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White wines to drink with Christmas dinner

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

In this country, the traditional white wine for Christmas dinner is Chablis or Mâcon, or maybe Chablis Premier Cru if we are feeling prosperous. These Chardonnays from Burgundy are a very good choice to accompany smoked salmon, prawns and a main course of turkey and ham for those who don’t drink red wine. If you are having oysters, Chablis is perfect as is a good Muscadet. Turkey by itself, like chicken, goes very nicely with virtually any wine, red or white. It is the trimmings that make finding a wine a little more complicated.

If you do want to stay with a Chablis Premier Cru, Whelehan’s have the excellent Domaine du Colombier Vaucoupin 2015 (€35) and Marks & Spencer the very stylish refreshing Côte de Lechet 2015 (€30). From elsewhere in Burgundy I was very taken with both the Domaine Olivier Santenay Clos des Champs (€29.95) and the St Véran, Château Fuissé (€20.45) both from O’Briens.

However, this year why not impress your family and guests with an alternative from outside of Burgundy? It doesn’t have to be a Chardonnay, but the Giant Steps below would make an excellent choice, or if you are on a budget, the Aldi Lot Series Lot XI Australian Chardonnay (€13.99) is a well-made, crisp, elegant wine.

There are plenty of options beyond Chardonnay. Most rich white wines will have the body to take on turkey and all of the accompanying sauces and stuffings too. Galicia in north-west Spain offers all sorts of great white wines, including Albariño from Rías Baixas, Treixadura from Ribeiro and (best of all with turkey), Godello from Valdeorras. These names may not trip off the tongue, but they really deliver plenty of flavour. Most have a richness of fruit that makes them ideal with a seafood starter and the turkey to follow.

Or you could cast your net a little wider and try a Grüner Veltliner from Austria (one of the great all-purpose wines). Marks & Spencer has the very well-priced Rabl Grüner Veltliner for a very reasonable €13.30, while O’Briens has the rich, luscious Käferberg for €24.95. Or you could treat yourself to the sublime Ott Fass 4 Grüner Veltliner (€27, independents).

A Riesling of any kind will go well with goose, the acidity cutting through the rich fatty meat. An off-dry German Riesling Spätlese or a drier Trocken would make a great match. Red wines provides the best match with roast duck and I will cover this next week, but a Austrian Grüner Veltliner would do nicely here too, as would a Gewürztraminer. Returning to turkey, other rich whites worth considering include Viognier (the best come from the northern Rhône) or a rich Chenin Blanc from South Africa. Whatever wine you choose, don’t over-chill it! It is a sure way to kill all of those wonderful flavours.

Four whites to try

Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2017, Stellenbosch, South Africa
12.5%, €13.30
A delightful harmonious wine balancing crisp acidity, elegant rich peach fruits and a tantalising hint of toasted almonds. With salmon, prawns or turkey.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Pazo Senorans

Pazo de Señorans Albariño 2017, Rías Baixas
13.5%, €22.95
Very fresh and lively with floral aromas, and intense lemon zest on nose and palate, balanced out by pear and apricot fruits. Perfect with shellfish or smoked salmon.
Stockists: O’Briens

Louro Godello 2017, Rafael Palacios, Valdeorras
13.5%, €27
One of my all-time favourite wines. Textured and creamy, with plump pears and peaches, a subtle nuttiness, shot through with a lively acidity. If you want to splurge, their As Sortes (€50) is even better. With your Christmas starter and turkey.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche, Greystones; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Clontarf Wines Clontarf; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Sweeney’s Wines, Glasnevin; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3; Grapevine, Dalkey; SIYPS.com.

