€65 from Morgan’s Wines, 64wines, Glasthule, Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown and Clontarf Wines.
Fresh citrus blossom aromas, with a touch of oak; gorgeous mineral-driven lemon and lime zest with green apples and some rich fruit too. Linear with a distinctive saline finish. Not unlike a top Puligny-Montrachet with its racy acidity and structure. A brilliant wine, but one for the long haul. 18/20
Over the last few decades, the Brajkovich family has established Kumeu River as one of the world’s great producers of Chardonnay. The Brajkovich emigrated from Croatia in 1937. After a few years, they established what is now Kumeu Estate in West Auckland. Today the thirty-hectare estate is run by the third generation of the family. During the 1980s, Michael, Milan, and Paul began moving towards producing high-quality wines made from Chardonnay. Unable to expand further in Auckland due to high real estate prices, the family purchased some vineyards in Hawke’s Bay in 2017.
Kumeu River produces a range of excellent Chardonnays, including four single vineyard wines, a delicious traditional method Crémant and a very good Pinot Noir. I have twice taken part in blind tastings where most experienced tasters present, including myself, believed the Kumeu River wines to be fine Burgundies!
First puvblished in The Irish Times, Saturday 24th February, 2018
I have tasted a lot of Chardonnay over the last ten days; at an excellent masterclass on Margaret River, courtesy of Wine Australia, then an even better masterclass on Meursault from the Bourgogne, and best of all, an excellent bottle of Meursault shared with good friends alongside a dish of turbot.
Sadly neither Meursault nor Margaret River have anything to offer under €40, although both can offer reasonable value for money. But as Chardonnay, one of the greatest white grape varieties, is widely planted throughout the wine world, there is no shortage of alternatives. Chardonnay is essentially a white wine trying to be red. It certainly can be one of the richest, most textured white wines, although this depends on where it is grown and when it is picked. For maximum enjoyment, serve cool but not ice-cold.
And so to the question of oak. Many consumers still remember the buttery, oaky Chardonnays of the early 2000’s and are wary of ever trying a glass again. Rest assured that these wines are a thing of the past. The vast majority are now either completely unoaked, or oaked in such a subtle manner you won’t notice it. A Chardonnay made from grapes picked early or from a cool climate (such as Chablis) will be fresh, crisp and dry. To be technical, if the winemaker hasn’t put it through malo-lactic fermentation, aged it in oak barrels or stirred the lees, it will be lighter and fresher still. These days most wines are made from a blend of all of the above to give greater complexity and balance.
The key to enjoying the more full-bodied style of Chardonnay is food. A wine that seems big and powerful on its own provides a perfect backdrop for all sorts of rich fish dishes – prawns, salmon, tuna, black sole or turbot, especially if it has a creamy or buttery sauce. It can also be paired with chicken, pork and cheeses (Comté and Chardonnay is one of my favourite matches).
At times, it can be difficult to work out what style of Chardonnay you are buying, although the back label often has information. This week; four Chardonnays from different parts of the globe, but none from Chardonnay’s hometown of Burgundy. If you want to try the Burgundian version, Jus de Vine in Portmarnock have the excellent Talmard Macon-Uchizy 2016 for a bargain price of €16.99. The Limestone Coast Chardonnay below is completely unoaked and shows fresh, pure Chardonnay fruit. The Begude Etoile and Lucky Lizard both offer a subtle delicious halfway house. The Jordan is the oakiest of the four, but it still never dominates the classic Chardonnay fruit.
Aldi Exquisite Limestone Coast Chardonnay, Australia 2014 14%, €8.49
A fresh, crisp style of unoaked Chardonnay with lime zest and red apple fruits. Nicely textured with a dry finish, this would go nicely with grilled prawns or scallops in a rich creamy sauce. Stockists: Aldi
Jordan Barrel-fermented Chardonnay 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa 13.5%, €19.95
Subtle oak here, with notes of brioche and toasted hazelnuts, alongside some orange peel, red apple fruits and zesty refreshing lime. Try it with chicken or pork with a creamy pasta sauce. Stockists: Widely available nationwide through independent off-licences including: O’Donovan’s, Cork; World Wide Wines, Waterford; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Salmon’s, Ballinasloe; 1601, Kinsale
Very lightly oaked but you won’t taste it. Medium-bodied creamy apple, pear and orange fruits with a subtle note of baked bread. Perfect with chicken dishes, such as roast chicken with a herb stuffing. Stockists: O’Briens
d’Arenberg Lucky Lizard Chardonnay 2015, Adelaide Hills, Australia 13.5%, €22
Very lightly oaked. Succulent, rounded, beautifully textured Chardonnay with seductive mango and peach fruits balanced perfectly by a refreshing acidity. Try it with lightly spiced prawn dishes or salmon fish cakes. Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey; Donnybrook Fair; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Martins, Fairview; Londis, Malahide
First puyblished in The Irish Times, Saturday September 23rd, 2017
Fashion is a fickle business. In the not-too-distant past, a wine producer wondering what grape varieties to plant in a new vineyard would have gone straight for Chardonnay and Merlot.
