Kicking off my new Wine of the Week series, here’s a classy modern Aussie Chardonnay that doesn’t break the bank.
Stonier Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2016
The 2020 vintage of this wine was released recently, so I plucked this 2016 bottling out of my wine fridge to see how it was getting on. In fact I reviewed the 2016 Stonier Chardonnay almost three years ago.
As the climate continues to warm, the southern-most wine regions of Australia have moved into focus. The key places for Aussie Chardonnay are now South Australia’s Adelaide Hills, parts of Tasmania, Victoria’s Yarra Valley and Mornington Pensinsula. Coastal exposure is the key to their microclimates, along with any altitude that’s available.
As might be inferred from its name, the Mornington Peninsula is surrounded by water on three sides. Grapes for this wine are sourced from a variety of vineyards across the area. Those from the coolest sites are allowed to go through malolactic fermentation (MLF) to round out the acidity and the remainder have MLF blocked to provide freshness to the blend. Oak is used for maturing a good portion of the wine, but only a small fraction is new – it’s all about texture and body.
At close to six years of age this wine retains the struck-match reductive character on the nose that it had on release. It also has plenty of fruit on offer, largely pineapple with hints of grapefuit and lemon. The finish is long and fresh, with a keen mineral streak thoughout.
Although this wine has been on offer at O’Briens (it is exclusive to them in Ireland) it is well worth the normal full sticker price
Pinot Noir can be tricky to make well. It is very particular about the climate it’s grown in – not too hot, not too cold. Here are a pair of antipodean cool climate Pinots that are worth your hard-earned:
Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2018
The Yarra Valley is part of the Port Philip zone which surrounds Melbourne in Australia. Its proximity to Melbourne makes it a popular wine tourism destination; indeed, my first trip there was on a day trip wine tour from Melbourne. That should not detract from its status as one of the best cool climate regions of Australia, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir starring – both still and sparkling.
Innocent Bystander was founded in 1996 by Phil Sexton after selling his previous Margaret River venture Devil’s Lair. Innocent Bystander (IB) wines are often blends from multiple sites to achieve complexity and balance at a reasonable price point. Alongside IB, in 1998 Sexton also began creating single vineyard wines under the Giant Steps label.
The Pink Moscato explosion in Aussie wine led to a large increase in volumes being made and sold by IB, so Sexton sold it to another family owned Victorian wine producer – Brown Brothers of Milawa – in order to concentrate on Giant Steps. Once picked IB’s grapes now make a three hour journey in refrigerated trucks to be crushed at Brown Bros’ winery. Sexton’s Yarra Valley tasting room wasn’t part of the transaction so Brown Bros bought and converted a brewery – formerly run by Phil Sexton!
The wines in the Innocent Bystander portfolio include the following:
Gamay / Pinot Noir blend
It’s the last two which are the most unusual for Australia, and therefore piqued my interest, though sadly they haven’t yet made their way to Ireland.
In the main this Pinot Noir is fruit-driven: raspberry, blackberry and tart red cherries dominate the nose and palate, though there are also herb and spice notes in the background. It is not, however, a “fruit-bomb”; acidity and gentle tannins provide a framework against which the fruit can sing, and boy do they sing!
Marlborough’s Framingham is probably the most respected producer of Riesling in New Zealand, but has added additional varieties across its three ranges:
Their wines are all very well crafted and offer a substantial step up from everyday Marlborough wines, but prices are sensible. The firm’s winemaker for 18 years was Dr Andrew Hedley, who was then succeeded by the returning Andrew Brown at the beginning of this year (what a year to join!) In between his stints at Framingham, “Brownie” had worked in several cool climate regions including Alsace, so he has great experience with Riesling.
Framingham’s own vineyards and those of partner winegrowers are all in the Wairau Valley, the central open plain of Marlborough which is on a mixture of alluvial and clay soil. Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately, with grapes from clay soils in particular receiving more time on the skins. MLF and maturation takes place in new (20%) and used French oak barrels, before final blending and bottling. No fining or filtering is carried out to preserve flavour and mouthfeel.
When speaking to Jared Murtha (Framingham’s Global Sales Manager) earlier this year I remarked that the Pinot Noir seemed more like a Martinborough Pinot than a typical Marlborough one to me. This was meant as a compliment and taken as one, as I find many Marlborough Pinot Noirs to be light, simple and less than interesting. Jared replied diplomatically that Framingham aren’t aiming to make a “smashable” wine, but rather one which is a little more serious and gastronomic.
