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Why this New Zealand white wine is always welcome

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc: Insight, Dog Point, Babich Black Label, Greywacke

 

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 9th November, 2019

The name Kevin Judd may not be familiar to you, but if you enjoy a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, you owe him a debt of gratitude. Judd is one of a small group of people responsible for creating one of our favourite wines and making it famous around the world. Judd was the person in charge of the first 25 vintages at the famous Cloudy Bay winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, before setting up Greywacke, his own label. Cloudy Bay, along with Montana (now known as Brancott Estate) were the first to produce a style of Sauvignon Blanc that quickly took the world by storm. It was pungent, perfumed and intense, with flavours variously described as gooseberry, freshly-cut grass, herbs, boxwood, peas, asparagus, and even famously as “tom cat’s pee on a blackcurrant bush”.

The unique Marlborough climate (a long growing season and huge differences in day and night-time temperatures) gave Marlborough Sauvignon (Savvie to locals) a distinctive style with piercing fresh lime zest acidity combined with gooseberry, grapefruit, passion fruit, mango and other ripe fruits.

Marlborough is still doing well, he says “although climate change is now a real issue – there is no doubt; the evidence is there. 2012 is the last cool vintage we had here. More scary is the warning we can expect more storms and other extreme weather events. Not all of this is bad though – I like a riper style of Sauvignon Blanc, therefore the warmer vintages actually suits my style of wine.” Judd, along with a few others, now makes a more subtle, richer, less aromatic style of Marlborough Sauvignon.

The Greywacke wines are made at Dog Point, another blue-chip Marlborough winery owned by two friends, from a mix of bought-in and estate fruit. As well as two Sauvignon Blancs, he makes an excellent age-worthy Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir. In some ways, Judd wishes we drank a little less Sauvignon Blanc. “I wish people would try our other wines, our Chardonnay in particular,” he says. He, and New Zealand in general, also makes some great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The overall standard of Marlborough Sauvignon is pretty high. Some of the less expensive versions can be a little sweet and confected, but overall there is a good consistency and quality at every price point. Every wine retailer will have a few Marlborough Sauvignon on offer, including Dunnes Stores, SuperValu, Marks & Spencer, Aldi and O’Briens, usually priced at €10-€15. Pay a few euros more, and you can enjoy some fantastic complex wines, including those from Greywacke.

Insight Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018
12.5%,€12.95 during November and December
Fresh and zesty with intense aromas of herbs and peppers followed by a lively palate of mango, pears and grapefruit. Perfect with a Thai chicken curry.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Dog Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018
13.5%, €25-27
Perfumed with crisp lemon zest, mouth-watering tropical fruits and a very long dry finish. Excellent wine. Try it with oysters or grilled white fish strewn with fresh herbs.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ieJnwine.com; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie

Babich Black Label Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018
13.5%, €25
A beautifully textured rich Sauvignon with ripe tropical fruits cut through with lime zest. Try it with prawns with mango or salmon with dill and butter.
From Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Drinkstore, D7, drinkstore.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Nectar Wines, D18; Sweeneys D3, sweeneysd3.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; The Vintry, Dublin 6, vintry.ie; Terroirs, Dublin 4, Terroirs.ie; The Grape Vine, D9.

Greywacke Marlborough Wild Sauvignon Blanc 2016
14%, €34.99
A wonderful complex Sauvignon, with creamy textured ripe peaches and subtle toasted nuts, underpinned by a crisp herbal citrus acidity. Drink with seared scallops with lime or smoked salmon.

From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Ely 64, Glasthule, Ely64.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3 clontarfwines.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Donnybrook Fair,donnybrookfair.ie; Sweeneys D3, sweeneysd3.ie; O’Briens, obrienswine.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; The Parting Glass, Enniskerry, thepartingglass.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6; Redmonds.ie; Thomas’s of Foxrock, thomasoffoxrock.ie; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie; The Wicklow Wine Co., Wicklow, wicklowwineco.ie

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Amarone: The bad boy of wine doesn’t have to be a clumsy brute

 

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 2nd November, 2019.

Amarone has a reputation as the big bad boy of the wine world – rich, powerful and alcoholic, a wine without subtlety or elegance. It is hugely popular in Scandinavia, Germany and the US where those warming qualities are appreciated on freezing winter nights. But while Amarone is certainly big, it doesn’t have to be a clumsy brute.

On a recent trip to the Veneto with O’Briens , I saw the start of the Amarone process with two of their producers, Guerrieri-Rizzardi and Musella. Bunches of grapes were being laid out on trays to slowly dry and raisin for up to three months, before being fermented into wine.

It seems logical that grapes destined for Amarone would be picked late; in fact, the opposite is the case, as young healthy grapes with good acidity make for better Amarone, according to winemaker Giuseppe Rizzardi. “You want ripe grapes, but not over-ripe; we pick earlier than for Valpolicella and Ripasso – looser bunches are better for drying too”.

