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THE WONDERFUL WINES OF SICILY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rieslings from Aldi, Wittmann, Zinck and Immich-Batterieberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Warmer days mean lighter wines.

Bring out those lighter reds and refreshing white wines that may have seemed anaemic a few weeks ago

 

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 27th April, 2019

I am tempting fate, but as I type the sun is shining, the sky is a lovely clear blue and the garden is erupting into life – mainly with a lot of unwelcome weeds, or flowers in the wrong place, as my mother insists on calling them. On Wednesday most of northern Europe celebrates May Day, the start of summer – or is it spring? It is time to celebrate new growth and the promise of summer foods.

It’s also time to adjust our drinking habits. Now is the moment to bring out those lighter reds and crisp, cool, refreshing white wines that may have seemed a little anaemic just a few weeks ago. So, today, a quick run through some of my favourite early-summer wines, and the foods to accompany them.

How about a glass of Lambrusco, a fizzy red wine that you serve chilled? Try it. I am a big fan of real Lambrusco, one of the original pét nats – pétillants naturels, or naturally sparking wines. Bring out your inner hipster and share a glass of this low-alcohol, lightly sparkling wine with a few slices of salami, prosciutto and sourdough bread before dinner or lunch.

Sauvignon Blanc, with its aromas of herbs and greenery, is one of the great spring-summer wines, ideal with soft goat’s cheese salads, whether with beetroot, broad beans or lots of summery herbs, and also good with asparagus.

A glass of Grüner Veltliner from Austria or Riesling Trocken from Germany sings of early summer to me. Both are fairly versatile, Grüner in particular, with all sorts of food, but they come into their own with smoked food – either fish or baked smoked ham, or with lightly spiced herby southeast-Asian chicken or seafood salads. With prawns or scallops served with something citrusy, there is nothing better than a Godello or Albariño from Galicia, or an Alvarinho from Portugal.

Chablis Premier Cru, a step up in price and quality from mere Chablis, is a great wine to serve at smart summer lunches, whether with oysters (traditional), cold chicken salads or, best of all, poached salmon with a buttery sauce or herb mayonnaise. The one below is a stunner, guaranteed to impress your guests.

Is it a little early for rosé? If you are serving a mix of salads, and possibly even barbecued meats, this is one of the most versatile food-friendly wines of all. Red wines should be lighter and served cool or even chilled; with seared salmon or tuna, look to New World Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. My go-to summer wine is Beaujolais of some sort, served with all kinds of cold meats and salads, but I list two interesting alternatives below.

Bardolino “Reboi” 2017, Monte dei Roari
12.5%, €17-€18
Very inviting juicy, piquant black cherries and plums; fresh and very gluggable. With some salumi, mild cheeses and good bread.
From Sheridans Cheesemongers (South Anne Street, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway branches); siyps.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6

Altos Las Hormigas Tinto 2017, Mendoza
13.5%, €17.99
A blend of Bonarda, Malbec and Semillon (yes, the white grape), this is a very attractive, elegant wine with smooth red-cherry fruits and a rounded finish. Try it with dishes featuring herby tomatoes, red peppers or both.
From Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin 2; Donnybrook Fair, branches around Dublin; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6; Red Island Wine, Skerries, Co Dublin; wineonline.ie

Albanta Albariño 2018, Rías Baixas
13%, €10.99
Fresh, succulent pear and green-apple fruits, with a clean, dry finish. With southeast-Asian seafood and chicken salads.
From Aldi

La Chablisienne 1er cru Vaulorent 2015
13.5%, €40
Alluring, sophisticated exotic fruits given shape by a backbone of a fine, cool minerality. It finishes dry, showing great persistence. Excellent, exciting wine.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin; Redmonds, Ranelagh, Dublin 6; Vintry, Dublin 6; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Cashel Wine Cellar; Sweeneys Wines, Glasnevin, Dublin 11; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4

 

 

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Chile’s newest wines from some of the oldest vines

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 20th April, 2019

Winemaker Roberto Henriques with colleagues in the Itata valley in Chile.

 

“Everyone was going northwards, to Casablanca, Leyda and Limari, so we went in the opposite direction,” says Pedro Parra, partner in Clos des Fous, one of the first companies to make quality wine in Itata. This region, along with neighbouring Bío-Bío and Malleco, are the most southerly vineyards in Chile, a four-hour drive from the main wine-producing areas.

