Archive for Irish Times

Languedoc love: Four great red wines from artisan producers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Wine importers explore beyond the beaten track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friulano 2018, Volpe Pasini, Friuli Colli Orientale

12.5 per cent, €15.50

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

From: Wines on the Green, Dublin 2,; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin,; Sweeneys, Dublin 3,

Freisa d’Asti Secco 2015, Tenuta Olim Bauda

13.5 per cent, €24.95

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

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

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

13.5 per cent, €17.95

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

From: O’Briens,

Quinta de Saes Tinto 2016, Dão

13 per cent, €18.99

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

From: Kellys, Dublin 3,; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3,; Deveneys, Dublin 14; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6,; Crafted, Bennettsbridge, Co Kilkenny

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Chinese, Swiss and Brazilian wine all hit the right notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garzón Tannat Reserva 2017, Uruguay
13.5%, €20

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

From Higgins, Dublin 14,; Drinkstore, Dublin 7,; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, Co Louth,; The Wine House, Trim, Co Meath; Deveneys, Dublin 14; Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18,

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

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

From Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin,; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2,; Gibney’s, Malahide, Co Dublin,

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

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

From the Corkscrew, Dublin 2,;; Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1 and Sandycove, Co Dublin, and via Avoca, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath,

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Get a taste of California without breaking the bank

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

White delights: there’s more to southern Rhône than reds

First Published in The Irish Times, Saturday, 31st August, 2019

There is a richness and generosity to the wines that I really enjoy when I want something a little different


Earlier this year I spent four days tasting my way through scores of wines from the Rhône Valley. Although I enjoyed the red wines, in many cases it was the whites that stood out as really special. There is a richness and generosity to the wines that I really enjoy when I want something a little different. These are wines that grow and improve with food.

In the past some wines were a little too generous; too high in alcohol and lacking acidity and freshness. This has all changed, partly a result of better viticulture and winemaking, and partly by choosing the right places to plant vines; some parts of the Rhône Valley are at a relatively high altitude and can produce wines with good acidity to match the succulence and texture.

While the vast majority, more than 90 per cent, of the wines produced in the southern Rhône are red, there is growing interest in both white wines and rosé. A mere 4 per cent are rosé, and the remaining 6 per cent white; this may not sound like much, but when you remember the region produces more than half a million cases of wine each year, it means there are plenty of wines to try.

The grape varieties are more varied here than in the northern Rhône. As well as Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, you will find Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Picpoul, Bourbelenc, Clairette and Vermentino, known here as Rolle. These are typically blended together to create individual wines with real character.

I mentioned food earlier, and these are great wines to match with more robust chicken and fish dishes, as well as those with creamy sauces. Barbecued chicken, crab cakes, seared scallops, creamy curries and chowders all work well, as do a lot of cheeses. Some hard cheeses are far better with Rhône whites than red wines.

Some of the best white appellations, such as Vacqueyras, Ventoux, and Valréas are not very well-known for either red or white. The one area I didn’t cover was Châteauneuf-du-Pape, home to some great long-lived white wines, although I tried a Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Bernadine 2017 that was explosively good. If you fancy a real treat, Searsons in Monkstown still has a few bottles of the Vacqueyras Blanc from Sang de Cailloux – €46.95 but worth every cent.

The easiest way to try out the white wines of the southern Rhône is to buy a bottle of basic white Côtes du Rhône the next time you go to the supermarket or wine shop; they can offer great value for money. Most of the big names, such as Jaboulet, Chapoutier, Délas, Ferraton and Guigal offer a range, and most are well worth trying.

La Truffière 2017, Côtes du Rhône, La Ferme du Mont
13.5%, €18.95

Restrained opulence in an enticing fresh wine with lightly textured apricots and nectarines. Perfect with poached or grilled salmon.
From Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin,

Sablet 2017, Côtes du Rhône Villages, Domaine Les Goubert
13.5%, €19.50

Medium-bodied with attractive pure plump peach fruits. Fish soups, grilled white fish, or a quiche and salad.
From Terroirs, Dublin 4,

Zephyr 2017, Côtes du Rhône, Les Deux Cols (organic)
13.5%, €22.95

This is quite gorgeous and worth every cent. Honeysuckle aromas; medium-bodied, textured with rich pear fruits, a touch of toasted almonds and marzipan with a glorious finish. Roast Mediterranean vegetables, fish soups, salade Niçoise.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin,; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare,; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow,; Martin’s Off -Licence, Fairview, Dublin 3,; Morton’s, Dublin 6,; Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin,

Mineral 2017, Vacqueyras Blanc, Domaine Montirius
13%, €35

Lightly and aromatic with very enticing elegant succulent yellow fruits underpinned by a crisp reviving acidity. With grilled or barbecued chicken.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin,; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin,; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6,

Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Home-grown talent: Portugal’s finest indigenous wines

First published in The Irish Times,Saturday 24th August, 2019

All of the wines listed below are made from blends, all 100 per cent Portuguese.

Portugal has always done wine differently, placing its trust in a group of indigenous red and white varieties rather than the well-known “international” grapes. For a while it seemed as if the rest of the world was content to ignore the wines, even though some were world class, but that has all changed in the past decade or so.

I wrote earlier this year about Alvarinho, the Portuguese name for Albariño, the variety responsible for Rías Baixas in northern Spain. Most Alvarinho is used to make vinho verde, or green wine, in the north of Portugal. The green refers not to the colour of the wine but to the verdant countryside; you can actually find red vinho verde. The quality of white vinho verde has shot up in recent years, but so too has white wine in every part of Portugal.

I have written about Prova Regia before too. Various versions are widely available from independents and from O’Briens for €14-€16; this is one of the best-value white wines of all. Prova Regia is made from the Arinto grape.

Originally from the coastal regions around Lisbon, Arinto has spread to other regions, particularly Alentejo, where it is prized for its ability to retain much-needed acidity in hot climates. Given a year or so to develop, it can also have richer peachy flavours.

Antaô Vaz is another high-quality indigenous variety that has some Chardonnay-like characteristics. Pick early and you get a crisp, refreshing dry wine. Leave it a while longer on the vine and you get a much richer, more textured wine, with plump ripe fruits.

The third high-quality grape is Encruzado, grown mainly in the Dâo region, where it produces excellent crisp, dry whites with structure and plenty of rich fruit.

Add in Fernão Pires, Loureiro, Bical, Roupeiro, Rabigato, Gouveio, and many more, and you have an array of exciting unusual varieties. The names do not trip off the tongue, and, to make matters even more complicated, each of these varieties will have its own unique local name in each region. All are pretty much exclusive to Portugal, and most are capable of producing good, sometimes great, wine. Once you taste a few wines, you begin to understand why Portugal never really needed to import Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay.

At the entry level, O’Briens pioneered inexpensive Portuguese blends, with the Porta 6 and Júlia Florista wines both available for about €10. SuperValu and Fresh now offer similar wines. But it is worth paying a few euro more to find wines with uniquely Portuguese character and style. All of the wines below are made from blends, all 100 per cent Portuguese.

Fonte do Ouro 2018, Dâo Branco, Portugal
13%, €16.95
Fresh and fruity; greengages and apples with lively lemon zest and a crisp, dry finish. Perfect with grilled hake and dill.
From: O’Briens,

Herdade de Grous Branco 2018, Alentejo
13%, €17.95
A wine blessed with succulent plump, peachy fruits balanced perfectly by a streak of citrus. The Reserva (€27) is even better. Drink solo, with nibbles or a Greek salad.
From: Morton’s, Dublin 6,; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow,; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2,; Fresh,; Redmonds, Dublin 6,; Matson’s, Grange and Bandon, Co Cork,; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, Co Louth,; Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18,; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4,; Listons, Dublin 2,; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6;; Donnybrook Fair, Dublin,; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin,

Clima 2016, Vale da Capucha IG Lisboa
13.5%, €19-€21
Delicious textured nectarines with a distinctive salty tang. Serve with richer fish dishes; some stewed squid or octopus, perhaps?
From: First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8,; Avoca, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, and Monkstown and Rathcoole, Co Dublin,; the Wine House, Trim, Co Meath; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3,

Redoma Branco 2018, Douro, Niepoort
11.5%, €26 
Light, crisp and mineral with light pear fruits, hints of toasted almonds and a long, dry finish. Drink this with oysters – or go Portuguese, with grilled sardines.
From: Morton’s, Dublin 6,; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4,; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin,; Redmonds, Dublin 6,;; Wicklow Wine Co,; Nectar Wines, Dublin 18,


Posted in: Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →
Page 4 of 28 «...23456...»