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Lighter, fresher wines from cooler, greener France

Vines at Domaine de Martinolles, in Saint-Hilaire. Photograph: Domaines Paul Mas

Vines at Domaine de Martinolles, in Saint-Hilaire. Photograph: Domaines Paul Mas

First published in The Irish Times on Saturday, 12th August, 2017.

The delightful green valleys of southwest France, with their spectacular backdrop of the Pyrenees, are among my favourite parts of that country. Nestling in the Aude valley is the pleasant town of Limoux. It is actually part of Languedoc, a 20-minute drive from the citadel of Carcassonne, yet it seems a world apart. Higher, cooler and greener, the Limoux region produces wines that are lighter and fresher.

Limoux was originally known for its sparkling wine, which it claims is the oldest, predating champagne. Three styles are produced. Blanquette de Limoux, 90 per cent of which is made up of the local Mauzac grape, is a traditional, very distinctive sparkling wine. Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale is cidery, unfiltered, sweetish and lightly fizzy – an acquired taste but pleasant on a warm day. Crémant de Limoux has up to 80 per cent Chardonnay, plus Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc.

Plantings of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay have grown in recent years. White Limoux can include Mauzac, but many are 100% Chardonnay. The wine must be fermented in oak barrels. You have probably been drinking the Chardonnay without realising it. For years the bigger producers sourced grapes here to freshen their Vins de Pays d’Oc. Some, such as Gérard Bertrand and Domaines Paul Mas, have invested in properties there – Domaine de l’Aigle, and Château de Martinolles and Domaine Astruc, respectively. Production is still dominated by two local co-operatives, which produce large quantities of well-made, occasionally exciting wines. You will find all of these on the shelves of our supermarkets.

There are seven appellations in Limoux, and seven permitted red-grape varieties. Strangely, the authorities couldn’t find space for Pinot Noir, the rapidly emerging real star of the region. Already the Pinots from Domaine Begude, Domaine d’Antugnac and Domaine de l’Aigle are cracking value for money. I can only see them getting better. For the moment they all must go under the broad IGP Pays d’Oc designation. Chardonnay from here can be spectacularly good, with something of the richness and depth of a good white Burgundy but without the price tag.

The real interest in Limoux is provided by a small group of outsiders. I am a fan of Domaine Begude (stocked by O’Briens, along with those of Domaine de l’Aigle), run by the Englishman James Kinglake and his wife, Catherine. The Chardonnay-based wines are excellent, along with some great Pinot Noir, Grüner Veltliner and Gewürztraminer.

Just over the hill, the Anglo-Dutch Panman family run Château Rives Blanques, an estate that produces a range of very well-made still and sparkling wines. Domaine d’Antugnac, run by two families from Burgundy, offers very good Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other wines. My favourite (Swiss-owned) sparkling-wine producer, J Laurens, is, sadly, not currently available in Ireland, as far as I know.

Bottles of the Week

Pinot Noir 2015, Domaine d’Antugnac, IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude 13%, €16.15
Light, very engaging wine with slightly earthy red-cherry fruits. Drink cool with white meats and charcuterie. From Wines Direct in Mullingar and at Arnotts department store in Dublin

Chardonnay 2016, Terroir 1130, Domaine de Begude, IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude 13%, €17.95
Superb racy, succulent fresh pears with a solid backbone of acidity. It will change your mind about Chardonnay. From O’Briens

Limoux 2015, Château Rives-Blanques Odyssée 13%, €24.50
Fragrant with delicious textured peach fruits held together by a cleansing citrus acidity. Great wine. From Thomas’s, Foxrock, D18; Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown, D18

This Week’s Bargain

Limoux 2015 Château Martinolles 13.5%, €15
Medium bodied, with generous creamy pears and custard. Perfect with salmon or lighter chicken dishes. From Molloys Liquor Stores

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Time to go on the dry and roll out the Riesling

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 4th August, 2017

As we move into full summer mode, it is time to return to one of the great loves of my life, Riesling. If you are beginning to suffer from Sauvignon fatigue, or tiring of tasteless Pinot Grigio, then this is the time to acquaint yourself with one of the world’s great wines. Dry (and even off-dry) Riesling is fresh and aromatic, perfect for drinking with or without food during the summer months. The wines usually have a class and complexity that leaves the two aforementioned grape varieties trailing in their wake.

