First published in the Irish Times, Wednesday 11th December, 2019
At Christmas I swop my usual fino sherry for another of my favourite wines; aged dry sherry and Madeira. Every year, I make sure I have at least one bottle open, my personal Christmas treat, to dip into when the time is right.
Once opened, a bottle will keep for a week or so and makes the perfect indulgent treat; a glass of Oloroso, Amontillado or Palo Cortado sherry, or a dry Sercial Madeira with some cheese, a few crackers, and maybe some nuts. Pour a small measure into a proper large wine glass to release the amazing aromas.
Dry Amontillado Los Arcos, Lustau
€13.50 per half bottle , 18.5%
A delicious, rich, rounded Amontillado with walnuts and hazelnuts, dried fruits and a touch of toffee. Drink it with firm cheeses and nuts. From: Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny, thewinecentre.ie; Gibney’s, Malahide, gibneys.com
A superb precise intensely flavoured sherry with toasted almonds, mahogany polish, tangy crisp citrus acidity and excellent dry length. Serve lightly chilled with fried salty almonds, a few slices of chorizo or some pâté and toast. From: Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3 clontarfwines.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, ely64.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie
Hidalgo Oloroso Faraon
€16.50 for a 50cl bottle, 18%
A very elegant bone-dry sherry with toasted hazelnuts, citrus peel and raisins finishing on an attractive saline note. From:jnwine.com
Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortado
€45 per half litre bottle, 19%
An exquisite sherry, elegant and concentrated with orange peel, toasted almonds, finishing long and bone dry. Try with blue cheese on sourdough toast. From: Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; elywinebar.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com
First published in the Irish Times, Saturday, 30th November, 2019.
There can be few nicer things than sitting down in front of a fire, or cuddled up on the sofa, with a glass of warming, sweet fortified wine on a cold winter’s evening. A mince pie, a slice of Christmas cake completes the scene. Or, if like me your tastes are more savoury, a hunk of blue cheese, a few walnuts and some crackers. Either way, it creates a sense of hygge (Scandinavians love port but prefer Glogg or mulled wine) and provides a barrier to the cold outside. So, this Christmas make sure you have a bottle of something decent to hand. I will take a look at dry fortified wines next week, this week tawny port. A fortified wine is simply a wine that has been boosted by the addition of some grape brandy. This is done during fermentation and kills the yeasts off, leaving a naturally sweet wine.
Port has moved away from the images of crusty gout-ridden colonels sitting in their club sipping a glass of vintage port. A new generation of wine drinkers see it as something to enjoy with food. These days tawny port is more often drunk lightly chilled with a dessert or as an aperitif or even with savoury dishes.
Vintage and late-bottled vintage port are aged in the bottle, whereas tawny matures in barrel for periods of up to 40 years. Younger tawny port, such as 10-year-old still retains some ripe sweet fruits. As it ages in barrel port becomes nuttier and woodier.
The age statement is an average age; a 10-year-old will be a blend of various wines ranging from five to 15 years old. A Colheita tawny port is from a single vintage. All tawny comes ready-aged, and doesn’t need decanting.
Although we are happy to drink sweet soft drinks and medium-dry appassimento wines, some wine drinkers feel port is too sweet or too high in alcohol. The quality of all ports across the range is higher than ever. All four wines below offer great value for money, and would make a great Christmas present too. Aldi’s Maynards 10-year-old is an amazing bargain.
You can of course enjoy tawny port alongside sweet treats such as fruit cake and mince pies, but it also goes very well with pecan pie and walnut tart. I suspect it might go well with rich eggy pasteis de nata too. On the savoury side I have also enjoyed it with chicken liver parfait and firm cheeses. At the table, tawny certainly tastes so much better if served lightly chilled, in proper wine glasses too. Why not try it out this Christmas?
Maynard’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port 20%, €13.99
A rich complex Port with sultanas, raisins, hazelnuts and milk chocolate. Perfect with fruit cake, chocolate desserts or even a box of chocolates. From Aldi, Aldi.ie
Krohn 10 Year Old Tawny Port 20%, €27.50
A delicious warming fruit-filled port with sweet plums, dried fruits, a light woodiness and good acidity to stop it cloying. One to dip into over Christmas. From Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie
Offley Ten Year Old Tawny Port 20%, €34.99
Some rich damson fruits alongside the grilled hazelnuts, dried citrus peel and butterscotch. Not too sweet, and a lovely glass of wine. With chicken liver parfait, pecan pie or Christmas cake. From The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Terroirs, Dublin 4, Terroirs.ie; Thomas’s of Foxrock; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny, Thewinecentre.ie; Wineonline.ie.
