Tag Archives: Pinot Noir

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.

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Some Valentine’s Day Sparkling Rosés

This post originally appeared on TheTaste.ie


I think many people are unduly harsh about Valentine’s Day; where others see a day where they’re ‘forced’ to jump through hoops, I simply see another excuse to enjoy myself. Think about it: what are the clichéd components on Valentine’s Day? Posh chocolates, flowers, a nice meal and some good wine, all shared with your loved one … if you find cause to dislike any of the above then I think you’re missing out on one of life’s pleasures.

And yes, it’s been over-commercialised, but what hasn’t been nowadays? As Alfred Wainwright famously said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” So change your mind-set about Valentine’s Day: grab someone you love (whether romantically or platonically), pick up one of the delicious bottles of wine below, put together some gorgeous food, and enjoy the fact that you’ve been given another excuse to experience some of the finer things in life.

 

Jacob's Creek Sparkling RoseJacob’s Creek Sparkling Rosé

RSP €18.49, but currently on offer in O’Brien’s Wines for €17

I’ll readily admit that, in my early years in the wine trade, I ensured that I volubly turned my nose up at Jacob’s Creek in order to reassert the fact that I was now a wine professional.

However, when I actually tasted the stuff I was surprised – then delighted – to find that it’s actually quite tasty stuff. Not complex, not life-changing, but very tasty and quite enjoyable indeed. It has simple strawberry and cranberry flavours, nice lively bubbles and a touch of sweetness to help it all slide down easily.

If you’re just looking for enjoyable pink fizz, then you can’t go wrong with this old reliable.

 

Graham Beck Vintage Brut RoseGraham Beck Vintage Sparkling Rosé
RSP €29.99 from The Corkscrew, Dublin; WineOnline.ie; and other good independent off-licences nationwide.
Currently on offer for €24.95 from Mitchell & Sons, Dublin

South African winery Graham Beck is famous for their sparkling wines, with the company’s efforts often being held up as the very definition of the Methode Cap Classique, South Africa’s version of the traditional Champagne method.

Their regular Graham Beck Sparkling Brut has been enjoyed by Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama, Prince Harry, and Bono, amongst many others and here they apply the same care and attention to a single-vintage rosé which has been lauded by critics worldwide.

This is basically rosé Champagne in everything but name: made with two of the traditional Champagne grapes – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – it’s produced via the traditional Champagne method and has the typically light yeasty aromas and creamy complexity with strawberry pastry all the way to the long finish. A very fine example of the style.

 

Devaux RoseDevaux Cuvée Rosé

RSP €59.99 from Fallon & Byrne; Clontarf Wines; Thomas’s of Foxrock; Terroirs, Donnybrook; WineOnLine.ie; and Miller and Cook, Mullingar

If you’d like to impress your loved one with a slightly more obscure Champagne, this rosé offering from a lesser-known Champagne House is a must, especially when it over-delivers on flavour given the price.

Expect strawberries and raspberries of course but I got lots of hazelnuts and white pepper from this very delicate wine too, a richness that belies Devaux’s location at the region’s sunnier southern location. A really fine treat and a rare find.

 

Bollinger Rose╠üBollinger Rosé

RSP €85 from O’Brien’s Wines, nationwide; Fresh Supermarkets, Dublin: Joyce’s of Galway; Ardkeen Superstores, Waterford; and other good independents nationwide.
Currently on offer from Mitchell & Sons for €65.95.

When all the stops are being pulled out, then really you need look no further than Bollinger Rosé. Like Devaux above, Bollinger are proud of and famous for their Pinot Noir, using a substantial proportion of it in all of their Champagnes which gives them that distinctive Bollinger body and character.

But it wasn’t until 2008 that Bollinger decided to create the Rosé to let their Pinot shine more brightly, and it’s a wonder why they waited so long. It has a distinctive, deep strawberries-and-cream flavour topped with cinnamon and spice. Really, this can’t but be enjoyed with the most decadent, fine foods, like oyster, scallops and even red meats delicately done, such as beef carpaccio.

