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A wine even our wine writer hadn’t heard about

Garden Grapes


First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 28th July, 2018

I am wary of books that promise to take the mystery out of wine. Wine is actually quite complicated. This may explain why many people learn to love a few grape varieties – Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon – and ignore everything else. I have sympathy for this way of thinking. I use it myself in many other walks of life.

But there are said to be between 5,000 and 10,000 varieties of Vitis vinifera, the wine grape. Few of us will have heard of the most widely planted variety of all, Kyoho, which is found mostly in China. As much of that crop is used for eating rather than drinking, we are more familiar with the next four most widely planted Vitis vinifera varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and then two found almost exclusively in Spain, Tempranillo and Airén.

There are very good reasons why some grape varieties remain little known: the wines they produce are not great. But plenty more are unsung heroes that deserve greater recognition.

Marsanne, for example, is a full-bodied aromatic grape found mainly in the northern Rhone Valley, although plantings have spread out into Languedoc. It usually gives good yields – hence its popularity – but can lack acidity. Because of this it is often blended with more floral varieties, such as Roussanne, that also provide acidity. Marsanne reaches its peak as a blend in white Hermitage, from the Northern Rhône, and at the Tahbilk winery, in the Australian state of Victoria. The Aldi version below won’t quite reach those giddy heights, but it is well worth trying.

I don’t think I had heard of Dafni until I tried it at a tasting last year. Lyrarakis is a family-owned company based in Crete that has made a name by rescuing local ancient grape varieties from obscurity. Dafni gets its name from the Greek word for laurel or bay leaf, and the wine certainly has a pleasant herbiness. (The winery also produces a delicious Assyrtiko.) I don’t see Dafni becoming the new Sauvignon Blanc, but it also deserves a try.

Aglianico typically produces firm, dry, austere, tannic wines that need years to reach maturity. It is grown in the Campania region of southern Italy, most famously around Taurasi, but you will also find it growing on the dark, rich volcanic soils of Monte Vulture, in the neighbouring region of Basilicata. If that description sounds scary, don’t worry; the wine below is a very approachable early-drinking version.

The fourth wine is made primarily from the obscure Mandó grape, which was rediscovered by Pablo Calatayud, who owns Celler del Roure, in Valencia. Earlier this year I wrote about his excellent Vermell. Both that and the Safrà below are aged in ancient clay amphorae before bottling.

Bottles of the Week

Exquisite Collection Marsanne 2017, Languedoc 13%, €8.99
Ripe pears and peaches on nose and palate, finishing bone dry. Great everyday summer drinking by itself or with fish.
From Aldi,

Lyrarakis Dafni 2016, Crete 12.5%, €21.99
An intriguing wine with notes of bay, rosemary and wild thyme that blend in nicely with lemon zest and a reviving acidity. One to try with a herby Greek salad, grilled Mediterranean vegetables or herb and lemon chicken.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6,; Bradleys, Cork,

Aglianico del Vulture Pipoli 2016, Vigneti del Vulture 13%, €18-€19
Smooth, rich dark-cherry fruits with chocolate and a rounded, easy finish. Perfect with grilled or roast lamb.
From Donnybrook Fair, Dublin 4,; Fresh, branches around Dublin,; McHughs, Dublin 5,; Mitchell & Son, branches around Greater Dublin,; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2,;; Michael’s, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin

Safrà, Celler del Roure 2016, Mandó, Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) 13%, €21.50
Gorgeous wine with a delicious combination of fresh, piquant red-cherry fruits and a subtle rustic earthiness. Drink coolish with paella.
From 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin,; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6,; Redmonds, Ranelagh, Dublin 6,; Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin,; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3,

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Graham Norton wines: Are they any good?

Graham Norton (C) with Tim Lightbourne and Rob Cameron

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 21st July, 2018

We all know that wine helps conversation flow at parties and dinners, but regular viewers of the Graham Norton Show will be aware that Norton, and sometimes his guests, can be seen sipping a generous glass of white. The chat-show host has gone a step further, and has a hand (or a mouth) in making the wine.

 You may have come across the GN wines in SuperValu and more recently Tesco. Produced in red, white, rosé and now sparkling, they have been flying off the supermarket shelves for several years. The idea for GN wines came from a New Zealand company called Invivo, set up in 2008 by former school mates Tim Lightbourne and Rob Cameron. Cameron had worked as a winemaker with Villa Maria in New Zealand, while Lightbourne worked in marketing with brands such as l’Oréal and Danone in Europe.

“We caught up for a beer in London in 2007 and came up with the idea. Unlike many great ideas we actually followed through with it,” says Lightbourne.