Giant Steps Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2017, Australia
13%, €29.99,
Soft luscious stone fruits, peaches and nectarines, with subtle toasted nuts and a snappy crisp finish. Perfect all-purpose Christmas dinner wine to drink with prawns, smoked salmon, turkey and ham.
Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, and Avoca at Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne; Wineonline.ie

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My Top Twenty Wines from Marks & Spencer

MY TOP TWENTY WINES FROM MARKS & SPENCER

Of all the supermarkets, Marks & Spencer try the hardest; they certainly have the best and most adventurous range of wines. I think I have noticed a slight thinning out in Ireland at least, but it is still superior to all of their rivals, with an amazingly eclectic list of wines from all over the globe, with a heavy emphasis on the Mediterranean. At entry level they have a range of House Wines and other wines priced at €7.50-8.00. Some of these are very good. Below a small selection of my favourites, from €9 to €52.50 from recent tastings.

This article was first published in The Irish Times online edition.

 

 

 

SPARKLING WINES

 

 

Alcohol Free Sparkling Muscat NV

0%

€9

The alcohol is removed by a process known as reverse osmosis, leaving a fresh, juicy, fruit-filled glass of alcohol-free wine. You miss the alcohol a bit, but this would go down a treat at parties and any other get-together.

 

 

 

 

 

Rocca di Lago Spumante NV, Garda DOC

11.5%

€10.50

 

Made in the same way as Prosecco, this is a fresh, fruity, lightly sparkling wine with clean apple fruits. Not too sweet; I would prefer it to most Prosecco. Great value for money, and worth keeping in mind with the festive season ahead.

 

 

 

Champagne Delacourt NV – MAGNUM

12.5%

€81

If you are having a gang around, a magnum creates a real sense of occasion, and this one is very good. Champagne from a magnum generally tastes better too. Real depth and length, with rich creamy complex apples and brioche.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHITE WINES

 

La Fortezza Vermentino 2017 Sicily

13%

€9

Perfumed and delicate with very attractive soft floral stone fruits and citrus. Great value for money.

Vermentino, usually found on the island of Sardinia, has been planted in Tuscany, and now Sicily in recent years. It has the great advantage of retaining acidity in warm climates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken Forrester Workhouse Chenin Blanc 2017

12.5%

€13.30

 

An old favourite of mine. The current vintage is fresh and crisp, with lovely rich ripe peaches and subtle nuts and a dry finish. Try it with creamy pasta dishes or chicken. Excellent value for money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palataia Pinot Blanc 2017, Pfalz, Germany

€15

 

The Palataia Pinot Noir is pretty good and well-priced, but his was my first taste of the Pinot Blanc. It is very good, crisp and dry with very attractive pear fruits and a dry finish. A good all-purpose white to serve as an aperitif, with fish and seafood or white meats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresquito PX Vino Nuevo de Tinaja 2017

14%

€13.30

 

This is one of my all-time favourite M&S wines, and I was delighted to see a new vintage appear recently. Made in clay amphorae in Montilla-Moriles, it is an utterly delicious, vaguely sherry like (but unfortified) wine with delicate toasted nuts, green olives and plump apricot fruits, finishing dry. Amazing value for money.

 

 

 

 

 

Rabl Grüner Veltliner 2017, Kamptal, Austria

12%

€13.30

 

Attractive brisk gingery green apple fruits and a crisp dry finish. Well-made, easy-drinking and good value for money.

It is rare to find any Austrian wine at his sort of price, and this is a pretty good example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craft 3 Chardonnay 2017, Adelaide Hills, Australia

12%

€15

 

From the cooler Adelaide Hills, a very nicely crafted crisp dry Chardonnay, with no obvious oak; just ample apple and pear fruits, with a solid backbone of acidity. Light enough to partner seafood, and enough body to accompany chicken. Very good value for money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Val de Souto 2017, Ribeiro

12.5%

€17.50

 

Galicia produces some fantastic white wines, including Albarinho from Rîas Baixas and Godello from Valdeorras. This wine, made mainly from the unpronounceable Treixadura grape, is well worth trying; very lovely plump apricots, a subtle saline touch, finishing dry. Nice wine. With scallops or prawns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Denbies Bacchus 2017, Surrey, England

12%

€20.50

 

Very floral and aromatic, with racy acidity and attractive refreshing fruit. Nice wine. Is this how an Irish wine might taste in the future?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RED WINES

 

Madiran Terres de Moraines 2014

14%

€14

 

Madiran can be tannic and chewy, but this version is very accessible with good smooth ripe blackcurrant fruits, and light savoury tannins on the finish. Perfect with a steak or grilled duck breast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craft 3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Maipo Vally, Chile

13%

€15

Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile covers all bases, from great structured wines to soft and sweet. This hits the mid range with decen structure and very good fruits.

