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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 WineSpark.com

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, WineSpark.com has the lighter and fruitier Parajes de Bierzo for a bargain €16.92.

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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 www.symington.com/rewilding 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; wineonline.ie; 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 winesdirect.ie, 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; wineonline.ie

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Four bargain supermarket wines to ease your September blues

This article was first published in The Irish Times, 3rd September, 2022

As we count the cost of holidays past, school uniforms and rising prices, we should be thankful that the annual round of supermarket wine sales has started. These days the entire year seems to be a series of promotional cycles, but I think the autumn sales usually offer the best value. I tasted a range from Dunnes Stores, SuperValu and O’Briens recently and came across some very nice wines.

The SuperValu French and German wine sale started on Thursday and will continue until September 21st. Hats off to Kevin O’Callaghan and his team for coming up with a substantial German offering alongside France. Look out for the varietal wines from Albert Glas that include Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. At €10-€12, these are all very keenly priced. If you ever wanted to explore your favourite grape variety, this provides the ideal opportunity. I would also recommend the Blue Tie (€10) from Alsace if you enjoy off-dry whites, and the rich and powerful I’m the Boss Cahors Malbec (€15), if you want something more full-bodied to partner your red meats and hearty bean casseroles.

From August 30th to October 11th, Dunnes Stores will be offering 20 per cent off all French wine. One of my favourites is the Exploration Crozes-Hermitage 2020 Cave de Tain (€16.80), a medium-bodied wine with delicious ripe dark fruits, pepper and light tannins, with no added sulphites.

In recent years, Dunnes has improved its Burgundy selection, and now has a very decent range, some offering value for money given current prices in Burgundy. Both the Bourgogne Rouge Marguerite Carillon (€18) and the Domaine de la Bressande Mercurey 2018 (€24.80) are very well-priced. The wines of Laurent Miquel have been ever present in Dunnes for many years, and quality has never slipped. The Laurent Miquel Kinsale is a delicious rich rounded Syrah, perfect with red meats and cheeses, and the excellent Côte 128 Viognier is an absolute steal at €10.40.

The other white wine that stood out for me was the Cocobiroux Vermentino, another great bargain for €9.60. If you fancy splashing out a little, the Lions de Batailley, the second wine of Château Batailley in Pauillac (€31.20) is a classic Bordeaux.

Lastly, the O’Briens wine sale began last Thursday with more than 100 wines from around the world on promotion. Bargains include one of my favourites, the light supple Saint Désirat Syrah (€9.95), as well as the Laurent Miquel Cabernet Sauvignon (€9.95) and the new organic Almorquí Tinto (€9.95). I would also be tempted by the Rizzardi Lugana (€13.95) and the excellent sherry lookalike Montilla Toro Albalá Oloroso (€13.95).

This week four wines all for €10 or less to help tide you over those September blues.

Château Lacroix 2020 Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

14.5%, €9.20

A big powerful Bordeaux with concentrated muscular ultra-ripe cassis fruits and a spicy, tannic finish. Enjoy it with roast red meats or substantial bean casseroles.

From: Dunnes Stores

Château Bentejac 2019, Bordeaux

14%, €9.45

Medium-bodied with supple red fruits and light, slightly herbaceous tannins on the finish. A solid traditional claret. Try it with roast red meats or a garlicky mushroom casserole.

From: O’Briens

Albert Glas Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) 2021, Pfalz

12.5%, €10

Fresh crisp racy green fruits — pears and apples — with a lively acidity and crisp dry finish. Perfect aperitif wine with tapas, with creamy goat’s cheese or plainly grilled white fish.

From: SuperValu

Max Lions Grenache 2020, IGP pays d’Oc

14.5%, €10

Big ripe slightly baked strawberries with a touch of spice. Supple and rounded, this offers good value for money. Try it with substantial casseroles and pasta bakes.

From: SuperValu

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Winemakers have learned how to bring out the best in Mencía and now produce some thrilling wines

This article was first published in The Irish Times on Saturday 27th August, 2022

If you haven’t heard of Mencía before you certainly will in the future. My first encounter with this grape variety was not a happy experience. I found it astringent, green and lacking in fruit. It didn’t help that I was standing in a vineyard in the midst of a miserable Galician winter, cold and wet, peering through an ever-present mist — a Spanish soft day. That was many years ago and since then I have learned to love both the region and the red wine it produces. Many growers and winemakers have since learned how to bring out the best in this grape and now produce some thrilling wines.

