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The wine trade: ‘It’s hard, but working for yourself makes it all worthwhile’

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 10th November, 2018

This week, three independent wine retailers, all celebrating some kind of anniversary. Clontarf Wines opened for business five years ago, and was run by Ronnie and Helena Carragher. Ronnie was one of the true gentlemen of the wine trade a man with a wonderful dry wit. Sadly he passed away recently. In his stead, local boy James Tobin is now in charge, still assisted by Helena. Tobin spent the last twelve years working in O’Briens Wines, and managed several stores. “It is absolutely amazing and fulfilling”, says Tobin. “It is hard work and long hours, but working for yourself makes it all worthwhile. I always admired the shop and what Helena and Ronnie had done with it. I grew up in Clontarf and live here, so it is great to be back home again. The shop is small, but beautifully laid out, with a treasure trove of really interesting wines, as well as cheeses, cold meats and other edible goodies.

Red Nose Wine was set up by Gary Gubbins 10 years ago. An electronic engineer, he found himself working and living in Paris. “It was there that the wine bug really hit off” he says, “We would spend weekends in the Loire, Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Then I became friendly with a local bistro owner whose father had left him a cellar-full of old Burgundy. Over the next two years I drank nearly every bottle. The irony is that now, working in the wine trade, I cannot afford to drink Burgundy any more!”

Returning to his native Clonmel, Gubbins opened online retailer and wine warehouse Red Nose. “As the economy worsened, the value was all from the south of France, then Spain, Portugal and Italy. Although we still import Bordeaux, the Mediterranean is a big part of what we do. We tend to work with small family places, and often import our wines with online specialist Curious Wines.”

This year Martin’s Off-Licence in Fairview celebrates 40 years in business.  Founded by the late Tom Martin, it is now run by the second generation, brothers Damian and Declan. As part of the anniversary celebrations, they launched a series of Portrait Project beers, featuring pictures of his favourite places around Ireland. Known as one of the best places to buy craft beer, Martin’s also stock a wide and eclectic range of wines; regular readers will know that they frequently feature as stockists in this column. Last year they won the prestigious  “Best Off Licence in Dublin 2018”.

 Declan has been working here for 20 years, but really “since I was a baby. I did a lot of travelling and when I returned it was great to have the family shop waiting for me. The business has changed completely –the range of spirits, beers and wines available to the consumer is incredible, if anything too big at times”.

Viña Zorzal Garnacha 2017, Navarra    
13%, €13.75-13.95
Gorgeous pure dark plums and blackberries with a spicy touch on the easy finish. Refreshing and very moreish. A good burger, sausage and mash, or macaroni cheese.
Stockists Clontarf Wines, Dublin,; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow,; Deveney’s, Dundrum, Dublin; Crafted Deli and Café, Bennettsbridge, Co Kilkenny

Octavio Rubé 2015, Vino Rosso
12.5%, €14.99-15.99
A natural wine that Declan Martin sells “with a warning”. It is funky with light juicy bitter cherries, nice grip and a refreshing acidity. Try it with white meats or charcuterie.
Stockists Martin’s Off-Licence, Clontarf, Dublin,, Clontarf Wines, Dublin,; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin,; the Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin,; Le Caveau, Kilkenny,; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street, Dublin,; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin,; World Wide Wines, Waterford,; 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin,; Redmonds, Ranelagh, Dublin,

Chateau de Valcombe Blanc 2017, Costières de Nimes
13.5%, €16.99
Wonderful subtle elegant dry white with succulent peaches and pears, balanced perfectly by a mineral acidity. With grilled salmon steaks.
Stockists Red Nose Wine, Clonmel, Co Tipperary,

Il Muro Chianti Riserva 2015, Fattoria il Muro
13.5%, €19.95
Smooth ripe dark cherry and cassis fruits with toasted coffee and dark chocolate. Try it with grilled sirloin steak with mushrooms.
Stockists Red Nose Wine, Clonmel, Co Tipperary,; Curious Wines,; Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Waterford,; Cass & Co, Dungarvan, Co Waterford,

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Wine secrets: what’s really in your bottle?


First published in The Irish Times on Saturday 3rd November, 2018

It seems strange that a bottle of Coca-Cola must print the ingredients used to make it, whereas a bottle of wine does not. Somehow the wine business, along with beer and spirits, has largely managed to avoid telling us what is contained within. Back labels tend to have flowery descriptions, food recommendations and maybe a little marketing blurb, but very little information on how the wine was actually made. As well as adding the health warnings, maybe the Government might like to insist that a few key ingredients are included.

