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A lighter shade of Pale: Lighter whites for brighter weather

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 6th July, 2019

Now that the schools have closed, and Met Éireann is promising temperatures approaching 25 degrees, we turn our attention to summer wines again. I recently splashed out on a mixed case of white wines: two Vinho Verdes, a few Rieslings, a tasty Muscadet and a few others too. All were 12.5 per cent or less in alcohol, the Vinho Verdes just 11.5 per cent. These (if they last) will be my summer whites.

Thankfully, as our general tastes move towards lower alcohol wines – particularly with lighter white wines – buyers are providing us with a greater choice. I tend to avoid very low alcohol wines, those at less than 10 per cent, as they often don’t really seem like wine.

The one exception is German Riesling Kabinett and Spâtlese, both of which make for fantastic summer drinking. Bear in mind when buying that a producer is allowed 0.5 per cent leeway either way, so a 12.5 per cent wine could actually be 13 per cent or 12 per cent.

There is no shortage of choice; virtually every country produces something light and white. Muscadet would always be one of my first choices; it is still incredibly good value. Most of the multiples including SuperValu, Aldi, Dunnes Stores and O’Briens offer at least one. Picpoul de Pinet, often tagged as the Muscadet of the south, is another option.

Elsewhere in France, many of the white wines of the Loire and southwest France come in at under 13 per cent. I covered Vinho Verde from Portugal a few weeks ago. Semillon from Australia, Grüner Veltliner from Austria, as well as a host of Italian white wines all register as light and refreshing. But this week, I am focusing on four less well-known names, all at 12 per cent alcohol or less.

Gentil d’Alsace, once a traditional name for any wine made from various varieties, now has official AOC status. It must include at least 50 per cent “noble” grapes – riesling, gewürztraminer, muscat and pinot gris – with the remainder made up from sylvaner, pinot blanc, chasselas.

The version below, a blend of four different grape varieties from one of the most reliable producers in Alsace, is excellent value for money. Sauvignon blanc drinkers should certainly check out Tesco’s Finest Côtes de Gascogne; made from the very local colombard and gros manseng grapes, this is a bargain at €9.

The Édalo comes from Huelva, in the far south of Spain, right beside the Portuguese border. The cooling Atlantic winds make for a delicate light dry wine, made from the local Zalema grape. Argentine made from the Torrontés grape can sometimes be a little too aromatic and rich, but in the wine below, the inclusion of 15 per cent Riesling adds a lovely vibrancy to the aromas and fleshy fruit of the Torrontés. This is one of my favourite summer (and winter) white wines.

Tesco Finest Côtes de Gascogne 2018
11%, €9
Lightly aromatic with clean fresh apple and pear fruits, with plenty of brisk citrus. On its own, with seafood or soft goat’s cheese salads.
From Tesco, tesco.ie

Édalo 20 Condado de Huelva, Contreras Ruiz, Spain
12%, €13.90
Lightly herbal nose with fresh green apple and pineapple fruits, finishing dry. An old favourite revisited at a party recently, on a mild summer’s day, it made a perfect aperitif, and also later with summery salads including salmon.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Bradleys Off-Licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Listons, Dublin 2, listonsfoodstore.ie; Lilliput Stores, Dublin 7, lilliputstores.com; Wicklow Wine Co, wicklowwineco.ie

Amalaya Torrontés Riesling 2018, Calchaquí Valley, Argentina
12.5%, €17.99
Torrontés with a touch of Riesling, and it really works very well. Lightly aromatic, with subtle elderflower aromas; very fresh crisp and pure with mouth-watering peaches, finishing dry. By itself, or with fish. A seafood ceviche?
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin; wineonline.ie

Gentil d’Alsace 2015, Meyer-Fonné
12%, €18.95
A blend of Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer that is softly fruity with touches of honey and ginger, balanced by lively citrus. A perfect summery aperitif, with quiche and salad or spicy chicken dishes.
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2, fallonandbyrne.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie

 

 

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Coming to terms with wine.

Some argue that the distinctive flavour of some wines, such as Marlborough sauvignon blanc, are entirely down to the strain of yeast used, rather than any unique climatic conditions.

 

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 30th June 2019.

Wine and all its attendant nomenclature can be confusing at times. But some of it serves a purpose; today I take a look at four wine-producing terms that are very much on trend at the moment. Hopefully it will help you enjoy that glass a little more, or avoid the ones you hate.

Whole bunch means that entire bunches of grapes, including the stalks, have been included in the fermentation. Before the invention of crusher-destemmer machines, this was how most red wines were made. The resulting wines tend to be lighter in colour, slightly lower in alcohol and have a freshness and also sometimes a ‘grippy’ element. The stalks need to be ripe, or they will impart a green herbaceous element to the wine. A producer can use 100 per cent or partial whole bunch. Others, looking for softer, richer wine will avoid it entirely.

