Tasting Events

DNS taste North America

One of the recent themes we explored at DNS WineClub was North American wines.  Barefoot and Blossom Hill represent the very commercial face of North American wine, manufactured in huge facilities in accordance with simple, fruity, easy-drinking recipes.  At the top end, Cult Cabernets can be spectacular.  However, there is fairly thin coverage in Europe of the wines in between these two extremes – and they’re the ones which offer most interest to winelovers.

California is the powerhouse of the USA and therefore the whole of North America; even though wines are made in the other 49 states, together they make up just 10% of the USA total.  In these parts the most available outside of the Golden State are probably the wines of Oregon and Washington State – we see very little from elsewhere, not even the hip wines of New York State’s Finger Lakes region.

Here are the five wines which shone the most at our tasting:

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Chenin Viognier 2014 (12.5%, RRP €24.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

pine ridge chenin viognier

If you ask a fairly knowledgeable wine drinker what grapes they associate with the Napa Valley, Cabernet would undoubtedly come first, followed by Merlot and Zinfandel, with possibly Chardonnay thrown in as a token white.  So here we have something quite unexpected in Napa – a blend of the Loire’s Chenin Blanc and the Rhône’s Viognier.  The blend is consistent from year to year at 80% Chenin and 20% Viognier, and a little residual sugar is left in to round off the acidity.  Most importantly, it really works as a wine – fresh green apple with a little rich apricot as a counterpoint.

Ovum Wines Oregon “Big Salt” 2017 (12.9%, @RRP €33.95 at Baggot Street Wines, Le Caveau and other good independents)

ovum big salt

Ovum are named after the concrete egg fermenters they use, reflected in the shape of the label of this Alsace-style blend from Oregon.  The grapes used are Riesling, Muscat & Gewurztraminer; the relative proportions are not stated, but the fact that spicy Gewurz doesn’t dominate the nose makes me think that it is probably 10% or less of the blend, with fresh Riesling taking the lead at around 55% and the aromatic Muscat being the balance of around 35% (all my own guesswork, happy to be proved wrong!) 

Again referring to my beloved Alsace, a blend of this quality would be from a Grand Cru vineyard, with the fascinating interplay of three fantastic varieties.  The name of the wine also rings true, with lovely saline elements.  This is an unusual wine which is in fairly short supply in Ireland, but it is worth seeking out.

Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017 (13.5%, RRP €39.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

Jim Clendenen is the star winemaker and owner of Au Bon Climat, one of the best producers in Santa Barbara County.  ABC is famous for its Pinot Noirs And Chardonnays – Jim is a Burgundy devotee – which come from a variety of different vineyards in the area.  The “Wild Boy” is less subtle than the regular wines, with lots of funk and noticeable oak, spicy pears and citrus.  Whatever magic he uses, this is a highly impressive wine!

The Four Graces Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2014 (13.1%, RRP €40.00 at Sweeney’s and other good independents)

the four graces pinot noir

Perhaps because I’d only tried a couple of lesser quality examples, my preconception of Oregon Pinot Noir was that it could be a bit thin and weedy, rarely living up to its price tag.  While this is no Central Otago clone, it nevertheless has plenty of body and an amazing velvety smoothness to it.  Dundee Hills are one of the best subregions of the Willamette Valley – on this evidence I will be looking out for it again.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Sparkling Ice Wine 2015 (9.5%, RRP €56 (375 ml) at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other good independents)

inniskillen sparkling ice wine

And now for something completely different – something I didn’t even know existed before I put together the wines for this tasting.  Yes, Niagara is famous for its Icewine, often made with the hybrid grape Vidal (which has a very complicated heritage that I’m going to skip over), but a sparkling version?  I didn’t know there was such a thing!  Once pressed, with the ice removed from the juice, specific yeast is added to the juice in a charmat tank so that the CO2 produced from fermentation is dissolved into the wine.  This is such a treat of a wine, with amazing tropical mango, guava and peach notes.  For many tasters, this was the wine of the night.  I really liked it but would probably prefer the still version for myself.

 

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Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 1 – WineMason)

spit

SPIT is actually an acronym for Specialist Professional Independent Tasting, but to be honest that’s too much of a mouthful so I will stick to the shorter version.  SPIT brings together four of the best independent wine importers working in Ireland with trade tastings in Cork and Dublin plus an evening consumer event in Dublin.  This series of posts will cover some of my favourite wines tasted at the most recent SPIT fest in Dublin.