Last-Minute Christmas Wine Help!

So it’s Christmas eve-eve, and you haven’t picked up wine for the coming days yet.

No worries, there’s still time, and to help I’ve picked out some favourites from a few importer/retailers around the country, so that hopefully some of my suggestions below shouldn’t be too far from where you live.

Please not though that for the sake of brevity I’ve picked out only a tiny selection of wines I’ve sampled recently from importers that have invited me to their tastings, so obviously this is by no means a definitive or exhaustive list.

As such the best default course of action – as I’ve always strongly recommended – is to go into your local independent off-licence (not supermarket) and tell someone there what you’re looking for; you’ll almost always end up with something exactly what you’re looking for and usually something better than expected, as well as supporting local businesses. Win win.

There are a couple of whites and a couple of reds from each supplier that I think will be pretty fail-safe for the coming days, covering both party wines and special bottles.

Good luck and merry Christmas!


NATIONWIDE: O’Brien’s

Wth outlets now in Cork, Limerick, Galway and lots of other places, you’re not too far from an O’Brien’s and their great range of wines.
Open Wednesday 23rd & Thursday 24th: until 8pm or 9pm (click here to check your local store)
Brocard Chablis – now €18.99
I covered this recently in my post about the recent O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale, and I’ve no problem recommending it again: simultaneously steely, mineral and generous, this is textbook Chablis at a great price.

Château Fuisse Saint Veran – now €19.99
Though I would normally choose the more expensive wines of the Château Fuisse range – such as the Pouilly Fuissé ‘Tête de Cru’ I reviewed in the O’Brine’s Fine Wine Sale post, for €20 this is a great introduction to the brand and a fantastic white Burgundy in general. Zingy and refreshing but with some of that creamy oak influence underneath, this is perfect for those recovering from the oak overload of old.

Bellow’s Rock Shiraz – now €9.99
A consistently very good wine that’s always excellent value, this has all you’d want from Shiraz but without the usual blowsy, over-cooked characters: weight, balance and drinkability. An above-par party wine.

Monte Real Rioja Reserva – now €13.99
I continue to be perplexed as to how O’Brien’s continue to source this wine at this price. Rioja Reservas usually start around the €20 mark, but Monte Real often appears well below €15, which shouldn’t be possible given the quality. Still, take advantage while you can and buy a case or two then this comes on sale: it has all the trademark Rioja characteristics of dark fruit with vanilla and leather over a silky supple palate. A real Christmas winner.

 

KILKENNY: Le Caveau
An award-winning Burgundy specialist, it would be remiss of me not to feature some of my (slightly) more affordable favourites from the iconic region
Open Wednesday 23rd until 10pm, and Thursday 24th from 10.30am – 4.30pm

Olivier Leflaive, Bourgogne Blanc – €20.40
And excellent basic Bourgogne from an iconic producer, this ticks all the boxes and comes in at barely a shade over €20. Really highly recommended.

Vincent Girardin, Savigny-Les-Beaune ‘Vermots Dessus’ – The 2011 I tasted is €28.70, but the last bottles of 2006 are currently on sale for the silly price of €15 Complex and creamy with excellent length, this is a really excellent, characterful Burgundy.

Louis Boillot, Bourgogne Rouge – €26.50
Beautifully fragrant and smoky, with sweet red fruit and a herbal tinge. Soft and generous and surprisingly complex for a basic Bourgogne.

Maison Ambroise, Cotes de Nuits Villages – €28.90
My tasting notes say that this tastes of Christmas, so no better time to grab a bottle then! Clove and baking spices are overlaid by brambly red fruits and a lush expressiveness.

 

GALWAY: Cases Wine Warehouse
A great outlet run with passion, yet not lacking in some great-value finds
Open Wednesday 23rd until 7pm and Thursday 24th from10am to 3pm

Autoritas Reserva Viognier – now €9.95
I had this marked as “Very Good Value for Money” when it was €11.95, so now it’s Excellent Value for Money at the discounted price for Christmas. A surprising treat for the cost, it’s full and rich with peach and honey, though beware the 14% alcohol!

