Tasting Events

Biodynamic Beauties from #Spit18

Spit Festival is an annual event showcasing some exceptional wines from four of Ireland’s key boutique wine importers.  Most of their wines are from small, family run wineries who practise organic, biodynamic or natural techniques.

Here are just of few of the biodynamic wines I loved from the 2018 event (# number refers to the trade tasting booklet):

#23 Domaine Turner Pageot Le Blanc 2017 (RRP ~€23 WineMason)

Turner Pageot Le Blanc

A previous vintage of this wine was a favourite of mine at the WineMason portfolio tasting and it’s great to see the 2017 is also showing very well.  A blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, the later undergo contact with their skins for around a month.  This gives lovely mouthfeel and a bit of grip – it’s not a full orange wine, but it gives you a good idea of what to expect from the full blown orange experience (aka “Les Choix”!)

#35 Champagne Leclerc Briant Brut Réserve NV (RRP ~ €62, Nomad Wine Importers)

Leclerc Briant

Leclerc Briant was the first organic and biodynamic producer in Champagne (Demeter certified in 2003) – no easy feat considering the marginal climatic conditions there.  They are based in the Vallée de la Marne so it’s no surprise to see that Pinot Meunier is a large component of the blend (40%) along with Pinot Noir (40%) and Chardonnay (20%).  The grapes come from a single harvest, despite no vintage being declared on the bottle, and lees ageing is well in excess of the 15 month minimum for an NV (in fact it’s around the minimum 36 months required for a vintage Champagne).  Dosage is very low at 4 g/L; it could be labelled as Extra Brut” if they so desired.

Thanks to the majority of black grapes, it’s red fruit that really comes to the fore on the nose and palate, with raspberry, redcurrant and even cranberry making an appearance.  There’s also a lovely brioche character from the time on the lees, and a crisp lemony finish from the Chardonnay.  Some fantastic elements, but taken together the whole package is even better!

#81 Bodegas Ponce Reto 2017 (RRP ~ €21.50, Vinostito)

Reto

Bodegas Ponce (probably sounds more dignified in Spanish) is based in Manchuela, a high altitude region east of Madrid, which also happens to be one of the main homes of the Albillo/Albilla grape.  It’s a highly aromatic grape, sometimes being added in to reds from Ribero del Duero for extra fragrance and elegance.  With the extended cool growing season in Manchuela it shows green apples and a touch of spice, with lots of texture – even being slightly waxy.  A brilliant match for shellfish, veal or pork.

#105 Monte dei Roari Custoza “Boscaroi” 2017 (RRP ~€18, GrapeCircus)

Monte Dei Roari

This Venetian beauty is a blend of four grapes:

  1. Trebbiano di Soave (famous for Soave, obviously!)
  2. Garganega (also Soave)
  3. Fernanda (aka Cortese – best known for Gavi)
  4. Trebbianello (another version of Trebbiano)

…all gently fermented in amphorae, and bottled without fining or filtering.  The result is dry, pale and interesting – more subtle than most, but beautiful nonetheless.  The nose is floral and there is an array of fresh, juicy fruits on the palate, particularly grapefruit and other citrus.  Would be amazing paired with a delicate white fish.

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Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Magic from Marsannay [Make Mine a Double #34]

Sylvain Pataille trained as an Oenologist in Bordeaux but applies his knowledge and skills in his beloved Marsannay, both on his own rented vineyards and as a consultant to a dozen or so other producers.  His vines are in conversion to Biodynamic and yields are low, so his wines are a rare sight!  Here are two of his whites that I tried and loved:

Sylvain Pataille Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €30 at Baggot Street Wines)

Pataille Aligote

The second coming of Aligoté continues unabated.  So long relegated to the lowly fate of a house carafe (and usually unnamed at that) or even more demeaningly with crème de cassis as a Kir, when treated with respect Aligoté can produce quality, interesting wines.  Sylvain Pataille makes this one that is clean as a whistle but has a wonderful herby and smoky nose. The palate is fantastically mineral and fresh with a lot of character.  Drink as an aperitif, with shellfish and smoked salmon, or just as a vin de plaisir.

 

Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP ~ €52 but mainly available in upscale restaurants)

Pataille Marsannay Blanc

Although this wine is hardly “cheap”, Marsannay is one of the Burgundy appellations where value is to be found, an increasingly rare phenomenon. Everything’s relative, of course, but this wine is seriously impressive at the price.  Pataille takes a hands off approach; the vineyards are organic, he follows Biodynamic methods and sulphur is only added (very lightly) at bottling.

This cuvée is a blend from five separate  Marsannay parcels which are lightly pressed and fermented, then mature in oak for 18 months.  Only a third of the oak is new, and even then it’s not overt on the palate; it does add to the body and texture of the wine. There’s a very pleasant spiced pear aspect and a bracing, zippy lemon finish.  Proper white Burgundy!

