Castelli del Duca Secco Isabella 2016 Malvasia dei Colli Piacentini
Lightly sparkling, with aromatic, clean, fresh grapey aromas and light mouth-watering crisp dry fruit.
A very lovely aperitif or party wine and a great alternative to Prosecco.
The Medici family make a range of excllent Lambrusco and a juicy light Sangiovese under the Medici Ermete label. The Castel del Duca estate wines come from the Colli Piacentini DOC, on the western end of Emilia.
A lovely light, juicy, fresh, red wine with beautifully defined crunchy dark cherries – a great glugger at a great price.
Coming in at a mere 12.5% abv, this would be great on its own, or with a plate of charcuterie and some crusty bread.
Good Valpol is one of my favourite wines. Light, juicy and low in alcohol, it refreshes snd invites you to take another sip; and then another, and so on. This may only have IGT status, but, made from the same grape, it is streets ahead of most Valpolicella at this price.
A quite delicious light Soave with a waxy touch, some peach and yellow apple fruits mixing in with marzipan and a lively streak of mineral acidity. Made from biodynamically grown grapes with minimal sulphur, it has a pleasant leesy touch too.
Drink by itself or with lighter seafood dishes. I drank mine with a bowl of spaghetti alle vongole – otherwise known as clams with parsley and pasta.
Soave covers a multitude of sins, and a few bright shining stars. Anything under €10 is likely to be insipid and a little confected; €10-15 should get you a well-made inoffensive crisp dry white wine. Once you go over €15, expect a wine that is still light and refreshing, but with more complex flavours of almonds, lemon zest, summer fruits and even an edgy minerality.
€18.65 from Le Caveau, Kilkenny lecaveau.ie; 64 Wines, Glasthule; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Bradley’s, Cork.
A very smooth elegant concentrated wine with subtle ripe plums and black cherries. Tannin-free, supple and very moreish.
This went down perfectly over dinner with a few close friends. We ate Rachel Roddy’s pot roast lemon chicken with potatoes, anchovy and rosemary, my new favourite chicken recipe.
As with Soave, Montepulciano d’Abuzzo comes in all shapes and sizes. The larger co-operatives to the south produce a mass of inexpensive soft easy-drinking wines. They may lack character, but I find them less offensive than some of the ‘house wine’ alternatives. Once you pay €15 or more, you will find some very good wines, usually still soft and supple but with greater concentration and style – provided the producer avoids over-extracting or using too much oak.
€17.50 from Morton’s Ranelagh; Drinkstore, Stoney Batter; Power, Lucan; The Wine Library, Dun Laoghaire; Martins, Fairview; Coach House Ballinteer; Sweeneys, Glasnevin; Gibney’s, Malahide; Corkscrew, Chatham Street; The Wicklow Wine Co.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 10th March, 2018
As the cold weather finally comes to an end, one last look at some full-on red wines guaranteed to blow away any lingering chill. On paper at least, Puglia (or Apulia if you prefer) has a lot going for it; some really good soils for growing grapes; a few interesting local grape varieties; and plenty of warm, dry sunny weather, tempered by cooling maritime winds.
And yet, for too long Puglia was a prime example of the problems that beset many European wine regions; a massive over-production of poor quality wine from large co-operatives, supplied by small farmers relying on handouts from the Italian government or the EU to survive.
Puglia is all about two liquids; olive oil and wine. The region produces nearly half of all Italian olive oil. It is also responsible for 700 million litres of wine, mostly red wine each year – that is over 930 million bottles of wine, although much never gets anywhere near a bottle.
In the past most of it was was distilled into industrial alcohol or used to make vermouth. Many locals would add that a lot was illegally shipped in tankers to be blended into wines from more famous regions further north.
In recent years, great efforts have been made to improve quality. As Puglia shakes off its reputation for huge over-alcoholic wines, we are starting to see more very impressive bottles, as well as a host of inexpensive wines that can compete with Chile, Australia and the Languedoc.