Orange, or amber wines as most now prefer to call them, are essentially whites wines made like red wines. Instead of separating the juice from the skins as soon as they are crushed, a winemaker can leave the two together (hence why they are sometimes called skin-contact wines) for a period of hours, days or months. Depending on how it is done, the resulting wine will be deeper in colour with a pithy tannic element.

A pet nat wine – the name is short for pétillant naturel – is made by allowing the wine to finish fermentation or referment in the bottle, typically leaving a lightly fizzy cloudy wine, usually low in alcohol, and often bottled with a crown cap. This is the oldest method of creating sparkling wine, but requires a high level of skill from the producer.

Yeasts don’t sound very romantic (you won’t find a winemaker boasting about them) but many believe that local or wild yeasts, present in the vineyard and winery, are an important part of their terroir, and give their wine a unique stamp. A producer can allow wild yeasts to create a spontaneous fermentation.

However, if the yeasts are not efficient, there is a danger that the fermentation will become ‘stuck’ and the wine will spoil. Most large-scale producers use cultured yeasts to ensure a full and speedy fermentation. A wide range of commercial yeasts are available, some of which accentuate specific characters in a wine, such as aroma or texture.

Some argue that the distinctive flavour of some wines, such as Marlborough sauvignon blanc, are entirely down to the strain of yeast used, rather than any unique climatic conditions. If you want to experiment, buy yourself a bottle of regular Greywacke Marlborough sauvignon and a bottle of the wild sauvignon blanc below to see the difference it makes; both are excellent wines, made from exactly the same grapes, but taste completely different.

Ovejo Naranja 2018, Viño Varietal, Spain (organic)

14 per cent, €20-€21

A blend of gewürztraminer and muscat, aged for six months on the skins. A glorious, hedonistic mix of tangy fresh zesty acidity, orange peel and luscious fruits with a lightly tannic bite on the finish. It’s a remarkable wine; pair with runny cheeses or spicy pork and chicken dishes.

From: The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com;  Bradley’s Off-Licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie

Menti Roncaie Sui Lieviti 2017, Italy (organic)

11 per cent, €23

Made from the soave garganega grape, this is an unfiltered, sulphur-free, organic pet nat; light, crisp green apple fruits, with a very refreshing cidery touch. A summery aperitif.

From: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; siyps.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie

Las Uvas de Ira 2016, Sierra de Gredos DO Mentrida, Spain

14.5 per cent, €27.95

A 100 per cent whole-bunch garnacha; exquisitely perfumed, with fine, delicate, pure strawberry fruits and a lovely freshness running throughout. Brilliant wine. Try with grilled pork or lamb.

From: Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Marlborough

14 per cent, €33.99

A wonderful, complex wine with a mouth-filling creamy texture, rich, lush peach fruits offset by good acidity, and a lingering, bone-dry finish. Pair with grilled sea bass.

From: Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, Co Dublin, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; O’Briens, obrienswine.ie; Thomas’s of Foxrock, Co Dublin, thomasoffoxrock.ie; wineonline.ie

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Relative Values from the Northern Rhône: St. Joseph & Crozes-Hermitage

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First published in The Irish Times, Saturday22nd June, 2019

I wrote a few weeks ago that, given tax and duty, “value” and “cheap” do not always go together when it comes to wine. In Ireland a sub-€10 bottle can be a waste of your hard-earned cash. More expensive wines are frequently better value for money. The two great names of the northern Rhône, Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, are beyond the reach of most of us, selling for €50-€100 a bottle. The relative bargains are close at hand; between these two appellations lie St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage. Both can offer great value – although by value I mean €20-€35 a bottle. For that you should get a wine that will transform your dinner into a special event.

In general, the wines of the northern Rhône are lighter in alcohol and more elegant in style than those of the southern Rhône, at times closer to Burgundy than to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. All are made from Syrah, occasionally with a very small percentage of a white grape.

Crozes-Hermitage, once dismissed as poor man’s Hermitage, is now responsible for some very stylish wines. They may lack the structure and concentration of wines from the neighbouring hill of Hermitage, but the best have lovely bright, fresh fruits and can age a little, too – a glass of the 2007 vintage of the Les Rouvres below was a recent highlight.

Farther north, the narrow, 50km-long appellation of St Joseph, covering 26 communes, is bigger but produces less wine than Crozes-Hermitage. It has some fantastic sites and old vines. I strongly suspect quality and prices will continue to rise, but for the moment prices in both regions are reasonable; trying to decide on just four wines this week was not easy.

I have previously mentioned the Crozes-Hermitage from Alain Graillot (€30, Mitchell & Son) and the Cuvée Equinox Domaine des Lises (€24, siyps.com, Ely 64, Green Man), and they are great wines. In addition to the Terroir de Granit below, Burgundy Direct has the tighter, more mineral Passion de Terrasses 2016 for €31.75. JNwine.com has a great range of wines from the region, including a lovely St Joseph André Perret for €27.50. Wines Direct has the fuller-bodied wines from Domaine des Remizières.

