This week I want to share with you some of the reasons why good Champagne is expensive. One reason is our punitive tax system (fizzy wine is double the tax of still wine), but also because this is not an easy wine to get right.
I visited Bollinger and their second property Ayala earlier this year to taste the Vin Clairs – the non-sparkling base wines that will make up their respective blends. The art of blending is just that – an art.
I call it an “art” because the chef de cave must combine a range of acidic, recently fermented wines, from different grapes and vineyards with different flavours and textures, add in some wine from a few years ago to fill in any flavour gaps, and then predict exactly how the wine will taste after it has been re-fermented in bottle.
In some samples I found dominant pear and green apple flavours, in others chalk and white pepper, in others green beans and spice. Yet when I tasted the final blend it was possible to detect much of the style of each house: Bollinger expressive and rich while still elegant; Ayala linear and subtle.
As a family owned company Bollinger don’t have shareholders constantly asking them to increase profits and cut corners. Hence they can use barrel fermentation (old oak), they can store their reserve wines in magnums (the ideal size but hardly convenient) and allow longer ageing than most houses.
It also helps that they own 150ha of their own vineyards which satisfies around 60% of their needs and gives them greater control over quality.
I have no room to tell you more about their surviving pre-phylloxera 19th century vineyards or review their Grand Année vintage wines so I’ll leave that for another time.
All my selections this week are available in JJ O’Driscoll’s in Ballinlough in Cork to make up in part for my omitting them recently. This family run shop is a true independent with great prices (often cheaper than the multiples), and a bit of a treasure-trove for wine lovers.
BEST VALUE UNDER €15
La Gioiosa Prosecco Triveso Frizzante, Italy –€12.99-13.99
Stockists: JJ O’Driscoll’s Superstore Cork, www.curiouswines.ie.
If the warm weather returns (or even if it doesn’t) try this inexpensive gluggable frizzante that has a good bit of flavour and punch. Pear and peaches on the nose, soft on the palate but with a lemon rind touch on the finish. Treviso in the Veneto is a historic zone for Prosecco (or Glera as the grape is now known).
Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand – €12.99
Stockists: JJ O’Driscoll’s Superstore Cork.
You will find this benchmark New Zealand Sauvignon elsewhere, including Dunnes, but not at O’Driscoll’s price. Ripe gooseberry and pine aromas with a rich palate balanced with crisp acidity. Tropical fruit mixes nicely with green apples on the finish making this a good wine for barbecued fish or light meats.
Monte Alina Verdejo Viura, Rueda, Spain – €11.99
Stockist: JJ O’Driscoll’s Superstore Cork.
One of a number of Spanish whites stocked in O’Driscolls. This is typical of modern Spanish white wine (especially from Rueda) – fragrant and punchy on the nose, grassy, citrusy, bright and fresh on the palate with a fine clean mineral core at the finish. Try as an aperitif or to balance out some creamy pasta or smoked salmon.
Bollinger Rosé Champagne NV – €64.99
Stockists: JJ O’Driscoll’s Cork, O’Brien’s nationwide, Ardkeen Stores, Next Door nationwide, McHugh’s.
This is 62% Pinot Noir, 24% Chardonnay and 14% Pinot Meunier with a low dosage (7-8g). Bollinger makes full-flavoured Champagnes but balance richness with poise, grace and elegance – red berry fruits, weight and supple cherry flavours on the palate with a hint of spice (clove), and silky fine bubbles.
Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne NV – €47.99 to €49.99
Stockists: JJ O’Driscoll’s Cork, Mitchells IFSC & Sandycove, O’Brien’s nationwide.
Ayala should be familiar to some of you given that this was the house champagne in Arbutus Lodge for many years. Just 7g sugar (almost an Extra Brut) this is a beautifully focused non-vintage Champagne with aromas of white flowers and brioche, a soft clean palate with a fine silky texture.
Ayala Brut Majeur Rosé NV – €59.99
Stockists: JJ O’Driscoll’s Ballinlough, Next Door nationwide, O’Brien’s nationwide.
Ayala’s Rosé is a blend of 51% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 9% Meunier. Fine pale pink onion-skin colour with distinct hints of blackberry on the nose and following through on the palate. The light creamy texture and finely judged acidity would make this a fine match for langoustines or perhaps spaghetti and clams.
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