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Top-notch sparkling wines for Christmas

In the run-up to Christmas many of us like a glass or two of something sparkling. Some of the time it is swallowed without too much thought, unless it is truly awful or something really special that kick-starts our taste buds. But it is worth taking a little time to buy something decent: your family and friends will thank you for it.

The two national favourites are prosecco and champagne. I rarely refuse a glass of good champagne, although it can be very expensive. As far as I am concerned we reached peak prosecco some time ago, so I am delighted to see the range of sparkling wines in our shops expand to include some really interesting, reasonably priced wines. This week, a few more offbeat choices from the Loire Valley, Portugal and even the Czech Republic, as well as an inexpensive champagne that will get any party going.

 I wrote about t-nats earlier this year. These are naturally sparkling wines (the name is short for pétillant naturel), lightly fizzy and sometimes quite funky too. Some are a little cloudy with the leftovers from fermentation. A glass before dinner can be very refreshing and a whole lot more interesting than a prosecco. The Portuguese PT Nat Pinot Noir below is a milder version, with plenty of fruit and a light sparkle.

Wines labelled Brut Nature, including two of the bottles featured below, will have virtually no residual sugar, and if you are used to drinking sweetish prosecco they may come as something of a shock to your system. But both are well worth trying.

If you do want to serve champagne, it usually makes sense to pay more than €30, as inexpensive bottles rarely offer good value for money. There are, however, a few exceptions, such the Monsigny below or the very tasty Granzamy Brut Champagne (€29.95, O’Briens). For more adventurous palates, O’Briens also has the very tasty Australian Croser Brut Rosé (€24.95). Dunnes Stores has the excellent grown-up, refined bone dry Champagne Lombard Brut Nature Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs (€45). Terroirs, in Donnybrook in Dublin, has a great selection of grower- or domaine-bottled champagnes. My favourites include the Agrapart 7 Crus (€69.50) and the Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (€59.50). I always enjoy a glass of the excellent Bénard-Pitois 1er cru Champagne (Whelehans, €36.95). One of the finest grower champagnes I have tasted in recent months is Leclerc Briant (€59, siyps.com, Green Man Wines). Of the bigger names in champagne, Bollinger, Louis Roederer and Charles Heidsieck are all on top form at the moment. Expect to pay €55-€65 for all of these.

Two final pieces of advice. Don’t serve your sparkling wine too cold; half an hour in an ice bucket will kill all flavour. And do serve plenty of nibbles – all wine, including sparkling, tastes better with a little food.

Tuffeau 2017, Blancs de Blancs Brut Nature, Domaine Plou
12%, €19.50-€19.95
Delicious crisp sparkling wine with lovely clean apple fruits, finishing dry. Grown-up fizz with a touch of class; great value for money. Serve with mixed tapas. From Cass & Co, Dungarvan, cassansdco.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie

Veuve Monsigny Fireworks Champagne NV
12%, €22.99
Elegant with crisp green apple fruits, a touch of lemon zest and a lick of buttery brioche. Quality champagne at an affordable price. For larger parties create a real stir with a magnum (€50). From Aldi, aldi.ie

Uivo PT Nat Pinot Noir Rosé 2017, Portugal
12.5% €23
Very pale in colour, lightly effervescent, with tasty redcurrant fruits and a yeasty edge. From Liston’s, Camden Street, Dublin, listonsfoodstore.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, Dublin, baggotstreetwines.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin, clontarfwines.ie

Krásna Horá Blanc de Noir Brut Nature 2016, Czech Republic, Biodynamic
12%, €40
Delicious clean, fresh Granny Smith apples, with a creamy texture and subtle notes of brioche. A bone-dry, long, palate-cleansing finish. An aperitif with cheese straws or toasted almonds. From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie

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My Favourite Festive wines from Aldi

First published online in the Irish Times 16th November, 2018

Aldi has been working hard to improve its wine range, and now have a pretty decent core range of wines.  These are my favourites from its Christmas line-up, which are set to be available from all 133 of its Irish stores.