A very fine Cabernet, with clean blackcurrants and cassis, a refreshing seam of acidity and a good dry finish. Roast lamb or beef.

 

 

 

 

 

Pisan Cisplatino Tannat 2017, Uruguay

13.5%

€15

 

Marks & Spencer has a track record for listing wines from lesser-known countries; this time it is Uruguay, producer of some very good wines, with the South-west French variety Tannat being their specialty. This version is ripe with soft dark fruits, sprinkled with spice and wood smoke. One to try with barbecued beef.

 

 

 

 

 

Dominio del Plata Terroir Series Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Argentina

13.5%

€18.50

 

Intensely aromatic, all violets and dark fruits, with delicious fresh, lightly spicy plums, dark cherries and mint on the palate. Belly of pork or lamb chops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ebenezer & Seppeltsfield Shiraz 2016, Barossa Valley, Australia

15%

€22.50

 

An Australian classic, of a style that is not easy to come across these days. Big, powerful hedonistic sweet ripe dark fruits, lots of spicy vanilla oak, and a very good finish. Not for the faint-hearted, but perfect with all sorts of red meats dishes on a cold winter evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Levantine by Ch. Musar 2017, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

14%

€24.50

A cuvée of80% Cinsault and 20% Grenache from the legendary Lebanese producer.

Juicy dark cherries and raspberries with a lovely spicy touch. Very tasty wine. With a lightly spicy lamb tagine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contino Rioja Reserva 2014

13.5%

€35.50

 

Contino was the first single-vineyard Rioja, created in 1973. The wines are always impeccably made. An excellent young Rioja with very concentrated blackcurrant fruits, firm structured tannins and great length. Ideally you would stash it away for a few years. If serving now, decant before serving. Perfect with roast lamb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volnay 1er cru Le Blondeau 2015 Hospices de Beaune 2015

€52.50

This was bought by Marks & Spencer at the annual auction at the Hopsices de Beaune. Expensive but good Burgundy is not cheap. A relatively young wine that will improve further with a little age. Youthful piquant ripe dark cherry, with a touch of smoky new oak, underpinned by good acidity. If you are having it for Xmas, decant ½ hour before dinner. Perfect with the Christmas turkey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTIFIED WINES

 

Very Rare Palo Cortado Premium Sherry ½ bottle

19%

€12

 

Made by Lustau, this is the perfect Christmas treat for the Sherry lover in your life. Intense, bone dry and wonderful, this has masses of toasted nuts, dried fruits, orange peel and much more besides. Drink with a plate of hard cheese, crackers and walnuts.

 

 

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My Favourite Festive wines from Dunnes Stores

First published online in The Irish Times, Friday 16th November, 2018

These are my favourite wines from a Recent Dunnes Stores press tasting.

 

Bastide Neuve Rosé 2017, Pays d’Oc
12.5%, €10.50
Not quite as good as Dunnes’s Château de Berne rosé (€16.50) but not as expensive, either. Light, refreshing, crisp rosé, with subtle red-cherry and redcurrant fruits. A nice party wine or with chicken or prawn green curry.

Levalet Marsanne Viognier 2017, Pays d’Oc
12.5%, €9.50
Clean and fresh, with plump, ripe peach fruits, some citrus, and a soft finish. Great value party wine or with nibbles.

Rapaura Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough
13%, €11.50
I have featured this wine before. It offers classic Marlborough Sauvignon flavours, with intense aromas of gooseberries and lychees, and ripe exotic fruits on the palate, cut through with fresh lime zest. Perfect party wine, or with herby seafood dishes.

Pulpo Albariño 2017, Rías Baixas
13.5%, €15
Fresh, lightly floral aromas, and very attractive zingy clean fruits; a lovely mix of lemon peel and peach. Perfect with shellfish, prawns, scallops or mussels.

