Archive for Irish Times

A seasonal taste of Venice and Milan

This article was first published in The Irish Times, 9th July, 2022

Time for a spritzer or spritz? The Italian classic is a great warm-weather drink

Spritzers and spritzes are hugely popular throughout the year but consumption really takes off when summer comes around. Generally lower in alcohol and drunk well chilled, they make great warm-weather drinks and are the favourite aperitif in Venice, Milan and other northern Italian cities.

The difference between the two? A spritzer is made from wine and sparkling water, a spritz from Aperol or some other alcoholic bitters or liqueur and (usually) sparkling wine, prosecco being the favourite, and sparkling water. Various legends exist as to how a wine spritzer was invented but the most likely seems in Hungary or Austria, where the newly invented carbonated water was added to wine to make a sparkling wine.

The classic, and by far the most popular, spritz is the Aperol or Veneziano. Once consumed exclusively in Venice, it has gained popularity around the world over the past decade. Aperol is an Italian bitter, made from various ingredients including gentian, rhubarb, bitter and sweet oranges and cinchona. It is a vibrant orange colour. To make an Aperol spritz, fill a very large wine glass with plenty of ice, add three parts prosecco to two parts Aperol, and one part sparkling water. Garnish with a slice of orange and serve.

Aperol was invented in 1919 by brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri in Padova. The Aperol spritz was created in the 1950s and soon gained popularity as a refreshing low alcohol pre-dinner drink. Lidl has Bitterol, a cheaper alternative, for half the price of Aperol, available for some parts of the year.

However, there are plenty of other options. These days, any mix of liqueur with sparkling water or wine can be called a spritz and the possibilities are endless. Campari, the classic north Italian bitter, is drier than Aperol. To create a Campari spritz simply mix Campari, Prosecco and sparkling water, or you could try a bicicleta, made with still white wine, Campari and sparkling water. Negroni fans can enjoy a sbagliato, made with Campari, sweet vermouth and sparkling water.

Consumers and mixologists are adept at creating new variants, using all sorts of ingredients including St Germain (elderflower), Chambord (raspberry), Limoncello (lemon) as well as various vermouths too. Basically, as long as it has something alcoholic and something fizzy, you can call it a spritz. Aperol is 11 per cent abv, so the classic spritz is lower in alcohol than many cocktails, but you can make it even lighter by adding more sparkling water.

Here are four alcoholic ingredients you can use in a spritz. Remember though that there are plenty of non-alcoholic spirit alternatives that you can use as a base for your alcohol-free spritz. Simply add sparkling water and maybe some alcohol-free wine too.

Luxardo Limoncello

27%, €22-24

Most of us will have tried limoncello in Italian restaurants as a chilled digestive. Made by macerating lemon zest in alcohol, it is fragrant, lemony and sweet. You can make your own with lemon zest, sugar and vodka. Limoncello is widely available. The Luxardo is from Celtic Whiskey.


11%, €15-20

The classic semi-sweet bitter aperitif is made from a variety of herbs, roots and oranges. It has herbal flavour with bitter oranges and citrus, finishing sweet. Widely available in off-licences and supermarkets.

Campari Liqueur

28%, €20-28

Campari is more bitter and less sweet than Aperol, and is often drunk simply with sparkling water, fresh orange juice, or as an ingredient in a negroni. Widely available in off-licences and supermarkets.

Saint Germain Liqueur

20%, €32-35

A French liqueur made from fresh elderflowers, Saint Germain is floral and fragrant with sweet elderflower flavours. Available from O’Briens, Molloy’s and specialist off-licences

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Wine on the 4th of July: Four great American bottles for Independence Day

First published in The Irish Times, 22nd June, 2022

To celebrate July 4th, here are some interesting American wines. Wine of some description is made in every US state, although the vast majority comes from California. Washington state, Oregon and New York state also produce significant quantities. Hats off to David Whelehan of Whelehan’s Wines in Loughlinstown, in Dublin, for importing a range of wines from New York state. I have included one of the wines here.

As mentioned a few weeks ago, you could also try the excellent Finger Lakes Riesling (Whelehan’s, €39) or the Washington State Château Ste. Michelle Riesling is very good value from O’Briens at €16.95. O’Briens, which offers a comprehensive range of US wines, also has a Syrah (€17.95) from the same producer.

California can take credit for introducing a generation of Irish people to wine. At a time when few people understood complicated French names, producers such as Paul Masson offered inexpensive carafes of easy-drinking wine, with labels written in English. Some even featured the grape variety — a novel idea at the time. The flip top lid meant no corkscrew was required, and once used, the carafes could be used to store pasta, rice and other kitchen staples.

Inexpensive Californian wine is still very popular here, but there are plenty of very high-quality wines available too. Sadly, many are eye-wateringly expensive. California has the fifth-largest economy in the world and a population of almost 40 million, so there are plenty of consumers happy to pay top dollar for the local produce. That said, the wines certainly compete with Bordeaux and Burgundy in terms of quality. The difficulty has always been finding mid-priced wines — those in the €15-€30 price bracket. From trips to San Francisco, I know they exist, but again most are snapped up by local consumers and rarely find their way to Ireland.