 Additives and treatments are not always a bad thing; most of us do not want to drink faulty wine, and mass-produced wines do require greater intervention. Even at the very highest level, producers of luxury wines are not above using treatments that improve the finished product. Additives of some sort go back more than 5,000 years, to the very start of winemaking.

The most common is sulphur dioxide, the one ingredient that is listed on a wine label. It was first introduced by the Romans, and most winemakers consider it an essential anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial agent. Levels used are fairly low, and have dropped hugely over the last few decades, ranging from a minimum of 10 parts per million/ppm (sulphur being a by product of fermentation) to the EU legal maximum of 150ppm (parts per million) for red wine, 210ppm for white, and 400ppm for dessert wine. By comparison, raisins and other dried fruits can contain anything from 500ppm to 2,000ppm.

Other additives and processing aids include sugar (to add fizz to sparkling wine or increase alcohol); concentrated grape juice to sweeten; tartaric or ascorbic acid to add acidity; yeasts to get the fermentation going; nutrients such as diammonium phosphate to keep them working away; wood chips, enzymes and malolactic cultures.

Add in fining and filtering agents such as egg whites, isinglass, polyvinylpyrrolodine (PVPP), bentonite, gelatin and casein and lastly water – permitted in some countries to lower alcohol – and wine begins to look slightly less natural. There are also procedures such as reverse osmosis, micro-oxygenation and spinning cones.

Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop, in their book Authentic Wine, give the example of the Co-op supermarket chain in the UK, which lists all ingredients on the back label.

A Sauvignon Blanc has the following ingredients listed: Grapes, acidity regulator (potassium bicarbonate), preservative (potassium meta bisulphate), copper sulphate. Made using antioxidants (carbon dioxide, nitrogen) yeast, yeast nutrient (diammonium phosphate). Cleared using bentonite, filtration pectinolytic enzymes.

Should we be worried about all of these additions? Possibly not; the overall standard of winemaking is higher than ever, and the use of sulphur lower. But although it might remove some of the romance of wine, I think we have a right to know how our wine is made, however unpalatable that might be.


Bellow’s Rock Shiraz 2016, Western Cape, South Africa

14%, €9.95

Rich powerful spicy dark fruits, with a nice seam of acidity running through. Great value at €9.95. With grilled or barbecued red meats.

Stockists: O’Briens,



Saint Mont 2016, Plaimont, France

13%, €13.30

Medium-bodied with lovely waxy apple fruits, a hint of pineapple and a dry finish. Intriguing and delicious. With creamy chicken dishes.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer,



Vermell 2016, Celler del Roure, Valencia Organic

13.5%, €17

Gloriously vibrant fruit-filled wine with herbs, liquorice and so much more. Perfect with a roast chicken.

Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule,; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,; Baggot Street Wines,; Clontarf Wines,; Drinkstore, Manor Street, D7,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Searsons, Monkstown,; Martin’s Off Licence, Fairview,; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; World Wide Wines, Waterford,


Etna Bianco 2016, Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Organic

12.5%, €25.95

Floral, refined, elegant wine with fresh tangy peaches and apple, and a light creaminess. The perfect posh aperitif or with grilled brill, a wonderful delicate fish.

Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule,; Deveney’s, Dundrum; World Wide Wines, Waterford,; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne,; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street,; Grapevine, Dalkey,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,

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Wine with an Irish Accent

Knockranny House Hotel will hold an Irish winemakers weekend on the 16th and 17th of November, featuring a series of tastings, dinners and master classes. Sinéad & Liam Cabot, Róisín Curley and Simon Tyrrell make wine in Slovenia, Burgundy and the Rhône Valley respectively. Each will present their wines at master classes, a walkaround tasting, and at a dinner prepared by award-winning chef Seamus Commons in La Fougère restaurant.

Wine with an Irish Accent at Knockranny House Hotel is a two-night B&B stay including a wine tasting intro, three master classes, dinner and a walk-around tasting from €199 per person sharing. Call +353 98 28600 or online at to book.



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Pinot noir: the perfect autumnal wine

This article was first published in The Irish Times Saturday 27th October, 2018

There is something distinctly autumnal about pinot noir; the earthy, leafy forest-floor aromas of a mature wine, the soft, ripe mellow fruits, even the whiff of wood smoke at times. It also goes so well with all sorts of game birds, rabbit and venison that come into season now.

