Best of the taste tests: the top wines from three Irish importers

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 3rd June, 2017

Four very different importers held press tastings over the last few weeks. O’Briens will be well-known to all; they now have 32 shops around the country, mainly concentrated in the Leinster region, and form a very useful bridge between the multiples and the independent retailer, borrowing a little from each. Certainly they make quality wines accessible to many parts of the country and always have a good range of inexpensive wines available. The staff are invariably well-trained with good wine knowledge. I have featured the Domaine Begude wines before: the 2015 Etoile, a Chardonnay fermented in large oak barrels, would cost twice as much if came from Burgundy. I love it.

Marks & Spencer can claim to lead the multiples when to comes to quality. In general, you will pay a little more compared to the other supermarkets, but usually the wine will be that bit better. I like the way it is not afraid to offer quirky wines that you won’t see on the shelves of its rivals. At times, the M&S range approaches that of a good independent wine shop. In recent years, it has championed wines from all around the Mediterranean and eastern Europe. Among many interesting wines, including some great inexpensive summer whites that I will feature shortly, the Lirac below stood out as a very attractive medium- to full-bodied red wine.

Artisan wines

Le Caveau is a leading independent wine importer that concentrates on organic, biodynamic and “natural” wines. Set up by Burgundian and former sommelier Pascal Rossignol 18 years ago, they list a huge range of really interesting artisan wines, including a very fine selection of Burgundy. They have a small retail/mail-order shop (see tucked away a car park in Kilkenny, and also distribute their wines widely through independent wine shops around the country. Proprietor Pascal Verhaeghe of Ch. du Cèdre was at the Le Caveau tasting, despite having lost his entire crop of grapes to frost the previous week. (“Everything!” he told me. “One hundred per cent.”) His Héritage below is a classic mix of traditional and modern. It is also very reasonably priced.

Quintessential Wines is run by Seamus Daly. Seamus worked in the restaurant business and for another wine importer before setting up his own business in 2006. He has a small retail shop in Drogheda and offers a nationwide online service, although most of his business is to hotels and restaurants. The range is full of interesting wines, of the kind that would not be of interest to many bigger importers. There are plenty of good well-made Albariño available between €10-15; the Zarate below is a real step up in quality, although if you have the money, the creamy rich single-vineyard Zarate Tras da Vina (€29.95) is even more delicious.

Lirac Les Closiers 2015, Ogier

14%, €15
Gently warming, with oodles of ripe dark fruits, and an attractive grippy quality.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Cahors 2014 Héritage du Cèdre

13%, €15.50
Light savoury blackcurrants and dark fruits with a clean, lightly tannic finish.
Stockists: Listons; Donnybrook Fair; McGuinness Wines; Green Man; Redmonds; 64 Wine; Avoca; Blackrock Cellar; Corkscrew; Fallon & Byrne; Le Caveau.

Domaine Begude Etoile Chardonnay 2015, Limoux

13.5%, €19.95
Impeccably balanced wine with lightly textured green apples and pears,

a hint of toasted brioche, all held together by a seam of refreshing acidity.
Stockists: O’Briens

Zarate Albariño 2015, Val do Salnes, Rías Baixas, Spain

12.5%, €21.15
A fine complex wine, with concentrated pure pear fruits and a wonderful mineral streak.
Stockists: Quintessential Wines, Drogheda; Clontarf Wines; Wicklow Wine; Hole in the Wall.


Posted in: Irish Times

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