I tasted some spectacular wines from the recently rediscovered appellation of Brézème – check out your local independent for the names Éric Texier and Domaine Lombard. I also discovered a new superstar in Domaine Bott, imported to Ireland by Caubet Wines. Among the negociants, Chapoutier, Ferraton, Guigal, Jaboulet and Cuilleron all produce at least reasonably priced St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage. And most are great value for money.

Crozes-Hermitage 2015 Grande Classique, Cave de Tain
13.5%, €19.95
This has featured before, but it is one of my all-time favourites. Beautifully rounded, ripe yet savoury dark fruits with a good dry finish. A great all-purpose wine, but perfect with roast chicken or pork.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

St Joseph 2016, Terroir de Granit, Guy Farge
12.5%, €26.50
A lovely, elegant wine with fresh violets on the nose, crunchy, juicy dark-cherry fruits and a light mineral touch. Try it with a plate of charcuterie or some grilled lamb chops.
From Burgundy Direct, burgundydirect.ie

St Joseph 2016, Domaine du Monteillet, Stéphane Montez
12.5%, €31.95
Plump, fresh dark fruits – cherries and blackcurrants – with a whiff of spice and an easy finish. Would pair well with a seared duck breast with black cherries.
From Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com

Crozes-Hermitage 2015 Le Rouvre, Yann Chave
13.5%, €34.95
One of my favourite wines. The 2015 is relatively rich and powerful, with harmonious ripe blackcurrant fruits and spicy black pepper. This would handle a rare steak perfectly.
From Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com

 

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Few things are more evocative of summer than a glass of rosé

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 15th June, 2019

Few things are more evocative of summer than a glass of rosé. Some of us may drink it throughout the year, but consumption soars as soon as the sun comes out and temperatures start to rise. The mere mention of the name brings forth images of azure seas, fields of lavender, olives trees and vineyards, and chilled glasses of rosé wine sipped by the side of a swimming pool.

Provence rosé exploded onto the scene a decade or so ago, and has been growing every year since. Sales of Whispering Angel (the original pale Provence rosé), (€30-€35) and Brangelina’s Château Miraval (€30) continue unabated, alongside Clos Mireille, from Domaine Ott (€40).

According to Fortune magazine, rosé has now overtaken red and white wines as the largest category of French wine sold in the United States. Château d’Esclans, the house responsible for Whispering Angel, shipped almost five million bottles to the US last year.

The Provence style is pale in colour (we incorrectly associate colour with sweetness, apparently), delicate and dry, almost like a white wine. It should be served in a distinctive, slightly bling bottle, preferably a magnum or double magnum. It is Sacha Lichine of Whispering Angel who is credited with inventing the category that has taken the world by storm.

My own favourite rosé from Provence is very different, the Domaine Tempier (about €40), a wonderful, more deeply coloured, complex, full-bodied rosé that demands food.

Just about every multiple has a few Provence rosés on offer, ranging in price from €10 to €20. At Marks & Spencer, I like both the Coteaux Varois en Provence 2018 (€13.30) and the new Sainte Victoire Côte de Provence (€17.70). M&S also has the very gluggable House Rosé for €7.30.

But Provence is not the only place capable of making pink wine. Over the past few years, just about every region has tried its hand. Spain has a long rosé tradition – if you ever get the opportunity to try the unique López de Heredia Rioja Rosado, don’t pass it up. O’Briens’ director of Wine, Lynne Coyle MW, has produced Rós, her own (very tasty) Spanish rosé, from Navarra, this year, available from O’Briens for €16.95, or €12.71 each when you buy two bottles. O’Briens has just started its hugely popular annual rosé promotion, with 14 wines from four countries. All are available in some form of multibuy discount.

Rosé is much more than an aperitif wine; it also works well with a wide range of foods, including fish, white meats, barbecued or cold, all sorts of meze, salads and lightly spicy foods. Richer rosés are great with Provencal food; think salade Niçoise, rich fish soups, pissaladière, aioli and other summery dishes.

Réserve du Boulas Côtes du Rhône Rosé 2018
13%, €13.30
Fresh, light, clean raspberry fruits, with a lovely bright mineral edge. A very elegant and enjoyable rosé at a great price. Try it with salade Niçoise and other salads.
From Marks & Spencer, marksandspencer.ie

La Maldición Clarete 2018, DO Madrid
12%, €15
Is it a rosé or a very very pale red? Either way, it is a delicious distinctively different wine with tangerine peel, sour cherries and a lovely tangy quality. With cold meats or light pasta dishes.
From First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8, Firstdraftcoffeandwine.com; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, elywinebar.ie; Lilliput Stores, Dublin 7, lilliputstores.com; Ely 64, Glasthule, Ely64.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3 clontarfwines.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie

L’Ostal Rosé 2018, Famille JM Cazes, Rosé Pays d’Oc
12.5%, €15.45 (second bottle half-price)
This is a very attractive elegant light rosé with plenty of redcurrant and raspberry fruit, finishing dry. A nice aperitif or with salmon dishes.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Domaine Bastide Neuve 2018, Rosé d’Oc
12.5%, €21 per magnum
Light lively strawberry and late summer fruits, finishing dry. Available in standard bottles too, but magnums would be perfect for that summer party, with or without nibbles.
From Dunnes Stores, dunnesstores.com

 

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Pour yourself some Albariño, Iberia’s latest wine success story

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 8th June, 2019

 

Whether you call it Alvarinho or Albariño, this is a perfect match for all kinds of shellfish, as well as octopus and hake

 

One of the great Spanish success stories over the past few years has been Albariño, which now sits alongside Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc as one of our most popular white grapes.