Pinot noir was once the holy grail of most winemakers. It was famously fussy to grow, and equally difficult to fashion into a drinkable wine. It was also very expensive, whether from its home territory in Burgundy or elsewhere.

Yet many winemakers seem to have overcome these difficulties as most retail outlets now have a selection from around the world, often at very affordable prices. Chile probably leads the way for decent inexpensive pinot, followed by New Zealand.

Recently, various retailers have started selling very drinkable Romanian pinot noir for about €10. O’Briens is the latest with the Wildflower Pinot, €8.95 for November and December.

The Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania make Australia’s finest pinot noir, but sadly at a higher price; O’Briens has the Stonier Pinot Noir for €23.95 for November and December. California and Oregon produce some exquisite pinots, sadly at even higher prices; see Jus de Vine, Deveney’s and 64 Wine for these. You can also find very high-quality pinot noir from Germany, but mostly over €20, one exception being the very tasty Palataia Pinot for €14.80 (Marks & Spencer).

For many years, the rest of France struggled to produce decent pinot noir. Not any more; the Loire, Alsace, Limoux and the Languedoc all offer good wines, often at very affordable prices. O’Briens has the delicious juicy Begude Pinot Noir (€16.95) or at entry level, Aldi have the light Roussellet (€7.49). From the Loire, look to the soft ripe La Petite Perrière from SuperValu (€9 on promotion) and Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown has the vibrant la Roncière Pinot Noir 2015 for €17, alongside other great pinots from around the world.

Value for money

But back to Burgundy; I have written here before about how prices for the top wines are rocketing. Recently however, I have come across a number of very reasonably priced Bourgogne rouge. By reasonable, I mean about €20, but both the wines below offer real value for money. The most interesting tend to come from the best domaines of the Côte d’Or.

Burgundy Direct (, as the names suggests, has an expertise in the area; their list contains many gems. Elsewhere you will find the Bourgogne Rouge Domaine J. C. Regnaudot for €21.95 in many independents.

Pinot noir is one of the most food-friendly grapes of all. Lighter versions go well with chargrilled salmon, tuna or roast Mediterranean vegetables. Medium-bodied wines, including most Burgundy, will make a memorable partner for the above-mentioned game birds, baked ham or a mushroom risotto.

Domaine de Mandeville Pinot Noir 2017, IGP Pays d’Oc 
13%, €13.30
Smooth ripe red cherry fruits with an attractive earthy touch. Try it with game pie.
Stockists Marks & Spencer,

Domaine de Brau Pure Pinot Noir 2017, VDP d’Oc Organic/Vegan
14%, €16.60 
Herbal aromas, medium-bodied with dark cherry fruits and a pleasant earthy touch. A very attractive wine and very good value too. Try it with chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce.
Stockists Clontarf Wines,; Urru, Bandon,; Scally’s, Clonakilty,; Connemara Hamper,; Quay Co-op, Cork,

Bourgogne Rouge 2015, Domaine Maurice Charleux 
13.5%, €18.95
Lively refreshing brambly blackberry and red cherry fruits; smooth, concentrated and ripe. Lovely wine and great value for money. With a grilled breast of duck or roast mallard.
Stockists Burgundy Direct,

Bourgogne Rouge 2016, Domaine de la Vierge Romain, Machard de Gramont 
13.5%, €20.95
Very seductive smoky spicy dark cherries with good acidity and a smooth long finish. Try it with roast game birds.
Stockists Karwig Wines, Carrigaline,; The Vintry, Dublin 6,; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork,

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Tasting at Terroirs

Terroirs in Donnybrook held a tasting of a selection of their wines recently. The boutique wine and food shop import all of these directly from the producer, so they are only available from Terroirs (including online), and a few select restaurants. The line-up included a wide range of wines, primarily French. Françoise and Séan Gilley have scoured every corner of France, seeking out small, interesting quality producers. Some make well-known wines, others use lesser-known, indigenous grapes. A great many are organic or biodynamic.

This was one of the best tastings so far this year. There were some thrilling wines, sadly very few under €15, and a plenty for €30 and over, but the standard was incredibly high, and many offered great value for money. If I ever win the Lotto, this will be one of my first ports of call.


Champagne Agrapart & Fils Les 7 Crus Brut NV, Avize €69.50

100% Chardonnay. Superb, refined relatively full-bodied Champagne with ripe bruised strawberry fruits, subtle brioche, and lemon zest, finishing very dry. Excellent Champagne.



