Valtuille 2020, Vino de Villa, César Márquez, Bierzo

Valtuille 2020, Vino de Villa, César Márquez, Bierzo

I am a big fan of Mencía and this is a great example; a lovely, elegant wine with real style – and at a great price too.

€20.86 from

Aromatic, with wonderful pure refreshing juicy dark fruits; a welcome little bit of grip from the whole-bunch fermentation, and good acidity. It all comes together nicely in a dangerously drinkable, free-flowing wine that will brighten up your dinner. Drink it cool, not chilled and decant if possible.

The grapes come from two plots of vines in the villages of Valtuille. It is made from 85% Mencía, 15% Alicante Bouschet and other local varieties. 100% whole-bunch pressed and then aged in oak casks for a year.

César Márquez is a nephew of Raúl Pérez, one of the leading winemakers in North-West Spain. Márquez was introduced to winemaking by Pérez, and having worked in the family wineries and elsewhere, has now started a project of his own. The results are impressive to say the least. As well as this wine, has the lighter and fruitier Parajes de Bierzo for a bargain €16.92.

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Maranges Vieilles Vignes 2019, Domaine Maurice Charleux.

Maranges Vieilles Vignes 2019, Domaine Maurice Charleux.

This week a red Burgundy that offers great value for money. It is from Maranges, at the southern end of the Côte d’Or.

Concentrated and ripe with fresh red cherry fruits dusted with spice and a lovely long finish. It will evolve further over the next year or two, but is very seductive already; I bought a few bottles for the coming festive season.

€29.95 from Mitchell & Son, chq, D1 and Sandycove; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Morton’s, Ranelagh;

Maranges, like Marsannay at the other end of the Côte d’Or, is one of the lesser-known, and therefore more reasonably priced names in Burgundy. Located just south of Santenay, it was part of Côtes de Beaune Villages appellation until 1989. There are seven Premiers Crus vineyards, and 90% of production is of red wine.

Founded in 1894, Domaine Maurice Charleux is situated in Dezize-lès-Maranges, part of Maranges. Today the domaine covers just under 12 hectares, of which 85% is Pinot Noir. They produce three premiers crus. The Vieilles Vignes is made from a few hectares of vines planted in 1933 and 1937.

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spit 2022

Just back from one of the tasting highlights of the year: Spit! This is a group of four of our finest small importers who come together twice a year to show their wines. One is primarily Spanish, one Burgundian, another Italian, and one Austro-German-Portuguese, but all have a selection from various parts of Europe and South Africa.

Below, a few of my favourites, but there were many, many more.

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Quinta dos Roques Dão Colheito Tinto 2018

Quinta dos Roques Dão Colheito Tinto 2018

Wonderfully fragrant with succulent, refreshing black cherries and plums and a touch of spicy oak. There are some very refined tannins on the lengthy drying finish, so it will keep a year or two, but it seems a shame not to drink it now. A bargain at €18.

€18 from Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown,

I wrote the article below about Dão for The Irish Times back in April 2017. At the time I lamented the fact that there were so few of the wines available in Ireland; that has certainly changed now. As well as the wine above, I am a big fan of the Quinta dos Carvailhas (reds and white) as well as the Niepoort Rótulo (a real bargain at less than €20) and the Niepoort Conciso 2019. Whelehan’s also has the very keenly priced easy-drinking Quinta do Correio from Quinta dos Roques for a very reasonable €15 – €13 on promotion.

From The Irish Times, 1st April, 2017
For some Dão is Portugal’s finest wine region, yet few wine drinkers have a clear picture of what the wines are like. It is often mentioned as Portugal’s answer to Burgundy. There are certain similarities; both produce lighter wines with good acidity, low in tannin, and sometimes alcohol too. Both wines seduce gently with perfume, finesse and elegance rather than power. But whereas Pinot Noir often tastes sweet (although it is bone dry) to me Dão is more savoury and often spicy with damson fruits – more like a Syrah from the Northern Rhône if you want a comparison. Either way, Dão certainly deserves much more of our attention. Not only does it offer some great red wines at reasonably prices, it also produces some excellent dry white wines too. Both red and white wines (it is 80% red) are made from Portuguese grape varieties.

