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Does price matter when it comes to wine?

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First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 8th September, 2018

As a wine writer, the question I am most often asked is “Do more expensive wines really taste any better?” The truth, as Oscar Wilde once observed, is rarely pure and never simple, so the answer is yes and no. Most of the time, we really don’t know how much money the importer and retailer are making; it can make a huge difference. But generally once you pay €10, wine does usually start to taste better; more fruit, more flavour and more interesting.

Pay €15-€25 and you should notice a massive jump in quality; give a good winemaker enough money and the good ones can work wonders. Splash out anything between €25 and €50 you can get some really serious, complex wines that should knock your socks off. Above that you start to hit the law of diminishing returns; well-known wine regions around the world know their wines are in huge demand and in limited supply.

But what about wines made with the same grape variety, and from the same region? I believe that if you spend an extra €5-€10, you will notice a difference. If you don’t, then I suggest that you stick to cheap wine. This week I give you two of the most popular white wine grape varieties at very different prices, so that you can conduct your own tasting.

Sauvignon Blanc has been widely planted in parts of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux for centuries. Many other parts of the wine world have tried growing it with varying degrees of success. Chile provides us with plenty of inexpensive Sauvignon (apparently our favourite wine is Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon), the best wines coming from the Casablanca and Leyda Valleys. South Africa produces some excellent upmarket wines but nobody can match the success of Marlborough in New Zealand. Marlborough produces almost 70 per cent of all New Zealand wine, and Sauvignon Blanc accounts for most of that.

Amazingly, the overall quality of wine has remained high, including those at €10-€12. I mentioned the Villa Maria a few weeks ago, and Dunnes Stores has the very tasty Rapaura Springs (€12.99, and Reserve €15.99). Older readers will remember a time when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon was the most-sought-after wine in the country. It is still there, producing good wine, although Dog Point, Greywacke and various single vineyard wines are probably better these days.

Sales of Pinot Grigio have also exploded in recent years. The less expensive versions, usually from the Veneto in northern Italy, are lightly aromatic, vaguely fruity, unoaked and low in alcohol. Every supermarket will have a range, usually under €10 and often cheaper. Other parts of Italy, California, Australia and New Zealand have all tried their hand at Pinot Grigio. Look out for the Romanian Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2017 from O’Briens, €13.95, but a mere €8.95 on promotion (starting on September 24th).

Lightly aromatic with soft, plump, ripe tropical fruits. Perfect party wine or with the classic combination of melon and prosciutto.
Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswines.ie

Pinot Grigio della Venezie 2017, Dissegna Francesco 12.5%, €14.99-15.99

Mouth-watering, fresh melon fruit with cleansing acidity and a bone-dry finish. What is Italian for vin de soif? Perfect with antipasti or spaghetti carbonara.
Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; Morton’s, Ranelagh, mortons.ie; The Hole in the Wall, Blackhorse Avenue, D7; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; Fresh Outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie

Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough 13.5%,€9.95 in O’Briens for September

wine

One of the original Marlborough Sauvignons and a classic of the style; lifted gooseberry aromas, fresh lime zest and ripe green fruits. Drink solo or with soft goat’s cheese salad.
Stockists: Widely available through the multiples, frequently on promotion.

Framingham Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough 12.5%, €23.99

This is streets ahead of most Marlborough Sauvignon. Lightly aromatic, flinty and mineral with a vivid purity and excellent length. Good solo, but better with shellfish – prawns, scallops, crab or mussels, preferably combined with zingy lime zest and herbs.
Stockists: The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork ; wineonline.ie; JJ O’Driscoll, Ballinlough, jjodriscoll.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie.

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The best wines to drink with fish and seafood

fish

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday, 1st September, 2018

I don’t think I have ever written a bucket list or settled on a deathbed meal. I like too many things, and in any case everything depends on the people around you. With wine, the greatest vintage from the finest estate will never match a modest glass in good company.

I do know that my deathbed meal would include fish and shellfish, and lots of it. I live a few hundred metres from the sea and find it incredibly frustrating that I have to travel long distances to find decent fresh seafood – the greatest of which requires little or no adornment. Herbs and lemon or lime, mayonnaise or melted butter usually suffice.

Some years ago the highlight of my small but perfectly formed stag weekend was dinner at Chez Youen in Baltimore, in Co Cork, where we devoured an enormous platter of plain shellfish, multiple bottles of Muscadet, and sparkling wine from Mas de Daumas Gassac.

So before we move on to autumnal reds, a final feast of everything good that comes from the sea and the wines to go with them. There is something wonderfully perfect about a piece of spanking fresh fish and a glass of chilled white wine. (You can, of course, drink chilled light red wines, but I usually crack open a white.)

