Named after what is perhaps the world’s greatest rock album, the wine parallels the album in the sense of being so very different to everything that came before it. Like all Springfontein wines I’ve tried up until now, its true character lies in the detail and the structure, rather than individual elements of fruit or spice.
Made up of barrel-fermented, white-pressed Pinotage, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay grown all on limestone, the wine is aged in used, small wooden barrels of different geographical descent. The wine didn’t undergo a second malolactic fermentation lending the structure an acidic backbone, something that is crucial to the entire wine’s character.
In fact, I often talk about structure and, in such big powerful wines, it plays an incredibly important role: here it is expertly applied: the attack with its citrus edge (lemon and grapefruit), the body with a touch of stone fruit (white peach and apricot) through to a chalky finish: complete with salt, green herbs and white pepper – this is all held together by the acidic backbone and the constant pulsation of wood: (thankfully lacking the cliché-like vanilla and smoke elements so many New-World whites are dogged with).
This big wine is very different – incorporating a great deal into one wine with the heavy reliance on the two varietals South Africa is famous for, it still manages to impress with elegance and completion. Very much like the Pink Floyd album of the same name, it is ambitious, sometimes absolutely crazy and yet utterly brilliant, wonderfully structured and, once the bottle is empty, it’s time to hit the play button again and open a second one.
Springfontein in the UK
Contact the winery for further availability information
Rheinhessen is a mighty beast. Churning out a massive amount of Germany’s supermarket shelf-filler, a rare diamond shines out of the region only rarely. Whereas Dreissigacker, Wechsler and co. already experience a great amount of publicity, recently another winery has taken me by surprise: Becker-Landgraf of Gau-Odernheim.
J2 – Julia and Johannes produce an attractive portfolio of wines that impress from the first sip. From the entry-level Gutswein (estate wines) right up to the fabulous single-site bottles, the wines combine a modern approach to winemaking with a healthy lug of unmistakeable Rheinhessen touch: genuinely impressive wines with universal appeal.
One such wine is the entry-level Weißburgunder-Chardonnay – a wonderful Pinot Cuvee that really makes the most of both varietals whilst being able to expertly represent the region as a whole.
An alluring golden yellow in the glass, the wine immediately reminds of ripe yellow pears on the nose. Alongside a few hints at green herbs and freshly-cut grass, a rewarding sense of joghurt is present behind a touch of stone fruit and a hint of something more tropical: banana, mango and passionfruit.
On the attack is a brief flirt of citrus: perhaps grapefruit more than anything else but it moves straight onto pear, apple and yellow plum before eventually settling on a creamy, chalky structure with an addictive sweet undertone. Dry finish with a slight white pepper decoration.
Very good. Priced at around 8€, fantastic value for money.
Buy in the UK
The name Rothschild is omnipresent in the wine industry. Attached to wines from Chile, South Africa, Argentina and, most importantly, France, it is one of the largest and best-known wine dynasties in the world…decent ground then for the foundations of a brand new Champagne house.
Helpful too is that this venture is operated by all three of the major wine-producing families: those behind Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Lafite-Rothschild and Château-Clarke. The expertise from all firms’ winemakers is utilised to ensure the Barons de Rothschild Champagnes live up to the prestigious name.
The winery is operated in a comfortable townhouse in charming Reims – the wine is actually produced elsewhere: an industrial estate close to Épernay. Alongside the vintage wine exists a Non-vintage series consisting of a Rosé, a Blanc de Blancs and a ‘basic’ Brut.
Made entirely from Chardonnay, the grapes that make up this Blanc de blancs are grown on some of the finest sites in the Champagne. Aged for seven years on the yeast the wine receives a very minimal Barrique-aged dosage, which is the key to the dryness and complexity of the wine.
Satin white with a lively but fine and controlled mousse.
Initially citrus-driven on the nose with pink grapefruit juice and Clementine peel, a touch of white peach joins in later as well. French oak makes a brief appearance and so too does freshly-toasted white bread.
The wine starts on the tongue in much the same way as at does on the nose: grapefruit juice although nothing bitter. The Clementine peel in the nose turns into lemon peel on the palate and the white peach arrives with honey melon and sugary apricots. The finish is quick and clean but hints at brioche, a touch of wood and wet rock along the way.
I like the way the different flavours fit together – in such a wine where quite a lot is going on, it is rare for the notes to align with one another. The fruit is excellently worked into the finish and the whole thing feels very delicate despite carrying a unique sense of power – the trademark of the Barons de Rothschild brand. This is undoubtedly the star of the series and, aside from the entry-level Brut, the only one I’d buy. Priced at 250€ plus, it’s hardly cheap but it’s going places: you might not have heard of it yet but it’s certainly worth looking out for in the future.