These were, after all, the most sought-after wines around the world. Given that a vine takes three years to produce grapes and a decade to make decent wine, predicting future trends can be a dangerous business.
Nowadays, I suspect Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Malbec would be at the top of the list for any prospective producer.
But a decade or so ago, Merlot was everybody’s darling. It is widely planted in North and South America, and elsewhere, too, is relatively easy to grow and produces decent yields.
The wines are very attractive, too, medium-bodied with velvety soft, rounded plummy fruits and none of those drying tannins associated with Cabernet Sauvignon. Even better, Merlot doesn’t require lengthy ageing. All of the wines, even the very best, are drinkable from the start.
How the mighty have fallen. Merlot became a dirty word largely thanks to the 2004 movie Sideways, where Myles, the main protagonist says ‘If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f***ing Merlot.’
Suddenly, everyone wanted Myles’s favourite, Pinot Noir, instead. Sales plummeted, particularly in the US. Yet we continued to drink Merlot, sometimes unwittingly, as most of the red wines of Bordeaux and the surrounding area will contain some Merlot in the blend. In areas such as Pomerol, it makes up 100 per cent of the wine, including the most famous pure Merlot of all, Petrus.
As for Chardonnay, it may have reached tipping point when Bridget Jones began drinking large glasses to console herself after her latest disaster. Much of the Chardonnay produced back then was heavily and clumsily oaked, and often high in alcohol, too, when the world began looking for something lighter and fresher. Enter Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.
This is unfair on Chardonnay, one of the greatest grapes of all, and these days made in a much more appealing style. In my experience, most consumers love Chardonnay – until they see the label. As with Merlot, the French have us drinking it unknowingly. Just about every bottle of white Burgundy, from Chablis to Meursault to Mâcon is 100 per cent Chardonnay.
These days most less expensive Chardonnays are unoaked and a degree or two lighter in alcohol. They make great food wines, but are also perfect on their own. A good Merlot is supple and fruity; a real crowd-pleaser, in other words.
So this weekend, spare a thought for two of fashion’s forgotten victims, and try out a bottle of Chardonnay or Merlot. You should be in for a pleasant surprise.
Aresti Bellavista Chardonnay Reserva 2016 13%, €12.99 (€10 on promotion)
A very well-made, medium-bodied wine bursting with peach fruits and fresh, zesty acidity. Perfect on its own or with salmon. Stockists: SuperValu
A delectable, elegant white Burgundy with floral aromas and free-flowing fresh green fruits. Stockists: Le Caveau, Kilkenny: Fallon & Byrne; World Wide Wines; 64 Wines; Green Man Wines; Mitchell & Son; Bradley’s, Cork
Santa Rita Merlot 120 Reserva Especial Central valley, Chile, 13.5%, €11.99
Mellow, rounded ripe plum fruits with a dusting of spice. With or without food. Stockists: widely available including SuperValu, Centra, Tesco, Dunnes Stores.
Atalon Merlot 2011 Pauline’s Cuvée, Napa Valley, 14.5%, €27.45
Ripe, voluptuous dark fruits with roasted coffee and black olives. A big warm hug of a wine. Stockists: O’Briens
Vines at Domaine de Martinolles, in Saint-Hilaire. Photograph: Domaines Paul Mas
First published in The Irish Times on Saturday, 12th August, 2017.
The delightful green valleys of southwest France, with their spectacular backdrop of the Pyrenees, are among my favourite parts of that country. Nestling in the Aude valley is the pleasant town of Limoux. It is actually part of Languedoc, a 20-minute drive from the citadel of Carcassonne, yet it seems a world apart. Higher, cooler and greener, the Limoux region produces wines that are lighter and fresher.