Jacquère 2016, Savoie, Domaine de Chevillard €29.50

Sappy, limpid, snow-like with fresh green apple fruits, real concentration and very fine crisp acidity, finishing bone dry. A counter to those who dismiss Jacquére as a grape; this a is delicious refreshing wine with real character.


Domaine de Montbourgeau Étoile 2015 €29.50

Elegant clean walnuts and baked apples with a subtle fino sherry notes (I’m guessing some was aged under a voile or veil of flor) and a long dry finish. Delicious wine with plenty of character and style.


Chablis 2015, Domaine Laurent Tribut €29.50

Classic, structured Chablis, with relatively ripe orchard fruits, lots of green apples vivid crisp mineral acidity and great length. Certainly a match for many Chablis 1er cru.


Maison Emmanuel Giboulot Côte de Beaune 2016, Bourgogne €29.50


From the man who risked ruin and jail for his biodynamic principles, a classic Côte de Beaune, brisk and crisp with white flower aromas, hazelnuts and wet stones, alongside some precise green apple fruits.



Domaine Guiberteau Clos des Carmes 2014, Saumur Blanc €59.50


A wonderful tightly bound wine with a core of delicious rich orchard fruits, honey and nuts, with a laserlike seam of saline minerality. Expensive, but superior to many white Burgundies at the same price; this is exceptional wine. Drink now, but it will develop for years.


Domaine Saint Georges d’Ibry, Côtes de Thongue Cuvée des Amis  €13.95

Bubbling over with lovely lively fresh crunchy dark forest fruits. Light tannins on the finish. Perfect with charcuterie or grilled meats. A Merlot / Syrah blend that works very well.



Domaine Les Goubert, Côtes du Rhône 2017 €16.95

Very easy-drinking supple medium to full-bodied wine with sweet soft ripe fruits edged with subtle spice


Élian da Ros, Le Vin est une Fête 2016, Côtes du Marmandais €16.95


The Abouriou (€29.50) is a great wine, but I have always had a real liking for this wine, a delicious light (12.5%) summery red with smooth delicate dark fruits, that grow on you with every sip. Great value for money too.


Domaine des Païssels Le Banel 2017, St. Chinian €17.95

Belies its 14.5% alcohol, with some deft elegant herby dark fruits underpinned by good acidity and freshness. A very attractive clean easy-drinking Carignan / Grenache blend with a touch of class. Serve with braises of beef.


Fleurie ‘Les Garants’ 2016   Pierre-Marie Chermette        €23.50

Gorgeous unputdownable wine filled with vibrant crunchy pure dark fruits, all blackcurrants and dark cherries, with real length and concentration. A true Fleurie that will last a few years, and very good value given the quality.



Domaine Arretxea Tradition 2015, Irouléguy €29.50


Don’t bother trying to pronounce it (unless you speak Basque); just enjoy the wonderful pure blackcurrant and plum fruits, the subtle, maturing leafy edge, and the lightly tannic austere finish. Try with grilled Toulouse sausages.


La Porte Saint Jean Vieilles Vignes 2015, Saumur, €39.50

Not cheap, but this is a stunning wine, a perfect balance of ripe brambly blackcurrant and blackberry fruits, a brisk minerality, a touch of pencil shavings and a long dry finish. The flavours are intense but there is real finesse to this wine. I would dearly love to have a case in my cellar.


Ch. Mille Roses 2015, Margaux €39.50


Classic Margaux fragrance of cigar box and violets; a wonderfully elegant silky plush palate of cassis and blackcurrants, structured and long. Drink now or keep up to five years




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Wines from independent producers to try (while you still can)

Most of the really interesting wines are made by small producers, usually a family business with two or three employees. Typically, they grow their own grapes and make their own wine. Europe is coming down with such small enterprises, but you will find them in every wine-producing country around the world.

At the other end of the supply chain, Ireland is populated by smaller wine retailers, sometimes off-licences, sometimes a deli, or frequently a wine specialist. As with many small businesses, most of them lead a fairly precarious life, struggling to compete with supermarkets and symbol groups, who have far greater buying power, and are happy to sell alcohol at very low margins or below cost price. Some of these specialist retailers import their wines directly, but most buy their wines from small importers, usually businesses with anything from one to half a dozen employees.

These three groups have one thing in common: a genuine love of wine, and an interest in producing and selling a quality product. They get a real kick out of making or discovering something new and exciting.

I have nothing against the multiples; they form an important part of the wine business, but if the current regulations regarding back labels contained in the alcohol Bill are approved by the European Union, we may see the end of the specialist wine retailer.


