Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet Wines of 2015

I love sweet wines, whether with dessert, instead of dessert, or at any time I fancy them. They can actually pair well with savoury dishes of many types, depending on their prominent flavours, richness, acidity and sugar levels.  For example, late harvest Gewurztraminer from Alsace is amazing with foie gras, and off dry to medium wines often work well with exotic Asian fare.

There are several methods of making sweet wines, the simplest being to leave the grapes on the vine while they continue to produce sugars, and harvest them later.  A further step is to allow noble rot (botrytis cinerea) to attack the grapes and dry them out, thereby concentrating the sugars.  Other traditions involve sun or air drying to reduce water levels.

Whichever way is used, balance is the key, particularly the balance between sugar and acidity.  This means that even lusciously sweet wines can avoid being cloying, which is usually a turn off.

Here are ten of the sweet wines which really impressed me in 2015:

 

10. Berton Riverina Botrytis Semillon 2013 (€9.99 (375ml), Aldi)

Berton_Botrytis_Semillon-500x500

I first tried a Berton wine from Coonawarra, my favourite red wine region of the world.  It was perhaps a little less fruit forward than some from the area but had the most pronounced spearmint aromas that I’ve ever encountered in a wine (for the avoidance of doubt this is a positive for me!)

The Riverina area in the middle of New South Wales is an irrigated bulk wine producing region, and is where many of Australia’s inexpensive bottles (and boxes!) are produced. Due to humidity close to the major rivers it is also a source for excellent botrytis style stickies (as the locals call them), including the fabulous De Bortoli Noble One.

Semillon’s thin skins make it particularly susceptible to noble rot – which is why it is so successful in Sauternes and Barsac – and so it proves in Berton’s version.  I’m not going to claim that this has the intensity of Noble One but it does a damned good impression – and at a far lower price.  Amazing value for money!

9. Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardia “Nectaria” Botrytis Riesling 2009 (€19.99 (375ml) Sweeney’s of Glasnevin  and Carry Out Off-Licence in Ongar, Dublin 15)

2015-09-15 18.04.56

Familiarity with Spanish or another romance language reveals that this is a Late Harvest style, with the addition of Botrytis characters.  It was one of the stand out wines of the Chilean Wine Fair – though being different in a sea of Sauvignon, Carmenère and Cabernet probably helped.

As you may or may not know, Miguel Torres wines are the Chilean outpost of the Spanish Torres family’s operations, with quality and value both prominent.  The key to this wine is the streak of acidity cutting through the sweetness – the hallmark of a great Riesling dessert wine.  

8. San Felice Vin Santo 2007 (€19.49 (375ml) O’Briens)

Vin Santo

As someone who generally likes Italian wine and has a soft spot for sweet wines, I’ve nearly always been disappointed by Vin Santos I’ve tried. I don’t think my expectations were too high, it’s just that the oxidative (Sherry-like) notes dominated the other aspects of the wines.

This is different – perfectly balanced with lovely caramel and nut characters.  It’s made from widely grown grapes Trebbiano Toscano (75%) and Malvasia del Chianti (25%) which aren’t generally known for their character, but it’s the wine-making process that makes the difference.  Bunches of grapes are dried on mats to reduce water content then pressed as normal.  After fermentation the wine is aged five years in French barriques then a further year in bottle.   A real treat!

7. Le Must de Landiras Graves Supérieurs 2004 (Direct from Château)

Le Must de Landiras

White Graves – particularly those from the subregion of Pessac-Léognan – are in my opinion the most underappreciated of all Bordeaux wines.  Even less commonly known are the sweeter wines from the area – and to be honest the average wine drinker would be hard pressed to know when there’s often no mention of sweetness on the bottle, they are just “expected to know” that “Graves Supérieures” indicated higher sugar rather than higher quality.

Being close to Sauternes shouldn’t make the production of sweet wines a surprise, but then few people carry a map around in their head when tasting!

Simply put, this is probably the best sweet Graves I’ve ever had.  See this article for more details.

6. Longview Epitome Late Harvest Riesling 2013 (€16.99, O’Briens)

2015-10-15 13.34.30

Riesling in Australia is nearly always bone dry and dessert wines usually use Semillon for late harvest styles or Rhône varieties for fortifieds, but when done well they can be sensational.

