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Puglia: the last of the winter wine

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 10th March, 2018

As the cold weather finally comes to an end, one last look at some full-on red wines guaranteed to blow away any lingering chill. On paper at least, Puglia (or Apulia if you prefer) has a lot going for it; some really good soils for growing grapes; a few interesting local grape varieties; and plenty of warm, dry sunny weather, tempered by cooling maritime winds.

And yet, for too long Puglia was a prime example of the problems that beset many European wine regions; a massive over-production of poor quality wine from large co-operatives, supplied by small farmers relying on handouts from the Italian government or the EU to survive.

Puglia is all about two liquids; olive oil and wine. The region produces nearly half of all Italian olive oil. It is also responsible for 700 million litres of wine, mostly red wine each year – that is over 930 million bottles of wine, although much never gets anywhere near a bottle.

In the past most of it was was distilled into industrial alcohol or used to make vermouth. Many locals would add that a lot was illegally shipped in tankers to be blended into wines from more famous regions further north.

In recent years, great efforts have been made to improve quality. As Puglia shakes off its reputation for huge over-alcoholic wines, we are starting to see more very impressive bottles, as well as a host of inexpensive wines that can compete with Chile, Australia and the Languedoc.

Some producers pick early to keep alcohol levels down – ripening grapes has never been an issue in the hot, sunny summers. Quality producers tend to be found at higher altitudes, where better soils are often found too.

Puglia is a narrow strip of land, some 425km long. It includes the stiletto heel of Italy and runs further up the calf, along the east coast. The two best-known grapes are Primitivo and Negroamaro. Primitivo is better known as California’s Zinfandel. In Puglia, the wine is typically big and powerful and loaded with ripe dark fruits. Those maritime winds help preserve Primitvo’s natural acidity. Negroamaro (the name means “black bitter”) can be equally big, with soft baked red fruits and spice, but generally the wines lack the acidic bite that makes Primitivo so attractive. A third main local variety (there are many others too, as well as international varieties), Nero di Troia, has generated a lot of interest in recent years.

Looking around the multiples, many seemed to concentrate on appassimento wines (see last week’s column) from Puglia. In addition to the wines below, SuperValu offer a decent Primitivo and a Negromaro for €11.99 under the Intrigo label.

Grifone Primitivo 2016, IGT Puglia 13%, €9.99
A very gluggable juicy red wine, with abundant dark forest fruits and a dry finish. One to drink alongside herby braised red meats or spicy Mexican foods.
Stockists Spar, Eurospar, Mace and Londis.

Le Vigne di Sammarco, Pimitivo di Manduria 2016 14%, €15.90
Textured, expansive, spice-laden big bold black fruits, with nicely integrated tannins and good length. Match it with grilled red meats; a rib-eye sounds about right.
Stockists Wines Direct, Mullingar & Arnott’s,

Tenute Rubino Punta Aquila Primitivo 2014, IGT Salento 14.5%, €18.95
An explosion of delicious smooth sun-kissed dark fruits. Rounded and supple, with plenty of power, this should be drunk with rich stews or pasta with long-simmered meaty tomato sauces.
Stockists O’Briens

Vibrans Nero di Troia 2015, Caiaffa, Puglia 14%, €20
Brooding full-bodied wine with layer after layer of smooth, ripe dark forest fruits. Robust dishes required here; pasta in a rich tomato sauce, possibly with some spicy n’duja?
Stockists: Lilac Wines; DSix; Baggot Street Wines; Corkscrew; Blackrock Cellar; Martins’; Morton’s; McHugh’s; Grapevine; Wicklow Wine Co

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Turbo-charged wines: the big beasts of the wine world


Fazzoletto Barbera Passito, Piemonte

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 3rd March, 2018

There are various ways to boost alcohol in a wine. You can add sugar to the fermenting must, or invest in expensive high-tech machines that increase the concentration of flavour and sugars. But one of the most ancient ways of all has been enjoying a new lease of life. You may never have heard of it, but wines made by the appassimento method have been growing in popularity over the past decade.

The best known passito wine (those made by the appassimento method) is Amarone from the Valpolicella region. Traditionally bunches of grapes were carefully laid out to dry on bamboo mats in farmhouse lofts for several months. These days drying is more likely to take place on plastic trays or steel racks in large temperature-controlled warehouses. This process (used around the Mediterranean to produce sweet wines since time immemorial) increases the level of sugar, and therefore the potential alcohol. Amarone must be at least 14 per cent alcohol content but is often 15-16 per cent. Recioto is a rare sweet version of Amarone. The same region is also responsible for Ripasso, where the winemaker referments a finished Valpolicella on the used Amarone skins.

