Tag Archives: Chardonnay

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg and the South African Wines Renaissance

Name a New World wine country. Australia most likely springs immediately to mind, as does Chile. You’ve probably said New Zealand too, and maybe Argentina. Did South African Wines figure on your list?

If you’re a casual wine drinker it’s likely it didn’t, or maybe it came as an after-thought. Here in Ireland we have an unusual blind spot for South African wines – indeed sales of wines from the country have dropped 35% since 2008.

Which is a pity, since The Cape is one of the oldest “New World” wine countries with a rich history of winemaking going back as far as the mid 17th century (another example of the fallacy of the Old World / New World categorisation).

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African Renaissance

South African wine’s fortunes within in the international wine world have been somewhat undesirable in the last century or two. Originally its Constantia sweet wines were the toast of the European monarchy in the 18th and 19th centuries, rivalled only by Hungarian Tokaji.

Since then, though, various market forces, debilitating  vine infections (which largely still exist today), international boycotting due to apartheid and old-school “quantity over quality” winemaking philosophy have largely hampered the country’s entrance to the quality wine arena.

However the newer generation of people making South African wines, now welcomed worldwide in the wake of the democratic awakening of their country, are spending time working in vineyards abroad and returning home with big ideas.

The outcome is fresh and new thinking brought to old vines in historic areas, with the result that South Africa has recently been named by Decanter magazine as the most dynamic winemaking region in the Southern Hemisphere; considering that includes Australia, Chile, New Zealand and most of their New World counterparts, then you realise that’s a big call.

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African Renaissance

The New Old New World

I had the chance to taste the wines from Rustenberg of the historic Stellenbosch district for the first time at the annual JN Wines tasting in The Merrion late last year. Standing behind the table was one of the most stereotypical Springboks you could encounter: tall, blond, broad, beefy, square-jawed and unfailingly polite.

I would later discover this was Murray Barlow, the third generation of winemakers to farm the Rustenberg estate that can trace its history back to 1682. Murray’s grandfather, Peter Barlow – after which one of their flagship wines is named – is responsible for revitalising the estate after purchasing and restoring it in 1941. The Barlow family have now been overseeing the historic property for 75 years, the longest time it has been in continuous family hands.

Murray was affably adroit at providing salient snippets of info without burdening me with technical detail. He summarised how they have in recent years concentrated more about prioritising working in the vineyard to ensure the best-quality grapes possible versus their traditional method of judicious sorting of the berries at the winery.

This approach goes hand-in-hand with some renewed ground-up thinking – if you’ll excuse the pun! – that has also expressed itself in experimenting with varieties alien to South Africa such as Rousanne and Grenache, a sweet vin de paille, and Syrah vines trained vertically on stakes in the Northern Rhone style.

Cape Crusaders

Of course Rustenberg aren’t alone in this South African resurgence. See also the wines of Mullineux, Keermont, Richard Kershaw, De Morgenzon, Glen Carlou, Kanonkop, Doran, Paul Cluver and a host of others making properly excellent, exciting wines. In fact, another article delving further into these great producers would be needed I think – watch this space…

South Africa is on the up – it’s time we opened our minds, and our palates, to the treasures offered by this historic region and started supporting their winemakers once again. Despite us Irish buying almost a third less South African wines since 2008, we’re actually 14% up on 2012, so we’re heading in the right direction. Let’s do this proud nation – and our own palates – a huge favour and continue this positive trend.

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THREE TO TRY

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African RenaissanceRustenberg Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon
€15.99 from JNwine.com

I really enjoyed the texture of this wine, which shows typical Cab flavours of blackberry and blackcurrant.

Though not hugely complex, it is nevertheless supple, textural and long, and great value at this price.

 

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African RenaissanceRustenberg Stellenbosch Chardonnay
€18.99 from JNwine.com

This was really the ‘wow’ wine for me at the Rustenberg table. Yes, their €36 single vineyard Chardonnay – the Five Soldiers – has that extra je ne sais quoi, but at a mere €19 this is incredible value for the effort that goes in, and the quality that comes out. Barrel-fermented with wild yeast, this shows judicious use of oak giving an excellent supple texture and layers of complexity.

 

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African RenaissanceRustenberg John X Merriman
€19.99 from JNwine.com

This is their Bordeaux blend and named in honour of a former owner of Rustenberg, John Xavier Merriman, who bought the farm in 1892 in sympathy with farmers suffering from the phylloxera crisis.