In Spain, Albariño generally means the Rías Baixas region in Galicia. Over the Miño/Minho river in Portugal, Albariño becomes Alvarinho. Here in Ireland, Alvarinho wines have taken huge leaps forward in quality over the past few years. They are generally a little lighter than their Spanish counterparts but share that irresistible combination of plump, ripe pears and peaches and a cleansing citric acidity.

Can a wine be salty? Many of the wines from both sides of the Iberian border seem to have a delicious, distinctly saline quality, and some are grown very close to the sea. Try the Lagar de Costa from O’Briens (€16.95, a nice wine and great value for money), made from vines growing metres from the beach, to see what I mean.

Until recently, although I enjoyed Rías Baixas, I had rarely come across really great versions of the grape that were worth a premium. But over the past year I have come across some stunning wines. Most are from single vineyards, made using grapes plucked from very elderly vines. Sadly, most cost €20-€30 a bottle. Given that the first €5 you spend on a bottle of wine goes on tax, an extra €10-€15 buys you a lot of wine. In most cases you really will notice the difference between a €10 Rías Baixas and one at €20.

O’Briens has no fewer than 11 Albariños, ranging in price from €12.95 to €45, including the Lagar de Costa and a favourite of mine, Pazo de Señorans. Aldi has a very decent Exquisite Collection Rîas Baixas for €9.99 and the superior Albanta for €10.99. SuperValu has its exclusive Abeillo and Lola & Paco (both for €14.99). Dunnes Stores also has the Paco & Lola alongside three other Albariños. Marks & Spencer has both a Rîas Baixas (€13.30) and a tasty Vinho Verde for €11. Look out for the excellent Zarate (about €20) in independents.

From Portugal, the Celtic Whiskey Shop has four excellent wines, all from the winemaker Anselmo Mendes: the Muros Eshola (a blend including 20 per cent Alvarinho, amazing value at €14), the Muros Antigos below, the Contacto (€20) and the Muros de Milgaço (€27.50). JNwine.com has the Soalheiro wines – here it is worth paying €4 extra for the wine below.

Both Alvarinho and Albariño are the perfect match for all kinds of shellfish, as well as octopus and hake. I can think of few nicer things in life than a platter of shellfish served alongside a glass of good Albariño. You could certainly expand on this to include sushi, sashimi, grilled white fish and fresh goat’s cheese salads.

Muros Antigos Alvarinho 2018,  Monção e Melgaço, Vinho Verde
13%, €18.50
This has it all at an unbeatable price: spring flowers, succulent yellow apples and pears, slightly pithy lemon zest and a long, dry finish. With summer salads featuring soft goat’s cheese, herbs and lemon.
From Wines on the Green, Dublin 2, celticwhiskeyshop.com; Nolan’s, Dublin 3, nolans.ie; McCabes Wines, Dublin 18, mccabeswines.ie

Soalheiro Alvarinho 2018,  Monção e Melgaço, Vinho Verde
12.5%, €21-€22
A very seductive blend of lemon zest and light tropical fruits – pineapples and mango, with a crisp dry finish. Light and nervy. With seafood or meze.
From jnwine.com; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie

Leirana, Albarino, Forjas del Salnes 2018
12%, €24
Wonderful, subtle wine with plump ripe peach fruits, a touch of orange peel and lemon zest, and a wonderful saline edge. Dublin Bay prawns with home-made mayonnaise.
From 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale, Co Cork; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Loose Canon, Dublin 2, loosecanon.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin; Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie

Sesenta e Nove Arrobas 2017, Rías Baixas, Bodegas Albamar
13%, €34 
The basic Albamar (€21-€22, independents) is a favourite but this is one of the best white wines I have tasted this year. Exquisite floral aromas of honeysuckle and white flowers. Luscious pears and zesty lemon, with a saline mineral core. Warm poached lobster with sinful quantities of garlic butter.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie

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Beaujolais bounces back: Get to grips with this great summer wine

 

Every now and again I follow my heart and try to convince you to try a few unloved wines. Usually this mean Riesling and sherry. I know most of you are unlikely to pay any attention, but I am relatively content, knowing I can continue to enjoy both of these great wines at reasonable prices.

I have also suggested you try Muscadet and Beaujolais. I am not sure about Muscadet, but Beaujolais is enjoying a genuine resurgence as consumers seek out lighter wines. Beaujolais is the perfect summer wine, although I drink it all year round. It is typically low in alcohol, with juicy fresh fruits and is the perfect picnic or alfresco wine, to be consumed cool, on sunny days.

