Showing posts with label England. Show all posts
Showing posts with label England. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Three Fine Bubbles to Ring in the New Year.

Three Fine Bubbles
To Ring in the New Year

Champagne can be expensive, sometimes very expensive indeed. But there are some excellent alternatives out there at more attractive prices. And I’m not talking Cava or Prosecco here. The three below come from France, Germany and England. And one, the Saint Hilaire, was being made a hundred years before champagne and indeed I’ve read that Dom Perignon may well have learned a trick or two here. Don’t know how much truth is in that one.
Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux brut 2010 (Languedoc-Roussillon, France), 12%, €23.35 Karwig Wines

This is France’s oldest sparkling wine, produced by the Methode Traditionnelle where it is naturally fermented in the bottle. It was first created by the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Saint Hilaire over 450 years ago. Written records survive from 1531. The abbey is 25 miles south of Carcassonne.

The main grape in the blend is the Mauzac which is called Blanquette locally. This accounts for ninety per cent of the mix with Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay also used (up to a maximum of ten per cent). White fruits (peaches, apples) feature in the aromas. The palate is fresh and fruity, rather intense in flavour with no shortage of fine bubbles, persistently on the up. This is real bubbles. Think non-vintage champagne at a fraction of the price! Very Highly Recommended.

Furst von Metternich Riesling Sekt  (Rheingau, Germany), 12.5%, €23.50, Karwig Wines

Riesling, believe it or not, is the grape here, one hundred per cent, displaying its amazing versatility in a rather elegant wine, “a wine for special moments”. You’ll note the fountain of extremely fine bubbles, always a good sign, rising through the pale yellow colour. This is a serious sparkling wine, with a fresh fruitiness (peach and tangerine), and again Very Highly Recommended.

Not sure that Karwig Wines carry them but the producers also do a sparkling Chardonnay and a sparkling Rose made from Pinot Noir.

This German winery also has quite a history, over 300 years, though their sparkling is more recent, dating from the mid 19th century, the current brand from the 1920s. The Schloss Johannisberg headquarters was destroyed in a 1942 bombardment and rebuilt by 1965.

Dermot (left), pictured with wine writer John Wilson
and Simon Tyrell (right)

Wiston Estate Blancs de Blancs NV (South Downs, England), 12%, €53.00 Le Caveau

The Wiston Estate has little by way of wine history but the South of England has in a few decades carved out quite a niche for itself in the high end of sparkling wine and one of its leading men is Dermot Sugrue from County Limerick, the winemaker at Wiston. Amazingly, the first Wiston Vines were not planted until 2006 and the first grapes picked in 2008. There are now 16ha of vines planted on the chalk slopes (same chalk as Champagne).

I won this rather expensive bottle at a pre-Christmas dinner raffle and I am keeping it for the big night - not long now! I’ve tasted it before and it is a notably agreeable companion!  

This Blanc de Blancs NV has been voted the best in England and Dermot himself told us all about it. “It has a sense of richness that belies its youth. It is one hundred per cent Chardonnay, mostly 2011 plus reserve from 2010 and has spent 18 months on its lees.” It has indeed a delicious palate, a depth of flavour with excellent balance, bubbling all the way with finesse and elegance. Again, Very Highly Recommended. Happy New Year.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sparkling and Still on Skype. Wine Geese on the World Wide Web.

Sparkling and Still on Skype.
Wine Geese on the World Wide Web.
Dermot Sugrue, at home in Wiston, talks to the tasters in Cork
A Decanter Gold Medal winner was among the wines featured at a novel international tasting based at L’Atitude 51 (Cork) last Friday as part of the nationwide Culture Night. The work of three of the younger generation of Ireland's Wine Geese was celebrated with the winemakers talking about their vineyards (in Sussex, South Africa and New Zealand), telling us all in L’Atitude about their various wines as we sipped them in Cork and watched the winemakers on Skype (big screen, bien sur).