First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 23rd November, 2019.
Having a party this Christmas? Choosing the right wine is not too difficult once you keep a couple of guidelines in mind.
Supermarkets have plenty of sub-€10 bottles, but cheap wines really only benefit the taxman. To send your guests home happy, be prepared to spend €10 or more a bottle. If you can stretch to €15, you will certainly notice the difference. If your budget is tight, don’t worry; I list a few of my favourite €10 supermarket wines below. Either way, it is worth buying one bottle first and trying it out at home, maybe with a few friends.
Richer, more alcoholic wines – white as well as red – are best avoided; a hefty 14.5 per cent red wine will overwhelm the palate and have your guests reeling after a glass on an empty stomach. Far better to go for lighter wines that refresh. Heavily oaked white wines are best kept for food, so avoid these if at all possible. With red wines steer clear of those with drying tannins; again, great with food but unpleasant on their own. There are plenty of wines with 11-13.5 per cent alcohol that will go down so much better. Lastly, remember wine stimulates the appetite and also tastes a lot better with food; a few nibbles, even bought-in supermarket party trays, will provide welcome soakage.
There is a huge range of low-alcohol white wines, including Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (always popular), but remember that Chile and the Loire valley also produce very good versions. Spain offers Verdejo from Rueda and Rías Baixas; Portugal has some great white wines, including Alvarinho and Vinho Verde, and from France I would go for Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet or Côtes de Gascogne. Italy has a range of light whites, my favourites being Verdicchio and Soave, but a good Pinot Grigio would work too.
Light, fruity red wines include inexpensive Merlot, Pinot Noir, Gamay/Beaujolais, unoaked Rioja and Valpolicella and Bardolino.
My recommendations from the multiples include the Les Courtelles Picpoul de Pinet (€11) and Silver Moki Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (€10.50) from Dunnes Stores, Picouto de Cima Vinho Verde (€11.95) and Rizzardi Bardolino Classico (€14.95) from O’Briens, and Exquisite Marlborough Sauvignon (€9.99) and South Australia Pinot Noir (€8.99) from Aldi. Lidl has Laurana Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi and Madame Parmentier Régnié (both €9.99). Marks & Spencer has a Verdicchio (€10.50) and a light, fruity Valpolicella Valpatena (€10.50).
Pinot Noir 2017, Domaine Antugnac, Haute Vallée de l’Aude 13%, €14.58
Lovely sweet, ripe red-cherry fruits with a slight earthiness and a supple, fruit-filled finish. Great served solo or with a variety of nibbles at cool room temperature. From Wines Direct, Mullingar and Arnott’s, Dublin 1, winesdirect.ie
Aduna Rioja 2018 13.5%, €14.95
Violet aromas and vibrant, fresh dark-cherry fruits with a soft easy finish. Perfect party wine, and great with tapas. From Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, Co Dublin, and at Avoca in Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath, mitchellandson.com; Myles Doyle, Gorey, Co Wexford; Wilde & Green, Dublin 6, wildeandgreen.com
Picpoul de Pinet Villa des Croix 2018 13%, €16.95
Plump, rounded melon and peach fruits balanced nicely by a lightly zesty saline acidity, finishing dry. Great solo or with lighter canapes. From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Deveney’s, Dublin 14
La Raspa Blanca Seco 2017, Bodegas Viñedos Verticales, Sierras de Malaga, Spain
Fresh, fragrant and elegant with inviting floral aromas and delicate, pure tropical fruits. A delight to drink. A party wine with a difference, perfect on its own or with nibbles. From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Lilliput Stores, Dublin 7, lilliputstores.com; Coach House, Dublin 16, thecoachhouseofflicence.ie
First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 16th November, 2019
Pinot Noir ticks a lot of boxes, which may explain its rise in popularity. The very best wines have a soft silkiness combined with a gentle power that together deliver a hedonistic hit that few other wines can match.