Germany is still the best producer of Riesling in the world. A few words worth remembering here; trocken means dry in German, so you can expect these to be fairly dry or bone dry. A Kabinett without the word trocken will be off-dry, but don’t let this put you off; this is a classic style that the Mosel region does really well. The wines can be exceptional. But the fashion in Germany is for trocken, so most wines will be dry.

After Germany, Austria, Australia and Alsace all make very good dry versions. The Austrian wines tend to be a little more full-bodied, but it depends on vintage and winemaker. My favourite region is probably Kamptal, but many other Riesling aficionados prefer the richer style found in the Wachau.

National grape

Most parts of Germany produce a decent Riesling; it is their national grape after all. The Mosel and Rheingau are probably the best known, but the Rheinhessen, Nahe and Franken all offer wines that are every bit as good. Each region produces wine with its own distinctive style, while still remaining unmistakably Riesling.  Most decent retail shops now have at least one German or Austrian Riesling, including some of the multiples. I would steer clear of those under €10, unless you want to relive past experiences with Liebfraumilch and other sweetish nasties. The best German and Austrian Rieslings are in great demand at home and abroad, so sadly, the best do not come cheap. However, the overall quality is both very high and consistent. As Riesling ages very well, don’t be too concerned if you are offered wines that are two to three years old. You should be in for a treat.

The lighter off-dry wines of the Mosel are perfect deckchair wines, for sipping in the shade, on their own, or with a few nibbles. The bigger, drier trocken wines fit this bill too, but are also very much at home with seafood and white meats. My own favourite match is with fresh Irish crab, but Riesling also makes a great partner for many Asian foods, sushi and green curry in particular.

Four Rieslings to try

 dscf7496Wehlener Klosterberg Riesling Kabinett 2014, Markus Molitor 10%. €26.95

Pristine, lightly honeyed peaches with a clean mineral core, the off-dry finish perfectly balanced by the lively acidity. Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown; Baggot Street Wines.

dscf7497Platin Riesling 2015, Niederösterreich, Jurtschitsch, Austria 12.5%. €22.50

Bone dry with delightful rich apricot fruits  cut through with citrus and spice. Stockists: Quintessential Wines, Drogheda; 64 Wine.

dscf7516Riesling Trocken 2016, Wagner Stempel, Rheinhessen 12%. €20

Succulent, mouthwatering peach and pineapple with a fine crisp dry finish. Stockists: Avoca Rathcoole; Drinkstore; Sweeney’s; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Martin’s, Fairview; Clontarf Wines.

dscf7499Dr L Riesling 2015, Loosen, Mosel 8.5%. €14

Lean, clean fresh green apple and pear fruits with an off-dry finish.

Stockists: Morton’s, Ranelagh; Jus de Vine; Nolan’s, Clontarf.

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The reds and rosés of the Loire

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 29th July, 2017

A very happy wine trade friend recently returned from his family holiday in France. Having pitched their tent in a campsite by the river, they spent two glorious sunny weeks wandering down to the shops to stock up on local foods, which they brought home, cooked and consumed, accompanied by an array of local wines. They were fortunate to be based in the Loire valley, a beautiful region with plenty of great summer wines to offer.

 The region is home to sparkling, white, rosé, red and sweet wines. For white wines, they offer much more than Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Not only has Muscadet revived itself and is producing excellent wines at very favourable prices, but producers seem to have made great progress in taming the Chenin Blanc. But this week, we stay with reds (and rosés), both very food-friendly summer wines that are perfect with lighter foods.

