalist from Dublin. She won the ‘Best Newcomer’ award at the 2019 Travel Extra Travel Journalist of the Year Awards and she is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers and is a Guild of Fine Food, Great Taste Judge.
Her love of wine began in her early 20s when she worked in a wine shop in Dublin and she has been developing her palate and tasting skills ever since. She has a WSET Level 2 Award in Wines & Spirits and a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and uses this knowledge to inform the wine articles she writes for her blog, Travel Eat Write Repeat.
Solera Wine Merchants is a specialist wine importer based in Dublin. MD and owner Albert Baginski spent over 14 years working as a sommelier and restaurant wine director before going full time with Solera. He is known for being a gentleman, a true professional and – perhaps most importantly – a really nice bloke.
The Solera portfolio is still growing, but from my perspective it has some of the real stars from each region that is represented – Fritz Haag from the Mosel, Roda from Rioja and Mazzei from Tuscany, to name just a few. Below are some brief notes on the white wines I tasted with Albert late last year.
When twitter discussions on wine scoring circle round again and again, especially whether they are absolute or relative scores; Picpoul is sometimes given as a wine which will never hit the high 90s as it’s somewhat neutral and lacking in character, and therefore lends to credence to scores being relative.
Well, there are exceptions to every rule, and this is comfortably the most flavoursome and characterful Picpoul de Pinet that I’ve tried. It’s highly aromatic, with light fruits and flowers on the nose. The palate is fresh with lots of citrus and more depth of flavour than usually found in the grape. This would be a great alternative to Loire Sauvignon Blanc.
Rías Baixas is (quite rightly) best known for being the home of some excellent Albariños, but other varieties are grown there, such as this Godello from Altos de Torona. The wine is unoaked but has spent six months on fine lees which imparts a little texture and a creaminess. Conference pears and red apples complete the palate.
This is the first of two Fritz Haag Rieslings from the Mosel, though they are very different in character. This is a dry Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru) from the Juffer vineyard in Brauneberg (note that Brauneberger isn’t stated on the front label, probably to avoid confusion with the bottling of the best part of the vineyard around the sundial which is labelled Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr).
The nose is only lightly aromatic, but the palate is much more intense. It tastes dry (residual sugar is 7.9 g/L) and refreshing with grapefruit, lime and quince on the palate. This is a veritable pleasure to drink now but is surely destined for greatness over the next two decades.
From the same vineyard as the dry GG above, we now have the sweet Auslese Riesling. If you are not fluent in German wine terms – no I’m not either – a bit of decoding is in order. Auslese means “selected harvest” and is on the third rung of the Prädikatswein classification above Kabinett and Spatlese. Goldkapsel refers to the gold capsule covering the cork, and signifies that this bottling is from the producer’s ripest and best grapes.
Coming in at 125.8 g/L of residual sugar this is definitely in dessert wine territory, but, as it’s a Mosel Riesling there is plenty of acidity to go with it (7.5 g/L TA in fact). This is a fabulous, unctuous wine that creeps over your palate and isn’t in a hurry to leave. “Make yourself comfortable”, your taste buds say. It’s almost a crime to swallow, but the sweet flavours hitting your throat make up for it. With honey, crystalline pineapple and a dash of lime this wine is close to perfection.
An Englishman, and Irishman and a Frenchman climb up a mountain…and make some great wine! Domaine des Anges was established on the slopes of Mont Ventoux by English couple Malcolm and Janet Swan in 1973. At that point grapes were mainly being processed by the local cooperative, so it was a bold venture, but help and advice was surprisingly forthcoming from the famous but less-than-approachable Jacques Rayas of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The Swans had variable levels of success, and after 20 or so years they sold the estate to Irishman Gay McGuinness. He increased investment and hired professional winemakers – fellow Irishman Ciaran Rooney and after a decade Florent Chave. Quality has continually increased and Domaine des Anges has received a plethora of praise from critics and consumers.