Almost all Mencía is grown in the inland wine regions of Galicia and Léon, as well as over the border in neighbouring Portugal, where it is known as Jaen. It comes in a variety of styles from light, supple and fruity to more concentrated and tannic.

It is frequently compared with Pinot Noir, and I can see why, as both have smooth raspberry and red cherry fruits. But for me it can also have a savoury liquorice note giving it a resemblance to a Syrah from the Northern Rhône. Others point to an earthiness that suggests Cabernet Franc. If you happen to like any or all of the above grapes, I suspect you will like Mencía. It can also have a lip-smacking minerality — probably due to the soils — mainly granite, schist and slate.

The three names to remember are Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras, the latter two in Galicia, the first in nearby Léon. I have tasted some brilliant wines from each and suspect quality will improve still further. Generally, I find wines of Ribeira Sacra to be more delicate and those from Bierzo richer and more full-bodied. While you will find some wines priced between €15 and €20, sadly many of the best ones cost a little more. While one or two of the supermarkets did offer less expensive versions, I haven’t seen any for a while.

Like the above mentioned Pinot, Syrah and Cabernet France, Mencía goes with a wide variety of foods, including white meats and firm cheeses, such as Manchego. I find it goes really well with grilled pork and lamb chops. They may come from a different country, but Mencía also goes nicely with pizza and medium-bodied pasta dishes.

If you do find yourself in Galicia (after walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela) try to make time to visit Ribeira Sacra; sparsely populated, it is a beautiful, atmospheric region, with steep terraced vineyards running down to the Sil and Miño rivers. For the moment tourism is still relatively undeveloped. Otherwise, why not try one of the uniquely Spanish wines listed below.

Parajes de Bierzo 2020 Bierzo, César Márquez

13.5%, €16.92

Delicious medium-bodied wine with pure, supple, juicy and dark cherry fruits. Perfect with cold meats and tomato-based pasta dishes.

From winespark.com

El Castro de Valtuille 2021, Mencía Joven, Bierzo, Raúl Pérez

13%, €16-€17

A richer style of Mencía, with dark cherries, redcurrants and a seductive savoury note. Enjoy with herby roast pork, lamb cutlets or roast Mediterranean vegetables.

From Green Man Wines, D6; 64 Wines, Glasthule; Baggot Street Wines; Lennox Street Grocer, D8; Pinto Wines, D9; La Touche Wines, Greystones; thenudewineco.ie; Liston’s, D2; Manning’s Emporium, Ballylickey; Morton’s, D2; Mitchell & Son, IFSC, Glasthule.

Camiño Real Ribeira Sacra 2019 Guímaro

13.5%, €24

A beguiling combination of vibrant fresh red fruits and a subtle earthiness that works so well. Try it with chicken dishes or a seasonal dish of baked courgette and tomato.

From Loose Canon, D2; Blackrock Cellar; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Pinto Wines, D9; Baggot Street Wines; Liston’s, D2.

Dominio do Bibei Lacima 2016, Ribeira Sacra

13%, €64.99

Showing some maturity with earthy sous-bois notes alongside some elegant red fruits. There are some fine-grained drying tannins on the lengthy finish. A very stylish wine to enjoy alongside seared duck or a mushroom risotto.

From 64Wine, Glasthule; wineonline.ie; Redmond’s, D6.

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Three new Irish whiskies with a Greek influence

Three new Irish whiskies with a Greek influence

Three new Irish whiskies were unveiled at a World Whiskey Club event in Dublin earlier this week. All three are single cask releases finished in barrels used by Greek producer Boutari for various Greek wines. The brainchild of Serghios Florides of Irish Whiskey Magazine, they are made using ten-year-old Single Pot Still Green Spot whiskies produced by Irish Distillers in Midleton. The result is three unique and delicious whiskies, available in tiny quantities in three different outlets. 

