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A wine even our wine writer hadn’t heard about

Garden Grapes

 

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 28th July, 2018

I am wary of books that promise to take the mystery out of wine. Wine is actually quite complicated. This may explain why many people learn to love a few grape varieties – Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon – and ignore everything else. I have sympathy for this way of thinking. I use it myself in many other walks of life.

But there are said to be between 5,000 and 10,000 varieties of Vitis vinifera, the wine grape. Few of us will have heard of the most widely planted variety of all, Kyoho, which is found mostly in China. As much of that crop is used for eating rather than drinking, we are more familiar with the next four most widely planted Vitis vinifera varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and then two found almost exclusively in Spain, Tempranillo and Airén.

There are very good reasons why some grape varieties remain little known: the wines they produce are not great. But plenty more are unsung heroes that deserve greater recognition.

Marsanne, for example, is a full-bodied aromatic grape found mainly in the northern Rhone Valley, although plantings have spread out into Languedoc. It usually gives good yields – hence its popularity – but can lack acidity. Because of this it is often blended with more floral varieties, such as Roussanne, that also provide acidity. Marsanne reaches its peak as a blend in white Hermitage, from the Northern Rhône, and at the Tahbilk winery, in the Australian state of Victoria. The Aldi version below won’t quite reach those giddy heights, but it is well worth trying.

I don’t think I had heard of Dafni until I tried it at a tasting last year. Lyrarakis is a family-owned company based in Crete that has made a name by rescuing local ancient grape varieties from obscurity. Dafni gets its name from the Greek word for laurel or bay leaf, and the wine certainly has a pleasant herbiness. (The winery also produces a delicious Assyrtiko.) I don’t see Dafni becoming the new Sauvignon Blanc, but it also deserves a try.

Aglianico typically produces firm, dry, austere, tannic wines that need years to reach maturity. It is grown in the Campania region of southern Italy, most famously around Taurasi, but you will also find it growing on the dark, rich volcanic soils of Monte Vulture, in the neighbouring region of Basilicata. If that description sounds scary, don’t worry; the wine below is a very approachable early-drinking version.

The fourth wine is made primarily from the obscure Mandó grape, which was rediscovered by Pablo Calatayud, who owns Celler del Roure, in Valencia. Earlier this year I wrote about his excellent Vermell. Both that and the Safrà below are aged in ancient clay amphorae before bottling.

Bottles of the Week

Exquisite Collection Marsanne 2017, Languedoc 13%, €8.99
Ripe pears and peaches on nose and palate, finishing bone dry. Great everyday summer drinking by itself or with fish.
From Aldi, aldi.ie

Lyrarakis Dafni 2016, Crete 12.5%, €21.99
An intriguing wine with notes of bay, rosemary and wild thyme that blend in nicely with lemon zest and a reviving acidity. One to try with a herby Greek salad, grilled Mediterranean vegetables or herb and lemon chicken.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Bradleys, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie

Aglianico del Vulture Pipoli 2016, Vigneti del Vulture 13%, €18-€19
Smooth, rich dark-cherry fruits with chocolate and a rounded, easy finish. Perfect with grilled or roast lamb.
From Donnybrook Fair, Dublin 4, donnybrookfair.ie; Fresh, branches around Dublin, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; McHughs, Dublin 5, mchughs.ie; Mitchell & Son, branches around Greater Dublin, mitchellandson.com; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie; Michael’s, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin

Safrà, Celler del Roure 2016, Mandó, Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) 13%, €21.50
Gorgeous wine with a delicious combination of fresh, piquant red-cherry fruits and a subtle rustic earthiness. Drink coolish with paella.
From 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin, 64wine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie

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Soave La Rocca 2015, Pieropan

Soave La Rocca 2015, Pieropan

La Rocca high res_NVQuite deep in colour with a restrained lightly nutty nose. The palate opens out with time to reveal a delightful mix of almonds, light peach fruits and honey. A wonderful subtle wine full of nuance. Don’t serve it too cold; the flaovurs are quite delicate. Not cheap, but worth it.