In the Veneto there has been a dramatic increase in the production of Ripasso wines, and a consequent decrease in lighter Valpolicella. The first ever Ripasso, Masi Campo Fiorin, is widely available for about €20.


Once confined to northeast Italy, the practice of drying grapes has spread to other parts of Italy, and even as far as Australia and Argentina. As well as increasing alcohol, the process adds body, richness and a smoothness in the mouth. The fruit character changes too. Having spent some time on dried skins, most appassimento wines have subtle or marked flavours of raisins, prunes and other dried fruits. Many winemakers use only a portion of dried grapes to give the wine a gentle boost and add texture.

I cannot claim to be a great fan of these wines; while the occasional glass of Amarone with a few chunks of Parmesan is a nice way to finish off a meal, usually I prefer something lighter. It is not just the alcohol; some qualify as off-dry or even medium-dry wines. Three of the four wines below would have generous levels of residual sugar. However, I am certainly in a minority, as retailers everywhere report buoyant sales.

According to O’Briens’ wine director Lynne Coyle MW, it is all about the style of wine. “In general the wines are very accessible; fruity, with some ripeness and sweetness and they have an overall impression of smoothness in the mouth. They appeal to people discovering red wine but also to people who enjoy the popular Ripasso and Amarone wines; these “me too” wines offer something of this style often at more affordable price point.

Four more ‘me too’ wines to try

Bardolino 2016, Cantina di Negrar
12%, €12.45

The antithesis of the three wines below. Lovely light juicy red cherry fruits, with good acidity and an easy finish. Perfect by itself, with pizza or lighter tomato-based pasta dishes.

Stockists: Sheridans cheese shops; Ashe’s, Annascaul;

Fazzoletto Barbera Passito, Piemonte
14%, €14.95 (€12.95 until March 25th)

Juicy ripe plums and blackcurrants with a smooth rounded finish. It comes with a mini fazzoletto rosso, the scarf worn by Italian resistance fighters in the second World War. Drink with rich pasta dishes – lasagna or braised beef.

Stockists: O’Briens

Nugan Estate Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale
14.5%, €19.99

Rich powerful and smooth with coffee, dark chocolate and ripe dark fruits. Save this one for a grilled steak or a Thai red beef curry.

Stockists: SuperValu

Ripassa 2014 Zenato, Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore
14%, €24.95

Svelte sumptuous dark cherry fruits laden with dark chocolate. One to savour with a rich mushroom risotto, or roast red meats.

Stockists: O’Donavans; Jus de Vine; McCabes; 1601, Kinsale; Martins, Fairview; Objekt, Newcastle West; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Searsons, Monkstown and; McHugh’s


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Is Chardonnay the world’s greatest white wine?

First puvblished in The Irish Times, Saturday 24th February, 2018

I have tasted a lot of Chardonnay over the last ten days; at an excellent masterclass on Margaret River, courtesy of Wine Australia, then an even better masterclass on Meursault from the Bourgogne, and best of all, an excellent bottle of Meursault shared with good friends alongside a dish of turbot.

Sadly neither Meursault nor Margaret River have anything to offer under €40, although both can offer reasonable value for money. But as Chardonnay, one of the greatest white grape varieties, is widely planted throughout the wine world, there is no shortage of alternatives. Chardonnay is essentially a white wine trying to be red. It certainly can be one of the richest, most textured white wines, although this depends on where it is grown and when it is picked. For maximum enjoyment, serve cool but not ice-cold.

And so to the question of oak. Many consumers still remember the buttery, oaky Chardonnays of the early 2000’s and are wary of ever trying a glass again. Rest assured that these wines are a thing of the past. The vast majority are now either completely unoaked, or oaked in such a subtle manner you won’t notice it. A Chardonnay made from grapes picked early or from a cool climate (such as Chablis) will be fresh, crisp and dry. To be technical, if the winemaker hasn’t put it through malo-lactic fermentation, aged it in oak barrels or stirred the lees, it will be lighter and fresher still. These days most wines are made from a blend of all of the above to give greater complexity and balance.

Accompanying dishes

The key to enjoying the more full-bodied style of Chardonnay is food. A wine that seems big and powerful on its own provides a perfect backdrop for all sorts of rich fish dishes – prawns, salmon, tuna, black sole or turbot, especially if it has a creamy or buttery sauce. It can also be paired with chicken, pork and cheeses (Comté and Chardonnay is one of my favourite matches).