Lady Sauvignon – €11.95
Another bargain from Chile. Though it’s typically expressive and flavoursome in the New World style, I found the acidity to be a little less aggressive than we come to expect from the style. Everything else is in place, such as the grassy pea characteristics. One to buy in bulk.

Mister Shiraz – €13.95
Yes, you guessed it, Mister Shiraz is the partner to Lady Sauvignon above. But I’m not featuring it just to complete the pair: I found this to be much lighter than expected, which is a pleasant surprise as New World Shiraz at this price tends to be over-blown. Still, it’s deep and satisfying with blueberry and blackberry flavours.

Bagante Mencia – €13.95
One of my favourites from the Cases tasting a few months back, and again great value for money (a running theme from Cases it seems). I wrote about this for TheTaste.ie before, and I’d recommend it again: juicy, fresh, lively and all pleasure, it’s fun and sun in a glass.

 

BORDER COUNTIES: JN Wine
The famous JN Wine company has its wholesale business both north and south of the border and offer a mail-order service to match, but as it’s too late to avail of the latter then you’ll have to hop over to their store in Crossgar, Co. Down, to grab some of the bottles below.
(For more you can read a recent profile on James Nicholson – the JN of the company name – in the Irish Times here)

Sartarelli Verdicchio Classico – €14.99
I found this to be very good value for money: fresh and easy with approachable tropical fruit, but the palate still has some weight and seriousness to it. I’d say this would be a very versatile choice at the Christmas table.

Weingut Salwey, “Salwey RS” Weissburgunder – €21.99
Weissburgunder is the German name for Pinot Blanc, and this is a fine, rich example of the variety: it straddles the line between freshness and creaminess, giving sprightly citrus fruits over a lightly waxy palate. I’d recommend reading this post by Frankie Cook, where he gives a more detailed post on the background of this wine.

Bodegas Paco Garcia, Rioja Crianza – €18.99
Ah yes, where would Christmas be without Rioja? This is a younger Crianza style though, and as such is fresher and livelier than the Reservas we’re usually used to drinking. I thought the texture of this wine was excellent to, giving an all-round, crowd-pleasing quality drop.

Domaine Fournier, Bourgogne Rouge – €24.50
Yes, another Bourgogne Rouge, but when done well it really is excellent and the ideal Christmas wine in my opinion. Fournier produce another excellent example, with the texture of this wine the first thing to catch my attention, followed by some clove and Christmas spices. A really delicious wine.

O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale 2015

It’s that time again: the annual O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale has just kicked off as of 10.30am this morning, Thursday 3rd December.

O’Brien’s are always good at special offers throughout the entire year, but those looking for something a little more special in the run-up to Christmas are well catered by this conveniently-timed sale of some special bottles. Unsurprisingly, most of the offers concentrate on the richer, more warning styles of wine, which befit the time of year (riper, richer Bordeaux is particularly well represented).

The selection is such that the wines can be enjoyed this month or put away for a while – indeed I still have a few bottles from past Fine Wine Sales lying around, and if you play your cards right you can get a nice rotating system going on: buy some wines in the sale now and open some from last year or the year before, and so on, building up a tidy little cellar along the way.

Below are some wines I’ve enjoyed recently that are now available at a great price. The sale is mostly only available in-store and may vary from location to location, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something great in your local shop.

 


 

Laurent-Perrier Brut
Was €53.99 now €39.99

Laurent-Perrier is one of my favourite Champagne houses, and at €40 this is a steal. The quality is superb, and manages to be both delicate and generous with a really fine mousse. A really excellent and historic Champagne now at a silly price – what’s not to love?

 

Brocard Chablis
Was €24.99 now €18.99

Christmas and Chablis are like, well, turkey and ham. The generic “Chablis” appellation can throw up some less than appealing bottles however, so knowing your producer is important. I tasted Brocard’s Chablis recently and was really impressed by it: displaying very typical steely mineral characteristics, this is long and very more-ish. An excellent example of the style.