Traditionally the grapes were dried in cellars in the hills above the autumn fog line, thereby avoiding botrytis. These days it is a more technical affair with the use of temperature and humidity control, although at both Guerrieri-Rizzardi and Musella the drying or appassimento is done naturally with open doors and a machine to circulate air.

Amarone can only be produced in the Valpolicella region and must be made from grapes that have been dried until at least December 1st, and then fermented to a minimum of 14 per cent alcohol. In practice, most producers dry them for a longer period, and ferment to 15 per cent or more. The finished wine must be aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels, four for a Riserva.

Traditionally Amarone was seen as a vino da meditazione, a meditation wine to be enjoyed after a meal, with some aged Parmesan and a few crackers. Sandro Boscaini of Masi once told me that he liked his Amarone with aged Parmesan and a dribble of acacia honey.

Rizzardi argued his Amarone is more flexible than this. “The concept of drinkability is important. Ours is a wine to drink with ox cheeks, wild boar, or venison.”

It also pairs well with all sorts of substantial winter fare; ribs, beef stews, game and risotto – risotto all ’ Amarone of course, robust meaty pasta dishes and blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola. As it is high in alcohol, you simply drink less.

I tasted my way through 14 Amarone, including most of best-known brands and supermarket wines. The appassimento process means far less wine is produced, so the wines are rarely cheap. Inexpensive Amarone tends be oaky and sweet and generally is best avoided.

Amarone della Valpolicella Alpha-Zeta 2016 (main image)

15%, €35.95

An attractive, livelier more youthful style of Amarone with clean fresh damson and dark cherry fruits, along with hints of spice. Drink it with substantial red meat dishes.

From:

Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Ely 64, Glasthule, Ely64.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3 clontarfwines.ie; Thomas’s of Foxrock, thomasoffoxrock.ie; Drinkstore, D7, drinkstore.ie; Dwan’s Off-licence, D16; McHughs, Dublin 5, mchughs.ie; Wineonline.ie

Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2011, Guerrieri-Rizzardi

16%, €39.95

Voluptuous expansive dark chocolate and ripe plum fruits; smooth, complex and long; a very stylish wine. A glass after dinner with cheese.

From: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva 2011 Musella (biodynamic)

15%, €52

Developed forward slightly herbal soft fruits on the nose, enticing pure dark fruits, balanced and very elegant with lovely grip and length.

From: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Amarone della Valpolicella Rosson 2011

15.5%, €75

A magnificent wine with layer after layer of developed brooding complex raisined dark fruits and figs, and a finish that goes on forever. A true vino da meditazione.

From:

SIYPS.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Ely64.com; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co. Meath, Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com.

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Languedoc love: Four great red wines from artisan producers

Domaine de la Sarabande Misterioso; Château Coupe-Roses Les Plots; Domaine Saint Antonin; and Les Petits Apôtres

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 26th October, 2019

The Languedoc is like an old friend. It was the first wine region I visited (under a metre of snow!), and I have been back countless times for both work and leisure.

Most of this vast region is both beautiful and uncrowded, perfect for a timeless, stress-free holiday. Despite the influx of tourists and foreign residents, it always seems less developed than neighbouring Provence, with a character all its own. House prices are reasonable and its weather is considerably better than our own. And it makes some great wines.

Despite a government-sponsored vine-pull programme, the Languedoc remains the largest single vineyard region in the world, with 30,000 growers farming 300,000 hectares, or 741,000 acres, of vines. It produces roughly a third of all French wine, far more than Bordeaux. These days the term Languedoc includes the Roussillon as well, reaching from the Spanish border to Montpellier.

As holidaymakers will be well aware, there is no shortage of cheap glugging wines; the Languedoc has more than 300 co-operatives that are responsible for 80 per cent of all production. These days the wines are a lot better, ranging in price and style, and many are fantastic value. The inexpensive, slightly rustic reds are great everyday dinner wines over the winter months. But for me the real excitement starts with the plethora of small estates making some seriously exciting wines. This week’s four wines are made by genuine artisan producers. The wines are not all blockbusters, either.

Not surprisingly given its size, the Languedoc has a vast array of soils and climates. As a result, virtually every red and white grape has been planted, sometimes with spectacular results. Cooler regions are making increasingly good wines from grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, alongside traditional red varieties such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. White wines account for only about 10 per cent of production, but they are still worth checking out; Picpoul de Pinet is growing in popularity, and Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourbelenc, Roussanne and Marsanne all show real promise.

Every shop will have some inexpensive wines from the Languedoc. Dunnes Stores has always stocked a strong range at all price levels, and, if you really want to splash out, Wines Direct (winesdirect.ie) has two of the region’s greatest wines, Domaine de l’Hortus and Mas Jullien, among many other gems, and Red Nose Wines (rednosewine.com, curiouswines.ie) has the region’s flagship Mas de Daumas Gassac wines.