Dão is a largish region in central northern Portugal. Circled by mountains, and therefore protected from both the Atlantic rains and the blasting heat of the interior, it has relatively dry warm summers, perfect for the slow ripening of grapes. The granitic soils give good acidity, and the altitude (200-600 metres) keeps things cool too.

For many years, the region, although well-known, was held back by a bizarre law that obliged growers to sell their grapes to the local co-op, who often lacked the necessary winemaking skills. The result was large quantities of very dull tannic wines. But in recent years, there has been a blossoming of local talent, as well as an influx of other Portuguese winemakers. Not only are the wines far better, they are very reasonably priced too.

Two red grapes are worth special mention. This is the home of Touriga Nacional, one of Portugal’s greatest grape varieties. You will also come across Jaen, known as Mencía in Galicia, a variety with huge potential. Then there is Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Alfrocheiro, For white wines, there is Encruzado, possibly Portugal’s greatest white variety. It all adds up to an area that offers real excitement. At the less expensive end, the wines can be fabulously perfumed and lightly fruity. If you like less heavy wines, there are some real bargains, but the more expensive wines are great value too.

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Riecene Chianti Classico 2020

Riecene Chianti Classico 2020

I featured the excellent Fonterutoli Chianti Classico a few weeks back. This is another finely crafted Chianti Classico, 100% Sangiovese from the impressive 2020 vintage. Fragrant, medium-bodied and rounded, with pure dark and red cherry fruits, with a nice ripeness, balanced by a fine acidity and easy but present tannins. Very drinkable now with red meats, but it willmcertainly keep a year or two.

Riecene are based in Gaiole, one the more elevated, cooler parts of Chianti Classico, an advantage in warmer vintages. The vineyards are farmed organically.This was tasted at the excellent Greenacres tasting in Dublin recently. If you haven’t visited the shop or browsed the website, then do one or both; they have one of the finest wine lists in the country.  

€35 from Greenacres, Wexford,

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Vale d. Maria, Douro Superior 2020, Quinta do Vale d. Maria

Vale d. Maria, Douro Superior 2020, Quinta do Vale d. Maria

Intense ripe dark fruits with a savoury edge, a little toasty oak and a long firm tannic finish. Despite the tannins, this is not a huge wine, but well-balanced and approachable now, although it will certainly keep. I would decant it now and serve with a rare striploin steak, roast lamb or something other equally substantial dish.  A very good wine, with a nice quality of fruit, and very keenly priced too. It slots in nicely between the less expensive Rufo and the range of top Quinta wines from Quinta do Vale d. Maria.

€19.95 from Conways, Ratoath; Martin’s, Fairview; Thomas’s, Foxrock; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; McHughs, Dublin 5; Shiels, Malahide;  Firecastle, Kildare;  The Wine House, Trim; The Coach House, Ballinteer; Ardkeen, Waterford. 

Quinta do Vale d. Maria was founded by Cristiano van Zeller in the 1990’s and was one of the original group of Douro Boys – although the winemaker for a while was a girl – the talented Sandra Tavares da Silva. The estate was sold in 2017 to Vinho Verde producer Aveleda (owned by van Zellar’s cousin). He remains on as winemaker.

This is made from a blend of 20–35-year-old Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz vines. Fermented in stainless steel followed by six months in French oak, and a further thirteen months in stainless steel.

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As the weather turns cooler, it’s time to change what’s in your glass.

This article was first published in The Irish Times on Saturday 24th September, 2022

Who would be a vine grower? As we come to the end of a tumultuous growing season in the northern hemisphere, most grapes have now been gathered in. Producers across Europe have had to deal with fires, drought, record high temperatures and flash floods. In some regions producers began picking grapes in July, unheard of in the past.

It is dangerous to come to definitive conclusions on the harvest in one region let alone an entire continent, but overall, the drought and hot weather seem to have resulted in smaller berries and lower yields. Smaller berries could mean greater concentration, but also excess alcohol, clumsy tannins and burnt flavours. While yields may be down, overall production is still expected to be greater than the frost-ravaged 2021 vintage.