The Beaujolais region can be divided neatly into two. The southern half has inferior soils (with a few exceptions) and produces wine simply labelled Beaujolais, the most basic wine. The northern half is a mass of different granite and schist soils. Beaujolais Villages, a step up from Beaujolais, comes from one or more of 39 villages in the northern half. At the very top are 10 crus, the villages with the very best soils.

Each cru has a character and style all of its own, depending on the soil. Fleurie is said to be floral and scented, Julienas richer and more powerful. And so on. All of the wines, from Beaujolais to the very best cru, are made entirely from the Gamay grape.

All are likely to be nimble and fruit-filled, although some, such as Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent, can have a tannic structure that rewards ageing. I am enjoying my last bottles of 2008 and 2009 Moulin-à-Vent (from Domaine Vissoux, available from Terroirs, Donnybrook). While each wine may taste different, they all have a common thread that unites them.

Most of the supermarkets have a basic Beaujolais on offer. Aldi has a Beaujolais Villages for €7.99, and Marks & Spencer has one for €10.50 and a Fleurie for €13. While these are very acceptable, if you venture to the smaller single-estate wines (sadly, usually €20 or more) you will find some really great wines.

As indicated above, Beaujolais is a great warm weather wine, the kind you would love to be served sitting outside a cafe in France or in the cool of an evening at home.

It is a great match for the famous foods of the nearby city of Lyon – salade Lyonnaise with bacon, pâtés, cold meats, sausages, chicken and pork, but it will happily partner any lighter barbecued foods, including burgers and white meats.

Fleurie Tradition 2016, Domaine de la Madone
13% €20.95
A delicious, fresh, thirst-quenching wine with juicy dark-cherry fruits. Serve cool with charcuterie, salads and crusty sourdough bread.
From Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, Co Dublin, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath, mitchellandson.com; Myles Doyle, Gorey, Co Wexford, myselectgrocer.com; Wilde & Green, Dublin 6, wildeandgreen.com

Lucien Lardy Moulin-à-Vent Vieilles Vignes 2016
12.5%, €22
Perfumed, refined strawberry fruits with freshly cut hay; good acidity and a nice succulence to the fruit. With seared salmon or tuna.
From Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com; Mortons of Galway, mortonsofgalway.ie; Daly’s, Boyle, Co Roscommon; Martin’s Off-Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Coach House, Dublin 16, thecoachhouseofflicence.ie; Red Island Wine, Skerries, Co Dublin; Thomas’s of Foxrock, Co Dublin, thomasoffoxrock.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie

Daniel Bouland Morgon Corcelette Vieilles Vignes 2016
13.5%, €26
Elegant and refined with a seductive fragrance; combines freshness and power with concentrated dark cherry fruits and soft, fine tannins. Some garlicky Toulouse sausages with green lentils.
From Cabot and Co, Westport, Co Mayo, cabotandco.com; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; No 1 Pery Square, Limerick, oneperysquare.com

Louis Claude Desvignes Morgon La Voûte St-Vincent 2017
12.5%, €27
An utterly charming wine, fragrant and fresh, with layers of elegant ripe red fruits, but with real depth and concentration too. Serve with roast or grilled chicken or chicken salads.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie

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THE WONDERFUL WINES OF SICILY

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 25th May, 2019

Sicily is an island of huge contrasts: ugly and chaotic at times, amazingly beautiful, enchanting and serene at others. Any downsides are offset by the warmth, friendliness and vitality of the people, the excellent food and of course, the wine.

In the past, Sicily was best known for inexpensive bulk wine that ended up being turned into cheap Marsala or vermouth. Over the last decade or so, a group of high quality producers has emerged, primarily using indigenous grapes to produce a variety of red and white wines (and sparkling too) with their own unique Sicilian character.

In many ways this is the ideal place to grow vines; Sicily gets more sun than any other part of Europe, 2,500 hours, compared with 2,000 on the mainland and 1,800 in the south of France. The constant winds keep temperatures in check, particularly on the higher mountainside slopes. Over 40 per cent of vineyards are farmed organically (the highest in the world), a figure that rises further in quality estates.

While you will find some of the international grape varieties (Syrah in particular has been around a long time), Sicily has a treasure trove of indigenous varieties, some very ancient, that are only now beginning to show their true potential. Many of these have various different clones that are almost like separate varieties

Four white grapes are worth remembering: Inzolia and Cataratto are usually used in fresh fruity wines. Grillo, once used to make Marsala, shows real potential. Decent inexpensive versions of these can be found on the shelves of your local supermarket. These days, most of the white grapes are picked early and the resulting wines are crisp, light and dry. Carricante, grown almost exclusively on the slopes on Mount Etna, can be delightful – the elegant, cool fruits and acidity, tasting more like the Loire than Mediterranean.