Veuve Monsigny Celebration Champagne NV
12%, €22.99 (magnum €50) 
Aldi’s Cremant de Jura (€11.99) is one of the best-value fizzes, but if you fancy splashing out a bit, this is a very upmarket champagne, with crisp green apple, a touch of brioche and a decent finish. Very good value.

Castellori Soave Superiore Classico 2017
12.5%, €6.49
Decent light, fresh green-apple fruits with a dry finish. Perfect for parties and with lighter seafood dishes. Quite incredible at the price.

Limestone German Riesling 2017, Pfalz
12%, €8.99
Floral, with light, fresh crisp red-apple fruits and a touch of honey; fairly dry. As with the Soave above, great value for money. Party wine.

Lot Series Lot XI Australian Chardonnay 2017, Clare Valley & Margaret River
13%, €13.99
Google tells me that Clare Valley is more than 2,700km from Margaret River, so this is a unique cross-regional blend. The wine is pretty good: fresh, clean tropical and pear fruits, crisp, almost elegant. Decent value for money.

Redwood Hills Single Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018
13%, €9.99
I’m not a huge Marlborough Sauvignon fan, but this is a very reasonable, well-priced version. Lightly aromatic with lime zest, passion fruit and pears.

The Venturer Series Costières de Nîmes 2017
13.5%, €7.49
Decent medium-bodied red with inky dark fruits; very quaffable, and decent value.

Exquisite Collection Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2016
14%, €9.99 
Smooth, well-made ripasso. Not too sweet or extracted, with pleasant dark-cherry fruits.

Lot Series Tasmanian Pinot Noir 2017, Tasmania
13.5%, €13.99
Light, supple juicy raspberries and piquant redcurrants. You won’t mistake it for some of the more serious Tassie Pinots, but this is excellent value for money. With duck, game birds or tuna.

Barone Bruni Chianti Classico Riserva 2015
13.5%, €11.99
Soft, easy, ripe, sweet red-cherry fruits; easy-drinking wine to go with most red or white meats.

Exquisite Collection Amontillado Sherry
18%, €7.99 (500ml)
Sherry lovers should certainly not miss this, a delicious, piquant, concentrated dry sherry with plenty of toasted nuts, dark fruits and a lovely finish. Outstanding value for money.

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Orange wine? Yes, it’s strange but give it a go

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First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 15th September, 2018

In a move that has already upset the purists, German supermarket Aldi has launched an orange wine, priced at an incredibly cheap €8.99. Not just orange either, but natural and organic as well.

What is orange wine? Firstly, it is not made from oranges. I came across it back in 2005, in Slovenia, where the winemaker described it as “white wine made like red wine”.

Orange wine is made by macerating or fermenting white grapes on their skins for a period, as a winemaker normally would with a red wine. They taste very different, with the freshness and acidity of a white wine and the grippy dry tannins of a red. Some have light red fruits, others are sherry-like, sometimes with grilled nuts and, usually, a pithy quality. If that sounds strange, it is. Not all orange wines are natural, but some are, made using organic grapes in a oxidative way which adds to the general funkiness.

Orange wine is drunk at room temperature, or slightly cool; serve it chilled and the tannins stick out. It has been making waves in the wine world, and now features on wine lists in fashionable restaurants, wine bars and independent wine shops. Some, including Ottolenghi in London, have an orange wine section on their lists. Adherents argue that it is the perfect food wine, able to cope with white and red meats, as well as smelly cheeses. Critics argue that they all taste the same, regardless of grape variety or origin.

‘Challenging’

I asked two independent retailers for their thoughts. Gerard Maguire of 64 Wine said “we sell it but with difficulty – it is a challenge for consumers because it runs counter to our perceptions of how we think wine should taste”.