Rapaura Springs Pinot Noir 2016, Marlborough
13.5%, €17
A stylish, nicely  scented Pinot Noir with smooth, juicy, pure dark fruits. Light, with a rounded finish, this would go nicely with breast of duck, chicken, or tuna or salmon steaks.

Costero Pinot Noir Reserva 2017, Leyda Valley, Chile
13.5%, €12
Masses of vibrant, juicy red cherries, with hints of spice. Fresh and very moreish; great value for money.

Clos Malverne Reserve Pinotage 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa
14.5%, €14
Big, powerful wine with rich, rounded plum fruits underpinned by toasty notes of roast coffee. Some firm tannins on the finish. Try it alongside a barbecued steak.

San Pedro 1860 Carmenere 2015, Maule, Chile
14.5%, €16
Rich, ripe dark fruits with plenty of spice.  Concentrated and long, with plenty of oomph. Pair with red meat, grilled or roasted.

Lombard Champagne NV, Grand Cru, Côtes de Blancs, Brut Nature
12.5%, €45
Made only with Chardonnay, this is a very superior, bone-dry champagne, with elegant, mineral green-apple fruits, a touch of brioche, and good length. Ideally, you would lay it down for a year or two, but it’ll also be good now, with nibbles or fish dishes.

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My Favourite Festive wines from O’Briens

O’Briens has some nice wines, as usual, this season, some very keenly priced, others quirky and interesting. These offers run throughout Christmas. These wines are from two tastings I attended recently. A shorter version of this article appeared in the online Irish Times on 16th November, 2018.

 

 

Júlia Florista Branco, Portugal, NV
€9.95, down to €7.95 for November and December
Decent, slightly sweetish plump fruits with good acidity. At €7.95, very good value.

Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2017, Romania
€13.95, down to €8.95 for November and December
Attractive, plump, ripe melon and green-apple fruits. Perfect party wine, or with lighter salads. At €8.95, a steal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Côtes de Gascogne 2017, Duffour Père & Fils

€9.95

The 2017 vintage of this wine is very good: subtle fresh zesty wine with lovely green apple fruits. Great value for money; the perfect party white?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellow’s Rock Chenin Blanc 2018, South Africa

€10.95

A very tasty crisp dry white with fresh peach and apple fruits.

 

Il Forte Gavi 2017
€15.95, down to €11.95 for November and December
I’m not a Gavi fan, but this has all the classic Gavi slightly bitter quince and green apples, at a very competitive price.

 

 

 

 

 

Pazo de Señorans Albariño 2017, Rías Baixas

€22.95

Very fresh and lively with floral aromas, and intense lemon zest on nose and palate, balanced out by pear and apricot fruits. Perfect with shellfish or smoked salmon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domaine Olivier Santenay Blanc Clos des Champs 2015

€29.95

Refined crisp dry white Burgundy with lightly smoky oak, lemon zest and subtle concentrated nectarine fruits.

 

 

 

Wildflower Pinot Noir 2017, Romania
€13.95, down to €8.95 for November and December
Light, with sweetish plum and red-cherry fruits and a tannin-free finish. You won’t mistake it for fine Burgundy, but this would make a great party wine.

Porta 6 2016, Portugal
€12.95, down to €9.95 for November and December
Understandably one of the most popular wines at O’Briens, this is an easy-drinker with a decent concentration of dark cherry fruits, a nice earthiness and just enough acidity to balance the ripeness. A great all-purpose wine, for wet-Wednesday dinners or large parties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellow’s Rock Syrah 2016, South Africa

€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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tandem Immune 2016, Navarra

€15.95

A pure unoaked Garnacha/Grenache that is one of my favourite wines; powerful (14.5%) with concentrated supple dark and red fruits with a lovely freshness.

 

 

St Hallett Gamekeeper’s Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2015
€19.95, down to €14.95 for November and December
Powerful, with rich, ripe red fruits and a touch of spice. At €14.95 a steal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domaine Olivier Santenay Rouge 1er cru Beaurepaire 2016

€39.95

Very fine dark cherry and damson fruits, with a subtle spiciness and a good long finish. Lovely elegant Burgundy. Christmas dinner?