This has excellent texture and though a little taut is still very approachable and fine. Again excellent value at just under €20.

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An Odyssey of Kir-Yianni Wines from Greece

I think I’m lucky to have come into the wine game when I did. I’m now 33 and started in the wine trade eight years ago, meaning that I managed to avoid a great number of wine-related hang-ups and prejudices that most wine drinkers the generation above me seem to carry around with them.

I love Chardonnay, for example, in direct contravention of the Anything But Chardonnay ideology that seems to have afflicted those stung by the mistakes of the Aussies in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Similarly, I was never tainted by what I hear were wines of questionable quality from Greece, nor has their famous (but much-maligned) retsina crossed my lips.

So while at the Ely Big Tasting I came across a wine called Ramnista from Kir-Yianni, made from a grape new to me called Xinomavro, I was bowled over. Never did I think that Greek wines could taste like this, and from indigenous varieties too.

How lucky I was then that Gabriel Cooney of Grapevine in Dalkey, who imports Kir-Yianni wines here to Ireland, invited me to taste the full range of their wines at a jovial consumer evening in October. The night was hosted by Lambros Papadimitriou, officially Kir-Yianni’s Sales & Marketing Director but also their de facto export manager.

Accompanied by bread and some delicious 220 Trees olive oil – another Grecian import by Grapevine – we started into eleven of Kir-Yianni’s finest.

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Greek Wine: Long History, Short Tradition

Lambros began by deftly leading us through a brief history of Greek wine, proudly claiming that the first appellation system was established in Greece, with Homer’s extensive writings on the subject held up as evidence. Pramnian and Ismarian wines were particularly good at the time, apparently.

The wines of those times were sweet, for better preservation (and a result of incomplete fermentation I would guess), as well as being ultra-concentrated, resulting in the requirement that they be watered down before consumption. Indeed, only uncouth barbarians such as the Scythians of Crimea would drink undiluted wine at the time – savages!

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But it is what he said next that struck a chord: when it came to wine, the region “has a long history but a short tradition”. He extrapolated by explaining that, despite making wine since the 7th century BC, Greece produced nothing remarkable until the 1990’s, when a slew of educated and aspirational young winemakers decided to revamp and modernise the country’s wine offering.

These “New Old World” winemakers made a conscious decision to improve the quality of Greek wine for the better, introducing new technologies, better clonal selection, updated practices in both the vineyard and the winery, and, equally importantly, some much-needed EU funding.

A New Wave in an Old World

So it was came to be that Yiannis Boutaris founded Kir-Yianni winery, originally as a spin-off from the Boutari group founded by his grandfather, but which went completely independent of the famous drinks company in 1997.

Yiannis Boutaris is an interesting character we’re told. As well as naming the winery after himself – “Kir Yianni” roughly translates as “Sir Yianni” or “Sir John” – the now 74 year old apparently has an impressive collection of tattoos and rocked Greece society when he became the first public figure to admit to alcoholism, an affliction he has now thankfully overcome, though not before changing public attitudes towards the condition. Oh, and he’s also the mayor of Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki. Interesting indeed.

Yiannis was one of the first proponents of single vineyard wine-making in Greece and a driving force for the revival of the much prized Naoussa appellation and its unique local variety Xinomavro. Today his son Stellios Boutaris, the fifth generation of this winemaking family, runs the show.

They practice sustainable agriculture, which is essentially organic by everything but name; or, as Lambros put it: “as much as necessary but as little as possible”.

The Wines

We began the evening with a sparkling wine, something that took me by surprise as I never associated Greece with bubbles. The Paranga Sparkling is a blend of Chardonnay, Xinomavro and Muscat, with the latter’s aromatics and pear drop aromas most distinct. A light and lively, semi-dry refresher to kick the night off.

From there we tasted four whites: Paranga White (€16 from Grapevine), a soft, tropical fruit-flavoured blend of Greece’s native Malagouzia and Roditis grapes; Ktima Kir-Yianni Samaropetra, a more sprightly blend of Roditis and Sauvignon Blanc with an Old World herbaceousness; the more serious and flinty, almond-tinged Droumo Sauvignon Blanc; and finally the punchy and ultra-buttery Palpo Chardonnay, a bruising wine that ramps the Burgundian style up to 11.