“You have to learn to love it,” says Maguire, adding “it took me a long time to get it. Now I understand it but I don’t necessarily always like it”. However, he believes that “the Gravner wine ( see below) is spectacular; every wine lover should try it at least once”. Dave Gallagher of Green Man Wines agreed with Maguire: “It ticks away as a curiosity value, and has a following from people who want to try different things, but it will never be a mass market wine. It is too individual,” and he adds “reasonable expensive”. You don’t find many under €25, hence the surprise with the Aldi wine.

My Slovenian producer, whose winery was close to the Italian border, had probably been inspired by Josko Gravner or Stanko Radikon, the first two winemakers to reinvent orange wine in the 1990s, although the Georgians had been making it for thousands of years.

The Aldi orange wine was made in Romania by Cramele Recas, a very large, modern go-ahead winery. Made from organic grapes, fermented without added yeasts or sulphur, and bottled unfiltered and unfined.

Aldi Orange Natural Wine 2017, Romania 13%, €8.99
Made from a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, this has light apricot and orange peel fruits and pithy tannins. My bottle had a slightly off-note on the finish. Why not experiment with various foods?
From selected branches of Aldi

Tbilvino Rkatsiteli Qvevris JSC Tibilvino 2015, Kakheti Region, Georgia 12%, €16
A lightly orange wine that I have featured before but the new vintage is even better; light orange peel, toasted nuts, lively acidity and fresh pear fruits. By itself or with Khachapuri – look it up, they are delicious.
From Marks & Spencer

Craven Clairette Blanche 2016, Stellenbosch 11.5%, €28
Partially skin-fermented this was slightly cloudy, with an intriguing mix of fruits; quince, apple and orange peel with a lovely hit of stewed fruits on the finish.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie

Ribolla ‘Anfora’ 2008, Gravner 14.5%, €75-€80
Seven months in amphorae, seven years in cask; an unbelievable riot of flavours; nuts, butterscotch, sherry, dried fruits, lemon peel, peaches and so much more. Unique and fascinating.
From siyps.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie

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Wines from €8.50 to €22: Can you tell the difference?

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 20th May, 2017

Do expensive wines taste any better? It is a question I am often asked. My answer is: yes and no. Obviously, a pricier wine should offer more; more complexity, more elegance, more fruit and more intensity than a cheaper model. But quite often it doesn’t.  A wine producer is no different to any other business and will try to maximise profits. Simply by being based in a well-known region, some can charge a premium over their neighbours. Others dress their wines up in heavy bottles and fancy labels in an effort to persuade us to part with a little more money. Then there is the importer and retailer margin; some take more than others.

So price is certainly not a guarantee of quality. Against this, if a producer receives a better price, they can afford to make a much better wine. I find that generally, if you pay more, you get more – to a certain price ceiling, when the law of diminishing returns set in. Given our very high excise duties, most of the cost of any wine under €10 goes straight to the government, so cheap wine is never really good value.

Sweet spot

For me, the sweet spot in wine is between €12-25, where you should notice a big step up in quality. If you don’t then you should stick to the cheap stuff. For a treat, I am happy to pay up to €50 and sometimes more for a really great wine, having convinced myself that the same price would get me an average bottle in most restaurants.

Not everybody likes expensive wine however; studies have shown that many consumers prefer cheaper wines that tend to have more residual sugar, adding richness and texture, as well as lighter tannins or acidity (in white wines).

I sometimes find myself preferring the less expensive wines because they have not been given lavish oak treatment, and I don’t generally like the taste of oak. It is all a matter of personal taste, and as with anything else in life, you should never let anyone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t like.

This week, you can conduct your own experiment. I have chosen four Malbecs from Argentina, all widely available. The complete set will cost you about €55, but you could share the burden with a few friends and do a tasting together – blind if you feel like really testing yourself.

For me, the Barrel Select was the winner, clearly superior to the two less expensive wines and great value for money at €12.95. For a posh dinner with beef or lamb, I would certainly be happy to pay an extra €10 for the Clos de la Siete, made (and part owned) by renowned French wine consultant Michel Rolland.

Wines to try

Aldi Exquisite Collection Malbec, Uco Valley Argentina 2015, 13.5%, €8.49.