 

Château Fuisse, Pouilly Fuissé Tête de Cru
Was €31.99 now €27.99

Oaked Chardonnay has had a bad rep over recent years, but done well it’s hard to beat. Rely on the Burgundians, then, to continue to fly the flag for the style: this Pouilly Fuissé from Château Fuisse is a gorgeously creamy and beautifully expressive Chardonnay, which is both rich and yet with an edge of fresh herbaceousness underneath.

“Les Clos”, another version from the same producer, is also available for €34.50 (down from €46) and is also superb, but the Tête de Cru gives great bang for your buck.

 

Château Fourcas-Hosten 2004
Was €26.99 now €19.99

I tasted both the 2004 and 2009 vintages of this wine and was mightily impressed by the 2004, which was showing some age with some nice savoury, barnyard characteristics and nicely developed tannin that will be fantastic with wintery meaty dishes.

O’Brien’s do very well at regularly sourcing older bottles and bringing them to the masses at keen prices, and this is an excellent example of that. My Bordeaux bargain of the winter.

 

Man O’War Dreadnought Syrah
Was €35.49 now €29.99

Incredibly intense, brooding and powerful, smoky and concentrated, this is a hugely warming and peppery, spicy powerhouse of a wine which has to be experienced to be believed. At €30 this is a bargain for anyone who loves big, serious Syrah.

 

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Reserva
Was €23.99 now €16.99

This is one of my favourite Rioja producers (along with Muga) and at €17 this is a fantastic price to pick up a bottle – nay, a case. All the characteristics we love about Rioja are there, but with heightened quality and balance: vanilla (but not too much), leather, tobacco, cedar – this is a delicately balanced but still hedonistic wine that’s made for Christmas.

The Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Gran Reserva is also available for €24.99 (down from €34.99) but as I haven’t tasted it I can’t comment – but given the quality of Murrieta in general it’s likely to be a good bet.

 

1757 Bordeaux 2012
Was €49.99 now €37.49

This is an interesting one as it’s a collaboration between O’Brien’s and Domaines Jean-Michel Cazes, known here for their ever-popular Château Lynch-Bages. Head wine buyer Lynne Coyle MW has worked with Daniel Llose in Bordeaux for the last four years to being this to Irish shores, so effectively it’s a completely exclusive wine tailored for the Irish wine market.

This is definitely in the more ripe, full, hedonistic style often referred to as ‘New Bordeaux’ – it’s rich and supple with concentrated red and black fruits and a clear streak of vanilla oak. It’s definitely enjoyable now but would need a good decant beforehand, or, following my suggestion above, lay it down and enjoy it in a couple of years or more.

(There’s some nice detail on the wine on the O’Brien’s website here)

Happy 1st Birthday to TheTaste.ie

I can’t believe it’s only been a year since TheTaste.ie opened its virtual doors to the Irish public. The Irish public, for its part, has wholeheartedly embraced Ireland’s new online food & drink destination, with a mind-boggling 1.7m unique users visiting the site per month and literally tens of thousands of people following them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For comparison, the IrishTimes.com has 6.1m users per month, but then they have the advantage of 156 years in print and 21 years online (they were the first Irish paper on the web in 1994). So for TheTaste.ie to garner 28% of the IrishTimes.com readership in 4% of the time is impressive by any standard.

Such has been the success of the site that owners Keith and Julie Mahon have since assembled a small but passionate team of full-timers to help handle the exponential expansion of the TheTaste.ie, as well as a solid portfolio of contributors (yours truly included, if you don’t mind me saying so).

The popularity of TheTaste.ie looks far from being a flash in the pan and we can expect to see this indigenous success story continue for many years to come. But what next? TheTaste.ie line of food items? A TheTaste.ie restaurant? Given the energy of these guys I wouldn’t discount anything!

Anyway, below is my most recent article for them where I make a clichéd attempt to match wines with countries participating in the Rugby World Cup. But given that today, Monday 19th October, is the day after we lost out to Argentina in the RWC quarter final, then the below may be too soon after the fact for some…!