Domaine de la Sarabande ‘Misterioso’ 2016, Faugérès
14%, €16.95
A lovely rich, smooth, warming wine with masses of delicious ripe, dark fruits and a savoury touch of black olives and some dried herbs. The Languedoc in a glass. Eat with posh sausages, or a roast of pork.
From Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, Co Dublin, and at Avoca in Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath, mitchellandson.com

Château Coupe-Roses Les Plots 2017, Minervois (biodynamic)
13.5%, €21.50
A light, elegant Minervois with subtle, restrained dark fruits, a savoury edge and an easy, dry finish. Try it with parmigiana di melanzane or charcuterie.
From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; siyps.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie

Domaine Saint Antonin Faugérès, Cazalet 2017 (organic)
14.5%, €22
A very moreish, smooth, rounded wine with very attractive dark fruits and touches of liquorice and dried herbs. Great with most red meats, but I drank my bottle with lightly spiced Moroccan lamb meatballs.
From Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Cabot and Co, Westport, Co Mayo, cabotandco.com

Pinot Noir Les Petits Apôtres 2018, Domaine de Bon Augures, Pays d’Hérault (biodynamic)
13%, €22.50
A delightful, light, pure, delicate Pinot Noir with vibrant, crunchy dark cherries. Piquant and very delicious, this opened up beautifully over the course of an evening. Feathered birds of all kinds; turkey, chicken or duck.
From Cabot and Co, Westport, Co Mayo, cabotandco.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; No 1 Pery Square, Limerick, oneperysquare.com

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Why don’t we see more Cabernet Sauvignon in Irish wine stores?

 Catena Cabernet Sauvignon, Montes Alpha Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon, Mitolo Jester McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon and Clos du Marquis Saint-Julien

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 19th October, 2019

It is the world’s most popular and most famous grape, grown in virtually every wine-producing country, from China to Lebanon. It is a major component of many of the world’s greatest wines, from Bordeaux to Australia, California, Chile and even Italy.

So why don’t we see more Cabernet Sauvignon? I counted fewer than a dozen bottles with the word Cabernet on the label at my local wine shop, and not even that many at Tesco. True, they had many Bordeaux, some of which would have contained a proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon, but others wouldn’t; on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, Merlot rules supreme, augmented by Cabernet Franc, an earlier-ripening cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is only in Médoc and Pessac-Léognan that Cabernet Sauvignon is dominant.

Part of the problem is Cabernet Sauvignon can be dry and tannic in its youth. Merlot, on the other hand, is ready to drink straight away. This is why the Bordelaise have traditionally blended the two varieties together. One retailer I spoke to said that her customers were more likely to ask for Merlot or Pinot Noir by name.

Another reason for blending is the “doughnut hole”: Cabernet has plenty of aroma, structure and length but can be a little hollow; Merlot (or in Australia Shiraz) fills the centre palate with fruit. Winemakers are allowed to add 15 per cent of another variety to a wine, so a wine labelled Cabernet Sauvignon may actually contain a sizable dollop of Merlot.

South America offers Cabernet in all price brackets; Chile made its name with Cabernet Sauvignon, and still has substantial ungrafted plantings; the wines are typically forward and full of ripe fruits. Those from Argentina tend to be rich, powerful and smooth. Western Australia and Coonawarra both produce some great Cabernet, as does Stellenbosch, in South Africa. Napa Valley, in California, is home to some of the very finest, and most expensive, Cabernets of all.

Classic Cabernet Sauvignon flavours include blackcurrants, cassis and plums, as well, sometimes, as hints of mints and cedar, usually with a good backbone of tannin and acidity (unless it comes from a very warm climate). It is one of the great food wines. Just about any red meat, preferably rare, will go well with Cabernet Sauvignon; choose from steak, roast beef, lamb, ribs, beef cheek, duck breast, venison, meatballs and burgers. Vegetarians should look at mushrooms, red peppers, creamy, cheesy vegetable bakes with beans, and hard cheeses such as Cheddar.

Today, a mini-celebration of Cabernet from four countries, in four very different categories, and all ready to drink. I didn’t want to feature very expensive wines, but the Cathy Corison Napa Valley Cabernet (€132 at Green Man Wines) is amazing.

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina 13%, €20.99
Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina 13%, €20.99

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina
13%, €20.99
Elegant and smooth, with cassis and blackcurrants overlaid with hints of cedar and herbs. Try it with grilled lamb chops or a fillet steak.
From Donnybrook Fair, Dublin 4, donnybrookfair.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Deveneys, Dublin 14; Fresh Outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.ie; Wicklow Wine Co, wicklowwineco.ie; the Yard Food Market, Dublin 8.