Decent, well-made wine with slightly astringent dark fruits. Stockists: Aldi.

Norton Colección Malbec 2016, Mendoza, Argentina, 13%, €11.95.

Easy ripe red fruits, with a rounded finish. Stockists: O’Briens.

Norton Barrel Select  Malbec 2015, Mendoza, Argentina, 13%, €14.95 (€12.95 for May).

A perennial favourite with medium-bodied warm savoury dark fruits and a soft harmonious finish. Stockists: O’Briens.

Clos de los Siete 2013, Uco Valley, Argentina, 14.5%, €21.95.

Full-bodied and smooth with elegant sultry dark fruits, plenty of spice and a dry finish. Stockists: O’Briens.

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Aldi Lot 18 Baden Pinot Blanc 2015, Germany

Aldi Lot 18 Baden Pinot Blanc 2015, Germany

Image 9Aldi Lot 18 Baden Pinot Blanc 2015, Germany

Neither of the German supermarkets offer much in the way of native wine. Baden, tucked away in the south-west corner of Germany, opposite Alsace, specialises in the three Pinots – Noir, Gris and Blanc, the latter known as Weissburgunder in Germany. All three can be very good. This Pinot Blanc is completely dry, full of luscious peach fruits cut through with a fine crisp acidity. At €13.99, it is expensive for Aldi, but still offers very good value.

Drink solo, or with lightly spiced Asian prawns or chicken.

 

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September Supermarket Wine Sales

September Supermarket Wine Sales

First published in The Irish Times Saturday 20th August

Around this time of year, the multiples start their autumn wine sales. Among all the half-priced wines and other bogus offers, this year there are some genuine bargains. SuperValu could claim to be the originator of the autumn French wine sale, but in recent years, it has been Lidl leading the charge with a well-chosen list of goodies, targeting the middle-class wine drinker. This year the Lidl range is tighter, with 50 wines on offer, but there is plenty to choose from. The sale starts on September 12th. Aldi has taken Lidl on this year with a World Wine Festival, starting on August 21st.

From Alsace, Lidl has three very tasty wines, the floral, fruity Sylvaner 2015 (€8.99, a great aperitif wine), the pleasantly fruity Ernest Wein Riesling 2015 (€9.99) and the more serious, waxy, honeyed Riesling Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergbeiten (€12.99). My star white was the delicious crisp dry Sauvignon Blanc, Adrien Marechal Reuilly 2015 (€14.99).

In Beaujolais, 2015 was a great vintage and the Mignot Fleurie from that year is a steal at €10.99. Burgundy lovers can chose from the chunky, fruit-filled Ladoix (€15.99), although bargain-hunters might be better advised to go for the light, clean Les Chanussots Hautes-Côtes de Nuits (€10.99). Moving on to Bordeaux, the Château de Rousselet Côtes de Bourg (€9.99) offers fantastic value, as do the Château Lalande Mausse, Fronsac 2013 (€9.99) and the Château le Bourdillot 2012 (€10.99) and the classic, tannic Médoc Cru Bourgeois Château Pey de Pont 2012 (€11.99).Moving up in price, hedonists will go for the lush, oaky Virginie de Valandraud 2014 (€32.99), but I would be delighted to have some of the very impressive Château de la Dauphine 2011, at a very competitive €24.99, in my cellar.

Aldi has the excellent crisp, dry Grüner Veltliner Ried Seiber from Austria at an unbelievably cheap €8.99. In the reds, they have two amazingly inexpensive Pinots Noirs, the light, fragrant Fritz Keller 2014 from Germany for €9.99 and the richer, fruitier de Bertoli Yarra Valley GS from Australia for €10.99. Another must-buy is the Nikau Point Syrah from Hawke’s Bay, a steal at €9.99. Bordeaux-lovers should seek out the elegant dry Gloria Douro Reserva , €8.99.