This was such a hit at the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting that two other of my fellow wine writers picked it out for recommendation, namely Richie Magnier writing as The Motley Cru and Suzi Redmond writing for The Taste.  Imagine the softness of honey with the fresh zip of lime at the same time – something of a riddle in your mouth, but so moreish!

5. De Trafford Straw Wine 2006 (€29.50 (375ml), Kinnegar Wines)

de trafford strawwinelabel00-1_m

In its home region of the Loire, Chenin Blanc comes in all different types of sweetness, with and without botrytis.  Its natural acidity makes it a fine grape for producing balanced sweet wines.

David Trafford picks the Chenin grapes for his straw wine at the same time as those for his dry white, but then has the bunches dried outside for three weeks before pressing. After a very long fermentation (the yeast takes a long time to get going in such a high sugar environment) the wine is matured in barriques for two years.

I had the good fortune to try this delicious wine with David Trafford himself over dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar – for a full report see here.  Apricot and especially honey notes give away the Chenin origins, and layers of sweetness remain framed by fresh acidity.

 

4. Pegasus Bay Waipara “Encore” Noble Riesling 2008 (~£25 (375ml) The Wine Society

2015-08-14 20.40.35[

This is the gift that keeps on giving…I bought my wife a six pack of this wine a few years ago, as it was one we really enjoyed on our honeymoon tour of New Zealand, and she is so parsimonious that we haven’t finished them yet!

This is in a similar vein to the Epitome Riesling but has more botrytis character – giving a mushroom edge, which is much nicer than in sounds – and additional bottle age which has allowed more tangy, tropical fruit flavours to develop and resolve.  A truly wonderful wine.

See this article for more details.

3. José Maria da Fonseca “Alambre” ® DO Moscatel de Setúbal 2008 (€6.45, Portugal)

2015-06-20 13.23.19

I had been meaning to try a Moscatel de Setúbal since a former colleague from the area told me about it.  A holiday to the Algarve provided the perfect opportunity, and I found this beauty in the small supermarket attached to the holiday complex we stayed in – at the ridiculous price of €6.45!

Moscatel / Muscat / Moscato is one of the chief grapes used for dessert wine around the Mediterranean – and can make very dull wines.  This is by some margin the best I’ve tasted to date!   I’m sure most people would swear that toffee had been mixed in, the toffee flavours are so demonstrative.

See this article for more details.

2. Chateau Dereszla Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2006 (€38.95 (500ml) The Corkscrew)

Château Dereszla Tokaji

Tokaji is one of the great sweet wines of the world – in fact it’s one of the great wines of the world full stop.  It’s usually a blend of a normal grapes and botrytised grapes in differing proportions, the actual blend being the main indicator of sweetness.

Apricot and marmalade are the first things which spring to mind on tasting this, though time has added toffee and caramel notes.  This is the sort of wine that I would happily take instead of dessert pretty much any time!

See this article for more details.

 

1. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2013 (Liberty, from good wine merchants)

2015-09-17 15.06.48

I first came across this wine at Ely Wine Bar on my wife’s birthday a few years ago.  After a filling starter and main course neither of us had room for dessert, but fancied something sweet; Ely is a treat for winelovers as it has an unrivaled selection of wines by the glass, so like a kid in a sweetshop I ordered a flight of different sweeties for us to try:

2014-08-02 23.15.01-2

All four were lovely but it was the Ben Ryé which stood out.

At a later trade event put on by Liberty Wines, I noticed that this was one of their wines open for tasting.  With a room full of hardened trade pros (and myself) it was amusing to notice how many people just dropped by the sweet and fortified for a drop of this!

My mate Paddy Murphy of The Vine Inspiration also covered this wine.

 

Don’t forget to also check out Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz of 2015 and Top 10 Whites of 2015!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Opinion, Tasting Events

Easy like Sunday evening

Lionel Richie’s Commodores were easy on Sunday morning, but when it’s a bank holiday weekend it means Sunday evenings are even better than the mornings.

This Sunday evening I was invited to my brother-in-law Andrew’s for take out and wine – what a relaxing way to spend a Sunday evening – with the rider that his wine-loving friend Noel and family would also be there.  Andrew sorted the food, and Noel provided most of the wine, with a bit chipped in from Andrew and myself.

Although it was easy, it was also a very enjoyable evening, with some cracking wines noted below.  Where there is an Irish stockist listed on Wine Searcher I have added it, otherwise a UK stockist.