At times, it can be difficult to work out what style of Chardonnay you are buying, although the back label often has information. This week; four Chardonnays from different parts of the globe, but none from Chardonnay’s hometown of Burgundy. If you want to try the Burgundian version, Jus de Vine in Portmarnock have the excellent Talmard Macon-Uchizy 2016 for a bargain price of €16.99. The Limestone Coast Chardonnay below is completely unoaked and shows fresh, pure Chardonnay fruit. The Begude Etoile and Lucky Lizard both offer a subtle delicious halfway house. The Jordan is the oakiest of the four, but it still never dominates the classic Chardonnay fruit.

Aldi Exquisite Limestone Coast Chardonnay, Australia 2014
14%, €8.49

A fresh, crisp style of unoaked Chardonnay with lime zest and red apple fruits. Nicely textured with a dry finish, this would go nicely with grilled prawns or scallops in a rich creamy sauce.
Stockists: Aldi

Jordan Barrel-fermented Chardonnay 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa
13.5%, €19.95

Subtle oak here, with notes of brioche and toasted hazelnuts, alongside some orange peel, red apple fruits and zesty refreshing lime. Try it with chicken or pork with a creamy pasta sauce.
Stockists: Widely available nationwide through independent off-licences including: O’Donovan’s, Cork; World Wide Wines, Waterford; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Salmon’s, Ballinasloe; 1601, Kinsale

Etoile Chardonnay 2015, Domaine Begude, Limoux, Organic
13.5%, €19.95

Very lightly oaked but you won’t taste it. Medium-bodied creamy apple, pear and orange fruits with a subtle note of baked bread. Perfect with chicken dishes, such as roast chicken with a herb stuffing.
Stockists: O’Briens

d’Arenberg Lucky Lizard Chardonnay 2015, Adelaide Hills, Australia
13.5%, €22

Very lightly oaked. Succulent, rounded, beautifully textured Chardonnay with seductive mango and peach fruits balanced perfectly by a refreshing acidity. Try it with lightly spiced prawn dishes or salmon fish cakes.
Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey; Donnybrook Fair; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Martins, Fairview; Londis, Malahide

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‘I was a girl when I met this prince’: Wines for your Valentine

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 10th February 2018

“I was a girl when I met this prince; aroused, imperious, treacherous, as all great seducers are.”

French writer Colette was referring to Jurançon, a wine from southwest France rather than any lothario. I suspect she was smitten by the sweet wine, but I feature the dry version below. Sadly, I cannot guarantee it will improve your efforts at seduction on St Valentine’s day. Wine’s ability to arouse the senses is well-known. We know too that it can detract from performance. The key, as in many things, is moderation. A glass or two of good wine should enhance the mood and conversation.

If you have the facilities, a simple meal prepared at home is far better than an over-priced meal in a restaurant packed with fellow Valentines. Even if your culinary skills are non-existent, every supermarket and delicatessen now offers a range of decent ready-cooked meals that require no effort. I would certainly suggest buying something decent to drink, this is not the time to be miserly. If you are married or in a long-term relationship, why not buy something special that you may have shared on holiday together, or on your first date?

Start with fizz

Start off with a glass of sparkling wine of some sort, then on to a glass of red wine with your food. However, a full bottle of fizz will have you both incapable of romance. My search for half bottles of anything sparkling only proved that they are not easy to find and often extortionately priced.

O’Briens have the very decent house Champagne, Beaumont des Crayères. If you really want to push the boat out, they also have ½ bottles of Bollinger for €32.45. A few outlets, including Tesco and O’Briens, have half-bottles of Moet & Chandon for around €30. If you are lucky enough to live near Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown in south Dublin they have ½ bottles of their excellent house Champagne for €19.95 or the Bouvet Cremant de Loire for a mere €12.95. Alternatively, on the northside, Jus de Vine in Portmarnock has the best selection, ranging from €8.99 for prosecco to €31.99 for the superb Charles Heidsieck.

When choosing a red wine, go for something smooth and seductive and certainly not too high in alcohol. This is not the time for a beefy Malbec or powerful Amarone. You can’t really go wrong with a silky sensuous Pinot Noir. Burgundy, is a possibility, but most New World countries now produce very affordable alternatives. Chile offers the best value, followed closely by New Zealand. You may want to finish your romantic meal with chocolate, but it kills most wine stone dead. A bowl of strawberries and cream with sparkling wine might be a better alternative.

My top picks

Rapaura Springs Pinot Noir 2016, Marlborough
13.5%, €17

A very stylish scented Pinot Noir with smooth elegant pure dark fruits. Light yet mouth-filling with a nicely rounded finish. Perfect with a seared breast of duck, chicken, but light enough to provide a great match for tuna and salmon steaks.