Until recently, Itata had been seen as a backwater, useful only for producing the cheapest jug wines for home consumption. Yet more than 400 years ago, Itata was one of the first places the Spanish missionaries planted vines, essential for religious purposes. In those days it was the humble país grape. They brought the same variety to Argentina where it is known as criolla chica, and California, where it is known as mission.

Until recently it was always dismissed as being of inferior quality. “It will never produce truly great wine,” says Parra, “But it can make a very fresh and beautiful ‘vin de soif”. Along with two other ‘lesser’ grapes, cinsault and carignan, it is an ingredient in the Pour ma Gueule (or ‘for my throat’) below. Incredibly, some of the vines here are 200 years old, making them among the oldest in the world.

Close to the coast, this is a cool-climate region that receives sufficient rain for dry-farmed vineyards, unusual in Chile. Itata was and is a very poor region, inhabited by small farmers who practise mixed farming, with corn, tomatoes, pumpkins and fruit all growing alongside the vines. The vines are completely untrained, and flop along the soil, radically different from the neat manicured rows usually found in vineyards. Poverty aside, it is a delightful region, with picturesque rolling hills and forests. The best soils are granite, “very beautiful soils”, says Parra, a highly-regarded expert in wine geology.

Clos des Fous is not alone in the region. Roberto Henríquez, a recent visitor to Ireland, is a local boy, who travelled the world making wine before returning home to neighbouring Bío-Bío, where he produces some fascinating natural wines. The larger companies, including de Martino, Torres and Concha y Toro also offer wines from the region.

I have written about in glowing terms both white and red wines from Itata before. The reds are light and refreshing with crunchy, cool red fruits; think of a cross between Loire cabernet and beaujolais. The whites vary in style but the muscat-based wines tend to be floral, with succulent crisp dry fruits; well worth trying out if you enjoy sauvignon blanc. For a while Marks & Spencer stocked a very good example for a bargain €15. Sadly this has been withdrawn. But do look out for some of Chile’s newest wines, made from some of the oldest vines.

 

Clos des Fous “Pour ma Gueule” 2017, Itata valley
14 per cent, €19.99
A blend of cinsault, país and carignan, this is a very moreish, lightly grippy wine with crunchy fresh red-berry fruits. By itself, with cold meats or ham with parsley sauce.
From Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin; wineonline.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin; Martin’s off-licence, Clontarf, Dublin 3

Montes Outer Limits “Old Roots” cinsault 2018, Itata
13.5 per cent, €23.99
Floral, with vibrant mouth-watering pure black fruits, subtle notes of spice, and a sappy dry finish. A very versatile wine that would suit salmon, tuna, cold meats or lighter cheeses.
From Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; wineonline.ie; Michael’s, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin

Rivera del Notro 2017, Itata, Roberto Henríquez
12 per cent, €24
A very engaging, gently perfumed “vin de soif” that mixes nicely textured plump orange and pear fruits with a reviving mineral acidity and a long dry finish. By itself or with grilled sea bass or bream.
From Loose Canon, Drury Street, Dublin 2; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin; Coach House, Ballinteer, Dublin 16

Volcánico País 2018, A los Viñateros Bravos, Itata
12.5 per cent, €22.95
Light and juicy, with captivating dark fruits, an earthy, herbal touch and fine grippy tannins on the finish. With posh sausages served with green lentils.
From Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street, Dublin 2

 

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The perfect wines to go with your Easter roast lamb

Easter parade: as lamb is one of the most wine-friendly meats of all, this is the time to show off your finest reds

First published in The Irish Times on Saturday 13th April, 2019

Easter is my favourite annual festival. The longer, brighter days have arrived, the spring bulbs are in full bloom, and we have the promise of summer and sun ahead – even if they later fail to appear.

Easter is all about hope. It also allows me to indulge in some of my favourite wines. As lamb is one of the most wine-friendly meats of all, this is the time to show off your finest red wines. Tradition would dictate a Bordeaux or Rioja Reserva, but just about any red wine will taste better alongside roast lamb of some kind. However, it is worth trying to match your wine to the kind of lamb you will be serving.

There are few nicer ways to celebrate the arrival of spring than a roast of delicate, pink new season lamb with lots of herbs, served with new potatoes and fresh seasonal vegetables. Easter is late this year, so we may be able to find some asparagus and early salads. Here I would go for a Rioja, but a Crianza or an unoaked Joven in preference to a Reserva or Gran Reserva, or possibly a Cru Beaujolais.

I suspect many of us will be tucking in to a leg of lamb, medium rare, studded with garlic and rosemary. With this, a good Bordeaux, such as the two below, would be ideal, or a Rioja Reserva or Gran Reserva. A good Cabernet from California or Australia would also fit the bill nicely.