First up is WineMason:

wine-mason-logo

WineMason is an importer and agent of original and distinctive wines from Germany, Portugal, Austria, Spain, France, Italy and South Africa. We work with 50 wineries over 8 countries and have listed just under 300 wines. We distribute these wines to Ireland’s best restaurants, winebars and independent retailers. We help shape and build tailored wine lists for the on and off trade that are exciting, well priced and trending. From emerging wine regions to discovering the potential of local grape varieties, we are constantly evolving with the ever-changing wine world and we work to reflect this in the wines we sell.

Niepoort Redoma Douro Branco 2017 (13.0%, RRP €23.50 at  Redmonds of Ranalagh; SIYPS; Morton’s; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Blackrock Cellar)

niepoort redoma branco

Niepoort is one of the few famous Port houses which doesn’t have an English family name.  In fact their origins are Dutch, and fifth generation Dirk van der Niepoort has been head of the business since his father retired in 2005.  Niepoort are more than just a Port house, though; they make fantastic dry reds in the Douro, including some fairly eccentric wines such as Clos de Crappe.

And this is something else again, a Douro white made from a wonderous blend of local grapes: Rabigato, Códega do Larinho, Viosinho, Donzelinho and Gouveio.  It has a lovely, round texture but isn’t heavy – it dances around the tongue with sweet stone and pip fruit.

Keermont Terrasse Stellenbosch 2015 (13.5% RRP €29.50 at The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; SIYPS)

keermont terasse

The Keermont range so fantastic across the board that it was difficult to narrow my selection down at all.  The delightful white terrasse blocksblend “Terrasse” begged for inclusion, really punching above its weight.  The blend is 56% Chenin Blanc then roughly equal parts Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Helpfully, the Keermont website features this table of which blocks and which varieties are used in the 2015 vintage.  Each component is barrel fermented and matured separately, then blended before bottling.  Each variety adds something to the wine (which is the point of blends, I suppose) – there’s spiciness, fruit, acidity and richness all humming along together in harmony.

Keermont Stellenbosch Estate Reserve 2012 (14.5%, RRP €37.00 at Gibneys, Malahide; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; Blackrock Cellar)

keermont estate reserve

estate reserve blocks

The block figures on the right are for the 2013 vintage so there might be some small differences for the 2012 tasted, but the Estate Reserve is pretty much a red Bordeaux blend with a splash of Syrah.  The 2012 is nicely settled in now, still showing lots of pristine black fruit and a very Graves-like graphite edge.  The main difference between this wine and an actual red from Bordeaux is not the splash of Syrah – it’s that to get this amount of fruit and complexity from Bordeaux you’d have to pay double or more!

Keermont Topside Syrah 2014 (13.5%, RRP €53.00 at The Corkscrew, Chatham St. (also poured at Forest & Marcy))

keermont topside syrah

The previous two wines are from the “Keermont” range, sitting in the middle of the hierarchy above the “Companion” wines and below the “Single Vineyard” series.  Now we have one of the latter, which also features a Chenin Blanc, a Cabernet Franc and another (“Steepside”) Syrah.  The Topside Vineyard is well named, being high up on the west-facing slopes of the Stellenbosch Mountain Range.  The soil is mainly rock with some patches of sand, and with the altitude of 350 – 400m the wines grown here have a real freshness to them.  Compared to the Steepside, the Topside sees less oak (used 500 litre barrels only), has a full percent less alcohol and has more acidity.  There’s a place for both, but for me the Topside shows some of the best aspects of warm climate and cool climate Syrah in the same wine.  Bravo!

Emrich-Schönleber Halenberg Großes Gewächs (12.5%,  RRP €65.00 at 64 Wine (also poured at Dromoland Castle))

emrich-schonleber halenberg gg

Separate from the potential sweetness-based Prädikat system (which goes from Kabinett to Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short)), members of the VDP* may also be able to use the relatively new terms Erstes Gewächs or Großes Gewächs (GG) for their best dry wines.  I have to confess that I didn’t really understand the first few GG wines I tried – they were sort of nice but not exactly delicious drinking – and given their premium prices that put me off somewhat.

