This might sound like an odd (or even stupid) question, but bear with me. Among lovers of bubbly, especially those with a keen eye for a bargain, Crémant de Bourgogne is well appreciated. However, I would hazard a guess that only a small proportion of those folk would know (or care) exactly where in Burgundy those bubbles are made.
Under the Appellation Contrôlée system, Crémant de Bourgogne can be made from grapes grown anywhere in greater Burgundy, i.e.:
The Côte de Beaune
The Côte de Nuits
The Côte Chalonnaise
The Chablis region(!)
Given Chablis’s northerly latitude – famously closer to Champagne’s Côte des Bar than to Dijon – its suitability for growing grapes with the high acidity and moderate alcohol required for sparkling production (not to mention an appropriate variety) should not be a surprise. Rewind to the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. and sparkling wine from Chablis would be even less of a surprise – it was normally labelled as such. Also, at that time, some Champagne maisons bought grapes from outside their own region and labelled their fizz as Champagne on the basis that they were made by a Champagne house. This was one of the key causes of the Champagne Riots in 1910 and 1911.
I recently got chance to try two wines from the Chablis area that are included in the SuperValu French Wine Sale, one still and one sparkling:
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own
André Goichot Chablis 2018
Maison André Goichot is a Burgundy Negociant founded in 1947. They offer a wide range of red and white Burgundies, many of which are available at SuperValu in Ireland. Also included in the current French Wine Sale are Goichot wines from Fleurie, Mercurey, Pouilly-Fuissé, Montagny and Mâcon-Lugny.
In the glass this is a pale lemon, as expected from a young and unoaked Chablis. The nose shows lots of citrus, primarily lemon and lime, with a little green apple; it’s a little more fruity than some generic Chablis can be. The citrus and green apple notes also show on the palate which is slightly lean in character, but not austere.
Chablis is known as a great match for shellfish – especially oysters – and this example would fit that role perfectly, but it also has enough appeal to be drunk on its own or with nibbles as an aperitif. Great value in the sale!
RRP: €19.66 down to €14.75 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
Simonnet-Febvre traces its history back to 1840 when a monsieur Jean Febvre bought a Chablis wine merchant. Even back then, sparkling Chablis was a speciality of the firm. By the next generation Simonnet was added to the company name and continued expanding through the years. In 2003 it was bought by Louis Latour, but remains a separate entity and continues to make “sparkling Chablis” – alongside a range of still Chablis wines – to this day.
This Crémant is actually one of the five they make. The assemblage is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir – traditional grapes for both Burgundy and Champagne. The wine is made using the traditional method, of course, and spends a total of 24 months in the cellars. Labelled as Brut, it has 7 g/L of residual sugar which puts it only 1 g/L above the maximum for Extra Brut.
Once popped it has a creamy mousse with a persistent bead. The main aromas are of citrus and green apples, plus bready notes. These continue through to the palate which is ultra fresh, almost tart (though in a pleasant way) due to the low dosage. Simonnet-Febvre recommend serving this as an aperitif, or even with crème de cassis. It certainly wakes up your palate!
RRP: €29.50 down to €24.59 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
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.
For Part 6 of the Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series we return to Dublin and the choices of the bubbly (-lover) Nirina Plunkett. The song I chose for Nirina is Jamiroquai’s Space Cowboy, though not the original version; while that has its appeal as a funky, soulful track it’s rather downbeat – if I want depressing I’ll listen to The Cure or The Smiths, thank you very much! Instead this is the result of a major reworking by the legendary David Morales of Def Mix Productions, turning in into upbeat, uplifting dance floor classic.
The wine choice for Nirina was dead easy – she was an enthusiastic participant in Alsace Wine Week in Ireland last year, including the live Twitter tasting where she extolled the virtues of Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace!
My good friend and fellow wine enthusiast Frankie invited me to take part in his new Frankly Wines & Friends: Wine and Music Series, and naturally I accepted! It’s no secret that I am a big wine fan, and always love exploring and learning more, and also that I LOVE music. I literally listen to music every day, when I’m blogging, writing, cooking, doing my makeup and even as I fall asleep. I’m kinda obsessed!
Therefore this series is pretty ideal for me as it brings together two of my favourite things. Today I’ll feature two different songs matched with two wines and a little chat about them. One of each has been chosen for me by Frankie, and I’ve then paired them with my own choices.
“Space Cowboy” (David Morales Classic Club Remix) By Jamiroquai
This remixed song choice from Frankie sure takes me back to when I was in my early twenties, and seems like it’d be hard to match with wine. But because of its party vibe, it’s got to be a bubbly choice for me. This Bottega Gold Prosecco, which hails from the Valdobbiadene hills in Northern Italy, is one of my favourites.
This sparker is made from a tasty blend of the varieties Moscato, Glera (Prosecco), Pinot Nero, and Raboso Piave, and together they give this Prosecco a fresh and fruity aroma. And then there’s the sweet fizz and the gorgeous gold bottle – ideal for any party occasion! I can picture myself and the gals with a bottle of Bottega Gold Prosecco as the club soaks up the atmosphere with this song blasting away. Plus popping any bottle of bubbly instantly puts a smile on my face, it’s my favourite sound!
Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut
I do love a good bottle of fizz, and this Wolfberger Brut Crémant d’Alsace is such a beauty. I was fortunate enough to try this last year but I will always remember it for its lively and light floral notes. It’s made with five traditional varieties of the Alsace region as well as the Chardonnay grape, that altogether give a slight apple finish. I do find this Wolfberger more elegant than the aforementioned Prosecco, and therefore with such a bubbly brut, I’ve chosen this classic Rihanna song “Diamonds”
I feel it’s the right song to sip on this sparkling wine, played extra loud, of course. I can picture myself out the back garden as dusk settles, with my best friend, chatting the night away and pouring glass after glass of this Wolfberger with a minimal cheese & cracker platter.
Nirina Plunkett, 29, is from Dublin and of Irish and Malagasy ethnicity and has been a blogger and website owner since she was 10 years old! Nirina’s blog Killer Fashion celebrates 10 years this year, while she started Cookie FM in 2015, a food & lifestyle blog, to explore herlove for food, music and adventures even more. Nirina loves trying new recipes, dining out, tasting new cuisines, learning about wine and having delicious cocktails. If you want to drop Nirina an email about anything contact KillerFashionNP@gmail.com
Cava has an image problem. The vast majority of bottles sort in the UK and Ireland are mass-produced, by-the-numbers plonk. Even though it’s made by the more expensive – and generally higher quality – traditional method, Cava is generally seen as being in the same “party-drink” class as Prosecco. To be honest, neither cheap Prosecco nor cheap Cava float my boat.
Serious Cava is getting some serious attention at the moment thanks to the Cava de Paraje single vineyard classifications, and hopefully that will be extended and filter down in time. Until then, the mid market seems to be somewhat neglected – where is the good Cava that doesn’t cost the earth?
Here are a couple I tried recently which are well worth trying:
Perelada Cava Brut Reserva NV (11.5%, 8.0g/L RS, RRP €20 at The Corkscrew , Jus de Vine, The Hole in the Wall)
Perhaps any Catalan-speaking readers might be able to tell me if the similarity in spelling between the town of Perelada (near Girona) and the Cava grape Parellada is linked or just a coincidence? This is a blend of the three traditional Cava varieties, being 45% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeu and 25% Parellada. The second fermentation in bottle is for 15 months which is the minimum for non vintage Champagne but significantly longer than the nine month minimum for non vintage Cava.
This is quite a fresh style of Cava, with a fairly low 8g/L of residual sugar. There’s a little influence from the time on the lees but it’s much more about the tangy apple and citrus fruit.
