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; TheNudeWineCo.ie.
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.
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.
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, whelehanswines.ie
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.
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.
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
Soft, sweet, rounded plums with a touch of spice. With most red meats or rich pasta dishes.
Barbera d’Asti ‘La Stella’ 2019, Marco Bonfante
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
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
Beautiful fragrant aromas, delectable ripe cassis and soft tannins. Mushroom risotto, brasato or steak.
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
Full-bodied and rounded with plum and dark cherry fruits. Enjoy with a bean and tomato stew (with or without chorizo).
Yalumba Barossa Bush Vine Grenache 2019, Samuel’s Collection
Enticing, sweet, ripe red cherries and strawberries with a savoury touch. Roast pork or a miso roast aubergine.
This week a bag-in-box, or rather bag-in-tube wine from the Douro valley in Portugal. Made from a blend of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca, this is a very attractive easy-drinking wine at a keen price. Forward, with fruit and herb aromas, juicy ripe red cherry and plum fruits and subtle tannins on the finish. This is big enough to partner most white and red meats, but supple enough to make it easy to sip solo.
I know some wine drinkers turn up their noses at bag-in-box, but I find them very useful; if I feel like a single glass of wine, or need to add wine to stews or sauces, I no longer have to open a full bottle. In the past many B-i-Bs were filled with cheap wine that you would be wary about using for cooking let alone drinking. But this is slowly changing. For a decade or more, Bag-in-Box has been very popular in Sweden, largely due to price. The 2.25 litre Altano Rewilding works out at €11.17 a bottle – excellent value for money – but it is also a green alternative to glass bottles.
The Altano Rewilding is made by The Symington Family Estates, who own Graham’s, Dow, Warre’s and Cockburn’s port as well as substantial vineyard holdings in the Douro valley. Some of the proceeds from sales will go towards the Rewilding Portugal conservation project – see www.symington.com/rewilding for details
This week’s wine comes from Chianti Classico, the most famous wine region of Tuscany.
Supple and rounded with leather, spices and smooth rich dark fruits. The tannins are ripe and well-integrated. Medium-bodied, with a long finish. You could keep this a few years, but it is drinking very well now.
Try it with meaty pasta dishes, roast red meats, or the local speciality, bistecca alla Fiorentina, t-bone steak grilled on the barbecue.
I haven’t tasted my way through a comprehensive range of Chianti Classico for a few years, but there is a small group of very good wines that I drink regularly. All are from small estates, located in different parts of the region, and reflect their own terroir and house style. I see Isole e Olena as one of the most elegant, Fontodi richer and more full-bodied. Both great producers, but different wines. I include Volpaia, Felsina, Monsanto, Querciabella, and Montevertine in this group, as well as the aforementioned Isole e Olena and Fontodi
As well as various, super-Tuscans, single vineyard and Riserva wines, most of these offer a ‘basic’ Chianti Classico that sells for somewhere between €20-35. To me, they offer the best value for money. I have been enjoying Fonterutoli for many years now; the style is quite modern with smooth concentrated ripe fruits. Fonterutoli is a large estate of 650 hectares, 110 of which are under vine. The Chianti Classico is made from seven different parcels of vines, and is 90% Sangiovese, the reminder Malvasia Nera and Colorino.
€28.95 from 64 Wines; SC Grocer , Monkstown; Sweeney’s D3; Grapevine, Dalkey; D-Six off licence, D6; Worldwide Wines , Waterford.
I am always very reluctant to let the last days of summer slip away. I am also aware that I had planned to write articles on several of my favourite summer wines and somehow the season has almost passed by. So, this week, in “late summer” a few of my favourite warm weather wines.
First a summer white and what could be more seasonal than a Greek wine? For a real treat, O’Briens has one of my all-time favourites the Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko (€32), but the Greek wine from Aldi below is well worth trying. Sadly the Aldi Picpoul de Pinet 2021 (€8.99) and the Muscadet (€7.99), both of which offered great value for money have sold out.
Pet Nat has been having a moment for the last decade or so. Basically, it is wine bottled before the primary fermentation has finished. As fermentation gives off carbon dioxide, the wine will be lightly sparkling. It can be red, white or rosé. It is often bottled unfiltered so it can be cloudy. It tends to be low in alcohol, low in sugar and high in acidity. Pet Nats (short for Pétillant Naturel) are great thirst-quenching summer wines (great for festivals and parties too) served well chilled. Think of them as edgy Champagne or cool Prosecco (although Col Fondo is basically Pet Nat Prosecco with some funky notes thrown in). I love Pet Nat but can never really take them too seriously – I don’t think they are meant to be taken seriously – and therefore don’t really want to pay €30 or more. Most decent wine shops will have a few on sale.
What could be more seasonal than a Greek wine? For a real treat, O’Briens has one of my all-time favourites the Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko (€32), but the Greek wine from Aldi below is well worth trying. Sadly the Aldi Picpoul de Pinet 2021 (€8.99) and the Muscadet (€7.99), both of which offered great value for money have sold out.
On to Beaujolais, a region this column has been championing for years, and which now appears to be enjoying a genuine revival. As Burgundy increases in price, Beaujolais (and here I really mean Beaujolais Villages and the ten crus such as Fleurie, Morgon, Brouilly, Moulin-à-Vent) offers excellent wine at affordable prices. The grape variety is completely different, but for Francophiles such as me they do offer a great alternative. There is an expanding group of really good young producers in the region making some very exciting wines.