 You will find some Pinot Noir, Malbec, Gamay and a little Cabernet Sauvignon, but the great red grape of the Loire is Cabernet Franc. Long thought to be a cousin of the better-known Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, along with Sauvignon Blanc, is actually the parent of same. You will only find it in quantity in two other parts of the world; the right bank of Bordeaux and northeastern Italy. Essentially, it is a lighter, early-drinking version of Cabernet Sauvignon, although one of the greatest, most long-lived Bordeaux, Ch Cheval-Blanc is more than 50 per cent Cabernet Franc, and some of the best Cabernet Franc from Chinon and Bourgeuil also mature wonderfully. It also ripens a week or two earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, a real advantage in the cooler Loire valley.

Leafy flavours

In poor vintages, Loire Cab Franc can be a little too green and herbaceous, although this happens far less frequently these days thanks to better viticulture and climate change. Young wines have lovely subtle aromas of and juicy soft redcurrant and blackcurrant fruits. It is generally light in alcohol, with a refreshing acidity, making it a perfect summer wine, served cool or even lightly chilled. The more serious wines repay, keeping up to 20 years, when the wines develop wonderful soft leafy flavours and aromas, sometimes with a characteristic flavours described as pencil shavings.  They are among my favourite wines. Compared to Bordeaux and other regions, they are ridiculously cheap.

As mentioned last week, the Loire also produces very good rosé wines; the best-known is Rosé d’Anjou, which tends to be off-dry. JNwine.com has a good range of well-priced Loire reds and rosés. Searsons has the tasty Chinon Clos des Godeaux (€12.95) and Quintessential (Drogheda) an excellent Saumur-Champigny Domaine des Roches Neuves (€24.50).

BARGAIN WINE

Saumur-Champigny 2015 Plessis–Duval

12.5% (€15)
A delicious light juicy wine filled with crunchy blackcurrant fruits.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Saumur Rosé 2016, Bouvet-Ladubet

12.5% (€16.95)
A delicious grown-up rosé with elegant redcurrant and raspberry fruits and a lip-smacking dry finish. Try with salmon.
Stockists: Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown.

Saumur-Champigny “Tuffe” 2014, Ch du Hureau, Organic

13% (€19.50/£13.96)
Classic Cabernet Franc with lovely refreshing red and blackcurrant fruits on nose and palate.
Stockists: JNwine.com.

Saumur-Champigny 2015 Ch de Villeneuve, Organic

13%(€18.00)
Perfect smooth ripe blackcurrant and cassis fruits. A charmer.
Stockists: Le Caveau; Blacrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; Corkscrew; Green Man Wines; World Wide Wines; Bradleys.

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The World of Rosé

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 22nd July, 2017

I cast my net fairly wide to find some nice rosés to drink over the summer months. Last week, I focused on the trendy rosés of Provence. Today, a wider look at the world through pink goggles. Often ignored as simple and frivolous, particularly by men it must be said, (isn’t wine supposed to be fun?) rosé is the essence of summer, great for sipping in the shade on a hot day, or with light salads and cold meats and fish. It comes in all shapes and sizes, from the palest, lightly tinged, almost white, to deeply-coloured salmon-pink wines. Colour is not always an accurate guide, but generally the deeper the colour, the more fruit and flavour in the wine. Rosé varies from delicate to powerful, and from bone-dry to sweet. It also depends on the winemaking.

 The most common way to make a rosé wine is to leave the grape skins in contact with the freshly crushed juice for a short period; this can be anything from two to 12 hours. It is possible to use any red grape but some are more suitable than others. Grapes with thick skins can add too much colour and unwanted tannins very quickly. Once removed from the skins, the wine is then fermented as a white wine. A second closely related method is saignée, French for bled. For this, a winemaker bleeds off a small amount of free-run juice from freshly crushed, but unpressed red grapes. The resulting rosé wine can be very good, and the bonus for the winemaker is that the remaining grapes will have a higher concentration of colour and fruit for a red wine.