Stockists: Dunnes Stores

Beaumont des Crayères Grand Réserve N.V. Champagne
12%, €19.45 for a ½ bottle

Stylish creamy Champagne with light red fruits, and hints of brioche. Serve with a few nibbles (Champagne is great with cheese straws or biscuits) or with fish dishes.

Stockists: O’Briens

Jurançon Sec 2015 Clos Lapeyre
13.5%, €21

A heady mix of citrus peel, fresh mouth-watering pineapple and peaches with a subtle note of hazelnuts, finishing dry. I can see why Colette got so excited. A great partner for grilled salmon steaks with a buttery lemon sauce.

Stockists: World Wide Wines, Waterford; 64Wines, Glasthule; Martin’s, Fairview; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St

Burn Cottage Moonlight Race Pinot Noir 2011, Central Otago
13.5%, €48

A magnificent wine with refined, layered lush black cherry fruits that gently caress the palate. Sophisticated and satin smooth, this will surely thrill your Valentine. As with the Pinot above, drink alongside duck, chicken, tuna or salmon.

Stockists: Thomas Woodberry, Galway; Redmond’s, Ranelagh;; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock

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Lambrusco is having a fizzy, dizzy moment.

The wine’s dark acidic days are in the past thanks to a new breed of producers.

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday February 3rd, 2018.

Lambrusco has changed. Driven by a small group of ambitious producers, it now offers a string of interesting, complex, dry, lightly sparkling wines

Fancy a glass of chilled, fizzy, acidic red wine? I suspect not. It doesn’t sound very enticing, particularly on a cold February day. As one who finds it hard to love that Australian speciality, sparkling (red) Shiraz, until recently I have always avoided Lambrusco like the plague.

Lambrusco is a sweet, red, fizzy wine that weaned a generation of Americans on to wine as well as providing cheap alcohol for thirsty students in Ireland. Tesco offers a version of this, a 5.5 per cent wine for a mere €4.99. Lambrusco made a fortune for its first American importer, who invested the profits in the vast Banfi estate in Tuscany. It kept some of the farmers of Emilia-Romagna (where it is made) happy but gained the region an unenviable reputation.

But Lambrusco has changed. Driven by a small group of ambitious producers, it now offers a string of interesting, complex, dry, lightly sparkling wines. They are low in alcohol, fresh and quite unique. Not only that, the surrounding Emilia-Romagna produces some delicious still, red wines, and some very tasty dry whites too. All of them are amazingly food-friendly, especially when matched with the local cuisine.

On a recent trip to a wine fair in Bologna, I tasted my way through some excellent sparkling wines, Lambrusco included, red, white and rosé. Some were lightly frizzante or “pét-nat”, others fully sparkling. With their violet aromas, vivid delicate fruits, ranging from crunchy dark cherries to wild strawberries, the best examples are genuinely mouthwatering and utterly charming. Confusingly, Lambrusco is not a region, nor a single grape variety. It is a group of grape varieties, eight to 10, depending on who you talk to, that come in various shades of colour, as well as being the name of the wine.

Like many regions of Italy, Emilia-Romagna has a huge number of denominazione or appellations. The region claims to be the true home of Sangiovese (before those Tuscans got their hands on it), generally made in an intriguing soft, almost Pinot Noir-like style that can be excellent when done well.

I also visited the city’s many excellent wine bars. Bologna is a bustling student city, with one of Europe’s oldest universities, and the wine bars were the perfect place for sipping a glass of light, frothy, fizzy red wine with a plate of cold meats and cheese, despite the fact it was November. To follow, the restaurants offer rich satisfying food – Bologna is not known as La Grassa or “the fat” for nothing. The region produces some of Italy’s great foods, including Parma ham, Parmesan and balsamic vinegar, as well as being the home of ragù alla Bolognese. The latter goes down a treat with a glass of good Lambrusco.

Reggiano Rosso 2016, Emilia-Romagna
12%, €10.30

A blend of local grapes including Lambrusco, this is a lovely light wine with juicy dark fruits; an Italian version of Beaujolais? Drink with charcuterie/salami or pasta dishes. We had ours with penne, broccoli and sausage, a Rachel Roddy recipe.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Medici Ermete IGT Sangiovese Rubicone, Emilia-Romagna
11.5%, €12.95

Light, soft, easy, dark cherry fruits with a rounded finish; elegant and refreshing at the same time. Try it with home-made pasta with pancetta and Parmesan or spaghetti carbonara.