Beverly Mathews, Colm McCann and Maurice O'Mahony, who organised the 2013 series of Wine Geese visits, were behind this venture, the first public internet wine-tasting in Ireland, and the speakers on the other side of Skype were Dermot Sugrue (Wiston Estates, Sussex), Marion Smith (Elgin Ridge, South Africa) and Fleur McCree (Little Beauty, New Zealand).

Dermot, a Limerick man, had wanted to be a winemaker since he was 16 but it was some thirteen years later before he started a Viticulture and Winemaking Course in England's Plumpton College. His progress was astonishingly rapid thereafter, much like the English sparkling wine industry, and his Wiston wines are regular award winners.

Wiston Estate vineyards are on pure chalk soil, just like in Champagne… This gives finesse, aging potential and a certain Je ne sais quoi. They are showing so beautiful, though still so young. And are in the top restaurants in the UK."

We tasted two. First up was the Blanc de Blancs NV. This has been voted the best in England. “It has a sense of richness that belies its youth. It is one hundred per cent Chardonnay, mostly 2011 plus reserve from 2010 and has spent 18 months on its lees.”

He described the Rosé 2011 as “a freak of nature”. The year was unbelievably warm, a poor Spring but a great Summer that extended into September eventually yielding very ripe grapes. “An accidental Rosé, our most successful wine, still very young and so exuberant early on.

“That exuberance is now fading and it is maturing into a sour cherry type. From over one hundred English sparkling wines, this Rosé has won one of just Decanter three golds.” It may be a freak of nature but Dermot hopes to replicate it in 2014. This year has been similar in many respects to 2011 and fingers are crossed for the harvest next month.

Marion, in the vineyard
Next stop was Elgin Ridge in South Africa and here we met Marion Smith (right) from Ballyjamesduff - her cousins still run the family farm there. The farming goes on at Elgin Ridge and Marian is the largest breeder of Dexter cattle (the native Irish breed) in the Western Cape. Sheep “mow” the grass between the vines. Elgin Ridge is organic.

The Dexters
But there were no vines there when Marion and her husband Brian arrived about eight years back. The farm had lain idle for some time and that made it easier to go organic. “We are living the dream and have wonderful workers here.” 

As she spoke the vineyard behind rapidly fell into total darkness. “I miss the long bright evenings sitting out in Ireland”, she said and invited anyone visiting in the area to drop in and see them. Be sure and take a look at the website. It is a gorgeous place, so many animals.

We tasted their 282 Sauvignon Blanc. The vineyard is 282 metres above sea level and the vines benefit from the cool afternoon breeze and the proximity of the ocean. It is a different style of Sauvignon Blanc with a beautiful freshness.

Fleur McCree, whose ancestors (the Cox family) hail from Passage West, is a serious winemaker but is always game for a laugh. We were thanking her for getting up early in Marlborough until she pulled the curtain behind her and showed us the Tower Bridge in London. Fleur spends much of her time on the road selling her gorgeous Little Beauty wines.

Marlborough is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc but this time we were tasting Little Beauty’s Pinot Gris. “We have a tiny strip of Pinot Gris. ..The bad weather doesn't get to the East Coast … We have huge sunshine hours and not much rain… Hot by day, cold by night is good for Pinot Gris.”

"It is a prolific grower, too much so, too much fruit is no good! You must discipline the variety, quite hard - cut the bunches by hand! It is also thick-skinned and that stops the sunshine getting through. So open up the canopy to aid ripening. The fruit is hand harvested and it is gentle handling all the way after that".

“The aromas are herbaceous, stone fruits (peaches, nectarines). It is almost creamy, hints of mild spice. Notice that textured element when you lick your lips and inside your mouth. It is an interesting wine from a sensation perspective, oily and concentrated. It is better served not so cold as it then expresses itself better, not so shy. It is a very popular variety, very approachable.” It sure is. One of the best of its kind as far as I am concerned!

“What would you pair it with?”, somebody queried.
“With your cornflakes,” came the rapid reply. “One of your five a day!”.  She did go on to say Asian, particularly Asian with nuts, peanut Satay is her own favourite. She also recommended Pork belly with chilli and garlic etc or maybe pork roast with apricots.

And then she pulled that curtain, bringing this innovative long distance tasting to an end.