Dollops and charcoal

Two other, less common, methods are blending and charcoal. Blending simply means adding a small dollop of red wine to white. This is banned in some countries, but widely practised for Champagne and other sparkling wines. Although this method is dismissed by some, it certainly makes for some very good pink Champagne. Charcoal is occasionally used to remove colour (or off-flavours) from a wine. The problem is it removes some of the fruit as well. One last method, rarely used, and very hard to control, is simply fermenting red and white grapes together.

Mitchell & Son has a new range of wines from Trudie Styler and Sting from their estate in Tuscany, under the name Beppé , including the very stylish light dry Rosato below. This is mainly Sangiovese, a grape that can produce delicious rosé.

The intriguing Vaglio rosé below is made from a bewildering array of grapes; 40 per cent Malbec, 25 per cent Pinot Noir, 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon with 13 per cent Syrah and 2 per cent of the white grape Torrontés. The person responsible is José Lovaglio, the son of highly regarded winemaker Susana Balbo.

image-4Vaglio Rosé 2016, Uco Valley, Argentina

12% (€15)

 A very pale colour with delicate lively fresh juicy red fruits and an off-dry finish.

 Stockists: Marks & Spencer.

 

 

beppe-rosatoBeppé Rosato Toscano 2016

12% (€18.95)

Perfumed with lovely delicate light strawberry and apple fruits.

Stockists: Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, Avoca Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne; Sheridan’s, Galway.

massaya-rose-jpegMassaya Classic Rosé 2016, Bekka Valley, Lebanon

13.5 per cent (€22.50)

 Complex fresh red fruits, plenty of lively acidity and a dry finish. Perfection with a plate of meze?

 Stockists: JNwine.com

imageCh Haut-Rian Bordeaux Rosé

12.5% (€12.95)

 A delicious Cabernet Merlot blend at a great price. Light but full of red and white peach fruits with a dry finish. Great summer drinking.

 Stockist: Wines Direct, Mullingar & Arnott’s, Dublin.

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Pretty in pink – rosé is having a moment

At one time rosé from Provence was universally written off as over-priced and poorly made; fine for gullible tourists but never to be exported. But no longer. Provence rosé is having a bit of a moment and not just during the summer months either. Over the last few years, it has become the most fashionable tipple of the wealthy yachty classes. Consumers in France, the US and elsewhere are happy to pay increasingly large sums for Provençal Rosé.

The man who can take most credit is former Bordelais Château owner Sacha Lichine, whose Ch d’Eslcans is cleverly marketed under the name Whispering Angel. It gained the nickname Hampton’s Water, so popular is it in New York and other parts of the US. Lichine now sells various cuvées of his rosé, rising to Garrus, an oak-aged version, for a whopping €98, while the “entry-level” Whispering Angel is €30-€35 (Independents). His competition is Clos Mireille from Domaine Ott (about €35), owned by Champagne house Louis Roederer, still a favourite among many connoisseurs.

Bottle shape

Then Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt bought Ch Miraval in Provence, a property that included a 30-hectare vineyard. I am not sure who will retain ownership in the break-up. The wine is made by the Perrin family (better known as owners of many wines from the Rhône). It has featured here before as it is very good. You will find it in Terroirs in Donnybrook and Marks & Spencer for about €30. Terroirs have magnums available too.

Bottle shape is all important in the rosé market; more ambitious producers have replaced the traditional skittle bottle (see the Houchard rosé ) with their own – sometimes spectacular – designs. Size is important too – large-format bottles, magnum or double magnum, are essential in fashionable Mediterranean resorts.

Provence rosé is generally fresh, light, crisp and dry. It can sometimes be a little too austere, but the best have very attractive elegant strawberry fruits and some real complexity.

Fish and meat

Dry rosé of any kind is a great summer food wine, with grilled fish and white meats, and richer salads too. In addition to the wines featured, Marks & Spencer and Aldi both stock very decent inexpensive Provence rosé.