Birgit Eichinger Kamptal Grüner Veltliner “Hasel” 2014 (€16.99, Mitchell & Son)

Birgit Eichinger Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2014
Birgit Eichinger Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2014

A good rule of thumb for Austrian Grüners is that the alcohol level is an indicator of the wine’s style, and so the 12.0% of this Birgit Eichinger proved true to be a light, summer-quaffing style.  Fresh and light, it doesn’t scream its grape variety, but is remarkably easy to drink.

Château Gaudin Pauillac 2009 (€32.55, Wines Direct)

Château Gaudin Pauillac 2009
Château Gaudin Pauillac 2009

Pauillac is probably the most prestigious appellation on the Médoc peninsula, Bordeaux’s left bank with grand names and grander buildings.  Three of the five First growths are in the commune – Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild – with world famous reputations and prices to match.

The small village of Saint-Lambert within the Commune of Pauillac is home to the much more modestly priced Château Gaudin.  Its wines are very much true to the general Pauillac style, being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) with support from Merlot (10%) and Carménère (5%) plus tiny dashes of Petit Verdot and Malbec.

2009 was the middle year of three fantastic vintages within six years (2005 – 2009 – 2010) and was perfect for Cab Sauv.  With such a high percentage of that grape one might think that five or six years from harvest is too short a time for a wine to be approachable, but this is already drinking fantastically now.  The fruit is still dense and the evidence of 18 months ageing in new oak barrels is still apparent, but there’s no reason to wait!

Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010 (€55, O’Briens)

Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010
Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010

Made by widely admired superstar Bernard Magrez of Pessac’s Pape-Clement, La Tour Carnet was officially classed as a Fourth Growth in 1855.  Debate as to the relevancy of that classification continues, but it is useful as a general indicator of quality.

Average vine-age is 30 years.  The precise blend changes from year to year, but it is usually led by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with small contributions from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  After fermentation, 70% of the blend was aged on the lees in French oak barrels for 18 months (30% of which new) and the balance in stainless steel.

Although from a very good year, in comparison with the Ch. Gaudin above it was perhaps a little awkward and not quite sure what it wanted to be.  A very nice drop which, with a bit of patience, might integrate more fully and blossom in a few years.

Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010 (GBP 40.42, Exel, €61.67 (2011) Millesima)

Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010
Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010

I have to confess I hadn’t heard of this wine before, but after asking the google it seems as though I really should have!  Widely decorated, it’s a blend of 85% Sangioveto (the local name for Sangiovese) with 15% Malvasia Nera.  The name “I Sodi” refers to land so steep and uneven that it has to be worked manually, not even using horses.

Castellare di Castellina was born in 1968 from the consolidation of five farms in the Chianti Classico region, and became solely owned by Paolo Panerai around ten years later.  At that point he carried out a detailed survey of all the vines on the property so that the best genetic material could be selected.

Subsequently Paolo engaged in partnership with the University of Milan, the University of Florence and the Institute of San Michele all’Adige to carry out ongoing research on the best clones as well as the production of grapevines selected for the renovation of the vineyards.

On pouring I thought it very pleasant, but not amazing; very smooth and drinkable without bring special.  However, after a bit of time in the glass it really started to open up, herbs and liquorice layers on top of cherries and blackberries.  This is a fine wine that I will definitely be trying again.

Trimbach Alsace Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001 (€63 1/2 bottle, Millesima)

Trimbach Alsace Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2010
Trimbach Alsace Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001

An interjection between the reds, something sweet to go with dessert.  From the pride of Ribeauvillé, this is a late harvest (that’s exactly what Vendanges Tardives means in French, or Spätlese in German) Gewurztraminer from 2001.

Probably not overly sweet in its youth, it is still sweeter than a normal Gewurz but is not at all “sticky”.  The ageing process reduces the wine’s sweetness (though I have not yet found the mechanism) and there is still some acidity to offer balance.  As you expect from Gewurz there’s a real floral aspect to it on the nose, with stone / white fruit such as peach and lychee on the palate.

It was actually a little too restrained for the chocolate brownie and ice cream dessert, but off itself was delicious.  It’s showing no sign of slowing down at the moment so it might well make it as far as its 20th birthday.

Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2009 (€100, McHugh’s)

Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2010
Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2010

Giscours was a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification, but its fortunes have waxed and waned several times since, mainly as ownership has changed and more or less was put into the vineyards.  Margaux is the most feminine of the Médoc’s big four appellations, often with a higher percentage of Merlot than the others and a certain silkiness to the wines.

For the whole Giscours estate’s 94 hectares under vine, the split of grape varieties is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  Of course the Grand Vin receives a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon than the second and third wines, particularly in a good year such as 2009.  The estate matures the Grand Vin in 100 % French oak barrels (fine grain and medium toast) for 15 to 18 months, 50% of which are new and 50% have had one previous use.

Although still relatively young, this was not dumb, tight or closed – it was already singing.  Modern Claret is sometimes overdone in the search for Parker points and so needs a decade before approaching, but it wasn’t the case here.  Perhaps this was infanticide on a wine that will go on to greatness, only time will tell.

Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998 (GBP 180, WinePro)

Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998
Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998

Grange occupies the sole spot at the top of the Penfolds pyramid, but Bin 707 isn’t too far behind.  Whereas Grange is virtually all Shiraz based, the 707 is the King of Cabernet., allegedly named after the fancy new Boeing airliner of the time.

Grange’s first (though non-commercial) release was in 1951 and the 707’s inaugural vintage was 1964.  It hasn’t been made every year since; between 1970 and 1975 there was a conscious decision to put the best Cabernet fruit in other wines, then in the years 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011 winemakers didn’t have access to the appropriate style and quality of fruit.

Both Grange and Bin 707 are both multi-regional blends, that is, the fruit comes from several different vineyards in several different regions within South Australia.  For the 707 these are Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully.  Maturation is for 18 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads (300 litres).

So 17 years on, how did it fare?  To the eye the age was apparent on the rim which was quite red brick in hue, though the core was still opaque black.  The nose showed spearmint, menthol & eucalyptus with dried black fruit and just a tiny hint of oxidisation.

To taste there was a touch of mint and lots of fresh blackcurrant, with some raisins in the background.  It was really smooth and still monumental in mouthfeel, despite an abv of 13.5% which is quite modest by today’s standards.  Above all it had an amazing length, a small sip lingered in the mouth for several minutes.  A stunning wine.

Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006

Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006
Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006

To cap it all off was a sweet – sweet wine.  As I’ve mentioned before I reckon 5 putts is probably the *ahem* sweet spot for Tokaji, the perfect balance between flavour, sugar and acidity.  Château Dereszla also produce 3 and 6 puttonyos wines, plus the legendary Aszú Eszencia

This showed typical apricot, honey and marmalade notes, quite sweet but not at all cloying.  This is a wine to get up in the night to drink!

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!

 

Tasting Events

Some Highlights from the Aldi Ireland Press Tasting

Like its close rival Lidl, German discount chain Aldi has established a foothold in the wine market and is looking to broaden its range up the market.  Known for low cost wines which are technically well made but somewhat lacking in verve, they are trying to bring their customers up market by offering fancier wines, though still with an eye on the ticket.  Of course given Ireland’s ridiculous level of tax on wine it nearly always makes sense to trade up, whether it’s a few nice bottles from your local wine merchant or a bottle in the trolley with your cornflakes.

Here are a few of my favourites from the recent Aldi Ireland press tasting:

Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 (€26.99)

Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006
Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006

Aldi’s main Champagnes carry the label Veuve Monsigny and have won awards in the past few years.  While they are pleasant to drink and definitely good value as Champagne goes in Ireland, the latest addition above is a different beast entirely.

Leon Launois now makes a variety of different cuvées, but prior to their purchase by the producers of Champagne Charles Mignon in 2003 their only wine was a Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru from Mesnil-sur-Oger.  This wine maintains that tradition – it has a beautiful brioche nose (from the time spent ageing on the lees) and that follows through on the palate, with lifted lemon through the middle (from the Chardonnay).  The mousse is lovely and creamy and it has a very long finish.  Very classy.

Emozione Franciacorta DOCG Brut 2009 (€22.99)

Emozione Franciacorta DOCG Brut 2009
Emozione Franciacorta DOCG Brut 2009

Franciacorta DOCG is a traditional method sparkling wine made in the eponymous area located in Lombardy, central-northern Italy.  It’s a relatively new name as sparkling wine has only been made there in any significant quantity since the early 60s, but is a world away from Prosecco in terms of production process.  One of the main differences from Champagne in practice is that the grapes are often picked when fully (but not over) ripe, so they have more intensity of flavour and can reach higher alcohol as base wines.