We transitioned to the reds via the delicious Akakies Rosé, detailed more extensively below, before moving on to the Paranga Red (€16 from Grapevine), a fun a simple wine with a surprisingly refreshing acidity. The Ktima Kir-Yianni Yianakohori Hills and Ramnista were next, my favourites of the night which I cover later, with the red flight finishing on Diaporos, a Xinomavro and Syrah blend giving a meaty, textural, and age-worthy ‘icon’ wine.

As we sipped the very last wine – a fresh and floral, honeyed Late Harvest Gewurztraminer called Chrysogerakas – Lambros, ever the gracious host, signed off a fantastic evening of Grecian pleasures by second-guessing what is perhaps a common query put to him after many a wine is sipped: how is Greece, paragon of the financial crisis, faring nowadays

Cautious of being flippantly upbeat, he left us with a nugget of relative optimism: “wine is booming in Greece, so let’s focus on the positives”.

If their wines are anything to go by, there’s a bright future yet for Greece.

 

THREE TO TRY

Kir-Yianni Akakies Rosé
RSP €16 from Grapevine, Dalkey (coming soon)

I’m not the biggest fan of rosé, but this 100% Xinomavro gives a big, meaty version that’s more akin to a light red than the more light-bodied examples we’re usually used to. The Amyndeon appellation in north-western Greece, from which this wine is sourced, is the only Greek PDO for rosé wines. It has smoky, macerated strawberry and raspberry aromas with a balanced medium body. It would be fab with salmon.

 

Ktima Kir-Yianni Yianakohori Hills
RSP €19 from Grapevine, Dalkey (coming soon)

“Ktima” roughly translates as “Estate” in Greek, and for some reason I wasn’t expecting much from this wine as I awaited a sip the winery’s excellent Ramnista. I was delighted to be proved wrong: this was supremely balanced and elegant, yet with a charm and grace that allowed it not to be taken too seriously. Made from 50% Xinomavro, 30% Merlot and 20% Syrah, it had distinct blueberry, leather, violet and vanilla aromas. It’s sourced from different plots individually vinified and blended. A lot of work goes into this wine, which is reflected in the glass but not in the price, oddly. A bargain.

 

Kir-Yianni Ramnista
RSP €21 from Grapevine, Dalkey

This is the wine that brought me all the way to Dalkey on a dark Thursday night. A 100% Xinomavro from select parcels of old vines in the high-quality region of Naoussa, this is an intense yet balanced wine. A lovely, deeply savoury experience, it combines light red berry fruit with tar, leather, tobacco and baking spice. Long and complex, it keeps evolving and satisfying. Outstanding, and again a bargain.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie

There’s an Alp for That…

As I began to write this piece on wines from the Alps it struck me that, rather neatly, the topography of the region was as good an analogy as any for the wines it produces.

The Alps are difficult to get to. They’re not easily accessible, a little inconvenient you might say, and a visit there is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s not cheap either. But for many, the effort is so worth it. Once you taste the Alpine air you can never go back; once you experience the headiness of the snow-capped vistas then many other landscapes pale in comparison.

Likewise, wines from the Alps – be they French, Swiss, Italian or otherwise – share similar characteristics. They’re hard to find, made from varieties you’ve likely never heard of, and often taste like nothing you’ve had before. Whether that’s a good thing or not is – of course – down to personal preference. But to those with a keen curiosity and open mind, they’re a revelation.

I was lucky to be allowed to dip my toe into the world of Alpine wine thanks to a small informal tasting in Ely Wine bar recently, hosted by two fantastic wine importers, Nomad and Tyrrels, who plied their Alpine wares from France and Switzerland respectively.


SWITZERLAND: DOUZE POINTS

You may not have come across Swiss wines here in Ireland before, and likely for good reason. Wines imported into Switzerland were subject to stringent tariffs until the 1990s and finally abolished in 2006; that means that until 10 years ago it was easier and cheaper for the Swiss to buy their own wine rather than Chilean or Australian imports, leaving little left over for the rest of us to enjoy. There simply wasn’t really a need to export.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

Other factors conspire against Swiss wine. For one the ownership structure is highly fragmented: the Valais region for example, from where our wines below are sourced, counts 5,137 hectares of vines owned by 22,000 people in 80,000 parcels or plots. That sort of set-up requires a lot of time and effort to pull together commercially-viable quantities of wine, let alone enough to make exporting worthwhile.

Then there’s the geography: the slopes are so steep in places that elaborate monorail systems are needed to transport equipment and grapes. Sometimes they need helicopters. The gradient means that grape picking usually needs to be by hand. And to top it all off the Swiss authorities limit how many grapes each vine can yield. Cheap and easy it ‘aint.