And hell have they succeeded! It has typical Pinot red fruit notes – cherry and wild strawberry – but also layer upon layer of smoky, spicy and savoury characters. There are lovely round tannins giving the wine additional structure. Umami fans will love this wine!
These two wines are made from the same grape variety in neighbouring countries (yeah, still quite a journey) and are close in price, so a like for like comparison is perfectly fair. The most obvious difference, though, is their style. The Innocent Bystander is a great, fruit-forward all-rounder and would really appeal to the casual wine drinker. The Framingham is a different proposition, more savoury and serious, and would shine the brightest in a setting with food – though it’s not a “this needs food” wine. My preference would be to spend the extra €4 on the Framingham … but if someone offers me a glass of Innocent Bystander I would be delighted.
The Nugan Group was founded by Spanish emigré Alfredo Nugan in Griffith, New South Wales, in 1940. Initially it was in the fruit packing business and then moved into premium fruit juice production in the 1970s. A further expansion in 1993 involved the planting of vineyards and selling the grapes – just another fruit, at that time. The natural progression was then into making wine, and now Nugan Estate has 590 hectares of vineyards in Riverina(NSW), King Valley (Victoria) and McLaren Vale (South Australia).
Nugan recently introduced the “Personality Range” – four single varietal wines that have been named after some of the larger-than-life people working at Nugan Estate. I think it’s a great idea, most people love a story and a bit of history behind a wine – even if they just have a glance at the bottle while having a glass on a Wednesday evening.
Nugan Estate King Valley “Bossy Boots” Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (12.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
“Dedicated to my grandmother – I learned early on never to judge a book by its cover and never underestimate the women in my family! Take Bossy Boots, she might look soft and feminine but don’t be fooled! After the world wars, Australia became home to many immigrants from Europe. They settled in the rugged outback where our vineyards are today. My grandmother was one of them. She was strong and spoke her mind, determined to build a new life for her family no matter what it took. She was a determined woman – so much admired by everyone.”
The King Valley is in North-East Victoria – and when looking up its location I found I have actually been there when dropping into Brown Brothers in Milawa! It’s a fairly hilly area which makes it a good location for cooler climate wines. Australia isn’t known for varietal Savvy – it’s more commonly seen in a blend with Semillon or even Chardonnay – so I was very interested to find out how this tasted.
This would never be mistaken for a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but then why should it? On tasting there’s a tropical fruit explosion in the mouth – pineapple, mangoand passionfruit. The wine still has plenty of acidity but it’s not tart or sharp. In fact, if Kiwi SB isn’t for you then I would recommend giving this a try.
Nugan Estate Riverina “Dreamers” Chardonnay 2013 (13.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
“My mother has this uncanny knack of dreaming big then making her dreams come true. Like when she decided she wanted to start our winery over twenty five years ago. She came in one day and said we are going to plant vineyards. Large ones, all over Australia! We all thought the old girl is really going too far this time. But turns out she was spot on. We planted our vineyards from scratch and you’re drinking the fruits of our hard yakka right now. I always hated that saying ‘your mother’s always right’ but perhaps there’s something in it.”
It’s very rare to see “Riverina” on a wine label – a lot of bulk wine is made there so producers often prefer to use the more generic “South-Eastern Australia” instead (and that also lets them include fruit from other states as well). Of course Nugan are based in Griffith which is the capital of the Riverina agricultural area, so they proudly declare their origins on the label. Wine fans should note that Australia’s most celebrated sweet wine – De Bortoli’s Noble One – is made just round the corner!
The Dreamers Chardonnay sees no new oak – as is the current vogue for Chardonnay in Australia – just two and three year old barrels which provide added roundness and texture. It does spend six to eight weeks on the lees, with daily stirring to give some yeasty characters and interesting texture. It’s freshand tangy– and far more moreishthan Aussie Chardonnays of old!
Nugan Estate Riverina “Scruffy’s” Shiraz 2014 (14.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
“Scruffy is our Shiraz vineyard manager – he’s a mountain of a man and always looks like he’s been wrestling the local wildlife. Despite constantly looking untidy and in desperate need of a shave, he’s a real charmer with the ladies. We excuse him for being so rough around the edges as that’s his style and the world would be so boring if everyone was the same and he really knows what he’s doing in our vineyards.”