It is an instantly likeable, gluggable wine; it is the most versatile of food wines, a great partner for tuna, salmon and a host of white and red meats, as well as feathered game. If you are starting to think about Christmas, it goes very nicely with goose, duck and turkey, too. Going with so many foods, it is a great choice in restaurants, if some of your party are eating fish and others meat.
While the very best wines will keep and develop, just about every Pinot Noir can be drunk with great pleasure almost as soon as it is bottled. Light to medium-bodied, and free of any drying tannins, many wines have a seductive sweetness, despite being quite dry.
So why has it taken us so long to fall for Pinot? Until recently buying Pinot Noir, either from its home territory in Burgundy or anywhere else, was a hit-and-miss affair. But over the last decade, growers and winemakers around the world seem to have finally mastered this fussy grape. Burgundy is far more consistent, and now Germany, Oregon, California, Australia, Chile and South Africa all produce very high-quality Pinot Noir, as do Alsace and parts of the Languedoc, in France. In addition, Romania and Chile both produce some very appealing wines at incredibly low prices.
Inexpensive Pinot Noir is generally fresh and juicy. The greatest wines match my description above but are frequently eye-wateringly expensive. In between those two extremes styles vary hugely depending on where the grapes are grown. Wine anoraks love the way that two Pinots, made from grapes grown metres apart, will show subtle but marked differences. It is all down to slight changes in soil, exposure, height or mesoclimate, or a combination of all three.
Burgundy still produces the world’s finest Pinot Noir. For €20-€30 you will find plenty of very stylish Bourgogne Rouge and for around €50 some complex, sensual wines that will bring you out in goosebumps. The Beaune I mention below is one of a number of excellent wines made by Róisín Curley, a Mayo woman , in her boutique winery in Burgundy. I cannot pretend that the €9 Pinot I also refer to will reach the same heights, but it is a very attractive glass of wine. I have not included New Zealand, which produces some great Pinot Noir, as I covered it earlier this year in these pages.
Wildflower Pinot Noir 2018, Romania 12.5%, €9
A light, easy Pinot Noir, with juicy blackberry and red-cherry fruits. A great party wine, or to serve with salmon, tuna or pre-dinner nibbles. From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Felicité Pinot Noir 2017, Newton Johnson, Cape South Coast, South Africa 13%, €16.95
A captivating, pure Pinot Noir with soft, rounded, ripe dark-cherry fruits, a touch of spice and gentle tannins. It displays a lovely ripeness without ever seeming in the least bit clumsy. Try it with roast game birds, duck or a mushroom risotto. Fromjnwine.com
Sancerre Maulin Bèle 2017, Domaine André Vatan 13%, €19.50
A seductive, light Pinot Noir with soft, sweet, nicely concentrated red-cherry fruits and a herbal touch. Drink it with roast pork, or duck. From Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie
Beaune 2017, Róisín Curley 12.5%, €55
A floral Pinot Noir, with fresh, clean blackberry and dark-cherry fruits with good supporting acidity and a lovely long, savoury finish. Goes well with roast duck or chicken. From Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1 and Sandycove, Co Dublin, as well as at Avoca at Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath, mitchellandson.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie
First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 9th November, 2019
The name Kevin Judd may not be familiar to you, but if you enjoy a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, you owe him a debt of gratitude. Judd is one of a small group of people responsible for creating one of our favourite wines and making it famous around the world. Judd was the person in charge of the first 25 vintages at the famous Cloudy Bay winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, before setting up Greywacke, his own label. Cloudy Bay, along with Montana (now known as Brancott Estate) were the first to produce a style of Sauvignon Blanc that quickly took the world by storm. It was pungent, perfumed and intense, with flavours variously described as gooseberry, freshly-cut grass, herbs, boxwood, peas, asparagus, and even famously as “tom cat’s pee on a blackcurrant bush”.
The unique Marlborough climate (a long growing season and huge differences in day and night-time temperatures) gave Marlborough Sauvignon (Savvie to locals) a distinctive style with piercing fresh lime zest acidity combined with gooseberry, grapefruit, passion fruit, mango and other ripe fruits.
Marlborough is still doing well, he says “although climate change is now a real issue – there is no doubt; the evidence is there. 2012 is the last cool vintage we had here. More scary is the warning we can expect more storms and other extreme weather events. Not all of this is bad though – I like a riper style of Sauvignon Blanc, therefore the warmer vintages actually suits my style of wine.” Judd, along with a few others, now makes a more subtle, richer, less aromatic style of Marlborough Sauvignon.
