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Top-notch sparkling wines for Christmas

In the run-up to Christmas many of us like a glass or two of something sparkling. Some of the time it is swallowed without too much thought, unless it is truly awful or something really special that kick-starts our taste buds. But it is worth taking a little time to buy something decent: your family and friends will thank you for it.

The two national favourites are prosecco and champagne. I rarely refuse a glass of good champagne, although it can be very expensive. As far as I am concerned we reached peak prosecco some time ago, so I am delighted to see the range of sparkling wines in our shops expand to include some really interesting, reasonably priced wines. This week, a few more offbeat choices from the Loire Valley, Portugal and even the Czech Republic, as well as an inexpensive champagne that will get any party going.

 I wrote about t-nats earlier this year. These are naturally sparkling wines (the name is short for pétillant naturel), lightly fizzy and sometimes quite funky too. Some are a little cloudy with the leftovers from fermentation. A glass before dinner can be very refreshing and a whole lot more interesting than a prosecco. The Portuguese PT Nat Pinot Noir below is a milder version, with plenty of fruit and a light sparkle.

Wines labelled Brut Nature, including two of the bottles featured below, will have virtually no residual sugar, and if you are used to drinking sweetish prosecco they may come as something of a shock to your system. But both are well worth trying.

If you do want to serve champagne, it usually makes sense to pay more than €30, as inexpensive bottles rarely offer good value for money. There are, however, a few exceptions, such the Monsigny below or the very tasty Granzamy Brut Champagne (€29.95, O’Briens). For more adventurous palates, O’Briens also has the very tasty Australian Croser Brut Rosé (€24.95). Dunnes Stores has the excellent grown-up, refined bone dry Champagne Lombard Brut Nature Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs (€45). Terroirs, in Donnybrook in Dublin, has a great selection of grower- or domaine-bottled champagnes. My favourites include the Agrapart 7 Crus (€69.50) and the Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (€59.50). I always enjoy a glass of the excellent Bénard-Pitois 1er cru Champagne (Whelehans, €36.95). One of the finest grower champagnes I have tasted in recent months is Leclerc Briant (€59, siyps.com, Green Man Wines). Of the bigger names in champagne, Bollinger, Louis Roederer and Charles Heidsieck are all on top form at the moment. Expect to pay €55-€65 for all of these.

Two final pieces of advice. Don’t serve your sparkling wine too cold; half an hour in an ice bucket will kill all flavour. And do serve plenty of nibbles – all wine, including sparkling, tastes better with a little food.

Tuffeau 2017, Blancs de Blancs Brut Nature, Domaine Plou
12%, €19.50-€19.95
Delicious crisp sparkling wine with lovely clean apple fruits, finishing dry. Grown-up fizz with a touch of class; great value for money. Serve with mixed tapas. From Cass & Co, Dungarvan, cassansdco.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie

Veuve Monsigny Fireworks Champagne NV
12%, €22.99
Elegant with crisp green apple fruits, a touch of lemon zest and a lick of buttery brioche. Quality champagne at an affordable price. For larger parties create a real stir with a magnum (€50). From Aldi, aldi.ie

Uivo PT Nat Pinot Noir Rosé 2017, Portugal
12.5% €23
Very pale in colour, lightly effervescent, with tasty redcurrant fruits and a yeasty edge. From Liston’s, Camden Street, Dublin, listonsfoodstore.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, Dublin, baggotstreetwines.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin, clontarfwines.ie

Krásna Horá Blanc de Noir Brut Nature 2016, Czech Republic, Biodynamic
12%, €40
Delicious clean, fresh Granny Smith apples, with a creamy texture and subtle notes of brioche. A bone-dry, long, palate-cleansing finish. An aperitif with cheese straws or toasted almonds. From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie

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My Favourite Festive wines from Aldi

First published online in the Irish Times 16th November, 2018

Aldi has been working hard to improve its wine range, and now have a pretty decent core range of wines.  These are my favourites from its Christmas line-up, which are set to be available from all 133 of its Irish stores.

Veuve Monsigny Celebration Champagne NV
12%, €22.99 (magnum €50) 
Aldi’s Cremant de Jura (€11.99) is one of the best-value fizzes, but if you fancy splashing out a bit, this is a very upmarket champagne, with crisp green apple, a touch of brioche and a decent finish. Very good value.

Castellori Soave Superiore Classico 2017
12.5%, €6.49
Decent light, fresh green-apple fruits with a dry finish. Perfect for parties and with lighter seafood dishes. Quite incredible at the price.

Limestone German Riesling 2017, Pfalz
12%, €8.99
Floral, with light, fresh crisp red-apple fruits and a touch of honey; fairly dry. As with the Soave above, great value for money. Party wine.

Lot Series Lot XI Australian Chardonnay 2017, Clare Valley & Margaret River
13%, €13.99
Google tells me that Clare Valley is more than 2,700km from Margaret River, so this is a unique cross-regional blend. The wine is pretty good: fresh, clean tropical and pear fruits, crisp, almost elegant. Decent value for money.

Redwood Hills Single Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018
13%, €9.99
I’m not a huge Marlborough Sauvignon fan, but this is a very reasonable, well-priced version. Lightly aromatic with lime zest, passion fruit and pears.

The Venturer Series Costières de Nîmes 2017
13.5%, €7.49
Decent medium-bodied red with inky dark fruits; very quaffable, and decent value.

Exquisite Collection Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2016
14%, €9.99 
Smooth, well-made ripasso. Not too sweet or extracted, with pleasant dark-cherry fruits.

Lot Series Tasmanian Pinot Noir 2017, Tasmania
13.5%, €13.99
Light, supple juicy raspberries and piquant redcurrants. You won’t mistake it for some of the more serious Tassie Pinots, but this is excellent value for money. With duck, game birds or tuna.

Barone Bruni Chianti Classico Riserva 2015
13.5%, €11.99
Soft, easy, ripe, sweet red-cherry fruits; easy-drinking wine to go with most red or white meats.

Exquisite Collection Amontillado Sherry
18%, €7.99 (500ml)
Sherry lovers should certainly not miss this, a delicious, piquant, concentrated dry sherry with plenty of toasted nuts, dark fruits and a lovely finish. Outstanding value for money.

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New Irish whiskies to dream about for Christmas

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 24th November 2018

Distiller Alex Chasko had a broad smile on his face when I visited Teelings recently. The company is understandably excited about the commercial release of its first whiskey distilled in its own distillery in the Liberties. It believes this is the first whiskey that has been distilled and aged in Dublin for 50 years. Made from 50 per cent unmalted spring barley and 50 per cent malted barley, the whiskey is triple distilled and matured in a combination of virgin oak, ex-wine and ex-bourbon barrels.

Whiskey lovers will be familiar with Green Spot and Yellow Spot, Jameson whiskies that were originally aged by wine merchant Mitchell & Son in its warehouse. Today Green Spot carries no statement of age (it hasn’t for many years), while Yellow Spot is a 12 year old. This Christmas sees the release of Red Spot 46%, a 15-year-old single pot still whiskey, finished in Sherry and Sicilian Marsala casks. Jonathan Mitchell, who remembers bottling the original Red Spot, is delighted. “The re-launch of Mitchell’s Red Spot is, to me, like the return of an old friend after many years away. You invariably say ‘you haven’t changed a bit’; in this case it’s true!”

Meanwhile, Powerscourt releases three new expressions of whiskey. The distillery has been going since June, and now has some 550 barrels of spirit starting the maturation process. The Fercullen Premium Blend “is a very nice balanced whiskey”, says distiller Noel Sweeney, who worked at Cooley Distillery for many years.

“The 10-year-old Fercullen Single Grain Whiskey has vanilla which will please those who like bourbon style, but it is less concentrated or tannic. We wanted to keep the attributes of the sweet Irish spirit alongside those nice bourbon flavours of honey, oak and lemon.”

The 14-year-old Fercullen Single Malt has “a hefty malt cereal note which I really like and then the oak age and wood come in to it”. This was not finished in another cask. “Whiskey at that age doesn’t need messing around too much – for our first release we wanted the age and the whiskey to shine through.”

Lough Gill distillery is being developed in the historic Hazelwood Estate in Sligo. It is working with Billy Walker, one of Scotland’s most respected distillers, who was voted Global Distiller of the Year in 2015. This weekend it releases limited quantities of three new whiskies, all 14-year-old single malts, at Whiskey Live (see whiskeylivedublin.com for tickets) at The Printworks, Dublin Castle, under the Athrú brand.

Lough Gill has yet to begin distilling on the estate. The equipment has started to arrive, and will be followed by the pot still in mid-December. The plan is to begin distilling in April or May next year.

Fercullen Premium Blend Irish Whiskey, Powerscourt Distillery
40%, €45
Seductive mellow vanilla spice, with lemon zest, orchard fruits and a lightly toasty finish.
From: Mitchell & Son, chq, and Sandycove, mitchellandson.com; online from Powerscourtdistillery.com; The Celtic Whisky Shop, celticwhiskeyshop.com.

Teeling Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
46%, RRP €55
Light vanilla with floral notes, very pure clean fruits on the palate, with a lovely kick on the finish. A very attractive, subtle young whiskey.
From: Teeling Whiskey Distillery, Teelingwhiskey.com; Dublin Airport; The Celtic Whiskey Shop, celticwhiskeyshop.com, and specialist off-licences.

Red Spot 15 Year Old Single Pot Still Whiskey
46%, RRP €115
A wonderful rich powerful complex whiskey, creamy with red apple fruits, plenty of spice and very seductive toasted nuts and leather. A real Christmas treat.
From: Mitchell & Son, chq, and Sandycove, mitchellandson.com; The Celtic Whiskey Shop, celticwhiskeyshop.com, Redmonds, Ranelagh; Redmonds.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; McCambridges, Galway, mccambridges.com; Galvins, Cork, Galvinswine.ie.

Athrú Keshcorran 2018 14 year old Single Malt Whiskey, Lough Gill Distillery
48%, €149
Superb, elegant whiskey with complex notes of ripe pear, honey, ginger spice, and orange peel. An excellent long finish.
From: The Celtic Whiskey Shop, celticwhiskeyshop.com.

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Bordeaux wines that don’t cost a fortune

When it comes to a roast of beef or lamb, bordeaux is hard to beat.

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

As one of the best-known names, Bordeaux can command a premium price for its very top wines. Sadly these days, a bottle of the very best classed-growth Bordeaux costs hundreds of euro, out of reach for most of us. However, less expensive Bordeaux can offer great value for money, and ranks as one of the great food wines.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you drink it with Christmas turkey (the tannins can clash with both turkey meat and cranberry sauce), but, judging from sales over the festive period, most of the country disagrees with me.

When it comes to a roast of beef or lamb, though, Bordeaux is hard to beat. If you are catering for vegetarians and vegans, roast red peppers, mushrooms (great with many red wines) and cheese dishes all go well with red Bordeaux.

Most retailers bring in a selection of Bordeaux for the Christmas season, so here we present a round-up of the best on offer from budget busters to the very finest.

For those on a budget, SuperValu has the ever reliable Chateau Pey Latour (€9 on promotion), and 64 Wine the very attractive fruit-filled Chateau Canon La Foret (€14). Lidl has Chateau Carpena Côtes du Bourg (€9.99), which I marginally preferred to its Côtes de Bourg, Chateau les Graves de Cau (€8.99). Dunnes Stores has Chateau Darzac and Chateau Bois Pertuis (both €12.50).

Moving up in price, Molloy’s Liquor Stores has an ambitious new range of Bordeaux, from €18.95 to €33; my pick of the bunch was the €24.95 Chateau Moulin Borie (see below). O’Briens Wines can always be relied upon to have a good selection; this year my star picks include the fine elegant Chateau Mauvesin-Barton 2014 (€25.95), the soft-maturing Chateau Rolland de By (€28.95) and the fruit-filled Chateau St Marie (€15.95). Among its excellent selection of Bordeaux, Terroirs in Donnybrook has two organic wines, the supremely elegant margaux Chateau Mille Roses 2015 (€39.50) and the very attractive Les Demoiselles de Falfas 2016 (€24.50).

As might be expected, Mitchell & Son is not short on options when it comes to Bordeaux; I would certainly be happy with a bottle of Chateau La Justice 2015 (€21.95) or, at a less elevated price, Cuvée des Abeilles 2015, Chateau d’Auzanet (€14.95) and Grand Bateau Bordeaux (€16.95). If you fancy visiting Bordeaux, Mitchells will be running a wine trip there next summer; see mitchellandson.com for details.

Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown is another good source of Bordeaux. From its tasty selection, Chateau le Crock 2010 St Estèphe (€45) is a seriously good wine, and I was very taken with the Chateau La Fleur Pourrot 2012 St Émilion Grand Cru (€35).

Bordeaux de Gloria 2016, Bordeaux
12.5%, €19.95
A very attractive elegant bordeaux with blackcurrants and a touch of spice, finishing on a lightly tannic note. Roast lamb or beef.
From La Touche, Greystones, latouchewines4u.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Higgins, Clonskeagh; O’Driscoll’s, Cahersiveen, Co.Kerry; Grape & Grain, Leopardstown Inn, leopardstowninn.ie; Londis, Malahide; Drinkstore, Manor Street, Dublin, drinkstore.ie

Chateau Moulin-Borie 2015, Listrac-Moulis
13.5%, €24.95
Ripe, smooth and sophisticated with concentrated red fruits overlaid with spice, and well-integrated tannins on the finish. Try it with a roast of beef.
From Molloy’s Liquor Stores, molloys.ie

Chateau Lamarsalle 2014, Montagne St Émilion, Biodynamic
13.5%, €28
Delicious vibrant claret, loaded with ripe damsons and blackberries, a good backbone of tannin and excellent length.  A great match for roast beef, lamb or a rare steak.
From 64 Wine, Glasthule; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, elywinebar.ie

Chateau le Puy Barthelemy 2011, Côtes de Bordeaux, Francs Biodynamic
13.5%, €135
Forward, ripe dark fruits, some undergrowth and a long dry finish. Supremely elegant and long. With an aged fillet of beef.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, redmonds.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; siyps.com

 

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The wine trade: ‘It’s hard, but working for yourself makes it all worthwhile’

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 10th November, 2018

This week, three independent wine retailers, all celebrating some kind of anniversary. Clontarf Wines opened for business five years ago, and was run by Ronnie and Helena Carragher. Ronnie was one of the true gentlemen of the wine trade a man with a wonderful dry wit. Sadly he passed away recently. In his stead, local boy James Tobin is now in charge, still assisted by Helena. Tobin spent the last twelve years working in O’Briens Wines, and managed several stores. “It is absolutely amazing and fulfilling”, says Tobin. “It is hard work and long hours, but working for yourself makes it all worthwhile. I always admired the shop and what Helena and Ronnie had done with it. I grew up in Clontarf and live here, so it is great to be back home again. The shop is small, but beautifully laid out, with a treasure trove of really interesting wines, as well as cheeses, cold meats and other edible goodies.

Red Nose Wine was set up by Gary Gubbins 10 years ago. An electronic engineer, he found himself working and living in Paris. “It was there that the wine bug really hit off” he says, “We would spend weekends in the Loire, Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Then I became friendly with a local bistro owner whose father had left him a cellar-full of old Burgundy. Over the next two years I drank nearly every bottle. The irony is that now, working in the wine trade, I cannot afford to drink Burgundy any more!”

Returning to his native Clonmel, Gubbins opened online retailer and wine warehouse Red Nose. “As the economy worsened, the value was all from the south of France, then Spain, Portugal and Italy. Although we still import Bordeaux, the Mediterranean is a big part of what we do. We tend to work with small family places, and often import our wines with online specialist Curious Wines.”

This year Martin’s Off-Licence in Fairview celebrates 40 years in business.  Founded by the late Tom Martin, it is now run by the second generation, brothers Damian and Declan. As part of the anniversary celebrations, they launched a series of Portrait Project beers, featuring pictures of his favourite places around Ireland. Known as one of the best places to buy craft beer, Martin’s also stock a wide and eclectic range of wines; regular readers will know that they frequently feature as stockists in this column. Last year they won the prestigious  “Best Off Licence in Dublin 2018”.

 Declan has been working here for 20 years, but really “since I was a baby. I did a lot of travelling and when I returned it was great to have the family shop waiting for me. The business has changed completely –the range of spirits, beers and wines available to the consumer is incredible, if anything too big at times”.

Viña Zorzal Garnacha 2017, Navarra    
13%, €13.75-13.95
Gorgeous pure dark plums and blackberries with a spicy touch on the easy finish. Refreshing and very moreish. A good burger, sausage and mash, or macaroni cheese.
Stockists Clontarf Wines, Dublin, clontarfwines.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; Deveney’s, Dundrum, Dublin; Crafted Deli and Café, Bennettsbridge, Co Kilkenny

Octavio Rubé 2015, Vino Rosso
12.5%, €14.99-15.99
A natural wine that Declan Martin sells “with a warning”. It is funky with light juicy bitter cherries, nice grip and a refreshing acidity. Try it with white meats or charcuterie.
Stockists Martin’s Off-Licence, Clontarf, Dublin, martinsofflicence.ie, Clontarf Wines, Dublin, clontarfwines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin, baggotstreetwines.com; the Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin, thecorkscrew.ie; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street, Dublin, fallonandbyrne.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin, greenmanwines.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin, 64wine.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, Dublin, redmonds.ie

Chateau de Valcombe Blanc 2017, Costières de Nimes
13.5%, €16.99
Wonderful subtle elegant dry white with succulent peaches and pears, balanced perfectly by a mineral acidity. With grilled salmon steaks.
Stockists Red Nose Wine, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, rednosewine.com

Il Muro Chianti Riserva 2015, Fattoria il Muro
13.5%, €19.95
Smooth ripe dark cherry and cassis fruits with toasted coffee and dark chocolate. Try it with grilled sirloin steak with mushrooms.
Stockists Red Nose Wine, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, rednosewine.com; Curious Wines, curiouswines.ie; Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Waterford, ardkeen.com; Cass & Co, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, cassandco.ie

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Wine secrets: what’s really in your bottle?

 

First published in The Irish Times on Saturday 3rd November, 2018

It seems strange that a bottle of Coca-Cola must print the ingredients used to make it, whereas a bottle of wine does not. Somehow the wine business, along with beer and spirits, has largely managed to avoid telling us what is contained within. Back labels tend to have flowery descriptions, food recommendations and maybe a little marketing blurb, but very little information on how the wine was actually made. As well as adding the health warnings, maybe the Government might like to insist that a few key ingredients are included.

 Additives and treatments are not always a bad thing; most of us do not want to drink faulty wine, and mass-produced wines do require greater intervention. Even at the very highest level, producers of luxury wines are not above using treatments that improve the finished product. Additives of some sort go back more than 5,000 years, to the very start of winemaking.

The most common is sulphur dioxide, the one ingredient that is listed on a wine label. It was first introduced by the Romans, and most winemakers consider it an essential anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial agent. Levels used are fairly low, and have dropped hugely over the last few decades, ranging from a minimum of 10 parts per million/ppm (sulphur being a by product of fermentation) to the EU legal maximum of 150ppm (parts per million) for red wine, 210ppm for white, and 400ppm for dessert wine. By comparison, raisins and other dried fruits can contain anything from 500ppm to 2,000ppm.

Other additives and processing aids include sugar (to add fizz to sparkling wine or increase alcohol); concentrated grape juice to sweeten; tartaric or ascorbic acid to add acidity; yeasts to get the fermentation going; nutrients such as diammonium phosphate to keep them working away; wood chips, enzymes and malolactic cultures.

Add in fining and filtering agents such as egg whites, isinglass, polyvinylpyrrolodine (PVPP), bentonite, gelatin and casein and lastly water – permitted in some countries to lower alcohol – and wine begins to look slightly less natural. There are also procedures such as reverse osmosis, micro-oxygenation and spinning cones.

Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop, in their book Authentic Wine, give the example of the Co-op supermarket chain in the UK, which lists all ingredients on the back label.

A Sauvignon Blanc has the following ingredients listed: Grapes, acidity regulator (potassium bicarbonate), preservative (potassium meta bisulphate), copper sulphate. Made using antioxidants (carbon dioxide, nitrogen) yeast, yeast nutrient (diammonium phosphate). Cleared using bentonite, filtration pectinolytic enzymes.

Should we be worried about all of these additions? Possibly not; the overall standard of winemaking is higher than ever, and the use of sulphur lower. But although it might remove some of the romance of wine, I think we have a right to know how our wine is made, however unpalatable that might be.

 

Bellow’s Rock Shiraz 2016, Western Cape, South Africa

14%, €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.

Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

 

 

Saint Mont 2016, Plaimont, France

13%, €13.30

Medium-bodied with lovely waxy apple fruits, a hint of pineapple and a dry finish. Intriguing and delicious. With creamy chicken dishes.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer, marksandspencer.ie.

 

 

Vermell 2016, Celler del Roure, Valencia Organic

13.5%, €17

Gloriously vibrant fruit-filled wine with herbs, liquorice and so much more. Perfect with a roast chicken.

Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Baggot Street Wines, baggotstreetwines.com; Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie; Drinkstore, Manor Street, D7, drinkstore.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com; Martin’s Off Licence, Fairview, martinsofflicence.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie.

 

Etna Bianco 2016, Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Organic

12.5%, €25.95

Floral, refined, elegant wine with fresh tangy peaches and apple, and a light creaminess. The perfect posh aperitif or with grilled brill, a wonderful delicate fish.

Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Deveney’s, Dundrum; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com.

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Pinot noir: the perfect autumnal wine

This article was first published in The Irish Times Saturday 27th October, 2018

There is something distinctly autumnal about pinot noir; the earthy, leafy forest-floor aromas of a mature wine, the soft, ripe mellow fruits, even the whiff of wood smoke at times. It also goes so well with all sorts of game birds, rabbit and venison that come into season now.

Pinot noir was once the holy grail of most winemakers. It was famously fussy to grow, and equally difficult to fashion into a drinkable wine. It was also very expensive, whether from its home territory in Burgundy or elsewhere.

Yet many winemakers seem to have overcome these difficulties as most retail outlets now have a selection from around the world, often at very affordable prices. Chile probably leads the way for decent inexpensive pinot, followed by New Zealand.

Recently, various retailers have started selling very drinkable Romanian pinot noir for about €10. O’Briens is the latest with the Wildflower Pinot, €8.95 for November and December.

The Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania make Australia’s finest pinot noir, but sadly at a higher price; O’Briens has the Stonier Pinot Noir for €23.95 for November and December. California and Oregon produce some exquisite pinots, sadly at even higher prices; see Jus de Vine, Deveney’s and 64 Wine for these. You can also find very high-quality pinot noir from Germany, but mostly over €20, one exception being the very tasty Palataia Pinot for €14.80 (Marks & Spencer).

For many years, the rest of France struggled to produce decent pinot noir. Not any more; the Loire, Alsace, Limoux and the Languedoc all offer good wines, often at very affordable prices. O’Briens has the delicious juicy Begude Pinot Noir (€16.95) or at entry level, Aldi have the light Roussellet (€7.49). From the Loire, look to the soft ripe La Petite Perrière from SuperValu (€9 on promotion) and Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown has the vibrant la Roncière Pinot Noir 2015 for €17, alongside other great pinots from around the world.

Value for money

But back to Burgundy; I have written here before about how prices for the top wines are rocketing. Recently however, I have come across a number of very reasonably priced Bourgogne rouge. By reasonable, I mean about €20, but both the wines below offer real value for money. The most interesting tend to come from the best domaines of the Côte d’Or.

Burgundy Direct (burgundydirect.ie), as the names suggests, has an expertise in the area; their list contains many gems. Elsewhere you will find the Bourgogne Rouge Domaine J. C. Regnaudot for €21.95 in many independents.

Pinot noir is one of the most food-friendly grapes of all. Lighter versions go well with chargrilled salmon, tuna or roast Mediterranean vegetables. Medium-bodied wines, including most Burgundy, will make a memorable partner for the above-mentioned game birds, baked ham or a mushroom risotto.

Domaine de Mandeville Pinot Noir 2017, IGP Pays d’Oc 
13%, €13.30
Smooth ripe red cherry fruits with an attractive earthy touch. Try it with game pie.
Stockists Marks & Spencer, marksandspencer.ie

Domaine de Brau Pure Pinot Noir 2017, VDP d’Oc Organic/Vegan
14%, €16.60 
Herbal aromas, medium-bodied with dark cherry fruits and a pleasant earthy touch. A very attractive wine and very good value too. Try it with chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce.
Stockists Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie; Urru, Bandon, urru.ie; Scally’s, Clonakilty, Supervaluclon.ie; Connemara Hamper, Connemarahamper.com; Quay Co-op, Cork, quaycoop.com.

Bourgogne Rouge 2015, Domaine Maurice Charleux 
13.5%, €18.95
Lively refreshing brambly blackberry and red cherry fruits; smooth, concentrated and ripe. Lovely wine and great value for money. With a grilled breast of duck or roast mallard.
Stockists Burgundy Direct, burgundydirect.ie

Bourgogne Rouge 2016, Domaine de la Vierge Romain, Machard de Gramont 
13.5%, €20.95
Very seductive smoky spicy dark cherries with good acidity and a smooth long finish. Try it with roast game birds.
Stockists Karwig Wines, Carrigaline, karwigwines.ie; The Vintry, Dublin 6, vintry.ie; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie.

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Wines from independent producers to try (while you still can)

Most of the really interesting wines are made by small producers, usually a family business with two or three employees. Typically, they grow their own grapes and make their own wine. Europe is coming down with such small enterprises, but you will find them in every wine-producing country around the world.

At the other end of the supply chain, Ireland is populated by smaller wine retailers, sometimes off-licences, sometimes a deli, or frequently a wine specialist. As with many small businesses, most of them lead a fairly precarious life, struggling to compete with supermarkets and symbol groups, who have far greater buying power, and are happy to sell alcohol at very low margins or below cost price. Some of these specialist retailers import their wines directly, but most buy their wines from small importers, usually businesses with anything from one to half a dozen employees.

These three groups have one thing in common: a genuine love of wine, and an interest in producing and selling a quality product. They get a real kick out of making or discovering something new and exciting.

I have nothing against the multiples; they form an important part of the wine business, but if the current regulations regarding back labels contained in the alcohol Bill are approved by the European Union, we may see the end of the specialist wine retailer.

Sensible

I welcome many of the provisions in the new alcohol Bill, and hope it leads to a more sensible attitude towards drinking in this country. Everything I write about each week is intended to encourage you, the reader, to drink better, and not more. However, I fear the new regulations may simply play into the hands of larger producers and multiple retailers who ship in huge quantities and would have no difficulty adding a back label at source.

But for smaller producers and specialist importers, it will in many cases be impossible, or prohibitively expensive. I suspect the producers will simply refuse and sell their wine elsewhere. The burden is likely to fall on the importer. Picture yourself in a warehouse, facing a dozen pallets of wine, each with 50 cases, made up of four or five different wines, all requiring different labels. It would take you several days to unpack, label and repack.

The plan, however well intentioned, may actually boost sales of cheaper industrial wines; firstly by introducing minimum pricing, the larger retailers stand to make greater profits, and then by knocking out the competition provided by smaller retailers. Of course, if it were a Europe-wide regulation, and all wines required a back label, the problem would disappear overnight.

This week four wines, made, imported and sold by small independent enterprises; enjoy them while you can.

Kir-Yianni Assyrtiko Mountain Wine 2017, IGP Florina, Greece
13.5%, €20
Elegant floral aromas, exotic fruits with grapefruit zest, plenty of crisp acidity and a dry finish. Perfect with grilled white fish – cod or hake.
Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham St, thecorkscrew.ie, Cabot and Co, Westport, cabotandco.com.

Pinot Grigio 2017, Roberto Fugatti, Trentino, Organic
12.5%, €14.90
A pinot grigio with real flavour; a winning combination of ripe, juicy, honeydew melons and crisp acidity. Great with all kinds of salads or mixed antipasti.        Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, South Anne St; Kells, Co Meath, Galway; SIYPS.com; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Eleven Deli, Greystones, elevendeli.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St, fallonandbyrne.com; Lettercollum Kitchen Project, Clonakilty, lettercollum.ie; Ashes of Annascaul.

Mas del Perie 2016, Les Escures, Cahors, Fabien Jouves, Vegan & Organic
13.50%, €22.50
Juicy, rounded ripe plum and blackcurrant fruits, with a piquant edge, and soft tannins on the finish. Light and elegant. With pork, either roast or chops.
Stockists: Quintessential Wines Drogheda, quintessentialwines.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Hole in the Wall, D7, holeinthewall.pub

Rayos Uva 2016, Rioja, Olivier Rivière
14%, €18.95 – €20.50
Bright lively and really fresh red with lovely pure plums and dark cherries. Drink alongside lamb chops or a rack of lamb.
Stockists: Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Lilliput Stores, Dublin 7, lilliputstores.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Liston’s, Camden St, listonsfoodstore.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Nectar Wines, Sandymount; The Corkscrew, Chatham St, thecorkscrew.ie.

 

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The best wines for your Sunday lunch

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 13th October, 2018

Growing up, I always loved a family Sunday lunch. It didn’t really matter that we spent much of the time arguing with each other; I liked the sense of occasion. My tasks always included taking out the “good” tablecloth and crockery, and for especially auspicious lunches, creating curls of real butter.

My dad, a French teacher, was unusual at the time, in that he enjoyed wine. On a teacher’s salary, he couldn’t afford it very often but once a month, he would go to the local off-licence and buy either a bottle of beer, or more often, a bottle of Nicolas Vieux Ceps, which came with a handy plastic cap, or sometimes a bottle of Lutomer Riesling from what was then Yugoslavia and is now Slovenia.

These days, drinking wine in the middle of the day makes me drowsy and unable to drive, However, every now and again, the family unites for a celebratory traditional Sunday lunch, a roast with all the trimmings, and more often than not, we will enjoy some wine.

A special occasion deserves good wine; unless you have a very large family, this is the time to spend a few euros more on your wine. They are your own flesh and blood after all.

Roast beef or lamb are among the most wine-friendly foods of all. The traditional accompaniment would be a Bordeaux, preferably from the Médoc, but a Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia, the US or Chile should also have the tannic bite that works so well with red meat. Rioja Reserva is a classic match for lamb and I would recommend paying €15 or more, as some of the cheap Rioja Reservas are not great – far better to go for a Rioja Crianza instead. Alternatively, you could go Italian and serve a Chianti Classico or a Barolo.

You can serve either red or white wine with roast chicken or pork. In fact, a good roast chicken will provide the perfect backdrop for your finest wine, red or white. I generally go for a red wine, these days frequently a Pinot Noir, a Mencía from Galicia, or a warming Côtes du Rhône, the latter a good match for most Sunday roasts.

You can drink Pinot Noir with salmon, but I prefer a white wine and a rich Chardonnay from Burgundy or elsewhere is probably best, but you could experiment with Grüner Veltliner or Viognier.

If there are vegetarians at the table, try to cook something that will match the wine you are serving – roast mushrooms, stuffed aubergines, red peppers and pasta bakes all go well with the above mentioned Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja Reserva or Chianti. Roast root vegetables and cauliflower cheese are often better with white wines, or why not try a rosé?

Château Sainte-Marie Réserve 2016, Bordeaux Réserve
13%, €17.95 down to €15.95
Medium-bodied, supple and smooth with concentrated sweet blackcurrant fruits, a hint of vanilla spice, and ripe tannins on the finish. Perfect with roast beef or lamb. From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Les Deux Cols Alizé 2016, Côtes du Rhône  
13.5%, €17.95
A very restrained elegant wine with ripe dark forest fruits, olives, herbs and black pepper, and a subtle acidity to bring it to life. With roast pork or chicken. From Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown, searsons.com; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, redmonds.ie; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; Drinkstore, Manor St, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie; J. J. Fields, Skibereen; Deveney’s, Dundrum; La Touche, Greystones, latouchewines4u.ie

Mâcon-Charnay 2015, Jean Manciat   
13.5%, €22.95
Lovely rich ripe pure apple fruits, balanced perfectly by a seam of refreshing citrus acidity. With salmon, roast chicken or pork. From Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown, searsons.com; Cashel Wine Cellar, Cashel; Sweeney’s Wines, Glasnevin, sweeneyswines.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie

Château Mauvesin Barton 2014, Moulis-en-Médoc 
13% €28.95-€30  
Classic, elegant claret with a lovely fragrant nose, and smooth blackcurrant fruits that glide across the palate, finishing dry. With roast beef or fillet steak. From Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown, searsons.com; O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

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Alcohol and wine: What’s in a number?

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 6th October, 2018.

For many wine drinkers, the most important part of a wine label is not the producer name nor the grape variety, but the percentage alcohol. A decade ago, big turbo-charged wines were all the rage; now we are all looking for something a bit less alcoholic. But do we think light and elegant but actually prefer something a little more full-bodied? Lynne Coyle MW, wine director at O’Briens, believes that while many wine drinkers ask for wines that are lighter in alcohol, in practice we prefer wines with a little more oomph.

“At tastings many consumers love the higher alcohol red wines, but feel they should be drinking something lighter. I am not sure if it is because of something they have read, or they want to drink less alcohol for health reasons, but it is not being driven by the flavour or style.”

Wine is all a matter of balance. You will barely notice the alcohol in a hearty 15 per cent red provided it has enough fruit, acidity and other components. If you feel an alcoholic burn, then something, usually the fruit, is missing.

The hottest wine-producing regions are responsible for the biggest wines, and the coolest tend to make the lightest, most refreshing wines. A producer in a warm region can harvest earlier to keep sugar (and therefore alcohol levels) down; in cooler areas, a winemaker can pick later, or even add sugar to boost alcohol by 1-2 per cent.

Low alcohol wines (typically 5-8 per cent alcohol) do not seem to have a market in Ireland, possibly because too often they are very sweet and just don’t taste like wine. In my book, a wine of 10-12.5 per cent qualifies as light, 13-14 per cent as medium, and anything over 14 per cent as full-bodied. All wine labels must state the percentage alcohol by volume. However, a wine producer is allowed a variation of 0.5 per cent either way, so a wine labelled 12.5 per cent could actually be 13 per cent (or 12 per cent). I sometimes wonder how strictly the law is applied.

A light red wine will taste fresher and more acidic; it has a very different structure to a more full-bodied wine and can be served cool or even chilled. But we really enjoy the richness, texture and warmth that is provided by a little more alcohol. As winter approaches, we start looking at the bigger reds, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Amarone, Bordeaux and Australian Shiraz. White wine is a very different market; the fashion is for zingy, fresh unoaked wines at 12.5–13 per cent all year round.

However, as Coyle points out: “Wine is not meant to be consumed on its own for hours on end. It should be drunk with food, and alongside water.” Then the level of alcohol matters far less.

This week, four perfectly balanced medium-bodied red wines.

Bons Ventos 2016, Casa Santos Lima, VR Lisboa
13%, €14
A big smiling mouthful of wine; layers of smooth ripe dark fruits with rounded tannins on the finish. This will go down nicely with most red or white meats, grilled lamb chops, or baked mushrooms.
From Bradley’s Off-Licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road and Malahide Road, mchughs.ie

Cuvée des Abeilles 2015, Château d’Auzanet, Bordeaux (organic)
13.5%, €14.95
This is an elegant, toothsome Bordeaux with spicy aromas and very agreeable balanced blackberry and red cherry fruits. Nice price too. Steak, served with a red wine and mushroom sauce, would be the local favourite.
From Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Myles Doyle, Gorey; Wilde & Green, Dublin 6; The Wine House, Trim

Bardolino 2016, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Veneto
12.5%, €14.95
Charming sweet/sour morello cherry fruits with a silky, almost lush, texture and a well-rounded finish. Recommended with prosciutto/salami and some crusty sourdough.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Pegos Claros Reserva, Palmela, Portugal
13.5%, €16.95
Very moreish sweet, soft, ripe jammy fruits with exotic spices that evolve and improve with every sip. A warming stew of beans, pork and chorizo.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; La Touche, Greystones, latouchewines4u.ie; Grape & Grain, Leopardstown; The Wine Shop, Perrystown; The Wine Well, Dunboyne; Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; O’Briens Wines, obrienswine.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, baggotstreetwines.com; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Fresh outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; D-Six, Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6; Matson’s, Grange, Bandon; Redmonds, Ranelagh, redmonds.ie; Morton’s, Ranelagh, mortons.ie; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, dundalkwines.com; Liston’s, Camden Street, listonsfoodstore.ie; Red Island Wine, Co Skerries; The Coach House, Ballinteer; Nectar Wines, Sandymount

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