This wine, with more syllables than you shake a stick at,  shows me what I was missing out on.  With a few years behind it this Halenberg Riesling starts to reveal what a great GG can do.  There’s amazing sweet fruit on the attack and mid-palate, extraordinary length and a mineral, dry finish.

*VDP stands for Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter, so let’s just keep using VDP!

 

The SPIT series:

Tasting Events

A few treats from SuperValu (part 2)

After part 1 (the reds), here are the whites that I really enjoyed at SuperValu’s recent Secret Garden Part event:

 

Duo des Mers Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2017 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Duo Des Mers

This is a lovely fresh blend of Sauvignon Blanc from Gascony (Atlantic) and Viognier from the Languedoc (Mediterranean), hence two different seas.  As such, the best label of origin it can have is “Vin de France” which is usually seen on cheap bulk wine (a rule of thumb is that the more specific / small the area is, the better the wines are.)  However, this really is an exception – the Sauvignon (70%) provides fresh green fruit with zip and the Viognier (30%) gives rich peach and pineapple – a great combination which is more than the sum of its parts (and after all, isn’t that what blends are supposed to be?)

 

Combeval Grande Cuvée SCG 2017 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Combeval-BG-Auth-blanc

Nothing to do with the Sydney Cricket Ground, this is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (60%), Colombard (20%) and Gros Manseng (20%), all from Gascony.  It’s another successful blend from LGI, this time with local grapes Colombard (a very under-rated grape) and Gros Manseng.  The grapes are cold macerated for 24 hours which helps to extract aromas and flavours from the skins without any harshness, and then the juice is taken off and kept on big lees (bits!) at just above freezing for a further 20 days.  And the result of this high-tech winemaking?  Just farking gorgeous!

 

Nugan Estate Dreamer’s Chardonnay 2013 (14.0%, RRP €13.99 at SuperValu)

Dreamers Chardonnay

Regular readers should need no introduction to this wine, just to say that it still tastes great and is a total bargain!  There’s plenty of toasty oak and rich fruit, but a crisp, clean finish.  Lovely drinking!

 

Trisquel Series Origen Semillión 2017 (12.5%, RRP €16.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Trisquel Semillon

This wine was a big surprise, not necessarily the quality (which I expected to be high), but the style; the juice has two months contact with the skins which makes it somewhat an orange wine – and I never expected to see one of those in a supermarket!  Depending on where it’s grown and when it’s picked, Semillon can be light and fresh or a bit more tropical – and of course that’s just the dry wines, it’s a very important grape for sweet wine production in many countries.

One of the reasons Semillon is so treasured for sweet wines is the thinness of its skins, thus making it relatively easy to attract botrytis if the conditions are right.  This also means than when made in an orange style, it’s lighter and more accessible than many other grapes.

I think this is one of the most interesting wines available in an Irish supermarket – fresh apple and pear with a slight tartness like a Granny Smith’s apple chopped into grapefruit juice.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me!

 

Albert Glas Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.0%, RRP €15.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Albert Glas Riesling

This is a “Trocken” (dry-but-fruity) Riesling from the Pfalz in Germany – one of the best regions for Riesling in the country.  Now made by third generation winemaker Dominik Glas, there is in fact a wide range of different Rieslings and other grapes made by the winery – this is their “standard” level.  But there’s nothing basic about it – lovely green apple and lime fruit shine brightly while a kiss of sugar and a streak of acidity compete for your attention on the finish.  A lovely wine.

 

Albert Glas Black Label Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.0%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Riesling BL 2017

Apart from the obvious (the colour of the label), the main differences of this wine are the sourcing of fruit from better vineyards and the use of oak.  Don’t run away, though, the wine isn’t “oaky” – only 20% is fermented in oak (the rest in stainless steel) and the barrels are old so they don’t impart a flavour to the wine – just more body, depth and openness.  Dominik Glas is proud of the fact that the oak trees come from a Pfalz forest, so the trees and the vines are in the same soil.  The net effect of all of this is to produce a more complex and satisfying wine which needs to be tried.

 

Kim Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.0%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

KIM Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc

The standard Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is one of the better to come out of Marlborough, but the smaller production (“Small Parcels”) Spitfire Sauvignon is well worth the extra few quid for the upgrade, particularly in a year like 2017 which didn’t hit the heights of 2015 and 2016.  It’s very citrusy like the little brother, but also shows sweet tropical fruit on the mid palate.  Absolute text book Marlborough Savvy.