Just about every wine region has tried to hop on the rosé bandwagon, with varying degrees of success. Neighbouring Languedoc has similar grape varieties and climate, if not quite the same cachet, and the wines can offer great value. The Loire valley produces a variety, including some delicious delicate dry wines, and New Zealand and other regions have turned Pinot Noir into wonderfully fragrant light rosés. We will return to these shortly. O’Briens stocks no fewer than 16 rosés, including Mateus Rosé, many of them on a summer-long buy one, get one half-price promotion.

FOUR ROSÉS TO TRY

imageBendel Cuvée Caroline 2016, Côtes de Provence 13%. €10

Pleasant textured, crushed black cherries and green apples. On offer at €10 until August 2nd. Stockists: SuperValu

Domaine d’Eole 2016, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence (organic) 13%. €19.95

A delicious fresh summery wine with rounded ripe strawberry fruits. Stockists: Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown.

image-6Mirabeau 2016 Côtes de Provence .5%, €16.95

Lovely lively elegant raspberry and strawberry fruits. Summer in a glass. Buy one and second bottle is half price. Stockists: O’Briens

image-5Domaine Houchard Rosé 2016, Côtes de Provence 13%, €16.95

Rich, textured and moreish with ripe summer fruits. Stockists: Gibney’s; The Wine House, Trim; Grapevine, Dalkey; Karwig Wines; 1601, Kinsale; Morton’s, Ranelagh; Donnybrook Fair; and Cinnamon Cottage.

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The best French wines you’ve never heard of

On Friday the French celebrate their fête nationale, otherwise known as le quatorze juillet or, outside France at least, Bastille Day. France is home to some of the world’s greatest wines. Everyone has heard of Bordeaux, burgundy and champagne. Yet the country offers so much more than these. The real France is made up of countless small regions producing unique local wines made from grape varieties unheard of elsewhere.

I am talking about Mondeuse from Savoie; Fer Servadou from Marcillac and Gaillac; Courbu, Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng from Jurançon; Arbois from Cheverny; Savagnin from Jura; and many more besides. Add the more familiar regions, such as Sancerre, Muscadet, Beaujolais and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and you have the greatest number of grape varieties and regions known to humankind. The only countries that can compete in terms of variety are Italy and Greece.

At times it seems as if we know each and every area only to find several regions, previously known only to the wine anorak, suddenly spring to prominence. Jurançon and Jura would certainly fit this category; Marcillac and Savoie are waiting their turn, although both are available through the more adventurous importers.

The word “artisan” is widely abused, but many of these wines are made by small farmers who often struggle for recognition in a world increasingly dominated by large brands. Quality can be mixed, although the current generation certainly make better wine than their predecessors. The good producers are really worth seeking out, as they offer wines with real character and terroir (another much-abused term), often at reasonable prices.

You won’t find them for €6.99 in your local supermarket, as nobody can make a profit at this price. But spend €10-€15 and you can find wines of individuality and interest – or, for a few euro more, wines of depth and complexity. The three wines below have all of these qualities.

France also has the advantage of being close by. Shipping small quantities of wine from Australia and Argentina can be prohibitively expensive. It is far easier for specialist importers to access a few dozen cases of the more recherche French wines. Food, wine and France are inextricably linked. It is hard to think of one without the others. Each region has dishes to accompany the local wines. I know many readers have spent happy holidays meandering along picturesque country roads, discovering the home-grown cuisine. France produces every style of wine, from the lightest refreshing white to the most robust red. Anyone who claims they don’t like French wine hasn’t tried hard enough – or doesn’t like wine.

Bottles of the Week

Gloire de Mon Père 2014, Tour des Gendres, Côtes de Bergerac 12.5%, €21.50

A silky, seamless, elegant red wine awash with soft ripe blackcurrants. Perfect for a posh dinner party. From Blackrock Cellars, Le Caveau, Corkscrew, 64 Wine, Green Man Wines

Jurançon Sec Vitatge Vielh 2012 Clos Lapeyre 13.5%, €22

Unpronounceable and unputdownable. Stunning wine with rich honey, orange-peel and pineapple fruits, a strong mineral seam, and a long, bone-dry finish. From 64 Wine, Green Man Wines

Berthet-Bondet Côtes du Jura Tradition 2013 13%, €31

Captivating fino-like wine with tangy, racy, crisp apple fruits, grilled nuts and a dry finish. From the Corkscrew, Chatham Street.