Californian wines have a reputation for being full-bodied, oaky and alcoholic, but not all are big and powerful. With more than 1,300km of coastline, and countless valleys and mountain ranges, there is a wide variety of soils and climates. Classics include rich, cassis-laden Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, fragrant exquisite Pinot Noir and elegant Chardonnay from the Sonoma Valley and various cooler coastal regions, and Zinfandel from a variety of regions.

Moving away from California, Oregon is famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Domaine Drouhin, Sokol Blosser and La Crema are all available here. In addition to O’Briens, has an excellent range of American wines, as does Mitchells.

As for food matching, full-flavoured Californian red wines go well with barbecued red meat, including burgers, steaks, and barbecue sauce, as well as vegetables such as peppers, and aubergines. Barbecued hot dogs and sweetcorn might be better with a Riesling, rich Chardonnay or a well-chilled American IPA craft beer.

Gallo Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, California

13%, €9.99

From the largest winery in California, this is a light wine with sweet plum and raspberry fruits, a touch of vanilla and a rounded finish. Try it with the July 4th barbecue — hot dogs, burgers sweetcorn and ribs.

From: Widely available from most supermarkets

Dr Konstantin Frank Cabernet Franc 2018, Finger Lakes, New York state

13%, €29

Medium-bodied with cool plum fruits, an attractive spicy, earthy note and fine-grained tannins on the finish. Try this with grilled pork or roast mushrooms.

From: Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown

Ridge Geyserville 2019, Alexander Valley, California

14.5%, €54

From one of the great names of California, this is a beautifully crafted full-bodied wine with opulent plums and cassis. There is a lovely savoury touch and fine structured tannins. Enjoy with duck, pulled pork or a very posh barbecued burger.

From:; 64wine, Glasthule; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Baggot Street Wines, D4; Blackrock Cellars; Terroirs, D4. Northern Ireland (£45): Crafty Vintners; The Vineyard, Ormeau Road; Kilkeel Wine Merchant

Journeyman Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2019, California

14.5%, €69

Rich layers of textured peach, pear and pineapple fruits offset nicely by some toasty new oak and a seam of acidity. For a real treat, enjoy it with lobster slathered with butter.

From: Baggot Street Wines, D2; Avoca, Ballsbridge and Rathcoole; Terroirs, D4;

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

A look at Pinot Blanc

The article was first published in The Irish Times, 25th June, 2022

Known as Pinot Bianco in Italy and Weissburgunder in Germany and Austria, Pinot Blanc, which makes a light, summery white wine, is widely grown but rarely gets the attention it deserves. A less colourful cousin of both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris (as in Grigio), it can make very good, occasionally excellent white wines. These days it is found mainly in Germany, Italy and Alsace in France. As an ingredient in sparkling wine, it is permitted in Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne, Franciacorta in Italy and even Champagne. As a white wine, it tends to be light and refreshing with low alcohol (and therefore a great alternative to Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc), although in Austria it produces some deliciously textured wines, as well as some decadently rich sweet wines.

Most Riesling lovers go a little giddy at the mention of the name Maximim Grünhaus. This is one of the finest and most historic estates in the Ruwer valley, part of the Mosel in Germany, and responsible for some of the most delicate, exquisite Rieslings of all. There are three vineyards, the Herrenberg, the Abtsberg and Bruderberg, that produced wine for the choirmasters, abbot and brothers respectively when it was under church ownership. There is a small plot of Pinot Blanc in the Herrenberg, which produces the wine featured here.

Georg Prieler runs an organic estate on the gentle slopes running up from the Neusiedlersee in Austria. Here he produces an impeccable range of wines including some very stylish Sankt Laurent and several outstanding Blaufränkisch. However, the wines that really impress are his Weissburgunders. As well as the Seeburg here, he offers two superb single vineyard Pinot Blancs. While not cheap, I would rank this alongside great Riesling and Chardonnay produced elsewhere.

The Hans Baer is new to me, but is a great example of inexpensive Pinot Blanc. Aldi and Lidl offered a good well-priced Pinot Blanc last summer. Sadly neither have repeated the exercise this year. I featured the excellent Kuentz-Bas (€16.95/€18.95) from O’Briens earlier this year. Elsewhere Trimbach and Hugel both offer good versions at just under the €20 mark, and Mitchell & Son has one from Sipp Mack for €17.95. At just over €20, Meyer-Fonné, Zinck, and Ginglinger are all well worth trying too. From Italy, Wines on the Green have Pinot Blanc from the highly regarded Cantina Tramin, as well as Schiopetto. I am also a fan of Franz Haas Lepus (€25.50).

As a fresh crisp dry wine, Pinot Blanc is an ideal partner for all kinds of fish and salad dishes. The more textured style is perfect with pork and chicken dishes. Try Alsace versions with onion tart, quiche and flammkuchen, and Italian Pinot Blanc with lighter risottos and frittata.