We look, this week, at some Italian wines that make perfect partners for autumn food. This is the best time of year to visit Piemonte in north-western Italy. There is the nebbia fog blanketing the steep valleys, the forests are ablaze with colour, the mountain walks and, of course, there is the food and wine. Piemonte is home to some of the best autumnal fare; white truffles, porcini mushrooms, hazelnuts, and cheeses that produce rich eggy pasta, deeply satisfying stews, risotto, chocolates, and much more. I am a huge fan of Barolo and Barbaresco and other Nebbiolo as well as another local speciality, Barbera.

Last autumn, my first post-lockdown trip was to Sicily, where I spent several days on the western coast of the island. While we enjoyed beautiful autumn sunshine, the other side of the island was suffering from severe flash floods. The wines of Sicily continue to excite and can offer great value for money. Nero d’Avola is the most important and widely planted red grape. The wines vary from light and fruity to more full-bodied and powerful, depending on where the vines are grown. I feature one of each this week. The Duca di Sasseta is made from semi-dried grapes giving it extra richness and oomph.

Nero d’Avola 2021, Duca di Sasseta, Sicily

14.5%, €11.99

Soft, sweet, rounded plums with a touch of spice. With most red meats or rich pasta dishes.

From: Lidl

Barbera d’Asti ‘La Stella’ 2019, Marco Bonfante

14%, €19.95

Easy-drinking juicy damsons with a touch of liquorice. Italian sausage with lentils or mushroom risotto.

From: Blackrock Cellar; Barnhill Stores; Deveney’s, Dundrum; D-Six; Higgins; Redmonds; Jus de Vine; La Touche; Nectar Wines; The Vintry

Ruversa Nero d’Avola 2016, Eloro, Organic

12.5%, €22.10

Very moreish light earthy blackcurrants with light tannins. With a beetroot risotto or herby pork chops.

From: Wines Direct

Langhe Nebbiolo Pian delle Mole, Giulia Negri

14%, €29-30

Beautiful fragrant aromas, delectable ripe cassis and soft tannins. Mushroom risotto, brasato or steak.

From: Pinto Wines; Redmond’s; Rua, Castlebar; Barnhill Stores; Sweeney’s; Eleven Deli; Morton’s, Galway; Blackrock Cellar

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Cool and elegant – Garnacha?

This article was first published in The Irish Times, Saturday 17th September, 2022

It is one of the most widely planted grapes, capable of producing high-quality wines, so you might expect it to be celebrated worldwide. Yet, until recently, Grenache, or Garnacha, was seen as a source of cheap everyday wines. It is only over the past decade that things have changed.

The Spanish claim Garnacha as theirs, although it is widely planted in the southern Rhône and Languedoc where it is a big ingredient in blends, the most famous being Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Garnacha likes sun and a dry climate to ripen fully. It has thin skins and so is generally pale in colour, with light tannins. It can have high levels of alcohol, giving it a sensation of sweetness even though it is dry. It has travelled to other warm regions, including Australia and South Africa.

In Spain, it took a small group of winemakers, including the duo from Commando G featured here, to rediscover the potential of Garnacha. The granitic soils of the mountainous Sierra de Gredos region are responsible for some sensational wines, usually made from gnarled, ancient untrained vines. Fragrant and ethereal, the wines are often compared with Pinot Noir. Producers in Australia and South Africa are now also making far brighter, more elegant wines. As well as the wine featured here, look out for the Willunga 100 McLaren Vale Grenache (€20) and John Duval’s Plexus (€37-€40) a masterful blend, both from independents.

Other regions in Spain, such as Calatayud and Campo de Borja, produce large quantities of generous gluggable warming wines; perfect for drinking alongside rich stews on those cooler autumnal evenings.

As suggested above, powerful Garnacha partners rich stews, braises, daubes as well as vegetarian tomato and bean casseroles well. However, the lighter more elegant style goes well with cauliflower or macaroni cheese, as well as pork dishes.

Tesco’s Finest Old Vine Selection Garnacha 2019, Campo de Borja

14%, €12

Full-bodied and rounded with plum and dark cherry fruits. Enjoy with a bean and tomato stew (with or without chorizo).