This is an article from the October issue of TheTaste.ie

You may not have noticed it, but there’s a Rugby World Cup going on right now. It’s just too irresistible to avoid matching wines to the countries participating in the tournament. Grab some of these wines the next time their respective teams are playing and have your own head-to-head at home.

 

England

Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011 – from €49.99  available from Mitchell & Son and McHugh’s Off-Licences

Anybody with any interest in sparkling wine cannot have missed the rising star that is English sparkling wine, which many in the wine trade now beginning to agree are seriously rivalling Champagne in terms of quality. The same need not be said of their rugby team though, who have always been world class (thought the Welsh might beg to differ!)

This Hattingly Valley blend (or “cuvee”) has been one of my favourites so far, a blend of 71% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir & 9% Pinot Meunier, it’s very fresh but still has a luxurious richness thanks to some barrel fermentation. Saline, toasty, electric and, importantly, delicious.

 

France

Jean Claude Mas, Piquepoul de Pinet ‘Frisant’Jean Claude Mas, Piquepoul de Pinet ‘Frisant’ – from €15.95  available from Deveney’s Dundrum, Clontarf Wines, Jus de Vine Portmarnock, Martin’s Fairview and 64wine Glasthule

Ah, the French. If they’re not stubbornly going against the grain, they’re being louche and languid and shrugging with Gallic nonchalance. Much like their rugby team in fact, who can sometimes either fight to the death or not bother at all, though unfortunately for their rivals they tend to bring their A Game to world tournaments.

Piquepoul (or Picpoul) is perhaps best known for the light and zippy Picpoul de Pinet, I was surprised then to see it as a sparkling version. When tasting this I was told that a certain Monsieur Jean Claude Mas wanted this wine to be a “Prosecco Killer”, and after tasting this the famous Italian bubbly is now extinct in my book. Honeyed, creamy, but still dry, this is deliciously elegant and great value.

 

Italy

Michele Biancardi, Uno più UnoMichele Biancardi, Uno più Uno€14.75 available from JNwine.com

The Italians, though relatively new to top-flight rugby, are known to play with plenty of heart and determination, despite suffering some heavy defeats in the past. Thankfully though they’ve been improving in recent years, much like their wines. Of course, Italy has always had fine wine, but the bulk of it has tended to be simplistic ‘table wine’ until a few decades ago. Now most winemakers in almost every region have turned their attention to quality over quantity.

This is a wine from Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’, which has traditionally provided gutsy, rustic table wines. This wine, however, from Michele Biancardi is a perfect example of increased quality now available from the region. Made with two grape varieties native to the area, the famous Primitivo and less well-known Nero di Troia, this is smooth, rich, fragrant, absolutely delicious and a steal for just under €15.

 

South Africa

Doran Vineyards Chenin BlancDoran Vineyards Chenin Blanc – from €17.99 available from Kinnegar.com and Mitchell & Son

South Africa, Japanese slip-ups aside, are known for being a big, bruising, world class team. Luckily their wines, though also world-class, are rarely as brawny as their rugby players, given the Springbok wine producers’ emphasis on balance and elegance in recent decades.

Chenin Blanc might surprise many as being South Africa’s foremost ‘adopted’ white grape, though they do have a considerable track record with the variety. This is a good example of South African Chenin done well and for not too much money. The palate is weighty but fresh with fragrant honeysuckle, grilled nuts and a twist of lemon.

 

New Zealand

Saint Clair Premium Marlborough Pinot NoirSaint Clair Premium Marlborough Pinot Noir – from €19.99 available from Mitchell & Son and Baggot Street Wines

Ah, the famous, and feared, the All Blacks. Even those who don’t follow rugby are fully aware of New Zealand’s dominance of the game; and the same can now be said of the traditionally French Pinot Noir too, for the grape is now almost completely synonymous with the Kiwi nation.