 

 

 

Croser Rosé Sparkling NV, Adelaide Hills, Australia
€24.95, down to €21.95 for November and December
A very classy pure Pinot Noir, with crisp strawberry and red-cherry fruits, and subtle brioche. Good concentration and length.

Granzamy Brut NV Champagne
€34.95, down to €29.95 for November and December
A Blanc  de Noirs, made from Pinot Meunier. Stylish, lightly creamy, with subtle red fruits. This has real character and a snappy dry finish.

Château Mauvesin Barton Moulis-en-Médoc 2014
€28.95, down to €24.95 for November and December
Classic, elegant claret with a lovely fragrant nose, and smooth blackcurrant fruits that glide across the palate, finishing dry.

Disznoko Furmint Late Harvest 2016, Hungary
€16.95 per half-bottle
Most at an O’Briens tasting were wowed by the Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2005 below. So was I, but it costs €60. This late-harvest Furmint at €16.95 is deliciously fragrant and fresh, with notes of orange peel and good acidity; sweet but never cloying.

Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2005
€60 (500ml)
If you have the money and enjoy sweet wines, this is an amazingly good Tokaji, with a huge intensity of grilled nuts, marzipan and orange peel, perfectly balanced by the acidity and excellent length.

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny, Australia
€24.95, down to €21.95 for November and December
This is very good, warming tawny port, with ripe raspberries, raisins and toasted nuts, plus a sprinkle of spice. Christmas in a glass, if it’s not too early. Great value for money, too.

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Top-notch sparkling wines for Christmas

In the run-up to Christmas many of us like a glass or two of something sparkling. Some of the time it is swallowed without too much thought, unless it is truly awful or something really special that kick-starts our taste buds. But it is worth taking a little time to buy something decent: your family and friends will thank you for it.

The two national favourites are prosecco and champagne. I rarely refuse a glass of good champagne, although it can be very expensive. As far as I am concerned we reached peak prosecco some time ago, so I am delighted to see the range of sparkling wines in our shops expand to include some really interesting, reasonably priced wines. This week, a few more offbeat choices from the Loire Valley, Portugal and even the Czech Republic, as well as an inexpensive champagne that will get any party going.

 I wrote about t-nats earlier this year. These are naturally sparkling wines (the name is short for pétillant naturel), lightly fizzy and sometimes quite funky too. Some are a little cloudy with the leftovers from fermentation. A glass before dinner can be very refreshing and a whole lot more interesting than a prosecco. The Portuguese PT Nat Pinot Noir below is a milder version, with plenty of fruit and a light sparkle.

Wines labelled Brut Nature, including two of the bottles featured below, will have virtually no residual sugar, and if you are used to drinking sweetish prosecco they may come as something of a shock to your system. But both are well worth trying.

If you do want to serve champagne, it usually makes sense to pay more than €30, as inexpensive bottles rarely offer good value for money. There are, however, a few exceptions, such the Monsigny below or the very tasty Granzamy Brut Champagne (€29.95, O’Briens). For more adventurous palates, O’Briens also has the very tasty Australian Croser Brut Rosé (€24.95). Dunnes Stores has the excellent grown-up, refined bone dry Champagne Lombard Brut Nature Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs (€45). Terroirs, in Donnybrook in Dublin, has a great selection of grower- or domaine-bottled champagnes. My favourites include the Agrapart 7 Crus (€69.50) and the Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (€59.50). I always enjoy a glass of the excellent Bénard-Pitois 1er cru Champagne (Whelehans, €36.95). One of the finest grower champagnes I have tasted in recent months is Leclerc Briant (€59, siyps.com, Green Man Wines). Of the bigger names in champagne, Bollinger, Louis Roederer and Charles Heidsieck are all on top form at the moment. Expect to pay €55-€65 for all of these.

