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Forget dry January, I prefer ‘damp January’

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 20th January, 2018

This year I have opted for a damp January, strictly avoiding all alcohol for the first three days of the week, and drinking less than usual for the remaining four. To reward myself, I have been drinking better wine. Instead of drinking two €10 bottles of wine, I have traded up to €15-€20 – and more – on a few occasions. As a result, over the last few weekends, I have enjoyed some really special wines. This is a case when really less is more. And of course, as I am drinking less, my wine budget remains the same.

If you feel €20 is too much to pay for a bottle of wine, just remember that it is much cheaper, and so much better, than the barely drinkable insipid house wines offered by most restaurants, wine bars and hotels. I would argue that all four wines below offer great value for money. So get some decent wine glasses, fill them to only a quarter or a third full (you should get eight glasses per bottle), and enjoy the pleasures of a really good wine.

The Sauvignon Blanc below is a completely different animal to the standard Marlborough version, with a style and character all of its own. From one of the leading exponents of natural wine, this is a wine worth seeking out. The importer tells me that the 2016 vintage is now being rationed, so don’t delay.

The Crozes Hermitage I have chosen is from the Caves de Tain, a large co-operative that dominates production in the region. All of the wines are very reliable and sometimes much more, as is the case with this wine. From the excellent 2015 vintage, it had a lovely lightness and purity of fruit that had all my alarm bells ringing – for the right reasons. Exceptional value for money if you enjoy lighter, lower alcohol wines.

Those that prefer a bit more body in their wine should look to one of the other two red wines below. There are plenty of inexpensive Côtes du Rhônes available, but this is one area where paying a few euros more really does pay dividends. I have featured others before Christmas, but this Château Beauchene (from a Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer) offers a very seductive mix of elegance and warmth.

Collioure is a small French village on the Mediterranean coast, not far from the Spanish border. Once best known for its anchovies and painters, these days it is a popular tourist destination. Less well known are its wines; both red and white, can be very good, but I haven’t come across them in Ireland for a few years. This is a rich swarthy powerful wine, perfect for banishing those wintery blues.

Le P’tit Blanc de Tue-Bouef 2015, Clos du Tue-Bouef

13%, €19


Made with a minimal addition of sulphur at bottling, this is an intriguing Sauvignon with real character. Subtle and complex with lifted aromas, and soft quince and peach fruits, perfectly balanced by a mineral edge. Serve as an aperitif or with winter salads. I had mine with beetroot and goat’s cheese.

Stockists: Le Caveau Kilkenny; The Corkscrew; Green Man Wines; Bradley’s, Cork.

Crozes Hermitage, Caves de Tain 2015

13%, €19.95


Perfectly ripe blackcurrant and morello cherry fruits with a savoury refreshing note and excellent length. It went perfectly with our Sunday night roast chicken, but would provide a perfect partner for ham dishes. Excellent value for money.

Stockists: O’Briens

Château Beauchene 2016, Côtes du Rhône

13.5%, €17.95


Medium to full-bodied and smooth with soft ripe rounded red fruits dusted with spice. This went down very nicely with a curry from my new local Indian takeaway (Tiffin in Charlesland, Co Wicklow).

Stockists: Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown

Les Voiles de Paulilles 2015, Collioure

14%, €19


Gutsy full-bodied wine with concentrated blackcurrant fruits, spice and black olives. Perfect with a roast of beef or lamb, or maybe a stew laced with Mediterranean herbs.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Posted in: Irish Times

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