 

 

 

 

Tasting Events

Another Brick In The Wall – Part 4

A medley of whites from the WineMason tasting earlier this year:

Bodegas Altos de Torona Rías Baixas Albariño Torre de Ermelo 2016 (12.4%, RRP €19 – Stockist TBC)

TORRE DE ERMELO_botella_4300pxh

Bodegas Altos de Torona is one of three producers in Rías Baixas who form part of the HGA Bodegas group.  HGA have holdings across many of northern Spain’s best wine areas including Rioja, Ribero del Duero and Ribeira Sacra.  This wine is from the O Rosal sub-zone, just 3.5km from the Miño River (which forms the border with Portugal) and 10km from the Atlantic Ocean.

Torre de Ermelo is made in a fresh – almost spritzy – style, with floral, citrus and mineral notes framed by a streak of acidity.  Great value for money!

 

Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18 at Green Man Wines)

Fossil

If your palate is just used to white wines from supermarkets then this might seem a little alien at first.  It bears no resemblance to the usual Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay – but then why should it?  This is a blend of three indigenous Portuguese grapes, Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires grown close to the Atlantic coast just north of Lisbon.

The name of the wine is a clue to the vineyard soil type – lots of limestone!  There are indeed mineral notes on this wine but lots more besides – soft fruit, herbs and flowers. Overall it’s a dry wine with lots of texture, a fine partner for lots of dishes.

 

BLANKbottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24 at Green Man Wines, Baggot St Wines, The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Red Island)

Blank

This is a very intriguing wine from a very interesting producer.  Pieter H. Walser is the man behind BLANKBottle and aims to make wines which highlight excellent South African terroir rather than the variety/ies that they are made from.  He buys in all his grapes rather than farming himself.  This all gives him flexibility so he can change the components of a blend from year to year or produce entirely new wines as a one-off; it also helps his wines to be judged on their contents rather than preconceptions about varieties.

Moment of Silence is a blend (for the 2016 vintage at least!) of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.  From 2015 onwards the grapes were sourced from seven different sites within Wellington.  This wine is quite round in the mouth with apple and stone fruit flavours.  The Viognier influence shines through as a touch of richness, but it isn’t oily.  A wine that deserves to be tried.

 

Rijckaert Arbois Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, RRP €23 at The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Redmonds)

Arbois

Belgian winemaker Jean Rijckaert founded his own estate in 1998 based on vineyards in the Maconnais and Jura, further east.  Of course the key variety shared by these regions is Chardonnay, which can reflect both where it is grown and how it is vinified.  Yields are low and intervention is kept to a minimum – once fermentation is complete the wines are left to mature without racking, stirring or anything else.

Jura Chardonnay comes in two distinct styles, oxidative and none-oxidative, depending on whether air is allowed into the maturing barrels; this is definitely the latter, (ouillé) style of Jura Chardonnay for which I have a marked preference.  It’s recognisably oaked Chardonnay but very tangy and food friendly.  A great way into Jura wines!

 

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 (14.0%, RRP €34 at 64 Wine & The Corkscrew)

Chenin

De Morgenzon translates as The Morning Sun which is a wonderfully poetic name, attached to a wonderful South African winery.  Although South Africa is usually labelled as “new world” when it comes to wine, vines have been planted in this part of Stellenbosch since the early 1700s.  Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum bought DeMorgenzon in 2003 and have transformed the estate and its wines.

The entry level DMZ Chenin is a very nice wine, clean and fresh, but this Reserve is a step above.  The vines were planted in 1972 (an auspicious year!) and interestingly were originally bush vines but recently lifted onto trellises.  People often wonder what makes one wine cost more than another similar wine, and in this case the picking in four different passes through the vineyard (to ensure optimum ripeness and balance) shows you why.  Fermentation takes place in French oak barrels (with wild yeast) followed by 11 months of maturation on the lees.  These really add to the flavour profile – there’s a little bit of funk from the wild yeast, lots of creaminess from the lees and soft oak notes from the barrels (only 25% were new).   This is a real treat!

 

Another Brick in the Wall series:

Tasting Events

Selection from Febvre – Part 1

Wine importer Febvre has operated in Ireland for over 50 years, representing some big brands and others not as well known.  Here is a selection of the wines I enjoyed at their recent tasting event:

Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Blanc 2016 (11.5%, RRP €13.50 at Malthouse, Trim; Grapevine, Ballymun; Ennis Gourmet Store)

petit-gascoun-blanc

If the image on the bottle doesn’t give away its origin, then the name of the wine certainly does – Le Petit Gascoûn comes from Gascony in South West France.  The white is a blend of Colombard and Ugni Blanc – the latter rarely seen in a table wine in France, though it’s a mainstay of Armagnac and Cognac.  It’s a highly aromatic wine with peach, pineapple and lychees on the nose, with those notes continuing on the palate, rounded off by a fresh, crisp finish.  Fantastic value for money.

Herdade de Esporão Monte Velho Alentejo Branco 2015 (13.5%, RRP €13.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; 1601, Kinsale)

Monte Velho

As with many Portuguese wines, unless you’re very familiar with the country’s wines you might not have heard of the constituent grapes of this wine: Antão Vaz, Roupeiro and Perrum.  I assure you that they are genuine grape names and not just a lot of randomly assembled letters!  (Plus, Perrum is the Portuguese name for Andalusia’s Pedro Ximénez.)  There’s lots of texture and flavour here, stone fruits with a herbal edge.  It’s pleasant drinking on its own, but I’d imagine wonderful with tarragon chicken.

Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé 2015 (13.0%, RRP €29.95 at Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown; Jus de Vin, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St)

tracy PF

On the opposite site of the Loire from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé isn’t quite as famous and is only around half the size.  For me, the wines of Pouilly-Fumé are more consistent, however, possibly due to fewer négotiants trading on the reputation of the appellation rather than the quality of their wine.  Château de Tracy is a serious contender for best producer on the right bank, and this wine shows why: supple, concentrated fruit with no hard edges, full of fresh grapefruit and gooseberry.  Just delicious!

Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; Lilac Wines, Fairview)

Lawsons

Tucked out of the way just south east of Blenheim, Lawson’s Dry Hills is one of Marlborough’s relatively unheralded family wineries, but produces some excellent wines – I’m still holding on to my last few bottles of their 2008 Chardonnay which is stunning. Their Riesling has been a firm favourite of mine for at least a decade.  This 2014 is developing nicely and, while still showing primary lime, lemon and elderflower notes, is also starting to give some lovely petrol aromas.  Just off-dry with 8.2g/L of residual sugar, it’s a lovely summer tipple on its own or with plenty of different recipes.

d’Arenberg the Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2015 (13.1%, RRP €16.95 at O’Briens Wines; Gerrys, Skerries; SuperValu; Egans, Portlaoise; Bradleys, Cork)

Hermit Crab

d’Arenberg are one of the few McLaren Vale producers who use traditional basket presses and other traditional techniques for gentler handling of the fruit and therefore better wine.  The Hermit Crab is from their “Originals” range and is a blend of two white Rhône grapes;  58% Viognier and 42% Marsanne for the 2015 vintage.  While the Viognier is the senior partner in the blend, it doesn’t dominate the wine with overblown floweriness and oiliness (though some might like that) due to the cool fermentation process which reins in those aspects.  It has tangy peach and apricot with subtle nuts, herbs and spice.  Well worth a try if you fancy something different!

Jordan Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50 at Martins, Fairview & Londis, Malahide)

Jordan

Somewhat confusingly there are two prominent Jordans – Jordan Wine Estate of Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Jordan Vineyard & Winery of Alexander Valley (California).  This is most definitely the former, run by husband and wife team Gary and Kathy Jordan since 1993.  They also produce an unoaked Chardonnay which is nice, but this is the real McCoy, the full Monty, the..[ok I’ll stop there] of which 92% is fermented in Burgundian 228L pièces (the remainder tank fermented).  The wine was also matured for nine months in a mixture of barrels (45% new, 30% second-fill and 25% third-fill) for texture as well as flavour.  It’s not over the top, but it is fairly oaky – and I love it!  there’s plenty of buttered toast from the the oak but also pineapple and racy citrus flavours – a well balanced wine!

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2016

Now it’s the turn for white wines to shine – here are ten of the best still dry whites which shone in 2016:

10. Feudo Luparello Sicilia Grillo – Viognier 2015

feudo_grilloviogner-cropped

A novel blend of indigenous Sicilian and international grapes, this wine is more than the sum of its parts.  Local Grillo is fresh and textured, more dry than fruity, whereas Viognier adds a voluptuous touch.  This is how blended wines should work!

See here for the full review (and the Nero d’Avola – Syrah blend!)

9. Nugan Estate Riverina Dreamer’s Chardonnay

nugan-personality-dreamers-chardonnay-label-small

A “supermarket wine” made from “unfashionable” Chardonnay in a region known for its bulk wines, on paper this wine should be pap – but it works, in fact it works a treat!  In Ireland (at least) the main parameter for wine consumers in supermarkets in price, especially if a promotional offer is involved.  Given the high rates of duty and tax squeezing the cost side of the equation it’s not easy to find everyday wines that are actually enjoyable (though plenty are drinkable).

Nugan Estate’s “Personality” Single Vineyard series ticks all the boxes for me, and this was narrowly my favourite of the lot.  See here for my review of the full range.

8. Angel Sequeiros Rías Baixas Albariño “Evoé” 2013

2016-08-13-15-51-28

Although the label might look like an impressionist’s take on Health & Efficiency, the wine inside is fantastic – great with seafood, but gentle and fruity enough to be enjoyed on its own.  If only all Albariños were this good!

See here for the full review.

7. Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2014

aligote

The “other” white grape of Burgundy (ignoring the small amounts of Pinots Blanc and Gris) which is definitely a second class citizen, and is so poor on its own that the Kir cocktail was invented to find a palatable use for it – or so the received wisdom goes.

There’s some element of truth in this, but Aligoté is usually grown on less-favoured sites and with a focus on yields rather than flavour, so it takes a brave producer to break out of this cycle and give the grape the attention it deserves.  The Goisot family are such a producer, based in the Sauvignon Blanc outpost of Saint-Bris.  This Aligoté is unlike any other I have tasted – it actually has colour unlike most which are like pale water, and an intensity of white flower and spicy pear flavours which reveal the age of the vines.

6. Gaia Wild Ferment Santorini Assyrtiko 2013

l-asyrtiko-en

When I put together a “wild” wine tasting for DNS Wine Club last year, there were a few obvious candidates that couldn’t possibly be missed from the line-up – this being one of them.  I had recommended it several times in the past so I was hoping it would live up to its reputation – especially tasted blind – and it certainly did!  Overall this was the favourite wine of the tasting, showing the funky flavours of wild yeast fermentation but still plenty of lovely citrus fruit and crisp acidity.

5. Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016

tph

A common complaint levelled at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – and Marlborough in particular – is that “they all taste the same”.  There is some truth in this – the aromatics are generally recognisable before the first glass has even been poured and they are never short of acidity – but if you taste different examples side by side then there are clear differences.  The alternative styles of SB are another thing, of course, with wild yeast barrel fermentation and oak ageing used to make a different type of wine (see this article for more information).

4. Suertes del Marqués Trenzado

2016-05-27-19-11-42

This isn’t a wine for everybody, but it’s a wine everybody should try at least once.   Based mainly on Listan Blanco grapes from ten plots in Tenerife’s Valle de La Orotava, it’s so different that at first it’s hard to describe using everyday wine terms – it’s not fruity or buttery – perhaps nutty and waxy?  Sounds strange, but it’s an interesting and very enjoyable wine.

3. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2014

2016-10-13-22-04-20

Domaine Zinck’s Portrait Series wines are fine examples of regular AOC Alsace wines and show the town of Eguisheim in a good light.  Take the step up to the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, however, and you move into different territory; not just in terms of the elevation of the vines, but a much more intense catalogue of aromas and flavours.  Even a young example such as this 2014 is delightful, but with the capacity to age for a decade or two and continue developing.

2. Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011

2016-08-30-15-23-19

Narrowly pipping its countryman, Sipp-Mack’s Grand Cru Riesling is from another exalted site: the Rosacker vineyard near Hunawihr, in between Ribeauvillé (where Trimbach is based) and Riquewihr (home to Hugel).  It has both primary fruit and mineral notes, and performs fantastically at the table.