Two final pieces of advice. Don’t serve your sparkling wine too cold; half an hour in an ice bucket will kill all flavour. And do serve plenty of nibbles – all wine, including sparkling, tastes better with a little food.

Tuffeau 2017, Blancs de Blancs Brut Nature, Domaine Plou
12%, €19.50-€19.95
Delicious crisp sparkling wine with lovely clean apple fruits, finishing dry. Grown-up fizz with a touch of class; great value for money. Serve with mixed tapas. From Cass & Co, Dungarvan, cassansdco.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie

Veuve Monsigny Fireworks Champagne NV
12%, €22.99
Elegant with crisp green apple fruits, a touch of lemon zest and a lick of buttery brioche. Quality champagne at an affordable price. For larger parties create a real stir with a magnum (€50). From Aldi, aldi.ie

Uivo PT Nat Pinot Noir Rosé 2017, Portugal
12.5% €23
Very pale in colour, lightly effervescent, with tasty redcurrant fruits and a yeasty edge. From Liston’s, Camden Street, Dublin, listonsfoodstore.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, Dublin, baggotstreetwines.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin, clontarfwines.ie

Krásna Horá Blanc de Noir Brut Nature 2016, Czech Republic, Biodynamic
12%, €40
Delicious clean, fresh Granny Smith apples, with a creamy texture and subtle notes of brioche. A bone-dry, long, palate-cleansing finish. An aperitif with cheese straws or toasted almonds. From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie

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My Favourite Festive wines from Aldi

First published online in the Irish Times 16th November, 2018

Aldi has been working hard to improve its wine range, and now have a pretty decent core range of wines.  These are my favourites from its Christmas line-up, which are set to be available from all 133 of its Irish stores.

Veuve Monsigny Celebration Champagne NV
12%, €22.99 (magnum €50) 
Aldi’s Cremant de Jura (€11.99) is one of the best-value fizzes, but if you fancy splashing out a bit, this is a very upmarket champagne, with crisp green apple, a touch of brioche and a decent finish. Very good value.

Castellori Soave Superiore Classico 2017
12.5%, €6.49
Decent light, fresh green-apple fruits with a dry finish. Perfect for parties and with lighter seafood dishes. Quite incredible at the price.

Limestone German Riesling 2017, Pfalz
12%, €8.99
Floral, with light, fresh crisp red-apple fruits and a touch of honey; fairly dry. As with the Soave above, great value for money. Party wine.

Lot Series Lot XI Australian Chardonnay 2017, Clare Valley & Margaret River
13%, €13.99
Google tells me that Clare Valley is more than 2,700km from Margaret River, so this is a unique cross-regional blend. The wine is pretty good: fresh, clean tropical and pear fruits, crisp, almost elegant. Decent value for money.

Redwood Hills Single Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018
13%, €9.99
I’m not a huge Marlborough Sauvignon fan, but this is a very reasonable, well-priced version. Lightly aromatic with lime zest, passion fruit and pears.

The Venturer Series Costières de Nîmes 2017
13.5%, €7.49
Decent medium-bodied red with inky dark fruits; very quaffable, and decent value.

Exquisite Collection Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2016
14%, €9.99 
Smooth, well-made ripasso. Not too sweet or extracted, with pleasant dark-cherry fruits.

Lot Series Tasmanian Pinot Noir 2017, Tasmania
13.5%, €13.99
Light, supple juicy raspberries and piquant redcurrants. You won’t mistake it for some of the more serious Tassie Pinots, but this is excellent value for money. With duck, game birds or tuna.

Barone Bruni Chianti Classico Riserva 2015
13.5%, €11.99
Soft, easy, ripe, sweet red-cherry fruits; easy-drinking wine to go with most red or white meats.

Exquisite Collection Amontillado Sherry
18%, €7.99 (500ml)
Sherry lovers should certainly not miss this, a delicious, piquant, concentrated dry sherry with plenty of toasted nuts, dark fruits and a lovely finish. Outstanding value for money.