Spaghetti or linguini with either prawns or crab sounds good.

Pieropan is one of the greatest white wine producers in Italy. Nino Pieropan, who sadly passed away in April, can take much of the credit for rescuing the reputation of the Soave region, ruined by a flood of cheap nasty wines over several decades. Sons Dario and Andrea now run the estate, which is fully organic. The La Rocca vineyard is primarily limestone, unusual in a region dominated by basalt. The wine is aged in a mix of large old oak casks.

€36.99 from Redmond, Ranelagh; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; wineonline.ie

 

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Le Cadet 2016, Montirius, IGP Vaucluse

Le Cadet 2016, Montirius, IGP Vaucluse

le cadet2A vivid youthful colour. Full of bold vibrant ripe dark fruits, this is a seductive medium to full-bodied red that retains a mouth-watering freshness. Not a keeper but excellent now.

We drank it with chicken thighs baked with herby tomatoes and peppers.

Montirius produce some of the finest wines of Vacqueyras and Gigondas in the southern Rhône. Le Cadet is the baby brother, a lighter more supple fruity wine that still packs a punch, and offers great value for money. 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah.

€17 exclusively from 64 Wine, Glasthule 64wine.ie

 

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Graham Norton wines: Are they any good?

Graham Norton (C) with Tim Lightbourne and Rob Cameron

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 21st July, 2018

We all know that wine helps conversation flow at parties and dinners, but regular viewers of the Graham Norton Show will be aware that Norton, and sometimes his guests, can be seen sipping a generous glass of white. The chat-show host has gone a step further, and has a hand (or a mouth) in making the wine.

 You may have come across the GN wines in SuperValu and more recently Tesco. Produced in red, white, rosé and now sparkling, they have been flying off the supermarket shelves for several years. The idea for GN wines came from a New Zealand company called Invivo, set up in 2008 by former school mates Tim Lightbourne and Rob Cameron. Cameron had worked as a winemaker with Villa Maria in New Zealand, while Lightbourne worked in marketing with brands such as l’Oréal and Danone in Europe.

“We caught up for a beer in London in 2007 and came up with the idea. Unlike many great ideas we actually followed through with it,” says Lightbourne.

 “We made our first Sauvignon in 2008 and couldn’t have chosen a worse time – it was a lousy harvest, and the global financial crisis hit.” The real breakthrough came in 2014 when Invivo became the first wine company in the southern hemisphere to crowd fund. “We raised $NZ2million (€1.2million) in one week, a record for any industry in New Zealand. Now we have 443 people who we look after very well, and we are about to launch a second offer.”

They knew Graham Norton enjoyed Sauvignon Blanc, and offered to supply him with their Invivo Sauvignon. A little later, they suggested to Norton that he become involved. “He has great enthusiasm and a great palate”, says Lightfoot. “He will say ‘I like this part but not that’. He rejects some samples. He talks about what he would like in his wine, instead of leaving it up to a winemaker. It is quite a unique way of making wine. We are about to make the 2018; he will taste 8-10 samples and blend to his taste”.

The whole process is filmed and put out on YouTube. “The wine is quite different to our style with Invivo (also available from SuperValu). We get good points from the critics and win trophies – we are proud of the quality and would happily put it up against any wine.” Sales of the wine have tripled since 2015 and will top 3 million bottles this year.

 The Sauvignon was followed by a rosé, a Shiraz from Australia and now a Prosecco. For this, the pair flew out to Italy and tried out eight different styles from various producers. Norton prefers the drier style. The wine has just been released in Tesco.