Another Riverina wine, this is partially matured in oak – both French and American – 25% of which is new. Winemaker Daren Owens keeps vineyard yields low to help intensify flavours and insists on careful fruit selection to maintain quality.
Scruffy by name, but not by nature – this wine is full of juicy berries, blackberryand blackcurrantin particular. There’s just a lick of vanillafrom the oak which adds complexity. Probably the most drinkable wine at this price point!
Nugan Estate Riverina “Stompers” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (14.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
“My mother can be an intimidating person and there’s a few blokes that still wish they’d never given her a hard time. That said, our one vineyard manager named Stomper seems to have found a way to sidestep her wrath with his seemingly carefree attitude. We call him Stomper because the whole building shakes when he walks in – a gentle giant!”
Whereas the Shiraz has both American and French oak, the Cabernet Sauvignon’s more reserved character is better suited to just French oak – though again only a quarter of it is new.
Stomper’s wine is more about cassisand chocolate, with some noticeable Cabernet graphite and cedarwood characters. It’s a little more serious, but would pair very well with red meat.
To be honest I’d be very happy to pay €12.99 for each of these wines, but at €10.00 they are an absolute steal. The choice between the whites depends on whether you prefer a little more subtlety (the Chardonnay) or a little more expressiveness (the Sauvignon). I’d probably pick the former two out of three times. Between the reds I’d have a preference for the Shiraz (as does my wife!).
2015 has been an excellent year for wine in Dublin, especially from a personal perspective. As well as the usual trade tastings, which one can never take for granted, I have been lucky enough to be invited to several excellent wine dinners and receive samples from many new suppliers and retailers – thanks to all.
Here are ten of the white wines which made a big impression on me during the year. The order is somewhat subjective – this is wine tasting after all – and I’m sure the list would look a little different on another day.
10. Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC “Alchimie” 2014 (€14/€10, SuperValu)
A fruit driven Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, just outside Sancerre, which is just so damned drinkable. It has some of the explosiveness of a Marlborough savvy but more restrained, so it wouldn’t be out of place at the table. It’s well worth the regular price but is a total steal when on offer. See more here.
9. Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.99, Honest 2 Goodness)
Whites from South West France continue to impress me with their intense, but balanced, flavours from mainly indigenous grapes – and all at keen prices. This is one of the best I’ve ever tasted from the area. See more here.
8. Château Mas “Belluguette” Coteaux de Languedoc 2012 (€20.95, Molloys)
A premium white wine from the Languedoc, but without a silly price tag. This was one of the biggest surprises of the year – I just hadn’t been expecting such an exuberant white wine from the Languedoc. The blend is: Vermentino 40%, Roussanne 30%, Grenache 20%, Viognier 10%, with each grape variety is vinified separately in oak barrels for a month. 50% of the blend goes through malolactic fermentation and it is blocked for the remainder. The final blend is then aged in 2/3 French and 1/3 American oak for 4 months.
Molloy’s wine consultant Maureen O’Hara dubbed this a “Dolly Parton” wine – I’d have to say it’s got a lot of front!
7. Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling, Central Otago (€19.99, Curious Wines)
Although owned by a famous actor, this estate does not make “celebrity wine”. Pinot Noir is the speciality of Two Paddocks, with excellent premium and single vineyard bottlings, but they also make a small amount of Riesling, benefitting from the cool (almost cold!) climate of the southerly most wine region in the world.
“Picnic” is their more accessible, everyday range, for both Pinot and Riesling, and here we have the latter. It’s just off-dry with lots of Golden Delicious apple, honey and citrus, with a fresh streak of acidity through the middle. It actually reminded me of a still version of Nyetimber’s 2007 Blanc de Blanc, one of my favourite English sparklers!
6. Argyros Estate Santorini Atlantis 2013 (€15.49, Marks and Spencer)
An excellent Assyrtiko based-blend from the Greek Island of Santorini, linked to the legend of Atlantis. Old vines and steep slopes contribute to excellent intensity, with lemony flavours and floral aromas. Such a drinkable and versatile wine.
Yes you read that correctly, this is a €35 Vinho Verde! However, although it shares geography and grape variety with many Vinho Verdes, it is made in a totally different style. It retains the central fresh core of Alvarinho (aka Albariño in Galicia) yet has a creamy complexity from oak and lees stirring.
In one of the first DNS tastings of 2015 this was tied neck and neck with Rafael Palacios’ famous As Sortes – it’s that good. See the full article on The Taste here.