Crab would definitely feature in my meal, preferably cold, in a salad with mayonnaise, and mounds of herbs and citrus. As a child I was tasked with shelling freshly cooked crab for dinner. A few shards of shell merely proved its authenticity. Sadly I was too young to enjoy one of life’s great matches: crab and Riesling.

The crab would not be pasteurised and tasteless, its richness countered by the zip and freshness of the Riesling. Austria, Germany and Alsace, in northeastern France, all produce great Riesling, but today I choose Australia, a country that produces a lime-scented version that is heavenly with crab.

Mussels and Muscadet (or the delicious vinho verde below) might come before the crab, then fresh Atlantic prawns with a home-made lemon-garlic mayonnaise. I would find room for scallops, too, probably seared in butter. The prawns and scallops have a sweetness that goes perfectly with a creamy, fruit-filled Chardonnay. Then on to hake, which to my mind is superior to cod, salmon and all the basses and breams. The only fish that compare are turbot, John Dory and black sole. Chardonnay would do nicely again, or an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, or maybe an Albariño from Spain.

For most people the ultimate luxury is lobster. I prefer crab but will happily eat both. Recently, at a friend’s 50th, we ate lobster and drank Champagne – an indulgence that works so well. And only then would we start on the meat, followed by the cheese.

Bottles of the Week


Chardonnay 2016, Antech, IGP pays d’Oc
13%, €13.95
A medium-bodied, oak-free Chardonnay with attractive ripe exotic fruits – melon, peach and pineapple. Perfect with scallops and prawns. Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, and Arnotts, Dublin, winesdirect.ie


Pequenos Rebentos Vinho Verde 2017
11.5%, €15.50
Delicious, fruit-filled, lip-smacking wine; fresh zingy lemon zest and green apples. Light enough to go perfectly with mussels and oysters, but also with hake or sea bass. StockistsListons Food Store, Dublin 2, listonsfoodstore.ie; the Wine Centre, Kilkenny, thewinecentre.ie; Kelly’s, Clontarf, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com


Vickery Watervale Riesling 2017, Clare Valley, Australia 13%, €19.50
Floral, with a very seductive, refreshing, creamy palate full of lime zest and mouth-watering green fruits, finishing bone dry. Drink with crab. Stockists: jnwine.com


Granzamy Brut NV, Champagne
12.5%, €34.95 (€29.95 for September)
A stylish, lightly creamy Champagne with subtle red cherries and strawberries. With lobster for a real splurge, but this would also go nicely with oysters, and most seafood. Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

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Vineyard tours: Where to visit for beauty and taste

A shorter version of this article was first published in The Irish Times, Saturday 25th August, 2018book

Where to Drink Wine

Chris Losh, Quadrille

Three days after the article below appeared in The Irish Times,  I was given a copy of this very useful book by Chris Losh, who has clearly put in a huge amount of work, traveling, meeting and tasting. Not only is there a brief introduction to each area, the author also picks out a selection of the best wineries to visit, with a brief rundown of what to expect. Others have tried this before, but tend to take the easy option, suggesting the obvious large producers with big visitor-centres and bland guided tours. Losh includes some of the big boys, but also plenty of smaller estates where you can expect a more personal tour and tasting. This is a genuinely useful well-written book that will make you want to pack your bags and head off to the sun-soaked vineyards of the world.

IMG_2955The Douro Valley

Not all vineyards look great; some are simply vast fields of vines grown on arid flat plains. Thankfully many others take in some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Beautiful vineyards don’t always make beautiful wine, but it certainly makes a visit a much more appealing prospect.

Wine tourism is developing at a hectic rate to meet consumer demand for an authentic backstory. Clued-in wineries realise they are no longer simply selling wine; they are marketing a brand that includes their history, their winemaker, winery and region. Consumers can gain access to this through the winery website or through interacting with a multitude of other channels. Many producers not only offer tours but have turned them into a profitable sideline. So where should you visit?

 Possibly the most beautiful vineyard belonging to one producer is Rippon in Central Otago in New Zealand. The view out over the vineyards, the lake and islands, with spectacular mountains forming the backdrop, is stunning. Take a look online. The wines, sadly not cheap, are available in Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown. They are however very good, the Pinot is world-class.

Most visitors to San Francisco head northwards to the Napa Valley. Napa is great, but tourism is very well developed and often expensive. I would suggest driving westwards from Napa to Sonoma County. I am not sure how the area weathered the devastating fires last year, but the pretty town of Sonoma, the picturesque valleys filled with mature forests and mixed farms leading on to the spectacular coastline is as memorable as any wine country. The wine and food here are equally good.

