Tag: Viognier

Selection from Febvre – Part 1

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!

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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.

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)

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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)

 

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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…

 

 

 

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

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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)

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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)

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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

 

 

 

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.

New Trafford

vineyard

New Trafford: De Trafford & Sijnn Winemaker’s Dinner @ Stanley’s, Dublin

Last month I had the pleasure to attend a fantastic Winemaker’s dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant in Dublin. Regular readers may remember a previous dinner event I attended there with Yves Cuilleron and his wines.  On this occasion it was the wines of David Trafford, co-hosted by importer/distributor Dr Eilis Cryan, the lady behind Kinnegar Wines of Galway.

David was originally an architect – with a few clues in the names and designs of his wines – but felt compelled to make wine in such an amazing land as Stellenbosch.  Many years later, he set up Sijnn in a hamlet down near the coast.

This tasting featured wines from both wineries, plus a starter from another Kinnegar producer:

Aperitif
Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011

Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011
Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011

For those not familiar with the term, Méthode Cap Classique (or MCC for short) is a traditional-method sparkling wine from South Africa.  Thelema are much better known for their excellent still wines, particularly their reds, but this is a serious effort.

As the Blanc de Blancs name suggests this is 100% Chardonnay.  Fulfilling the same requirements as vintage Champagne, it was (second) bottle fermented and left on the lees for three years.  It was disgorged in Sept/Oct 2014 and given an “extra-brut” dosage of 3.2 g/l.

It’s a lovely fresh, citrus style, perfect as an aperitif at this time in its life.  With a few more years it should mellow out so that more mature fruit develop and the acidity softens a little to let the bready characters from time on the lees show through.

Amuse Bouche

Crab and radish amuse bouche
Crab and radish amuse bouche

One of the things that great chefs can do is challenge your preconceptions.  The amuse bouche had radish which I don’t particularly care for, but with crab it was just heavenly.

Marinated scallops, cucumber, bergamot, fois gras butter

Marinated scallops starter
Marinated scallops starter

I love scallops, but I’m no fan of cucumber – I’ll pick it out of salads and send back a G&T that someone has stupidly infected with cucumber.  However, I have now become a convert of cucumber and mint soup – it was served in a mini tea cup on the side and was just divine!

De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012 & Sijnn White 2012

De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012
De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012
Sijnn White 2012
Sijnn White 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape, capable of playing several different roles, though always with its trademark high acidity.  Personally, I prefer it when it has either (1) a bit of oak, (2) a bit of age or (3) a bit of sugar; without these it can be too simple or too harsh for my taste.

David Trafford has been making Chenin for twenty years.  As with all his wines only wild yeast is used for his De Trafford Chenin, and then around 15% is matured in new oak barrels.  Bingo!  The oak adds a bit of roundness and texture, but it’s not an overtly oaky wine – it’s still fresh.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked by adding a dash of sulphur and the low cellar temperature.

The Sijnn White is also Chenin based, but as well as 20% oak maturation, it also has another trick up its sleeve: Viognier!  Around 16% of the blend is Viognier which gives stunning aromatics and a tempting texture.  I now have to add a fourth type of Chenin to my list!

Guinea fowl, green asparagus, black bacon, carbonara jus

Guinea fowl main course
Guinea fowl main course

There were no weird surprises here as I’m a fan of guinea fowl.  It was tasty and succulent, with lots of additional interesting flavours from the accompaniments. Asparagus and green beans provided a contrast against the richness of the meat.

De Trafford Elevation 393 2010 & Sijnn 2010

De Trafford Elevation 393 2010
De Trafford Elevation 393 2010
Sijnn Red 2010
Sijnn Red 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many attendees I expect this was the main (vinous) event of the evening.

Elevation is De Trafford’s flagship red.  As the 2010 is such an approachable, ripe style it has been released ahead of the 2009 which needs more time to mellow out.  This is partially due to the blend of the 2010 which was a third each of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Shiraz – there is usually a higher proportion of Cabernet in the blend which makes it a little more austere.

Although definitely fruity, the Elevation had more of a savoury aspect than many Australian Cabernet blends, for example.  South Africa really does straddle the boundaries of Old and New World.

The Sijnn Red was an altogether different blend, mainly a cross between the Rhône and the Douro: Syrah 41%; Touriga Nacional 27%; Mourvèdre 18%; Trincadeira 10%; Cabernet Sauvignon 4%.  And funnily enough, both of these influences were apparent in the finished blend – the spice, blackberry and blueberry of the Rhône were joined by the plum and prune of the Douro.  It’s quite a big wine, but totally delicious.

A fantastic wine geek fact that David gave us was that Mourvèdre needs more vine age than most other varieties before it begins producing quality fruit in reasonable quantities.

Rooibos tea custard tart, guava sorbet

Rooibos tea custard tart dessert
Rooibos tea custard tart dessert

This was so tasty that I barely managed to take a snap before wolfing it down!  You may recognise rooibos as a South African speciality – it’s a herbal tea, though often taken with milk and sugar down there.

De Trafford Straw Wine 2006

De Trafford Straw Wine 2006
De Trafford Straw Wine 2006

This might be something of a mystery for many – a straw wine?  The name is a translation of Vin de Paille – pronounced “van de pie” – which is the French term for this style of dessert wine.

It starts as 100% Chenin Blanc grapes, picked at normal ripeness.  The grapes are then dried outside on mats for three weeks, partially in the shade and partially in the sun.  The must takes a whole year to ferment, followed by two years maturation in 225L barriques (60% French and 40% American).

The finished product has a high 230 g/L of residual sugar, but with a streak of Chenin acidity it remains balanced and far from cloying.

Thanks to David, Eilis, Morgan, Stephen, Patrick and all the staff at Stanley’s for a wonderful evening!

Stanley, Andrew and Yves

Stanley, Andrew and Yves

Stanley's of St. Andrew's Street (Photo credit: Ruth Maria Murphy)
Stanley’s of St. Andrew’s Street (Photo credit: Ruth Maria Murphy)

In February I was delighted to accept an invitation to an exciting wine and food event at Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar on St Andrew’s Street in Dublin.  The wines were from Northern Rhône star Yves Cuilleron, which gives us a full house of names.

The wines were selected by Wine Director Morgan Vanderkamer and introduced by Yves himself.  As one of the few other French speakers I was given the honour of occasional interpreter.  The amazing menu was put together by proprietor & Head Chef Stephen McArdle (nickname Stanley!) who takes inspiration from French cuisine in particular.

Cave Yves Cuilleron

Yves Cuilleron
Yves Cuilleron at home

Yves elucidates the history behind his family vineyards on his website but, en bref, he took over the family vineyards when his uncle retired in 1987 – he surprised his relatives by throwing himself into the family business.  He has constantly innovated and invested since then, building a new cellar then later a new winery, and expanding his vineyards across most of the northern Rhône’s appellations.

Stone and earthworks
Stone and earthwork terrace to help stop soil erosion

For around ten years, Cuilleron wines have been brought into Ireland by Le Caveau.

Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar

Stanley’s has a wine bar on the ground floor, with a well-curated and interesting list by the bottle and by the glass.  Where else could you try a mini-flight of skin contact orange wines?

Stanley's Wine Bar
Stanley’s Wine Bar with super-quick barman

Upstairs is the main dining room – light and airy during the day but feeling more sophisticated in the evening.  The top floor has also been made available as a private dining room (no photos yet, it’s that new!)

Light feature
Light feature

The faux-military portraits are great talking points.

Portraits
Portraits – isn’t that….

So now we’ve set the scene and done a bit of a guided tour, down to business with the food and wine!

Canapés

Yves Cuilleron Marsanne IGP Collines Rhodaniennes 2012

Yves Cuilleron Marsanne
Yves Cuilleron Marsanne

This is a simple wine made to be drunk young, but is very approachable.  I was lucky enough (by virtue of my linguistics) to be able to taste the single bottle of 2012 available. There’s fresh peach and a hint of honey with a touch of breadiness from time on the lees.

Amuse Bouche
Yves Cuilleron Marsanne IGP Collines Rhodaniennes 2013

For his IGP wines, Yves tries to bring out the characteristics of the grape, which of course can be stated on the label for IGP wines but not for AOP wines.  Marsanne is often partnered with Roussanne in the northern Rhône but here it shines on its own.