4. Hugel Pinot Gris “Jubilee” 2000 (€52 in West Restaurant @ The Twelve Hotel)
One of the highlights of 2015 was a trip away to The Twelve Hotel in Barna, just outside Galway City, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. It’s our favourite hotel in Ireland, and one that we choose for special occasions. Check out their full wine list here.
Hotel Restaurant wine lists can often be very dull / safe / boring, depending on your point of view, so it warms the cockles of this wino’s heart to see such a well put together list. It was General Manager & Sommelier Fergus O’Halloran who first got me into Pecorino (see here), but on this occasion it was something else which was really worth writing home about.
Hugel is one of the two large and well-known family producers in Alsace, the other being Trimbach which also sports yellow labels on its bottles. Both are located in achingly pretty villages and have excellent ranges. Jubilee signifies Hugel’s premium range, made from fruit in their Grand Cru Sporen and Pflostig vineyards. As a general rule I like Pinot Gris to have some sweetness to go with the distinctive apricot & honey flavours and oily texture – this doesn’t disappoint! Getting a fifteen year old wine of this quality for €52 in a restaurant is amazing!
3. Albert Bichot Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru “Moutonne” Monopole 2012 (€109.95, The Corkscrew)
This was the highlight of a focused burgundy tasting given upstairs at Stanley’s by Ben and Barbara of WineMason. As a big fan of Chablis, especially Premier and Grand Cru, I was excited to taste the area’s famous “eighth Grand Cru”. There are seven Grands Crus recognised by the French national appellations organisation (INAO), though those names appear after “Appellation Chablis Grand Cru Contrôlée”. La Moutonne is recognised, however, by the Chablis (UGCC) and Burgundy (BIVB) authorities.
The majority of the Moutonne vineyard (95%) is in the Grand Cru Vaudésir with a small part (5%) in Grand Cru Preuses, so you’d expect it to taste almost identical to Albert Bichot’s Grand Cru Vaudésir, which is made in the same way – but it doesn’t! This is put forward as a reason why Moutonne deserves its own Grand Cru status – but equally it might indicate that several Chablis Grand Crus are not homogenous across their climats. An interesting debate which needs further research – and I volunteer!
Whatever the nomenclature, it’s a stunning wine – beautifully intertwining minerality, citrus, floral notes and a light toastiness from 25% oak.
From South east Sicily comes something unlike anything you’ve tasted before – at least, a single wine containing all the flavours and aromas expressed by this wine. Tasted with family member Matteo Catani, this is a truly remarkable wine – it showed anise, almond, citrus, apple, and a hint of oxidation which added interest but did not detract from the fruit.
When many producers are churning out identikit Cabernets and Chardonnays, wines that are different and interesting like this really grab the attention.
1. Craiglee Sunbury Chardonnay 2011 (€33.95, winesdirect.ie, also available by the bottle and by the glass at Ely Wine Bar)
If you read my favourite White Wines of 2013 or 2014 then the fact that my favourite white tasted in 2015 is a Chardonnay shouldn’t be a surprise. I might be predictable, but it’s my favourite grape so I won’t apologise.
From a less well known part of Victoria, it shows butterscotch and toasty vanilla round a citrus core. It’s not the most expensive wine in my listing, and probably not the “finest”, but it is beautifully balanced and the one that I would most fancy opening at anytime!
After a show of hands at the previous meet, the theme of the most recent DNS Wine Club tasting was FUN! Wine can be a very technical and complicated subject, and as something of a geek that often appeals to me, but at the end of the day the main point of wine is pleasure.
So how do you make a tasting more fun? Play games! But which games? I divided the DNS gang into two teams, opened some fizz and gave them their first task.
I reviewed John Wilson’s book “Wilson On Wine 2015 – The Wines To Drink This Year” hereand refer to it frequently. For each wine reviewed there are lots of details, especially on the background of the wine, along with a fairly short tasting note. As tasting is such a subjective thing (and taste too, but that’s for another day) I wondered how easy it would be to identify wines from their tasting note alone…
Each team was given a sheet with two columns; the first had ten wine names and the second had ten tasting notes taken from John’s book. Two wines were sparkling, four white and four red. Each column was in alphabetical order and the objective was to match the tasting notes to the correct wine.
Bernhard Ott Fass4 Grüner Veltliner 2013
A superb, light, elegant wine, with piquant dark cherry and blueberry fruits.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut NV
Almond blossoms on the nose; light, elegant, sophisticated crisp green fruits with excellent Minerality. A perennial favourite.