I have visited Slovenia on several occasions. Most of the vineyards here (and in neighbouring Croatia) are picture-postcard beautiful. Think rolling verdant hillsides dotted with immaculately kept farmhouses each with a well-tended vegetable garden. The wines can be equally impressive.

We Irish are regular visitors to South Africa. My sole trip is now a distant memory, but I will never forget the breath-taking beauty of the vineyards. Many areas boast beautiful verdant landscapes peppered with dazzling white Cape Dutch homesteads. Best known is Stellenbosch, but nearby Franschhoek took first prize for me.

The Douro Valley in northern Portugal is a Unesco heritage site, and home to some of the most impressive, historic vineyards. But possibly my favourite vineyards of all are over the border in Spain, in Ribera Sacra in Galicia. There, the morning mists lying on the slow moving river slowly dissolve to reveal a series of narrow, impossibly steep crumbling terraces lined with ancient dry stone walls. At the top are verdant green forests. By happy coincidence, Ribera Sacra also makes some of the most compelling wines, from the Mencía grape, as well as others just being rediscovered.

Bottles of the Week

Bohoek Semillon 2016, Franschhoek, South Africa 12.5%, €15
A lovely mix of fresh, juicy, ripe peach fruits, with a touch of spice on the finish. Perfect with grilled (or barbecued) sea bass or other fish.
Stockist Marks & Spencer

S&R Douro Red 2016 13.5%, €16.95
Ample sweet/sour dark plum fruits, with a touch of spice and a good dry finish. Try it with a rare steak.
Stockist O’Briens Wines

Guímaro Joven Tinto 2016, Ribera Sacra 13%, €19
Pure unoaked Mencía from one of the best producers in Ribera Sacra. The more expensive single vineyard wines are stunning. This has clean savoury dark cherry fruits, a lifting acidity and a smooth finish. Serve cool with roast pork.
Stockists Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2, baggotstreetwines.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie

Pax Sonoma Hillsides Syrah 2014, Sonoma, California 13%, €66
Concentrated, vibrant, savoury yet ripe dark cherry and blackcurrant fruits with wood smoke and liquorice. Superb, sophisticated wine that can be drunk now but will improve for years. With roast lamb.
Stockists 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin, 64wine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie

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Last of the summer wine: light whites to savour

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First published in The Irish Times, Saturday, 18th August 2018.

While the summer is still with us, another look at light whites. These are wines that may not fill the mouth with rich powerful flavours, but they more than make up for it with a subtle complexity that seduces and charms.

 Tasted quickly before dinner, my bottle of Soave La Rocca 2015 from Pieropan was pleasant, refreshing and light, but little more. It was only half an hour later with food that it slowly revealed a wonderful multi-layered character. A few retailers have told me we are starting to drink less, but drink better wine, very welcome news. Sadly this doesn’t seem to extend to light white wines yet. A bottle of Pieropan La Rocca will set you back €36.99 (Redmonds, Ranelagh, 64 Wine, Glasthule) but it is worth it.

 A vast quantity of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi (usually sold in distinctive fish-shaped bottles) is produced each year. One producer alone, Fazi Battaglia, makes three million bottles annually. Verdicchio is a grape variety that generally produces refreshing wines with good acidity. If you restrict the yields and have the right soil, the wines can be subtle but excellent. Increase the yields and you get a decent crisp fresh dry wine, usually with a slight fizz.

 At entry level, Lidl should have a few bottles of its version of Verdicchio for €7.99 as part of its Italian wine sale. There are plenty of very high quality wines too, including San Lorenzo (€23.70, SIYPS.com, Sheridan’s Cheesemongers) and Bucci. The Bucci wine below is excellent but the Riserva (€41), one of my desert island wines, will keep and improve for decades. Verdicchio goes well with lighter herby foods, antipasti, risotto primavera, prawns with linguini, or pesto Genovese.

 I have always loved the pure, refreshing flavours of Muscadet. I even like some of the cheap stuff. Real Muscadet has been enjoying a welcome mini-revival recently. The less expensive versions make the perfect summer drink, light in alcohol with satisfying plump mouth-watering zesty green fruits. Move up a gear to the best single estates and you can enjoy some brilliant, expressive wines; at €20-€30 they may seem expensive, but they are certainly worth it. Muscadet goes well with seafood, a platter of fruits de mer, some oysters or a bowl of mussels.

All of the multiples should have a Muscadet, including Tesco (€10) and SuperValu, who offer two, one at €9/€12 and the tasty Domaine du Haut Bourg (€12.95). Mary Pawle (marypawlewines.com) has the fascinating sulphur-free Muscadet L’Air Innocent 2015, Vin Nature, Domaine de la Fessardière for €18.60.