Here is a Kiwi Pinot that not only tastes good, but helpfully is in a very apt all black outfit too, the Saint Clair Marlborough Premium Pinot Noir. Silky and concentrated with blackcurrant and violets, this is a classy drop and a great representation of New Zealand’s take on one of France’s most precious grapes.

A Foray into Niepoort

I was lucky to be invited to a preview of  Niepoort wines the night before the Wine Mason portfolio tasting a short while back (though I could not make the portfolio tasting itself, unfortunately).

I must admit that, apart from a brush with one or two of their famous ports, I was completely unfamiliar with Niepoort until recently. As mentioned, Niepoort is perhaps most famous for its Ports, but the last couple of decades have seen this shipper place much more focus on its dry reds. In particular, it’s the 5th generation of this famous wine family, Dirk Niepoort, who has made it his particular goal to expand the expertise of this historic wine family beyond the fortified.

Exchequer Charcuterie
Charcuterie … lots and lots of charcuterie

The Niepoort family has been creating Port wines since 1842, but it wasn’t until 1991 when Dirk Niepoort started a new era in the company with the creation of their first red dry wine, “Redoma”. What followed was a white in similar vein, then an alternative red – all receiving exalted praise. The rest, as they say, is history.

Indeed, Hugh Johnson has high praise for this sea-change, noting in his famous Wine Companion that, “With restless energy [Dirk] Niepoort continues to acquire small estates and parcels from which he produces an expanding portfolio of table wines of remarkable character and individuality, and usually steering clear of the massive, oaky styles that are coming to dominate the region.” High praise, then.

In recent years Niepoort have looked to Dão and Bairrada, completing what they call “The Niepoort Triangle” of different terroirs: Schist  in the Douro, Limestone in Bairrada and Granite in Dão, creating a range of wines vinified to best represent these areas and their particular characteristics.

And so it was that I found myself amongst a small group of esteemed wine trade colleagues within the big and bright front window of The Exchequer Wine Bar in Ranelagh. Paulo Silva, export manager at Niepoort, was on hand to provide the background info for each wine, though if I’m to be absolutely honest I was a little too distracted by the mountains of gorgeous charcuterie laid on by The Exchequer to fully take in everything he said. Below are my thoughts nevertheless…

 


 

Dócil Loureiro, Vinho Verde 2014
€16.95 from Searsons, The Corkscrew, and Hole in the Wall

Vinho Verde carries with it something of a bad rep, if it’s known at all. This huge, expansive area – Portugal’s largest wine region – is most famed for producing easy, quaffable wines that offer simple transient pleasure and nothing much else.

A Vinho Verde can be a blend of a number of grapes in varying proportions; can be red, white or rosé; can range from dry to slightly sweet; and may or may not be slightly spritzy. Oh, and often they don’t bother declaring the vintage either. No surprise then why the region isn’t often taken seriously.

The most popular, or at least well-known, grape here is Alvarinho – better known by its Spanish name Albariño and the Rías Baixas region in which its produced – though other grapes used are Loureiro, Trajadura, Arinto/Pedernã, Avesso, and Azal Branco. No, I’ve never heard of any of them either.

But as it the trend worldwide, some serious wines are being made in historically less-than-serious places, with Vinho Verde one such example and Niepoort one such producer.

The wine has tropical fruits, peach and pear drops on the nose; the palate is fleshy and long with a touch of a slight bitterness at the end. Very good quality and a great alternative white for the summer.

 

Niepoort Rótulo, Dão 2013
€16.95 from Green Man Wines, Redmond’s, Corkscrew, Gibney’s, Blackrock Cellar, Terroirs, Drinks Store, Hole in the Wall, Donnybrook Fair

I’ve written about this before and it’s quickly become one of my favourites for a number of reasons: the flavour being one of course, but the price being another, and the surreal labelling a feather in the cap of this remarkable wine.

However on this occasion the wine seemed different to me: more vivacious acidity and brambly, juicy sweet fruit versus the taut intensity I’d experienced at The Corkscrew Wine Fair. This perplexed me until later I discovered it was the 2013 that was poured and not the 2012 as per the tasting sheet (and the fair), which would explain things somewhat. Either way this is still a very recommended wine.