Montes Alpha Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Chile  14.5%, €23.99
Montes Alpha Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Chile  14.5%, €23.99

Montes Alpha Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Chile 
14.5%, €23.99
A very elegant, linear Cabernet with ripe damsons and blackcurrants, a touch of spice and very fine tannins on the finish. A rare steak with chips, or roast stuffed Portobello mushrooms.
From 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale, Co Cork; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Fresh Outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; Dwan’s Off-licence, Dublin 16; wineonline.ie 

Mitolo Jester McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Australia  14.5%, €24.99
Mitolo Jester McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Australia  14.5%, €24.99

Mitolo Jester McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Australia 
14.5%, €24.99
Made partly using the Amarone method, this is a rich powerful, smooth Cabernet with soft, gently rippling ripe dark cherry and cassis, overlaid with dark chocolate. Pair with a grilled or barbecued butterflied leg of lamb.
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Fresh Outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.ie; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Sweeneys, Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie; Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; wineonline.ie 

Clos du Marquis 2006, Saint-Julien 13.5%, €99.99
Clos du Marquis 2006, Saint-Julien 13.5%, €99.99

Clos du Marquis 2006, Saint-Julien
13.5%, €99.99
From Médoc, in Bordeaux, this wine is only 44 per cent Cabernet, but it tastes as if the grape makes up a lot more of it. Impeccably balanced and restrained, with fresh blackcurrant fruits and lead pencil and a long, dry finish. Fully mature. Perfect with a rare roast of beef or lamb.
From jnwine.com

 

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Fantastic full-bodied red wines to help you ward off winter blues

Three of this week’s wines cost less than €12, the other less than €20. All four should help ward off those winter blues

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 12th October, 2019

I’m cold. Yesterday was balmy and sunny, and although you could feel a slight autumnal edge, it was still almost summery. Today is wet – very wet – and, for the first time, cold. The central heating is back on after a quiet few months.

Straight away, I search for a ripe and gently soothing bottle of wine to ease me into autumn. It is not quite Amarone weather yet (we shall visit there soon), but a substantial red is required, something with body and warmth and possibly a nice rustic edge.

I also begin thinking about buying some beef shin to make the first casserole of the season, to be served with creamy mashed potatoes. Or maybe some lamb, for a rich rogan josh. Or that sweet potato curry recipe I saw recently. Already all of those leafy salads look less appetising, and those crisp, light white wines less attractive.

The Spanish do a great line in stews and casseroles, usually simply called cocido. A Monastrell from Yecla or Jumilla would do nicely, but Spain produces a fantastic range of wines made from Garnacha, often at bargain prices. Most of them have a generous dollop of alcohol, too. I include one this week. Spanish-wine lovers know that the Calatayud region produces some fantastic Garnacha. The one on this page is made by David Seijas, formerly head sommelier at the famous El Bulli restaurant, and a former colleague, Ferran Centelles.

I like plenty of spice and a bit of heat in curries, but both can play havoc with wine. With a rich lamb curry or a tagine, I would go for a red wine with some ripeness, a decent amount of alcohol and little or no oak. A Shiraz or Merlot from Australia should work well, as would the Garnacha.

My sweet potato curry would probably go better with a white wine, but I don’t want white, and, with plenty of spice and some toasted nuts, I reckon it would go nicely with most substantial red wines, including the Barossa Merlot or Norton Malbec here. Around this time of year, vegetarian dishes with mushrooms, including porcini and chestnuts all go well with fuller-bodied reds.

I often also look to the southern Rhône for a bit of autumn sustenance. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the best-known name but not a cheap option. Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Cairanne can be a better bet, and the villages of Côtes du Rhône can offer excellent value. Three of this week’s wines cost less than €12, the other less than €20. All four should help ward off those winter blues.

Aldi Côtes du Rhône Villages Signargues 2018
14.5%, €8.99
Smooth and powerful, with supple, dark fruits and a nicely rounded finish. Try with boeuf bourguignon, a Provençal daube or a bowl of Irish stew.
From Aldi, aldi.ie

Norton DOC Malbec 2016
14%, €12.95 (down from €18.95 for October)
A very well-made modern Malbec with good, clean, pure loganberries and dark forest fruits, plus a light spiciness. Plenty of oomph but never overpowering. Perfect with beef stew, or mushroom casseroles.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Barossa Merlot 2017, Australia
14.5%, €11.80
Soft, ripe plums and cassis in a rounded winter warmer. Great with curries and tagines.
From Marks & Spencer, marksandspencer.com

Mimetic 2018, Gallinas de Piel, Calatayud
14.5%, €19.95
A rich and powerful wine with masses of smooth, ripe dark fruits, offset perfectly by a subtle acidity and light tannins; gentle yet concentrated, this is a lovely wine. Pair with cocido and other stews.
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Bradley’s, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Cinnamon Cottage, Rochestown, Co Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare, elywinebar.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview, martinsofflicence.ie; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; stationtostationwine.ie

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Soave and sophisticated: the Italian white wine that’s bouncing back

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday, October 5th, 2019

 

The imposing Castello di Scaligeri towers over the medieval walled town of Soave, whose narrow streets run down the mountainside on to the plain below. It is a beautiful and vibrant place, well worth a visit if you are in the area. The vineyards surrounding the town and stretching into the distance are used to make Soave, one of Italy’s best-known white wines.