Bottles of the Week


Aldi Exquisite Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur lie 2017 12%, €8.99
Light refreshing green apple fruits with a crisp dry finish. Perfect with a bowl of moules marinière and a few hunks of crusty baguette.
Stockist: Aldi


Verdicchio dei Casetlli di Jesi Albiano 2016, Marotti Campi 12.5%, €11.20 (down from €14.95 during August)
Plump rounded apples and nectarines with lively lime zest bringing it to life. With mixed antipasti or pesto Genovese.
Stockist: O’Briens


Verdicchio Classico Superior, Villa Bucci 13.5%, €22
From the best producer in the region, an exquisite elegant wine with floral aromas, light vanilla, almonds and green apple fruits, and a lingering finish. Lovely with linguini with prawns, lemon and parsley.
Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin, 64wine.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; the Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie


Granite de Clisson 2012, Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine, Domaine de la Vinconnière 13%, €26.95
A superb mineral-laced wine with rich, elegant textured maturing fruits and the 2016 sur lie (€14.95) is also worth trying.
Stockist: Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com

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A wine even our wine writer hadn’t heard about

Garden Grapes

 

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 28th July, 2018

I am wary of books that promise to take the mystery out of wine. Wine is actually quite complicated. This may explain why many people learn to love a few grape varieties – Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon – and ignore everything else. I have sympathy for this way of thinking. I use it myself in many other walks of life.

But there are said to be between 5,000 and 10,000 varieties of Vitis vinifera, the wine grape. Few of us will have heard of the most widely planted variety of all, Kyoho, which is found mostly in China. As much of that crop is used for eating rather than drinking, we are more familiar with the next four most widely planted Vitis vinifera varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and then two found almost exclusively in Spain, Tempranillo and Airén.

There are very good reasons why some grape varieties remain little known: the wines they produce are not great. But plenty more are unsung heroes that deserve greater recognition.

Marsanne, for example, is a full-bodied aromatic grape found mainly in the northern Rhone Valley, although plantings have spread out into Languedoc. It usually gives good yields – hence its popularity – but can lack acidity. Because of this it is often blended with more floral varieties, such as Roussanne, that also provide acidity. Marsanne reaches its peak as a blend in white Hermitage, from the Northern Rhône, and at the Tahbilk winery, in the Australian state of Victoria. The Aldi version below won’t quite reach those giddy heights, but it is well worth trying.

I don’t think I had heard of Dafni until I tried it at a tasting last year. Lyrarakis is a family-owned company based in Crete that has made a name by rescuing local ancient grape varieties from obscurity. Dafni gets its name from the Greek word for laurel or bay leaf, and the wine certainly has a pleasant herbiness. (The winery also produces a delicious Assyrtiko.) I don’t see Dafni becoming the new Sauvignon Blanc, but it also deserves a try.

Aglianico typically produces firm, dry, austere, tannic wines that need years to reach maturity. It is grown in the Campania region of southern Italy, most famously around Taurasi, but you will also find it growing on the dark, rich volcanic soils of Monte Vulture, in the neighbouring region of Basilicata. If that description sounds scary, don’t worry; the wine below is a very approachable early-drinking version.

The fourth wine is made primarily from the obscure Mandó grape, which was rediscovered by Pablo Calatayud, who owns Celler del Roure, in Valencia. Earlier this year I wrote about his excellent Vermell. Both that and the Safrà below are aged in ancient clay amphorae before bottling.

Bottles of the Week

Exquisite Collection Marsanne 2017, Languedoc 13%, €8.99
Ripe pears and peaches on nose and palate, finishing bone dry. Great everyday summer drinking by itself or with fish.
From Aldi, aldi.ie

Lyrarakis Dafni 2016, Crete 12.5%, €21.99
An intriguing wine with notes of bay, rosemary and wild thyme that blend in nicely with lemon zest and a reviving acidity. One to try with a herby Greek salad, grilled Mediterranean vegetables or herb and lemon chicken.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Bradleys, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie

Aglianico del Vulture Pipoli 2016, Vigneti del Vulture 13%, €18-€19
Smooth, rich dark-cherry fruits with chocolate and a rounded, easy finish. Perfect with grilled or roast lamb.
From Donnybrook Fair, Dublin 4, donnybrookfair.ie; Fresh, branches around Dublin, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; McHughs, Dublin 5, mchughs.ie; Mitchell & Son, branches around Greater Dublin, mitchellandson.com; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie; Michael’s, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin

Safrà, Celler del Roure 2016, Mandó, Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) 13%, €21.50
Gorgeous wine with a delicious combination of fresh, piquant red-cherry fruits and a subtle rustic earthiness. Drink coolish with paella.
From 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin, 64wine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie

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Graham Norton wines: Are they any good?