SuperValu will have over 100 French wines on offer as well as twenty new French wines in their French Wine sale, starting September 1st. From these I would go for the following; the light, fresh La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc 2015, and the red equivalent, La Petite Perrière Pinot Noir 2015, (both €9), also light, with subtle dark cherry fruits and vanilla.

Image 4Ch. de la Dauphine 2011, Fronsac, Bordeaux
14%
€24.99

Structured, concentrated cassis and blackcurrants with a dry finish. Decant now and enjoy or keep a year or two.

Stockists: Lidl

NikauPointReserveNikau Point Syrah 2014, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13%
€9.99

Delicious light savoury peppery dark cherry fruits. Try it with cumin-scented grilled lamb chops.

Stockists: Aldi

ImageLa Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Vin de France
12.5%
€9.00

Lively refreshing plump green fruits. A good everyday all-purpose Sauvignon to drink solo or with salads.

Stockists: SuperValu

Bargain Wine

Image 3Fleurie Mignot 2015
13%
€10.99

Delightful fresh fruit-filled Beaujolais; drink solo or with ham and other pork dishes.

Stockists: Lidl

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Aldi Press tasting

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Aldi held their summer wine tasting recently in the Cliff House – a lovely venue for a tasting. As usual at the Aldi event, some decent wines and jaw-dropping prices. As argued here before, these days wine producers can make large quantities of inoffensive, largely off-dry white and red wines at incredibly cheap prices. But don’t expect too much in the way of excitement. There were some nice wines here, but they were usually up at the €13 a bottle level – and at that price, the other supermarkets and some independents can compete quite successfully.

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Philippe Michel Crémant de Jura
12%
€10.79

This has featured many times before; it is still one of the best-value bottles of fizz in Ireland. Crisp green apple fruits, very gluggable and streets ahead of most Prosecco in my book.

Exquisite Collection Blanquette de Limoux
12%
€13.99

Slightly unusual nose (possibly the Mauzac) with some elderflowers; a very pleasant light fruity bottle of fizz. Made by Jean Claude Mas, as were a number of French wines at the tasting.

Exquisite Collection Rías Baixas Albariño 2015
12%
€8.99

Good ripe, off-dry pear fruits, with plenty of zesty acidity and some length too. Well-made wine.

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Vouvray 2015
11.5%
€8.99

A very nice medium-dry wine with lots of acidity, genuine Chenin Blanc fruits – pears and quince, with a touch of honey.

Exquisite Collection Riesling 2015, Clare valley, Australia
13%
€8.99

Classic Clare Valley Riesling with crisp green apples and plenty of citrus acidity. Well-made wine.
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Exquisite Collection Ch. Latour Laguens, Bordeaux

13%
€9.99

I forgot to write the vintage down for this wine; it is a good clean Bordeaux with nice warm fruit and a rounded finish. Good value for €9.99

Ch. de Caussagues, Corbières
13%
€6.99

Amazing price. Light sweet jammy fruit. An option for those on a very tight budget.


Toro Loco Bobal Merlot 2014, Spain

13%
€6.79

The cheapest wine at the tasting I think, but not the worst. Light easy juicy fruits with a sweetish finish.

Lot 12 Anjou Chenin Blanc 2012
13%
€12.99

I have written about this wine before, from Ch. de Fesles, one of the posher Chateaux of the Loire. Very crisp and dry, in fact razor sharp, with lightly honeyed green fruits and a bone dry finish. Good wine.
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Lot 14 Minervois La Livinière 2014
13.5%
€12.99

Fragrant, elegant wine with warm plum fruits and some spice. Well-made fairly-priced wine.

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Lot 15 Grès de Montpellier 2014

14%
€12.99

Good rich savoury fruits, with light tannins. Nice wine with plenty of stuffing; with red meats.

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Glug and Grill – Barbecue Wines

Glug and Grill – Barbecue Wines

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday April 30th

I had my first barbecue of the year a month ago; a whole chicken stuffed with garlic and lemon. It was simple but delicious, the skin crisp and burnished. You can cook on the barbecue throughout the year (I know people who use it for the Christmas turkey) but once the sun comes out it becomes a much more attractive method of cooking. The Irish barbie is no longer a few sausages and burgers incinerated on a grill. Not only do we cook everything from fish to vegetables, many now have proper smokers or at least woodchips to add smoky flavours to a charcoal-powered covered cooker.

I divide my barbecue wines into three categories. There is no getting away from the idea of matching a big, powerful red with barbecued red meat. Smoked or heavily marinated and spicy meat probably demands the biggest wines of all. For inspiration, look to sunny countries and how they match their wine and food. Shiraz from Australia, malbec from Argentina and zinfandel from California are all classic partners.

With fish and chicken a rich white wine or a rosé is called for. I probably do not pay rosés enough attention in this column. I could blame the weather but I have to admit I am not a big fan generally. There are some very pricey pinks from Provence and elsewhere, but I am not convinced they are worth the money.

However, rosés can be great with grilled or barbecued shellfish, fish and chicken, especially if those with an Asian or Middle-Eastern marinade or rub. They also go very well with all sorts of salads, so they are a good catch-all summer wine. If you want to stick with white wine, a chardonnay (lightly oaked wines and smoke) or a rich viognier are probably the best options. You could serve a light, chilled red wine, such as a pinot noir, with grilled salmon or tuna.

My final barbecue wine does not go with any of the food; it is the aperitif! Charcoal always takes far longer to get ready than you think, and some foods, chicken in particular, must be thoroughly cooked (my best friend is a digital thermometer), so make sure you have something to drink while waiting for the food to be ready.

Avoid big, alcoholic wines, or you and your guests will be sprawling long before the food is ready. A light, well-chilled refreshing white wine is ideal; a Mosel riesling Kabinett, if you are having nibbles, or you could think about a lightly chilled beaujolais or Loire cabernet, or again a rosé, as they tend to be light in alcohol. This week’s wines are not expensive. I save my best wines for other occasions.

jwilson@irishtimes.com

DSCF6516Borsao Campo de Borja Selección 2014, Spain
14.5%
€13.95

A delicious fruit bomb of a wine; supple, juicy, ripe and very gluggable.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown

DSCF6499Exquisite Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand
€8.99

Light summery strawberry fruits with a dry finish. With fish and white meats.

Stockist: Aldi

DSCF6519Espigueiro Vinho Verde 2015, Portugal
10.5%
€12.99

Perfect summer sipping wine; light, crisp, and sprizty.

Stockists: Wilde & Green, Milltown; John Doyle, Gorey; Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove & Avoca Kilmacanogue.

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Anjou Chenin Blanc 2013, Lot12 small parcel, Aldi

Anjou Chenin Blanc 2013, Lot12 small parcel, Aldi

DSCF6495Anjou Chenin Blanc 2013, Lot12 small parcel, Aldi
13%
€12.99 from Aldi

I hesitated to make this a wine of the week, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I was afraid you wouldn’t. It is made by Ch. de Fesles, one of the top estates in this part of the Loire, and producers of some very good dry and sweet wines. You would expect to pay €20 and more for most of their wines. This wine is classic Loire Chenin Blanc, with a fragrant nose, followed by quince and green apples overlaid with honey and beeswax on the palate. It finishes bone dry. I enjoyed it, but it does have a fairly severe lean mineral streak and lots of citrus acidity. If you are used to off-dry Pinot Grigio, it may give you a jolt. But the price is great, so it is certainly worth trying, preferably with food; some kind of shellfish sounds good.