For such a stunning wine it is relatively inexpensive at around €30 retail.  See here for the full review.

1. Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014

m3

When I have favourite wines that I taste regularly over the years, I try not to repeat myself too much in my Top 10 review articles.  Given that I am lucky enough to taste several thousand wines over the course of an average year, it’s not such a difficult line to take…apart from M3!!  The 2014 is still very young, but it’s a delight to drink now.  Adelaide Hills is now possibly second to Tasmania for trendy cooler climate Aussie wines, but for me it’s still number one.

Tasting Events

O’Briens Fine Wines Sale – My Selection

Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time.  Here is a selection of my favourites:

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)

 

viognier

I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed.  Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did!  I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side.  More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)

antan

This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent.  If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.

La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)

comtesse

This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world.  It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!

Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)

puligny

Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer?  This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now.  Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate.  Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!

Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)

caro

This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family.  At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes.  Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!

Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)

marques

When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas.  They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is).  Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla,  all in a soft and cosseting package.  Get in!

Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)

delheim

This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux.  The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs).  It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak!  More info here.

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)

cigalus

Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.

Tasting Events

I Wish They All Could Be California

North Coast

Although the French wouldn’t like to hear it, there are some high level similarities between the USA’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and the French Appellations d’Origine Controlées (AOCs), namely that the most prestigious delineated areas are small and sit within larger areas, sometimes with multiple layers – for example, just as Puligny-Montrachet is a part of the Côte de Beaune and then the larger Burgundy area, Russian River Valley is part of Sonoma County, then the North Coast and finally the general California area.

Confusing?  Perhaps, but the relative size of an appellation within a region is one (of several) indicators to a wine’s quality.  Here are three wines from Cline Cellars – a producer I hold in high regard – that illustrate this.

Cline Cellars North Coast Viognier 2013 (14.0%, €17.99 at jnwine.com)

Cline_CATier_Viognier_NV_Stelvin small

The North Coast AVA is illustrated on the map above – it contains the world-renowned Napa and Sonoma plus other great areas such as Los Carneros.  If a producer uses grapes from one of those prestigious areas then s/he will use that on the label, but if the vines lie outside them or the wine is a blend from different regions then North Coast will be used.

This is a 100% Viognier, the aromatic grape that was once almost lost apart from a few plots in Condrieu in the Northern Rhône.  It manages to be fresh and rich at the same time, with typical Viognier aromas of flowers and stone fruit such as apricot and peach.  It has a little oiliness in the mouth and more body than many whites.  Viognier is a grape that I don’t always get on with, but this is the best Californian Viognier I’ve tried to date – and great value too!

Cline Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013 (14.5%, €22.50 at jnwine.com)

 

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Sonoma Coast is the part of Sonoma County that lies – you guessed it! – on the coast.  This obviously makes it a cooler climate area than inland Sonoma (it also receives more rain than the rest of the county), so it’s more suited to varieties such as Pinot Noir.  That being said, at 14.5% this is no shrinking violet of a Pinot – you’d never wonder if it was actually a rosé rather than a red, like some Pinots!  It has a lot of body and power, but it’s no monster either, as there’s plenty of acidity to keep it in balance, and although it feels silky and voluptuous in the mouth there’s no alcohol burn on the finish.  In line with the experience there’s an abundance of bold black fruit and a twist of exotic spice.  It’s an all-round impressive wine!

Cline Cellars Contra Costa County Big Break Vineyard Zinfandel 2011 (16.0% €29.50 at jnwine.com)

 

cline_singlevineyard_bigbreak_zn_nv_final small

Based on my somewhat basic understanding of California’ geography, Contra Costa County is actually just outside the North Coast wine area, right at the bottom of the map at the top.  This is a single vineyard wine, so perhaps some sort of equivalent of Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières?  Well, that might be a bit fanciful, but the (unirrigated) vines here are a century old and produce impressive concentration.  The sun beats down fiercely during the day but the nearby Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers provide cooling breezes at night which allow the grapes to rest.

Okay, there’s no hiding from the size of the Big Break Zin (named after an old levee in the area which broke decades ago) but you don’t have to – it’s approachable and cuddly rather than intimidating.  It wears its 16.0% well, just like its little brother Pinot, all down to balancing acidity.  In fact the acidity comes through in the type of fruit tasted on the palate – fresh black cherry and blackberry, with hints of cinnamon and other spices.