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BIRTHDAY TREATS – MY DAUGHTER COMES OF AGE

BIRTHDAY TREATS

dscf7484

We had a dinner last weekend to celebrate my daughter’s eighteenth birthday. Naturally, we served wines from her birth year – nearly! My bottle of 1999 Hunter Valley VAT 1 Semillon has disappeared for the moment. I’ll find it for her 21st. Instead we opened up a bottle of 1997.

As always, you take a risk storing a wine for long periods. The cork on the 1997 Semillon disintegrated, and the wine was oxidised. The Tardieu-Laurent Côte Rôtie caused a few disagreements around the table. Some thought it lightly corked. I thought it just earthy, but with a dirty element that could mean corked. The wine had some sweet stewed prune fruits, but was dominated by powerful oak flavours of caramel and vanilla – after 18 years! Certainly not my style of wine.

The two stars of the dinner were:

1999 Bollinger Grande Année Champagne

Entrancing developed aromas of toasted hazelnuts and white fruits. The palate was equally good, a gorgeous mix of peach and dried fruits, toasted nuts, a little brioche and a firm dry finish. Exquisite champagne; I wish I had a few more in my cellar.

Côte Rôtie 1999 Domaine André François

This was given to me by a very generous ex-customer when I visited him in Boyle, Co. Roscommon earlier this year. He travels to the Rhône every year, visits his favourite producers, and returns with a car full of wines to ay down. This was drinking perfectly. ‘Olives’ according to my daughter, ‘smoky’ said my mother-in-law. Both were correct. This was a wine delicate and fully mature with mellow elegant savoury dark fruits, plus olives and wood smoke, and a nice long finish. Memorable wine.

dscf7490

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Time to flag up some star American wines

First published in The Irish Times, 1st July, 2017

Tuesday is July 4th – American Independence Day – so today we celebrate one part of the United States of America. I have recently returned from a memorable visit to California, my first in more than a decade. I had forgotten how stunning the wine country is, from the wild coastal regions to the lush green (this year) of Russian River, and the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

I was also smitten by the excellent food from this multicultural part of the world. It has not only a bewildering array of local fruit, vegetables and salads but also just about every nationality using them to produce wonderful food.

The wine is pretty good, too. We don’t always see the best of California in Ireland. Our supermarket shelves have plenty of the lesser white Zins and inexpensive sweetish red wines. But California produces a huge number of fascinating wines, and with a little effort you can find some of them over here.

Some are made in tiny quantities and never leave California. It is worth remembering that if we ever had Calexit, California would be the world’s sixth-largest economy, and fourth-largest wine producer. But several importers are working hard to improve their range, so keep an eye out in the coming months.

On my visit, apart from the well-known international varieties, and California’s own Zinfandel, I tasted Counoise and Gamay, Ribolla Gialla and Friulano, and much more besides. All this alongside some exquisite Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The best Californian wines are not cheap, and as I wandered around the duty free at San Francisco airport on my way home I spied plenty of Napa Cabernets costing €150-200. But on the same shelves the equivalent from Bordeaux came in at €300 or more. The Chardonnays, Pinots and other wines at €50 may not be everyday wines, but they are no more expensive than their equivalents in Burgundy and other parts of the world.

Californian Chardonnay can be wonderful. Forget about the big, sweet, oaky wines you may have tried in the past, and some of the more recent anaemic, unoaked versions too; I took part in a tasting of six Chardonnays, all of which would stand comparison with high-quality Burgundy, combining a judicious use of new oak, real terroir and complexity.

