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How often have we heard the description ‘modest, quietly spoken and lets the wine do the talking’ only to meet a brash, overly confident winemaker? One of my very best trips ever was to Beaujolais with the late Tomás Clancy in 2016. We spent three or four wonderful days visiting many of the great producers of the region including Jean-Paul Brun. I had been enjoying the wines for years, so it was a pleasure to meet him, all the more so because he was genuinely modest and let us taste the wines in peace, only answering questions when asked, having given us a brief introduction to his domaine. Even the signage (see above) was modest. The wines then and now are wonderful, always light in alcohol, pure in fruit and full of character. At a recent Wines Direct tasting, I tasted five of his wines, each one a charmer. All are available exclusively from and their shop in Mullingar.

Beaujolais Blanc 2021 Domaines des Terres Dorées, Jean-Paul Brun
Delightful lively Chardonnay with lightly textured orange peel and green apples. €23.35

Roussanne Blanc Jean-Paul Brun Vin de France 2021
Made from vines planted in the Beaujolais region. Creamy, with a seductive rich texture and apricot fruits. Very moreish. Organic. €24.75

Côtes de Brouilly 2021 Domaine des Terres Dorées, Jean-Paul Brun
Textbook Beaujolais; fresh slightly grippy zippy red cherry fruits, good acidity and a supple finish. It has a wonderful diaphanous quality. An unputdownable vine de soif. Organic. €26

Moulin-à-Vent Domaine des Terres Dorées 2021, Jean-Paul Brun
Wow! An amazing concentration of slightly savoury refreshing juicy dark fruits. Seemingly light, but it has genuine structure that calls out for little ageing. Lovely wine. €29.25

Morgon Côte de Puy 2021 Domaine des Terres Dorées, Jean-Paul Brun
Another stunner. Restrained, elegant yet concentrated with a lovely mineral backbone and slightly chewy tannins. Gorgeous now but will certainly keep and improve. Organic. €32.70

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Fèlsina Berardenga 2019 Chianti Classico

Fèlsina Berardenga 2019 Chianti Classico

Textbook Chianti Classico with violet and red fruit aromas; medium-bodied with dark cherry fruits. Good but not intrusive acidity and perfectly judged tannins on the finish. Try this with most plainly grilled red meats or mushroom-based dishes.

Tasted and Coravined before Christmas this was a treat on a chilly February evening. Fèlsina is based on the south-eastern border of Chianti Classico. It has been run by the Poggiali family since 1966. While the Riserva, Fontalloro, Rancio and single vineyard Colonia are all very good (as is their olive oil) I have always been very fond of the Chianti Classico.

€31.95 from;; Eldons, Clonmel; The

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Belondrade y Lurton 2018, Rueda. Organic

Belondrade y Lurton 2018, Rueda. Organic

Rich and textured with harmonious, lush, creamy soft ripe stone fruits – peaches and apricots – with subtle toasted nuts and just enough acidity. Outstanding wine. 17.5/20

The 2020 vintage is available for €53 although you may still be able to find the 2018 and 2019 vintages in some shops. From Deveney’s – Dundrum; Martins; McHugh’s; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew, D2; Nectar Wines; Mitchell and Son; 

I received a sample of this a few years back and wondered how it might age, so I Coravined it and tried it again recently. It is the top wine from Belondrade y Lurton, a project started by Didier Belondrade in 1994. The wines are made in a very smart minimalist winery overlooking the vines. Belondrade has 23 plots of vines, all in La Seca, one of the top wine-growing regions of Rueda. Spontaneous fermentation, fermented and aged in French oak of various age and size.

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Anthill Farms Syrah 2013, Campbell Ranch Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, U.S.A.

Anthill Farms Syrah 2013, Campbell Ranch Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, U.S.A.

Quite delicious with easy smooth dark fruits, a lick of dusty leather, spice and black pepper. This has a lovely soft subtle ripeness and the tannins are light at this stage.