Graham Norton’s Own SparklinG ItaliaN Prosecco Extra Dry


11%
€17.99
An exuberant fruit-filled Prosecco with refreshing red apples and pears. A great way to kick-start a dinner party, or with friends on a sunny evening.
Stockists: Tesco

Graham Norton’s Own SauviGNon Blanc 2017, Marlborough


12.5%
€14.99 (€12 from July 26th in SuperValu and Centra)
A classic Marlborough Sauvignon, with lime zest, textured mouth-watering green fruits and a lingering rounded finish. With some grilled scallops and a herby dressing, or a soft goat’s cheese salad.
Stockists: SuperValu, Centra, Tesco

Graham Norton’s Own Pink by DesiGN Rosé 2017


13%
€14.99 (€8 in SuperValu, Centra until July 26th, while stocks last)
A very moreish appealing wine with fragrant aromas, juicy ripe raspberry and black cherry fruits, a refreshing acidity, finishing just off-dry. By itself or with lightly spicy chicken, prawns or salmon.
Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu, Centra

Graham Norton’s Own Shiraz 2015, South Australia


14%
€12-15 (€12 from July 26th in SuperValu and Centra)
Big rich rounded ripe plum fruits with a sprinkle of spice. Perfect with that barbecued ribeye steak or burger.
Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu, Centra

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Colinas del Itata Old Vines Muscat 2017, Itata

Colinas del Itata Old Vines Muscat 2017, Itata

ITATA

 

Inviting delicate perfumed floral aromas; juicy, really lively orange peel and apricot fruits, with a lovely musky kick on the finish. A delightful wine and outstanding value for money.

 

Lightly spicy prawn or chicken Thai curries.

 

I featured the 2014 vintage of his wine a few years ago. The 2017 is, I think, even better. The wine is made from 110-year old vines planted in Itata, one of the first vineyards to be planted by the Spanish conquistadors when they arrived in Chile.

 

€15 from Marks & Spencer

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Ramon Roqueta Tina 3 Garnacha 2016, Calatayud

Ramon Roqueta Tina 3 Garnacha 2016, Calatayud

ramon roqueta1

 

This is a very moreish all-purpose wine that offers great value for money. Medium-bodied juicy ripe strawberry fruits with plenty of concentration and real oomph on the mid-palate, and a smooth rounded finish.

 

A good match for most red meats or pork; I had mine with mildly spiced lamb kofte and a tomato salsa.

 

€14 from Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com.

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Domaine de la Taille aux Loups 2015, Remus, Montlouis

Domaine de la Taille aux Loups 2015, Remus, Montlouis

montlouisA glorious wine; a rich creamy texture, balanced by very brisk, well-integrated acidity, and masses of mouth-watering quince and white peach fruits, finishing long and dry.

In an ideal world, with poached wild salmon with a buttery dill sauce. But good quality farmed salmon would still do nicely.

Jacky Blot has transformed the reputation of Montlouis, so long the poor neighbour of Vouvray. This single vineyard Chenin Blanc is one of the best white wines I have tasted so far in 2018. It is worth buying by the case if you can afford it, as this will keep and improve for years to come.

€29.40 from Wines Direct, Mullingar, Arnott’s, Dublin and by mail order from Winesdirect.ie

 

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de Martino Las Cruces Old Vine Malbec Carmenère 2014, Valle de Cachapoal

de Martino Las Cruces Old Vine Malbec Carmenère 2014, Valle de Cachapoal

Las Cruces 2014

 

 

Wonderful wine. An explosion of tight ripe savoury dark fruits with real concentration and backbone. Lovely balance and great length – 13.5% alcohol. A world away from most alcoholic, oaky luxury Chilean wines, this really is worth trying, despite the price tag.

 

This would go nicely with most grilled or roast red meats. Lightly spicy barbecued lamb or a gourmet burger.

 

Expensive, but this one is worth it. I tasted this as part of an article on wines from Itata, the first vineyards planted by the Spanish conquistadores. This is made from the granitic Las Cruces vineyard, planted in 1956 It is a field blend of 75% Malbec and 25% Carmenère.