There are two very different kinds of Soave, however. The grapes used to produce Soave Classico grow on the slopes beside the castle and high on the opposing hillsides. On the plains below you will find the vines used to produce simple Soave. There is a world of difference between the two. The top wines of Soave Classico stand comparison with the finest white wines of Italy and elsewhere. With a few exceptions, most basic Soave is at best a pleasant, simple, lightly fruity white wine.

Soave lies east of Verona, an hour or so from the shores of Lake Garda. In the late 20th century the area expanded to include many inferior vineyards. The primary grape here is Garganega, although others are permitted, including Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonnay. If allowed, Garganega can produce very large yields, which in turn lead to some very dilute, flavourless wines. During this period many producers also planted the high-volume but inferior Trebbiano Toscano.

For several decades one or two large companies and the enormous local co-operative exported large quantities of these insipid wines to the United States and northern Europe with great success. It didn’t do much for the image of Soave. Consumers moved on to more exciting, better-made wines from the New World. Happily, things are changing. There always was a small coterie of producers who remained focused on making high-quality wine; they have been joined by a group of younger, more ambitious growers.

Even though inexpensive Soave can be a little watery and lacking in flavour, frequently I find them inoffensive compared with other cheap wines. Tesco, Lidl and Aldi all have decent examples for between €5.99 and €10.

Good Soave Classico can be divided into two rough camps: crisp and zesty, or a richer and broader style. Either way, they should have an energy, a vibrant character that makes them very attractive. They are low in alcohol, and usually unoaked, and so make an ideal alternative to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. Cantine Pra (jnwine.com, €20.50), Inama and Gini are also worth seeking out. Soave is a great sipping wine, as well as being the perfect partner for all sorts of shellfish, seafood, salads and lighter creamy pasta dishes.

Soave Classico “Costeggiola” 2017, Guerrieri-Rizzardi
13%, €15.45
A very attractive, slightly richer style of Soave, with broad honey and apple fruits, brought to life by a fine vein of crisp mineral acidity. Try it with seared salmon or with scallops.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Soave Il Selese 2017, I Stefani
13%, €18.50
A vibrant crisp, dry Soave, with clean citrus and apricot fruits. Perfect on its own or with grilled white fish or lighter pasta dishes.
From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; siyps.com; First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8, firstdraftcoffeeandwine.com

Soave Classico 2017, Suavia, Organic
12%, €22
Light and refreshing, with enticing floral aromas, and fresh, lightly textured pears, finishing bone dry. The perfect aperitif, or with all kinds of antipasti.
From Sweeneys, Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; McHughs, Dublin 5, mchughs.ie

Pieropan Soave Classico 2018
12%, €22.99
The Pieropan single-vineyard Calvarino is amazing, but this “basic” Soave Classico is a glorious, elegant wine with a lightly floral nose, intense lemon zest, pears, and almonds, finishing long and dry. Solo, with melon and prosciutto, or any plain shellfish dishes.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare, elywinebar.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2, fallonandbyrne.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.com; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; McHughs, Dublin 5, mchughs.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin; stationtostationwine.ie; wineonline.ie

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Four big, elegant (and organic) Sicilian Nero d’Avola for less than €20

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday, September 22nd, 2019

Powerful Italians: Ciello Rosso, Fabrizio Vella, Tenuta la Favola and Baglio Rosso organic Nero d’Avolas

 

Grape varieties are to winemakers as raw ingredients are to chefs: they may not be able to change the basic nature of the grapes, but depending on where they grow them, and what they do in the cellar, they will end up with very different wines. Nero d’Avola is an example.

It is the most widely planted red grape in Sicily. Grown on the island’s enormous hot, arid plains, it produces powerful, full-bodied wines, with plenty of alcohol and tannin. Nobody is quite sure where it came from. Some believe it is simply the Nero, or Black One, from Avola, a town on the southeastern coast; others argue that its other name, Calabrese, suggests it comes from Calabria, across the Strait of Messina, on the Italian mainland.

Either way it has been important to the Sicilian economy for centuries, producing huge quantities of uninspiring but deeply coloured wines that were often blended with lighter wines. You will rarely find it outside Sicily, which seems strange, as it is ideally suited to warm, dry climates.