Some producers pick early to keep alcohol levels down – ripening grapes has never been an issue in the hot, sunny summers. Quality producers tend to be found at higher altitudes, where better soils are often found too.
Puglia is a narrow strip of land, some 425km long. It includes the stiletto heel of Italy and runs further up the calf, along the east coast. The two best-known grapes are Primitivo and Negroamaro. Primitivo is better known as California’s Zinfandel. In Puglia, the wine is typically big and powerful and loaded with ripe dark fruits. Those maritime winds help preserve Primitvo’s natural acidity. Negroamaro (the name means “black bitter”) can be equally big, with soft baked red fruits and spice, but generally the wines lack the acidic bite that makes Primitivo so attractive. A third main local variety (there are many others too, as well as international varieties), Nero di Troia, has generated a lot of interest in recent years.
Looking around the multiples, many seemed to concentrate on appassimento wines (see last week’s column) from Puglia. In addition to the wines below, SuperValu offer a decent Primitivo and a Negromaro for €11.99 under the Intrigo label.
Grifone Primitivo 2016, IGT Puglia 13%, €9.99
A very gluggable juicy red wine, with abundant dark forest fruits and a dry finish. One to drink alongside herby braised red meats or spicy Mexican foods. Stockists Spar, Eurospar, Mace and Londis.
Le Vigne di Sammarco, Pimitivo di Manduria 2016 14%, €15.90
Textured, expansive, spice-laden big bold black fruits, with nicely integrated tannins and good length. Match it with grilled red meats; a rib-eye sounds about right. Stockists Wines Direct, Mullingar & Arnott’s, winesdirect.ie
Tenute Rubino Punta Aquila Primitivo 2014, IGT Salento 14.5%, €18.95
An explosion of delicious smooth sun-kissed dark fruits. Rounded and supple, with plenty of power, this should be drunk with rich stews or pasta with long-simmered meaty tomato sauces. Stockists O’Briens
Vibrans Nero di Troia 2015, Caiaffa, Puglia 14%, €20
Brooding full-bodied wine with layer after layer of smooth, ripe dark forest fruits. Robust dishes required here; pasta in a rich tomato sauce, possibly with some spicy n’duja? Stockists: Lilac Wines; DSix; Baggot Street Wines; Corkscrew; Blackrock Cellar; Martins’; Morton’s; McHugh’s; Grapevine; Wicklow Wine Co
First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 3rd March, 2018
There are various ways to boost alcohol in a wine. You can add sugar to the fermenting must, or invest in expensive high-tech machines that increase the concentration of flavour and sugars. But one of the most ancient ways of all has been enjoying a new lease of life. You may never have heard of it, but wines made by the appassimento method have been growing in popularity over the past decade.
The best known passito wine (those made by the appassimento method) is Amarone from the Valpolicella region. Traditionally bunches of grapes were carefully laid out to dry on bamboo mats in farmhouse lofts for several months. These days drying is more likely to take place on plastic trays or steel racks in large temperature-controlled warehouses. This process (used around the Mediterranean to produce sweet wines since time immemorial) increases the level of sugar, and therefore the potential alcohol. Amarone must be at least 14 per cent alcohol content but is often 15-16 per cent. Recioto is a rare sweet version of Amarone. The same region is also responsible for Ripasso, where the winemaker referments a finished Valpolicella on the used Amarone skins.
In the Veneto there has been a dramatic increase in the production of Ripasso wines, and a consequent decrease in lighter Valpolicella. The first ever Ripasso, Masi Campo Fiorin, is widely available for about €20.
Once confined to northeast Italy, the practice of drying grapes has spread to other parts of Italy, and even as far as Australia and Argentina. As well as increasing alcohol, the process adds body, richness and a smoothness in the mouth. The fruit character changes too. Having spent some time on dried skins, most appassimento wines have subtle or marked flavours of raisins, prunes and other dried fruits. Many winemakers use only a portion of dried grapes to give the wine a gentle boost and add texture.
