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The wine trade: ‘It’s hard, but working for yourself makes it all worthwhile’

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 10th November, 2018

This week, three independent wine retailers, all celebrating some kind of anniversary. Clontarf Wines opened for business five years ago, and was run by Ronnie and Helena Carragher. Ronnie was one of the true gentlemen of the wine trade a man with a wonderful dry wit. Sadly he passed away recently. In his stead, local boy James Tobin is now in charge, still assisted by Helena. Tobin spent the last twelve years working in O’Briens Wines, and managed several stores. “It is absolutely amazing and fulfilling”, says Tobin. “It is hard work and long hours, but working for yourself makes it all worthwhile. I always admired the shop and what Helena and Ronnie had done with it. I grew up in Clontarf and live here, so it is great to be back home again. The shop is small, but beautifully laid out, with a treasure trove of really interesting wines, as well as cheeses, cold meats and other edible goodies.

Red Nose Wine was set up by Gary Gubbins 10 years ago. An electronic engineer, he found himself working and living in Paris. “It was there that the wine bug really hit off” he says, “We would spend weekends in the Loire, Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Then I became friendly with a local bistro owner whose father had left him a cellar-full of old Burgundy. Over the next two years I drank nearly every bottle. The irony is that now, working in the wine trade, I cannot afford to drink Burgundy any more!”

Returning to his native Clonmel, Gubbins opened online retailer and wine warehouse Red Nose. “As the economy worsened, the value was all from the south of France, then Spain, Portugal and Italy. Although we still import Bordeaux, the Mediterranean is a big part of what we do. We tend to work with small family places, and often import our wines with online specialist Curious Wines.”

This year Martin’s Off-Licence in Fairview celebrates 40 years in business.  Founded by the late Tom Martin, it is now run by the second generation, brothers Damian and Declan. As part of the anniversary celebrations, they launched a series of Portrait Project beers, featuring pictures of his favourite places around Ireland. Known as one of the best places to buy craft beer, Martin’s also stock a wide and eclectic range of wines; regular readers will know that they frequently feature as stockists in this column. Last year they won the prestigious  “Best Off Licence in Dublin 2018”.

 Declan has been working here for 20 years, but really “since I was a baby. I did a lot of travelling and when I returned it was great to have the family shop waiting for me. The business has changed completely –the range of spirits, beers and wines available to the consumer is incredible, if anything too big at times”.

Viña Zorzal Garnacha 2017, Navarra    
13%, €13.75-13.95
Gorgeous pure dark plums and blackberries with a spicy touch on the easy finish. Refreshing and very moreish. A good burger, sausage and mash, or macaroni cheese.
Stockists Clontarf Wines, Dublin, clontarfwines.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; Deveney’s, Dundrum, Dublin; Crafted Deli and Café, Bennettsbridge, Co Kilkenny

Octavio Rubé 2015, Vino Rosso
12.5%, €14.99-15.99
A natural wine that Declan Martin sells “with a warning”. It is funky with light juicy bitter cherries, nice grip and a refreshing acidity. Try it with white meats or charcuterie.
Stockists Martin’s Off-Licence, Clontarf, Dublin, martinsofflicence.ie, Clontarf Wines, Dublin, clontarfwines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin, baggotstreetwines.com; the Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin, thecorkscrew.ie; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street, Dublin, fallonandbyrne.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin, greenmanwines.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin, 64wine.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, Dublin, redmonds.ie

Chateau de Valcombe Blanc 2017, Costières de Nimes
13.5%, €16.99
Wonderful subtle elegant dry white with succulent peaches and pears, balanced perfectly by a mineral acidity. With grilled salmon steaks.
Stockists Red Nose Wine, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, rednosewine.com

Il Muro Chianti Riserva 2015, Fattoria il Muro
13.5%, €19.95
Smooth ripe dark cherry and cassis fruits with toasted coffee and dark chocolate. Try it with grilled sirloin steak with mushrooms.
Stockists Red Nose Wine, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, rednosewine.com; Curious Wines, curiouswines.ie; Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Waterford, ardkeen.com; Cass & Co, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, cassandco.ie

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Wine secrets: what’s really in your bottle?

 

First published in The Irish Times on Saturday 3rd November, 2018

It seems strange that a bottle of Coca-Cola must print the ingredients used to make it, whereas a bottle of wine does not. Somehow the wine business, along with beer and spirits, has largely managed to avoid telling us what is contained within. Back labels tend to have flowery descriptions, food recommendations and maybe a little marketing blurb, but very little information on how the wine was actually made. As well as adding the health warnings, maybe the Government might like to insist that a few key ingredients are included.