I welcome many of the provisions in the new alcohol Bill, and hope it leads to a more sensible attitude towards drinking in this country. Everything I write about each week is intended to encourage you, the reader, to drink better, and not more. However, I fear the new regulations may simply play into the hands of larger producers and multiple retailers who ship in huge quantities and would have no difficulty adding a back label at source.

But for smaller producers and specialist importers, it will in many cases be impossible, or prohibitively expensive. I suspect the producers will simply refuse and sell their wine elsewhere. The burden is likely to fall on the importer. Picture yourself in a warehouse, facing a dozen pallets of wine, each with 50 cases, made up of four or five different wines, all requiring different labels. It would take you several days to unpack, label and repack.

The plan, however well intentioned, may actually boost sales of cheaper industrial wines; firstly by introducing minimum pricing, the larger retailers stand to make greater profits, and then by knocking out the competition provided by smaller retailers. Of course, if it were a Europe-wide regulation, and all wines required a back label, the problem would disappear overnight.

This week four wines, made, imported and sold by small independent enterprises; enjoy them while you can.

Kir-Yianni Assyrtiko Mountain Wine 2017, IGP Florina, Greece
13.5%, €20
Elegant floral aromas, exotic fruits with grapefruit zest, plenty of crisp acidity and a dry finish. Perfect with grilled white fish – cod or hake.
Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey,; The Corkscrew, Chatham St,, Cabot and Co, Westport,

Pinot Grigio 2017, Roberto Fugatti, Trentino, Organic
12.5%, €14.90
A pinot grigio with real flavour; a winning combination of ripe, juicy, honeydew melons and crisp acidity. Great with all kinds of salads or mixed antipasti.        Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, South Anne St; Kells, Co Meath, Galway;; 64 Wine, Glasthule,; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Eleven Deli, Greystones,; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St,; Lettercollum Kitchen Project, Clonakilty,; Ashes of Annascaul.

Mas del Perie 2016, Les Escures, Cahors, Fabien Jouves, Vegan & Organic
13.50%, €22.50
Juicy, rounded ripe plum and blackcurrant fruits, with a piquant edge, and soft tannins on the finish. Light and elegant. With pork, either roast or chops.
Stockists: Quintessential Wines Drogheda,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,; 64 Wine, Glasthule,; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Hole in the Wall, D7,

Rayos Uva 2016, Rioja, Olivier Rivière
14%, €18.95 – €20.50
Bright lively and really fresh red with lovely pure plums and dark cherries. Drink alongside lamb chops or a rack of lamb.
Stockists: Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork,; 64 Wine, Glasthule,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Lilliput Stores, Dublin 7,; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Liston’s, Camden St,; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,; Kelly’s, Clontarf,; Nectar Wines, Sandymount; The Corkscrew, Chatham St,


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New Wines & Bargains from O’Briens

O’Briens held a press tasting recently to highlight their offers for the coming season, and a few new wines too. As usual some nice wines, some very keenly priced, others quirky and interesting – including an Orange wine from Marc Kreydenweiss. Most of the offers don’t begin until November and run through the Christmas season. Below, a dozen of my favourites from the tasting – white, red, sparkling, sweet and fortified!

  1. Júlia Florista Branco, Portugal, NV

€9.95, down to €7.95 for November/December

Decent slightly sweetish plump fruits with good acidity. At €7.95, very good value for money.

  1. Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2017, Romania

€13.95, down to €8.95 for November/December

Attractive plump ripe melon and green apple fruits. Perfect party wine, or with lighter salads. At €8.95, a steal.

  1. Il Forte Gavi 2017

€15.95 down to €11.95 for November/December

I’m not a huge Gavi fan but this has all the classic Gavi character – slightly bitter quince and crisp green apples- at a very competitive price.

  1. Wildflower Pinot Noir 2017, Romania

€13.95 down to €8.95

Light, with sweetish plum and red cherry fruits and a tannin-free finish. You won’t mistake it for fine Burgundy, but this would make a great party wine.

  1. Porta 6 2016, Portugal

€12.95 down to €9.95 for November/December

Understandably one of the most popular wines in O’Briens, this is an easy-drinking wine with a decent concentration of dark cherry fruits, a nice earthiness and just enough acidity to balance the ripeness. A great all-purpose wine – for wet Wednesday dinners or large parties.