From: Tesco

Yalumba Barossa Bush Vine Grenache 2019, Samuel’s Collection

14.5%, €25.95

Enticing, sweet, ripe red cherries and strawberries with a savoury touch. Roast pork or a miso roast aubergine.

From: Matsons; Next Door, ClonakiltyMitchell & SonThe Baths, ClontarfArdkeen QFSThe Corkscrew; SuperValuRathborne, Sundrive and Barna

La Bruja de Rozas 2020, Commando G, Sierra de Gredos

14.5%, €28-€30

A perennial favourite; elegant, juicy, ripe raspberry and strawberry fruits with a lovely lively thread. A lightly spicy tagine would be a good match.

From: 64 WineLoose CanonGreen Man WinesMac Curtain Wine CellarBlackrock CellarBaggot Street WinesGrapevinePinto

Momento Grenache Noir 2019, Western Cape

13.5%, €39.95

Exquisite delicate rose petal aromas, piquant, ripe red cherry fruits and refined tannins. Try it with porchetta or cauliflower cheese.

From: RedmondsEly Wine StoreBlackrock

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Altano Douro 2019, Rewilding Edition

Altano Douro 2019, Rewilding Edition

€33.50 for a 2,25 litre Bag-in-Tube from O’Briens

This week a bag-in-box, or rather bag-in-tube wine from the Douro valley in Portugal. Made from a blend of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca, this is a very attractive easy-drinking wine at a keen price. Forward, with fruit and herb aromas, juicy ripe red cherry and plum fruits and subtle tannins on the finish. This is big enough to partner most white and red meats, but supple enough to make it easy to sip solo.

I know some wine drinkers turn up their noses at bag-in-box, but I find them very useful; if I feel like a single glass of wine, or need to add wine to stews or sauces, I no longer have to open a full bottle. In the past many B-i-Bs were filled with cheap wine that you would be wary about using for cooking let alone drinking. But this is slowly changing. For a decade or more, Bag-in-Box has been very popular in Sweden, largely due to price. The 2.25 litre Altano Rewilding works out at €11.17 a bottle – excellent value for money – but it is also a green alternative to glass bottles.

The Altano Rewilding is made by The Symington Family Estates, who own Graham’s, Dow, Warre’s and Cockburn’s port as well as substantial vineyard holdings in the Douro valley. Some of the proceeds from sales will go towards the Rewilding Portugal conservation project – see for details

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Chianti Classico Fonterutoli 2019, Mazzei

Chianti Classico Fonterutoli 2019, Mazzei

This week’s wine comes from Chianti Classico, the most famous wine region of Tuscany.

Supple and rounded with leather, spices and smooth rich dark fruits. The tannins are ripe and well-integrated. Medium-bodied, with a long finish. You could keep this a few years, but it is drinking very well now. 

Try it with meaty pasta dishes, roast red meats, or the local speciality, bistecca alla Fiorentina, t-bone steak grilled on the barbecue. 

I haven’t tasted my way through a comprehensive range of Chianti Classico for a few years, but there is a small group of very good wines that I drink regularly. All are from small estates, located in different parts of the region, and reflect their own terroir and house style. I see Isole e Olena as one of the most elegant, Fontodi richer and more full-bodied. Both great producers, but different wines.  I include Volpaia, Felsina, Monsanto, Querciabella, and Montevertine in this group, as well as the aforementioned Isole e Olena and Fontodi

As well as various, super-Tuscans, single vineyard and Riserva wines, most of these offer a ‘basic’ Chianti Classico that sells for somewhere between €20-35. To me, they offer the best value for money. I have been enjoying Fonterutoli for many years now; the style is quite modern with smooth concentrated ripe fruits. Fonterutoli is a large estate of 650 hectares, 110 of which are under vine. The Chianti Classico is made from seven different parcels of vines, and is 90% Sangiovese, the reminder Malvasia Nera and Colorino.

€28.95 from 64 Wines; SC Grocer , Monkstown; Sweeney’s D3; Grapevine, Dalkey; D-Six off licence, D6; Worldwide Wines , Waterford.