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New Irish whiskies to dream about for Christmas

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 24th November 2018

Distiller Alex Chasko had a broad smile on his face when I visited Teelings recently. The company is understandably excited about the commercial release of its first whiskey distilled in its own distillery in the Liberties. It believes this is the first whiskey that has been distilled and aged in Dublin for 50 years. Made from 50 per cent unmalted spring barley and 50 per cent malted barley, the whiskey is triple distilled and matured in a combination of virgin oak, ex-wine and ex-bourbon barrels.

Whiskey lovers will be familiar with Green Spot and Yellow Spot, Jameson whiskies that were originally aged by wine merchant Mitchell & Son in its warehouse. Today Green Spot carries no statement of age (it hasn’t for many years), while Yellow Spot is a 12 year old. This Christmas sees the release of Red Spot 46%, a 15-year-old single pot still whiskey, finished in Sherry and Sicilian Marsala casks. Jonathan Mitchell, who remembers bottling the original Red Spot, is delighted. “The re-launch of Mitchell’s Red Spot is, to me, like the return of an old friend after many years away. You invariably say ‘you haven’t changed a bit’; in this case it’s true!”

Meanwhile, Powerscourt releases three new expressions of whiskey. The distillery has been going since June, and now has some 550 barrels of spirit starting the maturation process. The Fercullen Premium Blend “is a very nice balanced whiskey”, says distiller Noel Sweeney, who worked at Cooley Distillery for many years.

“The 10-year-old Fercullen Single Grain Whiskey has vanilla which will please those who like bourbon style, but it is less concentrated or tannic. We wanted to keep the attributes of the sweet Irish spirit alongside those nice bourbon flavours of honey, oak and lemon.”

The 14-year-old Fercullen Single Malt has “a hefty malt cereal note which I really like and then the oak age and wood come in to it”. This was not finished in another cask. “Whiskey at that age doesn’t need messing around too much – for our first release we wanted the age and the whiskey to shine through.”

Lough Gill distillery is being developed in the historic Hazelwood Estate in Sligo. It is working with Billy Walker, one of Scotland’s most respected distillers, who was voted Global Distiller of the Year in 2015. This weekend it releases limited quantities of three new whiskies, all 14-year-old single malts, at Whiskey Live (see whiskeylivedublin.com for tickets) at The Printworks, Dublin Castle, under the Athrú brand.

Lough Gill has yet to begin distilling on the estate. The equipment has started to arrive, and will be followed by the pot still in mid-December. The plan is to begin distilling in April or May next year.

Fercullen Premium Blend Irish Whiskey, Powerscourt Distillery
40%, €45
Seductive mellow vanilla spice, with lemon zest, orchard fruits and a lightly toasty finish.
From: Mitchell & Son, chq, and Sandycove, mitchellandson.com; online from Powerscourtdistillery.com; The Celtic Whisky Shop, celticwhiskeyshop.com.

Teeling Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
46%, RRP €55
Light vanilla with floral notes, very pure clean fruits on the palate, with a lovely kick on the finish. A very attractive, subtle young whiskey.
From: Teeling Whiskey Distillery, Teelingwhiskey.com; Dublin Airport; The Celtic Whiskey Shop, celticwhiskeyshop.com, and specialist off-licences.

Red Spot 15 Year Old Single Pot Still Whiskey
46%, RRP €115
A wonderful rich powerful complex whiskey, creamy with red apple fruits, plenty of spice and very seductive toasted nuts and leather. A real Christmas treat.
From: Mitchell & Son, chq, and Sandycove, mitchellandson.com; The Celtic Whiskey Shop, celticwhiskeyshop.com, Redmonds, Ranelagh; Redmonds.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; McCambridges, Galway, mccambridges.com; Galvins, Cork, Galvinswine.ie.

Athrú Keshcorran 2018 14 year old Single Malt Whiskey, Lough Gill Distillery
48%, €149
Superb, elegant whiskey with complex notes of ripe pear, honey, ginger spice, and orange peel. An excellent long finish.
From: The Celtic Whiskey Shop, celticwhiskeyshop.com.

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Bordeaux wines that don’t cost a fortune

When it comes to a roast of beef or lamb, bordeaux is hard to beat.