Stockists: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers;; Ashe’s, Annascaul

Reggiano Lambrusco Secco Sparkling
11%, €13.30

Light and dry with lovely floral aromas, crisp, lean blackcurrant fruits, plenty of fine bubbles, finishing with a flourish. Go local and serve with shavings of parmesan, perhaps some Parma ham, Mortadella and a few grissini.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Medici Ermete Concerto Reggiano Lambrusco Frizzante
11.5%, €25

A charming, light, refreshing, gently sparkling red wine with invigorating blackcurrant and dark cherry fruits, finishing dry. Excellent modern Lambrusco. Try it before a meal with a few cheesy nibbles or some good salami.

Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers;


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Where do Ireland’s favourite wines come from?

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 27th, 2018

Late last year the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, a Paris-based technical group, predicted that global wine production would fall by more than 8 per cent, or 22 million hectolitres, in 2017 from the previous year.

It estimated that the world would produce 246 million hectolitres of wine, almost 33 billion bottles. That may seem like a lot of wine, but it is the lowest level since 1961.

The drop in production is down to the weather; severe spring frosts in the France, Italy and Spain, the world’s three largest producers, followed by a long summer heatwave and drought in parts of Italy and Spain, all played a part.

It seems the best-known regions such as Bordeaux (but not Burgundy for once), Rioja, Chianti and Barolo were all affected. Apparently the fires in California had a negligible effect, as they occurred after the harvest.

The International Organisation of Vine and Wine also estimated that global consumption would be somewhere between 240.5 and 245.8 million hectolitres, so there should be enough to go around, but only just. Who drinks all of this wine? The producer countries mostly.

The United States is the world’s largest consumer, at 31.8 million hectolitres of  wine in  2016, followed by France (27.0 million hectolitres), Italy (22.5 million hectolitres), Germany (20.2 million hectolitres) and China (17.3 million hectolitres).

While China is expected to become the world’s second-largest market in the next five years market (current annual consumption is 1.34 litres per head, compared with our 18 litres per head), producers hoping for a bonanza may be disappointed. China is now the world’s seventh largest producer of wine, and this will certainly increase. But in the meantime, as an example of how the market is changing, China now accounts for 30 per cent of Australia’s wine exports, and is now by far their largest market. The same holds for Chile.

Consumption in Ireland is a tiny drop in this ocean at just over 80 million litres. Chile overperforms here, with 25.1 per cent of the market, although it is the world’s ninth largest producer, followed by Australia on just over 18 per cent. These are followed by the big three, France, Italy and Spain with a combined total of roughly 35 per cent of the market. These figures are based on volume and not value. We have always been keen on New World wines; combined they account for more than 60 per cent of wines sold.

Individual regions may be suffering, but we should not worry about an immediate shortage on our shelves. However, experts argue that we can expect more severe weather events in the future. Growing quality grapes is a complex business, and even a slight increase in temperatures will pose huge challenges for some of the world’s pre-eminent regions. On the other hand, maybe we will see more Irish wine in the future.

Four wines to try

Mas Buscados 2014, Tempranillo Petit Verdot VdT de Castilla
14%, €9.95 from January 29th, down from €13.95

A big, warm hug of a wine, filled with sweet supple jammy dark fruits. Perfect winter drinking with casseroles, roast red meats or hard cheeses. Stockist: O’Briens

Tesco’s Finest Ribera del Duero Reserva 2012
14.5%, €12 

A big, powerful red wine full of ripe dark fruits and spicy tannins. Locally they would drink it with roast lamb and pork, but this would go equally well with a juicy barbecued steak. If you usually drink Malbec from Argentina, this might be a good alternative. Stockist: Tesco

Cantina di Negrar Valpolicella Classico 2016
12.5%, €14.95 

Floral aromas with light juicy red cherries and a smooth, tannin-free finish. It slips down all too easily. Perfect with cold meats, mushroom risotto, a pork chop or lighter cheeses. Otherwise Margherita pizza sounds good. Stockists: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers (all branches);

El Castro de Valtuille 2016, Mencía Joven, Bierzo
14%, €15.50

An old favourite that has returned to form with the 2016 vintage. A lovely, elegantly fruity wine with a touch of liquorice and refreshing acidity. Ideal with grilled breast of duck or a confit leg, but this is a pretty good all-purpose red. Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; 64wine; La Touche; Martins; Clontarf Wines; Baggot Street Wines; Liston’s; Drink Store, Manor Street; Lilac Wines; Sweeneys.