 Additives and treatments are not always a bad thing; most of us do not want to drink faulty wine, and mass-produced wines do require greater intervention. Even at the very highest level, producers of luxury wines are not above using treatments that improve the finished product. Additives of some sort go back more than 5,000 years, to the very start of winemaking.

The most common is sulphur dioxide, the one ingredient that is listed on a wine label. It was first introduced by the Romans, and most winemakers consider it an essential anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial agent. Levels used are fairly low, and have dropped hugely over the last few decades, ranging from a minimum of 10 parts per million/ppm (sulphur being a by product of fermentation) to the EU legal maximum of 150ppm (parts per million) for red wine, 210ppm for white, and 400ppm for dessert wine. By comparison, raisins and other dried fruits can contain anything from 500ppm to 2,000ppm.

Other additives and processing aids include sugar (to add fizz to sparkling wine or increase alcohol); concentrated grape juice to sweeten; tartaric or ascorbic acid to add acidity; yeasts to get the fermentation going; nutrients such as diammonium phosphate to keep them working away; wood chips, enzymes and malolactic cultures.

Add in fining and filtering agents such as egg whites, isinglass, polyvinylpyrrolodine (PVPP), bentonite, gelatin and casein and lastly water – permitted in some countries to lower alcohol – and wine begins to look slightly less natural. There are also procedures such as reverse osmosis, micro-oxygenation and spinning cones.

Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop, in their book Authentic Wine, give the example of the Co-op supermarket chain in the UK, which lists all ingredients on the back label.

A Sauvignon Blanc has the following ingredients listed: Grapes, acidity regulator (potassium bicarbonate), preservative (potassium meta bisulphate), copper sulphate. Made using antioxidants (carbon dioxide, nitrogen) yeast, yeast nutrient (diammonium phosphate). Cleared using bentonite, filtration pectinolytic enzymes.

Should we be worried about all of these additions? Possibly not; the overall standard of winemaking is higher than ever, and the use of sulphur lower. But although it might remove some of the romance of wine, I think we have a right to know how our wine is made, however unpalatable that might be.

 

Bellow’s Rock Shiraz 2016, Western Cape, South Africa

14%, €9.95

Rich powerful spicy dark fruits, with a nice seam of acidity running through. Great value at €9.95. With grilled or barbecued red meats.

Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

 

 

Saint Mont 2016, Plaimont, France

13%, €13.30

Medium-bodied with lovely waxy apple fruits, a hint of pineapple and a dry finish. Intriguing and delicious. With creamy chicken dishes.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer, marksandspencer.ie.

 

 

Vermell 2016, Celler del Roure, Valencia Organic

13.5%, €17

Gloriously vibrant fruit-filled wine with herbs, liquorice and so much more. Perfect with a roast chicken.

Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Baggot Street Wines, baggotstreetwines.com; Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie; Drinkstore, Manor Street, D7, drinkstore.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com; Martin’s Off Licence, Fairview, martinsofflicence.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie.

 

Etna Bianco 2016, Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Organic

12.5%, €25.95

Floral, refined, elegant wine with fresh tangy peaches and apple, and a light creaminess. The perfect posh aperitif or with grilled brill, a wonderful delicate fish.

Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Deveney’s, Dundrum; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com.

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Pinot noir: the perfect autumnal wine

This article was first published in The Irish Times Saturday 27th October, 2018

There is something distinctly autumnal about pinot noir; the earthy, leafy forest-floor aromas of a mature wine, the soft, ripe mellow fruits, even the whiff of wood smoke at times. It also goes so well with all sorts of game birds, rabbit and venison that come into season now.

Pinot noir was once the holy grail of most winemakers. It was famously fussy to grow, and equally difficult to fashion into a drinkable wine. It was also very expensive, whether from its home territory in Burgundy or elsewhere.

Yet many winemakers seem to have overcome these difficulties as most retail outlets now have a selection from around the world, often at very affordable prices. Chile probably leads the way for decent inexpensive pinot, followed by New Zealand.

Recently, various retailers have started selling very drinkable Romanian pinot noir for about €10. O’Briens is the latest with the Wildflower Pinot, €8.95 for November and December.

The Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania make Australia’s finest pinot noir, but sadly at a higher price; O’Briens has the Stonier Pinot Noir for €23.95 for November and December. California and Oregon produce some exquisite pinots, sadly at even higher prices; see Jus de Vine, Deveney’s and 64 Wine for these. You can also find very high-quality pinot noir from Germany, but mostly over €20, one exception being the very tasty Palataia Pinot for €14.80 (Marks & Spencer).

For many years, the rest of France struggled to produce decent pinot noir. Not any more; the Loire, Alsace, Limoux and the Languedoc all offer good wines, often at very affordable prices. O’Briens has the delicious juicy Begude Pinot Noir (€16.95) or at entry level, Aldi have the light Roussellet (€7.49). From the Loire, look to the soft ripe La Petite Perrière from SuperValu (€9 on promotion) and Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown has the vibrant la Roncière Pinot Noir 2015 for €17, alongside other great pinots from around the world.

Value for money

But back to Burgundy; I have written here before about how prices for the top wines are rocketing. Recently however, I have come across a number of very reasonably priced Bourgogne rouge. By reasonable, I mean about €20, but both the wines below offer real value for money. The most interesting tend to come from the best domaines of the Côte d’Or.

Burgundy Direct (burgundydirect.ie), as the names suggests, has an expertise in the area; their list contains many gems. Elsewhere you will find the Bourgogne Rouge Domaine J. C. Regnaudot for €21.95 in many independents.

Pinot noir is one of the most food-friendly grapes of all. Lighter versions go well with chargrilled salmon, tuna or roast Mediterranean vegetables. Medium-bodied wines, including most Burgundy, will make a memorable partner for the above-mentioned game birds, baked ham or a mushroom risotto.

Domaine de Mandeville Pinot Noir 2017, IGP Pays d’Oc 
13%, €13.30
Smooth ripe red cherry fruits with an attractive earthy touch. Try it with game pie.
Stockists Marks & Spencer, marksandspencer.ie

Domaine de Brau Pure Pinot Noir 2017, VDP d’Oc Organic/Vegan
14%, €16.60 
Herbal aromas, medium-bodied with dark cherry fruits and a pleasant earthy touch. A very attractive wine and very good value too. Try it with chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce.
Stockists Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie; Urru, Bandon, urru.ie; Scally’s, Clonakilty, Supervaluclon.ie; Connemara Hamper, Connemarahamper.com; Quay Co-op, Cork, quaycoop.com.

Bourgogne Rouge 2015, Domaine Maurice Charleux 
13.5%, €18.95
Lively refreshing brambly blackberry and red cherry fruits; smooth, concentrated and ripe. Lovely wine and great value for money. With a grilled breast of duck or roast mallard.
Stockists Burgundy Direct, burgundydirect.ie

Bourgogne Rouge 2016, Domaine de la Vierge Romain, Machard de Gramont 
13.5%, €20.95
Very seductive smoky spicy dark cherries with good acidity and a smooth long finish. Try it with roast game birds.
Stockists Karwig Wines, Carrigaline, karwigwines.ie; The Vintry, Dublin 6, vintry.ie; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie.

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Wines from independent producers to try (while you still can)

Most of the really interesting wines are made by small producers, usually a family business with two or three employees. Typically, they grow their own grapes and make their own wine. Europe is coming down with such small enterprises, but you will find them in every wine-producing country around the world.

At the other end of the supply chain, Ireland is populated by smaller wine retailers, sometimes off-licences, sometimes a deli, or frequently a wine specialist. As with many small businesses, most of them lead a fairly precarious life, struggling to compete with supermarkets and symbol groups, who have far greater buying power, and are happy to sell alcohol at very low margins or below cost price. Some of these specialist retailers import their wines directly, but most buy their wines from small importers, usually businesses with anything from one to half a dozen employees.

These three groups have one thing in common: a genuine love of wine, and an interest in producing and selling a quality product. They get a real kick out of making or discovering something new and exciting.

I have nothing against the multiples; they form an important part of the wine business, but if the current regulations regarding back labels contained in the alcohol Bill are approved by the European Union, we may see the end of the specialist wine retailer.

Sensible

I welcome many of the provisions in the new alcohol Bill, and hope it leads to a more sensible attitude towards drinking in this country. Everything I write about each week is intended to encourage you, the reader, to drink better, and not more. However, I fear the new regulations may simply play into the hands of larger producers and multiple retailers who ship in huge quantities and would have no difficulty adding a back label at source.