Graham Norton (C) with Tim Lightbourne and Rob Cameron

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 21st July, 2018

We all know that wine helps conversation flow at parties and dinners, but regular viewers of the Graham Norton Show will be aware that Norton, and sometimes his guests, can be seen sipping a generous glass of white. The chat-show host has gone a step further, and has a hand (or a mouth) in making the wine.

 You may have come across the GN wines in SuperValu and more recently Tesco. Produced in red, white, rosé and now sparkling, they have been flying off the supermarket shelves for several years. The idea for GN wines came from a New Zealand company called Invivo, set up in 2008 by former school mates Tim Lightbourne and Rob Cameron. Cameron had worked as a winemaker with Villa Maria in New Zealand, while Lightbourne worked in marketing with brands such as l’Oréal and Danone in Europe.

“We caught up for a beer in London in 2007 and came up with the idea. Unlike many great ideas we actually followed through with it,” says Lightbourne.

 “We made our first Sauvignon in 2008 and couldn’t have chosen a worse time – it was a lousy harvest, and the global financial crisis hit.” The real breakthrough came in 2014 when Invivo became the first wine company in the southern hemisphere to crowd fund. “We raised $NZ2million (€1.2million) in one week, a record for any industry in New Zealand. Now we have 443 people who we look after very well, and we are about to launch a second offer.”

They knew Graham Norton enjoyed Sauvignon Blanc, and offered to supply him with their Invivo Sauvignon. A little later, they suggested to Norton that he become involved. “He has great enthusiasm and a great palate”, says Lightfoot. “He will say ‘I like this part but not that’. He rejects some samples. He talks about what he would like in his wine, instead of leaving it up to a winemaker. It is quite a unique way of making wine. We are about to make the 2018; he will taste 8-10 samples and blend to his taste”.

The whole process is filmed and put out on YouTube. “The wine is quite different to our style with Invivo (also available from SuperValu). We get good points from the critics and win trophies – we are proud of the quality and would happily put it up against any wine.” Sales of the wine have tripled since 2015 and will top 3 million bottles this year.

 The Sauvignon was followed by a rosé, a Shiraz from Australia and now a Prosecco. For this, the pair flew out to Italy and tried out eight different styles from various producers. Norton prefers the drier style. The wine has just been released in Tesco.

Graham Norton’s Own SparklinG ItaliaN Prosecco Extra Dry


11%
€17.99
An exuberant fruit-filled Prosecco with refreshing red apples and pears. A great way to kick-start a dinner party, or with friends on a sunny evening.
Stockists: Tesco

Graham Norton’s Own SauviGNon Blanc 2017, Marlborough


12.5%
€14.99 (€12 from July 26th in SuperValu and Centra)
A classic Marlborough Sauvignon, with lime zest, textured mouth-watering green fruits and a lingering rounded finish. With some grilled scallops and a herby dressing, or a soft goat’s cheese salad.
Stockists: SuperValu, Centra, Tesco

Graham Norton’s Own Pink by DesiGN Rosé 2017


13%
€14.99 (€8 in SuperValu, Centra until July 26th, while stocks last)
A very moreish appealing wine with fragrant aromas, juicy ripe raspberry and black cherry fruits, a refreshing acidity, finishing just off-dry. By itself or with lightly spicy chicken, prawns or salmon.
Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu, Centra

Graham Norton’s Own Shiraz 2015, South Australia


14%
€12-15 (€12 from July 26th in SuperValu and Centra)
Big rich rounded ripe plum fruits with a sprinkle of spice. Perfect with that barbecued ribeye steak or burger.
Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu, Centra

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Pale pink or cherry-red? Dry or sweet? How to choose the right rosé

boho

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 12th July, 2018

We tend to buy rosé by colour. If the wine is very pale salmon pink, it will be dry; cherry-red and it must be sweet. It isn’t quite that simple, but it is a good starting point. Rosé wines vary hugely in their sugar content and it isn’t always easy to work out which is dry and which is sweet. One useful indicator is origin. California blush is generally sweet, as is Rosé d’Anjou and Mateus Rosé, while pale Provence Rosé is bone-dry. In between there is a host of pleasantly fruity dry wines that are perfect for summer drinking. The success of Provence rosé seems to have convinced some of us that this is the only pink to drink, but there are plenty of other options, including Spanish Rosado, that are every bit as good – and frequently a lot cheaper.