Until recently all of the more ambitious wines made from Nero d’Avola belonged to the big-is-beautiful school. Beefy, dense and often aged in new oak, these were huge wines with huge structure. Done well, these go perfectly with robust red-meat dishes many of us will be eating over the winter, or with barbecued beef during the summer. My absolute favourite is Gulfi Neromaccarj (€42.95 from jnwine.com).

Yet there are other styles of Nero d’Avola. Some use it to make very ripe, rounded appassimento-style wines with semi-dried grapes. (Try Nero Oro Appassimento, which costs €15.95 from O’Briens.) Alternatively, grown at higher altitudes, or close to the cooling effects of the sea, the same grape can produce much lighter wines with delicious pure, juicy fruits. These offer a far more digestible alternative to the bigger style, and can make for a great party wine. They also go really well with a wide variety of foods, including lighter pizza and pasta dishes, as well as medium-bodied cheeses.

Forty per cent of Italian vineyards are organic, a higher proportion than anywhere else, so all of the wines I feature today are organic. They also come in at less than €20 a bottle, and offer great value for money.

Cantine Rallo, Ciello Rosso ‘Nero d’Avola’ Terre Siciliane IGP (organic)
12.5%, €12.85-€14
Light, juicy, ripe plum, red cherry and strawberry fruits, with a subtle earthy touch. On its own or with pizza, focaccia or arancini.
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare, elywinebar.ie; Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com

Rosso Organico 218, Fabrizio Vella, Terre Siciliane (Organic)
12.5%, €14.99
A very quaffable, soft, light, easy-drinking wine with mouth-watering plum fruits. Perfect on its own or with white meats – grilled chicken with spices, perhaps.
From Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.ie; Deveney’s, Dundrum, Dublin 16; Crafted, Bennettsbridge, Co Kilkenny

Nero d’Avola 2017, Tenuta la Favola Sicilia (organic and vegan)
13.5%, €19
Supple, refreshing and full of juicy, dark, ripe fruits, sprinkled with herbs. Drink solo or with tomato-based dishes, including pasta.
From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; siyps.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Eleven Deli, Greystones, Co Wicklow, elevendeli.ie

Cantine Rallo, Baglio Rosso ‘Nero d’Avola’ Terre Siciliane IGP Organic
13.5%, €19.55
Intense, pure damson fruits on nose and palate, with a slight spritz, and a fresh, juicy quality throughout. With cold meats or a crusty margherita pizza.
From Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie

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Wine importers explore beyond the beaten track

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 21st September, 2019

Over the next few months you can expect to see many new and interesting wines arrive on the shelves of your local wine shop.

Around this time of year, many importers refresh their portfolio, dropping non-performers and introducing new wines. Their enthusiasm and ability to ferret out new gems deserves recognition.

Over the next four months you can expect to see many new and interesting wines arrive on the shelves of your local wine shop. I would urge you to move off the beaten track a little and experiment. This week this space is dedicated to four very different wines; the only uniting theme is that they are made from lesser-known grapes.

Friulano has an interesting recent history; it was known as tocai friulano until the 2006 vintage. Then the Hungarian government won a legal battle in the European Court of Justice, which accepted that consumers might confuse the name with their legendary but unrelated dessert wine called tokaji. The Hungarians also managed to prevent Alsace wines being labelled tokay d’Alsace instead of pinot gris, and Australians from using the term tokay for their magnificent stickies.

A relative of sauvignon blanc, friulano is an underrated grape known as sauvignon vert or sauvignonasse elsewhere; the wines are generally less aromatic than sauvignon blanc but with more textured fruit. Chile has quite large plantings, but most are found in northeast Italy, including Friulli, from where it gets its name.

Ken Forrester is regarded by many as the king of chenin blanc in South Africa. He was one of one of the first to recognise the potential of this grape, the most widely planted variety in South Africa, to make high-quality wine. Since then, many have followed. South African chenin blanc is a completely different beast to those from the Loire, typically with richer-textured opulent fruits, and well worth trying out. They are great food wines with richer fish and chicken dishes.

Freisa is another lesser-known Italian variety, this time red and exclusively Piemontese. It is often described as “challenging”, a polite term for weird and sometimes undrinkable. It can be dry or sweet, still or fizzy. Traditional versions were often sweet to mask the tart acidity and swingeing tannins. Good modern versions such as the very enjoyable one below have light tannins and good acidity, balanced nicely by delicate sweet-sour fruit. I certainly enjoyed my bottle.

Dão is a region and not a grape. Once the source of inexpensive and fairly average wines, it now makes some of the best wines of Portugal, both red and white. The climate is temperate and the soils sandy over granite. Whatever the reason, I find the wines an ideal mix of ripe fruits, good acidity and light tannins; great to serve with all kinds of food, and usually very reasonably priced. Quinta de Saes is made from a blend of equal quantities of tinta roriz, touriga nacional, alfrocheiro and jaen, all indigenous Portuguese grapes.