 

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Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Value Whites of 2017

2017 was another fantastic year of wine and I’ve been lucky to taste a great many superb wines.  For the first time, this year my Top 10s include Value Whites and Value Reds as lower priced wines often lie in the shadow of their more expensive counterparts.  Even so, there were many wines I had to leave off these lists.  Let me know what your favourites were in the comments!

10.  Gaia Monograph Assyrtiko 2016 (13.0%, RRP €14.95)

Gaia Monograph Assyrtiko

Whereas the big brother Wild Ferment Assyrtiko comes from the variety’s home in Santorini, the Monograph is sourced from Nemea which is also well known for its red wines, particularly Agiorgitiko.  The Monograph is a cleaner, straight-up style without any wild yeast or barrel-fermentation characters, but is a true expression of the grape itself.

9. Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18.00)

Fossil

If ever there was a wine which added weight to the theory of soil types directly affecting wine taste, this is it, the very mineral “Fossil” made from vines grown on limestone on the coast just north of Lisbon.  Local grapes Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires combine to give floral aromas with a palate of soft white fruit with a wide streak of minerality.  Refreshing to sip on its own, this also make a great match for seafood.

8. Callia “Alta” Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%, RRP 12.99)

Pinot Grigio

My general dislike of disinterest in Pinot Grigio is well documented, though it does have a few exceptions.  And any wine that gets included on one of my top 10 lists must be exceptional – and this is!  It has recognisable Grigio qualities (indeed some which make it as far as being Pinot Gris-like) but without the diluteness and general lack of flavour that much of the mass-produced Italian swill exhibits.  Lovely drinking.

7. Château Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes 2015 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)

Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes

Although Burgundy is thought to be the birthplace of Chardonnay and is still its spiritual home, the prestige of the region means that value for money is often better sought elsewhere.  Normally that would be in the New World, but Limoux in the Languedoc is an alternative closer to home.  As it’s in the south of France we tend to think of the Languedoc as being very warm and only good for bulk wine, but excellence is being rediscovered and cooler subregions are making some great wine.  There’s a fair bit of oak here but actually more creamy lees character .  Cracking Chardy for the money!

6. Domaine Eloy Saint-Véran 2016 (13.0%, RRP €14.99)

Domaine Eloy Saint Veran

Saint-Véran is one of my go-to Burgundy appellations.  Of course the producer still makes a big difference, but my experience has been generally very positive with this Mâconnais area across the board, despite a reasonable price tag (for Burgundy!)  This was full of peach and pear with a slight nuttiness to it.  Given a big thumbs up by DNS Wineclub!

5. Viña Leyda Falaris Hill Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, RRP €16.95)

leyda-falaris-chardonnay_1

For me this single vineyard Chardonnay represents even better value for money than its slightly less expensive counterpart, Leyda’s Reserva Chardonnay.  The fruit is ripe but still fresh, and sitting on a nice cushion of oak (25% new).  This isn’t the Chardonnay to convert haters, or even those sitting on the fence, but those who like it will love it.

4. Loosen Dr L Riesling 2015 (8.5%, RRP €14.00)

Dr L Mosel Riesling 2015

Riesling is perhaps the one grape that separates dabblers in wine from true wine lovers, though it’s rarely seen in supermarkets, so it’s at the multiples and independents where Riesling has a loving home.  The current fashion for Riesling is to be dry, which can mean austere when acidity is very high.  The Mosel tradition is to leave a fair bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity, for the entry level wines at least.  Dr Loosen makes the archetype, with the sugar and acidity combining to reinforce the zesty fruitiness.  Such a delicious wine that can be drunk at any time.

3. Vía Arxéntea Monterrei 2016 (14.0%, RRP €14.95)

Vía Arxéntea Treixadura Godello Monterrei

Treixadura and Godello share equal billing on this beauty from Galicia’s smallest DO, Monterrei.  It’s something of an enigma with tropical fruit, smokiness, minerality and freshness all rolled together.  You might enjoy dissecting its elements at your leisure, but the reality is that this delicious blend is a quaffer’s delight!

2. Mandrarossa “Ciaca Bianca” Fiano Sicilia 2016 (13.5%, RRP €15.95)

mandrarossa fiano ciaca bianca sicilia

Fiano is one of the newly rediscovered grapes that are starting to get a lot of notice.  Of course, they never went away – investment in modern winemaking equipment and a search for the new came together with some lovely clean, unoaked, well-crafted wines.  Compared to the other Fianos I have tried, however, this is something of an outlier – it just has so much flavour!  I got this as a present for my Marlborough Sauvignon-loving sister in law and she sang its praises.  This is a must-try wine.