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 16th November, 2018

As one of the best-known names, Bordeaux can command a premium price for its very top wines. Sadly these days, a bottle of the very best classed-growth Bordeaux costs hundreds of euro, out of reach for most of us. However, less expensive Bordeaux can offer great value for money, and ranks as one of the great food wines.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you drink it with Christmas turkey (the tannins can clash with both turkey meat and cranberry sauce), but, judging from sales over the festive period, most of the country disagrees with me.

When it comes to a roast of beef or lamb, though, Bordeaux is hard to beat. If you are catering for vegetarians and vegans, roast red peppers, mushrooms (great with many red wines) and cheese dishes all go well with red Bordeaux.

Most retailers bring in a selection of Bordeaux for the Christmas season, so here we present a round-up of the best on offer from budget busters to the very finest.

For those on a budget, SuperValu has the ever reliable Chateau Pey Latour (€9 on promotion), and 64 Wine the very attractive fruit-filled Chateau Canon La Foret (€14). Lidl has Chateau Carpena Côtes du Bourg (€9.99), which I marginally preferred to its Côtes de Bourg, Chateau les Graves de Cau (€8.99). Dunnes Stores has Chateau Darzac and Chateau Bois Pertuis (both €12.50).

Moving up in price, Molloy’s Liquor Stores has an ambitious new range of Bordeaux, from €18.95 to €33; my pick of the bunch was the €24.95 Chateau Moulin Borie (see below). O’Briens Wines can always be relied upon to have a good selection; this year my star picks include the fine elegant Chateau Mauvesin-Barton 2014 (€25.95), the soft-maturing Chateau Rolland de By (€28.95) and the fruit-filled Chateau St Marie (€15.95). Among its excellent selection of Bordeaux, Terroirs in Donnybrook has two organic wines, the supremely elegant margaux Chateau Mille Roses 2015 (€39.50) and the very attractive Les Demoiselles de Falfas 2016 (€24.50).

As might be expected, Mitchell & Son is not short on options when it comes to Bordeaux; I would certainly be happy with a bottle of Chateau La Justice 2015 (€21.95) or, at a less elevated price, Cuvée des Abeilles 2015, Chateau d’Auzanet (€14.95) and Grand Bateau Bordeaux (€16.95). If you fancy visiting Bordeaux, Mitchells will be running a wine trip there next summer; see mitchellandson.com for details.

Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown is another good source of Bordeaux. From its tasty selection, Chateau le Crock 2010 St Estèphe (€45) is a seriously good wine, and I was very taken with the Chateau La Fleur Pourrot 2012 St Émilion Grand Cru (€35).

Bordeaux de Gloria 2016, Bordeaux
12.5%, €19.95
A very attractive elegant bordeaux with blackcurrants and a touch of spice, finishing on a lightly tannic note. Roast lamb or beef.
From La Touche, Greystones, latouchewines4u.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Higgins, Clonskeagh; O’Driscoll’s, Cahersiveen, Co.Kerry; Grape & Grain, Leopardstown Inn, leopardstowninn.ie; Londis, Malahide; Drinkstore, Manor Street, Dublin, drinkstore.ie

Chateau Moulin-Borie 2015, Listrac-Moulis
13.5%, €24.95
Ripe, smooth and sophisticated with concentrated red fruits overlaid with spice, and well-integrated tannins on the finish. Try it with a roast of beef.
From Molloy’s Liquor Stores, molloys.ie

Chateau Lamarsalle 2014, Montagne St Émilion, Biodynamic
13.5%, €28
Delicious vibrant claret, loaded with ripe damsons and blackberries, a good backbone of tannin and excellent length.  A great match for roast beef, lamb or a rare steak.
From 64 Wine, Glasthule; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, elywinebar.ie

Chateau le Puy Barthelemy 2011, Côtes de Bordeaux, Francs Biodynamic
13.5%, €135
Forward, ripe dark fruits, some undergrowth and a long dry finish. Supremely elegant and long. With an aged fillet of beef.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, redmonds.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; siyps.com

 

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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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