The Mitchell & Son Green Spot Single Cask was finished for 8 months in a seventeen-year-old ex-Vinsanto wine cask. Vinsanto is a traditional Greek sweet wine which imparts (very seductive) flavours of raisins, prunes and honey. 312 bottles were produced, available exclusively from Mitchell & Son in chq and Sandycove for €295 a bottle. There is a limit of one bottle per person.

UK online retailer MasterofMalt.com has the second cask, aged in eleven-year-old Vinsanto casks. The whiskey is fresher, seemingly sweeter with cinnamon and spice on the finish. Apparently 300 bottles are available through their website, although I couldn’t locate them.

Lastly the Irish Whiskey Magazine cask is finished in barrels used to mature Ampeliastos, a sweet wine from Santorini, for sixteen years. It is a lovely whiskey, rounded and fruity with chocolate and toasted oak.  The cask yielded 240 bottles, available for €295 initially to Irish Whiskey Magazine subscribers. Check their website for details. 

Robert Mitchell of Mitchell & Son, Serghios Florides of Irish Whiskey Magazine

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Rueda wakening: Four tantalising Spanish white wines

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 20th August, 2022

We love Albariño in this country. It has taken off over the past few years, to become one of our favourite white wines. While there is no doubting its appeal, Spain also produces a host of other very good white wines. There are plenty from Galicia yet to receive due attention, and other regions too, including Rioja, which is starting to produce some fantastic, eclectic white wine. Yet the first to come to international notice was the Verdejo grape from the Rueda region.

Rueda is a region with a long and noble wine history that has only recently been rediscovered. Legend has it that well-known Rioja producer Marqués de Riscal wanted to produce a white wine to match their red wines. At that time, most white Rioja lacked excitement, so their winemaker, Hurtado de Amézaga, and a French wine consultant travelled the country to find a suitable site. They advised Riscal to plant in the Rueda region of Spain. The region had a reputation going back centuries for producing an oxidative amontillado-style wine, but the team believed it was the best place to produce fresh, crisp, modern white wines.

The first vines they planted were Sauvignon Blanc, and the wine was universally acclaimed, but pretty soon they discovered Verdejo, an indigenous variety, that produced excellent fresh, aromatic, dry wines, sometimes uncannily like Sauvignon Blanc. The region was granted official DO status in 1980. Fast-forward 40 years and there are almost 70 producers and 1,500 growers in Rueda.

What makes Rueda special is the combination of climate and geography. On an elevated plateau a two-hour drive north of Madrid, the region enjoys a continental climate with bitterly cold winters and very hot summers, conditions perfect for ripening grapes, while still retaining acidity thanks to very cold night-time temperatures. The lack of rain means organic viticulture is widely practised, if rarely certified.

Other grape varieties are permitted including Sauvignon Blanc, but Verdejo makes up almost 90 per cent of the vineyard area. It can be used to make sparkling wine, or the traditional oxidative Dorado, but the vast majority are light dry wines.

Most of the wines are aromatic, light- to medium-bodied, usually unoaked, with herbal notes, vibrant acidity and stone fruits. There are one or two ambitious producers such as Belondrade experimenting with new oak and making spectacularly good wines.

SuperValu has the Albali (€12.99), the El Velero (€8) and earlier this year was offering the Marqués de Caceres for €10. Tesco has the Sangre de Toro (€11.50-12.50), Molloys has several on offer, and Dunnes Stores has the MasterChef Rueda for €9.80. All of these are perfectly decent, but if you spend a few euro more, you will certainly notice the difference.

Mantel Rueda Blanco 2021, Verdejo

13%, €12.56

A very moreish dry vin de soif with succulent fleshy pear fruits and a racy citrus acidity. Try it solo, with seafood paella, fish tacos, or soft cheeses with salad.

From: WineSpark.com

Rueda 2021, Verdejo, Marqués de Riscal

13%, €9.60-€16.50

Floral aromas with a crisp, dry palate featuring lemon zest, pears and nectarines. Drink solo on a summer’s evening or with a seafood risotto.