Limoux was originally known for its sparkling wine, which it claims is the oldest, predating champagne. Three styles are produced. Blanquette de Limoux, 90 per cent of which is made up of the local Mauzac grape, is a traditional, very distinctive sparkling wine. Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale is cidery, unfiltered, sweetish and lightly fizzy – an acquired taste but pleasant on a warm day. Crémant de Limoux has up to 80 per cent Chardonnay, plus Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc.
Plantings of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay have grown in recent years. White Limoux can include Mauzac, but many are 100% Chardonnay. The wine must be fermented in oak barrels. You have probably been drinking the Chardonnay without realising it. For years the bigger producers sourced grapes here to freshen their Vins de Pays d’Oc. Some, such as Gérard Bertrand and Domaines Paul Mas, have invested in properties there – Domaine de l’Aigle, and Château de Martinolles and Domaine Astruc, respectively. Production is still dominated by two local co-operatives, which produce large quantities of well-made, occasionally exciting wines. You will find all of these on the shelves of our supermarkets.
There are seven appellations in Limoux, and seven permitted red-grape varieties. Strangely, the authorities couldn’t find space for Pinot Noir, the rapidly emerging real star of the region. Already the Pinots from Domaine Begude, Domaine d’Antugnac and Domaine de l’Aigle are cracking value for money. I can only see them getting better. For the moment they all must go under the broad IGP Pays d’Oc designation. Chardonnay from here can be spectacularly good, with something of the richness and depth of a good white Burgundy but without the price tag.
The real interest in Limoux is provided by a small group of outsiders. I am a fan of Domaine Begude (stocked by O’Briens, along with those of Domaine de l’Aigle), run by the Englishman James Kinglake and his wife, Catherine. The Chardonnay-based wines are excellent, along with some great Pinot Noir, Grüner Veltliner and Gewürztraminer.
Just over the hill, the Anglo-Dutch Panman family run Château Rives Blanques, an estate that produces a range of very well-made still and sparkling wines. Domaine d’Antugnac, run by two families from Burgundy, offers very good Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other wines. My favourite (Swiss-owned) sparkling-wine producer, J Laurens, is, sadly, not currently available in Ireland, as far as I know.
Bottles of the Week
Pinot Noir 2015, Domaine d’Antugnac, IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude 13%, €16.15
Light, very engaging wine with slightly earthy red-cherry fruits. Drink cool with white meats and charcuterie. From Wines Direct in Mullingar and at Arnotts department store in Dublin
Chardonnay 2016, Terroir 1130, Domaine de Begude, IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude 13%, €17.95
Superb racy, succulent fresh pears with a solid backbone of acidity. It will change your mind about Chardonnay. From O’Briens
Limoux 2015, Château Rives-Blanques Odyssée 13%, €24.50
Fragrant with delicious textured peach fruits held together by a cleansing citrus acidity. Great wine. From Thomas’s, Foxrock, D18; Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown, D18
This Week’s Bargain
Limoux 2015 Château Martinolles 13.5%, €15
Medium bodied, with generous creamy pears and custard. Perfect with salmon or lighter chicken dishes. From Molloys Liquor Stores
Delicious gently fruity unoaked wine with a lovely texture, a fine minerality and an excellent finish.
The perfect aperitif, or with salmon in a herby butter sauce.
White Beaujolais, once a rarity, is becoming easier to find in this country. The best examples combine a lovely freshness, a minerality and delicate pure Chardonnay fruits. I have recommended the Jean Paul Brun Terres Dorées before. It is available from Wines Direct. Domaine des Nugues makes some excellent, classic (in a good sense) red Beaujolais, elegant and balanced; his white is every bit as good.
€17.30 from Martins, Fairview; 64 Wine, Glasthule.
Magnificent classic white Burgundy with grilled hazelnuts, toasty new oak and ripe green apple fruit, cut through by plenty of zesty mineral acidity.
This calls out for your finest fish; black sole or turbot swimming in butter sounds appropriately grand. Alternatively, this would go perfectly with a starter of smoked salmon with your Christmas dinner.
Pierre-Yves Morey recently installed himself in a large modern winery on the edge of Chassagne-Montrachet. I recently tasted his white wines from 2015, a vintage he predicts will be great. They were wonderfully precise and supremely elegant with complex rich fruits. In the meantime, we can enjoy the wine above, which features in Wilson on Wine 2017.