Lovers of Italian wine should had straight to Chianti Classico – the Isole e Olena, Fontodi or Monteraponi (€30 to €33 from independents), all tasted recently, would make the meal special. I am not a fan of cheap Chianti, though; I would much prefer the Sangiovese below, a much better bet if you’re looking for something less expensive.

You could go for any of the above options, but a lighter, fruitier wine, such a New World Pinot Noir, possibly from New Zealand, or Mencía from northern Spain, would be excellent.

Careful with the mint sauce, though: the combination of sweetness and acidity, especially vinegar, doesn’t do wine any favours. At least make sure you take a mouthful of meat between sauce and wine.

These days we are all familiar with spicier, Mediterranean-style lamb. If you have a vegetarian or vegan to please, serve your lamb with a Lebanese fattoush salad or go Moroccan, with spicy lamb served with roast peppers, aubergines and harissa-spiked hummus. This calls for bigger, spicier reds; think of a Languedoc, a southern Rhône or an Aussie Shiraz.

Château Janoy Bellevue 2017, Bordeaux
13.5%, €10.95 (down from €15.95)
A very enjoyable light, elegant Bordeaux with refined, cool plum fruits and well-integrated light tannins on the finish. Great value for money. Whelehans Wines, in Loughlinstown in Dublin, has the superior 2015 vintage of the same wine for €14.50.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Sangiovese 2017, IGT Marche, Cantina dei Colli Ripani (organic, vegan)
12.5%, €14.95 to 15.99
A very happy wine brimming with delicious juicy dark cherry fruits, and a little bit of grip on the finish to make it a perfect food wine. With lighter lamb dishes.
From La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6,greenmanwines.ie; the Little Green Grocer, Kilkenny,thelittlegreengrocer.ie; Kellys, Clontarf, Dublin, kellysofflicence.ie; Ardkeen Quality Foodstore, Waterford, Ardkeen.com.

Eggo Tinto de Tiza Malbec 2016, Zorzal
14%, €25
Your Easter egg? Concrete eggs are all the rage in wineries these days; this superb unoaked wine, with its fresh, deep, dark loganberry fruits, would go well with all sorts of roast lamb.
From La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin, clontarfwines.ie.

Château Tour Sieujean 2012, Cru Bourgeois, Paulliac
13%, €35
Classic Bordeaux with developing notes of tobacco leaf and black pepper, cool blackcurrant fruits, and a long dry finish. Perfect for that posh Easter celebration.
From Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin whelehanswines.ie

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The reign of Spain: How to find top-notch, great-value wine

 

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

Spanish Wine Week begins next Monday – spanishwineweek.ie has details of tastings, dinners and other events – but I am not sure that Spain needs any further help from us: its wines appear to be doing very well in Ireland.

I went to a portfolio tasting of the leading Spanish wine importer recently, and as happens every year, I was introduced to a host of new grape varieties, mostly unique to Spain. Not all were brilliant, although most were, but there was an array of unique flavours.

Spain covers all climates and styles of wine, from cool to baking hot, from the lightest, crisp, Muscadet-like freshness of a Txacolí from the Basque Country to the full-bodied Monastrells of Murcia and Valencia. Generally speaking, wines from the cooler Atlantic north tend to be white and light, and those from southern and central Spain red and warming. But vines grown at higher altitudes, or closer to the Mediterranean Sea, can produce very elegant wines, even in the deep south; the Los Aguilares Pinot Noir from Malaga (Celtic Whiskey Shop, €38) is a perfect example.

Spain has plenty of other great indigenous grape varieties: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell and Mencia for the red wines, Albariño, Godello and Xarello for whites. Even Palomino Fino, once reserved for sherry, is now responsible for some excellent table wines. As well as new regions, more established names such as Rioja, Priorat and, best of all, Sherry continue to reinvent and improve themselves.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Spanish Tempranillo is one of the best value wines in the world, and inexpensive Garnacha is not far behind, But I would suggest increasing your budget a little and go for something from €15 to €25 (or even the €31 wine below). At this price, Spain offers a host of brilliant, unique wines that offer fantastic value for money.

Spanish food has also been on something of a roll in recent years, largely thanks to a group of superstar chefs. Done simply, using the finest raw ingredients, it is one of the great cuisines of the world.