The Reims producer Taittinger is one of the last privately-owned institutions of such size in the Champagne region. Known the world over for its Brut Prestige, the winery also produces a wide range of special editions: the most important of which is its flagship vintage wine; Comtes de Champagne.
Produced only in years where the quality of the harvest is deemed good enough to produce a top-end vintage wine, Comtes de Champagne has taken on a niche ‘insiders’ tip’ role and the wines are highly regarded for the attention to detail and the reliance on discretion and complexity rather than power and overwhelming fullness.
The wine is made of 100% Chardonnay and 5% of the wines that make the final cuvee are aged in new oak. After the second fermentation, the wine spends nearly ten years in the cellars at Taittinger’s Saint-Nicaise site: a former abbey dating back to the middle ages.
Pale, straw yellow with a fine, controlled mousse.
A fair amount of toasted white bread on the nose than tenders towards freshly-baked baguette. There is also a unique scent of pink grapefruit peel which is joined by a creamy note attached to a distant sense of wood.
On the attack is mainly pink grapefruit juice to start but it is joined by Clementine and a splash of apple. It is never dominant and slips onto a buttery body with plenty of pastry-like texture. The finish does quickly offer up some wood but this slips off into a floral, citrus peel finish.
An incredibly complex wine that displays this complexity expertly: not all at once in a package you can’t comprehend but slowly and logically. Amazingly it still manages to stay discreet: no loud, sharp notes and yet it retains your attention the whole time through the attention to detail and the creamy, buttery body. Despite this softness and the composed character, the wine is very refreshing: it isn’t necessarily defined by its acidity but the acidity is important in determining a unique freshness.
Priced at around 130€ a bottle, it certainly isn’t cheap but it finds itself in a playing field with names much better known: Dom Perignon, Krug NV, La Grande Dame, Dom Ruinart to name but a few. Comtes de Champagne offers the most complex drinking however and deserves its title as the insider tip when it comes to the big house luxury bottles.
Whereas the majority of English wineries release their wines to retailers directly, a handful have a small production run that they chose to allocate the limited edition bottles themselves. One such winery is Sussex’s Hoffmann and Rathbone. The small estate is home to three wines, all of which were first made using the 2010 harvest of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – the three varietals also grown in Champagne.
Aged for 44 months, this 100% Chardonnay is a sign of good things to come from this up-and-coming winery in a very exciting part of the country and possibly the ideal location to grow sparkling wine in England at all: Sussex. I was lucky enough to get hold of the first release 2010 wine through a small retailer in Germany, for information on purchasing this wine, please contact the winery directly here.
Pale straw yellow in the glass with a very fine perlage.
The wine reminds of high-quality lemon juice on the nose, there is also a Perry note to the wine with hints at both ripening pears and green apples. A toasty brioche note is in there as well and it is complimented by a faint sense of oak.
The wine is quite sharp on the attack with lemon juice, grapefruit and a hint of orange peel. This moves onto a body of orchard fruits: particularly green apples and it reminds of French cidre or English Perry on the body – thick in fruit although the finish is remarkably well pulled-off, hinting at oak but also making those typically yeasty sparkling wine notes very calm and collected.
Whilst the attack and body might seem sharp at first, it does make the wine very refreshing and suggests that it will keep for five years or so. The fruit consistency is very agreeable and, whilst it might not quite achieve elegance à la Ridgeview or Nyetimber, it does again prove that English sparkling wine is on the rise. This is a winery to watch out for - in my opinion this is going to be one of the big players once the production levels rise and it certainly deserves to be up there. I've heard good things about the 2011 vintage and am looking forward to trying something.
The choice of James Bond in the earlier films and most probably the world’s most famous luxury and vintage Champagne, Dom Pérignon requires no introduction. Still....I’ll give it one anyway.
Whereas Pierre Pérignon is commonly named as the inventor of Champagne and the Méthode Champagnoise, he almost certainly wasn’t. I prefer the more modern term applied to the Benedictine monk: “the spiritual father of Champagne”. His Dom Péringon was a breakthrough product with quality, rather than production, in the foreground. Whilst DP might not be the finest Champagne Cuvée on the market anymore, it certainly belongs in the upper echelons.