Le Bel Ange, Domaine Begude 2014, IGP pays d’Oc
€16.96 or 2 for €25.43 from O’Briens
Oak-free, crisp refreshing dry white with lively green apples, pears and lemon zest.
A pleasing aperitif, but I have tried it alongside moules marinières with great success on several occasions. The two combined make for a very satisfying inexpensive starter.
Not strictly under €15, but if you buy two, the bottle price drops to €12.71, which is very good value for a wine of this quality. I have written about it many times before, but this is one of my go-to inexpensive white wines. The Begude 11300 Terroir and Etoile are a little pricier but equally good value. This contains around 15% Chenin Blanc, the remainder being Chardonnay, an unusual blend that seems to work very well. Organic.
Domaine Olivier Santenay Blanc ‘Clos des Champs’ 2013
€33.95 from O’Briens
White flower aromas; clean and fresh with a nice racy minerality, elegant pears and subtle toasted nuts.
I would drink this with black sole, brill or plaice served simply, possibly with lemon and butter.
Santenay is not the best-known region of Burgundy, and even then you are more likely to come across red wines rather than white. So today’s wine is a bit of an oddity. Santenay lies to the very far south of the Côte d’Or. The wines are sometimes dismissed as being a little too earthy, but I have always enjoyed them. Given the way Burgundy prices are going (upwards!) we may see more Santenay being offered on the future.
First published in The Irish Times Saturday 28th May, 2016
Over the last decade, South African wine has gone through something of a revolution. There is a new generation of younger winemakers. These men and women are now producing some of the most exciting wines in the New World (we think of South Africa as “New World” yet the wine industry here goes back 350 years).
The quality of reds has improved greatly, but it is the white wines that has everybody in the wine world talking. South Africa now makes world-beating Chardonnay. It can also offer excellent Sauvignon Blanc, especially from cooler areas such as Elgin, Overberg and Darling. Others are experimenting with Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier.
Often it is blends of these and other varieties that provide the most excitement. An article on South African white wines cannot leave out Chenin Blanc, so long the workhorse grape variety of wine production here. There are now seriously good and uniquely South African wines made from this variety.
Many will be familiar with Stellenbosch, Paarl, Constantia and Franschhoek, but often these days it is areas such as Swartland, Elgin, Cape Point and Malgas that are producing the greatest excitement. Swartland, and the Swartland Independent Growers in particular, deserve an article all to themselves. The most influential figures in the South African wine scene are probably Charles Back, producer of good value Rhône-style wines and Spice Route, as well as Eben Sadie of Sadie Family wines, and viticulturist Rosa Kruger.
Lismore sounds Irish, as does the proprietor Samantha O’Keefe, and there is a distant connection, but O’Keefe is actually from California. In a short time she has made herself one of the most respected wine producers in South Africa. I tasted her Chardonnay (below) alongside an excellent Viognier.
Recently founded Keermont is an example of how good South African blends can be, and chef and Master of Wine Richard Kershaw is another rising star. Sadly all are expensive.
We haven’t always had a great range of South African wines in this country, but recently I tasted some of South Africa’s finest white wines courtesy of two importers.
Dr Éilís Cryan of Kinnegar Wines has a mouth-watering list. Wine Masons also has a smaller well-chosen range, including the Keermont below, Ghost Corner, Cederberg and DeMorgenzon. Look out too for wines from Mullineux, De Trafford, Alheit, Chamonix, Morgenster, alongside familiar names such as Paul Cluver, Kanonkop, Neil Ellis and Rust en Vrede.
Cape Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Cape Point
Made by rising star Duncan Savage, a lovely clean precise aromatic dry Sauvignon that compares very favourably with many from Marlborough.
Le Bel Ange 2014, Domaine Begude, IGT Pays d’Oc
€12.95 for the month of May from O’Briens
I have featured this before I think, but this is one of my favourite white wines, made by Englishman James Kinglake at his domaine, high in the hills above Carcassonne. The blend of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc works really well; the latter giving it a lovely zestiness, and the former pristine rounded green apple fruits. Think really good Chablis, but at half the price. Perfect on its own or with seafood, salads and summery recipes. Begude also produce a really good value Pinot Noir, also available from O’Briens.