€40 from O’Briens Wines.

 

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Pale pink or cherry-red? Dry or sweet? How to choose the right rosé

boho

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 12th July, 2018

We tend to buy rosé by colour. If the wine is very pale salmon pink, it will be dry; cherry-red and it must be sweet. It isn’t quite that simple, but it is a good starting point. Rosé wines vary hugely in their sugar content and it isn’t always easy to work out which is dry and which is sweet. One useful indicator is origin. California blush is generally sweet, as is Rosé d’Anjou and Mateus Rosé, while pale Provence Rosé is bone-dry. In between there is a host of pleasantly fruity dry wines that are perfect for summer drinking. The success of Provence rosé seems to have convinced some of us that this is the only pink to drink, but there are plenty of other options, including Spanish Rosado, that are every bit as good – and frequently a lot cheaper.

If your memories of Spanish rosé (Rosado in Spanish) are of cheap plonk guzzled on holidays on the costas, then it is time to think again. Spain has a long tradition of making rosado, and today makes some very good wines. The Navarra region made its name producing fruity, dry rosés, apparently a tradition that goes back to the 12th century, when it slated the thirst of pilgrims walking the Camino. These days, Navarra also makes some really good red and white wines, but is still best-known for rosados. The grape variety involved is usually Garnacha, or sometimes Tempranillo. Other parts of Spain, from Catalunya to Alicante have got in on the act and now offer some very stylish rosados. In the past, clarete, made either by fermenting red and white grapes together, as with the wine below, or by simply blending red and white wine, was very popular.

The best Spanish rosados have masses of ripe red fruits – cherries, strawberries and raspberries yet finish bone-dry. This means they go really well with savoury foods. Dry rosé in general is one of the most food-friendly wines of all, perfect with all kinds of summer salads as well as milder Asian dishes. Not surprisingly, Rosado goes very well with various Spanish foods, including mixed tapas, seafood and of course paella.

As well as the wines below, Tesco has the Revero Tempranillo Rosado for an incredible €3.99, and O’Briens the Finca Vadmoya for €9.95. Look out in independents for the excellent Lopez de Haro for about €16. Wines Direct (Mullingar, Arnotts and online), has the very tasty Olivares Rosado for €12.50.

If you do find yourself in Spain this summer desperately looking for a Spanish Rosado, the Torres Sangre de Toro, not available here in Ireland, is a good inexpensive bet.

Gran Fuedo Rosado 2017, Navarra

13.5%, €12.99-13.99

Very attractive, refreshing, light strawberry fruits with a bone-dry finish. Serve well-chilled with tapas and grilled white fish.

Stockists: Very widely available through independents including McHughs, Kilbarrack Road and Malahide Road, mchughs.ie; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Matson’s Wine Store, Cork, matsonswinesandbeer.com; Burke Londis, Kinvara, Galway; Daly’s, Boyle, Co Roscommon; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Eldons, Clonmel; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Shiel’s Londis, Malahide; The Coach House, Ballinteer, thecoach.ie.

Montesierra Selección Rosado 2017, Somontano

13.5%, €13.50

Medium-bodied stewed red cherry and strawberry fruit. Rounded and smooth. Try it with grilled salmon, sea trout or mackerel.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Sweeney’s Wines, Glasnevin, swenenyswines.ie; Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie.

La Maldición Clarete, 2017, Viños de Madrid

13.5%, €15.90

A captivating rosado (or clarete) with real interest. Relatively full-bodied with light tannins and concentrated savoury strawberry fruits. This went really well with a mozzarella and tomato salad on a warm summer’s evening.

Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh; redmonds.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie.

Sonrojo Garnacha 2017, Navarra

13.5%, €16.50

Wonderful pure freshly crushed raspberry and strawberry fruits with a lively acidity and a snappy dry finish. I could drink this all summer long. Cold chicken with panzanella.

Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, baggotstreetwines.com; Liston’s, Camden Street, listonsfoodstore.ie; Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie.

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The best wines to drink with salads

STYRIAFirst published in The Irish Times, Saturday 7th July, 2018

As the good weather continues, this week we will look at wines to drink with summer salads. I may have been guilty of blithely suggesting to match a particular wine with salads in general. But what kind of salad? There is a huge difference between a delicate herb-scented dish of courgettes and fennel, and a plate of full-on chili-spiked Mexican beans. And what if you are serving a barbequed steak, lamb skewers or sweet chili chicken drumsticks alongside your salad?

As with most food and wine matching, it makes sense to serve light-bodied wines with delicately flavoured foods and richer wines with more powerful recipes. Sharp acidic salads go best with crisp refreshing white wines. Many books suggest only white wines, but if I often drink a Beaujolais or another light red with whatever is going.

Vinegar is wine that has gone sour, so a dressing made with vinegar doesn’t do any favours to wine. I generally add lemon juice to my vinaigrette instead. The wine of a region often provides a great match for local foods. Provence Rosé with a classic Salade Niçoise works really well, as does Beaujolais with ham and other charcuterie or an Assyrtiko with Greek salad.

Chardonnay

Salmon, with its rich, oily, meaty texture and flavour, needs something more substantial. With salmon tartar, smoked salmon or cold poached salmon with cucumber and salads, I would usually go for a Chardonnay. The de Martino below would be perfect, as would the Begude Chardonnays in O’Briens (€16.95-18.95), a Chablis or the Aldi Limestone Coast Chardonnay (€8.49).

Or why not experiment a little with a Godello from Spain, or a nicely textured Grüner Veltliner from Austria – Grüner being one of the all-time great food wines. If you are barbequing or grilling your salmon, then a rosé or Pinot Noir might be a better bet. Marks & Spencer have the fragrant juicy Albert Bichot Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune 2015 for a very reasonable €19.50, or the Couveys below offers good value. All of the above would go nicely with cold chicken-based dishes too, including Caesar salad.

Italian whites

With salads featuring prawns, scallops and crab, go for crisp aromatic whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Albariño. Riesling (and Grüner Veltliner) also goes well with Thai beef salads. Sauvignon Blanc partners nicely with milder goat’s cheese salads. Tomato and red pepper based salads are generally best with crisp whites. I tend to go for Italian whites, such as Soave or Verdicchio.

I suspect that at outdoor get-togethers, most of us probably serve a mix of different salads instead of a single dish. My go-to wines to cover all bases would include a dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, or an unoaked Chardonnay, but possibly best of all would be a medium-bodied rosé. It is summer after all.

Bottles of the Week

Couveys Pinot Noir Les Petits Greniers 2016, Pays d’Oc 13%, €10.99


Ripe smooth red cherry fruits with an earthy touch and a rounded finish. Good with barbequed salmon or chicken, and mixed salads.
Stockists Spar, Eurospar, Londis & Mace.

Grüner Veltliner Löss 201, Kamptal, Rabl 12%, €14.95 until 15th July (normally €18.95)


A light refreshing Grüner, with lovely elegant peach fruits and a touch of ginger spice. Great with cold seafood dishes, Thai food and summer salads.
Stockists O’Briens. Obrienswine.ie

Legado Chardonnay Reserva 2017, de Martino, Limarí Valley 13.5%,€7


An impressive medium-bodied Chardonnay, with very refreshing clean pear and apple fruits, a vein of crisp acidity and a long dry finish. With salmon, tuna and Cesar Salad.
Stockists The Malt House, Trim; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; Molloy’s Liquor Store, molloys.ie; Wineonline.ie

Ch. l’Ou Rosé, 2017, Côtes du Roussillon 13.5%, €20


Medium-bodied with lovely strawberry and raspberry fruits, finishing dry. A great all-rounder to serve with a range of summer salads.
Stockists Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown.

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