Disclosure: this bottle was kindly given as a sample
Llopart Cava Brut Reserva 2014 (11.5%, 8.0g/L RS, RRP €30 at The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son, Redmonds)
This is producer Llopart’s standard bottle and is actually fairly similar to the Perelada above in terms of residual sugar and blend – it consists of 40% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeu and 30% Parellada. The time on lees is given as 18 months minimum but, to my palate, this has spent quite a bit more than the minimum; it has lots of biscuity notes which are generally the sign of a good Champagne. This is a classy Cava which would be a better choice than many Champagnes!
Wine is my passion and my favourite drink, but if I fancy a change now and again it’s cider that I took to (beer no longer gets a look in due to my wheat intolerance). Cider actually has quite a lot in common with wine as it’s made from the fermented juice of an annually harvested fruit.
So what better that a cider made by winemakers?
With a nod to Ireland’s Simon Tyrrell, here is one of the finest – and most vinous – ciders I have ever tasted, from the winemaking team at Hush Heath Estate in Kent. The orchard was replanted 20 years ago around the time of the birth of the owners’ son Jake, and so it eventually took on his name.
The cider is made from a blend of Cox (aka Cox’s Orange Pippin), Bramley and Egremont Russet apples, with a little essence of strawberries & blackberries added. Do not think, however, that this is a sickly sweet syrupy concoction like some ciders on the market – it’s elegant and light, and is great option for the dinner table.
Interestingly, secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle – just like traditional method sparkling wine – which makes it naturally sparkling rather than carbonation. Those with keen eyes might notice that it is fairly strong in alcohol for a cider at 7.5%, but it doesn’t taste that strong at all – the sign of a well-balanced wine cider!
Crisp and clean, with a touch of fruit sweetness but fairly dry overall. Delicious! Drink from a large wine glass.
A cursory search through my blog reveals that Blanc de Blancs is one of the wine styles I write about very frequently – mainly because I really like it as a style, and if there’s a bottle shown at a trade tasting I will make a beeline for it.
So when Mike over at Please Bring Me My Wine asked for suggestions beginning with B for New Wine This Week #53, I naturally piped up with Blanc de Blancs – and would you believe it, other voters on the poll (narrowly) agreed with me.
So a few important questions to be answered – what exactly is it? why do I like it? and what should a neophyte try?
What The Heck Is a Blanc de Blancs?
In my mind a true Blanc de Blancs is a white wine made with white grapes where there is a possibility that black grapes could also have been used. The vast majority are traditional method sparklers such as Champagne:
But before we dive into sparkling, there is a much less well known version; if you’re a real Alsace geek like me then you might think of different Pinots being used in white wine, and as long as the juice is taken off the skins quickly, even black grapes can be part of the blend. If it’s just from white Pinot grapes – i.e. Pinot Blanc – then it can be labelled as a Blanc de Blancs:
So after that small detour, let’s get back onto the main road.
Champagne was the region that popularised the term, and there it usually means a white fizz made from just Chardonnay without any juice from the black grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. There are some very small plantings of other grapes in Champagne that could go into a Blanc de Blancs, but they are rare indeed.
In other parts of France where traditional method Crémant is made, popular local grapes can be used to make a Blanc de Blancs, especially if they are high in acidity – Chenin Blanc in the Loire, Sauvignon in Bordeaux, Pinot Blanc in Alsace.
A fact often overlooked is that Chardonnay is sometimes permitted in the AOP rules for a fizz when it’s not allowed in the local still wine – sometimes even a 100% varietal Chardonnay such as this Crémant d’Alsace:
Other traditional method sparkling wine is often made with the main three Champagne grapes, whether Tasmania, Marlborough, California or southern England.
Why Do I Like It?
When it’s young, it’s fresh, floral and citrusy, and can be on the simple side. But there’s nothing wrong with that – the perfect aperitif.
The best examples, particularly from the Côte des Blancs’ Grand Cru villages, have a haunting purity about them.
With extended lees ageing it takes on biscuit and brioche characters; while this is obviously true for other sparklers, Blanc de Blancs seem to be more coherent and integrated.
And of course many of the long-lived prestige cuvées are Blanc de Blancs – think of Charles Heidsieck’s Cuvée des Millénaires, Salon Le Mesnil, Krug Clos du Mesnil, and so on.