If your memories of Spanish rosé (Rosado in Spanish) are of cheap plonk guzzled on holidays on the costas, then it is time to think again. Spain has a long tradition of making rosado, and today makes some very good wines. The Navarra region made its name producing fruity, dry rosés, apparently a tradition that goes back to the 12th century, when it slated the thirst of pilgrims walking the Camino. These days, Navarra also makes some really good red and white wines, but is still best-known for rosados. The grape variety involved is usually Garnacha, or sometimes Tempranillo. Other parts of Spain, from Catalunya to Alicante have got in on the act and now offer some very stylish rosados. In the past, clarete, made either by fermenting red and white grapes together, as with the wine below, or by simply blending red and white wine, was very popular.

The best Spanish rosados have masses of ripe red fruits – cherries, strawberries and raspberries yet finish bone-dry. This means they go really well with savoury foods. Dry rosé in general is one of the most food-friendly wines of all, perfect with all kinds of summer salads as well as milder Asian dishes. Not surprisingly, Rosado goes very well with various Spanish foods, including mixed tapas, seafood and of course paella.

As well as the wines below, Tesco has the Revero Tempranillo Rosado for an incredible €3.99, and O’Briens the Finca Vadmoya for €9.95. Look out in independents for the excellent Lopez de Haro for about €16. Wines Direct (Mullingar, Arnotts and online), has the very tasty Olivares Rosado for €12.50.

If you do find yourself in Spain this summer desperately looking for a Spanish Rosado, the Torres Sangre de Toro, not available here in Ireland, is a good inexpensive bet.

Gran Fuedo Rosado 2017, Navarra

13.5%, €12.99-13.99

Very attractive, refreshing, light strawberry fruits with a bone-dry finish. Serve well-chilled with tapas and grilled white fish.

Stockists: Very widely available through independents including McHughs, Kilbarrack Road and Malahide Road, mchughs.ie; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Matson’s Wine Store, Cork, matsonswinesandbeer.com; Burke Londis, Kinvara, Galway; Daly’s, Boyle, Co Roscommon; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Eldons, Clonmel; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Shiel’s Londis, Malahide; The Coach House, Ballinteer, thecoach.ie.

Montesierra Selección Rosado 2017, Somontano

13.5%, €13.50

Medium-bodied stewed red cherry and strawberry fruit. Rounded and smooth. Try it with grilled salmon, sea trout or mackerel.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Sweeney’s Wines, Glasnevin, swenenyswines.ie; Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie.

La Maldición Clarete, 2017, Viños de Madrid

13.5%, €15.90

A captivating rosado (or clarete) with real interest. Relatively full-bodied with light tannins and concentrated savoury strawberry fruits. This went really well with a mozzarella and tomato salad on a warm summer’s evening.

Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh; redmonds.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie.

Sonrojo Garnacha 2017, Navarra

13.5%, €16.50

Wonderful pure freshly crushed raspberry and strawberry fruits with a lively acidity and a snappy dry finish. I could drink this all summer long. Cold chicken with panzanella.

Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, baggotstreetwines.com; Liston’s, Camden Street, listonsfoodstore.ie; Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie.

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The best wines to drink with salads

STYRIAFirst published in The Irish Times, Saturday 7th July, 2018

As the good weather continues, this week we will look at wines to drink with summer salads. I may have been guilty of blithely suggesting to match a particular wine with salads in general. But what kind of salad? There is a huge difference between a delicate herb-scented dish of courgettes and fennel, and a plate of full-on chili-spiked Mexican beans. And what if you are serving a barbequed steak, lamb skewers or sweet chili chicken drumsticks alongside your salad?

As with most food and wine matching, it makes sense to serve light-bodied wines with delicately flavoured foods and richer wines with more powerful recipes. Sharp acidic salads go best with crisp refreshing white wines. Many books suggest only white wines, but if I often drink a Beaujolais or another light red with whatever is going.

Vinegar is wine that has gone sour, so a dressing made with vinegar doesn’t do any favours to wine. I generally add lemon juice to my vinaigrette instead. The wine of a region often provides a great match for local foods. Provence Rosé with a classic Salade Niçoise works really well, as does Beaujolais with ham and other charcuterie or an Assyrtiko with Greek salad.

Chardonnay

Salmon, with its rich, oily, meaty texture and flavour, needs something more substantial. With salmon tartar, smoked salmon or cold poached salmon with cucumber and salads, I would usually go for a Chardonnay. The de Martino below would be perfect, as would the Begude Chardonnays in O’Briens (€16.95-18.95), a Chablis or the Aldi Limestone Coast Chardonnay (€8.49).

Or why not experiment a little with a Godello from Spain, or a nicely textured Grüner Veltliner from Austria – Grüner being one of the all-time great food wines. If you are barbequing or grilling your salmon, then a rosé or Pinot Noir might be a better bet. Marks & Spencer have the fragrant juicy Albert Bichot Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune 2015 for a very reasonable €19.50, or the Couveys below offers good value. All of the above would go nicely with cold chicken-based dishes too, including Caesar salad.