Wild Irish rabbit, foie gras parfait, carrot, pistachio, pain d’epices
Yves Cuilleron AOP Cornas “Le Village” 2012

Yves Cuilleron Cornas “Le Village” 2012
Yves Cuilleron Cornas “Le Village” 2012

Cornas is a mono-cépage wine, i.e. it’s a 100% varietal under AOP regulations – and that variety is Syrah. Until relatively recently, Cornas wines were often rough round the edges, euphemistically termed “rustic”.  They needed time in the bottle to soften up, and you just had to hope that there was enough fruit left by then.

Yves’s Cornas is modern, clean and fruity, without being “manufactured”.  There’s power here but it’s from intensity of flavour rather than high alcohol.  Black cherry, blackberry and plum combine with tobacco and spice – the latter particularly hitting it off with the gingerbread.

When it comes to foodstuffs, some people can be funny buggers.  Unfortunately, I’m one of them – and rabbit is never on the menu in my house.  Out of respect for my hosts and fellow dinners I tried the dish – and was astounded!  I’ve been missing out on delicious things like this for years!  Bunny owners better put some good latches on your hutches!

Venison loin, cauliflower, apricot, truffle potato purée
Yves Cuilleron AOP Côte Rôtie “Madinières” 2009

Yves Cuilleron Côte Rôtie “Madinières” 2009
Yves Cuilleron Côte Rôtie “Madinières” 2009

Up to 20% Viognier is permitted in the red wines of this appellation, as long as the grapes are cofermented, though in practice it is rarely that high.  Traditionally Côte Rôtie is split between the Côte Brune in the north with dark, iron-rich schist and the Côte Blonde in the south with pale granite and schist soil.  Yves is more a believer in the importance of each vineyard’s aspect, i.e. which direction it faces.

2009 was a very good, warm vintage across much of France, including the northern Rhône.  This comes through in power, warmth and fruit – venturing more into the red fruit part of the spectrum than the Cornas.  There’s also both floral and savoury notes on the nose – sounds like quite a contradiction, but lovel – and an amazing match with the rich venison!

Extra mature Cashel blue, walnut toast, celery, salted caramel
Yves Cuilleron AOC Condrieu Moelleux “Ayguets” 2007

Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Moelleux “Ayguets” 2007
Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Moelleux “Ayguets” 2007

This is a sweet, Late Harvest style with some botrytis (noble rot).  The semi-dessicated grapes are hand-picked with several sorting stages from mid-October to mid-November, then pressed and left to settle.

It has around 100 g/L of residual sugar, but is soft and soothing without being cloying.  A simple rule of thumb for dessert wines is, does the acidity balance the sugar?  And in this case, undoubtedly yes!

As regular readers will know I’m far from a cheese fan myself, but I was told the Cashel Blue was lovely and went well with the Condrieu.  I can attest, however, that the latter was lovely with the salted caramel.

Mascarpone, white chocolate, pear
Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “La Petite Côte” 2013

Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “la Petite Côte” 2013
Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “la Petite Côte” 2013

This is the sort of wonderfully rich wine that a novice taster might think was sweet – it isn’t, but shows apparent sweetness due to abundant fruit and a slight oiliness in the mouth. It’s dry but not Sahara dry.

It was something of a bold selection – moving back to a dry wine to accompany dessert – but it worked because the dessert wasn’t super sweet, with acidity from the pear, and the honeyed notes from the wine.

Many thanks to Patrick, Stephen, Morgan and Yves for a fantastic evening!

My Top 10 Whites of 2014

Many of the producer tastings I’ve been at in the past year have been solely focused on red wines, but as I tend to drink much more white at home that hasn’t been such a hardship. Many of the retailer tastings have been very broad and included a few standout whites, so a few of those are included below.

I haven’t thought too deeply about the order of wines 10 down to 4, but the top 3 are definitely in order!

10. Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013

All wines were wild ferment until a few decades ago, but cultured yeast is now the norm for mass produced wines – it’s more reliable and predictable in terms of fermentation performance, flavours and alcohol levels.  Wild yeast can often give wilder, but more interesting flavours.

This Greek Assyrtiko from O’Briens is included because it’s just so different from anything else I tasted in the year – it really brings the funk!

