Wine with Leslie Williams

When we think of Champagne we tend to think of the big brand houses who spend fortunes every year on marketing so it’s easy to forget the smaller quality-conscious houses and growers plugging away in their wake.

Wine with Leslie Williams

When we think of Champagne we tend to think of the big brand houses who spend fortunes every year on marketing so it’s easy to forget the smaller quality-conscious houses and growers plugging away in their wake.

The big guys are so brand focused that you will rarely hear words like organic or even learn much about the grapes used. Going organic in Champagne is more difficult than elsewhere but some persist (eg, Champagnes of Fleury), and this week I want to focus briefly on a new producer to the market Leclerc Briant. Imported by Charles Derain of Nomad wines, Leclerc Briant was founded in 1872 and was family run until 2012. The house has been growing grapes bio-dynamically and organically since the 1960s and have been certified since the 1980s.

The wines are remarkably pure and elegant with a lively texture and excellent complexity, a world away from the the likes of Moet and Veuve and only marginally more expensive — we have the most expensive Champagne in the EU by a considerable margin given our double excise duty.

One of the most intriguing Leclerc Briant wines is their zero-dosage Champagne Abyss which seemed to take on a salty iodine tang from having been stored 60m under the sea off Brittany for several months while retaining a brioche and citrus purity. Their Vintage 2010 had creamy lemon oil and brioche intensity and the Cuvée Divine Solera Champagne had round complex flavours and fine purity. Leclerc Briant’s two best value Champagnes are recommended below.

Meanwhile the National Off-Licence Association (NOffLA) held their annual gold-star wine awards recently. More than 600 wines were submitted by independent importers and whittled down by members of the trade and wine media. I was on the panel this year and I’ve picked out wines below from Ampersand who have a knack for finding value. I will be featuring some more of the winners in the coming weeks. The awards allow for volume sales in the independent sector and gives smaller off-licences the chance to compete with supermarkets at key price-points such as under €10 and under €15.

Finally on Champagne if you are in the Shelbourne at 18.24 (6.24pm) on any given Friday you can watch their Sommelier Nisea Doddy slicing off Champagne tops with a Sabre, a tradition begun by cavalry officers in the 19th century (and yes you get to drink what is not spilled afterwards!).

BEST VALUE UNDER €15

Rioja Vega Crianza 2015, Spain — €14.95

Stockists: NOffLA Independent Off-Licences, eg, No 21, O’Donovans, World Wide Wines, McHughs, Vintry, Redmonds, Carry-Outs Clare

Rioja Vega’s standard Joven Rioja won out in the under €10 category a couple of years ago and is worth trying but their Crianza is a significant jump up in quality. It has bright red fruit aromas and is bursting with dark berry fruit flavours with touches of spice and liquorice.

Vero Vino Blanco Biologico, Sicily — €9.99

Stockists: NOffLA Independents — eg: No. 21, O’Keefes St. Lukes Cross, Jus de Vin, Shiels, Dalys Boyle, Lilac Wines

Sicily is a great source of inexpensive drinkable wines. The red Vero Vino won a gold (I mentioned it a few weeks back) while this took a bronze medal. Organic and Vegan and made from the local Cattarato grape this is packed with lemon freshness and bright soft apple fruits.

Lo Lo Albarño, Rias Baixas, Spain — €14.99

Stockists: NOffLA Independent Off-Licences, e.g. No.21, O’Donovans, World Wide Wines, McHughs, Vintry

This is made by the Paco Y Lola Co-Op and is one the better value Albariños in the country. As you would hope this has lots of apple, peach and apricot aromas, a soft fruity texture and bright zippy freshness on the finish. A good match for spicy food and of course for seafood.

BEST VALUE OVER €15

Leclerc Briant Brut Reserve Champagne, France — €62

Stockists: Greenman Wines, 64 Wines Glasthule, www.SIYPS.ie

A blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Meunier and 20% Chardonnay this spends two years on its lees and is made from fully organic grapes. Lemon cream aromas with remarkable purity and elegance, citrusy and bright on the palate with a fine persistent mousse and lingering touches of lemon verbena on the finish. Elegant and delicious.

Leclerc Briant Brut Rosé Champagne, France — €64

Stockists: Greenman Wines, 64 Wines Glasthule, www.SIYPS.ie

This is 95% Chardonnay with 5% Pinot Noir to add colour and was created with wines from the 2008 and 2015 vintages. Ripe red fruit aromas with a hint of smoke, elegant citrus and red-currant tinged fruits on the palate mixed with toasted brioche and beguiling freshness and complexity. We were served it with raspberry mille-feuille dessert and it worked brilliantly.

Pommery Champagne Brut Royal NV, France — €56-€58

Stockists: NOffLA Independent Off-Licences, e.g. No.21, O’Donovans, World Wide Wines, McHughs, Vintry

The NOffLA gold medal for fizz went to Pommery Champagne this year, perhaps a little less well known than other Grand Marque Champagnes but I’ve always liked the house. This had dozens of streams of tiny bubbles, pleasing apple and brioche scents and creamy ripeness on the palate.

Contact Leslie Williams at wine@examiner.ie

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