The Greywacke wines are made at Dog Point, another blue-chip Marlborough winery owned by two friends, from a mix of bought-in and estate fruit. As well as two Sauvignon Blancs, he makes an excellent age-worthy Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir. In some ways, Judd wishes we drank a little less Sauvignon Blanc. “I wish people would try our other wines, our Chardonnay in particular,” he says. He, and New Zealand in general, also makes some great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The overall standard of Marlborough Sauvignon is pretty high. Some of the less expensive versions can be a little sweet and confected, but overall there is a good consistency and quality at every price point. Every wine retailer will have a few Marlborough Sauvignon on offer, including Dunnes Stores, SuperValu, Marks & Spencer, Aldi and O’Briens, usually priced at €10-€15. Pay a few euros more, and you can enjoy some fantastic complex wines, including those from Greywacke.
Insight Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 12.5%,€12.95 during November and December
Fresh and zesty with intense aromas of herbs and peppers followed by a lively palate of mango, pears and grapefruit. Perfect with a Thai chicken curry. From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Dog Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 13.5%, €25-27
Perfumed with crisp lemon zest, mouth-watering tropical fruits and a very long dry finish. Excellent wine. Try it with oysters or grilled white fish strewn with fresh herbs. From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Jnwine.com; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie
Babich Black Label Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 13.5%, €25
A beautifully textured rich Sauvignon with ripe tropical fruits cut through with lime zest. Try it with prawns with mango or salmon with dill and butter. From Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Drinkstore, D7, drinkstore.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Nectar Wines, D18; Sweeneys D3, sweeneysd3.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; The Vintry, Dublin 6, vintry.ie; Terroirs, Dublin 4, Terroirs.ie; The Grape Vine, D9.
Greywacke Marlborough Wild Sauvignon Blanc 2016 14%, €34.99
A wonderful complex Sauvignon, with creamy textured ripe peaches and subtle toasted nuts, underpinned by a crisp herbal citrus acidity. Drink with seared scallops with lime or smoked salmon.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 2nd November, 2019.
Amarone has a reputation as the big bad boy of the wine world – rich, powerful and alcoholic, a wine without subtlety or elegance. It is hugely popular in Scandinavia, Germany and the US where those warming qualities are appreciated on freezing winter nights. But while Amarone is certainly big, it doesn’t have to be a clumsy brute.
On a recent trip to the Veneto with O’Briens , I saw the start of the Amarone process with two of their producers, Guerrieri-Rizzardi and Musella. Bunches of grapes were being laid out on trays to slowly dry and raisin for up to three months, before being fermented into wine.
It seems logical that grapes destined for Amarone would be picked late; in fact, the opposite is the case, as young healthy grapes with good acidity make for better Amarone, according to winemaker Giuseppe Rizzardi. “You want ripe grapes, but not over-ripe; we pick earlier than for Valpolicella and Ripasso – looser bunches are better for drying too”.
Traditionally the grapes were dried in cellars in the hills above the autumn fog line, thereby avoiding botrytis. These days it is a more technical affair with the use of temperature and humidity control, although at both Guerrieri-Rizzardi and Musella the drying or appassimento is done naturally with open doors and a machine to circulate air.
Amarone can only be produced in the Valpolicella region and must be made from grapes that have been dried until at least December 1st, and then fermented to a minimum of 14 per cent alcohol. In practice, most producers dry them for a longer period, and ferment to 15 per cent or more. The finished wine must be aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels, four for a Riserva.
Traditionally Amarone was seen as a vino da meditazione, a meditation wine to be enjoyed after a meal, with some aged Parmesan and a few crackers. Sandro Boscaini of Masi once told me that he liked his Amarone with aged Parmesan and a dribble of acacia honey.
Rizzardi argued his Amarone is more flexible than this. “The concept of drinkability is important. Ours is a wine to drink with ox cheeks, wild boar, or venison.”
It also pairs well with all sorts of substantial winter fare; ribs, beef stews, game and risotto – risotto all ’ Amarone of course, robust meaty pasta dishes and blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola. As it is high in alcohol, you simply drink less.