9. Bruno Sorg Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Pinot Gris 2010

Bruno Sorg Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Pinot Gris 2010
Bruno Sorg Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Pinot Gris 2010

One of my favourite Alsace producers, Bruno Sorg have a broad range of varietals at different quality levels, and all are excellent for the price tag.  From near their home in Eguisheim this Grand Cru Pinot Gris is silky and rich, off-dry without being sweet, textured without being stuffy.  I did try some other countries’ Pinot Gris offerings, but Alsace is still where it’s at in my book.

8. Eric Texier Opâle 2012

Opale Viognier
Opale Viognier

This ethereal Mosel-style Rhône white stood out for me at The Big Rhône Tasting at Ely – partly because it was so different from the (delicious) Rhône reds, but mainly because of its sheer audacity and brilliance.

This should be drunk in small sips from a small glass, perhaps with company, but once you taste it you won’t want to share!

7. Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010

Schloss Gobelsburg "Lamm" Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010

The only white varietal tasting I went to all year was Austria’s signature grape Grüner Veltiner.  The biggest surprise for me was not the excellent quality, it was the versatility of the grape – it’s such a chameleon, depending on where and how it’s made.

The Lamm Reserve was my overall favourite from the tasting at Wine Workshop – and perhaps it’s no coincidence given my proclivity for Pinot Gris that I preferred an example of Grüner which somewhat resembles Pinot Gris.

6. Dog Point Section 94 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is so ubiquitous on our shelves that it’s often taken for granted, ignored for being old hat or dismissed after tasting the poorer examples churned out at a discount in supermarkets.  Even if you are a little bored of regular Savvy, there are alternatives, as I posted back in 2013.

A big differentiator of the alternative Marlborough Sauvignons is that they can age gracefully for several years, becoming more complex and interesting; many regular SBs shine very brightly in the year they are harvested then fade quickly.

And so I was lucky enough to taste the 2010 vintage of Dog Point’s Section 94 at the James Nicholson Xmas Tasting.  Dog Point don’t make a duff wine, they range from very good to amazing – and this was now firmly in the latter class.

5. Rolly Gassmann Alsace Planzerreben de Rorschwihr Riesling 2008

Rolly Gassmann Planzerreben de Rorschwihr Alsace Riesling 2008
Rolly Gassmann Planzerreben de Rorschwihr Alsace Riesling 2008

A bin-end special from The Wine Society that turned out to be sublime, if difficult to pronounce.  Rolly Gassmann is a renowned producer of Alsace and I had hoped to visit on my last trip there, but it wasn’t to be (too many great wineries, too little time!)

Thankfully this Riesling magically transported me to the hills of Rorschwihr.  It’s just off-dry, balancing the racy acidity and lifting the fruit.  At six years from vintage it had started to develop some really interesting tertiary notes – but it must have the best part of a decade still to go.  I doubt my other bottle will last that long!

4. Man O’War Valhalla Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2010

Man O'War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010
Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010

This is one of the wines that was open at several different tastings during the year, but despite having a few bottles in at home I always had a taste, it’s just that good.  Not exactly a shy and retiring type, this Chardonnay has loads of tropical fruit, with a little bit of candied pineapple among the fresh.

It’s well oaked, both in the sense of quantity and quality.  Chablis lovers might look elsewhere, but Meursault lovers might change allegiance.  A perennial favourite.

3. Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2008

Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2008
Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2008

Jeffrey Grosset is the King of Australian Riesling.  I bought a case of the Polish Hill Riesling with the same vintage as my son, with the intention of drinking a bottle on (or around) his birthday for the next decade or so.  This bottle is a few years older, and a few years wiser – the difference in development is noticeable.

Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene – whatever your petroleum spirit of choice, the 2008 has it nicely developing, though the steel backbone of acidity will keep it going for many a year.

2. Shaw + Smith M3 Vineyard Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012

Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2012
Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2012

I was lucky enough to taste Shaw + Smith’s seminal Chardonnay several times during 2014 – with the good folks of Liberty Wines at their portfolio tasting, a bottle with a stunning meal at Ely Bar & Brasserie, and a glass in a small flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar.

Emma Cullen and Ella Shaw
Ella Shaw (L) and Emma Cullen (R) at the Liberty tasting

The 2010 vintage was one of my favourite whites of 2013 and given the glowing review the latest 2013 vintage just received from Jamie Goode, I expect it will continue to have its own place within my vinous affections.