My own dream Spanish feast would start with a glass of chilled fino sherry accompanied by a plate of the finest Iberico ham, some olives, and a few toasted almonds, followed by an Albariño or Godello from Galicia alongside a plate of simply dressed seafood; then a bowl of rice with chicken and vegetables, and a glass of red wine from Valencia. Then on to the main course, grilled lamb cutlets with a glass of the finest Rioja or a lighter red from Ribeira Sacra, either of which would also go nicely with the cheese course.

Finca La Solana Monastrell 2017, Jumilla
14.5%, €9 (down from €13.45 for April) 

A substantial wine with sleek, muscular, powerful dark fruits overlaid with a touch of new oak, and a savoury dry finish. Perfect with grilled steaks or a cocido – Spanish stew with beans, vegetables and various meats, that varies by region.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Cucú 2017, Barco del Corneta, Rueda
13.5%, €18

A Verdejo like no other; rich exuberant exotic tropical fruits with a lovely citrus streak. Perfect with all sorts of spring salads.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, Ely64.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin, whelehanswines.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie.

Ube Miraflores 2017, Bodegas Cota 45
11%, €23.50

A magnificent delicate wine with clean peach and apple fruits, subtle toasted nuts and a tangy saline dry finish. Choirs of angels sang. By itself or with toasted almonds and/or the best Iberico ham you can afford.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf, Dublin 3,martinsofflicence.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, Ely64.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Loose Canon, Drury Street, Dublin 2, loosecanon.ie.

Lomba des Ares 2016, Ribeira Sacra, Fedellos do Couto
12.5%, €31

Made from a host of local grapes, mainly Mencia, this is wonderful wine. Fragrant and floral with refined refreshing cool dark cherry fruits, a nice grip and a lovely smooth finish. With charcuterie of any kind or belly of pork.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, Ely64.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Loose Canon, Drury Street, Dublin 2, loosecanon.ie.

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Mighty Malbecs with a softer side

 

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 30th March, 2019.

Malbec from Argentina is usually portrayed as the archetypal macho wine: big, powerful and masculine, and a little lacking in subtlety. It has certainly proved a hit with male wine drinkers in this country. Producers from other countries, Chile in particular, have noted jealously that many consumers are willing to pay a premium for such a bottle of Malbec.

However, not every Malbec is the stereotypical oaky alcoholic monster. There were always exceptions, but in recent years there has been a definite move among producers to make more elegant Malbec wines. By picking earlier and planting vineyards at higher altitudes, they can offer wines that are less tannic, less extracted and less oaky, as well as keeping the notoriously high levels of alcohol in check.

The wines are still not exactly shrinking violets, but the change has brought forth a new style, with a seductive fragrance, and wonderful pure dark fruits. While the older style was essentially limited to partnering robust food such as grilled steak, the more modern Malbec is far more adaptable, while still providing a great match to barbequed beef.

Argentina has always been famous for its high-altitude vineyards. It can no longer boast it has the highest vines in the world – according to the Guinness Book of Records, that honour now belongs to Nepal, which has a vineyard at 3,500m above sea level. However, it does have the highest concentration of commercial high-altitude vineyards.

Grapes grown at high altitudes benefit from greater radiation and increased photosynthesis. Combined with cold nighttime temperatures that ensure good acidity, this produces wines with a wonderful depth of fresh pure fruit.

Bodegas Colomé in Salta owns some of the highest vineyards, at more than 3,000m above sea level. They also have vines dating back to 1831 in their remote estate, a three-hour bumpy drive along dirt tracks.

The Amalaya listed below is produced from grapes grown at 1,800m. Meanwhile, the team behind Altos Las Hormigas are planting vines in new high-altitude sites with unique soil profiles. They are now also producing wine in Cahors in southwest France.This is the original home of Malbec, where it was once part of the Bordeaux blend of grapes.

In the past produce from Cahors, where Malbec is known as Cot, could be very earthy and tannic, but these days there are some excellent wines. From independents, look out for wines from excellent biodynamic producer Fabien Jouves, or from the more traditional, but equally good, Clos des Gamots.

As well as the Le Croizillon below, O’Briens have the Osmin Malbec (€13.95) and a very moreish organic Silice (€18.95). There is no shortage of inexpensive Malbec from Argentina, including the Exquisite Argentinian Malbec from Aldi (€7.99), the Alamos Malbec (€15) and the ever reliable Pascual Toso Malbec.

Le Croizillon 2017, Chateau Les Croisille, Cahors

12.5%, €15.95
Delicious, gluggable, bouncy dark cherry fruits with a refreshing acidity. Enjoy lightly chilled with pork, chicken and all kinds of nibbles before dinner. Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Amalaya Calchaquí Valley Malbec 2017

14%, €20.99
Soft and supple with delicious, refreshing loganberry and raspberry fruits, rounded off with a touch of spice. To go with empanadas, kebabs or grilled lamb chops. Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, baggotstreetwines.com; wineonline.ie; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie.

Altos Las Hormigas Mendoza Malbec Clásico 2018/2017

13.5%, €21.99
Lifted floral aromas and bright, elegant red cherry and raspberry fruits, with soft well-integrated tannins on the finish. To go with grilled foods: beef, pork, chicken or Mediterranean vegetables. Stockists: Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie

Bodega Colomé ‘Auténtico’ Salta Malbec 2017

14.5%, €41.99
Enchanting aromas of violets and dark fruits. This explodes in the mouth with intense, perfectly ripe dark fruits, balanced by excellent acidity and structured tannins. Keep a few years or serve now with grilled beef or lamb. Stockists: wineonline.ie;  The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie.

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Graham Norton: earthy, floral, spicy … and that’s just his new gin

Irish gins: Boyle’s Irish Botanical Gin, Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, Graham Norton’s Own Irish Gin and Method & Madness Irish Gin

 

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday March 23rd, 2019.

This week, a look at four Irish gins, two very new and two more established.

Graham Norton’s Own wines, from Italy, New Zealand and Australia, have been hugely successful in Ireland. Now the team have come together to produce a gin distilled in west Cork. Flavoured with 12 botanicals, including fuchsia, rosehip and gooseberries, Graham Norton’s Own Irish Gin seems destined for the same commercial success.

The shop assistant at Dublin Airport told me that Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin outsold all of its rivals put together. It may be the distinctive blue bottle or the unique flavours, which include gunpowder tea, but it seems to be one of the success stories of the Irish spirit revival.

Founded by the veteran drinks entrepreneur Pat Rigney, Drumshanbo last year sold more than 100,000 cases, with a turnover of €7 million. In November Rigney will launch two pot-still whiskies; next year he plans to open a visitor centre at the distillery in Co Leitrim.

Rigney says the reason for his gin’s success is simple: “It has a real story and a real distillery, it tastes fantastic and it has great packing. I have been travelling for 30 years and picked up all sorts of ideas from far-flung places. What I set out to do is work very hard to create a gin that will compete with the best in the world. It really is capturing the imagination; Irish people buy it in the airport to bring to friends all over the world.”

As well as making Cork Dry Gin, Irish Distillers was a pioneer of small-batch gin, releasing Crimson in 2005; it was very good but ahead of its time. Now it has returned with Method & Madness, the first gin to use gorse flowers, alongside black lemon and a range of spices. It was distilled in Ireland’s oldest gin still, Mickey’s Belly (named after a man who worked in the distillery), which now resides in the microdistillery at Midleton, in Co Cork.

Regular readers will know that Blackwater No 5 is one of my favourite gins. The distillery that makes it also makes Boyle’s Irish Botanical Gin for Aldi. The company was set up by Peter Mulryan, a veteran drinks journalist, writer and TV and radio producer. Its new, truly artisan distillery, in a converted hardware store in the picturesque village of Ballyduff, Co Waterford, will open to the public from April onwards, with luck to coincide with Waterford Festival of Food, at the end of the month. The first trial whiskeys have been distilled (and look fascinating) but need a few years’ ageing before being bottled.

Boyle’s Irish Botanical Gin

40%, €24.99
Made by Blackwater for Aldi, this is a delicious gin, with subtle fruits and refreshing citrus on a firm base of spice and juniper. Amazing value for money.
From Aldi

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin

43%, €45-50
A very nicely balanced smooth gin with plenty of juniper, backed up with musky spicy coriander and a unique fresh herbal note.
From Off-licences and supermarkets nationwide, as well as travel-retail stores

Graham Norton’s Own Irish Gin

40%, €39
Aromas of juniper and light spices, with classic flavours of pine resin and earthy spice on the palate, finishing with bright floral notes.
From SuperValu

Method & Madness Irish Gin

43%, €50
Lemon zest and subtle floral notes on the nose, lightly spicy with clean refreshing orange and lemon citrus on the palate.
Stockists: Widely available from off-licences, as well as travel-retail stores

Gin Experience Dublin, a gin-tasting event, takes place at the Printworks at Dublin Castle on April 12th and 13th; tickets from ginexperiencedublin.com and the Celtic Whiskey Shop

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