I tasted my way through 14 Amarone, including most of best-known brands and supermarket wines. The appassimento process means far less wine is produced, so the wines are rarely cheap. Inexpensive Amarone tends be oaky and sweet and generally is best avoided.
Amarone della Valpolicella Alpha-Zeta 2016 (main image)
An attractive, livelier more youthful style of Amarone with clean fresh damson and dark cherry fruits, along with hints of spice. Drink it with substantial red meat dishes.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 26th October, 2019
The Languedoc is like an old friend. It was the first wine region I visited (under a metre of snow!), and I have been back countless times for both work and leisure.
Most of this vast region is both beautiful and uncrowded, perfect for a timeless, stress-free holiday. Despite the influx of tourists and foreign residents, it always seems less developed than neighbouring Provence, with a character all its own. House prices are reasonable and its weather is considerably better than our own. And it makes some great wines.
Despite a government-sponsored vine-pull programme, the Languedoc remains the largest single vineyard region in the world, with 30,000 growers farming 300,000 hectares, or 741,000 acres, of vines. It produces roughly a third of all French wine, far more than Bordeaux. These days the term Languedoc includes the Roussillon as well, reaching from the Spanish border to Montpellier.
As holidaymakers will be well aware, there is no shortage of cheap glugging wines; the Languedoc has more than 300 co-operatives that are responsible for 80 per cent of all production. These days the wines are a lot better, ranging in price and style, and many are fantastic value. The inexpensive, slightly rustic reds are great everyday dinner wines over the winter months. But for me the real excitement starts with the plethora of small estates making some seriously exciting wines. This week’s four wines are made by genuine artisan producers. The wines are not all blockbusters, either.
Not surprisingly given its size, the Languedoc has a vast array of soils and climates. As a result, virtually every red and white grape has been planted, sometimes with spectacular results. Cooler regions are making increasingly good wines from grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, alongside traditional red varieties such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. White wines account for only about 10 per cent of production, but they are still worth checking out; Picpoul de Pinet is growing in popularity, and Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourbelenc, Roussanne and Marsanne all show real promise.
Every shop will have some inexpensive wines from the Languedoc. Dunnes Stores has always stocked a strong range at all price levels, and, if you really want to splash out, Wines Direct (winesdirect.ie) has two of the region’s greatest wines, Domaine de l’Hortus and Mas Jullien, among many other gems, and Red Nose Wines (rednosewine.com, curiouswines.ie) has the region’s flagship Mas de Daumas Gassac wines.
Domaine de la Sarabande ‘Misterioso’ 2016, Faugérès 14%, €16.95
A lovely rich, smooth, warming wine with masses of delicious ripe, dark fruits and a savoury touch of black olives and some dried herbs. The Languedoc in a glass. Eat with posh sausages, or a roast of pork. From Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, Co Dublin, and at Avoca in Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath, mitchellandson.com
Château Coupe-Roses Les Plots 2017, Minervois (biodynamic) 13.5%, €21.50
A light, elegant Minervois with subtle, restrained dark fruits, a savoury edge and an easy, dry finish. Try it with parmigiana di melanzane or charcuterie. From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; siyps.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie
Domaine Saint Antonin Faugérès, Cazalet 2017 (organic)
A very moreish, smooth, rounded wine with very attractive dark fruits and touches of liquorice and dried herbs. Great with most red meats, but I drank my bottle with lightly spiced Moroccan lamb meatballs. From Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Cabot and Co, Westport, Co Mayo, cabotandco.com
Pinot Noir Les Petits Apôtres 2018, Domaine de Bon Augures, Pays d’Hérault (biodynamic) 13%, €22.50
A delightful, light, pure, delicate Pinot Noir with vibrant, crunchy dark cherries. Piquant and very delicious, this opened up beautifully over the course of an evening. Feathered birds of all kinds; turkey, chicken or duck. From Cabot and Co, Westport, Co Mayo, cabotandco.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; No 1 Pery Square, Limerick, oneperysquare.com
First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 19th October, 2019
It is the world’s most popular and most famous grape, grown in virtually every wine-producing country, from China to Lebanon. It is a major component of many of the world’s greatest wines, from Bordeaux to Australia, California, Chile and even Italy.