 

Niepoort Lagar de BaixoLagar de Baixo, Bairrada 2012
€23.95 from Baggot Street Wines

This is 100% Baga, for which Dirk Niepoort has a “huge passion” apparently. This is something he’s had to keep in check for some while now, grabbing some small parcels of the grape whenever he could from various disparate estates. But finally in 2012 Dirk was able to acquire Quinta de Baixo and its 25ha. of Baga vines, and thus resurrect the Lagar de Baixo brand.

A meaty nose with dark cherries over a spicy peppery palate that’s nevertheless medium-bodied. Just the right amount of acidity and fruit; delish. Paulo admitted that this is made in a “modern, reductive” style, so accordingly could do with a little airing out beforehand … or let the bottle breathe naturally as you drink it all over the course of an evening with friends, which is the far more Portuguese way of doing things.

 

Niepoort PoeirinhoPoeirinho, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 from The Corkscrew

This is also 100% Baga, and was a really beautiful and elegant wine, with a floral characteristic and violets evident. The palate was light but expressively juicy and refreshing – this was very, very good, with my notes stating that it was a ‘contemplative wine’ – Paulo concurred, mentioning it was “expressive, a wine for smelling”, and that characteristically it was “between Pinot and Nebbiolo”. A really excellent wine, my star of the evening.

 

Niepoort ConcisoConciso, Dao 2012
€39.95 but not available in Ireland, though Wine Mason say they may be reconsidering this

A mix of 40% Baga, 30% Jaen, and 30% of “others”, this, I found, has a more funky, feral characteristic with heat and spice more to the fore. It had very lovely, dark, damson fruit elements to it and the acidity was just right, with a grippy yet light finish. Many will love it, but for my money the more elegant Poeirinho for the same price was more to my taste.

 

Syrah, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 but not available in Ireland

Another funky, reductive nose blew off after a short while of swirling to give a more approachable, chunky, chocolatey characteristic. The palate, though, was very surprisingly light and elegant, with an almost saline element to it; I noted white pepper and black olive too – in other words a Northern Rhône style, which is exactly what they’re aiming for (and a region for which Dirk has great affection, apparently. He’s full of affection, Dirk is).

Indeed, Paulo noted that this was “atypical of the region, a winemaker’s wine” which was originally meant to be Merlot, but since that didn’t work out to plan they tried Syrah instead, given they’d a 1ha. plot of 20+ year old Syrah vines hidden in plain sight at Quinta de Baixo.

A winemaker’s wine indeed: it’s aged for 20 months in one single 2500L barrel of Austrian oak, is a variety that should be nowhere near Portugal and is produced biodynamically … in other words a fantastic, caution-to-the-wind experiment for which we are all grateful beneficiaries, for I found this to be really excellent. Hopefully it’ll be available in Ireland soon!

The Lidl French Wine Selection for Easter 2015

Lidl invited me to taste through a range of French wines they’ll be introducing to Irish stores this Easter, appearing on-shelf from Monday 3rd March.

I’m always impressed by how both Lidl and Aldi manage to source some really decent wines for pittance, a skill which they are both getting better at and gaining recognition for. OK, they may not be the most complex wines that are representative of their terroir or vintage, but they do tend to be very enjoyable for very little money, and for that they should be lauded.

So below are my picks of the wines they’ll have in-store from next week, but first a round-up of the sparkling wines which they have available year-round…

 


 

The Bubbles

 

Prosecco Treviso Frizzante
€7.99, available all year round
This is a simple, very fruit-forward fizz tasting mostly of pear drops. Not exactly interesting but it really is unbeatable at this price.

Arestel Cava
€10.49, available all year round
I was a little amazed at how muted this was – not bad, but not good either, just … meh. So not a terrible decision if you’re desperate for some fully-sparkling bubbly at a ridiculous price like this, just don’t expect any typical Cava character.