At first I wasn’t sure whether to include this as I think it will be quite polarising – some people will love it and some will loathe it.  But if you don’t take a risk in life you can get stuck in a rut!  The blend is 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir) and 5% Pinot Bianco (Blanc), which is actually the same proportion that those grapes are planted in the Franciacorta DOCG area.

This might sound weird but I thought this had a slightly savoury finish.  I think grilled tuna steak would be a great match.

Exquisite Collection Gavi 2013 (€7.49)

Exquisite Collection Gavi 2013
Exquisite Collection Gavi 2013

Are you surprised by this recommendation?  I certainly was!  Gavi is a light Italian white wine made from the Cortese grape, and due to fashion is often priced far higher than its intensity of flavour would suggest.  Among my friends in Dublin it has become something of a joke, so I thought I would just try this for shits and giggles.

But to my amazement it has flavour!  Lots of stone and soft white fruit – we’re talking peach, pear and apricot.  There’s fruit sweetness here but a dry finish.  Like many Italian whites it has plenty of acidity but it’s not austere or boring.  Would be great with seafood or a light salad starter.

And if you have a friend or relative who loves Italian Pinto Grigio, give them this to try as an alternative.

Edouard Delaunay Chassagne Montrachet 2000 (€24.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Edouard Delaunay Chassagne Montrachet 2000
Edouard Delaunay Chassagne Montrachet 2000

Yes you read that correctly – a 14 year old white wine from for 25 yoyos from Aldi.  This obviously goes waaay past the everyday drinking category.  Without trying to be snobby I doubt the vast majority of regular shoppers would recognise it, but bravo to Aldi for broadening their range.

On the nose there is lots of buttered toast, due to maturation in oak and subsequent bottle age.  The buttered toast continues on the palate but with some tropical fruit notes and lemon freshness.  A complex wine that deserves a big glass for contemplation.

Charles de Monteney Condrieu 2012 (€23.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Condrieu 2012
Charles de Monteney Condrieu 2012

Condrieu is in the heart of the northern Rhône and for a long time was the last bastion of the difficult to grow Viognier grape.   Viognier is now grown more widely in the Rhône and further afield in places such as California, Australia and New Zealand.  It often has more body and certainly more texture than average for a white wine – you might call it a red drinker’s white.  Some examples can have an oily viscosity to them, not dissimilar to Alsace Pinot Gris (which is a firm favourite of mine).

And so it proves in this example.  It has an amazing nose with orange blossom and orange liqueur combined – more Cointreau than Fanta.  On tasting, there’s a touch of honey, apricot (typical for Viognier) and that orange again.  Unlike many examples of Condrieu this is enjoyable on its own without food.

I think this is another polarising wine, so approach with caution, but I believe it’s worth taking a punt.

Thomas Schmidt Private Collection Riesling Auslese 2013 (€14.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Thomas Schmidt Private Collection Riesling Auslese 2013
Thomas Schmidt Private Collection Riesling Auslese 2013

From the land of the long wine name comes a sweet and fruity number from the Mosel.  At only 8.5% alcohol this is one which won’t rush to your head – in fact it’s around the strength where a small (125ml) glass is equivalent to the British or Irish official units of alcohol.

Despite encouragement from a host of wine commentators, Riesling remains unloved by the majority of casual wine drinkers, principally due to associations with sweet and flabby sugar water concoctions from the 1970s such as Liebfraumilch.  Aside from the fact that many of those contained little or no Riesling, they were cheap blends with no relation to quality wine.

Not all Riesling is sweet, but this one is – very sweet in fact, but not flabby at all.  There is a pronounced ZING of acidity balancing out the residual sugar.  This is a young wine but will develop beautifully over the next decade or more.  Who says white wines don’t keep?

Edouard Delaunay Maranges Premier Cru “Les Roussots” 2008 (€29.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Edouard Delaunay Maranges Premier Cru "Les Roussots" 2008
Edouard Delaunay Maranges Premier Cru “Les Roussots” 2008

This is real, grown-up Pinot Noir from its heartland of the Côte d’Or in Burgundy.  Whereas entry level Pinots from the new world can be jammy and confected, and cheaper French Pinots are sometimes too dry and lacking in fruit, this Premier Cru example has lots of fresh fruit but a dry, savoury edge.  Typically you’d expect red fruit from Pinot Noir – strawberry and raspberry – but this adds some black fruit as well.