Today’s Dom Pérignon is only produced in decent years – unlike a handful of other top producers’ entry-level wines, DP is always a vintage wine meaning that, if the grapes aren’t good enough in a certain year, they go into the wines labelled as “Moet & Chandon”, either vintage ones or not. Again, unlike several of the other luxury Champagne producers’ wines, Dom Perignon’s entry-level cuvée is made using grapes grown all over the region rather than only those from a declared individual site.
The 2003 wine is the second newest vintage on the market (after the 2004) and, whilst it will keep for decades, it offers lovely drinking right now.
Satin golf with a very fine mousse.
The nose was very reserved: more so than is typical for Champagne. There was a remarkable sense of fresh white peach and toasted white bread. Lemon peel was noticeable but only as a far-away aroma and not taking a foreground role in the slightest
The attack was of the finest lemon zest and delicate touch of stone fruit: the dusty peel of white peach and the sweeter notes of apricot were in there but they didn’t appear in the body. There was little juice but only the finest fruit-flesh. This made for very light drinking: hardly any harshness and yet the intensity of the flavour was in no way compromised. The finish carried on from the peach skin into a smoky, lightly wooded affair reminding one of the finish Burgundian, oak-aged Chardonnay. The yeast was very toast-like and I guess that a decent amount was used: it too is as reserved as the body and yet so unimaginably full of flavour.
Removing value-for-money from the equation for a second, this is a fabulous wine – utterly awesome in fact. It is about as perfect as I can imagine Champagne to be and so incredibly different to the non-vintage, branded wines I’ve tried before – it has more appeal, more taste, more class and a different depth than basic wines are able to offer. However, you can buy up to four bottles of Moët’s basic Brut for the same price and whilst that product is hardly a Champagne highlight, it’s better than 25% as good – far from (I think I awarded the non-vintage Moët 80 points a few years ago). Still, this is a must-try for anyone into wine and Champagne lovers….I’m hooked at least.
Let’s clear one thing up to start with: the word “halbtrocken” (off-dry/medium) appears on the label of this wine – that isn’t the case: legally maybe, but not in terms of taste.
Ernst Triebaumer is one of Burgenland’s most established producers. Popular mainly for its unique wines based on Blaufränkisch, it produces a number of white varietal wines in Austria’s beautiful Burgenland.
Burgenland itself is famous for Blaufränkisch – this varietal is hardly-known on the mainstream market and yet it is capable of producing fantastic wines full of character that soak up the local soil like almost no other red varietal. Zweigelt is widely planted, as are Chardonnay and a handful of other white varietals.
Bright, white gold
Lots of apricot and biscuit on the nose, this wine was both fruity and full of minerals. Apples and pears eventually came through on the nose.
The attack was rather sweet: apricot, yellow apples and banana and the body with slightly acidic reminding of lime juice – the eventually went on to make a creamy, smooth, buttery finish with a slight woody bite at the end.
Despite the fruity aromas, there was a vegetative taste that comes through in lots of Chardonnay – however, many choose to cover this note with wood: not in this product which is nice: the wine felt incredibly natural – it didn’t feel artificially layered as is so often the case – it felt like an unoaked Chardonnay from France: allowed to show off Chardonnay as a varietal rather than what is possible to do with it.
I’ve never been a fan of those huge-name Champagne producers: whilst occasionally a wine they produce does hit the spot, I often find their Cuvees too generic, too similar and, let’s face it, a large part of the often £30-40 asking price is just pretty packaging. There are loads of other producers to choose from: those without a large-scale brand offensive often invest more of their capital into winemaking rather than wine-marketing.
One smaller-scale produce is Veuve Fourny & Fils in the commune of Vertus. Nine Cuvees emerge from the company’s cellar: amoung them every style of Champagne you can imagine. The one that intrigued me most was their Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature – a wine where no sugar is added to the dosage – the yeasty mix added for the wines second fermentation in the bottle. This means the yeast only has the residual sugar of the basis wine to work with in the bottle – final wines therefore have less than 3g of sugar per litre – this process is commonly known as “Brut Zero”.
On top of that, this Champagne is sourced from Premier Cru vineyards and is the product of only three consecutive vintages (some of the larger houses use up to seven to ensure a similar product every production cycle). Being a Blanc de Blanc, Chardonnay is the only grape varietal used and 25% of the basis wines are aged in oak for up to seven months before the second fermentation – the final product is aged for at least two and a half years before release.
White gold with quite a lively Mousse.
Green apples and pears but also apricot, pineapple, vanilla and white bread.