A present from my sister who lives in California, and knows I am a fan of Anthill. The winery is better known for their Pinot, but the Syrah, from a cool-climate vineyard a few kilometres from the Pacific Ocean, is equally good.

Anthill Farms are imported by Winemason and I see Mitchell & Son has the 2016 vintage for €48.95.

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Maranges Vieilles Vignes 2019, Domaine Maurice Charleux.

Maranges Vieilles Vignes 2019, Domaine Maurice Charleux.

This week a red Burgundy that offers great value for money. It is from Maranges, at the southern end of the Côte d’Or.

Concentrated and ripe with fresh red cherry fruits dusted with spice and a lovely long finish. It will evolve further over the next year or two, but is very seductive already; I bought a few bottles for the coming festive season.

€29.95 from Mitchell & Son, chq, D1 and Sandycove; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Morton’s, Ranelagh;

Maranges, like Marsannay at the other end of the Côte d’Or, is one of the lesser-known, and therefore more reasonably priced names in Burgundy. Located just south of Santenay, it was part of Côtes de Beaune Villages appellation until 1989. There are seven Premiers Crus vineyards, and 90% of production is of red wine.

Founded in 1894, Domaine Maurice Charleux is situated in Dezize-lès-Maranges, part of Maranges. Today the domaine covers just under 12 hectares, of which 85% is Pinot Noir. They produce three premiers crus. The Vieilles Vignes is made from a few hectares of vines planted in 1933 and 1937.

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spit 2022

Just back from one of the tasting highlights of the year: Spit! This is a group of four of our finest small importers who come together twice a year to show their wines. One is primarily Spanish, one Burgundian, another Italian, and one Austro-German-Portuguese, but all have a selection from various parts of Europe and South Africa.

Below, a few of my favourites, but there were many, many more.

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Quinta dos Roques Dão Colheito Tinto 2018

Quinta dos Roques Dão Colheito Tinto 2018

Wonderfully fragrant with succulent, refreshing black cherries and plums and a touch of spicy oak. There are some very refined tannins on the lengthy drying finish, so it will keep a year or two, but it seems a shame not to drink it now. A bargain at €18.

€18 from Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown,

I wrote the article below about Dão for The Irish Times back in April 2017. At the time I lamented the fact that there were so few of the wines available in Ireland; that has certainly changed now. As well as the wine above, I am a big fan of the Quinta dos Carvailhas (reds and white) as well as the Niepoort Rótulo (a real bargain at less than €20) and the Niepoort Conciso 2019. Whelehan’s also has the very keenly priced easy-drinking Quinta do Correio from Quinta dos Roques for a very reasonable €15 – €13 on promotion.

From The Irish Times, 1st April, 2017
For some Dão is Portugal’s finest wine region, yet few wine drinkers have a clear picture of what the wines are like. It is often mentioned as Portugal’s answer to Burgundy. There are certain similarities; both produce lighter wines with good acidity, low in tannin, and sometimes alcohol too. Both wines seduce gently with perfume, finesse and elegance rather than power. But whereas Pinot Noir often tastes sweet (although it is bone dry) to me Dão is more savoury and often spicy with damson fruits – more like a Syrah from the Northern Rhône if you want a comparison. Either way, Dão certainly deserves much more of our attention. Not only does it offer some great red wines at reasonably prices, it also produces some excellent dry white wines too. Both red and white wines (it is 80% red) are made from Portuguese grape varieties.

Dão is a largish region in central northern Portugal. Circled by mountains, and therefore protected from both the Atlantic rains and the blasting heat of the interior, it has relatively dry warm summers, perfect for the slow ripening of grapes. The granitic soils give good acidity, and the altitude (200-600 metres) keeps things cool too.

For many years, the region, although well-known, was held back by a bizarre law that obliged growers to sell their grapes to the local co-op, who often lacked the necessary winemaking skills. The result was large quantities of very dull tannic wines. But in recent years, there has been a blossoming of local talent, as well as an influx of other Portuguese winemakers. Not only are the wines far better, they are very reasonably priced too.