From: widely available, including Dunnes Stores (€9.60 on promotion), SuperValu; Tesco, Molloys, O’Briens, Bradley’s Cork; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny and many others

Rueda Verdejo 2021, José Pariente

13%, €18.70

This is a very nicely crafted wine with a beguiling mix of pear and peach fruits, cut through perfectly by a refreshing streak of citrus zest. This would partner nicely with most fish and poultry dishes as well as summery salads and tomato dishes.

From: Wines Direct, Mullingar

Cucu Verdejo 2021, VdT de Castilla y León (organic)

13.5%, €19.95

A delightful aromatic with fleshy stone fruits and a mineral tang. Perfect with crispy calamari, a crab salad, or a fennel and olive salad.

From: Blackrock Cellar; Green Man Wines, D6W; Pinto Wines, D9; Martin’s, D3; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Lilliput, D7; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Baggot Street Wines; La Touche, Greystones; The Corkscrew, D2; Fallon & Byrne, D2; Greenville Deli, D6.

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Spanish and Argentinian reds for a late summer barbecue

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 13th August, 2022

At this time of year, we need to make the most of our barbecue opportunities, before the cooler days set in. The Irish barbecue has become more varied and more sophisticated in recent years, and this requires a more nuanced approach to wine. But a great many still revolve around red meat, and if I am cooking beef or lamb in some form, I still hanker for a full-bodied red wine.

While you could certainly go for a Zinfandel or Cabernet from California, or a rich red from South Africa, the Languedoc or southern Italy, this week I have chosen wines from Argentina and Ribera del Duero in Spain, both regions expert at the art of grilling and barbecuing. However, just about every country produces a full-bodied red wine that will go down well with a barbecue.

The Cillar del Silos featured here is the best-selling wine for WineSpark, a newish company that claims to sell all of their wines at cost price. Obviously, I cannot verify this, but the prices are certainly highly competitive. The only downside is you have to take out a subscription — that is how they make their money — but the company’s website is certainly worth a look. Ribera del Duero is one of the most famous regions in Spain. A rival to Rioja, it produces richer more full-bodied wines, usually from the Tempranillo grape known as Tinto Fino or Tinto del País there.

Navarra, next door to Rioja, was once best-known for a rich rosé made from the Garnacha grape, otherwise known as Grenache. More recently, it has been producing very good red wines, typically lighter and fruitier than those from other regions. I thought the Volandera featured here would make a great all-purpose barbecue wine. I had forgotten how good it was until tasted again recently after a long gap.

The Gran Corte is a classic Malbec with a twist or two. Firstly, it is blended with 8 per cent Cabernet Franc and 6 per cent Tannat to add structure and complexity. The wine is then aged in used French and American oak barrels, adding a spiciness and rounded tannins. Finally, the Amalaya vineyards are, at 1,800 metres, bringing a unique combination of freshness and concentration.

The Luna Single Vineyard Malbec comes from the highly regarded Agrelo region. Close to the city of Mendoza, it is home to some of the most prestigious producers. It is rare to see a single vineyard wine from the region selling for less than €10.

If the weather is hot, remember to keep the reds cool, ideally at around 16-18 degrees. No wine, even the most full-bodied red, tastes good served warm, especially on a hot sunny day. And have plenty of lighter wines, beer or alcohol-free options for before and after your food.

Lidl Luna Single Vineyard Malbec, Agrelo, Argentina

14%, €9.99

Rich rounded soft dark fruits with subtle vanilla and a savoury touch. Perfect with a burger or beef ribs.

From Lidl

Volandera Garnacha 2021, Navarra

13.5%, €18.25-18.95

Medium to full-bodied, this delicious exuberant wine, replete with fresh raspberry and strawberry fruits, is big enough to take on red meats yet light enough to go well with pork, poultry and grilled Mediterranean vegetables

From McCurtain Wine Cellar, Cork; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Greenville Deli, D6; TheNudeWineCo.ie; Sweeney’s D3; Liliput, D7; Brindle, D8; Clontarf Wines, D3; A Taste of Spain, D1 & D2; Manning’s Emporium, Co. Cork

Ribero del Duero Crianza 2018, Cillar de Silos

14.5%, €17.91

Voluptuous smooth ripe dark fruits with a lightly spicy touch and a savoury finish. The local speciality is baby lamb roasted whole in a clay asador, but lamb chops, steak, mushrooms or aged Manchego would all do nicely as well.