  1. St. Hallett Gamekeeper’s Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2015

€19.95 down to €14.95 for November/December

Powerful with rich ripe red fruits and a touch of spice. At €14.95 a steal.

  1. Croser Rosé Sparkling NV, Adelaide Hills, Australia

€24.95 down to €21.95 for November/December

A very classy pure Pinot Noir, with crisp strawberry and red cherry fruits, and subtle brioche. Good concentration and length.


8.   Granzamy Brut NV, Champagne

€34.95 down to €29.95 for November/December

A Blanc de Noirs, made from Pinot Meunier. Stylish, lightly creamy, with subtle red fruits. This has real character and a snappy dry finish.

9. Ch. Mauvesin Barton, Moulis-en-Médoc 2014

€28.95 down to €24.95 for November/December

Classic, elegant claret with a lovely fragrant nose, and smooth blackcurrant fruits that glide across the palate, finishing dry.

  1. 10. Disznoko Furmint Late Harvest 2016, Hungary

€16.95 per ½ bottle

Most at the tasting were wowed by the Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Putonyos 2005 below. So was I, but it costs €60. This late harvest Furmint at €16.95 was deliciously fragrant and fresh, with notes of orange peel and good acidity; sweet but never cloying. Very nice wine.

Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Putonyos 2005

€60 per ½ litre bottle

If you have the money and enjoy sweet wines, this is an amazingly good Tokaji, with a huge intensity of grilled nuts, marzipan and orange peel, perfectly balanced by the acidity and excellent length.

  1. Bethany Old Quarry Tawny, Australia

€24.95 down to €21.95 for November/December

This is very good warming Tawny with ripe raspberries, raisins and toasted nuts with a sprinkle of spice. Xmas in a glass, if its not too early! Great value for money too.

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The best wines for your Sunday lunch

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 13th October, 2018

Growing up, I always loved a family Sunday lunch. It didn’t really matter that we spent much of the time arguing with each other; I liked the sense of occasion. My tasks always included taking out the “good” tablecloth and crockery, and for especially auspicious lunches, creating curls of real butter.

My dad, a French teacher, was unusual at the time, in that he enjoyed wine. On a teacher’s salary, he couldn’t afford it very often but once a month, he would go to the local off-licence and buy either a bottle of beer, or more often, a bottle of Nicolas Vieux Ceps, which came with a handy plastic cap, or sometimes a bottle of Lutomer Riesling from what was then Yugoslavia and is now Slovenia.

These days, drinking wine in the middle of the day makes me drowsy and unable to drive, However, every now and again, the family unites for a celebratory traditional Sunday lunch, a roast with all the trimmings, and more often than not, we will enjoy some wine.

A special occasion deserves good wine; unless you have a very large family, this is the time to spend a few euros more on your wine. They are your own flesh and blood after all.

Roast beef or lamb are among the most wine-friendly foods of all. The traditional accompaniment would be a Bordeaux, preferably from the Médoc, but a Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia, the US or Chile should also have the tannic bite that works so well with red meat. Rioja Reserva is a classic match for lamb and I would recommend paying €15 or more, as some of the cheap Rioja Reservas are not great – far better to go for a Rioja Crianza instead. Alternatively, you could go Italian and serve a Chianti Classico or a Barolo.

You can serve either red or white wine with roast chicken or pork. In fact, a good roast chicken will provide the perfect backdrop for your finest wine, red or white. I generally go for a red wine, these days frequently a Pinot Noir, a Mencía from Galicia, or a warming Côtes du Rhône, the latter a good match for most Sunday roasts.

You can drink Pinot Noir with salmon, but I prefer a white wine and a rich Chardonnay from Burgundy or elsewhere is probably best, but you could experiment with Grüner Veltliner or Viognier.

If there are vegetarians at the table, try to cook something that will match the wine you are serving – roast mushrooms, stuffed aubergines, red peppers and pasta bakes all go well with the above mentioned Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja Reserva or Chianti. Roast root vegetables and cauliflower cheese are often better with white wines, or why not try a rosé?

