Opinion

Alsace from Bordeaux – with Millésima [Sponsored]

Bordeaux was the first wine region I fell in love with, no doubt influenced by the fact that I could visit several vineyards on a day trip from my parents’ home in the Charente Maritime.  To this day there is a map of “Le Vignoble de Bordeaux” in my kitchen which I bought in Saint-Émilion over twenty years ago.

Founded in the heart of Bordeaux in 1983, Millésima is a fine wine and en-primeurWhats in a name specialist which sells directly to consumers in 120 countries.  It is a family run company, now in the hands of second generation Fabrice Bernard who succeeded his father Patrick as CEO in 2017.

Before being invited to write this piece, I was already familiar with Millésima, both through online advertisements and their sponsoring of the Millésima Blog Awards (which my friends Michelle Williams and Mike Turner were winners of in 2016).

Looking further it appears to me that Millésima’s key strengths are:

  • Selection: they have 2.5 million bottles to choose from. The emphasis is on Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne, then other French regions and ten other countries.
  • Provenance: they source their wines directly from the producer so that their condition and (especially) their authenticity are guaranteed.
  • Packaging and delivery: they pride themselves on speedy deliveries which arrive in perfect condition. The wines I ordered were picked and packaged in a double-layered corrugated cardboard box covered with a thick layer of shrink-wrapped plastic.
  • Compliance: unlike some unscrupulous distributors I have heard of, they are fully compliant with the excise and tax regulations of the countries to which their wines are shipped. This is especially important in Ireland which (unfortunately) has the highest rates in Europe, and so puts Millésima on a level playing field with local importers.

So, when invited to try some wines from a Bordeaux-based fine wine supplier, what type of wine did I order?  That’s right, some of my beloved Alsace wines from the far side of the country!  But rather than being awkward, the decision was deliberate and common sense: it would show the breadth of Millésima’s range and would put me in an informed position when reviewing the wines.

To select a mixed case is simple: click on Special Offers on the far right of the top menu

Top Menu

Next menus

then Create your own tasting case

and My own tasting case.

 

The wines I chose mainly feature my two favourite grapes from Alsace – Riesling and Pinot Gris – from three top producers, and both young and aged examples:

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris “Heimbourg” 1997 (14.0%, €55* at millesima.ie)

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg 1997

Heimbourg is a lieu-dit or named vineyard close to Turckheim, the home village of Domaine Zind Humbrecht.  It receives a lot of sunlight as it faces onto the Munster Valley and hence isn’t overshadowed by the Vosges Mountains.

The wine pours bright gold into the glass – a combination of age, possibly some noble rot and the grape variety.  The nose is highly aromatic, mainly showing rich honey notes (I’m not a honey connoisseur, but those bees have been feasting on some pretty tasty nectar) and stewed figs.  One of the best noses I’ve ever experienced!

The palate reveals the wine to be mature with some rancio streaks, possibly just past its peak, and dry.  Being dry is no bad thing in itself but is something of a surprise given the amount of honey on the nose.  The fruit is subdued and mainly stewed, accompanied by walnuts and brazils.  For matching with food, think of mature cheeses and nuts or even slow roasted beef.

Maison Trimbach Pinot Gris Réserve Personnelle 1998 (13.0%, €45* at millesima.ie)

Maison Trimbach Pinot Gris Réserve Personnelle 1998

Trimbach is arguably the most famous producer in Alsace and its wines are well distributed.  Its main yellow label wines are often the default choice for Alsace, whereas its flagship Clos Sainte-Hune Riesling is regarded by many as the best wine of the region.  Sitting between the two are the premium range of Riesling (Cuvée Frédéric Emile), Gewurztraminer (Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre) and this Pinot Gris (Réserve Personnelle).