Italian whites

With salads featuring prawns, scallops and crab, go for crisp aromatic whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Albariño. Riesling (and Grüner Veltliner) also goes well with Thai beef salads. Sauvignon Blanc partners nicely with milder goat’s cheese salads. Tomato and red pepper based salads are generally best with crisp whites. I tend to go for Italian whites, such as Soave or Verdicchio.

I suspect that at outdoor get-togethers, most of us probably serve a mix of different salads instead of a single dish. My go-to wines to cover all bases would include a dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, or an unoaked Chardonnay, but possibly best of all would be a medium-bodied rosé. It is summer after all.

Bottles of the Week

Couveys Pinot Noir Les Petits Greniers 2016, Pays d’Oc 13%, €10.99


Ripe smooth red cherry fruits with an earthy touch and a rounded finish. Good with barbequed salmon or chicken, and mixed salads.
Stockists Spar, Eurospar, Londis & Mace.

Grüner Veltliner Löss 201, Kamptal, Rabl 12%, €14.95 until 15th July (normally €18.95)


A light refreshing Grüner, with lovely elegant peach fruits and a touch of ginger spice. Great with cold seafood dishes, Thai food and summer salads.
Stockists O’Briens. Obrienswine.ie

Legado Chardonnay Reserva 2017, de Martino, Limarí Valley 13.5%,€7


An impressive medium-bodied Chardonnay, with very refreshing clean pear and apple fruits, a vein of crisp acidity and a long dry finish. With salmon, tuna and Cesar Salad.
Stockists The Malt House, Trim; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; Molloy’s Liquor Store, molloys.ie; Wineonline.ie

Ch. l’Ou Rosé, 2017, Côtes du Roussillon 13.5%, €20


Medium-bodied with lovely strawberry and raspberry fruits, finishing dry. A great all-rounder to serve with a range of summer salads.
Stockists Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown.

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Cheap white wines for summer

vineyard

The sun is out and the holiday season has started in earnest; at this time of year we all yearn for a glass of crisp cool white wine to sip on a warm summer evening. I will always argue for spending a few euros more on a bottle of wine – you really will notice the difference – but there is something about sitting out with friends and family on the patio, at home or on holiday, that seems to make everything taste good.

So, this is one occasion where cheerful inexpensive white wines can really hit the mark. Don’t go too low though; be prepared to pay at least €9 and up to €15 for a decent bottle. For our summer drinking, we need something light in alcohol, preferably 12 per cent, but never more than 13.5 per cent, and definitely unoaked; we want to really enjoy those pure fresh fruits.

Lighter whites can be served well-chilled, anything from 7-9 °C. Ice buckets will over-chill your wine and mask any flavour, but in the heat it will warm up quickly in your glass.

Popularity

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is probably the most consistent white wine of all, which may help explain its popularity. For €10-€15, every supermarket will have several options, all of which can be guaranteed to deliver those signature lifted aromas, fresh lime zesty acidity and those mouth-watering lightly tropical  fruits. It may not please wine snobs, but it does deliver a reliable, fruit-filled glass of wine, perfect on sunny days, with or without food. Having tasted my way around most, I would recommend the Villa Maria or the Insight Sauvignon Blanc (O’Briens) for €12.95. Outside of New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile is also a good bet. Tesco currently has the Santa Rita 120 for €9.

Muscadet is one of my favourite summer whites, and these days, a fairly reliable option for light easy drinking; Tesco has an own label Muscadet for €10 and O’Briens the very enjoyable Domaine de la Chauvinière at €11.20 for the next few days. Pay a few euros more, and there are some seriously good Muscadets available at around €20. O’Briens also has the Bougrier Sauvignon Blanc, a previous bottle of the week, for €9.99.

Portuguese flavours

I featured Portuguese wines a month or so ago, and these offer amazing value for money and a unique set of flavours. You could also look to Rías Baixas from Spain (Mitchell & Son currently has the award-winning Baratín for €14.95), or to Rueda for both Sauvignon Blanc and wines made from the local Verdejo grape.

Riesling from Australia, Germany, Austria or Alsace also offers perfect summer drinking; from the south of France look out for Picpoul de Pinet or Marsanne from the south of France; Aldi currently has the very quaffable Exquisite Marsanne for €8.99.