Hans Baer Pinot Blanc Trocken 2020, Rheinhessen, Germany

€11.99-€12.99, 12.5%

Snappy fresh green apple fruits with a racy zesty citrus acidity. A nice aperitif, or with grilled sea bass or white fish.

From:; Cheers Gibneys, Malahide; Mc Hugh’s D5; The Vintry, D6; Martins, D3; Londis Malahide; No 21 Cork; Matson’s, Cork; Dalys; Redmond’s D6; Myles Creek, Kilkee Co Clare; Cove Stores, Tramore; Brosnans, Schull; Jus De Vin Portmarnock; Select Carry Out and SuperValu outlets.

Maximin Grünhaus Maximin Pinot Blanc 2020, Mosel, Germany

12.5%, €20.99

Brisk and reviving with a charming perfumed nose, crisp citrus, pear and melon fruits, finishing bone dry. Try it with baked or poached salmon with dill.

From: Red Nose Wine, Clonmel; Martins, D3; Redmonds, D6;

Seeberg Pinot Blanc 2020, Burgenland, Prieler, Austria (Organic)

13% €26.50

An utterly delicious wine with inviting gently floral aromas, followed by textured pear and yellow stone fruits that linger very nicely. Enjoy it with richer fish dishes, and roast pork or chicken.

From: Martins, D3; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; 64 Wine, Glasthule; DSix, Harold’s Cross.

Dornach 1.2 Yellow Spot 2019, IGT Vigneti delle Dolomite, Italy, (Biodynamic)

11.5%, €29.50

A seductive light delicate spring-like wine with fresh herbs, thirst-quenching green fruits, and a crisp dry finish. Solo, with nibbles or light summery salads.

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Rieslings for when there is no R in the month.

I drink Riesling throughout the year, but when there is no R in the month – that is, summer – my consumption increases exponentially. I am planning a trip to Germany, the true home of Riesling, and will report back. But in the meantime, here are four bright fresh summery Rieslings from elsewhere. Most Riesling is low in alcohol with enticing aromas, pure fresh fruits and a wonderful brisk, thirst-quenching acidity. It is all about fruit; if there is any oak-ageing, it is well-used barrels that impart no flavour.

New Zealand produces a range of high-quality white wines, including Riesling. Framingham is one of my favourite producers in Marlborough, and they make an excellent range of Rieslings, including the dry wine featured here. Elsewhere from Marlborough, look out for the delicious Greywacke Riesling and JN Wine has the very good Doctor’s Riesling from Forrest for a reasonable €17.50, as well as the Felton Road Dry Riesling.

Australia might not seem the obvious place to grow a cool-climate grape, but Riesling has a long and noble tradition going back to the mid-19th century. The cooler, more elevated sites, such as the Eden and Clare Valleys, produce wines that are usually bone dry with a crisp acidity and mouth-watering green fruits. Favourites include Pewsey Vale, Henschke, Mount Horrocks, Grosset and Leeuwin Estate. O’Briens has two worth checking out; the Koonunga Hill Retro Autumn Riesling (€21.95) and the Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling, Clare Valley (€31.95).

Alsace, lying just across the Rhine from Germany, once produced steely, bone-dry Riesling with more body than their German counterparts. These days some are a little sweeter, but the best retain that wonderful austerity that goes so well with food. And, like Grüner Veltliner, Riesling is a fantastic and versatile food wine. It has a sweetness to the fruit that makes it ideal with scallops, prawns and crab. It also pairs nicely with sushi and sashimi, as well as smoked salmon. In Alsace, it is frequently enjoyed with chicken, including coq au Riesling, fatty pork and creamy sauces. And also, of course, with choucroute garnie. Slightly sweeter Riesling is one of the great matches for spicy Thai and Vietnamese seafood and chicken dishes as well as herby, spicy salads.

Looking further afield, O’Briens has the Château Ste Michelle Riesling (€16.95) from Washington, and Whelehan’s the delicious Dr Konstantin Frank Margrit Dry Riesling (€39) from Finger Lakes in New York State.

If you enjoy mature white wines, or want to build up a cellar, I find Riesling is one of the most reliable white wines to lay down (or if it is screwcap, stand up). Over the years I have stashed away odd bottles and now have a collection going back a decade or more, and I have yet to be disappointed.

Specially Selected Kooliburra Clare Valley Riesling 2020, Australia 

Specially Selected Kooliburra Clare Valley Riesling 2020, Australia

12%, €8.99

Fresh, crisp and dry, with green apple fruits and a zesty lime acidity. Great value for money and perfect with most fish dishes or mild Thai green curries — chicken or prawn.

From Aldi

Tim Smith Wines Eden Valley Riesling 2021, Australia 

Tim Smith Wines Eden Valley Riesling 2021, Australia

11.5%, €15.95

Fresh free-flowing green fruits with racy lime and lemon zest. A lovely wine at a very keen price. By itself, with crab salad, or a spicy Thai prawn salad.


Riesling 2019, Calcaires Jaunes, Muré, Alsace 

Riesling 2019, Calcaires Jaunes, Muré, Alsace

13%, €22.95

Clean as a whistle with vibrant yellow fruits, a strong mineral edge and a lip-smacking dry finish. A posh aperitif or with smoked salmon.

From Mitchells, Glasthule and CHQ, D1; Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne; MacCurtain Wine Cellar, Cork.

Framingham Classic Riesling 2021, Marlborough, New Zealand 

Framingham Classic Riesling 2021, Marlborough, New Zealand

12%, €26.99

Very moreish tangy orange peel and succulent peach fruits in a beautifully balanced wine of real quality. Enjoy solo or with all manner of fishy delights.

From Baggot Street Wines, D4; Clontarf Wines, D3;; Redmonds of Ranelagh, D6.

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Zweigelt: Four lighter complex and stylish wines.

First published in The Irish Times on Saturday 11th June, 2022

Freshly returned from a trip to Vienna, I am full of enthusiasm for Austrian wines. Grüner Veltliner, covered a few weeks ago, is the country’s flagship grape, but Austria produces a range of other world-class white wines, from Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and other varieties too. If you haven’t caught up with the changes in Austrian red wine, then you have a treat in store, and now is the time to try them out. Most have a vibrancy and freshness that makes them perfect for summer drinking. Many can be enjoyed by themselves, but these are among the most food-friendly wines of all. Don’t make the mistake of believing that lighter red wines will always be simple. They can be every bit as complex and stylish as more full-bodied reds.

The best-known indigenous Austrian red grape is probably Blaufränkisch, a variety capable of producing great wine with succulent dark fruits. Less well-known is Sankt Laurent, the best examples of which have a beguiling purity of blackcurrant and dark cherry fruits, leading some to speculate that it might be related to Pinot Noir. This has never been proven. Both of these varieties can also be found, in smaller quantities, in neighbouring countries, including Germany, Czechia, Hungary and Slovenia.

However, today a look at Zweigelt, Austria’s most widely grown red grape. A cross between the two above varieties, it has a growing reputation. The cross was made in the 1920s by Dr Friedrich Zweigelt who worked in the Austrian wine school at Klosterneuburg. The logic was simple; Blaufränkisch is late-ripening, high in acidity with firm tannins, whereas Sankt Laurent is early ripening with moderate tannins and delicate fruit. Crossing grape varieties is a hit and miss exercise, often creating something unintended. However, with Zweigelt it worked; it is generally mid-ripening and produces fruit-filled wine with soft tannins and acidity. Handily, it also gives good yields and isn’t too fussy where it was grown.

Not surprisingly it has grown in popularity, both in Austria and elsewhere. The best wines generally come from Burgenland and Carnuntum and vary in style from crowd-pleasing light fruity summer wines to quite serious bottles that repay ageing. I have tasted sparkling, sweet and rosé Zweigelt, but the vast majority are light and fruity, leading to comparisons with good Beaujolais. And, like Beaujolais, they go with a wide variety of foods, from richer fish dishes to cold meats, firm cheeses, schnitzels, roast pork and mushroom risottos. I find they go really well with grilled chicken and pork chops and other foods that we love to serve from the barbecue.

As well as the four wines below, I featured one of my favourite Zweigelts, the Pittnauer Heideboden (€22-25) in this column last month.

Zweigelt 2021, Niederösterreich

13%; €12.50

Lively, juicy ripe raspberry and red cherry fruits with no oak flavours and a smooth rounded finish. A good all-rounder to partner with medium-bodied pasta recipes, white meats and tomato dishes. From:Marks & Spencer.

Allram Rosé vom Blauen Zweigelt 2021, Niederösterreich

12%; €19.95

An attractive salmon pink colour, with subtle rhubarb and redcurrants fruit, good persistent acidity and a bone-dry finish with a gentle tannic bite. With sushi, sashimi, and light shellfish dishes. From: DrinkStore, Dublin 7; Thomas’s of Foxrock; Nectar Wines, Dublin 18; SC Grocer, Monkstown, Co Dublin.

Judith Beck Ink 2020, Burgenland, Biodynamic

12%; €20.35

Made from a blend of 80 per cent Zweigelt and 20 per cent Sankt Laurent, this is a delicious exuberant fruit-filled wine bursting with red cherries and raspberries. Perfect summer drinking with firm cheeses, charcuterie, chicken and pork dishes. From: Saltwater Grocery, Dublin 6; Avoca, Ballsbridge and Rathcoole, Co Dublin; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2; Bradleys, Cork; DrinkStore, Dublin 7; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2; Gibneys, Malahide; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6; Martins, Dublin 3; The Wine Pair, Dublin 8; Pop-up shop at Ballymaloe; L’Atitude, Cork.

Zweigelt Nouveau 2021, Dorli Muhr, Carnuntum1

12%; €27

Delicious silky smooth vibrant dark fruits that dance around the palate. Free of tannins, this is a posh picnic wine to enjoy lightly chilled with an array of cold meats, salads and cheese. From: Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare; Lilith Wines, Dublin 7; Sweeneys, Dublin 3.

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Lowish alcohol white wines ideal for summer evenings

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 28th May, 2022

The Irish summer is notoriously unreliable, but we are a positive nation and always try to suck up every last minute of sun. As temperatures rise and we venture outdoors to enjoy the sunshine, we start seeking out more refreshing, lower alcohol wines to drink alongside summer salads and lighter fish and chicken dishes.

We are looking for enticing vivid, citrus-laden crisp wines with bright flowing fruits, wines that will satiate and quench our thirst. Alcohol levels for red wines seem to be on a steady increase, but it is still relatively easy to find lowish alcohol whites, ideal for those long summer evenings.

Don’t ignore richer white wines completely though; with more substantial dishes, they can really shine. A Chardonnay, Viognier or Rhône-style blend, especially those with a little oak ageing, can provide an excellent partner for salmon, chicken and pork served with creamy sauces, barbecued white meats and fish, as well as mild curries.

Our go-to white wines are Marlborough Sauvignon, Rías Baixas and Pinot Grigio from the Veneto, all great options. Check the label for alcohol levels, as they can vary in strength, remembering that producers are allowed a leeway .5% either way. There are plenty of alternatives though.

I am always drawn towards Italian white wines, most of which are 12.5% or less. This includes Soave and the nervy fresh wines of Trentino and Campania. As well as the Ribolla Gialla featured here, I would be tempted by the i Clivi Ribolla Gialla (€22.50, 64 Wine) for a special occasion.

Elsewhere you could look out for most dry or off-dry Riesling from Austria, Germany, Alsace or Australia, Grüner Veltliner from Austria, or fresher unoaked Chardonnay. Portugal and Spain offer plenty of choice. Alvarinho and Vinho Verde from Portugal are made for summertime drinking.

The green verdant Loire Valley in France produces a bevy of summer whites, often at great prices, from Muscadet to Sancerre, including many great Sauvignon Blanc. Don’t ignore other grapes such as Chenin Blanc and Melon de Bourgogne.

Here are four different countries and four different grapes featuring as wines of the week, and no Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Albariño, Riesling or Chardonnay among them.

Ribolla Gialla 2021, Venezia-Giulia, M&S Found, Italy 12%, €11 Light crisp orange peel and pears with subtle almonds. This would be great with herby pasta dishes, or clam linguini. From: Marks & Spencer

Domaine du Haut Bourg Pavillon 2020, Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu sur lie 12%, €17 A very moreish summery Muscadet with succulent sprightly pear and apple fruits finishing dry. Perfect with a bowl of mussels, cold shellfish, or creamy goat’s cheese salads. From:Wines on the Green, D2.

Wagner Stempel Sylvaner Siefersheim 2021, Rheinhessen (organic)12%, €22.50-23 A joy to drink; pure limpid pear and apple fruits scented with fresh herbs and a thirst-quenching citrus. Drink it by itself or with al fresco salads and picnics. From: 64 Wine, Glasthule; Blackrock Cellar.

Xisto Ilimitado Branco 2020, Douro Valley, Portugal 12.5%, €24 Zesty and bright with lively stone fruits, pears and a strong mineral backbone. Wonderful wine; I can see myself sipping a glass of this looking out over the Douro Valley. Try it with grilled oily fish including salmon, or chicken salads. From: 64 Wine, Glasthule; Sweeneys D3;; Pinto Wines, D9; Baggot Street Wines, D4; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Loose Canon, D2; Green Man Wines, D6; Lennox Street Grocer, D8; Lilith, D7.

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

In search of lower-alcohol red wines Four bottles, four countries, four grape varieties, and all with an ABV of 13% or less

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 21st May, 2022

I have been contacted by several frustrated readers unable to find lower alcohol wines. Lighter white wines are easier to find than reds; in general, white wines and sparkling wines tend to have higher acidity and less alcohol. Most are 13 per cent ABV or lower and very few reach 14 per cent. Many of those from cool climates, such as Muscadet, Austrian Grüner Veltliner and Australian Riesling are frequently less than 12.5 per cent, and the great German Rieslings are often less than 10 per cent.

Finding a lighter red wine can be tricky. Part of the problem is climate change. Regions such as Bordeaux once typically produced red wines at 12.5 per cent – 13 per cent alcohol; these days 14 per cent and 14.5 per cent is common. But it is also a stylistic choice by the producer. Red grapes are picked later when they are considered fully ripe. They have less acidity and higher sugar levels and as a result the wines will have more alcohol.

I suspect that many consumers in this country and other markets prefer richer red wines. There is something very seductive about a glass of velvety ripe fruit-sweet red wine – the alcohol provides texture, warmth and balances the tannins. Lighter reds tend to have higher acidity and taste fresher. This is not always to everyone’s taste, although the best have a delicious juiciness that is hard to beat.