I cannot claim to be a great fan of these wines; while the occasional glass of Amarone with a few chunks of Parmesan is a nice way to finish off a meal, usually I prefer something lighter. It is not just the alcohol; some qualify as off-dry or even medium-dry wines. Three of the four wines below would have generous levels of residual sugar. However, I am certainly in a minority, as retailers everywhere report buoyant sales.
According to O’Briens’ wine director Lynne Coyle MW, it is all about the style of wine. “In general the wines are very accessible; fruity, with some ripeness and sweetness and they have an overall impression of smoothness in the mouth. They appeal to people discovering red wine but also to people who enjoy the popular Ripasso and Amarone wines; these “me too” wines offer something of this style often at more affordable price point.
Four more ‘me too’ wines to try
Bardolino 2016, Cantina di Negrar 12%, €12.45
The antithesis of the three wines below. Lovely light juicy red cherry fruits, with good acidity and an easy finish. Perfect by itself, with pizza or lighter tomato-based pasta dishes.
Fazzoletto Barbera Passito, Piemonte 14%, €14.95 (€12.95 until March 25th)
Juicy ripe plums and blackcurrants with a smooth rounded finish. It comes with a mini fazzoletto rosso, the scarf worn by Italian resistance fighters in the second World War. Drink with rich pasta dishes – lasagna or braised beef.
First puvblished in The Irish Times, Saturday 24th February, 2018
I have tasted a lot of Chardonnay over the last ten days; at an excellent masterclass on Margaret River, courtesy of Wine Australia, then an even better masterclass on Meursault from the Bourgogne, and best of all, an excellent bottle of Meursault shared with good friends alongside a dish of turbot.
Sadly neither Meursault nor Margaret River have anything to offer under €40, although both can offer reasonable value for money. But as Chardonnay, one of the greatest white grape varieties, is widely planted throughout the wine world, there is no shortage of alternatives. Chardonnay is essentially a white wine trying to be red. It certainly can be one of the richest, most textured white wines, although this depends on where it is grown and when it is picked. For maximum enjoyment, serve cool but not ice-cold.
And so to the question of oak. Many consumers still remember the buttery, oaky Chardonnays of the early 2000’s and are wary of ever trying a glass again. Rest assured that these wines are a thing of the past. The vast majority are now either completely unoaked, or oaked in such a subtle manner you won’t notice it. A Chardonnay made from grapes picked early or from a cool climate (such as Chablis) will be fresh, crisp and dry. To be technical, if the winemaker hasn’t put it through malo-lactic fermentation, aged it in oak barrels or stirred the lees, it will be lighter and fresher still. These days most wines are made from a blend of all of the above to give greater complexity and balance.
The key to enjoying the more full-bodied style of Chardonnay is food. A wine that seems big and powerful on its own provides a perfect backdrop for all sorts of rich fish dishes – prawns, salmon, tuna, black sole or turbot, especially if it has a creamy or buttery sauce. It can also be paired with chicken, pork and cheeses (Comté and Chardonnay is one of my favourite matches).
At times, it can be difficult to work out what style of Chardonnay you are buying, although the back label often has information. This week; four Chardonnays from different parts of the globe, but none from Chardonnay’s hometown of Burgundy. If you want to try the Burgundian version, Jus de Vine in Portmarnock have the excellent Talmard Macon-Uchizy 2016 for a bargain price of €16.99. The Limestone Coast Chardonnay below is completely unoaked and shows fresh, pure Chardonnay fruit. The Begude Etoile and Lucky Lizard both offer a subtle delicious halfway house. The Jordan is the oakiest of the four, but it still never dominates the classic Chardonnay fruit.