Bottles of the Week

Exquisite Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur Lie 2017 12.5%, €8.99
Soft easy green fruits with a nice touch of lemon zest. Solo or with mussels.
Stockist Aldi

Alma de Blanco Godello 2017, Monterrei 13%, €11.20 (down from €14.95 until July 8th)
Succulent and ripe with fresh tropical pineapple and pear fruits. Nicely textured wine to drink before dinner or with  dishes.
Stockist O’Briens

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough 12.5%, €12 (€10 on promotion) 
Classic Marlborough Sauvignon with lifted floral aromas, fresh gooseberry, kiwi and passionfruit, with plenty of zingy lime juice. With seafood and summer salads.
Stockist Tesco

Badajo 2017, Rueda, Spain 12.5%, €13.50-€14.50
A great Spanish alternative to Sauvignon, Verdejo, blended here with Viura, is aromatic, with medium-bodied pear and peach fruits, brought to life by vibrant lemon zest. Perfect by itself or with chicken salads.
Stockists Morton’s, Ranelagh, mortons.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; Sweeney’s Wines, Glasnevin, sweneyswines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2, baggotstreetwines.com; Liston’s, Dublin 2, listonsfoodstore.ie; Wicklow Wine Co, Wicklow, wicklowwineco.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Fresh Outlets, Dublin, freshthegoodfoodoutlet.ie

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Chill out: Why you should be drinking red wine from the fridge

Are cool reds finally catching on? Wine manager Ian Brosnan recently launched the Ely summer wine list, featuring a Cool Red page for the first time, offering customers the option of drinking these wines lightly chilled, or at room temperature. Drinking low temperature reds makes sense in hot weather but it isn’t just about the sun. We eat more salads, cold meats and seafood in the summer months, and all of these go so much better with a lightly chilled red wine. We tend to drink red wine a little too warm throughout the year (and white wine too cold). The oft-quoted “room temperature” refers to a Victorian room without any central heating, probably about 16-18 degrees. Lighter summery red wines are probably best at 10-15 degrees. An ice bucket is not necessary; an hour in the fridge is about right, remembering that your wine will warm up quickly once poured.

Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of Beaujolais, a region that has re-emerged in recent years. Beaujolais is the perfect summer wine. Most of the supermarkets seem to have to added a few to their selection, but for real excitement, ask your local off-licence or wine shop for single-estate wines. There are some thrilling wines. My own favourite is Domaine Vissoux (Terroirs, Donnybrook) but there are plenty more around. The best Beaujolais is light and fruity with no drying tannins on the finish. They make brilliant all-purpose food wines, with salmon or tuna, as well as chicken, pork and all sorts of charcuterie and cheese.

The other great summer red is Loire Valley Cabernet Franc; they tend to be a bit more savoury, sometimes with peppery dry tannins, making them brilliant wines to drink with food, but occasionally a little austere on their own. This may explain why they aren’t more popular; given the increasing demand for light, low-alcohol wines, you would expect to find them everywhere, but few of the multiples seem to stock them. Marks & Spencer does have the excellent Plessis-Duval Saumur-Champigny (€15) and O’Briens the soft ripe Saint Nicolas de Bourgeuil (€16.95). Otherwise, check out your local wine shop.

As part of their French wine sale, Lidl has a number of summery wines, including the lightly fruity Beaujolais Domaine de la Presse Fleurie (€10.99) and a very gluggable Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2017 (€9.99). I almost preferred the less expensive, very attractive, juicy Beaujolais 2016 (€13) from Marks & Spencer to its Fleurie (€17), but I would be happy to drink either. Elsewhere, Aldi has an attractive, easy-drinking Beaujolais 2016 for an amazing €7.99, perfect for large summer gatherings.

Beaujolais ‘Les Bécots’ 2017, Thorin

13%, €11.99


Light rounded blackcurrant fruits with a smooth finish. An attractive multi-purpose wine to match with white meats, charcuterie and salmon. Summer parties on the patio.
Stockists: Mace, Spar, Eurospar, Londis

The Flower and the Bee 2016, Ribeiro

13%, €19-€20


From Spain, a very attractive light juicy wine with crisp raspberry and red cherry fruits. Good acidity and very refreshing; this would go nicely with grilled salmon, or mixed tapas.
Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure; Kelly’s, Clontarf; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Michael’s, Mount Merrion; Clontarf Wines; 64 Wine, Glasthule

Beaujolais Villages du Grappin 2017

13%, €24.99


Light and juicy with vibrant red cherry fruits. Some savoury refreshing tannins on the finish, making it the ideal partner for roast pork, pâtés and barbecued lamb kebabs.

Stockists: Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Alex Findlater, Limerick; alexfindlaterandco.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie.

Le Clos des Quarterons Vieilles Vignes 2015, St Nicolas de Bourgeuil

12.5%, €27.95


One of my favourite red wines so far this year; a Loire Cabernet Franc with an irresistible combination of delicate silky yet concentrated red fruits and gently refreshing acidity. Beautifully textured with nicely integrated tannins. Enjoy with pork dishes, a herby roast chicken or a baked ham.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com

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