But, like all good things in life, the effort is always worth it. Swiss wines – or at least the ones I tasted that day in Ely – can be electric, exciting and intriguing, not to mention cerebrally stimulating given their history, provenance and hyper-locality.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

FRANCE: SAVVY SAVOIE

Comparatively, Alpine France – in particular the Savoie region – has an easier time of it than Switzerland. Yes, their vineyards can be similarly steep and awkward to access, but the gentler run-in from the French side is somewhat easier to manage than the almost persistently elevated nature of the Swiss wine regions.

But oddly, wines were rarely exported from Savoie until recently, a situation similar to Switzerland, but for a very different reason: the dramatic countryside is such a popular, year-round attraction that the constant flow of tourists usually drink the stocks dry.

Savoie has an admirable roll call of local grape varieties rarely found elsewhere, which many attribute to the fact the region only actually became part of France in 1860. For whites they’ve the likes of Jacquère, Altesse, Malvoisie and Mondeuse Blanche; while for reds they’ve Persan and Mondeuse Noire. Nope, I hadn’t heard of any of them before either.

Given the slightly off-piste location and abundance of local varieties, Savoie is riddled with small, passionate, boutique wine producers with many practicing organic or biodynamic principals and old-school winemaking. Many may call them ‘artisan’ or even ‘hipster’ winemakers – in truth they’re just passionate and returning to a more honest and lo-fi way of making wine. Either way, the results are rarely uninteresting.

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THE EU CONVENTION AT ELY

That day in Ely, Irishman Simon Tyrrell held court behind four wines – two white and two red – from Domaine René Favre et Fils of Chamoson in the Valais region of Switzerland, nestled between the borders of France and Italy, run by brothers John & Mike Favre.

To his right was Frenchman Charles Derain of Nomad Wine Importers and in front of him were six wines from Domaine Des Ardoisières, a winery that sources its grapes entirely from only two single vineyard sites in the Vin des Allobroges designation of Savoie: Cevins and St. Pierre de Soucy.

Cevins is perhaps the more notable of the two sites, if not because of its history. The domaine encompasses a steep hill rising above the town which was planted with vines during Roman times, before passing through the hands of Tamié monks and eventually into private ownership. But the infamous phylloxera louse that devastated much of Europe’s vineyards in the mid nineteenth century took its toll here too, and shortly afterwards the two World Wars the country had to contend with spelled the end of winemaking on this awkwardly steep hill.

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But in 1998 a group of enthusiasts began clearing the site and reinstated the old Roman terraces that helped put structured order on the slope. It was a huge effort to unite no less than 400 landowners for an area of less than 10 hectares, an unusual display of selflessness for a common good. They planted mostly the local grape varieties mentioned earlier and farmed using only biodynamic principals, with the first vintage harvested in 2003.

St. Pierre de Soucy, meanwhile, is 50 kms down the valley and a little lower in altitude. This area is farmed organically instead of biodynamically but still provides the clay (or “argile”) soil that so intrigues Domaine Des Ardoisières winemaker Brice Omont.

With the humour and generosity typical of both Charles and Simon, we got to taste through some amazing examples of the region from two fantastic producers; here are a few of my picks…


THREE TO TRY FROM THE SWISS ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine
€28.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Jancis Robinson calls this grape variety “the finest of the indigenous grape specialities of the Valais in Switzerland.” I haven’t tasted any other indigenous white varieties from Switzerland but I do have to say this was damn good. It has a beautiful texture that was almost creamy, despite being tank fermented (maybe some contact with the lees?), followed by a razor sharp, precise acidity and minerality.

A delicious wine and a fantastic experience.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine ‘Grande Année St. Pierre’
€42.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

And if the Petite Arvine wasn’t good enough, along came its ‘big brother’. Fermented and aged in oak, this was beautiful and Burgundian in style.

Think crisp green apple coated in butter. It was textural, fresh, rich and long, all at once. Transcendental.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Humagne Rouge
€29.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Humagne Rouge is a relatively rare variety from Valais which I found to be wild and rustic with its slight vegetal notes (think green pepper) diffusing into smoke and black pepper.

The palate was surprisingly soft and smooth and juicy with nice acidity at the end. Again another fantastic experience if you’re keen to try obscure grape varieties.

