Wine by Leslie Williams

Champagne doesn’t have a season — I’m fairly sure most of us would drink it every day if we were let, writes Leslie Williams.

Wine by Leslie Williams

I do love the joy and distraction it can bring to dull winter days but drinking decent fizz in the sunshine with the smell of food being cooked by someone else is hard to beat.

Two recent Champagne tastings on warm days reminded me of this fact — Bollinger and Duval-Leroy. They differ in size of course but both houses are family-owned and both practice strict sustainable viticulture — a difference is that Bollinger is very much a Pinot Noir house while Duval-Leroy’s best wines are from Chardonnay.

The Bollinger tasting focused on their use of (old) barrel fermentation which allows wines to breathe and rounds out flavours. It was fascinating to compare the oak fermented and stainless steel ferments.

Duval-Leroy is led by (6th generation) Carol Duval-Leroy and her three sons. Duval-Leroy’s Chef de Cave is Sandrine Logette-Jardin making this house the only major one (that I can think of) that has both a woman as head winemaker and as CEO. Mme Duval-Leroy is part of a long tradition of women in Champagne, something that cannot be said for any other French wine region (c.f. Lily Bollinger, Veuve Clicquot and Marie-Louise Lanson de Nonancourt of Laurent Perrier). We shouldn’t forget the other women chefs de cave either — Caroline Latrive of Ayala and Floriane Eznack of Jacquart — two of the most consistent winemakers in the region.

Duval-Leroy is the only major house on the Chardonnay dominant Côtes des Blancs where they have vineyards in every Grand Cru. Duval-Leroy’s Femme 2000 was the highlight of the tasting — dried lemon aromas, taut, mineral and complex with lingering smoke-tinged flavours of lemon peel. Femme is only made in the best years from their finest plots on the Côtes — at €125 it represents excellent value for a Cuvée Prestige Champagne.

Aldi’s Summer Wine Sale began last week and below are three good value bottles of fizz to tie in with this week’s theme. Sparkling red wine sounds odd to us but the Aussies and the Italians have been drinking it for years. There is also a decent Lambrusco in the sale but I marginally preferred the Shiraz below.

BEST VALUE UNDER €15

Pata Negra Vintage Cava 2012, Spain — €11.99

Stockist: Aldi

Cava is frequently a rather neutral sparkling wine but give it some extra lees time and ageing and it can be as complex as Champagne (if not always as fine). This has rich yeasty brioche aromas with preserved lemon and baked bread character and a lingering clean dry finish.

Goldpeck Sparkling Grüner Veltliner NV, Austria — €14.99

Stockist: Aldi

There are a few sparkling Grüners available in Austria but as far as I know this is the first one to make it to Ireland. Fresh citrusy lemon-lime aromas with a kick of classic Grüner white pepper on the palate, persistent mousse and lingering lemon-peel tinged freshness.

Fork & Spoon Sparkling Shiraz, Australia — €12.99

Stockist: Aldi

Sparkling Shiraz is popular in Oz mainly because it is a fine (refreshing) match for barbecued meat on a hot day. This has bright fruity plum and red fruit aromas and a distinct blueberry flavour with just a touch of residual sugar. Serve chilled with spicy BBQ meats.

BEST VALUE OVER €15

Duval-Leroy Champagne Brut NV, France — €48

Stockists: Red Nose Wines Clonmel, Curious Wines Cork & Naas

Duval-Leroy’s NV is predominantly Pinot Noir with a smaller percentage of Chardonnay and a consistent bright ripe fruit character mixed in with the brioche and citrus elements. On this tasting I found some herbal notes and a softer edge and the usual pristine fine mousse.

Duval-Leroy Blanc-de-Blanc Vintage 2006, France — €69

Stockists: Red Nose Wines Clonmel, Curious Wines Cork & Naas

The 2006 vintage had mixed weather but ended well. This 100% Chardonnay has fine persistent mousse, rich brioche tinged smoky and zesty fruits and is beautifully taut and precise on the palate with some smoky mineral dried citrus fruits on the finish. Warmly Recommended.

Bollinger La Grande Année 2007, Champagne, France — €130

Stockists: O’Briens, The Corkscrew, Vintry, Mitchell & Son, JJ O’Driscoll

Comparing the 2005 and the 2007 Grande Année I found the ’05 a little fuller and richer (the extra age helps), but for complexity and preciseness I’m recommending the newly released ’07 which will last decades thanks to its fine taut fruits and stony lemon zest character.

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