Two red grapes are worth special mention. This is the home of Touriga Nacional, one of Portugal’s greatest grape varieties. You will also come across Jaen, known as Mencía in Galicia, a variety with huge potential. Then there is Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Alfrocheiro, For white wines, there is Encruzado, possibly Portugal’s greatest white variety. It all adds up to an area that offers real excitement. At the less expensive end, the wines can be fabulously perfumed and lightly fruity. If you like less heavy wines, there are some real bargains, but the more expensive wines are great value too.

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Vale d. Maria, Douro Superior 2020, Quinta do Vale d. Maria

Vale d. Maria, Douro Superior 2020, Quinta do Vale d. Maria

Intense ripe dark fruits with a savoury edge, a little toasty oak and a long firm tannic finish. Despite the tannins, this is not a huge wine, but well-balanced and approachable now, although it will certainly keep. I would decant it now and serve with a rare striploin steak, roast lamb or something other equally substantial dish.  A very good wine, with a nice quality of fruit, and very keenly priced too. It slots in nicely between the less expensive Rufo and the range of top Quinta wines from Quinta do Vale d. Maria.

€19.95 from Conways, Ratoath; Martin’s, Fairview; Thomas’s, Foxrock; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; McHughs, Dublin 5; Shiels, Malahide;  Firecastle, Kildare;  The Wine House, Trim; The Coach House, Ballinteer; Ardkeen, Waterford. 

Quinta do Vale d. Maria was founded by Cristiano van Zeller in the 1990’s and was one of the original group of Douro Boys – although the winemaker for a while was a girl – the talented Sandra Tavares da Silva. The estate was sold in 2017 to Vinho Verde producer Aveleda (owned by van Zellar’s cousin). He remains on as winemaker.

This is made from a blend of 20–35-year-old Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz vines. Fermented in stainless steel followed by six months in French oak, and a further thirteen months in stainless steel.

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As the weather turns cooler, it’s time to change what’s in your glass.

This article was first published in The Irish Times on Saturday 24th September, 2022

Who would be a vine grower? As we come to the end of a tumultuous growing season in the northern hemisphere, most grapes have now been gathered in. Producers across Europe have had to deal with fires, drought, record high temperatures and flash floods. In some regions producers began picking grapes in July, unheard of in the past.

It is dangerous to come to definitive conclusions on the harvest in one region let alone an entire continent, but overall, the drought and hot weather seem to have resulted in smaller berries and lower yields. Smaller berries could mean greater concentration, but also excess alcohol, clumsy tannins and burnt flavours. While yields may be down, overall production is still expected to be greater than the frost-ravaged 2021 vintage.

We look, this week, at some Italian wines that make perfect partners for autumn food. This is the best time of year to visit Piemonte in north-western Italy. There is the nebbia fog blanketing the steep valleys, the forests are ablaze with colour, the mountain walks and, of course, there is the food and wine. Piemonte is home to some of the best autumnal fare; white truffles, porcini mushrooms, hazelnuts, and cheeses that produce rich eggy pasta, deeply satisfying stews, risotto, chocolates, and much more. I am a huge fan of Barolo and Barbaresco and other Nebbiolo as well as another local speciality, Barbera.

Last autumn, my first post-lockdown trip was to Sicily, where I spent several days on the western coast of the island. While we enjoyed beautiful autumn sunshine, the other side of the island was suffering from severe flash floods. The wines of Sicily continue to excite and can offer great value for money. Nero d’Avola is the most important and widely planted red grape. The wines vary from light and fruity to more full-bodied and powerful, depending on where the vines are grown. I feature one of each this week. The Duca di Sasseta is made from semi-dried grapes giving it extra richness and oomph.

Nero d’Avola 2021, Duca di Sasseta, Sicily

14.5%, €11.99

Soft, sweet, rounded plums with a touch of spice. With most red meats or rich pasta dishes.