 

THREE TO TRY FROM THE FRENCH ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Blanc
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Chardonnay & 30% Mondeuse Blanche.

This is beautifully crisp and clean and pure, though for me there was also an interesting, slightly funky, earthy undertone – call it terroir if you will.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, Cevins, “Schiste” Blanc
€50 from select off-licences

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Roussanne & 30% Malvasia. A wilder wine with fennel, yellow apple and artichoke aromas. Again a feral note but much more noticeable this time.

Fresh and lively, its acidity is razor-sharp but it all softens to a slightly buttery finish from its time in barrel. A remarkable wine.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Rouge
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64Wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 80% Gamay (Beaujolais is just 50kms away after all) and 20% of the local Persan grape. A very characterful wine, light but complex, bursting with juicy fruit and a very distinct twist of black pepper.

Black forest fruit and black cherry abound, and it has a slightly bitter, dry twist at the end. Wonderful.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.

French Double-Whammy at Ely this September

In one of my earliest posts I waxed lyrical about an initiative that the ever-excellent ely wine bars were running whereby you could enjoy one of two incredible bottles of wine in ely’s cosy Ely Place home for close to the same price you could buy them in the shops.

But why not just buy it in the shop then? Well, throw in the service, excellent glassware and atmosphere of ely, along with the opportunity to grab a really delicious bite to eat there too, then you’re practically making money with the offer.

Well, I was delighted to see that ely are again offering two outstanding wines at silly prices: the sumptuous Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon ‘Milly Lamartine’ from Burgundy for €49 and La Reserve de Léoville Barton from St. Julien in Bordeaux for just €59.

Given that the La Reserve de Léoville Barton is €50 retail, for example, then €59 in a wine bar – especially one like ely – is a downright bargain. What’s more, the glass price – €14.75 – is exactly a quarter of the full bottle price, another big thumbs up.

Very highly recommended. I mean, just look at them!

Credit: @elywinebars on Twitter
But Wait! There’s More!

ely is on the Léoville Barton buzz it seems: on Tuesday 13th September they’re hosting what can only be described as a decadently old-school Bordeaux dinner featuring Châteaux Léoville & Langoa Barton and Château Coutet.

I won’t get to go myself but it’s something I would have loved to attend, and it would unmissable for any wine lover. And at the time of writing there’s still a handful of seats available too, but they’re sure to disappear sharpish over the weekend.

The price seems hefty at €110, but some really incredible wines will be served along with ely’s always-outstanding food; put it this way: knowing ely, you won’t be found wanting by the end of it.

Credit: @IBrosnan on Twitter

Here’s the full blurb:

ely wine bar on Ely Place welcomes world-renowned wine producers to Dublin this September, with an exclusive wine dinner with Château Léoville Barton, Château Langoa Barton and Château Coutet on September 13th.

Join Lilian Barton-Sartorius of Château Langoa and Château Léoville-Barton, along with Aline Baly from Château Coutet, the outstanding Barsac estate, as they introduce a selection of their magnificent wines on the night. Beginning with an apéritif from Château Coutet, guests will then sample four reds from Château Léoville Barton and Château Langoa Barton throughout the meal, finishing with a spectacular 1997 Château Coutet.

Great wine calls for great food and ely wine bar executive head chef Ryan Stringer has created a menu which includes organic meats from the family farm in the Burren, designed to fully complement the wines being enjoyed at this celebratory dinner.

Representing some of the most highly regarded Irish ‘Wine Geese’, the Irish connections of Château Léoville Barton and Château Langoa Barton stretch right back into the Fermanagh of the 1700s, the birthplace of Thomas Barton. Initially establishing his wine broking business in Bordeaux, Thomas’ grandson Hugh began the development of the estate as it is today, beginning with the purchase of Château Langoa in 1826 and later adding the Léoville estate.

Current owner Antony Barton was born in Straffan in 1930 and inherited the estate in 1983. He continues to run Château Léoville Barton and Châteaux Langoa with his daughter Lilian, with worldwide recognition for making some of the most exciting and scintillating wines in the St. Julien appellation.

25 miles southeast of the city of Bordeaux on the left bank, Château Coutet is one of the oldest Sauternes producing vineyards, whose sensational elegant golden wines were also added to by a first-of-its kind dry white wine from Barsac in 2010, produced in limited quantities from the heart of this Premier Grand Cru.

Whether you know and love these wines already or want to expand your wine knowledge, the Châteaux Léoville & Langoa Barton and Château Coutet dinner at ely promises to be a relaxed and informative evening of outstanding wines and excellent food.