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Last Minute Buys

First published in The Irish Times, 24th December, 2015

Haven’t got around to buying your Christmas wine yet? Below is a roundup of what is available, including some inexpensive wines that will keep the hordes happy. Also, a few more expensive wines for the man or woman who has everything.From O’Briens, the 1757 (€49.99), a Bordeaux blended by O’Briens wine buyer Lynne Coyle, is an excellent young, structured wine. Ideally, the recipient would decant it an hour before serving, or stash it away for a few years.At a more affordable level, I was very impressed by the latest vintage of Jaspi Negre, great value at €14.99. I have also written before about the excellent Begude Chardonnay Terroir 11300 (€17.99) – perfect for Christmas starters and turkey too.Moving down in price, an old favourite, the Rioja-ish Protocolo is back down at €9.99, where it competes with the delicious rounded Porta 6 at the same price. The sweetly fruity Côtes du Rhóne (€5.99 from Lidl) won’t set the world on fire, but it might keep a crowd content.I have written before about their very drinkable, soft, fruity Cepa Lebrel Rioja (€6.99) and the oakier Reserva from the same house at €8.99.

Lidl also has two keenly-priced Bordeaux. I enjoyed the leafy elegant Fiefs de Lagrange St Julien for €24.99 and the meaty, robust Prieur de Meyney St Estèphe (€19.99).Aldi have two nice sparkling wines, the Cremant de Jura for €10.79 and an impressive Champagne, the Monsigny Blanc de Blancs 2010 for €26.99. I was also taken with their Lot 07 Bush Vine Chenin Blanc (€13.99) and the Lot 10 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon (€13.99).

If you need fizz, Tesco have their Finest Prosecco, made by Bisol, one of the top producers, for €15. From South Africa, they have a pair of very decent wines made by the Adi Badenhorst for €12. Both the Chenin Blanc and the Shiraz would do nicely for Christmas.I preferred Tesco’s Finest Rioja Crianza (€12) to the two more expensive Rioja Reservas. If you are having a large crowd, Tesco’s Finest Old Vine Garnacha (€9) is pleasant, juicy and warming. For a statement gift, Tesco’s Finest Barolo at €20 represents very good value.

To start your meal off, Dunnes Stores offer the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc for €11 or the attractive Paco & Lola Albariño for €13. If you prefer lighter red wines, the Puy de Dome Le Pinot Noir (€13) offers light, juicy fruits at a bargain price, or the Domaine de Sainte-Marthe Syrah is a little richer, but equally good value at €10.50.I would consider the Cune Reserva 2011 (see below), or the excellent, structured, and well-priced Muga reserva for €19.50. If possible, decant the latter an hour before serving with turkey.If you need to buy a statement present, the Château Haut-Batailley 2005 (Dunnes, €55) is an excellent claret.

Moving on to SuperValu, you could start the Christmas dinner with either the easy-drinking and rounded Alchimie Coteaux du Giennois (€10) or for something a little unusual a Pinot Gris from Oregon; the Kings Ridge Pinot Gris (€15) has lovely melon and peach fruits with hints of honey.For an inexpensive Bordeaux, I would go for the light, rounded Château Camp de la Hire (€12), or if you want to splurge, the very tasty Charles Mignon Grand Cru Champagne for €45.

Marks & Spencer offers the delicious maturing Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2010 sparkling (€18.99). For something a little offbeat the Croatian Golden Valley Grasevina (€14.79) is excellent, and for a red wine, the fresh juicy Dolcetto d’Asti (€10.99) with its dark fruits is delicious.I am sure there will be last-minute bargains from all the major stores, but sadly they keep this a secret from wine writers until the last minute.

BOTTLES OF THE WEEK
Image 5Jaspi Negre 2012, Monsant, Spain, 14.5%, €14.99
Sumptuous dark fruits with a fine minerality. An affordable present for the wine geek in your life.
Stockist: O’Briens

DSCF6246CUNE Rioja Reserva 2011 13.5%, €16
Delicious elegant Rioja with ripe dark cherry fruits, a smidgen of oak and a lovely finish. Christmas dinner sorted.
Stockists: Dunnes Stores

DSCF6258Charles Mignon Cuvée Comte de Marne Grand Cru NV, 12%, €45
An excellent Champagne with lightly floral aromas and creamy apple and brioche, finishing dry.
Stockists: SuperValu

Posted in: Irish Times

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