For red wines, Nero d’Avola grown on warmer flat sites can be rich and powerful; wines from the cooler hillside sites can be surprisingly floral and elegant. Nerello Mascalese, grown primarily on the slopes of Mount Etna, produces distinctive, very exciting wines with soft, silky Pinot-like fruit, often combined with a dry tannic finish.

Frapatto, usually grown in the southeastern corner of the island (often blended with Nero d’Avola to produce Cerasuolo di Vitoria) is fragrant and light with juicy strawberry fruits. Perricone is highly regarded by many quality producers, and is often blended with Nero d’Avola.

Sicilian food is unique and magnificent, varying region by region, clearly showing influences of the various invaders that have passed through over the centuries. Every kind of fish is eaten, high quality Mediterranean vegetables take pride of place in many recipes. Sicilian whites go perfectly with fresh grilled fish, and the reds with rich pasta dishes and roasted vegetables.

Nero d’Avola Principi di Butera IGT Sicilia 2015
14%, €16.99
Attractively aromatic, with supple rounded red cherry fruits, black olives, and a nicely rounded finish. A good flexible red to serve on its own or with an Otto Lenghinian mezze of kofte and Mediterranean salads.
From Deveneys, Dublin 14; Fresh, Dublin 2 and 7, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; Boggans, Wexford

Sherazadze Donnafugatta 2017, Sicilia DOC, Nero d’Avola
13%, €22.99
A lovely fresh juicy mouthful of voluptuous dark fruits with hints of spice, and nicely integrated tannins on the finish. Serve cool with roast lamb accompanied by roast Mediterranean vegetables or caponata.
From Sweeneys Wines, Dublin 11, sweeneyswines.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Thomas Woodberrys, Galway, woodberrys.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com; Gibney’s, Malahide, Co Dublin, gibneys.com; Alain & Christine’s, Kenmare, Co Kerry, acwine.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin; wineonline.ie; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie

Pietradolce Etna Bianco 2018
13%, €27
An elegant, refined and delicious light white with cool green fruits, mouthwatering lemon zest, and a long dry finish. Grilled white fish with lemon and herbs.
From Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Deveneys, Dublin 14

Rosso del Conte 2014, Regaleali, Tasca d’Almerita, Sicily Contea di Scalfani
14%, €53
Made from a blend of Nero d’Avola and Perricone. A magnificent wine, rich and hugely concentrated with very ripe sweet cherry fruits, held together by a fine tannic structure. Save it for your finest roast of beef or lamb.
From winesofitaly.ie

 

 

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Climate change in a glass: How a warming world is altering wine

 

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 18th May.

According to the viticulturist Dr Richard Smart, the world’s wine industry “is the canary in the coal mine, because it’s the early-warning system”. A map of the world’s wine regions shows that almost all vineyards lie in two narrow ribbons, between 30 and 50 degrees north and south of the equator. This is changing gradually, partly because of increasingly sophisticated methods of viticulture but also because, all around the world, grapes are ripening earlier.

Even a degree or two’s change in annual temperatures can make a huge difference to the quality and style of a wine – which is why every vintage is unique. There will be winners and losers: cool regions such as the Loire and southwest France, Hawke’s Bay, in New Zealand, and Tasmania, in Australia, once had difficulty ripening red grapes. Nowadays they don’t. Very high quality sparkling wine is now being produced in the UK.

At the other extreme, warmer areas such the southern Rhône in France, central Spain, parts of California and the Barossa Valley in Australia may become too hot to sustain viticulture. Irrigation, once commonplace in hot regions, may become expensive or illegal. Increased ripeness means higher sugar levels, leading to more alcohol. In classic regions, such as Bordeaux and the Napa Valley, alcohol levels have increased over the past 20 years from 12.5 per cent to 14.5 per cent and more – a lot of Napa Valley wines now comes in at over 15 per cent. Yet many consumers are looking for lighter wines with lower alcohol.

A producer can chose to pick early to keep sugar levels low, although the danger is that the phenolic compounds, tannins and anthocyanins essential to high-quality wine may not have ripened yet.

Forward-looking producers such as Miguel Torres in Catalonia long ago began planting vines at much higher altitudes and investigating possible alternative grape varieties. (Torres is also investigating carbon capture and storage.) Others without that option are looking at planting vines on their cooler, north-facing slopes or adjusting their leaf canopies to protect grapes from sunburn.

The other option is to plant varieties that can thrive in warmer, drier climates. Here the Mediterranean countries have plenty of ancient indigenous varieties to offer. White grapes, such as Vermentino and Fiano from Italy and Arinto from Portugal, retain their acidity even in hot climates. For red wines, expect to see more Touriga Nacional, Castelâo and Trincadera from Portugal, as well as Nero d’Avola, Aglianico and Grenache instead of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

But most European wine regions are restricted to growing a limited number of grape varieties, and marketing Sauvignon Blanc or Malbec is a lot easier than marketing Aglianico.

Of course, this doesn’t address the other effects of climate change: extremes in weather, such as storms, floods or drought, as well as frost and hail are all predicted to increase.