From WineSpark.com

Amalaya Gran Corte 2020, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Calchaquí Valley, Argentina

14.5%, €25.99

An excellent deeply flavoured wine that combines power with a certain elegance. Rich ripe forest fruits, dark chocolate and spice combine nicely leading to a long, dry finish. Perfect with a posh barbecue.

From Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; Baggot Street Wines; Clontarf Wines; Power & Co, Lucan; World Wide Wines, Waterford; Wineonline.ie

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Sunshine wine: Four Loire bottles for perfect summer drinking

First published in The Irish Times, 6th August, 2022

I’m sure I’m not the only one who, in midwinter, dreams of being transported to France, where I can be found dozing on the banks of a slow-moving river in the shade of a tree, bottle of wine chilling in the water (attached to a string), with a picnic of locally bought cheese, salad, charcuterie, cold butter and a freshly baked baguette. The sun is shining and there is a gentle, cooling breeze.

I have come close to this idyll, mainly on holidays in the southwest of France, but for many of us it means the Loire valley. The region seems to promise gentle sunshine and memories of holidays past. The Loire is the longest river in France, just over 1,000km from its start in the Massif Centrale in southeastern France until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean in Saint-Nazaire. Grapes are grown along much of the river, providing us with a huge array of wines. Every style, from sparkling to sweet, is produced.

The white wines share a crisp, refreshing acidity and vibrant fruitiness, while most of the reds have an elegance and lightness. Both styles make for perfect summer drinking. I covered the red wines a few weeks ago. As for the white wines, I covered Muscadet in June, and the two other most widely grown varieties are Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc.

Sauvignon is grown in various parts of the globe, but the Loire is its spiritual home and source of some of the finest examples. Loire Sauvignon tends to be drier, the fruit a little less exuberant, often with a brisk cleansing mineral acidity. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are the best-known names and produce most of the finest wines, but Quincy, Reuilly, Coteaux du Giennois, Menetou-Salon and Touraine can also produce fine examples. Many of the less expensive versions, which can be very good value, will simply be labelled Val de Loire.

Chenin Blanc produces almost every style of wine, from sparkling through dry, semi-dry to lusciously sweet. Even the sweetest wines have a wonderful pure acidity that refreshes. While some young wines can seem a little austere, they go beautifully with food. The best wines will last and improve for decades, taking on a honeyed richness. Vouvray is the best-known name but Savennières Anjou, Saumur and Montlouis are all home to some excellent producers.

Sauvignon goes well with sushi, plainly cooked fish, goat’s cheese, herby salads, sauces such as pesto and fresh tomatoes of all kinds. Although less aromatic than Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc goes with most of the above foods, including plainly grilled fish, trout, poached salmon, and all sorts of summer salads.

And of course, both wines would be perfect for that al fresco lunch by the river.

Le Grand Cerf, Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2020

12.5%, €12.95 down from €15.95

Lightly aromatic with attractive ripe green fruits and lemon zest, finishing crisp and dry. A great summery aperitif or with lighter seafood and herby salads.

From: O’Briens

Pouilly-Fumé 2021, Domaine des Berthiers, Jean-Claude Dagueneau

13%, €20.18

A wonderful winning combination of perfectly ripe succulent green fruits and mouth-watering flinty mineral acidity. Great on its own, but even better with goat’s cheese, tomato salads or simply cooked white or oily fish. Outstanding value for money.

From: WineSpark.com

Sinople Chinon 2020, Cru du Chateau de Coulaine Organic

13%, €25

Deep gold colour, light with lemon zest and pears, overlaid with honey, light toast and spice. A lovely atypical complex wine that demands food. Baked salmon, chicken with lemon or roast cauliflower with tahini would be good matches.

From: Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown

Vouvray Sec 2019, Le Haut-Lieu, Domaine Huet, Biodynamic

13%, €44

A nicely floral nose; youthful green apple, quince and pear fruits with a strong mineral backbone. A subtle, complex and precise wine with wonderful balance. Enjoy now with grilled white fish and other lighter seafood dishes or keep for up to a decade.