At six years of age this has opened up and is starting to develop additional layers of complexity.  If that’s what you like then put a few bottles down, but it’s drinking well now.  The acidity is enough to cut through fatty meat, so if you have duck or goose planned for a fancy meal later in the year (not going to say the word) then this would partner well.

Trius Showcase Canadian Icewine 2013 (€29.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Trius Showcase Canadian Icewine 2013
Trius Showcase Canadian Icewine 2013

Vidal is a hybrid grape partly descended from Ugni Blanc which is the main grape in the Cognac area.  It was bred for high acidity (useful in brandy) and hardiness in cold weather, but has actually come into its own as the main grape in Canadian ice wine.

As with the original Eiswein in Germany, ice wine is made by pressing very ripe grapes which have been left on the vine and been frozen.  Ice crystals are separated from the remainder of the juice which is therefore more concentrated in terms of sugar, flavour and acidity.  This makes for a very sweet, concentrated wine.  As so much of the juice is subtracted as water, yields are very low and prices tend to be high.

This example from the Niagra Peninsula is not cheap but I think is worth splashing out on as a treat.  It’s sweet enough to hold its own against pretty much any dessert and has luscious tropical fruit flavours.

Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2008 (€24.99, available from 2nd Nov)

Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2008
Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2008

Tokaji has been a famous wine for several centuries.  Made in a delimited area in Hungary, it uses sweet botrytised grape paste to sweeten regular wine must.  The measure of sweetness is how many buckets (Puttonyos) of paste were added in to a 136L barrel – the traditional proportions.  2 putts gives something that would go with a fruit cocktail but not something sweeter, and 5 putts is probably the best overall balance (you might even want to say “the sweet spot”, ahem).

This 6 putts example is even sweeter, but I reckon if you’re going to be having lots of fancy desserts then another putt isn’t going to hurt.  What did surprise me was the toasted coconut on the nose, implying American oak barrels.   On the palate there is typical apricot and honey notes with a touch of mushroom (not as unpleasant as it sounds!)  Make sure this is well chilled before serving so the acidity isn’t lost in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

Opinion

My Favourite Wines of 2013 – The Sweet Stuff

Following on from my favourite reds, favourite whites and favourite fizz of 2013, below is a selection of my favourite sweet wines from last year.

Sweet wines are under-appreciated and undervalued.  They are expensive to make and can show intensely concentrated aromas and flavours that make you savour every last single drop.  As they are generally unfashionable at the moment they are great value for money!

So, any trends in my choices?  Of course!  Call me predictable if you like:

  1. Alsace features highly – no surprise given that it’s one of my favourite wine regions in the world, and makes some fine sweet wines.
  2. The majority are Late harvest and / or Noble Rot styles (see below) rather than using wines made using air dried harvested grapes, Icewine, fortifieds or wines sweetened after fermentation (e.g. German Süssreserve).

Domaine Bruno Sorg Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 2007

Bruno Sorg, Eguisheim
Bruno Sorg, Eguisheim, Alsace

Domaine Bruno Sorg in Eguisheim was one of the “must visit” places for our family trip to Alsace in 2013, one of the few we wanted to see again after visiting the year before.  They produce the whole range of Alsace wines, from Crémant and basic (but great value) Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner, Grand Cru wines and Marc.

After tasting our way through most of the range, I’d decided on Pinot Blanc and a variety of Rieslings as the wines to buy for home.  Almost as an afterthought we asked to try the Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles (SGN), a dessert wine made from grapes affected by noble rot (which sounds only slightly better than the scientific name of botrytis cinerea), a fungus which dries out grapes and concentrates the flavours under certain favourable conditions.  The German equivalent is Trockenbeerenauslese, thankfully known as TBA for short.

And it was pure, heavenly nectar.  When we had finished our tasting samples we almost broke the glasses open to get at the last few drops inside.  Thankfully the tasting room manager gave us a drop more while he packed our order.  He did mention that the SGN is only produced in years where quantities are abundant, in the first place, so that they have enough left over from the grape quotas required to make the regular dry wines.  Additionally, there needs to be significant humidity (e.g. through fog) so that botrytis is encouraged, but so much that it turns to grey rot which is undesirable.