I suspect it is going to become easier to find lower alcohol red wines in the future, as the multiples try to offer cheaper wines; under the new alcohol regulations, lower alcohol wines can be sold at lower prices

I suspect it is going to become easier to find lower alcohol red wines in the future, as the multiples try to offer cheaper wines; under the new alcohol regulations, lower alcohol wines can be sold at lower prices.

This week, the first of the summer reds; four wines from four different countries each made from a different grape variety and all with an ABV of 13 per cent or less. There will certainly be more as we move into summer.

Beaujolais, one of my favourite wines, tends to be lighter in alcohol, including the “crus” or villages such as Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent and Brouilly. The Domaine des Nugues below has been one of my go-to wines for many years. While there are many very insipid wines produced in Bardolino, wines such as the La Prendina are perfect in warm sunny weather. If you don’t live close to a Marks & Spencer, O’Briens has the delicious vibrant fruity Rizzardi Bardolino Classico Cuvée XV (13 per cent) for €15.45.

Many of the red wines from Austria and Germany (both have relatively cool climates) are lighter in alcohol. As well as the Zweigelt featured here, look out for wines made from Pinot Noir (sometimes called Spätburgunder here) and Blaufränkisch.

All of these wines should be served cool. As the weather warms up, you could even consider drinking them lightly chilled.

Bardolino 2020, La Prendina Estate 13%, €11 Light crunchy red cherry fruits, with a herby, earthy edge. This would be great with grilled fish or whipped goat’s cheese with roast peppers. From Marks & Spencer.

Beaujolais Villages 2018, Domaine des Nugues 13%, €19.50-€20 Utterly delicious smooth ripe but juicy dark and red fruits with very light tannins on the finish. A delight to drink, either by itself, with charcuterie, firm cheese, and most white meat recipes. From; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Beshoff, Howth.

Thörle Spätburgunder 2018, Rheinhessen 12.5%, €21.95 Juicy ripe red cherry fruits with a lively peppery note. A true vin de soif. Drink this cool with tuna, duck breast, or risotto primavera. From the Corkscrew, D2.

Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden 2019, Burgenland, Austria 12.5%, €22-€25 A lightly earthy fruit-filled treat with vibrant dark berries, and soft easy tannins on the finish. A great picnic wine, or with dishes featuring cooked tomato sauces. From Drink Store, D7; The Corkscrew, D2; Martin’s Off Licence, D3; Morton’s, D6;; Mitchell & Son, D1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

The Côtes du Rhône: A great source of less expensive wine.

This article was first published in The Irish Times, Saturday 14th May, 2022

If you are heading off to France on holiday this summer, it is worth keeping the name Côtes du Rhône in mind, as it is an ever-present on lists in cafes and restaurants and on supermarket shelves in most parts of the country. This is not surprising as the Côtes du Rhône appellation is the second-largest in France (after Bordeaux).

Typically these are supple, warming, easy-drinking, food-friendly wines that don’t cost the earth. While quality certainly increases as you pay more, I find inexpensive Côtes du Rhône one of the more reliable options. This is partly down to the warm sunny climate, perfect for ripening grapes, but also the generosity of the Grenache grape. There are no fewer than 21 permitted grape varieties for Côtes du Rhône, but the vast majority of the wines are a blend of Grenache with varying amounts of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault.

Grenache is a thin-skinned grape that typically produces wines that are full of ripe jammy fruit, low in acidity and light in colour and tannins. This makes them ready to drink as soon as they are bottled. But beware! They can also be quite high in alcohol, anything up to a heady 15% ABV. However, these days many producers are picking a little earlier and 13-14.5% is far more common. Once dismissed by many wine-lovers, Grenache is enjoying renewed interest, not just in the Rhône but also in parts of Spain, its original home, where it is known as Garnacha.

Food-wise, the wines of the Rhône offer plenty of opportunity. In winter, drink it alongside rich beef stews and roast game. In summer it will go very nicely with most grilled and barbecued foods, including gourmet sausages and burgers, as well as pork, lamb and beef.

The wines of the Rhône are divided up into a quality pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid, there are some 171 villages entitled to call themselves Côtes du Rhône, and another 95 villages permitted the superior Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation. The next step up is to Côtes du Rhône Villages with a village name attached, such as the Valréas below. At the top of the triangle is a small number of villages entitled to simply use their own name. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the best-known of the group, which also includes Gigondas, Rasteau, Cairanne, Vacqueyras and others.

Much of the production is in the hands of large negociants and co-operatives, but there are plenty of small producers producing great wines. Of course, you don’t have to travel to France to enjoy the wines of the Rhône; there are plenty available here at home too.