But for smaller producers and specialist importers, it will in many cases be impossible, or prohibitively expensive. I suspect the producers will simply refuse and sell their wine elsewhere. The burden is likely to fall on the importer. Picture yourself in a warehouse, facing a dozen pallets of wine, each with 50 cases, made up of four or five different wines, all requiring different labels. It would take you several days to unpack, label and repack.

The plan, however well intentioned, may actually boost sales of cheaper industrial wines; firstly by introducing minimum pricing, the larger retailers stand to make greater profits, and then by knocking out the competition provided by smaller retailers. Of course, if it were a Europe-wide regulation, and all wines required a back label, the problem would disappear overnight.

This week four wines, made, imported and sold by small independent enterprises; enjoy them while you can.

Kir-Yianni Assyrtiko Mountain Wine 2017, IGP Florina, Greece
13.5%, €20
Elegant floral aromas, exotic fruits with grapefruit zest, plenty of crisp acidity and a dry finish. Perfect with grilled white fish – cod or hake.
Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham St, thecorkscrew.ie, Cabot and Co, Westport, cabotandco.com.

Pinot Grigio 2017, Roberto Fugatti, Trentino, Organic
12.5%, €14.90
A pinot grigio with real flavour; a winning combination of ripe, juicy, honeydew melons and crisp acidity. Great with all kinds of salads or mixed antipasti.        Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, South Anne St; Kells, Co Meath, Galway; SIYPS.com; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Eleven Deli, Greystones, elevendeli.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St, fallonandbyrne.com; Lettercollum Kitchen Project, Clonakilty, lettercollum.ie; Ashes of Annascaul.

Mas del Perie 2016, Les Escures, Cahors, Fabien Jouves, Vegan & Organic
13.50%, €22.50
Juicy, rounded ripe plum and blackcurrant fruits, with a piquant edge, and soft tannins on the finish. Light and elegant. With pork, either roast or chops.
Stockists: Quintessential Wines Drogheda, quintessentialwines.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Hole in the Wall, D7, holeinthewall.pub

Rayos Uva 2016, Rioja, Olivier Rivière
14%, €18.95 – €20.50
Bright lively and really fresh red with lovely pure plums and dark cherries. Drink alongside lamb chops or a rack of lamb.
Stockists: Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Lilliput Stores, Dublin 7, lilliputstores.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Liston’s, Camden St, listonsfoodstore.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Nectar Wines, Sandymount; The Corkscrew, Chatham St, thecorkscrew.ie.

 

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The best wines for your Sunday lunch

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 13th October, 2018

Growing up, I always loved a family Sunday lunch. It didn’t really matter that we spent much of the time arguing with each other; I liked the sense of occasion. My tasks always included taking out the “good” tablecloth and crockery, and for especially auspicious lunches, creating curls of real butter.

My dad, a French teacher, was unusual at the time, in that he enjoyed wine. On a teacher’s salary, he couldn’t afford it very often but once a month, he would go to the local off-licence and buy either a bottle of beer, or more often, a bottle of Nicolas Vieux Ceps, which came with a handy plastic cap, or sometimes a bottle of Lutomer Riesling from what was then Yugoslavia and is now Slovenia.

These days, drinking wine in the middle of the day makes me drowsy and unable to drive, However, every now and again, the family unites for a celebratory traditional Sunday lunch, a roast with all the trimmings, and more often than not, we will enjoy some wine.

A special occasion deserves good wine; unless you have a very large family, this is the time to spend a few euros more on your wine. They are your own flesh and blood after all.

Roast beef or lamb are among the most wine-friendly foods of all. The traditional accompaniment would be a Bordeaux, preferably from the Médoc, but a Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia, the US or Chile should also have the tannic bite that works so well with red meat. Rioja Reserva is a classic match for lamb and I would recommend paying €15 or more, as some of the cheap Rioja Reservas are not great – far better to go for a Rioja Crianza instead. Alternatively, you could go Italian and serve a Chianti Classico or a Barolo.

You can serve either red or white wine with roast chicken or pork. In fact, a good roast chicken will provide the perfect backdrop for your finest wine, red or white. I generally go for a red wine, these days frequently a Pinot Noir, a Mencía from Galicia, or a warming Côtes du Rhône, the latter a good match for most Sunday roasts.