Do Try This At Home
If you see any of the wines above in the shop, then snap them up!
I also heartily endorse the Sainsbury’s Non Vintage Champagne Blanc de Blancs that Mike recommended on his site. If you’re lucky you might see it on promotion when it can be ridiculously good value for money.
Some other Blankety Blanks that I’ve really enjoyed:
Clover Hill Sparkling 2003 (O’Briens, €31.99)
Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 (Aldi, €26.99, also covered here)
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV (£44.98, Majestic)
Wiston Estate, Blanc de Blancs NV (Le Caveau, €47.70, also covered here)
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009 (James Nicholson Wine, £31.95 / €46.99, also covered here)
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007 (Berry Bros, £35.95, also covered here)
Now get supping!
Also check out Confessions of a Wine Geek’s post here
Despite not making a personal trip to Champagne in 2014, it was an excellent year for fizz, rounded off by a big fizz tasting on New Year’s Eve.
During the year I observed that nearly all retailers in Ireland have very good Champagne and sparkling wine on their shelves, whether from a recognised big producer or not.
More and more countries are now making top rate sparklers to satisfy the increased international demand for bubbles: old favourite Cloudy Bay Pelorus from New Zealand was joined by Roederer Estate Quartet from the USA and Quinta Soalheiro Alvarinho Espumante from Portugal.
Despite my intentions at the beginning of the year, I didn’t taste any excellent Cava during 2014 and Franciacorta remains an enigma – more tasting needed on both fronts! I also hear of sparkling Arneis from north west Italy which I will endeavour to seek out.
So what were the hits in 2014? As you will see, I tried some outstanding new (and established) English sparkling wine plus some excellent Champagnes.
10. Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011
Just like that crappy advert for Shake n’ Vac from the 80s, this English fizz really puts the freshness back! As hinted at by the term “Classic Cuvée, this is made with the three main Champagne grapes. As the blend is 71% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 9% Pinot Meunier it has a fresh and lively aspect to it – a great start to a party!
I would be interested to taste the same bottle with a bit of age to see how it develops.
9. Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012
Or to give it its full name Nino Franco Vigneto Della Riva di San Floriano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior DOCG. If that sounds a mouthful, it is – but in a good way. I was keen to try it at the James Nicholson tasting after hearing it had been recognised by Mr Fizz himself, Tom Stevenson.
As I often say, when trying most Prosecco one glass is enough for me, a second means a really good wine – well this is “give me the bottle and I’ll finish it on my own” good. In case that wasn’t quite obvious enough – I really like it!
This single vineyard bubbly is made by the Charmat method like all other Prosecco, but has four months on the lees while in tank, and therefore picks up a little autolytic character. It’s also dry and savoury, so it tastes like a serious wine – you could easily drink this with a meal as well as the usual aperitif.
8. Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs NV
Several people who like Champagne but aren’t that well-acquainted with English sparkling wine have been surprised by the proportion of English fizz that has a vintage, i.e. made from grapes harvested in a single year. Given the vagaries of the English climate – even more unreliable than that of northern France – you might expect many more non vintage wines where reserve wines have been used to smooth out less than perfect years.
I’m not sure why this is the case – it could be that so many English wineries are new and haven’t had the time or spare cash to lay down lots of reserve wines – but here’s an exception to the norm.
Irishman Dermot Sugrue has done a wonderful job with the Wiston Rosé, but the combination of creamy bubbles, refreshing lemon sherbet and hints of tropical fruit blew me away. If you like your fizz and you haven’t tried this yet, sort it out!
7. Leon Launois Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2006
As I mentioned in the introduction, the big retailers in Ireland have put a lot of effort into their house Champagnes as there were some very creditable bottles tasted this year.
Among the best were Jean Comyn “Harmonie” Brut NV (from Molloys), Bissinger Premium Cuvée Brut NV (from Lidl) and Beaumont des Crayères Grand Réserve NV (from O’Briens).