So why don’t we see more Cabernet Sauvignon? I counted fewer than a dozen bottles with the word Cabernet on the label at my local wine shop, and not even that many at Tesco. True, they had many Bordeaux, some of which would have contained a proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon, but others wouldn’t; on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, Merlot rules supreme, augmented by Cabernet Franc, an earlier-ripening cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is only in Médoc and Pessac-Léognan that Cabernet Sauvignon is dominant.
Part of the problem is Cabernet Sauvignon can be dry and tannic in its youth. Merlot, on the other hand, is ready to drink straight away. This is why the Bordelaise have traditionally blended the two varieties together. One retailer I spoke to said that her customers were more likely to ask for Merlot or Pinot Noir by name.
Another reason for blending is the “doughnut hole”: Cabernet has plenty of aroma, structure and length but can be a little hollow; Merlot (or in Australia Shiraz) fills the centre palate with fruit. Winemakers are allowed to add 15 per cent of another variety to a wine, so a wine labelled Cabernet Sauvignon may actually contain a sizable dollop of Merlot.
South America offers Cabernet in all price brackets; Chile made its name with Cabernet Sauvignon, and still has substantial ungrafted plantings; the wines are typically forward and full of ripe fruits. Those from Argentina tend to be rich, powerful and smooth. Western Australia and Coonawarra both produce some great Cabernet, as does Stellenbosch, in South Africa. Napa Valley, in California, is home to some of the very finest, and most expensive, Cabernets of all.
Classic Cabernet Sauvignon flavours include blackcurrants, cassis and plums, as well, sometimes, as hints of mints and cedar, usually with a good backbone of tannin and acidity (unless it comes from a very warm climate). It is one of the great food wines. Just about any red meat, preferably rare, will go well with Cabernet Sauvignon; choose from steak, roast beef, lamb, ribs, beef cheek, duck breast, venison, meatballs and burgers. Vegetarians should look at mushrooms, red peppers, creamy, cheesy vegetable bakes with beans, and hard cheeses such as Cheddar.
Today, a mini-celebration of Cabernet from four countries, in four very different categories, and all ready to drink. I didn’t want to feature very expensive wines, but the Cathy Corison Napa Valley Cabernet (€132 at Green Man Wines) is amazing.
Montes Alpha Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Chile 14.5%, €23.99
A very elegant, linear Cabernet with ripe damsons and blackcurrants, a touch of spice and very fine tannins on the finish. A rare steak with chips, or roast stuffed Portobello mushrooms. From 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale, Co Cork; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Fresh Outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; Dwan’s Off-licence, Dublin 16; wineonline.ie
Clos du Marquis 2006, Saint-Julien 13.5%, €99.99
From Médoc, in Bordeaux, this wine is only 44 per cent Cabernet, but it tastes as if the grape makes up a lot more of it. Impeccably balanced and restrained, with fresh blackcurrant fruits and lead pencil and a long, dry finish. Fully mature. Perfect with a rare roast of beef or lamb. Fromjnwine.com
First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 12th October, 2019
I’m cold. Yesterday was balmy and sunny, and although you could feel a slight autumnal edge, it was still almost summery. Today is wet – very wet – and, for the first time, cold. The central heating is back on after a quiet few months.
Straight away, I search for a ripe and gently soothing bottle of wine to ease me into autumn. It is not quite Amarone weather yet (we shall visit there soon), but a substantial red is required, something with body and warmth and possibly a nice rustic edge.
I also begin thinking about buying some beef shin to make the first casserole of the season, to be served with creamy mashed potatoes. Or maybe some lamb, for a rich rogan josh. Or that sweet potato curry recipe I saw recently. Already all of those leafy salads look less appetising, and those crisp, light white wines less attractive.
The Spanish do a great line in stews and casseroles, usually simply called cocido. A Monastrell from Yecla or Jumilla would do nicely, but Spain produces a fantastic range of wines made from Garnacha, often at bargain prices. Most of them have a generous dollop of alcohol, too. I include one this week. Spanish-wine lovers know that the Calatayud region produces some fantastic Garnacha. The one on this page is made by David Seijas, formerly head sommelier at the famous El Bulli restaurant, and a former colleague, Ferran Centelles.
I like plenty of spice and a bit of heat in curries, but both can play havoc with wine. With a rich lamb curry or a tagine, I would go for a red wine with some ripeness, a decent amount of alcohol and little or no oak. A Shiraz or Merlot from Australia should work well, as would the Garnacha.