Friulano 2018, Volpe Pasini, Friuli Colli Orientale

12.5 per cent, €15.50

Fresh and fruity, with textured rounded pears, bitter almonds and good clean acidity. A great aperitif, or with cold meats.

From: Wines on the Green, Dublin 2, celticwhiskeyshop.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Sweeneys, Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie

Freisa d’Asti Secco 2015, Tenuta Olim Bauda

13.5 per cent, €24.95

Lifted raspberry aromas and elegant raspberry and rosehip fruits, with light drying tannin and a pleasant tartness. Different and very delicious. Try it with a mushroom risotto.

From: Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, and Sandycove, Co Dublin, and at Avoca, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath; mitchellandson.com

Old Vine Reserve chenin blanc 2018, Ken Forrester Vineyards, Stellenbosch

13.5 per cent, €17.95

Medium- to full-bodied with textured peaches and apricots, a touch of spice and good cleansing acidity. Great with mild creamy curries, chicken korma or Cape Malay chicken curry.

From: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Quinta de Saes Tinto 2016, Dão

13 per cent, €18.99

Classic Dão flavours of sweet-sour dark cherries, blackberries and damsons. A very moreish refreshing red wine with the acidity to cut through fatty foods. Try this one with porchetta or a roast of pork.

From: Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Deveneys, Dublin 14; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Crafted, Bennettsbridge, Co Kilkenny

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Chinese, Swiss and Brazilian wine all hit the right notes

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 14th September, 2019

Magazine wine September 2019. Brazilian Soul Premium Selection Tannat, Garzón Tannat Reserva, Petite Arvine 2017 from Domaine René Favre and Pretty Pony from Kanaan Winery

The world of wine has been changing and enlarging to include countries and regions that heretofore have never appeared in any wine guide. In recent months I have tasted wines from China, India, Syria, Brazil, Uruguay, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Majorca, Tenerife and Wales. Most of them were drinkable; some were outstanding.

In world terms, few of the above register in terms of volume, with one exception – China. China has the second largest vineyard surface in the world after Spain, and was, at one stage, the fifth largest producer of wine. However, production has been declining annually since 2013, with The Drinks Business magazine reporting a massive drop of almost 40 per cent in 2018.

This could be due to falling consumer demand in hard times, despite the fact that quality has been improving in recent years. Increased competition from abroad is cited as another reason, although imports from France, Australia, Italy and Spain also fell in 2018.

The wine featured here comes from Ningxia, known for cold winters where temperatures fall to -20 degrees. Each vine has to be buried manually in November before being dug up the following April.

None of the others mentioned above feature in the top 12 wine-producing countries.

Brazil is the third largest producer in South America, after Argentina and Chile. In more tropical parts of the country, farmers can enjoy two harvests each year. Most of it is consumed in Brazil. Brazilian Soul comes from the country’s largest producer, a large co-op based in the southern, cooler and drier Serra Gaúcha region.

Neighbouring Uruguay produces less than Brazil, but does have a strong winemaking tradition going back over a century. Basque immigrants from southwest France introduced Tannat, now the country’s main grape variety, in the late 19th century. In its home territory of Madiran, Tannat can be fairly tannic, but in Uruguay it tends to be riper, softer and rounder.

Very little of the wine is exported, although here in Ireland, O’Briens have been importing them for a decade or more, and more recently some more adventurous independent wines shops have started stocking the excellent Garzon wines, from one of the most ambitious wineries in the country.

Switzerland will never dominate the world wine market, but the country has been producing very good wine – red, white and sweet – for generations. Most of it is consumed by the Swiss, so we rarely see it here in Ireland. The most popular grape is Chasselas, hardly found outside the country, and there are other Swiss varieties such as the intriguing Petite Arvine.

China aside, it is unlikely any of the above countries will compete with France, Italy or Spain in terms of volume. However, they are certainly worth investigating as alternatives to these countries.

Brazilian Soul Premium Selection Tannat 2017, Brazil
12.5%, €10-€11

Light jammy dark fruits, with a touch of cocoa and a smooth finish. Perhaps try it with feijoada, the traditional stew of beans with beef and pork.

From Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; No 21, Cork and Midleton, Co Cork; Lord Mayors, Swords, Co Dublin; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; O’Neills Off Licence, Monaghan

Garzón Tannat Reserva 2017, Uruguay
13.5%, €20

Rich, powerful wine with layers of brooding dark fruits, dark chocolate and spice. Structured and long. Perfect with roast lamb.

From Higgins, Dublin 14, higginsofflicence.ie; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, Co Louth, dundalkwines.com; The Wine House, Trim, Co Meath; Deveneys, Dublin 14; Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie

Petite Arvine 2017, Domaine René Favre, Valais, Switzerland
14%, €28.95

A subtle, enchanting wine with a palate rich in fruit, yet racy and elegant with a strong mineral, almost saline backbone. With grilled sea bass or hake.

From Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Gibney’s, Malahide, Co Dublin, gibneys.com

Pretty Pony 2013, Kanaan Winery, Helan Mountain, Ningxia, China 
14%, €52.99

Made from 90 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, this has damsons, forest fruits and dark chocolate on nose and palate, with fine dry tannins and good acidity. Good with roast beef or lamb.

From the Corkscrew, Dublin 2,thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie; Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1 and Sandycove, Co Dublin, and via Avoca, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath, mitchellandson.com

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Get a taste of California without breaking the bank

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 7th September, 2019

Viano ‘Hillside’ Red NV, Napa Valley; Folk Machine ‘Parts & Labor’ Red 2016, California; Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills; and Anthill Farms Syrah 2016, Campbell Ranch Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

 

For many wine drinkers here in Ireland, California starts and ends with two valleys, Napa and Central. The former is the Rolls-Royce, producing plush, expensive Cabernet Sauvignons that rival the best of Bordeaux in both quality and price; the latter is the engine room that provides much of the juice used to make the blush Zinfandels and other inexpensive jug wines that line our supermarket shelves.

Until recently there was very little in the middle ground between the two, where price and quality meet. O’Briens deserves credit for introducing a range of medium-priced California wines, and Marks & Spencer has the very quaffable Craft 3 Zinfandel (€15). Some of the larger producers, such as Gallo and Jackson Family Wines, have attempted to plug the gap too.

But somehow the excitement was missing – none of those smaller maverick producers making wines that make you sit up and take notice, and very few elegant, delicate wines that charm and seduce. Yet I knew they were there; on a visit with Wines of California a few years ago, I tasted some world-class Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah from cooler coastal regions, and I was bowled over by a new wave of exciting small-production wines made from every conceivable grape.

Demand for these wines in California is high, so until recently the producers were content to sell everything locally. But now, thanks to a few intrepid importers, all has changed. Some of the wines are really offbeat, such as the Parts & Labor below, made by Kenny Likitprakong, which includes an eclectic mix of Syrah from Potter Valley, 100-year-old Carignane from Redwood Valley, Grenache from Arroyo Seco and Barbera from Mendocino.

In the hills around the Sonoma Valley, along the Sonoma Coast, north into Mendocino, and south along the Central Coast, the climate is cooler, and has proven ideal for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. The climate and soils are different, and therefore so too are the wines, but some of the wines are exquisite. Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman make some of the most exciting and talked-about wines at Sandhi and several other wineries. Wines from Anthill Farms, another favourite producer of mine, are now available in Ireland for the first time.

In addition to the wines below, look out for names such as Pax Cellars, Steve Matthiasson, Domaine de la Côte, Broc Cellars, Hirsch, Schug Carneros, Orin Swift, Kosta Browne and Calera. If you do fancy trying a top Napa Cabernet, then there is no better than the Corison Cabernet 2014 (€119 from Green Man Wines), although others would prefer Louis Martini, Duckhorn, Dominus and Opus One.

Viano ‘Hillside’ Red NV, Napa Valley
Viano ‘Hillside’ Red NV, Napa Valley

Viano ‘Hillside’ Red NV, Napa Valley
13%, €18
An organic field blend of Zinfandel and Gamay; peppery, grippy, light-to-medium red fruits, with a touch of spice. Pair with grilled beef or pork, or roast Mediterranean vegetables.
From: Deveneys, Dublin 14; stationtostationwine.ie

Folk Machine ‘Parts & Labor’ Red 2016, California
Folk Machine ‘Parts & Labor’ Red 2016, California

Folk Machine ‘Parts & Labor’ Red 2016, California
13%, €26
Fresh juicy ripe damson and blackberry fruits with a lovely sweet/sour edge. Try this with grilled ribs, or maybe macaroni cheese.
From: The Coach House, Dublin 16, thecoachofflicence.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8, firstdraftcoffeeandwine.com; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; stationtostationwine.ie

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Rita Hills
Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Rita Hills

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Rita Hills
14%, €55
A soft sweet fragrance; succulent seductive ripe dark cherries and plums, with hints of spice; a wine of real depth and substance that opens out as you work your way through the glass. Try it with roast duck.
From Deveneys, Dublin 14; stationtostationwine.ie.

Anthill Farms Syrah 2016, Campbell Ranch Vineyard, Sonoma Coast
Anthill Farms Syrah 2016, Campbell Ranch Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Anthill Farms Syrah 2016, Campbell Ranch Vineyard, Sonoma Coast
13.8%, €40-€43
Medium to full bodied with violet aromas, ripe dark fruits with subtle spice, and some fine cool tannins on the finish. Lovely with food – perfect with a roast of pork, or lamb.
From: Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, Co Dublin, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath, mitchellandson.com; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare, elywinebar.ie; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie

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