First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 24th February, 2017
I worked in wine shops for several years and was always bemused me when a customer asked for a bottle of nice wine. What did they think I was going to recommend? My special reserve of disgusting, undrinkable wines? And yet I knew exactly what they meant – a wine that wasn’t too expensive, but offered more than your average bottle.
This is probably what we all want 90 per cent of the time, but it can be elusive. Standardised winemaking techniques mean it is all too easy to come across bland, broadly fruity, slightly confected wines, red and white, that won’t harm anyone but offer very little real enjoyment.
Finding a wine with a little character can be a more challenging. With our punitive tax regime, sadly the more interesting bottles will invariably cost €12-€15, if not more.
As with most working couples, during the week our dinner tends to be a fairly simple affair. In the colder months, I frequently throw plenty of vegetables into the oven to roast, usually butternut squash and/or potatoes, sweet potato, onions, red peppers, aubergines, and tomatoes, or cauliflower, leeks, mushrooms and beans.
The spicing varies according to my mood. With many vegetables, the best wine match would be rich white wine, but as we usually have some sort of grilled or roasted meat as well, I generally open up a red wine. In the winter months, I naturally gravitate towards red wine anyway.
I don’t go into an elaborate thought process to choose the wine; I find light and medium-bodied reds offer the best partner for both roasted vegetables and grilled meat.
For lighter wines, I seek out Beaujolais, lighter Italian reds such as Barbera and Valpolicella, Pinots from Chile or New Zealand, or a lighter Cabernets from Australia.
In colder weather, I often drink these with fish as well. However, my favourite winter wines are medium-bodied reds with supple fruit, and around 13.5 per cent alcohol. I try to avoid over-oaked or over-alcoholic wines and I am becoming more and more frustrated with off-dry and medium-dry red wines.
So where to find a wine that delivers that little bit extra? Usually it will be made by smaller producers, although quality-conscious co-operatives can offer great value too.
It generally means avoiding the best-known names, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy. Bargains tend to be found in the biggest producer regions such as La Mancha in Spain, the Languedoc in France and parts of Italy. My favourite hunting grounds would also include much of Australia, Chile, the southern Rhône in France, and most of Portugal.
Today, four very nice red wines, all costing less than €15. I cannot promise that they will send you into paroxysms of joy, but I hope you will find them satisfying.
A hugely satisfying wine with rich red cherry fruits, spicy black peppers and nice grip on the finish. With lamb or beef dishes.
Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar
On offer until 5thMarch. Medium-bodied with supple red and black fruits, black olives and herbs. A good all-rounder.
Very seductive smooth warm dark fruits, with a touch of tobacco. Perfect with spicy lamb from Diana Henry’s Simple.
Stockists: SuperValu Ballinteer, Lucan, Charlesland, Blackrock, Deansgrange, Swords, Rathgar, Sundrive Road; Donnybrook Fair; Londis Terenure.
Attractive savoury dark plums with a savoury touch. Went nicely with pork chops and mushrooms.
Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar