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Doing dry January? Here are some great alternatives to wine

 

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 12th January, 2019

How are you getting on with your dry January? Alcohol is something of an occupational hazard for a drinks writer; it is my job to drink, or at least taste, the stuff on a very regular basis. Mine is one of the few jobs that permits you to pour a glass of wine, whiskey or beer at 9.30am. While most of us dutifully spit out everything we taste, I know that a little alcohol passes into my bloodstream with every mouthful. Hence I never drive to tastings, and keep a close eye on my consumption.

I have no problem with the concept of a dry January, but it is not really practical for a wine writer. Instead I try to avoid alcohol, when possible, for the first three days of each week throughout the year. Padraig O’Morain’s thought-provoking article in the Irish Times health supplement on dry January rang a few bells for me. My own trigger is to pour a glass of wine at about 6.30pm, when I start preparing dinner. When I first cut out drink, I avoided this impulse by making dinner earlier, by having much simpler, easy-to-prepare meals or by having a soft drink instead.

One of the biggest problems with going dry is what to drink instead. Leaving aside the effect it has on your senses, alcohol does actually make a drink much more complex and interesting. I have never enjoyed sweet fizzy drinks, and while I like water, it can become a little boring after a while. Non-alcoholic wine, led by Torres Natureo, has become so much better, as have alcohol-free beers. Seedlip leads the way as a gin alternative. The range of soft drinks has expanded hugely in recent years so there are plenty of options, many of them made here in Ireland. For me kombucha and water kefir are probably the most interesting. You can make them at home, providing you can get hold of a scoby, but there are plenty available in our shops and supermarkets.

However, making your own drinks is so much more fun and not at all difficult.

It may seem strange but vinegar makes a great base for homemade cocktails; a few teaspoons of the exquisite Irish-made Wildwood balsamic vinegars, or any of the great Irish cider vinegars (I love The Apple Farm or Llewellyn) add a savoury tang to any drink. My current favourite is made simply by leaving a few sprigs of rosemary to macerate in water (still or sparkling) for a few hours in the fridge, sometimes with a few slices of lemon or lime and a teaspoon of vinegar. If I am feeling summery, slices of cucumber and fruit, fresh mint and other herbs make for a fantastic, interesting refreshing drink.

SynerChi Ginger & Lemongrass Live Kombucha
€2.79 (330ml)
Organic, vegan kombucha from Donegal. A delicious, lightly sparkling drink with a lovely spicy kick and a lip-smacking dry finish. From SuperValu; Circle KBoots; Spar; Londis; AvocaDonnybrook Fair; Morton’s, Ranelagh, Dublin; the Good Food Store, South Great George’s Street and Ballsbridge, Dublin;  Fresh; McCambridges, Galway; plus health stores

King of Kefir Cucumber, Mint & Thyme
€2.90 (330ml)
Made in the Chocolate Factory in Dublin, this is a fascinating complex drink; you certainly get the cucumber and herbs, with a funky touch and an off-dry finish. See kingofkefir.ie for stockists

The Happy Pear Wild Berry Kombucha
€2.50 (200ml)
Intense fresh crunchy redcurrant fruits with a lightly funky spicy dry finish. Very refreshing. Not cheap but delicious.
From The Happy Pear, Greystones, Co Wicklow, and Clondalkin, Dublin 22

Mariko Sparkling Sencha Green Tea
€2 (750ml)
With no calories or sweeteners, this is the least expensive of the drinks featured. Brewed in Co Mayo, this is very pleasant; an effervescent, fragrant drink with light tannins on the finish.
From SuperValu

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Ampohora: wine from ancient clay containers

Josko Gravner and his amphorae.

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

Did our forefathers know best? The last few decades have seen huge changes in the way wine is made – large, modern wineries that look more like chemical plants, with massive columns of stainless steel joined together by a bewildering number of large pipes. A huge amount of science and technology has gone into making large quantities of consistently drinkable wines. And yet a growing band of winemakers are shunning all of this knowledge and retreating back to the very beginning of wine for their inspiration.

There have always been a few wineries around Europe still using clay amphorae containers – I have a picture somewhere of me sitting in a large one cut in half in a cellar in Portugal. But the recent trend started with Josko Gravner, an Italian/Slovene producer, who wanted to make more natural wines, and to improve the quality of his local grape, Ribolla Gialla. He began by fermenting wine on the skins, producing what is now known as orange wine (although Gravner prefers the term amber, “it is more bright, more alive, more concentrated”). He visited Georgia, the cradle of winemaking, where not only did they ferment wine on the skins, but they fermented and aged the wines for lengthy periods in very large (1,200-2,500-litre) clay amphorae, usually lined with beeswax. This is the oldest method of winemaking known to man, first used in Georgia and neighbouring Armenia somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago. Remarkably, they were still doing so, despite Soviet disapproval. According to Alice Feiring in her book on Georgian winemaking, For the Love of Wine, there were once hundreds of qvevri (amphora) potters, but that number had recently dwindled to three. As demand worldwide has rocketed, I feel sure others are in training. Qvevri and qvevri winemaking now has Unesco World Heritage status.

Ferment and age

Gravner bought some amphorae back to Italy, buried them in the ground below his cellar, and began using them to ferment and age his wines. Other winemakers in the northeast of Italy and Slovenia started doing the same, soon followed, it seems, by half the world’s winemakers. The traditional method in Georgia was to lightly crush the grapes (sometimes by foot) and put juice and grapes into the qvevri, where it will start fermentation and the second malolactic fermentation. The amphora provides a natural and consistent temperature control; the shape is said to aid gentle circulation and clarification, and the wine is given a gentle oxygenation.

Amphorae have been used to make, age and transport wine for thousands of years. Today some winemakers ferment in clay, other simply age the wine for a few months in amphorae. I am not sure I could pick out a wine that has received a little clay treatment, but it is fun to drink a little living history.

Fresquito 2017, Montilla-Moriles, Spain: made in clay amphorae in Montilla-Moriles, it is an utterly delicious.

 

Fresquito 2017, Montilla-Moriles, Spain, 14%, €13.30

On of my all-time favourite M&S wines, made in clay amphorae in Montilla-Moriles, it is an utterly delicious, vaguely sherry like (but unfortified) wine with delicate toasted nuts, green olives and plump apricot fruits, finishing dry. Amazing value for money.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Vermell 2017, Celler del Roure, Valencia: great with roast chicken. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Vermell 2017, Celler del Roure, Valencia: great with roast chicken. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Vermell 2017, Celler del Roure, Valencia (Organic), €16.50

Aged in century-old Spanish clay amphora, this is another favourite of mine. The latest vintage is the best yet, brimming with delicious ripe savoury damsons, some dried herbs and a refreshing acidity. Great with roast chicken.

Stockists: Ely 64, Glasthule, Ely64.com; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com; Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; Kellys, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; and The Wicklow Wine Co., Wicklow, wicklowwineco.ie.

Iago Bitarishvili Chinuri 2017, Chardakhi, Central Georgia: lemon peel and marmalade.
Iago Bitarishvili Chinuri 2017, Chardakhi, Central Georgia: lemon peel and marmalade.

Iago Bitarishvili Chinuri 2017, Chardakhi, Central Georgia, 12%, €24.80

Pithy textured tannic lemon peel and marmalade, with lovely slightly funky earthy fruit, very good acidity and a long dry finish.

Stockists: Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; and The Corkscrew, Chatham St., thecorkscrew.ie.

Gravner Bianco Breg 2009, IGT Venezia-Giulia: ripe, rich and spicy.
Gravner Bianco Breg 2009, IGT Venezia-Giulia: ripe, rich and spicy.

Gravner Bianco Breg 2009, IGT Venezia-Giulia, 15%, €75

Ripe, rich and spicy, with orange peel, dried apricots and figs. Long and quite luscious, although there is still plenty of acidity. Fascinating wine.

Stockists: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, South Anne Street, Kells, Co Meath, Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; SIYPS.com; Ely 64, Glasthule, Ely64.com; and Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie.

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Sherry good: Tis the season to give fortified wines a try

First published in The Irish Times, 22nd December, 2018.

It may be the cold weather or simply we associate them with the festive season, but retailers tell me that sales of fortified wines increase exponentially as Christmas nears. Fortified simply means the wine has been beefed up with a little more alcohol, although the Montilla-Moriles below achieved 17 per cent simply through evaporation over the years. This was originally done to stabilise the wines before they were shipped around the world.

Some fortified wines are sweet, but many are bone dry, and are better drunk alongside savoury foods, notably cheese, cold meats and nuts, but lots of other dishes too. They include some of the greatest wines of all.

Over the past few months, I have tasted some of the finest fortified wines that I have come across in years. The intensity, the range and depth of flavours of some have been quite amazing. I covered Port earlier this year, so today, sherry, its neighbour Montilla-Moriles, and Marsala.

Two supermarkets seem to be taking sherry seriously. Marks & Spencer has a very good range, including its excellent Very Rare Palo Cortado (€12 per half bottle), while Aldi has the very tasty Aldi Exquisite Collection Dry Amontillado Sherry for a bargain €7.99 for a 50cl bottle.

Elsewhere, Mitchell & Son has a mouth-watering display of half bottles of Lustau sherries, as well as a grown-up size bottle of la Ina Fino, one of the best-value wines in the country. Hats off to O’Briens which recently took delivery of a range of fortified wines from Montilla-Moriles, an area beside Jerez. The wines are spectacularly good. My favourite was probably the stunning Marqués de Poley Amontillado Viejísimo 1922 at €43.95 for a 50cl bottle but I have also sipped very happily away at the Oloroso below.

Winemaker Ramiro Ibáñez gave one of the most fascinating talks and tastings of the year. Under the Cota 45 label, he produces a series of unfortified aged wine, as well as some very excellent sherries. The Fino Balbaina Alta below may seem expensive at €40, but it is one of the most delicious wines I have tasted all year. Anyone looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the sherry lover in your life should look no further.

I also tasted four excellent sherries from Barbadillo, including its fresh dry Manzanilla Pasada en Rama (€14 per half bottle) and three superb older wines – the Principe Amontillado, Cuco Oloroso, and Palo Cortado Obsipo Gascon (all €60 per half). All are available from Jus de Vine, Deveney’s, and O’Driscoll’s, Ballinlough.

Lastly New Zealand Wine will be holding its annual tasting on January 14th at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dublin, 6:30pm-8:30pm. Tickets (€15) from iti.ms/2zSkTWI or contact Jean Smullen on jean@jeansmullen.com; tel (086) 816 8468.

 Lustau Dry Amontillado Los Arcos Sherry
18.5%, €13.50
Complex, tangy, bone dry wine with hazelnuts, toasted almonds, orange and old woody notes. Delicious served lightly chilled with mixed cheeses or the perfect adult stocking filler.
Stockists: Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; The Vintry, Dublin 6, vintry.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Latouchewines4u.ie.

Marqués de Poley Oloroso
17%, €19.95 for a 50cl bottle
Toffee and butterscotch mixed with toasted hazelnuts, walnuts and bitter orange. Fresh and lively with a dry finish. Wonderful wine. With cheese and walnuts.
Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Marsala Dolce, Vito Curatolo Arini, Italy
18%, €22.95
Light toffee and caramel, with dried fruits, figs, sultanas and raisins. Sweet but not sickly. A small glass, served chilled, with mince pies, Christmas cake, plum pudding or hard cheeses such as Parmesan or a nice sharp Pecorino.
Stockists: Redmonds, Ranelagh; Redmonds.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com; Wineonline.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; The Corkscrew, Chatham St, thecorkscrew.ie.

Bodegas de la Riva, Fino Balbaina Alta
15%, €38.95
An utterly astonishing wine, deep in colour with fresh clean grilled almonds, intense savoury saline flavours that last for minutes after you have swallowed. Enjoy lightly chilled by itself or with some of the highest quality Iberico ham.
Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie.

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12 great Christmas reds from your local wine shop

First published in The Irish Times online, 19th December 2018

I taste a lot of wine, and not all of the good ones make it into The Irish Times, as there simply isn’t enough space. Here are a dozen great reds to try out over Christmas. Some come from my Saturday column in the magazine, some from my wine guide and some are recent finds that I’m mentioning for the first time. All of these are available from independent wine shops and off-licences.

Sá de Baixo, Douro, Portugal, 2015
€13.95-€14.35, 14%
Medium-bodied and smooth with ripe dark fruits, a touch of spice and a rounded finish. Fail-safe wine at a great price, to serve with all kinds of red and white meats. From Drinkstore, Dublin 7; Red Island Wine, Skerries, Co Dublin; The Winehouse, Trim, Co Meath; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Bradleys, Cork; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3; Sweeneys Wine Merchants, Dublin 11; Listons, Dublin 2; Morton’s, Dublin 6; Mortons of Galway; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Gibney’s of Malahide; 1601 Off Licence, Kinsale, Co Cork; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Wicklow Wine Company, Wicklow town; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin 6; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise, Co Laois; Martin’s Off-Licence, Dublin 3; McHugh’s, Dublin 3; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin

Bodegas Paco García Seis, Rioja, 2017
€15.99, 13.5%
Aged six months in oak (seis being Spanish for six) this is a joyous floral, fruit-filled wine with a touch of spice; vibrant, light, fresh blackcurrant fruits with a lovely sweetness. Perfect with white meat. From jnwine.com

Élian Da Ros, Le Vin Est une Fête 2016, Côtes du Marmandais
€17.95, 12.5%
This domaine’s Abouriou (€29.50) is a great wine, but I have always had a real liking for this delicious (and biodynamic) light, summery red with smooth, delicate dark fruits that grow on you with every sip. Great value for money, too. From Terroirs, Dublin 4.

Bodegas Ponce Clos Lojen, Manchuela, Spain, 2016
€17, 13%
Made from 60 year-old Bobal vines, this is a gorgeous, supple wine brimming with clean dark-cherry fruits, and brought to life by a lovely fresh acidity. Brilliant value for money. By itself or with white meat. Biodynamic. From Bradleys, Cork; Worldwide Wines, Waterford; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Drinkstore, Dublin 7; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Bradleys, Cork; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Wicklow Wine Company, Wicklow town; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin 6; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise, Co Laois; Martin’s Off-Licence, Dublin 3; McHugh’s, Dublin 3; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6W; Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin

Bender Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany, 2016
€18.25, 13%
A touch of spicy oak that works really well with the supple, elegant dark-cherry fruits. Rounded and soft, this slips down all too easily. With roast duck or charcuterie. From Wines Direct, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, and Dublin 1

Amo-Roujo 2016, Luberon, Domaine le Novi
€20, 14%
A big, juicy ripe wine, with smooth, concentrated red fruits, hints of fresh herbs, and a nicely rounded finish. A stylish and individual wine to pair with red meats and firm cheeses. From Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1; Sandycove, Co Dublin; Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow; and Dunboyne, Co Meath

Carnuntum, Muhr-Van der Niepoort, Austria, 2011
€25, 13%
Silky-smooth, fully mature, soft, elegant dark fruits and good length. Pinot Noir meets northern Rhône? A joy to drink. Probably good with turkey; certainly good with duck. From Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1; Sandycove, Co Dublin; Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow; and Dunboyne, Co Meath; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin 6; the Corkscrew; Dublin 2

Fleurie 2015, Domaine des Nugues
€25.50, 13%
Domaine des Nugues is among my favourite producers in Beaujolais. Its Fleurie has a lovely fresh elegance, full of silky-smooth ripe dark fruits.From siyps.com; Rua Deli & Cafe, Castlebar, Co Mayo

Cortezada 2016, Fedellos do Couto, Vino Tinto
€27, 13%
Light, elegant and aromatic, with delicate, sweet, silky strawberry and raspberry fruits, this red has a wonderful liveliness. Goes down a treat with boiled ham and roasted root vegetables. Great wine. From Green Man Wines, Dublin 6W; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Loose Canon, Dublin 2

Le Clos des Quarterons Vieilles Vignes 2015, St Nicolas de Bourgeuil
€27.95, 12.5%
Another of my favourite reds of 2018, a Loire Cabernet Franc with an irresistible combination of delicate, silky, yet concentrated red fruits and gently refreshing acidity. Beautifully textured, with well-integrated tannins. Biodynamic. Have with pork, herby roast chicken or baked ham. From Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin

Plexus 2015, John Duval Wines, Barossa Valley, SGM
€38.99, 13.5%
Rich and rounded, with ripe red fruits, plenty of spice and a smooth, long finish. Perfect with turkey, ham or both. From Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1; Sandycove, Co Dublin; Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow; and Dunboyne, Co Meath; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Red Island Wine, Skerries, Co Dublin; the Parting Glass, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin; wineonline.ie

Barolo Albe 2014, GD Vajra
€44.99, 13.5%
Lightly floral, with cool, pure raspberry, redcurrant and damson fruits; and well-integrated tannins on a dryish finish. Perfect with duck or goose. From Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Terroirs, Dublin 4; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Drinkstore, Dublin 7; Next Door at Myles Creek, Kilkee, Co Clare; Vanilla Grape, Kenmare, Co Kerry; wineonline.ie; Worldwide Wines, Waterford; Power & Co Fine Wines, Lucan, Co Dublin

 

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White wines: my top ten picks for Christmas from independent merchants

First published online in the Irish Times, Tuesday 18th December, 2018

Below are ten of my favourite white wines of 2018 (actually I’ve cheated; there are twelve), and all are available from your independent wine retailer. I have indulged myself and included a few more expensive wines. This is the time of year to splash out a little; believe me you will notice the difference when you pay a few euro more.

Domaine du Tariquet Classic, Côtes de Gascogne, France, 2017
10.5% €13.99
This is an old favourite of mine, a clean, bright, breezy wine, all crunchy green apples and lemon zest, finishing bone dry. With a mere 10.5% alcohol, this would make a great aperitif or party wine; alternatively with light salads and shellfish.
From Vanilla Grape, Kenmare; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin; Nolan’s Supermarket, 49 Vernon Avenue, Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Château de Valcombe Blanc, Costières de Nimes, France, 2017
13.5% €16.99
Wonderful, subtle, elegant dry white with succulent peaches and pears, balanced perfectly by a mineral acidity. Great value for money.
From Red Nose Wines, The Regal Centre, Davis Road, Clonmel Co Tipperary.

Soave Colli Scaligeri Castelcerino Filippi (Organic), Italy, 2015
12.5% €19.95
I enjoyed this wine on several occasions in 2018. Delicious light Soave with a waxy touch, some peach and yellow apple fruits mixing in with marzipan and a lively streak of mineral acidity. Made from biodynamically grown grapes with minimal sulphur, it has a pleasant leesy touch too.
From Le Caveau, Market Yard, Kilkenny; Bradley’s Off-licence, 81 Main Street, Centre, Cork; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W;64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin 2.

Aphros Loureiro, Vinho Verde, Portugal, 2016
11.5% €21.95
A delicious vibrant, crisp dry white with a beautifully textured palate of orange peel and juicy pears. This would go down a treat with shellfish starters or as an aperitif.
From 64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, Dublin 2; Bradley’s Off-licence, 81 Main Street, Centre, Cork; Deveney’s, 31 Main Street, Dundrum, Dublin 16; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W; Lilac Wines, 117 Philipsburgh Avenue, Fairview, Dublin 3; Redmonds, 25 Ranelagh Village, Dublin 6.

10/10/2017 - Whites & Co - . Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Bodegas Cota 45 ‘Ube’ Miraflores, Andalucia, Spain, 2017
12% €23.00
From one of the best tastings of 2018, a wonderful light subtle unfortified wine from Sherry country. This is fermented in old Manzanilla casks with two months under flor. Lightly floral with subtle toasted nuts, very seductive peach and apple fruits, finishing long and dry. Fascinating wine.
From 64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Jus de Vine, 10 Strand Road, Portmarnock, Co Dublin; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W; Martin’s Off Licence, 11 Marino Mart, Clontarf, Dublin 3; Loose Canon, 29 Drury St, Dublin 2.

Xisto iLimitado Branco, Luis Seabra Vinhos, Douro, Portugal, 2017
12.5% €22
Utterly delicious, delicate wine with a fine saline vein running through the mouth-watering pear and green apple fruits. Light but full of flavour, this lingers beautifully. Made by Luis Seabra, formerly winemaker at Niepoort, this is one of my favourite wines of 2018. A must-try wine.
From 64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, Dublin 2; Clontarf Wines, 48 Clontarf Road, Clontarf, Dublin 3; Redmonds, 25 Ranelagh village, Dublin 6.

Louro Godello, Rafael Palacios, Valdeorras, Spain, 2017
13.5% €27
One of my all-time favourite wines. Textured and creamy, with plump pears and peaches, a subtle nuttiness, shot through with a lively acidity. If you want to splurge, their As Sortes (€50) is even better with your Christmas starter and turkey. Some shops have it in magnums. This is the wine I will be drinking this Christmas, and not for the first time.

From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche Wines, La Touch Place, Greystones, Co Wicklow; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin; Martin’s Off Licence, 11 Marino Mart, Clontarf, Dublin 3; 64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, Dublin 2; Blackrock Cellar, 23 Rockhill, Blackrock, Co Dublin; Clontarf Wines, 48 Clontarf Road, Clontarf, Dublin 3; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W; Sweeney’s Wines, 6 Finglas Road, Hart’s Corner, Glasnevin, Dublin 11; Lilac Wines, 117 Philipsburgh Avenue, Fairview, Dublin 3; Grapevine, 26 Castle Street, Dalkey, Co Dublin; SIYPS.com.

Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz 1er Ulm Nussberg Organic, Austria
13.5% €29.99
A lovely rich dry white, with spicy textured oranges with a subtle note of honey, and very good racy citrus acidity. This would go down a treat wih salmon, smoked or grilled.
From wineonline.ie

Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine, Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, Biodynamic, France 2015
13.5% €32.95
A delicious, sensual, sophisticated wine with layers of orange peel, peaches and grapefruit; textured and rich with layers of unctuous fruit kept in check by a mineral acidity. Richer seafood dishes or white meats.
From Searsons Wine Merchants, 10 Monkstown Crescent, Monkstown, Co Dublin.

Zárate Tras da Viña Rías Baixas, Spain, 2015
13%, €32.75
“As good a Rías Baixas as I have tasted”, read my notes from earlier this year. Gorgeous fresh lively wine with concentrated rich creamy peach fruits, and a strong mineral backbone. Lingers very nicely too.
From 64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; The Hole in the Wall, Blackhorse Avenue, Dublin 7; Jus de Vine, Strand Road, Portmarnock, Co Dublin; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W.

Chablis premier cru Vauloront, Domaine du Colombier, France, 2015
13%, €35
A deliciously refreshing crisp Chablis with plenty of ripe fruits to balance out the acidity. Long and concentrated, this would go down perfectly with a fishy starter on Christmas day.
From Whelehans, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin.

Matés Vineyard Chardonnay, Kumeu River, New Zealand, 2016
13.5%, €55-€60
Why would you pay €60 for a New Zealand Chardonnay? Well, because it is a dead ringer for top-notch white Burgundy that will set you back €30 more. Superb, refined, sophisticated Chardonnay that sings class. Fresh and crisp, with a lovely, rich, concentrated centre-palate of precise apple fruits and subtle toasted nuts.
From Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin;64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin.

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The best red wines for Christmas

This article was first published in the Irish Times, Saturday 15th December, 2018.

If Chablis and Mâcon are the traditional Irish Christmas white wines, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and St Émilion Grand Cru or Rioja Reserva are the red equivalents. Turkey is an accommodating bird and will go nicely with most wines, red or white, although I try to avoid tannic wines such as young Bordeaux or Barolo. However, you do need to watch out for the accompaniments – spicy, fruity stuffings and cranberry sauce can kill a wine in seconds. While you won’t go wrong with the above wines (although I would avoid cheap Châteauneuf-du-Pape) this year, why not expand your horizons a little to other countries and regions?

Grenache, or Garnacha, is the main component in the aforementioned Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and most southern red Rhône wines. In its original homeland of Spain, or in the McLaren Vale and the Barossa in Australia, it can be very good indeed. Australian Grenache tends to be light on tannins, with soft generous ripe spicy strawberry fruits; great for turkey. You could go with the excellent John Duval Plexus GSM 2015 (€39, independents), a Rhône-like blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Spain is producing some really exciting Garnacha at the moment. As a general rule, look to Navarra for lighter, juicier wines, and Madrid or Méntrida for wonderful, perfumed, full-bodied wines. See below for just two suggestions.

I am a big Pinot Noir fan, as are a number of my Christmas guests, so I suspect we will head in this direction, although I have served northern Rhône on previous occasions, most memorably an elegant, silky bottle of Côte Rôtie from Stephane Ogier (€52, searsons.com, Eldon’s, Clonmel). I have also been eyeing up some maturing Crozes Hermitage Yann Chave (€27.95, searsons.com, plus independents). You can find very good Pinot Noir from various countries, most notably Germany, Oregon, California, New Zealand, Germany and Australia, although it is hard to beat red Burgundy at its best, as in the Volnay below.

Unlike turkey, goose welcomes tannins and eats them up, so a Barolo, Barbaresco or Bordeaux would be ideal. However, steer clear of red cabbage if it has lots of sugar, vinegar and spice. The same goes for duck, although here a Pinot Noir would also work nicely. Vegetarian dishes with mushrooms, or stuffed peppers, courgettes and aubergines are all very red-wine friendly, including wines with some tannin.

If you live near Loughlinstown, a quick fix Christmas pairing from Whelehan’s would be the fruit-filled Rula Albariño (€14.95) and smooth, full-bodied Domaine de l’Amauve Côtes du Rhône (€16.50). For a German Pinot, try the rich fruit-filled Bender Pinot Noir (€18.25, winesdirect.ie) or the spicy Stepp Pinot Noir (€22.50, Marks & Spencer), or the Becker Family Pinot Noir (€22, independents).

Tandem Inmune Garnacha 2016, Navarra

14%, €15.95

Fresh, smooth, crunchy, savoury dark fruits with a lovely herbal touch. A very good match for the Christmas turkey and stuffing.

Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

La Bruja de Rozas 2015, Viños de Madrid, Commando G

14.5%, €26

A wonderful full-bodied wine with fresh, fragrant red cherry fruits and fine dry tannins on the finish. With turkey or duck.

Stockists: Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie.

Giant Steps Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2017, Australia

13.5%, €29.99

A richer style of Pinot, with succulent red cherry fruits and a very attractive earthiness. Perfect with duck, goose or turkey.

Stockists: Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie

Volnay 1er cru Cuvée Blondeau, Hospices de Beaune

14%, €52.50

Youthful ripe dark cherry, with a touch of smoky new oak, underpinned by good acidity. If you are having it for Christmas, decant half an hour before dinner. Perfect with turkey, goose or duck.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

 

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White wines to drink with Christmas dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four whites to try

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

Pazo Senorans

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

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

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

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My Top Twenty Wines from Marks & Spencer

MY TOP TWENTY WINES FROM MARKS & SPENCER

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

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

 

 

 

SPARKLING WINES

 

 

Alcohol Free Sparkling Muscat NV

0%

€9

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

 

 

 

 

 

Rocca di Lago Spumante NV, Garda DOC

11.5%

€10.50

 

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

 

 

 

Champagne Delacourt NV – MAGNUM

12.5%

€81

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHITE WINES

 

La Fortezza Vermentino 2017 Sicily

13%

€9

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken Forrester Workhouse Chenin Blanc 2017

12.5%

€13.30

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palataia Pinot Blanc 2017, Pfalz, Germany

€15

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresquito PX Vino Nuevo de Tinaja 2017

14%

€13.30

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Rabl Grüner Veltliner 2017, Kamptal, Austria

12%

€13.30

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craft 3 Chardonnay 2017, Adelaide Hills, Australia

12%

€15

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Val de Souto 2017, Ribeiro

12.5%

€17.50

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Denbies Bacchus 2017, Surrey, England

12%

€20.50

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RED WINES

 

Madiran Terres de Moraines 2014

14%

€14

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craft 3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Maipo Vally, Chile

13%

€15

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Pisan Cisplatino Tannat 2017, Uruguay

13.5%

€15

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

13.5%

€18.50

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ebenezer & Seppeltsfield Shiraz 2016, Barossa Valley, Australia

15%

€22.50

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Levantine by Ch. Musar 2017, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

14%

€24.50

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contino Rioja Reserva 2014

13.5%

€35.50

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volnay 1er cru Le Blondeau 2015 Hospices de Beaune 2015

€52.50

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTIFIED WINES

 

Very Rare Palo Cortado Premium Sherry ½ bottle

19%

€12

 

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

 

 

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My Favourite Festive wines from Dunnes Stores

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Favourite Festive wines from O’Briens

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Côtes de Gascogne 2017, Duffour Père & Fils

€9.95

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellow’s Rock Chenin Blanc 2018, South Africa

€10.95

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Pazo de Señorans Albariño 2017, Rías Baixas

€22.95

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domaine Olivier Santenay Blanc Clos des Champs 2015

€29.95

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellow’s Rock Syrah 2016, South Africa

€9.95

Rich powerful spicy dark fruits, with a nice seam of acidity running through. Great value at €9.95. With grilled or barbecued red meats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tandem Immune 2016, Navarra

€15.95

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domaine Olivier Santenay Rouge 1er cru Beaurepaire 2016

€39.95

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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