You can drink Pinot Noir with salmon, but I prefer a white wine and a rich Chardonnay from Burgundy or elsewhere is probably best, but you could experiment with Grüner Veltliner or Viognier.

If there are vegetarians at the table, try to cook something that will match the wine you are serving – roast mushrooms, stuffed aubergines, red peppers and pasta bakes all go well with the above mentioned Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja Reserva or Chianti. Roast root vegetables and cauliflower cheese are often better with white wines, or why not try a rosé?

Château Sainte-Marie Réserve 2016, Bordeaux Réserve
13%, €17.95 down to €15.95
Medium-bodied, supple and smooth with concentrated sweet blackcurrant fruits, a hint of vanilla spice, and ripe tannins on the finish. Perfect with roast beef or lamb. From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Les Deux Cols Alizé 2016, Côtes du Rhône  
13.5%, €17.95
A very restrained elegant wine with ripe dark forest fruits, olives, herbs and black pepper, and a subtle acidity to bring it to life. With roast pork or chicken. From Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown, searsons.com; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, redmonds.ie; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; Drinkstore, Manor St, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie; J. J. Fields, Skibereen; Deveney’s, Dundrum; La Touche, Greystones, latouchewines4u.ie

Mâcon-Charnay 2015, Jean Manciat   
13.5%, €22.95
Lovely rich ripe pure apple fruits, balanced perfectly by a seam of refreshing citrus acidity. With salmon, roast chicken or pork. From Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown, searsons.com; Cashel Wine Cellar, Cashel; Sweeney’s Wines, Glasnevin, sweeneyswines.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie

Château Mauvesin Barton 2014, Moulis-en-Médoc 
13% €28.95-€30  
Classic, elegant claret with a lovely fragrant nose, and smooth blackcurrant fruits that glide across the palate, finishing dry. With roast beef or fillet steak. From Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown, searsons.com; O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

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Alcohol and wine: What’s in a number?

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 6th October, 2018.

For many wine drinkers, the most important part of a wine label is not the producer name nor the grape variety, but the percentage alcohol. A decade ago, big turbo-charged wines were all the rage; now we are all looking for something a bit less alcoholic. But do we think light and elegant but actually prefer something a little more full-bodied? Lynne Coyle MW, wine director at O’Briens, believes that while many wine drinkers ask for wines that are lighter in alcohol, in practice we prefer wines with a little more oomph.

“At tastings many consumers love the higher alcohol red wines, but feel they should be drinking something lighter. I am not sure if it is because of something they have read, or they want to drink less alcohol for health reasons, but it is not being driven by the flavour or style.”

Wine is all a matter of balance. You will barely notice the alcohol in a hearty 15 per cent red provided it has enough fruit, acidity and other components. If you feel an alcoholic burn, then something, usually the fruit, is missing.

The hottest wine-producing regions are responsible for the biggest wines, and the coolest tend to make the lightest, most refreshing wines. A producer in a warm region can harvest earlier to keep sugar (and therefore alcohol levels) down; in cooler areas, a winemaker can pick later, or even add sugar to boost alcohol by 1-2 per cent.

Low alcohol wines (typically 5-8 per cent alcohol) do not seem to have a market in Ireland, possibly because too often they are very sweet and just don’t taste like wine. In my book, a wine of 10-12.5 per cent qualifies as light, 13-14 per cent as medium, and anything over 14 per cent as full-bodied. All wine labels must state the percentage alcohol by volume. However, a wine producer is allowed a variation of 0.5 per cent either way, so a wine labelled 12.5 per cent could actually be 13 per cent (or 12 per cent). I sometimes wonder how strictly the law is applied.

A light red wine will taste fresher and more acidic; it has a very different structure to a more full-bodied wine and can be served cool or even chilled. But we really enjoy the richness, texture and warmth that is provided by a little more alcohol. As winter approaches, we start looking at the bigger reds, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Amarone, Bordeaux and Australian Shiraz. White wine is a very different market; the fashion is for zingy, fresh unoaked wines at 12.5–13 per cent all year round.

However, as Coyle points out: “Wine is not meant to be consumed on its own for hours on end. It should be drunk with food, and alongside water.” Then the level of alcohol matters far less.

This week, four perfectly balanced medium-bodied red wines.