For many, Malbec and Argentina are one and the same thing. However, Argentina produces plenty of other very good wine. For a long time it was thought that the Bonarda grape was brought over by immigrants from Italy (where it is widely grown in the north). DNA profiling has shown it to be a completely different variety. Most Bonarda is unoaked and offers a burst of refreshing plum fruits, good acidity, low alcohol and light tannins. Not unlike a Beaujolais in fact. The Altos Las Hormigas included here is a perfect example.
Assyrtiko 2020, Filos Estate, Florina, Greece
This offers great value for money. Rich fruits, orange peel, peaches and pears balanced nicely by some citrus acidity. Go local with a Greek salad, calamari or a chicken in a lemony avgolemono sauce.
Altos Las Hormigas ‘Colonia Las Liebres’ Mendoza Bonarda Clasica 2020 (Organic)
Lovely, clean, fresh crunchy plum and dark cherry fruits; perfect with slightly fatty pork dishes, or as a lighter partner with barbecued food.
From Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; Power & Co, Lucan; wineonline.ie; Thomas Woodberry, Galway
Domaine Jousset ‘Exile’ Rosé Pétillant NV, Vin de France
Made from the Gamay grape, this is a mouth-watering, lightly sparkling rosé. Crisp, bone dry with a cascade of refreshing acidity and light alpine strawberry and redcurrant fruits.
Fragrant and seductive with a lovely freshness throughout and a real concentration of red cherry fruits and nice grip on the finish. Serve lightly chilled with a thick slab of terrine, pâté and other charcuterie.
From Alain and Christine’s Wine Shop, Kenmare; 1601, Kinsale; Redmond’s, D6; Manning’s Emporium, Ballylickey; wineonline.ie
This article was first published in The Irish Times, 3rd September, 2022
As we count the cost of holidays past, school uniforms and rising prices, we should be thankful that the annual round of supermarket wine sales has started. These days the entire year seems to be a series of promotional cycles, but I think the autumn sales usually offer the best value. I tasted a range from Dunnes Stores, SuperValu and O’Briens recently and came across some very nice wines.
The SuperValu French and German wine sale started on Thursday and will continue until September 21st. Hats off to Kevin O’Callaghan and his team for coming up with a substantial German offering alongside France. Look out for the varietal wines from Albert Glas that include Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. At €10-€12, these are all very keenly priced. If you ever wanted to explore your favourite grape variety, this provides the ideal opportunity. I would also recommend the Blue Tie (€10) from Alsace if you enjoy off-dry whites, and the rich and powerful I’m the Boss Cahors Malbec (€15), if you want something more full-bodied to partner your red meats and hearty bean casseroles.
From August 30th to October 11th, Dunnes Stores will be offering 20 per cent off all French wine. One of my favourites is the Exploration Crozes-Hermitage 2020 Cave de Tain (€16.80), a medium-bodied wine with delicious ripe dark fruits, pepper and light tannins, with no added sulphites.
In recent years, Dunnes has improved its Burgundy selection, and now has a very decent range, some offering value for money given current prices in Burgundy. Both the Bourgogne Rouge Marguerite Carillon (€18) and the Domaine de la Bressande Mercurey 2018 (€24.80) are very well-priced. The wines of Laurent Miquel have been ever present in Dunnes for many years, and quality has never slipped. The Laurent Miquel Kinsale is a delicious rich rounded Syrah, perfect with red meats and cheeses, and the excellent Côte 128 Viognier is an absolute steal at €10.40.
The other white wine that stood out for me was the Cocobiroux Vermentino, another great bargain for €9.60. If you fancy splashing out a little, the Lions de Batailley, the second wine of Château Batailley in Pauillac (€31.20) is a classic Bordeaux.
Lastly, the O’Briens wine sale began last Thursday with more than 100 wines from around the world on promotion. Bargains include one of my favourites, the light supple Saint Désirat Syrah (€9.95), as well as the Laurent Miquel Cabernet Sauvignon (€9.95) and the new organic Almorquí Tinto (€9.95). I would also be tempted by the Rizzardi Lugana (€13.95) and the excellent sherry lookalike Montilla Toro Albalá Oloroso (€13.95).
This week four wines all for €10 or less to help tide you over those September blues.
Château Lacroix 2020 Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
A big powerful Bordeaux with concentrated muscular ultra-ripe cassis fruits and a spicy, tannic finish. Enjoy it with roast red meats or substantial bean casseroles.
From: Dunnes Stores
Château Bentejac 2019, Bordeaux
Medium-bodied with supple red fruits and light, slightly herbaceous tannins on the finish. A solid traditional claret. Try it with roast red meats or a garlicky mushroom casserole.
Albert Glas Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) 2021, Pfalz
Fresh crisp racy green fruits — pears and apples — with a lively acidity and crisp dry finish. Perfect aperitif wine with tapas, with creamy goat’s cheese or plainly grilled white fish.
Max Lions Grenache 2020, IGP pays d’Oc
Big ripe slightly baked strawberries with a touch of spice. Supple and rounded, this offers good value for money. Try it with substantial casseroles and pasta bakes.