Castellini Vermentino 2017, IGT Toscana
12.5%, €10 (down from €16.99) from Thursday, May 23rd

Floral, herbal nose with plump pear and ripe peach fruits, with good refreshing acidity. On its own, or with Italian fish dishes – spaghetti with clams, mussels or prawns.
From SuperValu, supervalu.ie

Prova Regia Arinto 2017, Bucelas, Portugal
12.5%, €13.95

Move over Sauvignon. Stimulating, appetisingly fresh and crisp with bright luscious fruits and a racy mouth-watering acidity, finishing dry. As an aperitif, or with grilled white fish.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie; Fresh, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow,latouchewines4u.ie; Matson’s, Grange and Bandon, Co Cork; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, Co Louth, dundalkwines.com; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Donnybrook Fair, Dublin 4, donnybrookfair.ie; Deveney’s, Dublin 16; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Red Island Wine, Skerries, Co Dublin; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; Morton’s, Dublin 6,mortons.ie; Listons, Dublin 2, listonsfoodstore.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin,jusdevine.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; McCabes, Dublin 18; the Coach House, Dublin 16, thecoachhouseofflicence.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Sweeneys Wines, Dublin 11, sweeneyswines.ie.

Fossil 2015, Vale de Capucha, Lisbon (organic)
13%, €20

Made with 60 per cent Touriga Nacional, this wonderful, moreish wine with violet aromas, lively concentrated dark fruits – blackcurrants, blackberries and wild fruits, with a strong, refreshing mineral streak, is unputdownable. Try it with pork dishes – grilled chops or a herby roast.
From Urbanity, Dublin 7, urbanity.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Grape & Grain, Stillorgan, Co Dublin,leopardstowninn.ie; Baker’s Corner, Kill of the Grange, Co Dublin; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale, Co Cork; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7,drinkstore.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie.

Mont Horrocks Nero d’Avola 2017, Clare Valley, Australia (organic)
13.7%, €39.99

Australian Nero d’Avola: a sign of the future? This one is excellent: medium to full bodied, with perky bright red cherry fruits, touches of spice and smooth, gentle tannins on the finish. Drink cool with herby grilled chicken.
From wineonline.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com.

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Four great Rieslings to pair with seafood, Asian spices and Alsace classics

Rieslings from Aldi, Wittmann, Zinck and Immich-Batterieberg

First published in The Irish Times, 11th May, 2019

Having missed a connecting flight from London home to Dublin a few weeks back, and utterly exhausted, I treated myself to a reviving glass of Pewsey Vale’s The Contours Riesling, from Australia, and some potted shrimp with sourdough toast. It wasn’t cheap, but it was by far the best airport food I have had in years. It also reminded me just how good Riesling is with food.

Riesling is a contender, alongside Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, for the greatest white grape variety, with or without food. The food-matching side is all down to the acidity; white wines (and red) with good acidity tend to go well with food.

The best Riesling comes from four places: Alsace, Austria, Australia and Germany. Alsace and Austrian Riesling tends to be richer, higher in alcohol and dry. Australian Riesling, from the Clare and Eden Valleys, is light, bone dry and laced with lime and citrus. German Riesling varies, but if it has the word “Trocken” on the label, as many do, it will be dry (or just off dry) too.

Alsace Riesling goes really well with Alsatian food, such as coq au Riesling, choucroute garnie and other pork dishes, including belly of pork, as well as with all kinds of creamy sauces – try it with pork chops in a creamy mushroom sauce. A glass of Alsace Riesling is almost mandatory with onion tart, one of my favourite posh lunchtime dishes.

Riesling, particularly the German type, is very popular in Scandinavia as a partner for cured, smoked and lightly pickled seafood. Farther afield, it provides the perfect balance of light fruit and crisp acidity to match raw seafood – oysters, tartares, sashimi and ceviche. German Riesling tends to be lighter than others in alcohol (although not always these days), and I love it with fresh crab (sometimes with slivers of apple, matching the wine’s green-apple fruits) or with plainly grilled white fish.

German and Australian Riesling also work with Asian food. Try Aussie Riesling with crab cakes, pad thai and seafood salads, as well as with dishes with ginger, coriander, basil, lemongrass and green chillies. I once came across a memorable Mexican match of halibut ceviche with coriander leaves on a taco with a glass of Aussie Riesling. Heaven.

As you may have realised, much of the above is merely a ploy to get you to drink more Riesling. Over the past month I have enjoyed a bottle at least once a week. Most have been German Trockens, including several bottles I had aged for a few years. All have been brilliant, including a few glasses of the I Love Mosel Riesling (from Wines Direct, €18.25) that I couldn’t quite fit in below.