Bons Ventos 2016, Casa Santos Lima, VR Lisboa
13%, €14
A big smiling mouthful of wine; layers of smooth ripe dark fruits with rounded tannins on the finish. This will go down nicely with most red or white meats, grilled lamb chops, or baked mushrooms.
From Bradley’s Off-Licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road and Malahide Road, mchughs.ie

Cuvée des Abeilles 2015, Château d’Auzanet, Bordeaux (organic)
13.5%, €14.95
This is an elegant, toothsome Bordeaux with spicy aromas and very agreeable balanced blackberry and red cherry fruits. Nice price too. Steak, served with a red wine and mushroom sauce, would be the local favourite.
From Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Myles Doyle, Gorey; Wilde & Green, Dublin 6; The Wine House, Trim

Bardolino 2016, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Veneto
12.5%, €14.95
Charming sweet/sour morello cherry fruits with a silky, almost lush, texture and a well-rounded finish. Recommended with prosciutto/salami and some crusty sourdough.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Pegos Claros Reserva, Palmela, Portugal
13.5%, €16.95
Very moreish sweet, soft, ripe jammy fruits with exotic spices that evolve and improve with every sip. A warming stew of beans, pork and chorizo.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; La Touche, Greystones, latouchewines4u.ie; Grape & Grain, Leopardstown; The Wine Shop, Perrystown; The Wine Well, Dunboyne; Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; O’Briens Wines, obrienswine.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, baggotstreetwines.com; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Fresh outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; D-Six, Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6; Matson’s, Grange, Bandon; Redmonds, Ranelagh, redmonds.ie; Morton’s, Ranelagh, mortons.ie; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, dundalkwines.com; Liston’s, Camden Street, listonsfoodstore.ie; Red Island Wine, Co Skerries; The Coach House, Ballinteer; Nectar Wines, Sandymount

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Austrian wine: A little bit of everything

A little bit of everything probably describes Austria best; or maybe small but perfectly formed. Austrian wine production is minuscule in world terms, but varied and of a very high standard. Most of us are familiar with Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s calling card, but there is so much more to discover and enjoy. On the downside you won’t find much cheap wine, although both Aldi and Lidl have had the occasional bargain, and O’Briens sometimes promotes the wonderfully named Zull Lust in red and white. But the country is just too small to compete on price. The good news is that most of Austria’s wines – sparkling, white, red or sweet – are consistently of a very high quality. They are also unique.

A visit earlier this year served as a welcome reminder of just how great the wines are. The vineyards, all on the eastern end of the country, are very accessible (in Vienna you can even visit some by tram or boat), often ridiculously pretty and usually very welcoming, too.

So what to look out for? Grüner Veltliner is always unoaked, usually low to medium in alcohol, with good acidity and plump, slightly spicy, green fruits. It is ideal for Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio drinkers who want to experiment a little, or simply as a wine to sip on its own. Riesling, again always dry, is more like Alsace than German – medium-bodied and racy. You will also find excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, usually from Styria down on the Slovenian border. The Pinot Blancs from Prieler (see below) are as good as any I have tasted. That is the whites; with red wines, Blaufrankisch is winning all the praise at the moment, but Zweigelt and Sankt Laurent can also produce impressive wines. These days, most Austrian reds are light in alcohol, fresh, vibrant and full of refreshing fruit.

Austrian cuisine may not have a great reputation here, but the wines, white and red, go really well with a wide variety of dishes from around the world, making them great restaurant wines. More forward-thinking establishments now list a Grüner Veltliner (and sometimes a Riesling too) from Austria.

Less easy to find are the great wines of Austria. The aforementioned While Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and other varieties are capable of reaching great heights. Erste Lagen, roughly similar to a Burgundian premier cru – is a serious effort by quality-minded Austrian producers to define their greatest vineyards. They are not cheap but can offer value for money compared with white Burgundy of a similar quality. We may not see many of the top wines here in Ireland, but the lesser wines from great producers – Malat, Bründlmayer, Ott, Schloss Gobelsburg, Hirsh, Birgit Eichinger – are available here. This week, four different grape varieties, all producing uniquely Austrian wine.