Côtes du Rhône Villages 2020, Lidl 13.5%, €8.49 Medium- to full-bodied with soft rounded strawberry fruits – this would go down nicely with richer beef or lamb stews, roast lamb or baked Mediterranean vegetables. From Lidl

Côtes du Rhône Samorëns 2020, Ferraton Père & Fils 14.5%, €14.95 A smooth, rich, easy-drinking red with soft dark fruits, a touch of garrigue and a rounded finish. Enjoy alongside a pepperoni or mushroom pizza, posh burger or a steak sandwich. From O’Briens

Clos Bellane Côtes du Rhône Villages Valréas 2019 (organic) 14.5%, €23 Velvety, voluptuous blackcurrants and plums with savoury black olives and a refreshing note. Drink alongside a côte de boeuf or a vegetarian Wellington. From Ely Wine Store, Maynooth.

Poignée de Raisins 2020, Gramenon, Côtes du Rhône, Biodynamic14%, €26.50 Lovely wine; restrained yet full of lovely, gentle, ripe dark cherries with a fresh, juicy edge. Enjoy with a gourmet burger (including vegetarian) or grilled lamb chops.  From; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, D2; Kells, Co Meath; Galway;; Lennox Street Grocer, D8; Green Man Wines, D6; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth,; Provender Bread & Wine, D8.


Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

The changing taste of Malbec: from fruit bomb to subtle elegance

First published in The Irish Times, 25th January, 2020

Who doesn’t like Malbec? It seems to be the red equivalent of Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that pleases all and grows in popularity every year

Who doesn’t like Malbec? It seems to be the red equivalent of Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that pleases all and grows in popularity every year. While these two favourites come from opposite sides of the globe, Argentina and New Zealand, they do share something in common; consistently good quality across the various styles and price categories. Both also have a recognisable taste profile that just about everyone enjoys.

When it first arrived on our shores, most of the wines were big, extracted fruit-bombs, the kind favoured by wine drinkers who prefer power over substance. But Malbec from Argentina has changed; there has been a move towards higher-altitude vineyards that produce lighter more elegant wines, and winemakers are seeking to produce wines with a sense of regional diversity. Although you still wouldn’t ever describe them as shrinking violets, there is much more subtlety to the wines now.

Typically, they are medium- to full-bodied with lush ripe fruit and soft tannins. Some have a lovely fragrance and good acidity, giving them a real elegance. Provided they haven’t been overoaked, also less common than it once was, most of the wines have wonderful pure dark fruits. The big wines haven’t gone away completely; done well they can be very welcome on cold winter evenings.

Cahors in France is the other region that majors on Malbec. South-west France could be described as the original home of this variety. In the past many were fiercely tannic and sometimes very earthy. But while Argentina has taken most of the limelight, the wines of Cahors have improved hugely and can be every bit as good as their South American counterparts, although different in style. It is rare to find Malbec in Spain, but the wine featured below is well worth trying.

Happily, for those on a budget, less expensive Malbec can be very good indeed whether from France or Argentina. Dunnes Stores has the French Levalet Malbec for €10 and the Alamos Ridge for €12.50, Aldi has the Exquisite Collection Malbec (€7.99), Spar & Londis has Las Celia, Marks & Spencer has a wide range, and O’Briens the Norton wines. All of these are good well-made wines that don’t cost too much.

At the top end, there is no shortage of great wines; my own favourites include Amalaya, Colomé, Mendel, Catena, Altos Las Hormigos, all widely available, Achaval Ferrer (JNwine), Susana Balbo (Wines Direct). From Cahors, Clos des Gamots (Wicklow Wine), Le Combal (€19.50, Terroirs) and Causse de Théron are worth seeking out in independents, as is Château de Croisille (€19.95, O’Briens).

Both styles of wine are great with food. Steak remains the favourite to accompany Malbec, but the lighter styles are well-suited to other red and white meats, including Mexican food, game and, for vegetarians and vegans, rich bean casseroles.

Ocho y Medio Malbec, La Mancha, Spain, 13%, €12.95

Ocho y Medio Malbec, La Mancha, Spain, 13%, €12.95
Ocho y Medio Malbec, La Mancha, Spain, 13%, €12.95

 An easy, light, juicy Malbec with clean blackcurrant fruits sprinkled with a touch of spice. This would sit nicely alongside pork chops with a tomato sauce.

From: O’Briens,

Pascual Toso Malbec 2017, Mendoza Argentina, 13.5%, €13.95-14.95

Pascual Toso Malbec 2017, Mendoza Argentina, 13.5%, €13.95-14.95
Pascual Toso Malbec 2017, Mendoza Argentina, 13.5%, €13.95-14.95

 A perennial favourite and a perfect example of Argentinian Malbec; rich meaty ripe dark fruits, rounded tannins and good length. Perfect with all kinds of red meat. The Toso Selected Vines (€19.95) is even better.

 From: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Ely 64, Glasthule,; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3,; Drinkstore, D7,; Egans, Portlaoise; Worldwide Wines, Waterford,; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny,; O’Donovan’s, Cork,; McCambridges, Galway,; Dalys, Boyle.

Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec 2018, Uco Valley, Argentina, 13.5%, €18.50

Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec 2018, Uco Valley, Argentina, 13.5%, €18.50
Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec 2018, Uco Valley, Argentina, 13.5%, €18.50

  A medium-bodied wine with lovely pure sweet ripe plum and loganberry fruits, a meaty concentration mid-palate and a clean lightly tannic finish. Very good value for money. With steak, roast shoulder of lamb or pork chops with chimichurri.

From: La Touche, Greystones,; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Sweeneys D3, 

Causse de Théron “Terrasse” 2015, Cahors, 13% €22.99

Causse de Théron “Terrasse” 2015, Cahors, 13% €22.99
Causse de Théron “Terrasse” 2015, Cahors, 13% €22.99

Lively lifted aromas, silky smooth red and black fruits – raspberries and blackberries – with a soft, lightly tannic finish. Perfect with roast duck or pork, lamb shanks, or baked mushrooms.

From: Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,; The Malt House, Trim; Lucey’s – The Good Food Shop, Mallow,;

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Four wines worth a few euros more

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 18th January, 2020

Four to try taht are worth spening a little more more on

Can a bottle of wine be worth €500,000? In 2018, Sotheby’s auctioned two bottles of 1945 la Romanée Conti, a very fine Burgundy, for just over $1 million (€894,000), making these the world’s most expensive bottles of wine.

This seems a bargain compared to the $1.9 million (€1.6 million) paid for a bottle of Scotch, the Macallan 1926, last year.

People delight in giving wine lovers tastings designed to make them look foolish. Wine tasters are one of the few groups of critics who regularly submit themselves to blind tastings. You could apply similar tests to lovers of other drinks, food, perfume, fashion and art with similar results. Our senses are notoriously unreliable judges of value, although professional wine judges are usually pretty accurate.

The truth is that no wine is worth half a million euros, or even five hundred, any more than a designer bag can really be worth €5,000 or more, or a Ferrari upwards of €200,000. At a certain stage, you are paying for rarity and slick marketing. For some, it is an investment, related to resale value, for others simply a way of announcing to the world that they have accumulated wealth.

Posh bottles

Leaving these luxury items aside, most of the time, most of us can tell the difference between a €10 bottle of wine and one costing €30. If a producer is lucky enough to own vineyards in the right place, and knows how to nurture vines and make really good wine, why would they sell it for €2 a bottle when they know a buyer will pay multiples of that? Conversely, if a winemaker forces vines into producing huge yields, and indulges in all sorts of perfectly legal interventions, they can sell at their wine a much lower price. But the wine won’t taste as good.

Given our high duties rates, all wine in Ireland will usually be more expensive than in other jurisdictions. The new alcohol regulations are designed to do away with ultra-cheap wine (often sold below cost) and the incessant promotions used by the multiples to entice us into their shops. I hope it will encourage us to drink less wine, and also to drink better wine.

Over Christmas, I opened up quite a few posh bottles, wines that cost me anything from €20-€50 a bottle. Only one was disappointing. The rest were a joy to drink, and good value for money, particularly when compared with wine prices in restaurants.

I made a resolution to drink less, but better in 2020. Believe me, once you go over €10-€12 a bottle, you will notice the difference. This week, four wines, all available from independent wine shops, that are worth a few euros more.

Muros Antigos Vinho Verde 2018

12.5%, €14                         

Floral aromas, succulent green apples and pears, with zesty citrus peel. Fresh as a spring morning. Try it with light leafy salads, and fish with herbs and lemon.

Stockists: Wines on the Green, Dublin 2,; Nolan’s, Dublin 3,; McCabes Wines, Dublin 18,

d’Arenberg Hermit Crab 2016, Mclaren Vale

13%, €16.95

A perennial favourite of mine, rich in mouth-watering textured apricots, peaches and cantaloupe, finishing on a dry, refreshing note. This would be great with herby, spicy Asian seafood dishes; Vietnamese prawn salad?

Stockists: Donnybrook Fair,; Deveney’s, D14; Grapevine, Dalkey,; Shiel’s, Malahide; Kellys, Dublin 3,; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3,; The Malt House, Trim; La Touche, Greystones,; Egan’s, Drogheda; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork,; Morton’s, Dublin 6,; O’Donovan’s, Cork,

Mitchell & Son Claret 2015, Bordeaux Superieur

13.5%, €15                   

A very well-priced Bordeaux with elegant ripe blackcurrants and red cherries with soft tannins and an easy finish. Perfect with the Sunday roast.

Stockists: Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne,; Myles Doyle, Gorey; Wilde & Green, Dublin 6,; O’Driscolls Off Licence, Co Kerry

Colle Morino 2017, Barba, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

2.5%, €16.50                         

A fresh, light easy-going wine with supple red cherry and damson fruits and not a tannin in sight. Instantly gluggable, this is a great all-purpose wine to go with lighter red meats, most white meats and hard cheeses. Perfect pizza wine too.

Stockists: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, Galway,;; Ely 64, Glasthule,



Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →
Page 2 of 28 12345...»