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Wines to conjure up memories of summer in a glass

A shorter version of this article was published in The Irish Times, Saturday 10th September, 2022

I am always very reluctant to let the last days of summer slip away. I am also aware that I had planned to write articles on several of my favourite summer wines and somehow the season has almost passed by. So, this week, in “late summer” a few of my favourite warm weather wines.

First a summer white and what could be more seasonal than a Greek wine? For a real treat, O’Briens has one of my all-time favourites the Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko (€32), but the Greek wine from Aldi below is well worth trying. Sadly the Aldi Picpoul de Pinet 2021 (€8.99) and the Muscadet (€7.99), both of which offered great value for money have sold out.

Pet Nat has been having a moment for the last decade or so. Basically, it is wine bottled before the primary fermentation has finished. As fermentation gives off carbon dioxide, the wine will be lightly sparkling. It can be red, white or rosé. It is often bottled unfiltered so it can be cloudy. It tends to be low in alcohol, low in sugar and high in acidity. Pet Nats (short for Pétillant Naturel) are great thirst-quenching summer wines (great for festivals and parties too) served well chilled. Think of them as edgy Champagne or cool Prosecco (although Col Fondo is basically Pet Nat Prosecco with some funky notes thrown in). I love Pet Nat but can never really take them too seriously – I don’t think they are meant to be taken seriously – and therefore don’t really want to pay €30 or more. Most decent wine shops will have a few on sale.

What could be more seasonal than a Greek wine? For a real treat, O’Briens has one of my all-time favourites the Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko (€32), but the Greek wine from Aldi below is well worth trying. Sadly the Aldi Picpoul de Pinet 2021 (€8.99) and the Muscadet (€7.99), both of which offered great value for money have sold out.

On to Beaujolais, a region this column has been championing for years, and which now appears to be enjoying a genuine revival. As Burgundy increases in price, Beaujolais (and here I really mean Beaujolais Villages and the ten crus such as Fleurie, Morgon, Brouilly, Moulin-à-Vent) offers excellent wine at affordable prices. The grape variety is completely different, but for Francophiles such as me they do offer a great alternative. There is an expanding group of really good young producers in the region making some very exciting wines.

For many, Malbec and Argentina are one and the same thing. However, Argentina produces plenty of other very good wine. For a long time it was thought that the Bonarda grape was brought over by immigrants from Italy (where it is widely grown in the north). DNA profiling has shown it to be a completely different variety. Most Bonarda is unoaked and offers a burst of refreshing plum fruits, good acidity, low alcohol and light tannins. Not unlike a Beaujolais in fact. The Altos Las Hormigas included here is a perfect example.

Assyrtiko 2020, Filos Estate, Florina, Greece

13%, €9.99

This offers great value for money. Rich fruits, orange peel, peaches and pears balanced nicely by some citrus acidity. Go local with a Greek salad, calamari or a chicken in a lemony avgolemono sauce.

From Aldi

Altos Las Hormigas ‘Colonia Las Liebres’ Mendoza Bonarda Clasica 2020 (Organic)

13%, €18.99

Lovely, clean, fresh crunchy plum and dark cherry fruits; perfect with slightly fatty pork dishes, or as a lighter partner with barbecued food.

From Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; Power & Co, Lucan;; Thomas Woodberry, Galway

Domaine Jousset ‘Exile’ Rosé Pétillant NV, Vin de France

12%, €26.60

Made from the Gamay grape, this is a mouth-watering, lightly sparkling rosé. Crisp, bone dry with a cascade of refreshing acidity and light alpine strawberry and redcurrant fruits.

From, Mullingar

Domaine Grégoire Hoppenot Fleurie ‘Indigène’ 2020

12.5%, €32.99

Fragrant and seductive with a lovely freshness throughout and a real concentration of red cherry fruits and nice grip on the finish. Serve lightly chilled with a thick slab of terrine, pâté and other charcuterie.

From Alain and Christine’s Wine Shop, Kenmare; 1601, Kinsale; Redmond’s, D6; Manning’s Emporium, Ballylickey;

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