The attack is one of fresh green apples but also stone fruit: apricot and peach. The body is smooth and the finish clean-cut – it brings with it a hint of wood, vanilla and freshly-baked white bread. As predicted, it is dry but this doesn’t feel bitter as Brut Natur so often can.
The wine is compact, fruity and rather delicate. All of the notes are in the right place and the dry, woody finish is a highlight. Priced at around £35, this offers some of the best value-for-money drinking there is to buy – miles better than most of the stuff you’ll find in the supermarket for the same amount.
There are a few things in life I can’t say no to. I’m a Riesling man through-and-through but I fall weak at the knees to oak-aged Chardonnay – particularly big Californian wines or something smooth from Australia. On the look-out for a decent Chardonnay from either of these countries or even something fabulous from Burgundy I was unsuccessful: the German retail scene doesn’t do a lot of Burgundy (I suppose because the entry-level I can afford is qualitatively very similar to home-grown wines). However, the salesman in my wine shop of choice on that day asked if I’d like to try something German that had spent time in Barrique.
And what a wine it was: not cheap (18€ almost) but everything I was looking for. Made by Pfälzer winery Meßmer, this Chardonnay made using grapes grown only on the VDP Grosse Lage (unfortunately only for Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir) Burrweiler Schloßgarten is aged in Barrique barrels before bottling for release adding a unique complexity whilst unusually not removing any of the fruit content.
Germany’s Pfalz is probably best known for high-quality Riesling, fortunately however it is one of the most diverse production regions with a whole host of specialties and varietals. Weingut Meßmer is one of the Pfalz’s finest wineries when it comes down to the Pinot varietals: alongside a handful of Chardonnay and other exotic wines, their core line exists of the three Burgundy grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. The Schloßgarten vineyard is characterised by a high level of limestone in the soil: perfect for the cultivation of Chardonnay.
Bright white gold.
Lots of fresh fruit on the nose: lime, peach, banana, pear and eventually a thick sense of oak and vanilla.
The initial attack is one of racy citrus: lots of lime cordial and a hint of lemon peel but also a great deal more fruit which shows up in the form of yellow fruit: peach, apricot, banana, pineapple and so much more. This gives way to a smooth vanilla and oak sensation that rounds everything off. The smoothness is unparallel – it feels buttery and extinguishes the fruit capably keeping the whole thing in balance.
A fantastic wine regardless of its origin: often enough people (including myself) say things like “a good wine when you consider it comes from Germany”, this Chardonnay doesn’t need that introduction: this is a Chardonnay with world-class character: it completes on a level playing field with Californian, Australian and French wines that easily cost twice as much (if not more).
There’s a catch though, they’re not making it anymore – apparently they want to continue putting white grapes in Barrique but wish to do this with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc rather than Chardonnay. Such a shame...
English wine is hard to find in Germany so imagine my surprise when I saw Hattingley Valley for sale at my local supermarket. I’ll admit, I hadn’t tried anything from the producer before so it wasn’t long before a bottle of Classic Cuvee made its way into my shopping basket.
Hattingley Valley’s winery is situated in Lower Wield, right in the middle of Hampshire in Southern England. The 2010 vintage was the winery’s first and the grapes are grown in the producer’s own vineyard of over 24 hectares. The head winemaker is Emma Rice who has recently been awarded with the United Kingdom Vineyards Association ‘Winemaker of the year’ title – you might recognise her name from her days at Nyetimber – probably England’s most famous sparkling wine producer.
This wine is made of the classic Champagne varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir and 25% of the total blend was aged in old Burgundy barrels. 2011 was a particularly good vintage for English wine thanks to the warm late summer period meaning that the grapes achieved a high level of ripeness.
A lovely peach-toned colour with a bright, off-gold appearance. Fine and composed bubble structure.
A very fragrant fruit note is the first thing to notice about this wine, alongside the typical citrus and orchard fruit exists a sense of something red – raspberries perhaps but this is so faint it disappears as soon as the brioche notes appear with a unique feel of oak at the end of the nose.
Very fresh on the attack with notes of apples and pears, it soon made way to a zesty lemon and floral body which eventually goes on to a brioche taste and a light smoky feel on an oak-tinted finish (an interesting touch rather than overdoing it as is so often the case)
A very good but also very individual wine – a lot of English wines are Champagne copycats but this one, despite opting for the same varietals, takes a unique approach with those fresh apples and pears and the oak on the finish. I like that in a wine, particularly in English wine – I believe this to be the future rather than creating a style of wine that already exists.
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry