Posts Tagged Limoux

Is Chardonnay the world’s greatest white wine?

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.

Accompanying dishes

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

Etoile Chardonnay 2015, Domaine Begude, Limoux, Organic
13.5%, €19.95

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

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Wine that won’t wear out your wallet this January. Laurent Miquel and Jean Claude Mas

How do you tell a great winemaker? For me it is not by tasting their flagship wines, the top-of-the-range stuff that costs €50 or more. Given the finest grapes and a generous budget, even the average winemaker can come up with something drinkable. But many struggle to come up with good everyday wines at a reasonable price.

This week, two successful, innovative producers making attractive wines for every budget. Both are based in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, in southern France, the source of many inexpensive wines. Both make some seriously good wines, but, given that it’s January and we’re probably all feeling the post-Christmas pinch, we’ll concentrate on the less expensive.

Laurent Miquel

Laurent Miquel’s family has been in the business since 1790, but he wasn’t always sure if he wanted to follow the previous seven generations. Instead, he studied engineering in France and took a master’s in quality assurance at Leeds University before working with Nissan in Sunderland.

He finally caught the wine bug, returned to France to study oenology, and made his first wine in 1996. The business has been a huge success.

“It is much easier to sell Chablis, champagne or New Zealand Sauvignon,” says Miquel, “but in the Languedoc, we offer diversity, personality and real value for money. We make very fresh, very drinkable wines, and slowly we have built up a solid base of consumers. We are always driven by quality; 80 per cent of what we do is about the vines and the grapes.”

The wines have been stocked by SuperValu, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, and are currently sold by both Dunnes Stores and O’Briens.

The Mas family

The Mas family has been growing grapes and making wine since the late 19th century. In 1987 Jean-Claude Mas received 35 hectares of vines from which he built Domaines Paul Mas, a group of nine estates scattered around Languedoc-Roussillon. In addition, he makes eight signature ranges, including the Arrogant Frog wines, that will be familiar to many. (The wines are usually very good.)

His Château de Martinolles, in Limoux, has featured in this column several times, as have other of his wines, and you will find his bottles in Ireland’s best wine shops and restaurants.

As Mas owns about 650 hectares of vineyards and controls a further 1,312, he has been able to supply some of the biggest supermarkets in Ireland and Britain. He has also supplied a number of Aldi’s Exquisite labels, as well as the Limoux below.

Astélia Limoux 2016 13.5%, €10.99
It may look like as if it has come in a perfume bottle, but this wine (from Jean-Claude Mas) is a rich, full-bodied, buttery Chardonnay with ripe peach fruits and a dry finish. Perfect with salmon or chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce. Meursault for those on a budget? From Aldi

Claude Val Rouge 2016, Pays d’Oc, Organic 13.5%, €14, or two for €22
A blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Merlot, this medium- to full-bodied wine has rich dark fruits, a touch of spice and a nice, lightly tannic grip. Not one to sip on its own, but perfect with red or white meats on cold winter evenings. From Molloys Liquor Stores

Laurent Miquel, Père et Fils Chardonnay Viognier 2016 13%, €9.50
Medium-bodied with fresh lemon zest and succulent peach and apricot fruits. Perfect on its own, but this would go nicely with plaice, sole or sea bass. I had mine with fishcakes. From select Dunnes Stores

Laurent Miquel, Père et Fils Syrah Grenache 2016, IGP Pays d’Oc 13%, €9.50
The Syrah adds delicious, subtle pepper, liquorice and dark fruits, the Grenache a soft warmth. Together they make for a lovely smooth wine with juicy ripe fruits. On its own or with lighter red-meat dishes. From select Dunnes Stores

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Lighter, fresher wines from cooler, greener France

Vines at Domaine de Martinolles, in Saint-Hilaire. Photograph: Domaines Paul Mas

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

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Le Bel Ange, Domaine Begude 2014, IGP pays d’Oc

Le Bel Ange, Domaine Begude 2014, IGP pays d’Oc

Image 3Le 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.

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Le Bel Ange 2014, Domaine Begude, IGT Pays d’Oc

<strong>Le Bel Ange 2014, Domaine Begude, IGT Pays d’Oc</strong>

DSCF6585Le 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.

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A WEEKEND’S DRINKING – four wines worth seeking out


Domaine Begude Terroir 11300Domaine de Begude Chardonnay Terroir 11300, 2014
Haute Vallée de l’Aude 13%

Available for €17.99 from O’Briens

Made from organic grapes by James Begude in the cool climate of Limoux high above Carcassonne, this was one of my favourite white wines of last year. It appeared in Wilson on Wine 2016. 75% of the juice is fermented in stainless steel, the remainder in large 600 litre casks. The result is a beautifully balanced wine with plenty of zesty citrus, plump peaches and apple fruits, and hints of toasted nuts. We drank our bottle on its own as an aperitif, and with some roast chicken. Please don’t be put off by the word Chardonnay; this is a brilliant wine. I can also recommend most of the other wines of Domaine de Begude, which include a Gewurztraminer, a Pinot Noir, and Le Bel Ange,, his entry-level Chablis lookalike. 11300 is a postcode by the way.

Riesling Junge Reben 2013, August Kesseler, Rheingau, 12%

Available for €24.95 from Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown

I love Riesling but generally don’t drink too much of it over the winter months, unless it is fairly rich and full-bodied. However, I wanted something light to sip before dinner, so I cracked open this bottle and was very pleased that I had. Vivid and refreshing with delectable pure Riesling fruit. Herr Kesseler is one of the finest producers of Pinot Noir in Germany, but is no slouch with Riesling either. I think Whelehan’s are currently out of stock of the Pinot Noir, but I would certainly recommend it when it makes their return. In the meantime, you can enjoy this wine, and the excellent Rieslings Lorch (€28.95) for a few euros more.

Pie NegrosArtuke Pies Negros 2014, Rioja
14%, €18.90
64wine, Glasthule; Clontarf Wines; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Ennis Butchers, South Circular Road; Wicklow Wine Company.

The previous vintage of this appeared in my book and the 2014 is a worthy follow-on. At first it seemed a little alcoholic, but after half an hour it all came together beautifully. Arturo and Kike (hence the name) Blanco are responsible for this lovely wine. The grapes are trodden by bare feet. The wine is very different to your normal Rioja, with no obvious oak at all, and intense dark fruits and minerals with some tannins on the finish. I suspect it will improve for a year or two, or served in a decanter with food now. Great wine and streets ahead of most Reserva Rioja at the price.

Grégory Pérez Mengoba 2013, Méncia del Espanillo, Bierzo
13.5% €33.50

Available from Sheridan’s Cheese Shops

Having graduated in enology and viticulture in Bordeaux, Grégory Pérez worked in several of the top chateaux before decamping to Bierzo, up in the north-west corner of Spain. This is one of the regions where Méncia is grown. This variety makes some of the most exciting wines in Spain today; they remind me a little of Northern Rhône Syrah with their delicacy and enchanting savoury dark cherry fruits. I tasted the Pérez wines at the SPIT tasting in November and thought both red and white wines were stunning. I haven’t changed my mind. This may be expensive but it is a brilliant wine, nuanced and sophisticated, with wonderful smooth dark cherry fruits, a subtle oakiness, and a lovely finish. I see it has a small proportion of Alicante Bouschet and a white grape variety, Godello, included. Only 3,000 bottles made.

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