1. Paul Ginglinger Alsace Pinot Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18.50)

Paul Ginglinger Pinot Blanc

And so it is.  What else could top my Top 10 value wines, if not a wine from my favourite white wine region of the world and one that is made with an undervalued grape: Alsace Pinot Blanc.  This is an unoaked example but is still pithy, with some nice texture.  It shows a nice array of fruit, from soft apple and pear through to refreshing citrus.  A remarkable wine for not that much money!.

 

 

 

Tasting Events

Five Fab Reds from the Ely Big Tasting

The twice yearly Ely Big Tastings are a highlight of the consumer wine tasting calendar. With so many fantastic wines on show it’s pretty much impossible to taste them all, but it’s fun to try.  Here are a mere handful of the reds which stood out for me:

 

Serradenari Barolo La Vetta 2011 (14.5%, RRP ~ €48, On The Grapevine)

barolovetta

Barolo is such an enigma, and can be made in such different styles that you really need to know the producer to know what you are getting.  This is one to add to the “thumbs up” list!  The vines are in the highest part of Barolo, giving a longer growing season and plenty of acidity and minerality, but above all plenty of fruit!  Yes there’s enough tannin to go round, but it frames rather than hides the fruit.  I’d imagine that this will improve over the next decade – and continue ageing gracefully after that – but it’s delicious right now.

 

Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Rouge 2016 (12.5%, RRP ~ €13.50, Febvre)

petit gascoun rouge

Like its white counterpart that I tried earlier in the year, this is an accessible, easy-drinking wine that is very well made for the money.  Le Rouge is a blend of 80% Tannat (better known as the backbone of the tannic Madiran) and 20% Cabernet Franc.  Seeing that blend on paper would have given me pause for thought, but it’s actually full of soft summer fruits and isn’t the tannin monster that some Madirans can be.  My friend Michelle who tasted it with me said she could imagine herself quaffing this in the back garden on a summer’s day.

 

Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge 2016 (11.5%, RRP ~ €23 Grapecircus)

Montcy

The French Appellation d’Origine Controllée system has a lot to answer for (a discussion for another time) but one of its upsides has been preserving traditional grapes and blends, especially in lesser known areas.  Cheverny is a small AOC in the Loire for reds, whites and rosés.  The reds are a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, sometimes with a little bit of Malbec (Côt to the locals) thrown in – and this bottle has all three of the Loire’s main black grapes: 60% Pinot Noir, 35% Gamay and 5% Malbec.  As you’d expect it’s a light wine, but it’s also one of the most alive and vital wines I’ve ever tasted.

 

Milan Nestarec Klasika Dornfelder 2015 (13.0%, RRP ~ €25, Vinostito)

milan nestarec klasika dornfelder

Dornfelder has an interesting family tree (see below) and is interesting as a grape because it is one of the small number of crossbred varieties that have been successful from both a viticultural and flavour perspective – too many experiments created grapes that could cope with frost or mildew (for example) but whose wines just weren’t that nice to drink.  Dornfelder is the second most planted black grape in Germany and has also been successful in other regions with similar climates – Switzerland, England and cooler parts of the USA.

Dornfelder_family_tree
Credit: Agne27

From the name you might have guessed that Milan Nestarec is not German – he is in fact Czech, though his vineyard lies only 14km from the border with Austria.  It’s a young winery, founded by Milan Nestarec Sr as recently as 2001.  Located in Southern Moravia, it is run organically.  This Dornfelder is from their middle Klasika range and has the variety’s typical deep colour, rich  mouthfeel, moderate tannins and perky acidity.

 

Niepoort Bioma Vinha Velha Vintage Port 2015 (21.0%, RRP ~ €120, Wine Mason)

Niepoort_2015_bioma_vinha_velha_vintage_port

Vintage port accounts for a very small proportion of total production and is only released by the Port houses in the best years when they “declare” a vintage.  Maceration and fermentation are done as quickly as possible so that the grape spirit can be added promptly. As an alternative, in years when a Port house doesn’t declare a vintage because they don’t have the required quality of grapes across their holdings, they may release a Colheita port.  This will be from a single year but will be a different style as it will have undergone far more ageing in barrel before bottling.

A third way is this wine, a single vineyard vintage port made from old vines where the wine has spent around three years in barrel before bottling.  In style it’s somewhat reminiscent of the older style where Port shippers transported large barrels (known as pipes) to London for bottling.  Whereas vintage port is highly tannic, sweet and intensely fruity in its youth, this is remarkably drinkable.  Yes it has the big fruit – blackberry, blueberry and blackcurrant – but they are accessible rather than being in your face.  Who knew young vintage port could be this accessible?