 “We made our first Sauvignon in 2008 and couldn’t have chosen a worse time – it was a lousy harvest, and the global financial crisis hit.” The real breakthrough came in 2014 when Invivo became the first wine company in the southern hemisphere to crowd fund. “We raised $NZ2million (€1.2million) in one week, a record for any industry in New Zealand. Now we have 443 people who we look after very well, and we are about to launch a second offer.”

They knew Graham Norton enjoyed Sauvignon Blanc, and offered to supply him with their Invivo Sauvignon. A little later, they suggested to Norton that he become involved. “He has great enthusiasm and a great palate”, says Lightfoot. “He will say ‘I like this part but not that’. He rejects some samples. He talks about what he would like in his wine, instead of leaving it up to a winemaker. It is quite a unique way of making wine. We are about to make the 2018; he will taste 8-10 samples and blend to his taste”.

The whole process is filmed and put out on YouTube. “The wine is quite different to our style with Invivo (also available from SuperValu). We get good points from the critics and win trophies – we are proud of the quality and would happily put it up against any wine.” Sales of the wine have tripled since 2015 and will top 3 million bottles this year.

 The Sauvignon was followed by a rosé, a Shiraz from Australia and now a Prosecco. For this, the pair flew out to Italy and tried out eight different styles from various producers. Norton prefers the drier style. The wine has just been released in Tesco.

Graham Norton’s Own SparklinG ItaliaN Prosecco Extra Dry

An exuberant fruit-filled Prosecco with refreshing red apples and pears. A great way to kick-start a dinner party, or with friends on a sunny evening.
Stockists: Tesco

Graham Norton’s Own SauviGNon Blanc 2017, Marlborough

€14.99 (€12 from July 26th in SuperValu and Centra)
A classic Marlborough Sauvignon, with lime zest, textured mouth-watering green fruits and a lingering rounded finish. With some grilled scallops and a herby dressing, or a soft goat’s cheese salad.
Stockists: SuperValu, Centra, Tesco

Graham Norton’s Own Pink by DesiGN Rosé 2017

€14.99 (€8 in SuperValu, Centra until July 26th, while stocks last)
A very moreish appealing wine with fragrant aromas, juicy ripe raspberry and black cherry fruits, a refreshing acidity, finishing just off-dry. By itself or with lightly spicy chicken, prawns or salmon.
Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu, Centra

Graham Norton’s Own Shiraz 2015, South Australia

€12-15 (€12 from July 26th in SuperValu and Centra)
Big rich rounded ripe plum fruits with a sprinkle of spice. Perfect with that barbecued ribeye steak or burger.
Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu, Centra

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Pale pink or cherry-red? Dry or sweet? How to choose the right rosé


First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 12th July, 2018

We tend to buy rosé by colour. If the wine is very pale salmon pink, it will be dry; cherry-red and it must be sweet. It isn’t quite that simple, but it is a good starting point. Rosé wines vary hugely in their sugar content and it isn’t always easy to work out which is dry and which is sweet. One useful indicator is origin. California blush is generally sweet, as is Rosé d’Anjou and Mateus Rosé, while pale Provence Rosé is bone-dry. In between there is a host of pleasantly fruity dry wines that are perfect for summer drinking. The success of Provence rosé seems to have convinced some of us that this is the only pink to drink, but there are plenty of other options, including Spanish Rosado, that are every bit as good – and frequently a lot cheaper.

If your memories of Spanish rosé (Rosado in Spanish) are of cheap plonk guzzled on holidays on the costas, then it is time to think again. Spain has a long tradition of making rosado, and today makes some very good wines. The Navarra region made its name producing fruity, dry rosés, apparently a tradition that goes back to the 12th century, when it slated the thirst of pilgrims walking the Camino. These days, Navarra also makes some really good red and white wines, but is still best-known for rosados. The grape variety involved is usually Garnacha, or sometimes Tempranillo. Other parts of Spain, from Catalunya to Alicante have got in on the act and now offer some very stylish rosados. In the past, clarete, made either by fermenting red and white grapes together, as with the wine below, or by simply blending red and white wine, was very popular.

The best Spanish rosados have masses of ripe red fruits – cherries, strawberries and raspberries yet finish bone-dry. This means they go really well with savoury foods. Dry rosé in general is one of the most food-friendly wines of all, perfect with all kinds of summer salads as well as milder Asian dishes. Not surprisingly, Rosado goes very well with various Spanish foods, including mixed tapas, seafood and of course paella.

As well as the wines below, Tesco has the Revero Tempranillo Rosado for an incredible €3.99, and O’Briens the Finca Vadmoya for €9.95. Look out in independents for the excellent Lopez de Haro for about €16. Wines Direct (Mullingar, Arnotts and online), has the very tasty Olivares Rosado for €12.50.