However, my favourite – and one that exceeded my expectations of a house Champagne – is Aldi’s Léon Launois Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2006. From the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs, this 100% Chardonnay has spent half a decade on the lees giving it lovely brioche character supporting refreshing lemon.
6. Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009
First, an admission: on meeting a well-presented chap at the James Nicholson tasting with the hand-written name badge “Charlie Holland-Gusbourne” I leapt to the conclusion that this was an English toff with a double barrelled-name showing the fruits of his ancestral estate. Prior research or even just paying attention would have revealed that Charlie Holland is the award-winning winemaker fromGusbourne. I’m still blushing.
Anyway, trying Gusbourne’s wines for the first time impressed me, and the Blanc de Blancs was my overall favourite. Fairly young still but with three years minimum on the lees behind it, this will continue to improve and add layers of complexity over the coming years. 2009 was an excellent vintage in England!
5. Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV
This is a non-vintage, but as a “prestige cuvée” it deserves the more fitting moniker “multi-vintage” as used by Krug for their Grande Cuvée, for example. I took this as an interloper to Morgan Vanderkamer’s Grower Champagne tasting and it was tricky to guess (almost) blind
It had much more body and texture than usual for a Blanc de Blancs. But rather than maturing base wines in oak, it’s the extended ageing on the lees (five years minimum) and the excellent fruit that give the oomph. Denis Varnier eschews oak and blocks MLF to keep the wines as fresh and pure as possible.
The grapes for this bottling are grown in a walled vineyard in Avize called Clos du Grand-Père, named after Denis’s maternal Grandfather Jean Fannière who moved on from “just” growing grapes to being a fully-fledged Champagne producer when already in his 50s.
4. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
I had three opportunities to taste Nyetimber’s “best vintage yet” over the course of 2014.
Firstly with the nice people of Liberty where it showed well.
In the middle of the year I took my wife to Ely Wine Bar for her birthday. After a few bubbles at home she wasn’t in the mood for any more when we arrived at Ely, but she changed her mind when she saw Nyetimber on the list.
Then finally I popped a bottle on New Year’s Eve – and it was better than ever! Perhaps the bottle on my wife’s birthday hadn’t really shone as much as it should have done after a heavyweight rosé Champagne (so heavyweight that I put it in my Top 10 Reds of the year!) But in a more sympathetic context it was magnificent, and the Pinot really shone through.
3. Dom Pérignon 1995
You know how when you’re having a ball of a time at a party, and you open a bottle that, in a more sober frame of mind, you might have saved for a special or at least contemplative occasion? If you’ve been there, did it feel like a waste?
Sometimes, it’s not a waste! Thus it was when I popped my oldest bottle of Dom Pérignon, from the excellent vintage of 1995 – it was just sumptuous!
As part of the drinks group Moët-Hennessey (itself part of luxury goods group LVMH), Moët et Chandon NV is much more about marketing than wine quality. Unfortunately, the Moët vintage was also a disappointment this year. But the prestige cuvée is still the real deal, in my opinion, despite the large quantities produced.
I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned this year is that even Champagne has to be kept until the right age and the right moment – whenever that comes – and then it can be a transcendental experience.
2. Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 1999 (Magnum)
This modest co-operative-produced Champagne was a delight over Christmas (I think I had a magnum to myself on Christmas morning) and the star of the night at the NYE Glasnevin Fizz Fest.
As you might gather from the name, it’s another excellent aged Blanc de Blancs from Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger, one of the top few villages for Chardonnay in Champagne. It has the trademark yeasty, bready characters on the nose., followed by a sumptuous palate of citrus and soft stone fruit. Just delicious.
1. Charles Heidsieck Cuvée des Millénaires 1995
Even in the context of all the excellent sparkling wine I tried in 2014, there was only ever going to be one winner for me.
The Charles NV is pretty good, but this is on another level entirely. Almost two decades maturing in the cellar has brought aromas and flavours of brioche, nuts and candied fruit in addition to refreshing citrus. It has the voluptuous texture without sweetness of salted caramel. It’s time to sell a kidney and buy a case.