Conclusions

Of course the comparison between AVAs and AOCs can only go so far – the latter can be incredibly prescriptive in terms of varieties, yields, vine training, irrigation, alcohol levels and many other things, whereas AVAs are primarily just based on vineyard location.  But I think that the wines above do show that there are different quality levels and that smaller is generally better.  It could just be down to the nature of the grapes for each wine, but above all paying more definitely brings the rewards of higher concentration in the glass.

Are you inclined to agree?

 

And of course, those lyrics…

 

 

 

Make Mine A Double

Sicilian Blends from Feudo Luparello [Make Mine a Double #18]

Map_of_region_of_Sicily,_Italy,_with_provinces-en.svg
Credit: NormanEinstein

All of Italy’s regions produce wine, and most of them have indigenous grapes which are rarely seen outside the country – or sometimes even outside the province.  Although rightly proud of their native grapes, when exporting wines to other countries the lack of recognition can be an issue.  Italy’s southernmost region has a clever solution: blends of local and international varieties.  If consumers don’t know the local then they might still buy the wine if they know the other, and over time the local grapes get better known.

Of course, the blends have to work well as wines, otherwise they would be forgotten quickly.  Here are two Sicilian blends I tried recently which I think are very successful:

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided for review.

Feudo Luparello Grillo – Viognier 2015 (13.0%, €15.85 at winesdirect.ie)

feudo_grilloviogner 2

Grillo is a native Sicilian grape which copes well with the island’s sun-baked climate. Sometimes on the neutral side, it has received most recognition to date as the grape behind Marsala, Sicily’s famous fortified wine (One of “Frankie’s Rules of Thumb”: where regular wine is turned into another product (Sherry, Cognac, Champagne etc.) the underlying wine is usually bland as hell).

Careful viticulture, restricting yields and better winemaking techniques have allowed Grillo to be quite expressive, but Feudo Luparello add 30% Viognier in this wine.  It’s quite apparent on the nose, as Viognier is highly aromatic, with floral and stone fruit notes.  On the palate it adds richness, and almost a touch of oiliness (which I love in varietal Viognier).  It’s not a flabby wine as the Grillo keeps it on the straight and narrow with fresh acidity.

This is an interesting and versatile white wine which represents great value for money.

Feudo Luparello Nero d’Avola – Syrah 2014 (13.5%, €15.85 at winesdirect.ie)

feudo_nerodavola2

Nero d’Avola is the most widely planted black grape in Sicily – and indeed takes its name from the city of Avola in Syracuse – though it is held in considerable esteem.  It has been likened to Syrah / Shiraz by some, though personally I don’t find them that alike.  In the past it has been seen as a little rustic in character, but that was mainly down to the winemaking.

This red keeps the same proportions as the white – it’s 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Syrah. Feudi Luparello is based in Pachino, just down the coast from Avola in Syracuse, so the vines get plenty of cooling sea breezes.  That sounds lovely, I hear you say, but what effect does it have on the wine?  The main one is to make it smoother and more elegant – there’s no hint of rusticity at all.  It is jam-packed full of juicy black fruit, with a touch of exotic spice.  Even French friends who had a taste grudgingly admitted that a “foreign” wine was pretty good!

Read more on Make Mine a Double

 

 

 

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2015

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)

Coteaux du Giennois Blanc-Alchimie
Coteaux du Giennois Blanc Alchimie 2014

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)

Domaine de Maubet
Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014

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)

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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)

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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)

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Argyros Estate Atlantis Santorini 2013

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.

See more here.

5. Soalheiro Alvarinho Reserva DOC Vinho Verde 2012 (€35.99, Black Pig, JN Wine)

Soalheiro
Soalheiro Alvarinho Reserva 2012 (Credit: Via Viti)

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)

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Hugel Pinot Gris “Jubilee” 2000 (Credit: Hugel)

 

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)

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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.

2. Gulfi Carjcanti 2011 (€35 – €38, JN Wine and others)

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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.

 

and finally….

1. Craiglee Sunbury Chardonnay 2011 (€33.95, winesdirect.ie, also available by the bottle and by the glass at Ely Wine Bar)

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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!

Also check out the Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz, Top 10 Sweet wines and Top 10 Reds of 2015.