If you do find yourself in Spain this summer desperately looking for a Spanish Rosado, the Torres Sangre de Toro, not available here in Ireland, is a good inexpensive bet.

Gran Fuedo Rosado 2017, Navarra

13.5%, €12.99-13.99

Very attractive, refreshing, light strawberry fruits with a bone-dry finish. Serve well-chilled with tapas and grilled white fish.

Stockists: Very widely available through independents including McHughs, Kilbarrack Road and Malahide Road,; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Matson’s Wine Store, Cork,; Burke Londis, Kinvara, Galway; Daly’s, Boyle, Co Roscommon; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Eldons, Clonmel; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Shiel’s Londis, Malahide; The Coach House, Ballinteer,

Montesierra Selección Rosado 2017, Somontano

13.5%, €13.50

Medium-bodied stewed red cherry and strawberry fruit. Rounded and smooth. Try it with grilled salmon, sea trout or mackerel.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Sweeney’s Wines, Glasnevin,; Clontarf Wines,

La Maldición Clarete, 2017, Viños de Madrid

13.5%, €15.90

A captivating rosado (or clarete) with real interest. Relatively full-bodied with light tannins and concentrated savoury strawberry fruits. This went really well with a mozzarella and tomato salad on a warm summer’s evening.

Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3,; Redmonds, Ranelagh;; 64 Wine, Glasthule,

Sonrojo Garnacha 2017, Navarra

13.5%, €16.50

Wonderful pure freshly crushed raspberry and strawberry fruits with a lively acidity and a snappy dry finish. I could drink this all summer long. Cold chicken with panzanella.

Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street,; Liston’s, Camden Street,; Kelly’s, Clontarf,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,

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The best wines to drink with salads

STYRIAFirst published in The Irish Times, Saturday 7th July, 2018

As the good weather continues, this week we will look at wines to drink with summer salads. I may have been guilty of blithely suggesting to match a particular wine with salads in general. But what kind of salad? There is a huge difference between a delicate herb-scented dish of courgettes and fennel, and a plate of full-on chili-spiked Mexican beans. And what if you are serving a barbequed steak, lamb skewers or sweet chili chicken drumsticks alongside your salad?

As with most food and wine matching, it makes sense to serve light-bodied wines with delicately flavoured foods and richer wines with more powerful recipes. Sharp acidic salads go best with crisp refreshing white wines. Many books suggest only white wines, but if I often drink a Beaujolais or another light red with whatever is going.

Vinegar is wine that has gone sour, so a dressing made with vinegar doesn’t do any favours to wine. I generally add lemon juice to my vinaigrette instead. The wine of a region often provides a great match for local foods. Provence Rosé with a classic Salade Niçoise works really well, as does Beaujolais with ham and other charcuterie or an Assyrtiko with Greek salad.


Salmon, with its rich, oily, meaty texture and flavour, needs something more substantial. With salmon tartar, smoked salmon or cold poached salmon with cucumber and salads, I would usually go for a Chardonnay. The de Martino below would be perfect, as would the Begude Chardonnays in O’Briens (€16.95-18.95), a Chablis or the Aldi Limestone Coast Chardonnay (€8.49).

Or why not experiment a little with a Godello from Spain, or a nicely textured Grüner Veltliner from Austria – Grüner being one of the all-time great food wines. If you are barbequing or grilling your salmon, then a rosé or Pinot Noir might be a better bet. Marks & Spencer have the fragrant juicy Albert Bichot Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune 2015 for a very reasonable €19.50, or the Couveys below offers good value. All of the above would go nicely with cold chicken-based dishes too, including Caesar salad.

Italian whites

With salads featuring prawns, scallops and crab, go for crisp aromatic whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Albariño. Riesling (and Grüner Veltliner) also goes well with Thai beef salads. Sauvignon Blanc partners nicely with milder goat’s cheese salads. Tomato and red pepper based salads are generally best with crisp whites. I tend to go for Italian whites, such as Soave or Verdicchio.

I suspect that at outdoor get-togethers, most of us probably serve a mix of different salads instead of a single dish. My go-to wines to cover all bases would include a dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, or an unoaked Chardonnay, but possibly best of all would be a medium-bodied rosé. It is summer after all.

Bottles of the Week

Couveys Pinot Noir Les Petits Greniers 2016, Pays d’Oc 13%, €10.99

Ripe smooth red cherry fruits with an earthy touch and a rounded finish. Good with barbequed salmon or chicken, and mixed salads.
Stockists Spar, Eurospar, Londis & Mace.

Grüner Veltliner Löss 201, Kamptal, Rabl 12%, €14.95 until 15th July (normally €18.95)

A light refreshing Grüner, with lovely elegant peach fruits and a touch of ginger spice. Great with cold seafood dishes, Thai food and summer salads.
Stockists O’Briens.

Legado Chardonnay Reserva 2017, de Martino, Limarí Valley 13.5%,€7

An impressive medium-bodied Chardonnay, with very refreshing clean pear and apple fruits, a vein of crisp acidity and a long dry finish. With salmon, tuna and Cesar Salad.
Stockists The Malt House, Trim; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf,; Molloy’s Liquor Store,;

Ch. l’Ou Rosé, 2017, Côtes du Roussillon 13.5%, €20

Medium-bodied with lovely strawberry and raspberry fruits, finishing dry. A great all-rounder to serve with a range of summer salads.
Stockists Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown.

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Cheap white wines for summer


The sun is out and the holiday season has started in earnest; at this time of year we all yearn for a glass of crisp cool white wine to sip on a warm summer evening. I will always argue for spending a few euros more on a bottle of wine – you really will notice the difference – but there is something about sitting out with friends and family on the patio, at home or on holiday, that seems to make everything taste good.

So, this is one occasion where cheerful inexpensive white wines can really hit the mark. Don’t go too low though; be prepared to pay at least €9 and up to €15 for a decent bottle. For our summer drinking, we need something light in alcohol, preferably 12 per cent, but never more than 13.5 per cent, and definitely unoaked; we want to really enjoy those pure fresh fruits.

Lighter whites can be served well-chilled, anything from 7-9 °C. Ice buckets will over-chill your wine and mask any flavour, but in the heat it will warm up quickly in your glass.


Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is probably the most consistent white wine of all, which may help explain its popularity. For €10-€15, every supermarket will have several options, all of which can be guaranteed to deliver those signature lifted aromas, fresh lime zesty acidity and those mouth-watering lightly tropical  fruits. It may not please wine snobs, but it does deliver a reliable, fruit-filled glass of wine, perfect on sunny days, with or without food. Having tasted my way around most, I would recommend the Villa Maria or the Insight Sauvignon Blanc (O’Briens) for €12.95. Outside of New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile is also a good bet. Tesco currently has the Santa Rita 120 for €9.

Muscadet is one of my favourite summer whites, and these days, a fairly reliable option for light easy drinking; Tesco has an own label Muscadet for €10 and O’Briens the very enjoyable Domaine de la Chauvinière at €11.20 for the next few days. Pay a few euros more, and there are some seriously good Muscadets available at around €20. O’Briens also has the Bougrier Sauvignon Blanc, a previous bottle of the week, for €9.99.

Portuguese flavours

I featured Portuguese wines a month or so ago, and these offer amazing value for money and a unique set of flavours. You could also look to Rías Baixas from Spain (Mitchell & Son currently has the award-winning Baratín for €14.95), or to Rueda for both Sauvignon Blanc and wines made from the local Verdejo grape.

Riesling from Australia, Germany, Austria or Alsace also offers perfect summer drinking; from the south of France look out for Picpoul de Pinet or Marsanne from the south of France; Aldi currently has the very quaffable Exquisite Marsanne for €8.99.

Bottles of the Week

Exquisite Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur Lie 2017 12.5%, €8.99
Soft easy green fruits with a nice touch of lemon zest. Solo or with mussels.
Stockist Aldi

Alma de Blanco Godello 2017, Monterrei 13%, €11.20 (down from €14.95 until July 8th)
Succulent and ripe with fresh tropical pineapple and pear fruits. Nicely textured wine to drink before dinner or with  dishes.
Stockist O’Briens

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough 12.5%, €12 (€10 on promotion) 
Classic Marlborough Sauvignon with lifted floral aromas, fresh gooseberry, kiwi and passionfruit, with plenty of zingy lime juice. With seafood and summer salads.
Stockist Tesco

Badajo 2017, Rueda, Spain 12.5%, €13.50-€14.50
A great Spanish alternative to Sauvignon, Verdejo, blended here with Viura, is aromatic, with medium-bodied pear and peach fruits, brought to life by vibrant lemon zest. Perfect by itself or with chicken salads.
Stockists Morton’s, Ranelagh,; World Wide Wines, Waterford,; Sweeney’s Wines, Glasnevin,; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2,; Liston’s, Dublin 2,; Wicklow Wine Co, Wicklow,; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3,; Clontarf Wines,; 64 Wine, Glasthule,; Fresh Outlets, Dublin,

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Chill out: Why you should be drinking red wine from the fridge

Are cool reds finally catching on? Wine manager Ian Brosnan recently launched the Ely summer wine list, featuring a Cool Red page for the first time, offering customers the option of drinking these wines lightly chilled, or at room temperature. Drinking low temperature reds makes sense in hot weather but it isn’t just about the sun. We eat more salads, cold meats and seafood in the summer months, and all of these go so much better with a lightly chilled red wine. We tend to drink red wine a little too warm throughout the year (and white wine too cold). The oft-quoted “room temperature” refers to a Victorian room without any central heating, probably about 16-18 degrees. Lighter summery red wines are probably best at 10-15 degrees. An ice bucket is not necessary; an hour in the fridge is about right, remembering that your wine will warm up quickly once poured.

Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of Beaujolais, a region that has re-emerged in recent years. Beaujolais is the perfect summer wine. Most of the supermarkets seem to have to added a few to their selection, but for real excitement, ask your local off-licence or wine shop for single-estate wines. There are some thrilling wines. My own favourite is Domaine Vissoux (Terroirs, Donnybrook) but there are plenty more around. The best Beaujolais is light and fruity with no drying tannins on the finish. They make brilliant all-purpose food wines, with salmon or tuna, as well as chicken, pork and all sorts of charcuterie and cheese.

The other great summer red is Loire Valley Cabernet Franc; they tend to be a bit more savoury, sometimes with peppery dry tannins, making them brilliant wines to drink with food, but occasionally a little austere on their own. This may explain why they aren’t more popular; given the increasing demand for light, low-alcohol wines, you would expect to find them everywhere, but few of the multiples seem to stock them. Marks & Spencer does have the excellent Plessis-Duval Saumur-Champigny (€15) and O’Briens the soft ripe Saint Nicolas de Bourgeuil (€16.95). Otherwise, check out your local wine shop.

As part of their French wine sale, Lidl has a number of summery wines, including the lightly fruity Beaujolais Domaine de la Presse Fleurie (€10.99) and a very gluggable Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2017 (€9.99). I almost preferred the less expensive, very attractive, juicy Beaujolais 2016 (€13) from Marks & Spencer to its Fleurie (€17), but I would be happy to drink either. Elsewhere, Aldi has an attractive, easy-drinking Beaujolais 2016 for an amazing €7.99, perfect for large summer gatherings.

Beaujolais ‘Les Bécots’ 2017, Thorin

13%, €11.99

Light rounded blackcurrant fruits with a smooth finish. An attractive multi-purpose wine to match with white meats, charcuterie and salmon. Summer parties on the patio.
Stockists: Mace, Spar, Eurospar, Londis

The Flower and the Bee 2016, Ribeiro

13%, €19-€20

From Spain, a very attractive light juicy wine with crisp raspberry and red cherry fruits. Good acidity and very refreshing; this would go nicely with grilled salmon, or mixed tapas.
Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure; Kelly’s, Clontarf; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Michael’s, Mount Merrion; Clontarf Wines; 64 Wine, Glasthule

Beaujolais Villages du Grappin 2017

13%, €24.99

Light and juicy with vibrant red cherry fruits. Some savoury refreshing tannins on the finish, making it the ideal partner for roast pork, pâtés and barbecued lamb kebabs.

Stockists: Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown,; 64 Wine, Glasthule,; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork,; Alex Findlater, Limerick;; Green Man Wines, Terenure,

Le Clos des Quarterons Vieilles Vignes 2015, St Nicolas de Bourgeuil

12.5%, €27.95

One of my favourite red wines so far this year; a Loire Cabernet Franc with an irresistible combination of delicate silky yet concentrated red fruits and gently refreshing acidity. Beautifully textured with nicely integrated tannins. Enjoy with pork dishes, a herby roast chicken or a baked ham.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown,

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Yes to flavour, no to hangover: great low and no alcohol wines

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 16th June, 2018

Our tastes have changed; most of us are now looking for lighter, fresher wines. We are also much more aware of the need to limit our intake of alcohol for health reasons. If you are looking to lose weight, both alcohol and residual sugar contain calories. Some of the world’s greatest wines are naturally low in alcohol, including Hunter Valley Semillon from Australia, Portuguese Vinho Verde, and Riesling, one of my favourite grapes. Many Alsace, Austrian, German and Australian Rieslings come in at 12-12.5 per cent and Riesling from the Mosel in Germany is even lower at 6-10 per cent. O’Briens have the fruit-filled off-dry Selbach (10.5 per cent) for a very reasonable €13.95, and the Dr L from Loosen is widely available too.

The big problem with low-alcohol and no-alcohol wine was always obvious; they didn’t taste like wine and most of them didn’t taste very nice either. Maybe it’s because our palates are used to “normal” wines, but until recently, most seemed confected and a little bit weird. A lot of them still do. Alcohol carries the flavours that make wine such a compelling drink. But over the past few years, things have changed. The increased demand for lower-alcohol drinks has encouraged producers to find ways of making the wines taste better. The technology is improving every year, and some of them are now very drinkable.

It is very easy to make your own low-alcohol wine low-alcohol simply by adding water (or ice in sunny weather), sparkling water or soda water to create your own cooler. Generally I like to drink my wine the way the producer intended, and I wouldn’t recommend doing this with your finest wines, but in warm weather it can be really refreshing. I find it works better on white wines and lighter reds than full-bodied red wines.

The supermarkets offer a range of de-alcoholised wines at 0.5-5 per cent alcohol; most are pretty awful. I would much prefer to drink less wine, switch to beer or an interesting alcohol-free drink such as kombucha or water kefir. However, wines with 8-12 per cent can taste very good. Marks & Spencer leads the way with lower-alcohol wines; the Sumika range (€11) has 8.5% alcohol and 50 calories per 100 ml, and M&S also has the very tasty Marlborough Rosé below.

Innovative Spanish producer Torres has pioneered very low or no-alcohol wines for years, and their Natureo wines, both red and white, are very good and now have no alcohol. Australian producer Rawsons Retreat makes two pleasantly fruity wines, a red and a white, with 0.5 per cent alcohol. All of the above are available in Dunnes Stores. Spar, Eurospar and Mace have Nosecco, an alcohol-free sparkling wine for €5.99. In independent wine shops, look out for the Fritz Müller sparkling alcohol-free wine.

Santa Rita Early Harvest Fresh Sauvignon Blanc 2018

11.5%, €8 

Elderflower aromas with crisp pear and apple fruits. One to sip well-chilled before dinner on a summers’ evening.
Stockist: SuperValu

Most Xarel.lo, Catalunya

0%, €8 for a 50cl bottle

This is posh grape juice, but it is very good; not too sweet, just bursting with very moreish delicious fresh grapes balanced by good acidity. A very smart alcohol-free drink.

Stockists: Blackrock Cellar,; Donnybrook Fair,; Liston’s, Camden Street,

Marlborough Rosé 2017

9.5%, €16

A very impressive low-alcohol wine, nicely aromatic with plenty of light fresh red cherry fruits and good acidity. With salads, or a stir-fry of prawns and scallops.
Stockist: Marks & Spencer

Zeppelin 2016, Mülhiemer Riesling, Max Ferd Richter

9.5%, €17.50-€18.95

Lovely lifted floral aromas, with crisp green apple and pear fruits, zingy citrus acidity and an off-dry finish you hardly notice. With a herby crab salad.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf,; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street,; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,; Redmonds, Ranelagh,; Wicklow Wine Co,

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Prosecco isn’t the only sparkling wine in town

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 9th June, 2018

A chilled glass of sparkling wine goes down a treat as the sun sets on a warm sunny evening.

I love good Champagne, but the budget doesn’t always stretch that far, and cheap Champagne is rarely worth the money. Sales of Prosecco continue unabated, but there are plenty of alternatives around at prices that won’t break the bank. Some are a lot more interesting too. I have come across some great alt sparkling wines recently from Cava, Franciacorta (in Italy) as well as England and even Luxembourg. However, all these cost well over €30; all of the wines I’ve chosen cost substantially less.

 For several years now hipsters and cool kids alike have been sipping Pét Nat (or Pétillant Naturel) wines. These are lightly fizzy wines, made by the oldest sparkling wine method of all. In the past, they often happened by accident; half-finished wine stopped fermenting in the cold of winter, and then began again as temperatures rose in spring-time. If the wine had been bottled in the intervening period, then a second fermentation took place in the bottle, giving the wine a light sparkle. Production was (and is) hard to control, and the results can be unreliable.

Pét Nats are typically lower in alcohol and have fewer bubbles than Champagne. They are funky, rustic, cloudy, fizzy, fruity, unpredictable – and fun. Often sealed with a crown cap rather than a cork, they make a refreshing change. They produce Pét Nats in Prosecco, where it is labelled col fondo.


Champagne, Cava, Spumante Prosecco, the various Crémants and most New World sparkling wines are all taxed at twice the rate of frizzante Prosecco and Pét Nats, both of which are classified by Revenue as still wine. All the more remarkable then that the two fully sparkling wines below still come in at less than €20.

I have written about the Aldi Crémant de Jura before. It remains one of the best-value bottles of fizz, but for a change I’ve chosen the Crémant de Loire instead this week. The Loire Valley produces plenty of good well-priced sparkling wine. The best I have tasted recently is the amazing Triple Zéro La Taille aux Loups from Jacky Blot (€35.60, SuperValu has the very decent Bonnamy white and rosé for €19.95. Alternatively Tesco has the ultra-reliable and very tasty Jacob’s Creek Rosé Sparkling for €17.99 (promoted to €16 at times). Spar, Eurospar, Mace and Londis all offer the fruit-filled Jaume Serra Cava Brut for €15.99. On a more adventurous note, the Tesco Finest Pignoletto (€15.99) will please Prosecco lovers, or Marks & Spencer even have a Brazilian sparkling wine for €14. For those who want Prosecco, the organic La Jara below was my favourite for less than €15.

Four of the best bottles of fizz

LaCheteau Crémant de Loire NV Blanc de Noirs
12% €12.99

Lightly floral with ripe raspberries on nose and palate. You could use this in all sorts of summer cocktails, or drink simply by itself.

Stockists: Aldi.

La Jarra Prosecco Frizzante, Organic
10.5% €14.95

Elderflower and pear aromas, clean and crisp with very moreish rounded pear fruits with good citrus acidity.

Stockists: La Touche, Greystones,; Liston’s, Camden St.,; 64 Wine, Glasthule,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St,; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf,; Clontarf Wines,; Kelly’s, Clontarf,

Langlois l’Extra, Crémant de Loire
12.5% €17.95

Langlois, is owned by Champagne house Bollinger, and while you won’t mistake this for Champagne, it is a lovely glass of fizz, with a lightly creamy texture and subtle peach and yellow fruits.

Stockists: O’Briens

Col Tamaríe, Vigna San Lorenzo
11.5% €23-€24

A single vineyard organic wine treated with “unicist homeopathy”. Lightly fizzy, mildly funky with delicate citrus and pear fruits. Much more interesting than Prosecco. The prefect summer aperitif.

Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin and Kells,;

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The best rosé wines to try right now

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday, 2nd June, 2018

Is there anything more summery than a bottle of chilled rosé? Wine producers lament the fact that we Irish will only crack it open when the sun comes out and the temperature rises – and that doesn’t happen very often.

They argue that rosé is a great wine 12 months of the year, and they have a point; rosé goes really well with a variety of foods, including warm-weather salads, but with most chicken and shellfish dishes too.

It can also make a great partner for mildly-spiced curries and Asian dishes. Medium-bodied rosé is incredibly versatile, matching up perfectly with grilled and barbecued white meats, paella and risotto, as well as pâtés, charcuterie and goat’s cheese.  And of course, it makes a great aperitif or party wine. As some of them are off-dry, they can be easier to drink solo or with nibbles than a nerve-jangling crisp acidic white wine.

Yet there is something distinctly sunny about rosé. While posh versions are all the rage (see this week’s Irish Times summer food guide for Whispering Angel) I have a soft spot for light uncomplicated inexpensive rosé, sipped well-chilled while sitting in the shade on a hot sunny day.

There are plenty of decent inexpensive rosés to be found, although I would steer clear of the really cheap, sweet versions. Marks & Spencer held its annual spring wine tasting recently and included a range of wines priced at €7-€7.50. Normally wines in this category are fairly anodyne, if not very confected, but I was very taken with the House Rosé, along with several white wines. M&S also showed the very gluggable low-alcohol (9.5 per cent) Forrest Marlborough Pinot Noir Rosé, one of the best low-alcohol wines I have tasted.

Aldi has three rosés, all for less than €9; as well as the Côtes de Provence listed below, the Exquisite Touraine Rosé (€8.49) is worth trying out.

SuperValu has a rosé promotion (ends July 7th), with 10 wines, including the excellent Graham Norton Marlborough Rosé (€10), the very elegant, smooth La Petite Perriere (€8), and the crisp, dry Bendel (€10) from Provence. In addition, they stock the recently arrived fruit-filled Santa Rita Rosé 2017 (€12.50) from Chile, as does Tesco.

O’Briens off-licence runs a summer-long rosé promotion every year, offering a second bottle at half-price. I featured the Hedonisme Rosé from Gérard Bertrand in the food magazine, and the Chateau Rioter below is a tasty option, but I also enjoyed the food-friendly Petit Bourgeois Pinot Noir Rosé (€15.95, buy one, get one at half price).

Lastly while I am not completely convinced by expensive rosé, for me the finest rosé of all is pink Champagne, and a glass of the Veuve Clicquot Rosé below would go down very well on a balmy summer evening.

Marks & Spencer House Rosé
Marks & Spencer House Rosé

Four rosés wine to try

Marks & Spencer House Rosé
12%, €7
Essence of summer. Light fresh strawberry fruits and a clean dry finish.  Perfect on its own or with lighter salads with prawns or other shellfish. Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Aldi Exquisite Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016
Aldi Exquisite Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016

Aldi Exquisite Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016
13.5%, €8.99
Attractive relatively full-bodied rosé with rich ripe strawberry fruits and a rounded finish. Perfect with barbecued white meats, and richer seafood dishes. Stockists: Aldi

Ch. Rioter 2017, Côtes de Provence
Ch. Rioter 2017, Côtes de Provence

Ch. Rioter 2017, Côtes de Provence
13%, €17.95 – buy one get one half price
Very attractive medium to light-bodied rosé with raspberry and red cherry fruits, finishing dry. A great all-purpose summer wine to match with chicken, pork or richer fish, such as salmon or tuna. Stockists: O’Briens

Veuve Cliquot Champagne Rosé NV
Veuve Cliquot Champagne Rosé NV

Veuve Cliquot Champagne Rosé NV
12.5%, €69.95
A very elegant Champagne with refined strawberry and raspberry fruits, alongside subtle notes of biscuits and toasted almonds. Perfect with poached salmon and a hollandaise sauce. Stockists: O’Briens,; 64 Wine, Glasthule,; Le Caveau, Kilkenny,; Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne,; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Molloys Liquor Stores,; Tesco.

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Alsace Wines – perfect for a posh summer lunch

First published in The Irish Times, 26th May, 2018

A tasting of Alsace wines last week was a timely reminder of just how good the wines of this part of France can be, and how I probably don’t drink them often enough. I don’t think I am alone. Alsace wines seem to have fallen off our radar a little, despite being made in a style that is universally popular.

Riesling tends to get most of the publicity and praise, rightly so, as it produces some the world’s greatest wines both here in Alsace and elsewhere. After that our knowledge of Alsace tends to get a little sketchy. Leaving aside Gewürztraminer – which I generally try to do – there are two other important grape varieties, responsible for some very enjoyable wines.

Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, better known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, both produce fruit-filled, unoaked white wines, generally lowish in alcohol, that can offer great value for money. While they can certainly be drunk as an aperitif, they really show best when matched with food. It may not be a coincidence that Alsace is home to some of the great foods and restaurants of France.

Blended wines

In addition to the varietal wines, Alsace also produces a number of blended wines. Known as Edelzwicker (noble blend) in the past, these were often seen as inferior, a means for the producer to tidy up the leftovers, although a few were very good. Some were involuntary blends, made from various varieties planted together in the same vineyard. The term Gentil is used more often nowadays, to signify a blend made up of at least 50 per cent Riesling, Muscat and/or Gewürztraminer, and the remainder is the rest made up of Pinot Blanc Sylvaner, Chasselas and/or Pinot Blanc. Before blending, each grape variety must be vinified separately. Sounds complicated, but I am very fond of these.

Combining the floral aromas and rich fruit of Muscat or Gewürztraminer with the crisp acidity of Pinot Blanc or Riesling can yield a delicious summer wine, perfect with al fresco lunches or with many of the lovely pork dishes of Alsace. With their ripeness of fruit, they can go very well with lightly spiced Asian dishes too.

I have chosen four relatively expensive wines, with a posh summer lunch in mind. Alsace does offer cheaper versions although some of these are a little too sweet for my tastes. Trimbach, Hugel, Sipp Mack, Schlumberger and the Caves de Turckheim are all reliable, widely available producers in independent wine shops. O’Briens has the excellent Kreydenweiss. Most supermarkets have less expensive Alsace wines – Lidl will have a rounded fruity Pinot Gris for €10.99 from June 11th. But if you are having an upmarket al fresco meal featuring salmon, pork, chicken and salads, all of the wines below are worth investing in.

Alsace wines: four to choose from

Gentil d’Alsace 2016, Meyer-Fonné
12% €17.95
This wonderful wine is a blend of four grape varieties. Seductive aromas followed by plump melons and passionfruit laced with ginger and a touch of honey. As an aperitif, or with lightly spicy prawn dishes.  Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Baggot; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork,; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Le Caveau, Kilkenny,

Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2015, Alsace
13% €17-€17.99
From one of the great producers of Alsace, a light refreshing wine with quince and yellow fruits, finishing bone dry. With nibbles before dinner or with shellfish, cold meats and salads. Stockists: Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine, Glasthule,; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown,; McHugh’s, Kilbarrack Road and Malahide Road.,;  Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Higgin’s, Clonskeagh,; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny,;  Martin’s, Clontarf,

As de B 2016, Agathe Bursin, Biodynamic
12% €23.50
A field blend of six varieties from the Bollenberg vineyard, this is a delightful wine with floral aromas and delicate soft ripe pineapple and melon fruits. Perfect summer drinking on its own or with light white fish dishes. Limited quantities available. Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook,

Pinot Gris Tradition 2016, Domaine Pfister
13.5% €29
Ripe exotic fruits on the nose, leading to a crisp taut palate that finishes long and dry. One to try with tartes flambées, quiches and other pies. Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule,; The Wine Library, Dún Laoghaire,

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