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Forget dry January, I prefer ‘damp January’

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 20th January, 2018

This year I have opted for a damp January, strictly avoiding all alcohol for the first three days of the week, and drinking less than usual for the remaining four. To reward myself, I have been drinking better wine. Instead of drinking two €10 bottles of wine, I have traded up to €15-€20 – and more – on a few occasions. As a result, over the last few weekends, I have enjoyed some really special wines. This is a case when really less is more. And of course, as I am drinking less, my wine budget remains the same.

If you feel €20 is too much to pay for a bottle of wine, just remember that it is much cheaper, and so much better, than the barely drinkable insipid house wines offered by most restaurants, wine bars and hotels. I would argue that all four wines below offer great value for money. So get some decent wine glasses, fill them to only a quarter or a third full (you should get eight glasses per bottle), and enjoy the pleasures of a really good wine.

The Sauvignon Blanc below is a completely different animal to the standard Marlborough version, with a style and character all of its own. From one of the leading exponents of natural wine, this is a wine worth seeking out. The importer tells me that the 2016 vintage is now being rationed, so don’t delay.

The Crozes Hermitage I have chosen is from the Caves de Tain, a large co-operative that dominates production in the region. All of the wines are very reliable and sometimes much more, as is the case with this wine. From the excellent 2015 vintage, it had a lovely lightness and purity of fruit that had all my alarm bells ringing – for the right reasons. Exceptional value for money if you enjoy lighter, lower alcohol wines.

Those that prefer a bit more body in their wine should look to one of the other two red wines below. There are plenty of inexpensive Côtes du Rhônes available, but this is one area where paying a few euros more really does pay dividends. I have featured others before Christmas, but this Château Beauchene (from a Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer) offers a very seductive mix of elegance and warmth.

Collioure is a small French village on the Mediterranean coast, not far from the Spanish border. Once best known for its anchovies and painters, these days it is a popular tourist destination. Less well known are its wines; both red and white, can be very good, but I haven’t come across them in Ireland for a few years. This is a rich swarthy powerful wine, perfect for banishing those wintery blues.

Le P’tit Blanc de Tue-Bouef 2015, Clos du Tue-Bouef

13%, €19

Made with a minimal addition of sulphur at bottling, this is an intriguing Sauvignon with real character. Subtle and complex with lifted aromas, and soft quince and peach fruits, perfectly balanced by a mineral edge. Serve as an aperitif or with winter salads. I had mine with beetroot and goat’s cheese.

Stockists: Le Caveau Kilkenny; The Corkscrew; Green Man Wines; Bradley’s, Cork.

Crozes Hermitage, Caves de Tain 2015

13%, €19.95

Perfectly ripe blackcurrant and morello cherry fruits with a savoury refreshing note and excellent length. It went perfectly with our Sunday night roast chicken, but would provide a perfect partner for ham dishes. Excellent value for money.

Stockists: O’Briens

Château Beauchene 2016, Côtes du Rhône

13.5%, €17.95

Medium to full-bodied and smooth with soft ripe rounded red fruits dusted with spice. This went down very nicely with a curry from my new local Indian takeaway (Tiffin in Charlesland, Co Wicklow).

Stockists: Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown

Les Voiles de Paulilles 2015, Collioure

14%, €19

Gutsy full-bodied wine with concentrated blackcurrant fruits, spice and black olives. Perfect with a roast of beef or lamb, or maybe a stew laced with Mediterranean herbs.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

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2018: the year of drinking sensibly

In 2017, nature wrought havoc on the world of wine, with fires in California and devastating frosts and hail storms in Europe. France, Spain, Italy and Chile have all had smaller harvests and we could see a global shortage of wine.

In this country we will most likely see the implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which will have a significant effect on how alcohol is sold.

This column has always been in favour of drinking less, but drinking better.  With the introduction of minimum pricing, the days of really cheap wines may be over. This is a good thing. Can we rely on the multiples to improve their range, or will they simply offer the same wines at a higher price? And will consumers head north or south to France in search of cheaper booze?

My suggestion for 2018 is to shop local and trade up. Instead of buying three bottles for €4.99, treat yourself to one great wine for €15. You will certainly notice the difference while cutting your consumption at the same time.

I am more worried about the proposed back-labelling of wine. Unless done on a Europe-wide basis, it will cause serious problems for importers who work with small artisanal producers. We may see many really interesting wines disappear from our wine shops. As far as I can see, the legislation does not address the increase in outlets, on and off-trade that sell alcohol.

As to what we will be drinking in 2018, Cabernet Franc grown in the Loire Valley seems to fit current tastes perfectly: light in alcohol, with juicy ripe fruits and refreshing acidity. We should be drinking more. In the past, some wines were a little green and herbaceous, but thanks to better viticulture and winemaking, the wines are so much better. 2018 could be the breakthrough year. As Burgundy prices continue to rise, canny wine drinkers will start drinking the various Crus of Beaujolais.