At €57 for a half bottle it worked out at twenty times the price of a regular Pinot Blanc…but it was stunning, probably the best sweet wine I have ever tasted.

Pegasus Bay “Encore” Noble Riesling 2008*

Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling 2008
Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling 2008

Peg Bay’s vineyards are in the Waipara district of Canterbury, just north of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island.  As well as great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, they do several different Rieslings: Bel Canto is dry and produced every year, Aria is a late harvest made roughly two in every three years, and Encore is a botrytis style only produced in exceptional years when the conditions are right.

The 2008 Encore is full of exotic and citrus fruit on the nose, with tones of mushroom from the the botrytis.  It is fabulously concentrated on the palate, sweetly succulent and honeyed but balanced by fresh acidity which stops it from being cloying.

Oremus Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2000

Oremus Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2000
Oremus Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2000

Long time readers might remember my Restaurant Review of Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill, Dublin where I mentioned the production process for Tokaji.  The bottle above which I saved until Christmas was getting deep in colour from bottle age, but the sugar levels from 5 Puttonyos and high acidity meant it was still in the spring of youth.  It showed the classic apricot and mandarin flavours with hints of mushroom (weird, but not out of place) from the botrytis.

Oremus is owned by the Ribero del Duero house of Vega Sicilia – what a name to have behind you!


 

What’s in a name?  Variations on the name Tokay have been used for several very different wines in different countries.  Hold on to your hats, this can get very confusing…

  1. Alsace Pinot Gris – before 1994 it was referred to as Tokay d’Alsace, thereafter Tokay Pinot Gris, but that name has also been prescribed since the 2007 vintage.  Even in drier versions, this is a rich, oily wine.
  2. Tocai Friulano, meaning Tocai from Friuli (near Venice in NE Italy) is a synonym of Sauvignon Vert, (sometimes called Sauvignonasse), a mutation of Sauvignon Blanc which is responsible for a lot of the substandard Chilean swill labelled as the latter.  See also the Merlot / Carmenère labelling Snafu.  What is it with the Chileans and grape names?  Slovenia is just next door and has also had to relabel their Tocai, this time as Sauvignonasse.
  3. Rutherglen Topaque, a fortified wine made from Bordeaux’s minor Muscadelle grape, used to be known as Tokay.  Confusingly, Muscadelle planted in California is sometimes known as Sauvignon Vert
  4. Hungarian Tokaji (Anglicised to Tokay) – the real deal!

 Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001*

Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001
Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001

Vendange Tardive (VT) is the Alsace version of the German Spätlese, both meaning late harvest.  From a technical point of view VT is actually a closer equivalent to Auslese, the next rung up on the Germanic ladder.  As grapes continue to ripen on the vine their sugar content increases, meaning higher potential alcohol and thus a potentially sweeter wine, depending on when the winemaker stops fermentation.

This particular VT is suffixed with an s on each word – the plural often indicates that several passes have been made through the vineyard to pick the grapes when they are perfectly ripe.  Trimbach is one of the biggest names in Alsace, noted for their excellent dry Rieslings, but they also produce excellent VTs and SGNs when conditions allow.  Gewurztraminer is an excellent grape for making Vendange Tardive as it is naturally high in sugar.

Arthur Metz Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles 2007*

Arthur Metz Gewurztraminer 2007 Sélection de Grains Nobles
Arthur Metz Gewurztraminer 2007 Sélection de Grains Nobles

Arthur Metz is predominantly a Crémant d’Alsace specialist, but sometimes other bottlings are seen on the shelves – this was picked up at random from a French supermarché.  This SGN is made in the Grand Cru Steinklotz, the most northerly of Alsace’s Grand Cru vineyards, which gives it a lighter texture than some other Gewurztraminer SGNs.

Domaine Engel Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Noble 2010*

Domaine Engel Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Noble 2010
Domaine Engel Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Noble 2010

Labels have to be studied carefully in Alsace as there are many common family names among vintners, sometimes closely related and sometimes distant branches of the family tree.  For example there are both Louis Sipp and Jean Sipp in Ribeauvillé plus Sipp Mack a few clicks away over the hill in Hunawihr.

Similarly, this is made by Domaine Fernand Engel et Fils of Rorschwihr rather than Domaine Engel Frères Christian & Hubert of Orschwiller – and it’s wonderful.  Hopefully someday I will get to do a multiple Alsace family taste-off!

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