Tickets cost €110 per person with limited spaces available. For more information or to make a booking contact 01 6787867 or visit http://www.elywinebar.com.

Some Picks from the O’Brien’s September Wine Sale

So the O’Brien’s September wine sale started yesterday, timed to coincide with our newly-acquired, post-holiday, sure-it-might-as-well-be-winter mentality.

Thankfully they have a great batch of wines at keen offers to help us through the rut. I haven’t tasted all the wines on offer but below are some I tasted at the Spring Wine Fair that I’d highly recommend…

 

Domaine Duffour, Cos de la Roque
Was €12.95 now €9.00

I’ve waxed lyrical about Domaine Duffour’s Blanc Cotes de Gascogne before,  and now they’ve their newer cuvée on sale for the frankly ridiculous price of €9. I wonder how the Duffours survive at all at prices like this. Again this is a blend of the regional Colombard and Ugni Blanc varieties (the latter usually used for Cognac) – expect crunchy limey apple fruit flavours and plenty of easy drinking.

 

Jaspi Blanc
Was €16.45, now €9.00

I really love the characterful, simple, cheap wines expressive of their locality. The Duffour above is one example, and this Grenache Blanc and Macabeo blend from Catalunya is another. It’s not exactly complex and brooding, but then again that’s not the style you enjoy in the sunshine with friends, great food and a bit of music. Instead it’s fresh and expressive, easy-drinking yet structured, and just really nice to drink. For €9 you’re laughing.

 

Leyda Sauvignon Garuma
Was €16.95 now €11.95

Very vivacious green pea and asparagus, definitely a New World Savvie and not for lovers of the often more austere Sancerre style. This still has a lovely core of acidity though, so good marks all round.

 

Chanson Mâcon-Villages
Was €16.95 now €12.95

If you like your Chardonnay on the more restrained end of the spectrum then this is great value from a notable region. Expect shy fruit and coy flavours, but with expressive clarity and focus.

 

Bethany Cabernet/Merlot
Was €20.95 now €11.95

I love the Bethany wines from Australia. I’m not sure of this wine’s merits at €20.95, but at €11.95 it’s an absolute steal. Expect leafy blackcurrant and blackberry flavours and general all-round goodness, a really fantastic wine for €12.

 

Torres Celeste Ribero del Duero
Was €21.95 now €16.95

Whenever this is on offer you’d be mad to miss it. Celeste is a family favourite in my house – originally we loved its lush glossy fruit, and as our tastes matured so did the winemaking style. Now you can still expect lots of rich fruit but a bit more toned down and now with a core of nervy energy and tannic grip. It’s just one of those wines: you can’t but love it, and it’s right for every occasion. Also the label is gorgeous and the price is keen. What’s not to love?

 

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Merlot
Was €27.95 now €22.95

Not for the faint of heart! This is a very decadent merlot, rich and ripe. Lots of menthol and chewy black fruit. But what amazed me was its balance: despite being a massive wine it still has nice grippy tannin and decent supporting acidity. So a blockbuster but in ballet flats, so to speak. I’m rambling. Grab a bottle and find out for yourself. I know I’ll be having “some fucking Merlot!”

Bollinger – A Visit to the Legendary Champagne House

Emerging from the forested hilltop of Montagne de Reims, the heartland of the Champagne region unfurls itself before you. The reveal is gradual and, as you’d expect from this most famous of wine regions, not without elegance.

However when I visited the region in March it was not lush undulating green hillsides that greeted me but the rather more sobering sight of heavy, leaden grey skies over bleak fields of skeletal vines – the area had not yet fully emerged from its winter dormancy and so was distinctly lacking in any vegetation or colour.

I was in Champagne to visit Bollinger, the famous House known to anyone with even a passing interest in sparkling wine. Having worked with the brand for years it was akin to meeting one of your heroes, though in contrast to the old saying I couldn’t imagine this encounter to be in any way disappointing.

Descending from Montagne de Reims we hung left before Épernay in the direction of Aÿ, home to Bollinger as well as other notable names such as Ayala, Deutz and a small boutique brand known as Moët et Chandon. Aÿ itself came upon us quite suddenly and without the fanfare I was expecting from such an eminent address. I also found it difficult to comprehend its size: with a mere 4,000 souls or so, I didn’t expect Aÿ to be, well, a village.