Marquis de Plagne, Crémant d’Alsace
€12.99, available all year round
Though the nose is nice and floral, the palate is simple and inoffensive. Still, an OK steely sparkler from an often over-looked region.

Comte de Brismand Champagne
€19.99, available all year round
A relatively simple and straightforward Champagne, some floral characteristics and noticeable acidity. A little aggressive initially it softens out to a creamy but still slightly tart palate. Twice as good as, say, Moet et Chandon, at half the price.

Bissinger & Co. Champagne Premium Cuvée
€29.99, from 2nd February until stocks last
Ironically, this is positively stratospheric price-wise in Lidl terms, but relative to Champane prices everywhere else outside of the German discounters you’re only really getting started at €30.
It’s hard not to call this a “baby Bollinger”, given the rich grilled nuts aromas and the equally rich and creamy, brioche-tinged palate. Granted, the length is only medium and the bubbles could be finer, but at €30 this is a steal.

 


 The Whites

To be honest the whites were disappointing, with the majority of them being flabby and lacking in the crucial acidity needed for some decent balance. This is despite the inclusion of an Alsace Gran Cru for a paltry €12.99, but even that didn’t warrant its price tag, despite its esteemed provenance.

Lidl Pouilly FumeThere was, however, one diamond in the rough for me, but at €12.99 for this I’d still opt for, say, Aldi’s excellent Gavi at €8 approx. any time:

 

Les Vignes de Saint Laurent l’Abbaye, Pouilly-Fumé 2013
€12.99
This had some nice smoky/flinty notes on the nose and lively white stone fruit on the palate with gooseberry and asparagus showing. OK at this price.

 


 

The Reds: Bordeaux

 

Lidl Chateau ArnaudChâteau Arnaud 2012
€9.99
A really quite nice ‘entry level’ Bordeaux: blackcurrant and oak, with a rich enough palate and nice tannin. Everything present and correct.

 

Lidl Chateau PithivierChâteau Pithivier 2011
€9.99
Much richer nose than the Arnaud with dark red fruit evident over a soft lush palate with noticeable blackcurrant. Very good.

 

Lidl Chateau de ClotteChâteau de Clotte, Côtes de Castillon 2010
€12.99
The most  complex nose thusfar with cedar and blackcurrant trading blows over a light a fragrant palate

 

Lidl Domaine la RocheDomaine la Roche, Pessac-Léognan 2008
€19.99
The joint oldest vintage in the tasting, this had a beautiful perfumed nose with black tea and evident oak. The palate was nicely balanced and flavoursome. It’s rare to get a readily-aged Bordeaux from one of the best vintages of the last decade in your local German discounter for €20, so I’ll be picking up a bottle of this to try again at home.

 

Lidl L’Enclos de Chateau Saint PeyL’Enclos de Château Saint Pey, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2011
€13.99
This had a bloody, meaty fragrance, which isn’t as unappealing as it sounds, promise! The palate was supple and rich(ish) with nicely integrated tannin. Very good and a great price.

 

Lidl Tour de LarozeTour de Laroze, Margaux 2008
€17.99
The other oldest vintage in the tasting. All was present and correct here but I felt there was better value to be had at lower price points. It was nice, though, and great if you feel the pressure to have the famous Margaux name on your dining room table.

 


 

The Reds: Rhône

 

Château Notre Dame des Veilles, Côtes-du-Rhône 2013
€8.99
A ridiculous price for a CDR, though its flavour profile was very much on the lighter, bubblegum and boiled sweets side of things.

 

Lidl Saint JosephSaint-Joseph 2012
€12.99
Again, another ridiculous price, but then this is Lidl after all. This was really very good, with a smoky, black pepper nose with some grilled meat evident. It had a silky peppery palate that was soft and spicy. I’ll definitely be picking up a bottle on my travels for this money.

 

Lidl VacqueyrasSerabel Vacqueyras 2012
€12.99
Though the nose was rather muted the palate was better, with floral rose and cherry flavours with some raspberry. The Saint-Joseph is much better in my opinion but it’s good to have options.