Aldi Exquisite Limestone Coast Chardonnay, Australia 2014 14%, €8.49
A fresh, crisp style of unoaked Chardonnay with lime zest and red apple fruits. Nicely textured with a dry finish, this would go nicely with grilled prawns or scallops in a rich creamy sauce. Stockists: Aldi
Jordan Barrel-fermented Chardonnay 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa 13.5%, €19.95
Subtle oak here, with notes of brioche and toasted hazelnuts, alongside some orange peel, red apple fruits and zesty refreshing lime. Try it with chicken or pork with a creamy pasta sauce. Stockists: Widely available nationwide through independent off-licences including: O’Donovan’s, Cork; World Wide Wines, Waterford; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Salmon’s, Ballinasloe; 1601, Kinsale
Very lightly oaked but you won’t taste it. Medium-bodied creamy apple, pear and orange fruits with a subtle note of baked bread. Perfect with chicken dishes, such as roast chicken with a herb stuffing. Stockists: O’Briens
d’Arenberg Lucky Lizard Chardonnay 2015, Adelaide Hills, Australia 13.5%, €22
Very lightly oaked. Succulent, rounded, beautifully textured Chardonnay with seductive mango and peach fruits balanced perfectly by a refreshing acidity. Try it with lightly spiced prawn dishes or salmon fish cakes. Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey; Donnybrook Fair; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Martins, Fairview; Londis, Malahide
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 10th February 2018
“I was a girl when I met this prince; aroused, imperious, treacherous, as all great seducers are.”
French writer Colette was referring to Jurançon, a wine from southwest France rather than any lothario. I suspect she was smitten by the sweet wine, but I feature the dry version below. Sadly, I cannot guarantee it will improve your efforts at seduction on St Valentine’s day. Wine’s ability to arouse the senses is well-known. We know too that it can detract from performance. The key, as in many things, is moderation. A glass or two of good wine should enhance the mood and conversation.
If you have the facilities, a simple meal prepared at home is far better than an over-priced meal in a restaurant packed with fellow Valentines. Even if your culinary skills are non-existent, every supermarket and delicatessen now offers a range of decent ready-cooked meals that require no effort. I would certainly suggest buying something decent to drink, this is not the time to be miserly. If you are married or in a long-term relationship, why not buy something special that you may have shared on holiday together, or on your first date?
Start with fizz
Start off with a glass of sparkling wine of some sort, then on to a glass of red wine with your food. However, a full bottle of fizz will have you both incapable of romance. My search for half bottles of anything sparkling only proved that they are not easy to find and often extortionately priced.
O’Briens have the very decent house Champagne, Beaumont des Crayères. If you really want to push the boat out, they also have ½ bottles of Bollinger for €32.45. A few outlets, including Tesco and O’Briens, have half-bottles of Moet & Chandon for around €30. If you are lucky enough to live near Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown in south Dublin they have ½ bottles of their excellent house Champagne for €19.95 or the Bouvet Cremant de Loire for a mere €12.95. Alternatively, on the northside, Jus de Vine in Portmarnock has the best selection, ranging from €8.99 for prosecco to €31.99 for the superb Charles Heidsieck.
When choosing a red wine, go for something smooth and seductive and certainly not too high in alcohol. This is not the time for a beefy Malbec or powerful Amarone. You can’t really go wrong with a silky sensuous Pinot Noir. Burgundy, is a possibility, but most New World countries now produce very affordable alternatives. Chile offers the best value, followed closely by New Zealand. You may want to finish your romantic meal with chocolate, but it kills most wine stone dead. A bowl of strawberries and cream with sparkling wine might be a better alternative.
A very stylish scented Pinot Noir with smooth elegant pure dark fruits. Light yet mouth-filling with a nicely rounded finish. Perfect with a seared breast of duck, chicken, but light enough to provide a great match for tuna and salmon steaks.
Stockists: Dunnes Stores
Beaumont des Crayères Grand Réserve N.V. Champagne 12%, €19.45 for a ½ bottle
Stylish creamy Champagne with light red fruits, and hints of brioche. Serve with a few nibbles (Champagne is great with cheese straws or biscuits) or with fish dishes.
Jurançon Sec 2015 Clos Lapeyre 13.5%, €21
A heady mix of citrus peel, fresh mouth-watering pineapple and peaches with a subtle note of hazelnuts, finishing dry. I can see why Colette got so excited. A great partner for grilled salmon steaks with a buttery lemon sauce.