From: 64 Wine, Glasthule; Avoca, D4, Rathcoole, Malahide; Blackrock Cellar; Deveneys, Dundrum; Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; McHugh’s, D5; Mitchell & Son, IFSC, Glashtule; Neighbourhood Wine; Redmonds, D6

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Four Portuguese red wines to try this summer

First published in The Irish Times Saturday 30th July, 2022

Many of you will be heading off to Portugal on holiday this summer; some may even be reading this article on your digital Irish Times in Portugal. Either way, make sure you take time to explore the wonders of Portuguese wine. The quality and range have increased massively over the last decade, with some truly innovative producers and scores of unique wines. In most cases, growers have eschewed the well-known international grapes and instead relied on Portugal’s own impressive array of indigenous varieties. This all makes for a veritable feast of distinctly Portuguese wines.

The three best-known regions for red wine are Dão, Alentejo and the Douro. Broadly speaking Dão is cooler and produces more fragrant elegant wines, while Alentejo, in the hot interior, is a great source of full-bodied ripe reds, although there are exceptions. The Douro, famous for Port, has recently gained a reputation for some very exciting table wines. Wines from the hot, arid terraces tend to be concentrated and powerful, but some producers have sought out old vineyards in higher cooler vineyards and the resulting wines are lighter and fresher. I am a big fan of the wines of Dão. While serious at the top end, less expensive versions are often delightfully light and gloriously fruity.

Even if you can’t make it to Portugal, there is plenty of choice at every price here in Ireland. At entry level, Aldi and O’Briens have led the way with a variety of pretty good, well-made wines. Aldi has three white wines, the Arinto (€7.99), Vinho Verde (€6.99) and the Alvarinho (€8.99). The Alvarinho is worth the extra euro. As well as a rosé (€7.99), they have two pretty good reds; the Specially Selected Portuguese Douro Reserva below and the Animus Douro (€7.99). O’Briens has a good range, including the ever-popular Porta 6, often promoted down to less than €10. In addition to this, a number of Irish importers have sought out some of the best boutique wines, so good independent wine shops should have an interesting selection in the €15-25 range.

The three most important grapes for the Douro and Dão are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Franca. The best-known is Touriga Nacional, which brings ripe dark fruits, spice and at times tannic structure to wines. Tinta Roriz (also known as Aragonez in Alentejo) is the same grape as Spain’s Tempranillo. Touriga Franca is lighter and more fragrant than the previous two and brings elegance to the blend.

Portuguese white wines are every bit as interesting as the red, but that is for another week. Today three great wines from Dão and a sub-€10 Douro from Aldi.

Aldi Specially Selected Mimo Moutinho Douro Reserva 2019

13.5%
€9.99

Medium to full-bodied with earthy plums and dark cherries. Some light tannins kick in on the finish. Try it with a gourmet burger, meat or vegetarian.

From Aldi

Rótulo Dão 2018, Niepoort

13%
€19

This charms with its delicious, sweet-sour plum fruits, freshly ground black pepper and lively acidity. Also available in a three-litre bag-in-box for €58 — equivalent to €14.50 a bottle. Try it with grilled belly of pork, or charred hispi cabbage.

From Liston’s, D2; Drinkstore, D7; Avoca, D4 and Rathcoole; Donnybrook Fair; Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown. Three-litre bag-in-a-box from Pinto Wines, D9; Redmonds, D6; Brindle, D8.

Quinta de Saes 2018, Dão, Alvaro Castro

13%
€19

Delectable light to medium-bodied smooth ripe dark fruits that glide effortlessly across the palate. Try this with a grilled pork chop or a cauliflower gratin.

From 64Wine, Glasthule; Kelly’s, D3; Green Man Wines, D6; Ardkeen, Waterford.

Quinta dos Carvalhais Dão Touriga Nacional 2018

13.5%
€29.99 — €31.99

Fragrant and supple with very seductive ripe dark forest fruits, thyme and subtle notes of wood. The finish is both smooth and refreshing. Try this with lamb cutlets or a herby tomato and bean stew.

From The Corkscrew, D2; Baggot Street Wines, D4; Martins Off Licence, D3; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Wineonline.ie.

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