Aldi Exquisite Clare Valley Riesling 2015, Australia
13%, €9.99
Crisp lime zest and green-apple fruits, with mouthwatering acidity and a dry finish. Pair with prawn noodles, Thai crab cakes or spicy, herby Asian seafood dishes.
From Aldi, aldi.ie

Wittmann Riesling Trocken 2017, Rheinhessen, Germany (Organic)
12%, €22-€25
Luscious nectarines and peaches, a touch of honey, with a vivid streak of lemon zest. Perfect with crab salad, stir-fried prawns, seared salmon or chicken tikka.
From Listons, Dublin 2, listonsfoodstore.ie; Red Island Wine, Skerries, Co Dublin; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie

Riesling 2017, Domaine Zinck, Alsace (Organic)
12.5%, €22.90
Delicious crisp, light dry riesling zinging with green apples and lemon zest. Try it with plainly grilled sea trout, onion tart or roast chicken.
From Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; siyps.com; McCabes @ the Gables, Dublin 18, mccabeswines.ie

Immich-Batterieberg Riesling Detonation 2017 (Organic), Mosel
11.5%, €26
I love everything about this wine: the pristine fresh peach and zingy lemon-zest fruits, the wonderful cleansing mineral acidity, the whiff of smoke and the excellent length. Pair with fresh crab salads, sashimi or simply cooked scallops or Dublin Bay prawns. From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Loose Canon, Dublin 2, loosecanon.ie; Lilliput Stores, Dublin 7, lilliputstores.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie

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Light, fruity flavours are the best wines for the summer season

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 4th May, 2019

The great outdoors is not the place to bring your finest wines unless you are having a very posh alfresco lunch or dinner. Otherwise, if the sun is out, you should be cracking open something light and fruity – white, rosé or red, and preferably cool or chilled.

For white wine the rule is simple: go for something lowish in alcohol, unoaked and fresh; New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Spanish Albariño and French Muscadet are all ideal. For red wines, try Beaujolais, Loire Cabernet, Austrian Blaufränkisch, New Zealand Pinot Noir or one of the Chilean reds from Itata I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Beaujolais for me is the perfect all-purpose summer wine, with or without food. I tried it with my brined and barbecued shoulder of pork; it worked surprisingly well, the fresh acidity of the Beaujolais cutting through the fatty pork. You could try it with grilled pork chops, garlicky posh sausages, lamb, and vegetable brochettes, as well as cold meats and pates. Alongside, you could serve two other great French picnic wines, Muscadet and Provence rosé.

Like Beaujolais, Muscadet is one of the great summer wines, lively and refreshing, light enough to drink on its own but a great match for salads, white meats and fish. You can find inexpensive versions in most supermarkets. Aldi and SuperValu in particular offer good value. But as is invariably the case, if you spend a few euro more, the wine will so much better. These days Muscadet produces some very high-quality, nuanced, complex wines, and I adore them.

For many people, a chilled glass of rosé is the very essence of summer. Dry or off-dry, it is another great all-purpose wine, to be dunk solo, with salads and cold foods, and spicy barbecued white meats such as chicken. Just try to avoid the very sweet versions.

I have barbecued half a dozen times so far this year, each time a roast of some sort, although burgers grilled over charcoal with mesquite proved very popular too. Winewise, the St Hallett below worked really well with a whole roast chicken stuffed with garlic and herbs. This would also partner Jess Murphy’s lamb chops recipe in today’s Magazine very nicely, as would a Côtes du Rhône or Languedoc, or a Malbec from Argentina.

Château du Coing de St Fiacre 2016, Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur Lie
Château du Coing de St Fiacre 2016, Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur Lie

Château du Coing de St Fiacre 2016, Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur Lie
12%, €16.55
Lively pure ripe apple and pear fruits, subtle lemon zest and a fine mineral acidity. Drink it by itself, with shellfish, or summery salads.
From Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2, fallonandbyrne.com; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Listons, Dublin 2, listonsfoodstore.ie; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, Co Louth, dundalkwines.com; Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie

Fleurs de Prairie Côtes de Provence Rosé 2018
Fleurs de Prairie Côtes de Provence Rosé 2018

Fleurs de Prairie Côtes de Provence Rosé 2018
13%, €9.99
It comes in a very bling bottle and has tangy ripe raspberry and strawberry fruits, finishing dry. Serve with summery grilled seafood and chicken dishes or with salads. This would be good with Jess’s sherry and sesame drumsticks.
From Aldi, aldi.ie

St Hallet Gamekeper’s Red 2015, Barossa, Australia
St Hallet Gamekeper’s Red 2015, Barossa, Australia

St Hallet Gamekeper’s Red 2015, Barossa, Australia
14%, €15.95 (down from €19.95 for May)
Medium-bodied, smooth and ripe, this would go down a treat with those spicy lamb chops and/or the chicken drumsticks. Perfect barbeque red.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Beaujolais Villages Le Vin des Roches 2016, Domaine Longère
Beaujolais Villages Le Vin des Roches 2016, Domaine Longère

Beaujolais Villages Le Vin des Roches 2016, Domaine Longère
12.5%, €23
Light, fresh, juicy red cherries and plums, with real length and style. The perfect summer wine to serve lightly chilled with all sorts of picnic foods, salads and barbecued white meats.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, Ely64.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8, firstdraftcoffeeandwine.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie

 

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