Château Sainte-Marie Réserve 2016, Bordeaux Réserve
13%, €17.95 down to €15.95
Medium-bodied, supple and smooth with concentrated sweet blackcurrant fruits, a hint of vanilla spice, and ripe tannins on the finish. Perfect with roast beef or lamb. From O’Briens,

Les Deux Cols Alizé 2016, Côtes du Rhône  
13.5%, €17.95
A very restrained elegant wine with ripe dark forest fruits, olives, herbs and black pepper, and a subtle acidity to bring it to life. With roast pork or chicken. From Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown,; 64 Wine, Glasthule,; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Donnybrook Fair,; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Redmonds, Ranelagh,; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork,; Drinkstore, Manor St, Dublin 7,; Martin’s Off-Licence, Clontarf,; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown,; J. J. Fields, Skibereen; Deveney’s, Dundrum; La Touche, Greystones,

Mâcon-Charnay 2015, Jean Manciat   
13.5%, €22.95
Lovely rich ripe pure apple fruits, balanced perfectly by a seam of refreshing citrus acidity. With salmon, roast chicken or pork. From Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown,; Cashel Wine Cellar, Cashel; Sweeney’s Wines, Glasnevin,; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf,; Donnybrook Fair,

Château Mauvesin Barton 2014, Moulis-en-Médoc 
13% €28.95-€30  
Classic, elegant claret with a lovely fragrant nose, and smooth blackcurrant fruits that glide across the palate, finishing dry. With roast beef or fillet steak. From Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown,; O’Briens,

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Alcohol and wine: What’s in a number?

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 6th October, 2018.

For many wine drinkers, the most important part of a wine label is not the producer name nor the grape variety, but the percentage alcohol. A decade ago, big turbo-charged wines were all the rage; now we are all looking for something a bit less alcoholic. But do we think light and elegant but actually prefer something a little more full-bodied? Lynne Coyle MW, wine director at O’Briens, believes that while many wine drinkers ask for wines that are lighter in alcohol, in practice we prefer wines with a little more oomph.

“At tastings many consumers love the higher alcohol red wines, but feel they should be drinking something lighter. I am not sure if it is because of something they have read, or they want to drink less alcohol for health reasons, but it is not being driven by the flavour or style.”

Wine is all a matter of balance. You will barely notice the alcohol in a hearty 15 per cent red provided it has enough fruit, acidity and other components. If you feel an alcoholic burn, then something, usually the fruit, is missing.

The hottest wine-producing regions are responsible for the biggest wines, and the coolest tend to make the lightest, most refreshing wines. A producer in a warm region can harvest earlier to keep sugar (and therefore alcohol levels) down; in cooler areas, a winemaker can pick later, or even add sugar to boost alcohol by 1-2 per cent.

Low alcohol wines (typically 5-8 per cent alcohol) do not seem to have a market in Ireland, possibly because too often they are very sweet and just don’t taste like wine. In my book, a wine of 10-12.5 per cent qualifies as light, 13-14 per cent as medium, and anything over 14 per cent as full-bodied. All wine labels must state the percentage alcohol by volume. However, a wine producer is allowed a variation of 0.5 per cent either way, so a wine labelled 12.5 per cent could actually be 13 per cent (or 12 per cent). I sometimes wonder how strictly the law is applied.

A light red wine will taste fresher and more acidic; it has a very different structure to a more full-bodied wine and can be served cool or even chilled. But we really enjoy the richness, texture and warmth that is provided by a little more alcohol. As winter approaches, we start looking at the bigger reds, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Amarone, Bordeaux and Australian Shiraz. White wine is a very different market; the fashion is for zingy, fresh unoaked wines at 12.5–13 per cent all year round.

However, as Coyle points out: “Wine is not meant to be consumed on its own for hours on end. It should be drunk with food, and alongside water.” Then the level of alcohol matters far less.

This week, four perfectly balanced medium-bodied red wines.

Bons Ventos 2016, Casa Santos Lima, VR Lisboa
13%, €14
A big smiling mouthful of wine; layers of smooth ripe dark fruits with rounded tannins on the finish. This will go down nicely with most red or white meats, grilled lamb chops, or baked mushrooms.
From Bradley’s Off-Licence, Cork,; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road and Malahide Road,

Cuvée des Abeilles 2015, Château d’Auzanet, Bordeaux (organic)
13.5%, €14.95
This is an elegant, toothsome Bordeaux with spicy aromas and very agreeable balanced blackberry and red cherry fruits. Nice price too. Steak, served with a red wine and mushroom sauce, would be the local favourite.
From Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne,; Myles Doyle, Gorey; Wilde & Green, Dublin 6; The Wine House, Trim

Bardolino 2016, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Veneto
12.5%, €14.95
Charming sweet/sour morello cherry fruits with a silky, almost lush, texture and a well-rounded finish. Recommended with prosciutto/salami and some crusty sourdough.
From O’Briens,