From: Lidl

Barbera d’Asti ‘La Stella’ 2019, Marco Bonfante

14%, €19.95

Easy-drinking juicy damsons with a touch of liquorice. Italian sausage with lentils or mushroom risotto.

From: Blackrock Cellar; Barnhill Stores; Deveney’s, Dundrum; D-Six; Higgins; Redmonds; Jus de Vine; La Touche; Nectar Wines; The Vintry

Ruversa Nero d’Avola 2016, Eloro, Organic

12.5%, €22.10

Very moreish light earthy blackcurrants with light tannins. With a beetroot risotto or herby pork chops.

From: Wines Direct

Langhe Nebbiolo Pian delle Mole, Giulia Negri

14%, €29-30

Beautiful fragrant aromas, delectable ripe cassis and soft tannins. Mushroom risotto, brasato or steak.

From: Pinto Wines; Redmond’s; Rua, Castlebar; Barnhill Stores; Sweeney’s; Eleven Deli; Morton’s, Galway; Blackrock Cellar

Posted in: Irish Times

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Cool and elegant – Garnacha?

This article was first published in The Irish Times, Saturday 17th September, 2022

It is one of the most widely planted grapes, capable of producing high-quality wines, so you might expect it to be celebrated worldwide. Yet, until recently, Grenache, or Garnacha, was seen as a source of cheap everyday wines. It is only over the past decade that things have changed.

The Spanish claim Garnacha as theirs, although it is widely planted in the southern Rhône and Languedoc where it is a big ingredient in blends, the most famous being Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Garnacha likes sun and a dry climate to ripen fully. It has thin skins and so is generally pale in colour, with light tannins. It can have high levels of alcohol, giving it a sensation of sweetness even though it is dry. It has travelled to other warm regions, including Australia and South Africa.

In Spain, it took a small group of winemakers, including the duo from Commando G featured here, to rediscover the potential of Garnacha. The granitic soils of the mountainous Sierra de Gredos region are responsible for some sensational wines, usually made from gnarled, ancient untrained vines. Fragrant and ethereal, the wines are often compared with Pinot Noir. Producers in Australia and South Africa are now also making far brighter, more elegant wines. As well as the wine featured here, look out for the Willunga 100 McLaren Vale Grenache (€20) and John Duval’s Plexus (€37-€40) a masterful blend, both from independents.

Other regions in Spain, such as Calatayud and Campo de Borja, produce large quantities of generous gluggable warming wines; perfect for drinking alongside rich stews on those cooler autumnal evenings.

As suggested above, powerful Garnacha partners rich stews, braises, daubes as well as vegetarian tomato and bean casseroles well. However, the lighter more elegant style goes well with cauliflower or macaroni cheese, as well as pork dishes.

Tesco’s Finest Old Vine Selection Garnacha 2019, Campo de Borja

14%, €12

Full-bodied and rounded with plum and dark cherry fruits. Enjoy with a bean and tomato stew (with or without chorizo).

From: Tesco

Yalumba Barossa Bush Vine Grenache 2019, Samuel’s Collection

14.5%, €25.95

Enticing, sweet, ripe red cherries and strawberries with a savoury touch. Roast pork or a miso roast aubergine.

From: Matsons; Next Door, ClonakiltyMitchell & SonThe Baths, ClontarfArdkeen QFSThe Corkscrew; SuperValuRathborne, Sundrive and Barna

La Bruja de Rozas 2020, Commando G, Sierra de Gredos

14.5%, €28-€30

A perennial favourite; elegant, juicy, ripe raspberry and strawberry fruits with a lovely lively thread. A lightly spicy tagine would be a good match.

From: 64 WineLoose CanonGreen Man WinesMac Curtain Wine CellarBlackrock CellarBaggot Street WinesGrapevinePinto

Momento Grenache Noir 2019, Western Cape

13.5%, €39.95

Exquisite delicate rose petal aromas, piquant, ripe red cherry fruits and refined tannins. Try it with porchetta or cauliflower cheese.

From: RedmondsEly Wine StoreBlackrock

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