Overlooking Clos St Jacques in Aÿ

More surprising was how we came to find ourselves outside the House of Bollinger itself: instead of a gilded avenue lined with cypress trees and cherubs heralding our arrival, we approached the château via what seemed to be a back lane behind some houses, pulling up outside the iconic polished brass nameplates with absolutely no ado.

That’s not to say the House of Bollinger itself is very impressive however: a very typical château in that much French style, with two sweeping staircases leading to a doorway beneath a wrought iron balcony and surrounded by white shuttered windows. It features a lot in the Bollinger iconography, and rightly so.

We started by having a gander at Bollinger’s back garden – literally. Behind the House is a walled vineyard, and a very rare one too as it’s one of the few in France that wasn’t devastated by the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out most vineyards across Europe in the 1860s onwards. Indeed, it’s one of only two in Champagne that wasn’t affected by the devastating louse – the other, Clos St Jacques, is literally across the road and also owned by Bollinger. Needless to say this rarity is fully exploited via an extremely limited-production Champagne called Vieilles Vignes Françaises which is made exclusively from these two plots; a bottle of this – if you can find one – will set you back at least €500, if you’re lucky.

The cooperage in Bollinger

From there we made our way down the deserted streets on foot to Lily Bollinger’s house where, across a modest courtyard, there was a small cooperage where they still maintain their oak barrels to this day, the last company in Champagne to do so. Hanging haphazardly on the walls were a handful of movie posters from past Bond films, the only obvious connection here to the world’s most famous spy, for whom Bollinger has been the Champagne of choice since the 1970’s. Oddly, the posters they chose were all from the Pierce Brosnan era – none from before, and none since. I wonder if the coopers of Bollinger have a particular affinity for the man from Navan?

Next to the cooperage was a door leading down into the cellars of Bollinger: dark, dank tunnels hewn from the chalky earth for which Champagne is famous. Here, thousands upon thousands of dusty cobwebbed bottles line the walls that snake for an incredible five kilometres underneath Aÿ. It’s mind-boggling to think that the  residents of this sleepy village have literally millions of Euros of the finest Champagne resting beneath their feet.

One of the many stretches of underground cellars

Established in 1829, Bollinger is one of the few Champagne Houses left under full family ownership. The beefy “Bollinger style” is famous worldwide and owes no small part to the predominance of Pinot Noir in its blends, but their dogged commitment to traditional (read: expensive and time consuming) methods also play their part, for example their habit of fermenting a high proportion of their wines in wood, their use of a large amount of Premier and Grand Cru wines in the blends, and ageing for well beyond the legal minimum, amongst others.

‘Attention to detail’ is a term bandied about a lot, and mostly erroneously so, but for Bollinger it really is an underlying philosophy of what they do, preferring as they do to prioritise quality, tradition and craftsmanship over profit and margins – an enviable situation made all the easier by being family-owned.

The result is expensive, yes, especially in light of €20 Champagne in the likes of Aldi and Lidl, but you really do get what you pay for with Bollinger.

When Bollinger says they lay down their Champagne for years they ain’t lying!

Back at Aÿ we emerged blinking from the cellars to face what was perhaps the highlight of the highlights: tasting the fruit of all this effort. The full range of non-vintage and vintage wines were laid before us in white and rosé versions, and even a rare still red wine called La Côte Aux Enfants.

But before we finish, no article on Bollinger is complete without the famous quote by Lily Bollinger, a tour de force who ran the company on her own for four decades in which she revolutionised the company, doubled sales, expanded production, and all the time adhered resolutely to the tradition that made the Bollinger name famous:

I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.


TWO TO TRY

Bollinger Special Cuvée
RSP €65 and widely available from good independent off-licences

The benchmark, and not for the faint hearted: full, rich, toasty, buttery, this is bruising but nevertheless elegant – a contradiction of sorts, yes, but true nevertheless. A properly posh Champagne.

 

Bollinger La Grande Année 2002/2004/2005
RSP €120 from Mitchell & Son, O’Brien’s, The Corkscrew, Redmond’s of Ranelagh and other fine wine retailers

This is the vintage Champagne from Bollinger and any one of the years above may be on the shelves of your local fine wine retailer at the moment. I’ve recently had the 2002 and for me it’s the best vintage Champagne I can recall, and from (vague) memory the 2004 and 2005 vintages are up there too. It’s more refined than the Special Cuvée, more delicate and mineral, and though more toned down in volume is nevertheless still rich and complex with incredible length. A true treat Champagne.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.