Grüner Veltliner Domaene 2016, Schloss Gobelsburg, Kamptal

12.5%, €17.95
Racy green apple fruits with sparky ginger spice and lemon zest. Free-flowing, fresh and dry. Lovely on its own, or with lighter seafood dishes.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, redmonds.ie; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie;  Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road & Malahide Rd., mchughs.ie; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Morton’s of Galway, mortonsofgalway.ie; Wicklow Wine Co, Wicklow, wicklowwineco.ie; siyps.com

Pinot Blanc Seeberg 2017, Weingut Prieler, Burgenland

13%, €26
Ripe peaches, beeswax and meadow flowers in a distinctive, gloriously textured, lightly creamy, dry wine. Fish in a creamy pie.
From Blackrock Cellar, blackrockcellar.com; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie

Zweigelt Heideboden 2017, Pittnauer, Burgenland

12.5%, €20.95 
Biodynamic. Mouthwatering, juicy, brambly dark fruits with a lightly tannic, dry finish. There is a lightly spicy, earthy touch, but this wine is all about the crunchy fresh fruits. Perfect with pork dishes, terrines and pâtés. Or keep it Austrian with a schnitzel.
From 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; siyps.com

Meinklang Blaufrankisch 2017, Burgenland

12%, €22
Lightly spicy wine with juicy pure refreshing tart damson and blackberry fruits. Biodynamic. Drink with something fatty – barbecued ribs or a pork pie.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway; siyps.com

 

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Wine: Four ports to try as autumn begins to bite

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 22nd September, 2018

Do you drink port every Christmas and ignore it the rest of the year – even though you love it? Or do you blame it for that hangover, conveniently forgetting prior consumption of alcohol earlier in the evening? Port has successfully moved on from our image of crusty old colonels swigging a glass in the library.

Nowadays, you are more likely to find younger diners trying a chilled Tawny with their dessert, drinking a long summery cocktail made with white Port, or even sipping a glass of iced pink (rosé) port. Not only that, the Douro Valley, where all port grapes are grown, now produces very good red and white table wines too. I feature one below.

However, as autumn begins to bite, there are few things more warming and comforting, than a glass of port with a few hunks of cheese, a handful of walnuts, or possibly a few squares of dark chocolate.

The big daddy of them all is vintage port, made, as the name suggests, with wine the very best wines from one single excellent year. A port house tends to declare a vintage roughly every five years. In the intervening period, a producer may release single quinta ports, made from one single vineyard in a good but not outstanding vintage. Single quinta port can offer great value; it is often a match for vintage port, drinking earlier, but often lasting for an equally long period.

Wonderful

Vintage port matures and improves for decades (I am still working on my 1970 and 1977 Fonseca); it is therefore the ideal gift for a godchild, child, or any other young relative – or as a wedding present. You can be pretty sure good vintage port will last as long as they do. If you neglected to buy your godchild some port, there are still plenty of vintage ports available, provided the recipient, were born in the right year. I can vouch for the wonderful, elegant Taylor’s Vintage 2007 (€145) and the hedonistic lush, spicy Fonseca 2009 (€155). Both can be drunk now or at any time over the next two decades, and should be available from the same stockists as the Taylor’s below.

Chris Forbes, of the Taylor Fladgate group, visited Ireland earlier this month, showing three 2016 vintage ports. I would love to have a few bottles of Taylor’s or Fonseca in my cellar. Tawny port is aged in barrel (as opposed to bottle for vintage ports) and therefore needs no decanting. Try it chilled with desserts, or hard cheeses such as Manchego, and Parmesan. If decanting bothers you, maybe you should invest in a Coravin, which will allow you to withdraw a glass of mature vintage port without opening the bottle – restaurants please take note!

100 Hectares Touriga Nacional 2016, Douro
14%, €18.95
Very stylish ripe youthful powerful black forest fruits, with nice grip and real length. Decant before serving. Confit duck with some creamy mashed potatoes.
From La Touche, Greystones, Latouchewines4u.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Harold’s Cross, D6; Fresh Outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; Nectar Wines, Sandymount; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Liston’s, Camden St., listonsfoodstore.ie; The Wine Shop, Perrystown; The Wine Well, Dunboyne

Taylor’s Limited Edition Reserve Tawny Port NV
20%, €55 for a litre bottle
Mature figs, nuts and orange peel mingle with fresher cherry and blackcurrant fruits. Serve cool or lightly chilled with pâtés, firm cheeses, or rich cakes and puddings.
From O’Donovan’s, Cork, Odonovansofflicence.com; Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Terroirs, Donnybrook, Terroirs.ie; Gibney’s, Malahaide, gibneys.com; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, dundalkwines.com; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road & Malahide Rd., mchughs.ie; Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; O’Briens, obrienswine.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Wineonline.ie