Stockists: World Wide Wines, Waterford; 64Wines, Glasthule; Martin’s, Fairview; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St
A magnificent wine with refined, layered lush black cherry fruits that gently caress the palate. Sophisticated and satin smooth, this will surely thrill your Valentine. As with the Pinot above, drink alongside duck, chicken, tuna or salmon.
Stockists: Thomas Woodberry, Galway; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; wineonline.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock
The wine’s dark acidic days are in the past thanks to a new breed of producers.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday February 3rd, 2018.
Fancy a glass of chilled, fizzy, acidic red wine? I suspect not. It doesn’t sound very enticing, particularly on a cold February day. As one who finds it hard to love that Australian speciality, sparkling (red) Shiraz, until recently I have always avoided Lambrusco like the plague.
Lambrusco is a sweet, red, fizzy wine that weaned a generation of Americans on to wine as well as providing cheap alcohol for thirsty students in Ireland. Tesco offers a version of this, a 5.5 per cent wine for a mere €4.99. Lambrusco made a fortune for its first American importer, who invested the profits in the vast Banfi estate in Tuscany. It kept some of the farmers of Emilia-Romagna (where it is made) happy but gained the region an unenviable reputation.
But Lambrusco has changed. Driven by a small group of ambitious producers, it now offers a string of interesting, complex, dry, lightly sparkling wines. They are low in alcohol, fresh and quite unique. Not only that, the surrounding Emilia-Romagna produces some delicious still, red wines, and some very tasty dry whites too. All of them are amazingly food-friendly, especially when matched with the local cuisine.
On a recent trip to a wine fair in Bologna, I tasted my way through some excellent sparkling wines, Lambrusco included, red, white and rosé. Some were lightly frizzante or “pét-nat”, others fully sparkling. With their violet aromas, vivid delicate fruits, ranging from crunchy dark cherries to wild strawberries, the best examples are genuinely mouthwatering and utterly charming. Confusingly, Lambrusco is not a region, nor a single grape variety. It is a group of grape varieties, eight to 10, depending on who you talk to, that come in various shades of colour, as well as being the name of the wine.
Like many regions of Italy, Emilia-Romagna has a huge number of denominazione or appellations. The region claims to be the true home of Sangiovese (before those Tuscans got their hands on it), generally made in an intriguing soft, almost Pinot Noir-like style that can be excellent when done well.
I also visited the city’s many excellent wine bars. Bologna is a bustling student city, with one of Europe’s oldest universities, and the wine bars were the perfect place for sipping a glass of light, frothy, fizzy red wine with a plate of cold meats and cheese, despite the fact it was November. To follow, the restaurants offer rich satisfying food – Bologna is not known as La Grassa or “the fat” for nothing. The region produces some of Italy’s great foods, including Parma ham, Parmesan and balsamic vinegar, as well as being the home of ragù alla Bolognese. The latter goes down a treat with a glass of good Lambrusco.
Reggiano Rosso 2016, Emilia-Romagna 12%, €10.30
A blend of local grapes including Lambrusco, this is a lovely light wine with juicy dark fruits; an Italian version of Beaujolais? Drink with charcuterie/salami or pasta dishes. We had ours with penne, broccoli and sausage, a Rachel Roddy recipe.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer
Medici Ermete IGT Sangiovese Rubicone, Emilia-Romagna 11.5%, €12.95
Light, soft, easy, dark cherry fruits with a rounded finish; elegant and refreshing at the same time. Try it with home-made pasta with pancetta and Parmesan or spaghetti carbonara.
Light and dry with lovely floral aromas, crisp, lean blackcurrant fruits, plenty of fine bubbles, finishing with a flourish. Go local and serve with shavings of parmesan, perhaps some Parma ham, Mortadella and a few grissini.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer
Medici Ermete Concerto Reggiano Lambrusco Frizzante 11.5%, €25
A charming, light, refreshing, gently sparkling red wine with invigorating blackcurrant and dark cherry fruits, finishing dry. Excellent modern Lambrusco. Try it before a meal with a few cheesy nibbles or some good salami.
Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers; SIYPS.com
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 27th, 2018
Late last year the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, a Paris-based technical group, predicted that global wine production would fall by more than 8 per cent, or 22 million hectolitres, in 2017 from the previous year.
It estimated that the world would produce 246 million hectolitres of wine, almost 33 billion bottles. That may seem like a lot of wine, but it is the lowest level since 1961.
The drop in production is down to the weather; severe spring frosts in the France, Italy and Spain, the world’s three largest producers, followed by a long summer heatwave and drought in parts of Italy and Spain, all played a part.
It seems the best-known regions such as Bordeaux (but not Burgundy for once), Rioja, Chianti and Barolo were all affected. Apparently the fires in California had a negligible effect, as they occurred after the harvest.
The International Organisation of Vine and Wine also estimated that global consumption would be somewhere between 240.5 and 245.8 million hectolitres, so there should be enough to go around, but only just. Who drinks all of this wine? The producer countries mostly.
The United States is the world’s largest consumer, at 31.8 million hectolitres of wine in 2016, followed by France (27.0 million hectolitres), Italy (22.5 million hectolitres), Germany (20.2 million hectolitres) and China (17.3 million hectolitres).
While China is expected to become the world’s second-largest market in the next five years market (current annual consumption is 1.34 litres per head, compared with our 18 litres per head), producers hoping for a bonanza may be disappointed. China is now the world’s seventh largest producer of wine, and this will certainly increase. But in the meantime, as an example of how the market is changing, China now accounts for 30 per cent of Australia’s wine exports, and is now by far their largest market. The same holds for Chile.
Consumption in Ireland is a tiny drop in this ocean at just over 80 million litres. Chile overperforms here, with 25.1 per cent of the market, although it is the world’s ninth largest producer, followed by Australia on just over 18 per cent. These are followed by the big three, France, Italy and Spain with a combined total of roughly 35 per cent of the market. These figures are based on volume and not value. We have always been keen on New World wines; combined they account for more than 60 per cent of wines sold.
Individual regions may be suffering, but we should not worry about an immediate shortage on our shelves. However, experts argue that we can expect more severe weather events in the future. Growing quality grapes is a complex business, and even a slight increase in temperatures will pose huge challenges for some of the world’s pre-eminent regions. On the other hand, maybe we will see more Irish wine in the future.
Four wines to try
Mas Buscados 2014, Tempranillo Petit Verdot VdT de Castilla 14%, €9.95 from January 29th, down from €13.95
A big, warm hug of a wine, filled with sweet supple jammy dark fruits. Perfect winter drinking with casseroles, roast red meats or hard cheeses. Stockist: O’Briens
Tesco’s Finest Ribera del Duero Reserva 2012 14.5%, €12
A big, powerful red wine full of ripe dark fruits and spicy tannins. Locally they would drink it with roast lamb and pork, but this would go equally well with a juicy barbecued steak. If you usually drink Malbec from Argentina, this might be a good alternative. Stockist: Tesco
Cantina di Negrar Valpolicella Classico 2016 12.5%, €14.95
Floral aromas with light juicy red cherries and a smooth, tannin-free finish. It slips down all too easily. Perfect with cold meats, mushroom risotto, a pork chop or lighter cheeses. Otherwise Margherita pizza sounds good. Stockists: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers (all branches); siyps.com
El Castro de Valtuille 2016, Mencía Joven, Bierzo 14%, €15.50
An old favourite that has returned to form with the 2016 vintage. A lovely, elegantly fruity wine with a touch of liquorice and refreshing acidity. Ideal with grilled breast of duck or a confit leg, but this is a pretty good all-purpose red. Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; 64wine; La Touche; Martins; Clontarf Wines; Baggot Street Wines; Liston’s; Drink Store, Manor Street; Lilac Wines; Sweeneys.