Coca y Fito DO Terra Alta Jaspi Blanc 2012
An exuberant, fresh wine bursting with pineapples and tropical fruits.
Jeio Prosecco DOCG Valdobiadenne Spumante Brut NV
Bracing and herby with an inviting texture and a snappy dry finish.
Kasarí Zorah Areni Noir 2012
Delectably light and tangy but with rosehips and fresh, piquant red fruits. Great with food.
Moric Burgenland Blaufränkish 2012
Fresh pear and peach fruits with a good lively citrus edge
Pieropan Soave Classico 2013
Intriguing, lifted fragrant black cherries with good acidity and a light earthiness, finishing on a smooth note. Different and delicious wine.
Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero 2013
Pure piquant damson fruits, good acidity and a lightly tannic finish. Delicious.
Santa Rita Medalla Real Leyda Valley Chardonnay 2011
Restrained peach and apple fruits with subtle toasted nuts and a core of citrus acidity.
Thymiopolous Naoussa Xinomavro 2013
Succulent ripe fruits cut through with a delicious minerality and great length.
You might want to try this at home. Bear the following hints in mind that were given on the night:
As both columns are in alphabetical order it is possible that a wine may still be lined up opposite its true tasting note, though most aren’t.
The longest tasting note belongs to (probably) the most expensive white wine.
The Prosecco note should be very easy to identify as it nearly always tastes of one particular fruit.
One of the wines includes a colour in its name (though not in English) which is included in the corresponding tasting note (in English).
Yes, most of these hints are fairly esoteric / tenuous / difficult – but that’s how I roll!
ROUND 2 – Call My (Wine) Bluff
For those know aren’t familiar with it, Call My Bluff is a long-running UK game show where celebrity contestants on a team take it in turn to give three definitions of an obscure word, only one of which is correct. The other team then tries to choose the correct definition and discard the bluffs.
The wine version has a similar structure, but instead of word definitions the guessing team has to divine which of three tasting notes they are given match the wine in their glass and their mouth!
For five white wines and three red wines, these are the choices which were proffered:
(A) Famille Bougrier Les Hautes Lieux Vin de France Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(B) José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
(A) Dog Point Section 94 2008
(B) Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
(C) Greywacke Marlborough Wild Sauvignon 2012
(A) Frantz Saumon Minérale+ Montlouis 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
(B) Château Bouscassé Madiran 2007
(C) El Castro de Valtuille Bierzo 2013
(A) Aldi Lot 01 Uco Valley Malbec-Cabernet 2013
(B) Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
(C) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(A) Château Milhau-Lacugue “Les Truffières” Saint Chinian 2010
(B) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(C) Taltarni Heathcote Shiraz 2008
For the guessing team, some of the choices were more difficult if there was a similarity between the choices, e.g. for White 1 there were 2 regions and 2 grapes over 3 wines.
It was actually easiest to bluff when the reader didn’t know if they were giving the note for the correct wine or not! I suppose it is good to know that most people aren’t good liars, even if it’s just for fun.
ROUND 3 – Match the Critic (Encore)
Now the kicker to see if everyone had been paying attention! A double list – similar to that handed out in Round 1 – was given to each team, this time with eight wine names and tasting notes. But these weren’t just any wines taken from John’s book – they were the eight that everyone had tasted in Round 2! So of course, this final round had double points awarded.
Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
A delicious modern style of Bordeaux with light creamy cassis fruits and a smooth easy finish.
Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
A subtle and delectable blend of citrus and green fruits with a touch of honey
Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
Exhilarating precise acidity with pristine green fruits. Inspiring, thrilling wine.
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
Fresh, tangy, lemon and grapefruit, balanced out by clean green fruits, and a dry finish.
Good, deeply satisfying wine with firm, dark ripe fruits and a dry finish.
José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2013
Light toasted nut aromas, fresh textured pineapples fruits and excellent length. Great wine at a very reasonable price.
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches
Lightly toasted notes combined with peaches, almonds and honey. Unusual and perfectly formed.
Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
Succulent and ripe, filled with dark cherry fruits dusted with spices
Blind tasting, even single blind, is difficult. Tasting notes are subjective, and, unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to understand someone else’s when you’re tasting the same wine they had. Context is very important so knowing the background to a wine can give you a lot of clues about why it tastes a certain way and where it’s headed.