Spain will continue to excite us with a steady stream of brilliant wines. As well as producing well-made inexpensive wines, Chile now offers some real excitement, including wines made from ancient ungrafted bush-trained vines in the south of the country. I can see natural, less interventionist winemaking improving still further and starting to influence conventional producers.

Prosecco is still wildly popular, but there are so many more interesting bottles of fizz available. Will 2018 be the year of cava? Sales are dominated by two large companies, but there are more than 200 producers in Catalunya, some producing great wine at reasonable prices. I do like good Champagne, but other regions of France, the Loire, Alsace, Limoux, Burgundy, produce very good crémant, sparkling wines made in exactly the same way, at much cheaper prices.

Tesco Cava Rosato NV, Spain, 11.5%, €12.65

Refreshing off-dry fizz with mouth-watering strawberry fruits. A handy alternative to prosecco. Drink as an aperitif, or with richer fish dishes.

Stockists: Tesco

St Nicolas de Bourgeuil 2015, Langlois-Château, 12%, €16.95

A mere 12% in alcohol, this is a delicious light juicy red wine, packed with ripe blackberry and blackcurrant fruits. Drink with white meats, such as chicken and pork, or try it with grilled salmon.

Stockists: O’Briens

Reserva Ancesatral 2014, Miguel Torres, 14.5%, €18.50

Made from 80-year-old cinsault, País and Carignan vines, this is a powerful full-bodied earthy wine, brimming with spicy rich damson fruits. Perfect with a steak.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Morgon ‘Delys’ 2016, Vieilles Vignes, Daniel Bouland, 13%, €26.95

This might seem expensive, but it is an exceptional wine. Wonderful pure perfectly ripe black fruits ripple across the palate. Soothing and refreshing. Serve with roast chicken or pork.

Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey; Cabot & Co, Westport; 64 Wines, Glasthule; The Poppy Seed, Clarinbridge.

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Wine that won’t wear out your wallet this January. Laurent Miquel and Jean Claude Mas

How do you tell a great winemaker? For me it is not by tasting their flagship wines, the top-of-the-range stuff that costs €50 or more. Given the finest grapes and a generous budget, even the average winemaker can come up with something drinkable. But many struggle to come up with good everyday wines at a reasonable price.

This week, two successful, innovative producers making attractive wines for every budget. Both are based in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, in southern France, the source of many inexpensive wines. Both make some seriously good wines, but, given that it’s January and we’re probably all feeling the post-Christmas pinch, we’ll concentrate on the less expensive.

Laurent Miquel

Laurent Miquel’s family has been in the business since 1790, but he wasn’t always sure if he wanted to follow the previous seven generations. Instead, he studied engineering in France and took a master’s in quality assurance at Leeds University before working with Nissan in Sunderland.

He finally caught the wine bug, returned to France to study oenology, and made his first wine in 1996. The business has been a huge success.

“It is much easier to sell Chablis, champagne or New Zealand Sauvignon,” says Miquel, “but in the Languedoc, we offer diversity, personality and real value for money. We make very fresh, very drinkable wines, and slowly we have built up a solid base of consumers. We are always driven by quality; 80 per cent of what we do is about the vines and the grapes.”

The wines have been stocked by SuperValu, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, and are currently sold by both Dunnes Stores and O’Briens.

The Mas family

The Mas family has been growing grapes and making wine since the late 19th century. In 1987 Jean-Claude Mas received 35 hectares of vines from which he built Domaines Paul Mas, a group of nine estates scattered around Languedoc-Roussillon. In addition, he makes eight signature ranges, including the Arrogant Frog wines, that will be familiar to many. (The wines are usually very good.)

His Château de Martinolles, in Limoux, has featured in this column several times, as have other of his wines, and you will find his bottles in Ireland’s best wine shops and restaurants.

As Mas owns about 650 hectares of vineyards and controls a further 1,312, he has been able to supply some of the biggest supermarkets in Ireland and Britain. He has also supplied a number of Aldi’s Exquisite labels, as well as the Limoux below.

