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Vineyard tours: Where to visit for beauty and taste

A shorter version of this article was first published in The Irish Times, Saturday 25th August, 2018book

Where to Drink Wine

Chris Losh, Quadrille

Three days after the article below appeared in The Irish Times,  I was given a copy of this very useful book by Chris Losh, who has clearly put in a huge amount of work, traveling, meeting and tasting. Not only is there a brief introduction to each area, the author also picks out a selection of the best wineries to visit, with a brief rundown of what to expect. Others have tried this before, but tend to take the easy option, suggesting the obvious large producers with big visitor-centres and bland guided tours. Losh includes some of the big boys, but also plenty of smaller estates where you can expect a more personal tour and tasting. This is a genuinely useful well-written book that will make you want to pack your bags and head off to the sun-soaked vineyards of the world.

IMG_2955The Douro Valley

Not all vineyards look great; some are simply vast fields of vines grown on arid flat plains. Thankfully many others take in some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Beautiful vineyards don’t always make beautiful wine, but it certainly makes a visit a much more appealing prospect.

Wine tourism is developing at a hectic rate to meet consumer demand for an authentic backstory. Clued-in wineries realise they are no longer simply selling wine; they are marketing a brand that includes their history, their winemaker, winery and region. Consumers can gain access to this through the winery website or through interacting with a multitude of other channels. Many producers not only offer tours but have turned them into a profitable sideline. So where should you visit?

 Possibly the most beautiful vineyard belonging to one producer is Rippon in Central Otago in New Zealand. The view out over the vineyards, the lake and islands, with spectacular mountains forming the backdrop, is stunning. Take a look online. The wines, sadly not cheap, are available in Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown. They are however very good, the Pinot is world-class.

Most visitors to San Francisco head northwards to the Napa Valley. Napa is great, but tourism is very well developed and often expensive. I would suggest driving westwards from Napa to Sonoma County. I am not sure how the area weathered the devastating fires last year, but the pretty town of Sonoma, the picturesque valleys filled with mature forests and mixed farms leading on to the spectacular coastline is as memorable as any wine country. The wine and food here are equally good.

I have visited Slovenia on several occasions. Most of the vineyards here (and in neighbouring Croatia) are picture-postcard beautiful. Think rolling verdant hillsides dotted with immaculately kept farmhouses each with a well-tended vegetable garden. The wines can be equally impressive.

We Irish are regular visitors to South Africa. My sole trip is now a distant memory, but I will never forget the breath-taking beauty of the vineyards. Many areas boast beautiful verdant landscapes peppered with dazzling white Cape Dutch homesteads. Best known is Stellenbosch, but nearby Franschhoek took first prize for me.

The Douro Valley in northern Portugal is a Unesco heritage site, and home to some of the most impressive, historic vineyards. But possibly my favourite vineyards of all are over the border in Spain, in Ribera Sacra in Galicia. There, the morning mists lying on the slow moving river slowly dissolve to reveal a series of narrow, impossibly steep crumbling terraces lined with ancient dry stone walls. At the top are verdant green forests. By happy coincidence, Ribera Sacra also makes some of the most compelling wines, from the Mencía grape, as well as others just being rediscovered.

Bottles of the Week

Bohoek Semillon 2016, Franschhoek, South Africa 12.5%, €15
A lovely mix of fresh, juicy, ripe peach fruits, with a touch of spice on the finish. Perfect with grilled (or barbecued) sea bass or other fish.
Stockist Marks & Spencer

S&R Douro Red 2016 13.5%, €16.95
Ample sweet/sour dark plum fruits, with a touch of spice and a good dry finish. Try it with a rare steak.
Stockist O’Briens Wines

Guímaro Joven Tinto 2016, Ribera Sacra 13%, €19
Pure unoaked Mencía from one of the best producers in Ribera Sacra. The more expensive single vineyard wines are stunning. This has clean savoury dark cherry fruits, a lifting acidity and a smooth finish. Serve cool with roast pork.
Stockists Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2, baggotstreetwines.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie

Pax Sonoma Hillsides Syrah 2014, Sonoma, California 13%, €66
Concentrated, vibrant, savoury yet ripe dark cherry and blackcurrant fruits with wood smoke and liquorice. Superb, sophisticated wine that can be drunk now but will improve for years. With roast lamb.
Stockists 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin, 64wine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie

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Last of the summer wine: light whites to savour

Image 8

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday, 18th August 2018.

While the summer is still with us, another look at light whites. These are wines that may not fill the mouth with rich powerful flavours, but they more than make up for it with a subtle complexity that seduces and charms.