My sweet potato curry would probably go better with a white wine, but I don’t want white, and, with plenty of spice and some toasted nuts, I reckon it would go nicely with most substantial red wines, including the Barossa Merlot or Norton Malbec here. Around this time of year, vegetarian dishes with mushrooms, including porcini and chestnuts all go well with fuller-bodied reds.
I often also look to the southern Rhône for a bit of autumn sustenance. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the best-known name but not a cheap option. Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Cairanne can be a better bet, and the villages of Côtes du Rhône can offer excellent value. Three of this week’s wines cost less than €12, the other less than €20. All four should help ward off those winter blues.
Aldi Côtes du Rhône Villages Signargues 2018 14.5%, €8.99
Smooth and powerful, with supple, dark fruits and a nicely rounded finish. Try with boeuf bourguignon, a Provençal daube or a bowl of Irish stew. From Aldi, aldi.ie
Norton DOC Malbec 2016 14%, €12.95 (down from €18.95 for October)
A very well-made modern Malbec with good, clean, pure loganberries and dark forest fruits, plus a light spiciness. Plenty of oomph but never overpowering. Perfect with beef stew, or mushroom casseroles. From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Barossa Merlot 2017, Australia 14.5%, €11.80
Soft, ripe plums and cassis in a rounded winter warmer. Great with curries and tagines. From Marks & Spencer, marksandspencer.com
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday, October 5th, 2019
The imposing Castello di Scaligeri towers over the medieval walled town of Soave, whose narrow streets run down the mountainside on to the plain below. It is a beautiful and vibrant place, well worth a visit if you are in the area. The vineyards surrounding the town and stretching into the distance are used to make Soave, one of Italy’s best-known white wines.
There are two very different kinds of Soave, however. The grapes used to produce Soave Classico grow on the slopes beside the castle and high on the opposing hillsides. On the plains below you will find the vines used to produce simple Soave. There is a world of difference between the two. The top wines of Soave Classico stand comparison with the finest white wines of Italy and elsewhere. With a few exceptions, most basic Soave is at best a pleasant, simple, lightly fruity white wine.
Soave lies east of Verona, an hour or so from the shores of Lake Garda. In the late 20th century the area expanded to include many inferior vineyards. The primary grape here is Garganega, although others are permitted, including Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonnay. If allowed, Garganega can produce very large yields, which in turn lead to some very dilute, flavourless wines. During this period many producers also planted the high-volume but inferior Trebbiano Toscano.
For several decades one or two large companies and the enormous local co-operative exported large quantities of these insipid wines to the United States and northern Europe with great success. It didn’t do much for the image of Soave. Consumers moved on to more exciting, better-made wines from the New World. Happily, things are changing. There always was a small coterie of producers who remained focused on making high-quality wine; they have been joined by a group of younger, more ambitious growers.
Even though inexpensive Soave can be a little watery and lacking in flavour, frequently I find them inoffensive compared with other cheap wines. Tesco, Lidl and Aldi all have decent examples for between €5.99 and €10.
Good Soave Classico can be divided into two rough camps: crisp and zesty, or a richer and broader style. Either way, they should have an energy, a vibrant character that makes them very attractive. They are low in alcohol, and usually unoaked, and so make an ideal alternative to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. Cantine Pra (jnwine.com, €20.50), Inama and Gini are also worth seeking out. Soave is a great sipping wine, as well as being the perfect partner for all sorts of shellfish, seafood, salads and lighter creamy pasta dishes.
Soave Classico “Costeggiola” 2017, Guerrieri-Rizzardi 13%, €15.45
A very attractive, slightly richer style of Soave, with broad honey and apple fruits, brought to life by a fine vein of crisp mineral acidity. Try it with seared salmon or with scallops. From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Soave Il Selese 2017, I Stefani 13%, €18.50
A vibrant crisp, dry Soave, with clean citrus and apricot fruits. Perfect on its own or with grilled white fish or lighter pasta dishes. From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; siyps.com; First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8, firstdraftcoffeeandwine.com
Soave Classico 2017, Suavia, Organic 12%, €22
Light and refreshing, with enticing floral aromas, and fresh, lightly textured pears, finishing bone dry. The perfect aperitif, or with all kinds of antipasti. From Sweeneys, Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; McHughs, Dublin 5, mchughs.ie