Astélia Limoux 2016 13.5%, €10.99
It may look like as if it has come in a perfume bottle, but this wine (from Jean-Claude Mas) is a rich, full-bodied, buttery Chardonnay with ripe peach fruits and a dry finish. Perfect with salmon or chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce. Meursault for those on a budget? From Aldi

Claude Val Rouge 2016, Pays d’Oc, Organic 13.5%, €14, or two for €22
A blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Merlot, this medium- to full-bodied wine has rich dark fruits, a touch of spice and a nice, lightly tannic grip. Not one to sip on its own, but perfect with red or white meats on cold winter evenings. From Molloys Liquor Stores

Laurent Miquel, Père et Fils Chardonnay Viognier 2016 13%, €9.50
Medium-bodied with fresh lemon zest and succulent peach and apricot fruits. Perfect on its own, but this would go nicely with plaice, sole or sea bass. I had mine with fishcakes. From select Dunnes Stores

Laurent Miquel, Père et Fils Syrah Grenache 2016, IGP Pays d’Oc 13%, €9.50
The Syrah adds delicious, subtle pepper, liquorice and dark fruits, the Grenache a soft warmth. Together they make for a lovely smooth wine with juicy ripe fruits. On its own or with lighter red-meat dishes. From select Dunnes Stores

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Impressive last-minute gifts for wine lovers

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday December 23rd, 2017

This week, a few last-minute gift ideas for the wine lover in your life. A bottle of wine, or even better Champagne, will always be gratefully received, and as far as I am concerned, will trump a wine accessory every time. Ready-prepared gift packs are not always inspiring, but any wine shop can make up a tailor-made gift box for you. For the woman or man who has it all, a bottle of the recently released Krug 2004 Vintage Champagne will go down at treat. They might even open it while you are there. If that is beyond your budget, then a magnum of the Bénard-Pitois (see below) from the newly revamped Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown makes a statement. Both of these could also be opened to celebrate New Year’s Eve, as would a bottle of Lidl organic Prosecco for €14.99 – available only from December 27th onwards.

Back to Christmas presents. Anyone with the slightest interest in wine would be thrilled to receive the Littorai Pinot Noir or Lismore Reserve Chardonnay below, both superb New World versions of white and red Burgundy. Why not a bottle of each? Speaking of Burgundy, Raymond Blake’s recently published book Côte d’Or (€30, Infinite Ideas) is an outstanding guide to the best wines of the region, as well as being one of the most readable wine books I have opened for some time. At a more modest level, all true wine lovers will treasure a half-bottle of good sherry. I have been spoiling myself with the odd glass of the magnificent Very Rare Dry Amontillado from Marks & Spencer (€12).

There are all sorts of gadgets, gizmos and other wine accessories, often expensive and frequently pointless. A nice decanter (Mitchell & Son, Terroirs and Jus de Vine have very good selections) or a set of glasses are probably the best bet. The one gadget I do use frequently is the Coravin, a cunning device that allows you to extract a glass (or more) of wine from a bottle without actually opening it. You can then return for a second glass months later. This is especially useful for sweet wines and port, but it does work with any wine. They even have a screwcap version available now. The only downside is the price; expect to pay around €300 (from wine shops nationwide).

I covered whiskey a few weeks back, but a subscription to Irish Whiskey Magazine (see for details, will provide a year’s reading for the aficionado. Lastly, if you have a nondrinking friend or relative, they should be delighted with a bottle of the excellent Seedlip Spice alcohol-free spirit, €32.50 from specialist retailers, including Mitchell & Son and Celtic Whiskey.

Lismore Reserve Chardonnay 2016, Greyton, South Africa

14%, €39.90

Californian Samantha O’Keeffe has crafted a superb, elegant wine with layers of lightly honeyed toasty soft fruit, a subtle touch of vanilla and a long mineral finish.  Up there with the very best white wines I tasted in 2017.

Littorai Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, California

13%, €65.99

A wonderfully elegant refined Pinot Noir offering complex, light, refreshing raspberry and red cherry fruits, good acidity and a touch of oak on the finish. With salmon, roast duck or goose.

Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Bradleys; Clontarf Wines; Fresh Outlets; Green Man Wines; Jus de Vine;  Kelly’s;  O’Briens;  Power & Co;  Red Island; Vanilla Grape;; World Wide Wines.

L Bénard-Pitois Premier Cru Réserve Brut (Magnum)

12%, €75 (€33.95 per bottle)

Make a statement with a magnum of Champagne; the floral, stylishly fruity Bénard-Pitois would be ideal. A complete Champagne, floral and stylish, with a complex blend of fruit and brioche on the palate.

Stockists: Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown

Krug 2004 Champagne

12%, €340

A supremely elegant Champagne with toasted nuts, brioche, orange and lemon zest, and ripe peaches in perfect subtle harmony. A wine of great finesse and sophistication.

Stockists: Select O’Briens stores and select retailers


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