 Tasted quickly before dinner, my bottle of Soave La Rocca 2015 from Pieropan was pleasant, refreshing and light, but little more. It was only half an hour later with food that it slowly revealed a wonderful multi-layered character. A few retailers have told me we are starting to drink less, but drink better wine, very welcome news. Sadly this doesn’t seem to extend to light white wines yet. A bottle of Pieropan La Rocca will set you back €36.99 (Redmonds, Ranelagh, 64 Wine, Glasthule) but it is worth it.

 A vast quantity of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi (usually sold in distinctive fish-shaped bottles) is produced each year. One producer alone, Fazi Battaglia, makes three million bottles annually. Verdicchio is a grape variety that generally produces refreshing wines with good acidity. If you restrict the yields and have the right soil, the wines can be subtle but excellent. Increase the yields and you get a decent crisp fresh dry wine, usually with a slight fizz.

 At entry level, Lidl should have a few bottles of its version of Verdicchio for €7.99 as part of its Italian wine sale. There are plenty of very high quality wines too, including San Lorenzo (€23.70, SIYPS.com, Sheridan’s Cheesemongers) and Bucci. The Bucci wine below is excellent but the Riserva (€41), one of my desert island wines, will keep and improve for decades. Verdicchio goes well with lighter herby foods, antipasti, risotto primavera, prawns with linguini, or pesto Genovese.

 I have always loved the pure, refreshing flavours of Muscadet. I even like some of the cheap stuff. Real Muscadet has been enjoying a welcome mini-revival recently. The less expensive versions make the perfect summer drink, light in alcohol with satisfying plump mouth-watering zesty green fruits. Move up a gear to the best single estates and you can enjoy some brilliant, expressive wines; at €20-€30 they may seem expensive, but they are certainly worth it. Muscadet goes well with seafood, a platter of fruits de mer, some oysters or a bowl of mussels.

All of the multiples should have a Muscadet, including Tesco (€10) and SuperValu, who offer two, one at €9/€12 and the tasty Domaine du Haut Bourg (€12.95). Mary Pawle (marypawlewines.com) has the fascinating sulphur-free Muscadet L’Air Innocent 2015, Vin Nature, Domaine de la Fessardière for €18.60.

Bottles of the Week

Aldi Exquisite Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur lie 2017 12%, €8.99
Light refreshing green apple fruits with a crisp dry finish. Perfect with a bowl of moules marinière and a few hunks of crusty baguette.
Stockist: Aldi

Verdicchio dei Casetlli di Jesi Albiano 2016, Marotti Campi 12.5%, €11.20 (down from €14.95 during August)
Plump rounded apples and nectarines with lively lime zest bringing it to life. With mixed antipasti or pesto Genovese.
Stockist: O’Briens

Verdicchio Classico Superior, Villa Bucci 13.5%, €22
From the best producer in the region, an exquisite elegant wine with floral aromas, light vanilla, almonds and green apple fruits, and a lingering finish. Lovely with linguini with prawns, lemon and parsley.
Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin, 64wine.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; the Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie

Granite de Clisson 2012, Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine, Domaine de la Vinconnière 13%, €26.95
A superb mineral-laced wine with rich, elegant textured maturing fruits and the 2016 sur lie (€14.95) is also worth trying.
Stockist: Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com

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A wine even our wine writer hadn’t heard about

Garden Grapes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottles of the Week

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

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

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

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

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Soave La Rocca 2015, Pieropan

Soave La Rocca 2015, Pieropan

La Rocca high res_NVQuite deep in colour with a restrained lightly nutty nose. The palate opens out with time to reveal a delightful mix of almonds, light peach fruits and honey. A wonderful subtle wine full of nuance. Don’t serve it too cold; the flaovurs are quite delicate. Not cheap, but worth it.

Spaghetti or linguini with either prawns or crab sounds good.

Pieropan is one of the greatest white wine producers in Italy. Nino Pieropan, who sadly passed away in April, can take much of the credit for rescuing the reputation of the Soave region, ruined by a flood of cheap nasty wines over several decades. Sons Dario and Andrea now run the estate, which is fully organic. The La Rocca vineyard is primarily limestone, unusual in a region dominated by basalt. The wine is aged in a mix of large old oak casks.

€36.99 from Redmond, Ranelagh; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; wineonline.ie

 

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Le Cadet 2016, Montirius, IGP Vaucluse

Le Cadet 2016, Montirius, IGP Vaucluse

le cadet2A vivid youthful colour. Full of bold vibrant ripe dark fruits, this is a seductive medium to full-bodied red that retains a mouth-watering freshness. Not a keeper but excellent now.