Fonseca Quinta do Panascal 2001, Single Quinta Port
20.5%, €45
Smooth and rich, with an explosion of figs, walnuts and pure damson fruits edged with spice. With any firm or blue cheese.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; O’Donovan’s, Cork, Odonovansofflicence.com; Grape & Grain, Leopardstown, leopardstowninn.ie; Grenham’s, Ballinasloe; The Vineyard, Belfast, vineyardbelfast.co.uk

Taylor’s Vintage Port 2016
22%, €95
Supremely elegant  with wonderful pure damson and blackcurrant fruits, good acidity, and plenty of tannic structure. Deceptively drinkable now, but you should really keep it for 10-30 years.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,jusdevine.ie; Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Gibney’s, Malahaide, gibneys.com; Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie; Blake’s Fine Wines, Derrylin, blakesfinewines.com

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Orange wine? Yes, it’s strange but give it a go

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First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 15th September, 2018

In a move that has already upset the purists, German supermarket Aldi has launched an orange wine, priced at an incredibly cheap €8.99. Not just orange either, but natural and organic as well.

What is orange wine? Firstly, it is not made from oranges. I came across it back in 2005, in Slovenia, where the winemaker described it as “white wine made like red wine”.

Orange wine is made by macerating or fermenting white grapes on their skins for a period, as a winemaker normally would with a red wine. They taste very different, with the freshness and acidity of a white wine and the grippy dry tannins of a red. Some have light red fruits, others are sherry-like, sometimes with grilled nuts and, usually, a pithy quality. If that sounds strange, it is. Not all orange wines are natural, but some are, made using organic grapes in a oxidative way which adds to the general funkiness.

Orange wine is drunk at room temperature, or slightly cool; serve it chilled and the tannins stick out. It has been making waves in the wine world, and now features on wine lists in fashionable restaurants, wine bars and independent wine shops. Some, including Ottolenghi in London, have an orange wine section on their lists. Adherents argue that it is the perfect food wine, able to cope with white and red meats, as well as smelly cheeses. Critics argue that they all taste the same, regardless of grape variety or origin.

‘Challenging’

I asked two independent retailers for their thoughts. Gerard Maguire of 64 Wine said “we sell it but with difficulty – it is a challenge for consumers because it runs counter to our perceptions of how we think wine should taste”.

“You have to learn to love it,” says Maguire, adding “it took me a long time to get it. Now I understand it but I don’t necessarily always like it”. However, he believes that “the Gravner wine ( see below) is spectacular; every wine lover should try it at least once”. Dave Gallagher of Green Man Wines agreed with Maguire: “It ticks away as a curiosity value, and has a following from people who want to try different things, but it will never be a mass market wine. It is too individual,” and he adds “reasonable expensive”. You don’t find many under €25, hence the surprise with the Aldi wine.

My Slovenian producer, whose winery was close to the Italian border, had probably been inspired by Josko Gravner or Stanko Radikon, the first two winemakers to reinvent orange wine in the 1990s, although the Georgians had been making it for thousands of years.

The Aldi orange wine was made in Romania by Cramele Recas, a very large, modern go-ahead winery. Made from organic grapes, fermented without added yeasts or sulphur, and bottled unfiltered and unfined.

Aldi Orange Natural Wine 2017, Romania 13%, €8.99
Made from a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, this has light apricot and orange peel fruits and pithy tannins. My bottle had a slightly off-note on the finish. Why not experiment with various foods?
From selected branches of Aldi

Tbilvino Rkatsiteli Qvevris JSC Tibilvino 2015, Kakheti Region, Georgia 12%, €16
A lightly orange wine that I have featured before but the new vintage is even better; light orange peel, toasted nuts, lively acidity and fresh pear fruits. By itself or with Khachapuri – look it up, they are delicious.
From Marks & Spencer

Craven Clairette Blanche 2016, Stellenbosch 11.5%, €28
Partially skin-fermented this was slightly cloudy, with an intriguing mix of fruits; quince, apple and orange peel with a lovely hit of stewed fruits on the finish.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie

Ribolla ‘Anfora’ 2008, Gravner 14.5%, €75-€80
Seven months in amphorae, seven years in cask; an unbelievable riot of flavours; nuts, butterscotch, sherry, dried fruits, lemon peel, peaches and so much more. Unique and fascinating.
From siyps.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie

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Does price matter when it comes to wine?

glass

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

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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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