The nose is clean with no oxidative notes, showing cumquat, apricot, exotic spices such as cinnamon and star anise, wrapped up with some light honeyed notes.  The palate has medium flavour intensity and reflects the nose very well.  This is a tasty, lively wine which isn’t going to improve further and would be best drunk sooner rather than later, but it would still be going strong in a year or two.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris “Herrenweg de Turckheim” 1999 (13.5%, €48 at millesima.ie)

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Herrenweg de Turckheim 1999

The Herrenweg is the vineyard where Zind Humbrecht’s HQ is based, on a complex mixture of sand, silt, clay and alluvial deposits.  Grapes here tend to ripen quickly and be very expressive.

When poured this Pinot Gris was an amazing amber colour – perhaps even burnished copper!  The nose is primarily stewed and some fresh stone fruit, with spice and honey.  It’s relatively subtle on the palate with the same notes but all of them are intertwined – the interplay between them is intriguing.  There’s still a little sweetness on the finish to accompany the honey aromas and flavours.

Domaine Marcel Deiss Alsace Riesling 2017 (13.0%, €28* at millesima.ie)

Domaine Marcel Deiss Riesling 2017

Domaine Marcel Deiss is an estate founded on tradition, but tradition for a reason.  Based in Bergheim, just a few clicks from Ribeauvillé, the Domaine is known for its focus on field blends – how wine was made in Alsace (and much of Europe) for centuries, before different grape varieties were properly identified and planted separately.  This, however, is from the Deiss vins de fruits or vins de cépages range – more about their grape variety than the locality where they were grown.  As with the entire range, this Riesling is Certified Organic and made following biodynamic principles from Deiss’s own vineyards only.

There’s a veritable array of citrus on the nose: lemon, lime, grapefruit and more.  The first sip shows that it has a little more body that you’d expect from a dry Riesling.  It’s young, fresh, citrus, mineral and steely with a long, dry finish.  This is quite a serious wine, but then, Riesling is a serious business!

Domaine Marcel Deiss Langenberg 2013 (12.5%, €39* at millesima.ie)

Domaine Marcel Deiss Langenberg 2013

The Langenberg is from Deiss’s Lieux-Dits range which consists of nine different named vineyards with their own distinctive terrior.  They don’t have Grand Cru status but when Alsace Premier Cru is established I’d bet that many of these nine would be included.   The Deiss website explains that Langenberg is a field blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Beurot, Muscat and Pinot Noir.  To the best of my knowledge Pinot Beurot is simply a synonym for Pinot Gris, but as that is already listed it might be a particular clone.

This is a highly aromatic wine with a wealth of tropical notes: pineapple, grapefruit, guava, banana, coconut, passionfruit and exotic spices all feature.  It has a silky, generous texture in the mouth.  The enticing palate is full of the tropical fruits found on the nose (mainly contributed by the Pinots Grises and the Muscat) but brought round to a crisp conclusion by the Riesling component.  A magnificent wine!

 


*Note: all prices include Irish Duty and VAT and are the relevant prices for individual bottles as part of a mixed selection.

Disclosure: this is a sponsored post, but all opinions remain my own.

 

Advertisements
Tasting Events

Six Top Whites from the Ely Big Tasting

ely-bar-brasserie-private-wine-room

The Ely Big Tasting is now something of an institution on the Dublin wine scene, giving interested wine drinkers a chance to try a wide variety of wines from Ely’s suppliers.  Some of them are already established favourites and some are shown to gauge interest from punters.  Over the several events that I’ve attended (Spring and Autumn each year) it has been interesting to see the camaraderie and some good natured competition between the importers.

Here are six of my favourite whites from the Autumn 16 event:

D’Arenberg “The Money Spider” South Australia Roussanne 2010 (13.2%, Febvre)

money-spider

Roussanne is one of the most important grapes in France’s Rhône Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon.  Innovative McLaren Vale producers d’Arenberg decided to plant white Rhône varieties given how successful the Rhône varieties Shiraz/Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are in the Vale.  And the theory paid off!  Nutty and peachy, it’s full of interesting flavours that you just don’t find in the usual supermarket suspects of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.  Seek it out!

Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Setz Weinwiertel 2015 (Wine Mason)

gemischter-satz-cropped

Lovely field blend of 17 different varieties. These vines are all planted in the same vineyard and are harvested and vinified together. When Ingrid took on the family vineyards she had to rely on her grandmother to identify which variety was which!

The result in the glass is both complexity and drinkability – what more could you want?

In case you were curious, the varieties are:

Chardonnay, Müller Thurgau, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Grauburgunder, Pinot Blanc, Frühroter Veltliner, Neuburger, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Sämling, Roter Veltliner, Grauer Vöslauer, Hietl Rote, Weiße Vöslauer and Silberweiße.

More info here.

Trimbach Alsace Vieilles Vignes Riesling 2012 (13.0%, C+C Gilbey’s)

riesling-selection-de-vieilles-vignes-2012-trimbach

This Vieilles Vignes (“Vee-ay Veen”, Old Vines) Riesling is a step above the standard Riesling (which I like) and slots in below Trimbach’s premium Cuvée Frédéric Emile.  The VV is only made in certain years (2009 was the release previous to this 2012) so my guess is that Trimbach only decide to make it when they have more quality fruit than they need for “Fred”.

Ther fruit is sourced from the lieux-dits (named vineyards) Rosacker, Muehlforst, Vorderer Haguenau and Pflaenzer.  Being old, the vines yield less grapes than in their youth, but the resultant wines have more intense and complex flavours.  This wine is mainly available in bars and restaurants (such as Ely!) rather than wine merchants and is worth calling in for on it own!

Lucien Aviet “Cuvée des Docteurs” Arbois-Jura 2011 (13.0%, La Rousse)

lucien

The Jura region – nestled in the hills between Burgundy and Switzerland – has been making wine for a long time, but has only recently stepped into the limelight.  The area’s Vin Jaune has been regarded as an interesting diversion but now the table wines are receiving lots of attention – due in no small part to Wink Lorch’s excellent book.

Whereas Vin Jaune and some other Jura wines are deliberately exposed to oxygen during their production, this Chardonnay is in the ouillé “wee-ay” style – the barrels are topped up to prevent a flor forming or major oxidative notes.  It’s therefore much more my cup of tea – or glass of wine!  The wild yeasts used are reflected somewhat in the wild flavours, so this isn’t for everyone, but every wine enthusiast should try it at least once.

La Fief du Breil “La Haye Fouassière” Muscadet Cru Communal 2013 (12.5%, Wines Direct)

le_fief_du_breil_1

Anyone who has holidayed on the Atlantic coast of France and has enjoyed the seafood there is almost certain to have tried Muscadet, from the western reaches of the Loire.  It’s a wine while is often maligned outside of an accompaniment for oysters, and if we take the average quality of all wines produced then that’s probably not too unfair.  However, some producers are very quality conscious and can make some fantastic wines in the region.

This cuvée spends 14 months on the lees, giving a very creamy texture, but remains refreshing thanks to vibrant acidity.  It will partner well with seafood but is just downright delicious on its own.

More info here (downloads).

Brookland Valley “Verse 1” Margaret River Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, Liberty)

bv

Compared to most of the producers above, Brookland Valley is a newcomer – they were established in Margaret River in 1983 (compared to 1626 for Trimbach!)  While heritage and history are nice, at the end of the day it’s what’s in the glass that counts.  Verse 1 is their “entry level” range, with Estate above that and Reserve at the top.

This Chardonnay is a cracker, still young perhaps but full of flavour.  Racy grapefruit and lemon are set against brioche, vanilla and nuts.  It’s well balanced with a long finish.  If drinking in the next year or so then decant for half an hour before drinking, if you can.

More info here.

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!

I hope you liked this post, please leave a comment and/or follow my blog  if you haven't done so already.