Look out too for the excellent Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (Searsons and other independents). Californian Pinot Noir has also improved hugely. Cooler sites in coastal regions now produce exciting wines with real elegance and style, while wines from warmer vineyards can have rich, lush dark fruits. You wouldn’t mistake either for a Burgundy, but they have a lovely Californian character all of their own.

Bottles of the Week

De Loach Heritage Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 13.5%, €24.99


Lightly smoky red and black cherry fruits with a refreshing bite.
From Donnybrook Fair; Redmonds; Martins; Searsons

Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Barbara 13.5%, €37


Soft, complex, spicy, developed red cherry fruits with a lovely mineral tanginess.
From Berry Bros & Rudd; 64 Wine; Baggot Street Wines; Green Man; Terroirs

Ramey Chardonnay 2013, Russian River 13.5%, €49


Medium-bodied succulent peach and apple fruits, with a subtle kiss of vanilla oak. Lovely wine.
From Berry Bros & Rudd; 64 Wine; Baggot Street Wines

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I’ll drink to that – an explosion of interest in Irish gin

The number of Irish gins continues to multiply. The latest count is 22, but that may well have increased by the time you read this article. There will be no less than 14 homemade gins on show in pubs around the country for the second Irish Gin & Tonic Fest which starts next week and runs to July 1st.

A pub simply has to serve one of these Irish gins with a tonic water of their choice. You won’t necessarily be able to buy every gin in your local pub (probably a good thing) but there should be a selection to choose from. You can then vote for your favourite G&T online. To see a list of pubs and gins, see greatirishbeverages.com.

Most but not all of the gin distilleries intend producing a whiskey in the future. Whiskey must be aged for at least three years (the legal minimum) and preferably much longer, so gin, which takes only a few hours to distil, provides much needed cash flow.

That is not to denigrate it; there are some delicious Irish gins being produced around the country. Every gin must feature juniper, but thereafter it is up to the distiller. Coriander is traditional, as is some form of citrus, but every gin has a host of other flavours.

Oisín Davis, the man behind the Gin & Tonic Fest, (and also involved in Poacher’s Tonic water) says: “Gin has exploded. Most of them were aspiring to create whiskey but the figures they are getting from their gins are so impressive, it has taken them all by surprise; they have exceeded what they thought they would do for the whiskey.

“It is interesting that most are using farmed or wild Irish botanicals – they are putting their actual locality into a gin. You wouldn’t get that with other spirits. Arguably they have more Irish in them than some whiskeys.’

“Ninety per cent of gin sales are linked to gin & tonic’, according to Davis.

“With a nice gin and nice tonic, you can have a perfectly balanced satisfying drink, a mix of bitter and sweet and then all the other flavours. It tickles all of the sensations on your tastebuds.”

There is a gin to suit everyone.

“My personal preference is for very juniper forward gins but that is simply my taste; there are fruity gins, herbal gins, floral gins”

Eoin Bara of Mór has been delighted with the reaction to his gin.

“I never expected people to love it as much as they do. We get loads of nice things on Facebook and on social media and customers are really getting behind it.’

I have featured many Irish gins here before, but today I include three more recent entries into the market.

A Wicklow gin with herbal aromas, a lovely light fruitiness and an earthy finish.

A Wicklow gin with herbal aromas, a lovely light fruitiness and an earthy finish.

Bonac 24 Gin

42%

€45-46

A Wicklow gin with herbal aromas, a lovely light fruitiness and an earthy finish.

Stockists: O’Briens; Whelehans; Celtic Whiskey; Higgins.

A wonderfully fragrant gin brimming with fresh fruits on the palate.

A wonderfully fragrant gin brimming with fresh fruits on the palate.

Mór Irish Gin

40%

€47-49

From Tullamore, a wonderfully fragrant gin brimming with fresh fruits on the palate.

Stockists: O’Briens, Celtic Whiskey Shop, The Loop.

Classic gin with strong notes of juniper, racy citrus and spicy coriander.

Classic gin with strong notes of juniper, racy citrus and spicy coriander.

Boatyard Double Gin, The Boatyard Distillery, Lough Erne

46%

€55

Classic gin with strong notes of juniper, racy citrus and spicy coriander.

Stockists: Musgrave N. Ireland, O’Briens, Celtic Whiskey, The Loop, Belfast International Airport.

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Rhône Valley: a tale of two wine regions The wines of the southern Rhône and its smaller northern neighbour are like chalk and cheese

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 17th June. 2017

It has always seemed strange that the northern and southern parts of the Rhône Valley are lumped together into the one large area. It’s a bit like putting Burgundy and Bordeaux under the same banner. Separated by a 40km gap, the two regions could not be more different. It is the aesthete versus the gourmand, little and large (literally), chalk and cheese. The south is big, boasting some 30,000 hectares of vines. It is sunny and hot (Provence begins at the southern tip) with rolling hills dotted with the heady herbs of the garrigue, olive groves and ancient Roman ruins. The north is much smaller, about one-twentieth the size of the south. Here, the vineyards cling to impossibly steep terraced slopes. It is too cold to cultivate olives – in the past peaches and nectarines were grown on the valley floor.

The red wines of the north are made from a single variety, Syrah, sometimes with a little of the white Viognier included. Northern whites are made from Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Those of the south are typically blends, and can be made from up to 10 red grapes and nine white. A blend of Grenache with a dollop of Mourvèdre and/or Syrah or Cinsault is more usual for the reds.

Stiff backbone

The northern reds are savoury, elegant and often light in alcohol. The great wines of Hermitage and Cornas have a very stiff backbone of tannin, and keep for decades, but even they share a lifted fragrance and delicacy of the other Northern wines. Do not expect refinement and delicacy (although there are a few very elegant wines) from the south. Instead, you should find warmth, rounded, sweet, ripe fruits, scented with herbs and spice. At least that is what I thought. When I went looking for inexpensive full-bodied Côtes du Rhône in my local supermarkets, all seemed a fairly wimpy 13-13.5 per cent. Hence the hard-to-find Côtes du Rhône below (although it is delicious). I think growers are picking earlier to suit our tastes for lighter wines. Once prices moved over €15, there were plenty of more powerful, rich wines.

Comparative tasting

This week you can conduct your own comparative tasting at two price levels. The Ardèche and the Monteillet are both from the north and pure Syrah; the others are blends from the south. I am cheating a little on the Ardèche, which is a vin de pays, but it is made in the northern Rhône. If you cannot find any of those featured, you should seek out anything with from St Joseph or Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage or Côte Rôtie. For southern wines, a good domaine-bottled Côtes du Rhône (€15-€20) or a Gigondas, Vacqueyras or Rasteau (or even a Châteauneuf-du-Pape) should give you the true power and flavours of the south, as will both the wines below.

Bargain Wine
Syrah 2015, Vin de pays de l’Ardèche, Caves Saint Desirat

12%
€14.45
Light, cool, peppery dark cherry fruits with good acidity and a dry finish. With pork dishes.

Stockists: O’Briens

Côtes du Rhône Les Galets, Les Vigneron des Estezargues
14.5%, €14.50


Fragrant, with excellent sweet, ripe, warming, elegant strawberry fruits.
Stockists: Quintessential, Drogheda; Brown’s, Portlaoise; Wicklow Wine; O’Learys, Cootehill; Hole in the Wall; Clontarf Wines; The Grapevine, Glasnevin.

Les Hauts du Monteillet 2014 Stéphane Montez
12.5%
€21.00


Tantalising violet aromas, succulent dark cherry and blackcurrant fruits with a reviving freshness.

Stockists: 64 Wine; Green Man Wines; Searsons, Monkstown.

Vacqueyras 2011, Domaine Montvac Cuvée Vincila
14.5%
€26.29


Big, powerful wine offering intense ripe fruits sprinkled with spice. With robust red meat and game dishes.
Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar; Arnott’s, Dublin.

 

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