Great French Wines on Sale this Weekend from O’Brien’s

I would have liked to post this earlier in the week to give you some time to pick up a few bottles, but there’s still time to grab a few for this (sometimes) sunny weekend.

O’Brien’s are currently running their French Wine Sale that ends on Tuesday 24th, and I can honestly say there’s plenty of great bargains to be had, so best stock up for the summer now.

Some of my picks are below…


Silly Value for Money

Domaine Duffour Blanc
Normally €11.45, now €9.16

This was new to me in every respect: I don’t think I’ve had a wine from Gascony before,nor do I recall tasting its local grapes Colombard or Gros Manseng at any point, both of which make up 80% and 20% of the blend respectively.

What I definitely didn’t expect is how interesting this wine is, and for a quite incredible price too, which has been made even more appealing with 20% off this weekend.

Expect tropical grapefruit and pear tinged with herbal grassiness; a fun and no-nonsense wine ideal for summer.

 

Bougrier Chenin Blanc

Was €13.95, now €11.16

Chenin Blanc is a very underestimated grape and virtually unknown to consumers, which though regretful means that it’s often great value.

Here’s one example, and from the grape’s historical home in the Loire too. What’s more it’s only 11%, so great for summer sipping. Ripe, round and flavoursome, and a great price even at full RSP.

 


Domaine Begude Etoile
Was €19.95, now €15.96

At just under €20 this was great value, and at just €15.96 it’s unmissable. An organic, barrel-fermented 100% Chardonnay, this is the best Burgundy look-alike I’ve ever come across, and it has so much more poise than the often bruising examples of oaked Chardonnay from the New World.

There’s lots that buttery creaminess of course, but still maintains a backbone of lemony, sprightly fruit. The finish is long, textured and gorgeous, the balance fantastic. A treat wine for any day of the week, if you will. One of my stand-outs of late.

 


Fresh & Crisp

Cave de Lugny, Mâcon-Lugny
Normally €17.95, now €13.95

Though I prefer the richer style of Burgundy (see the last wine as an example) this is a really good (and currently great value) example of crisp, refreshing, unoaked Chardonnay for those who like their wines on the zestier side. Pure, clean and lemony, it would be great with some summer salads.

 

 

 

Hugel RieslingHugel Riesling
Normally €19.95, now €15.96

No this is not sweet. Much has been written about the public’s unwillingness to take to Riesling due to its unfortunate historical association with sickly sweet, branded confections. The reality, as ever in wine, is far from the common perception but it’s unlikely that consumers’ negative view of this noble grape is unlikely to change. Which, for the rest of us, means that it will continue to be good value, at least.

Here’s a great example of the grape, and in an approachable style too – yes there’s the limey, stoney character typical of the style but it’s rounded out and more textured than others can be, while still retaining the trademark zingy acidity. A delicious drop.

 

Fire Up the Barbie

Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône

Was €15.45, now €12.36

Côtes du Rhône ranks among Chablis, Chianti, Bordeaux and others as one of those regions that people call for by name, often without any reference for winemaker, brand or any other additional info. The unfortunate side effect of this popularity is that unscrupulous producers can exploit this and provide below-par wines for premium prices, something I’ve moaned about before.

Thankfully M. Chapoutier is not one of those companies, and at this price they definitely over-delivering. Expect juicy, brambly fruit with that distinctive black peppery characteristic typical of the region.

 

Pauillac de Lynch Bages 2011

Was €38.00, now €30.40

Yes, this could be in the “Splash Out” section below, but it’s also a super barbeque wine. If you’re a lover of Bordeaux, and particularly if you’re fond of your brands and/or Irish connection, then look no further. This is drinking fantastically well now: textured, juicy but balanced fruit with blackberry and blackcurrant loveliness on a deliciously dry, long finish. Definitely a special wine for that long-overdue get-together this summer, with a nice steak of course.

 


Splash Out

Domaine Olivier, Santenay Blanc, Clos des ChampsDomaine Olivier, Santenay Blanc, Clos des Champs
Normally €33.95, now €27.16

This was one of two whites on Burgundy übermensch Raymond Blake‘s table, and it just simply blew my mind. The world should taste wines like this and realise what it’s been missing in its race to de-oak chardonnay.

Gorgeously supple and textured, it offers up layers of undulatingly delicious flavours and a length that goes on forever. Very highly recommended.