1. Château Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2011

Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2011
Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2011

The King Is Dead, Long Live The King!  Another wine I tried for the first time as part of the flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar, this is perhaps the Californian Chardonnay. After all, in beating some of Burgundy’s best Chardonnays in the Judgement of Paris it really put California on the maps as a producer of top level whites.

And as much as I wanted my beloved M3 to be the best, Montelena eclipsed it for 2014. Even as a young wine it is very approachable but with so much depth.  It’s the sort of wine you could happily taste the same vintage of over several decades.

Bring on the battle for 2015!

The BIG Rhône Tasting at Ely Bar and Brasserie, Dublin (Part one)

November 2014 saw the second Rhône Wine Week extravaganza in Ireland, hugely expanded on the already successful inaugural Week in 2013.  The expansion was both geographical and in terms of the number of events – it would have been physically impossible to get to all of them, even just the Dublin ones.  Kudos to my team mates Morgan, Diarmuid and Suzanne of Team Slapshot, together we came a creditable joint 3rd in the Big Rhône Quiz.

Spearheaded by Tyrrell & Co. Wine Importers and Inter Rhône, this year other importers and venues joined the fray – see rhonewineweekireland.com for the full calendar of events and participants

This post (and the next) will concentrate on the Big Rhône Tasting held at Ely Bar and Brasserie in the IFSC, Dublin.  A former 200 year old tobacco and wine warehouse in Dublin’s Financial district, it has spectacular vaulted cellars.  My smartphone pics below of the tables set up for tasting really don’t do it justice!

Didier Fiat

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So now onto a few of the white wines that really stood out for me:

Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2012 (Le Caveau, €18.45)

Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2012
Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2013

Viognier isn’t a grape I tend to pick off the shelf very often.  Some of the examples I’ve tasted have been too dry and not flavoursome enough to be enjoyed on their own; while I applaud the continental practice of drinking wine mainly at the table, the reality is that I’m far more likely to pop a cork sat in the lounge rather than the dining room.

However THIS is a Viognier that drinks very well on its own, and at a very reasonable price.  It has ripe stone fruit and an oily, rich viscosity that make it a real pleasure.

Domaine Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “La Fontaine” 2012 (Mitchell & Son, €48.99)

Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc "La Fontaine" 2012
Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “La Fontaine” 2012

White Châteaneuf-du-Pape can be made of any or all of the six white grapes in the list of eighteen permitted grapes for the AOC.  It’s pretty rare though, making up only around 5% of total CNDP production – and even rarer is it cheap!

Made from 100% Roussanne grown in the wind-swept northern slopes of Châteauneuf, the grapes are hand picked and gently pressed.  Fermentation and maturation is carried out in oak barriques, 50% new and 50% one year old, for ten months.

Surprisingly, oak doesn’t dominate the palate – Roussanne gives a rich and fat body plus plenty of fruit which can stand up to the oaking.  As a youngster the main fruit flavour is pear – but not the pear drop flavour which is common on many modern cool-fermented whites.  Instead, imagine that you’ve been lost in a desert for a few days with nothing to eat or drink and then you find a few fresh, juicy pears – it’s that intense!

The vineyard’s windy aspect helps maintain acidity and this comes through in the freshness – it’s rich but not at all flabby.  White Châteauneuf needs a good while before it starts to develop tertiary flavours – we tasted a 2006 at the Big Rhône Quiz which was only just approaching middle age!

Eric Texier Opâle 2012 (La Rousse Wines, €21.90)

Opale Viognier
Eric Texier Opâle

And now for something completely different!  This is the first time I had come across anything like this from the Rhône – it’s a sweet Viognier, not made by fortification as with Vins Doux Naturels, but rather by reducing the temperature to stop fermentation once the must has reached 7% alcohol.  The grapes were picked early to maintain acidity so the resulting sweetness has a balance – it’s not at all cloying.

While this wine does reveal some varietal characteristics, stylistically it reminded me of a Mosel Riesling – and thankfully that’s what Monsieur Texier is aiming for.  Being fairly low in alcohol also means you can have a small glass and still drive afterwards!

Part two will be the main course – the Rhône Reds!