We drank it with chicken thighs baked with herby tomatoes and peppers.

Montirius produce some of the finest wines of Vacqueyras and Gigondas in the southern Rhône. Le Cadet is the baby brother, a lighter more supple fruity wine that still packs a punch, and offers great value for money. 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah.

€17 exclusively from 64 Wine, Glasthule 64wine.ie

 

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Graham Norton wines: Are they any good?

Graham Norton (C) with Tim Lightbourne and Rob Cameron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graham Norton’s Own SparklinG ItaliaN Prosecco Extra Dry

11%
€17.99
An exuberant fruit-filled Prosecco with refreshing red apples and pears. A great way to kick-start a dinner party, or with friends on a sunny evening.
Stockists: Tesco

Graham Norton’s Own SauviGNon Blanc 2017, Marlborough

12.5%
€14.99 (€12 from July 26th in SuperValu and Centra)
A classic Marlborough Sauvignon, with lime zest, textured mouth-watering green fruits and a lingering rounded finish. With some grilled scallops and a herby dressing, or a soft goat’s cheese salad.
Stockists: SuperValu, Centra, Tesco

Graham Norton’s Own Pink by DesiGN Rosé 2017

13%
€14.99 (€8 in SuperValu, Centra until July 26th, while stocks last)
A very moreish appealing wine with fragrant aromas, juicy ripe raspberry and black cherry fruits, a refreshing acidity, finishing just off-dry. By itself or with lightly spicy chicken, prawns or salmon.
Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu, Centra

Graham Norton’s Own Shiraz 2015, South Australia

14%
€12-15 (€12 from July 26th in SuperValu and Centra)
Big rich rounded ripe plum fruits with a sprinkle of spice. Perfect with that barbecued ribeye steak or burger.
Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu, Centra

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Colinas del Itata Old Vines Muscat 2017, Itata

Colinas del Itata Old Vines Muscat 2017, Itata

ITATA

 

Inviting delicate perfumed floral aromas; juicy, really lively orange peel and apricot fruits, with a lovely musky kick on the finish. A delightful wine and outstanding value for money.

 

Lightly spicy prawn or chicken Thai curries.

 

I featured the 2014 vintage of his wine a few years ago. The 2017 is, I think, even better. The wine is made from 110-year old vines planted in Itata, one of the first vineyards to be planted by the Spanish conquistadors when they arrived in Chile.

 

€15 from Marks & Spencer

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Ramon Roqueta Tina 3 Garnacha 2016, Calatayud

Ramon Roqueta Tina 3 Garnacha 2016, Calatayud

ramon roqueta1

 

This is a very moreish all-purpose wine that offers great value for money. Medium-bodied juicy ripe strawberry fruits with plenty of concentration and real oomph on the mid-palate, and a smooth rounded finish.

 

A good match for most red meats or pork; I had mine with mildly spiced lamb kofte and a tomato salsa.

 

€14 from Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com.

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Domaine de la Taille aux Loups 2015, Remus, Montlouis

Domaine de la Taille aux Loups 2015, Remus, Montlouis

montlouisA glorious wine; a rich creamy texture, balanced by very brisk, well-integrated acidity, and masses of mouth-watering quince and white peach fruits, finishing long and dry.

In an ideal world, with poached wild salmon with a buttery dill sauce. But good quality farmed salmon would still do nicely.

Jacky Blot has transformed the reputation of Montlouis, so long the poor neighbour of Vouvray. This single vineyard Chenin Blanc is one of the best white wines I have tasted so far in 2018. It is worth buying by the case if you can afford it, as this will keep and improve for years to come.

€29.40 from Wines Direct, Mullingar, Arnott’s, Dublin and by mail order from Winesdirect.ie

 

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de Martino Las Cruces Old Vine Malbec Carmenère 2014, Valle de Cachapoal

de Martino Las Cruces Old Vine Malbec Carmenère 2014, Valle de Cachapoal

Las Cruces 2014

 

 

Wonderful wine. An explosion of tight ripe savoury dark fruits with real concentration and backbone. Lovely balance and great length – 13.5% alcohol. A world away from most alcoholic, oaky luxury Chilean wines, this really is worth trying, despite the price tag.

 

This would go nicely with most grilled or roast red meats. Lightly spicy barbecued lamb or a gourmet burger.

 

Expensive, but this one is worth it. I tasted this as part of an article on wines from Itata, the first vineyards planted by the Spanish conquistadores. This is made from the granitic Las Cruces vineyard, planted in 1956 It is a field blend of 75% Malbec and 25% Carmenère.

€40 from O’Briens Wines.

 

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