I recently had the opportunity to taste through the Domaine des Anges range thanks to a kind invitation from Boutique Wines, their Irish representative. The wines were presented by historian and oenophile Giles MacDonogh – a close friend of the proprietors – and whose notes I have cribbed for background information. While I liked all the wines I tried, two in particular stood out for me: the white and red AOC Ventoux “Archange” wines:
Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Blanc 2016 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)
Whereas the regular Domaine des Anges Ventoux Blanc is a third each of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Bourboulenc, the Archange is 100% Roussanne – a grape that rarely gets the limelight all to itself. In fact the winemaking is as much the star of the show here, with techniques very reminiscent of Burgundy. The wine is aged in small oak barrels, giving notes of toast, toffeeand vanilla. Malolactic fermentation is blocked to preserve freshness, and regular lees stirring gives a wonderful creamyaspect. The varietal character does come through the middle of all of this as an intriguing peachy tanginess…it’s like Burgundy but with a bit more going on. The only downside to this wine is that it’s perhaps too good to drink every day – perhaps just save it for the weekend?
Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Rouge 2015 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)
Although the Rhône Méridional is known for its Grenache-based blends, in the cooler heights of Mont Ventoux Syrah can play a much bigger role. In this blend it accounts for a full 90% with the balance being Grenache. As the 14.5% alcohol indicates this is a powerful wine, but it does not have the sweetness of a Barossa Shiraz, for example. There’s a distinct richness, but with smoky notes, black pepper, black fruits and leather, with an altogether savoury finish. My “go-to” Rhône appellation is Saint-Joseph with its savoury Syrahs, but this Ventoux presents a great alternative – and at a great price.
These two wines are an outstanding pair and really over-deliver for the price tag. They won’t fade in a hurry, either, so it would be well-worth putting a few (dozen) down to see how they evolve over time.
And for you film buffs out there, here’s a clip from the film which inspired part of the title of this post:
The Languedoc-Roussillon wine is often shortened to simply “The Languedoc”, but that does a disservice to Roussillon, the French part of Catalonia which stretches down to the border with Spain. It does have its stars in the fortified sweet wines of Maury, Rivesaltes and Banyuls, but here we turn our attention to its table wines.
Domaine Lafage are based in Perpignan and produce a large number of different cuvées – white, rosé, red and Vins Doux Naturels. I’ve enjoyed some of their bottles before, including their Nicolas (made from old vine Grenache Noir) and Côté Est (a blend of Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay and Rolle), but here are two that I tried recently that really impressed me:
Lafage “Centenaire” Côtes du Roussillon AOP 2018 (13.0%, RRP €19.95 at Baggot Street Wines, McHugh’s, Sweeny’s D3, DrinkStore, Redmonds of Ranalagh, Martins of Fairview, The Vintry Rathgar and Blackrock Cellar)
The name of this wine comes from the age of the vines – some of them are a hundred years old with the rest not far behind. 80% is made up by Grenaches Gris and Blanc (the split is not given) and the remaining 20% is Roussanne. Such old vines have very low yields (30 hl/ha) but give intense concentration of flavour. 30% of the blend is aged in new French oak for 4 months, with bâtonnage.
Being mainly Grenache the Centenaire has a broad palate, rich but dry and herby. This might sound something of a contradiction, but the spicy pear and quince fruit comes in the attack and mid palate with the finish being crisp and dry. In terms of style it is not dissimilar to a southern Rhône white, but crisper on the finish than most.
Lafage Cadireta Côtes Catalanes IGP 2018 (13.0%, RRP €19.95 at Baggot Street Wines, McHugh’s, Sweeny’s D3, DrinkStore, Redmonds of Ranalagh, Martins of Fairview, The Vintry Rathgar and Blackrock Cellar)
The Cadireta name is of a specific climat which has deep, rocky soils. Vines are a mixture of trellised and bush vines, planted in an east-west orientation to preserve acidity as much as possible. The grapes are harvested in the (relative) cool of night, a practice common in Australia. 30% of the wine is fermented and matured in new Burgundian oak barrels, similar to the Centenaire, with 70% cool fermented in stainless steel. Only 8% of the final blend goes through malolactic fermentation, adding a touch of roundness.
Now for the unusual feature of this wine: the grapes harvested are 100% Chardonnay but they are matured on Viognier lees – something which is quite innovative and adds a real depth of flavour. Melon and red apple from the Chardonnay and vanilla from the oak are joined by apricot, peach and floral notes from the Viognier. It’s a lusciously peachy wine yet remarkably fresh and crisp. This much flavour and interest yet perfectly in balance make for a wine worthy of much praise.
These are both very good wines and excellent value for money. For drinking on their own my marked preference is for the Cadireta – and I’m not alone as it has just won the White Wine of the Year at the Irish Wine Show! With food, I think that the Centenaire would be a little more versatile…so perhaps a bottle glass of each!