Pegos Claros Reserva, Palmela, Portugal
13.5%, €16.95
Very moreish sweet, soft, ripe jammy fruits with exotic spices that evolve and improve with every sip. A warming stew of beans, pork and chorizo.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; La Touche, Greystones,; Grape & Grain, Leopardstown; The Wine Shop, Perrystown; The Wine Well, Dunboyne; Kelly’s, Clontarf,; Martin’s Off-Licence, Clontarf,; O’Briens Wines,; Donnybrook Fair,; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street,; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street,; Fresh outlets,; D-Six, Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6; Matson’s, Grange, Bandon; Redmonds, Ranelagh,; Morton’s, Ranelagh,; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk,; Liston’s, Camden Street,; Red Island Wine, Co Skerries; The Coach House, Ballinteer; Nectar Wines, Sandymount

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Austrian wine: A little bit of everything

A little bit of everything probably describes Austria best; or maybe small but perfectly formed. Austrian wine production is minuscule in world terms, but varied and of a very high standard. Most of us are familiar with Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s calling card, but there is so much more to discover and enjoy. On the downside you won’t find much cheap wine, although both Aldi and Lidl have had the occasional bargain, and O’Briens sometimes promotes the wonderfully named Zull Lust in red and white. But the country is just too small to compete on price. The good news is that most of Austria’s wines – sparkling, white, red or sweet – are consistently of a very high quality. They are also unique.

A visit earlier this year served as a welcome reminder of just how great the wines are. The vineyards, all on the eastern end of the country, are very accessible (in Vienna you can even visit some by tram or boat), often ridiculously pretty and usually very welcoming, too.

So what to look out for? Grüner Veltliner is always unoaked, usually low to medium in alcohol, with good acidity and plump, slightly spicy, green fruits. It is ideal for Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio drinkers who want to experiment a little, or simply as a wine to sip on its own. Riesling, again always dry, is more like Alsace than German – medium-bodied and racy. You will also find excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, usually from Styria down on the Slovenian border. The Pinot Blancs from Prieler (see below) are as good as any I have tasted. That is the whites; with red wines, Blaufrankisch is winning all the praise at the moment, but Zweigelt and Sankt Laurent can also produce impressive wines. These days, most Austrian reds are light in alcohol, fresh, vibrant and full of refreshing fruit.

Austrian cuisine may not have a great reputation here, but the wines, white and red, go really well with a wide variety of dishes from around the world, making them great restaurant wines. More forward-thinking establishments now list a Grüner Veltliner (and sometimes a Riesling too) from Austria.

Less easy to find are the great wines of Austria. The aforementioned While Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and other varieties are capable of reaching great heights. Erste Lagen, roughly similar to a Burgundian premier cru – is a serious effort by quality-minded Austrian producers to define their greatest vineyards. They are not cheap but can offer value for money compared with white Burgundy of a similar quality. We may not see many of the top wines here in Ireland, but the lesser wines from great producers – Malat, Bründlmayer, Ott, Schloss Gobelsburg, Hirsh, Birgit Eichinger – are available here. This week, four different grape varieties, all producing uniquely Austrian wine.

Grüner Veltliner Domaene 2016, Schloss Gobelsburg, Kamptal

12.5%, €17.95
Racy green apple fruits with sparky ginger spice and lemon zest. Free-flowing, fresh and dry. Lovely on its own, or with lighter seafood dishes.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Redmonds, Ranelagh,; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; 64 Wine, Glasthule,;  Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,; Donnybrook Fair,; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3,; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road & Malahide Rd.,; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne,; Morton’s of Galway,; Wicklow Wine Co, Wicklow,;

Pinot Blanc Seeberg 2017, Weingut Prieler, Burgenland

13%, €26
Ripe peaches, beeswax and meadow flowers in a distinctive, gloriously textured, lightly creamy, dry wine. Fish in a creamy pie.
From Blackrock Cellar,; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,

Zweigelt Heideboden 2017, Pittnauer, Burgenland

12.5%, €20.95 
Biodynamic. Mouthwatering, juicy, brambly dark fruits with a lightly tannic, dry finish. There is a lightly spicy, earthy touch, but this wine is all about the crunchy fresh fruits. Perfect with pork dishes, terrines and pâtés. Or keep it Austrian with a schnitzel.
From 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork,; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3,;

Meinklang Blaufrankisch 2017, Burgenland

12%, €22
Lightly spicy wine with juicy pure refreshing tart damson and blackberry fruits. Biodynamic. Drink with something fatty – barbecued ribs or a pork pie.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway;


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