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‘I was a girl when I met this prince’: Wines for your Valentine

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 10th February 2018

“I was a girl when I met this prince; aroused, imperious, treacherous, as all great seducers are.”

French writer Colette was referring to Jurançon, a wine from southwest France rather than any lothario. I suspect she was smitten by the sweet wine, but I feature the dry version below. Sadly, I cannot guarantee it will improve your efforts at seduction on St Valentine’s day. Wine’s ability to arouse the senses is well-known. We know too that it can detract from performance. The key, as in many things, is moderation. A glass or two of good wine should enhance the mood and conversation.

If you have the facilities, a simple meal prepared at home is far better than an over-priced meal in a restaurant packed with fellow Valentines. Even if your culinary skills are non-existent, every supermarket and delicatessen now offers a range of decent ready-cooked meals that require no effort. I would certainly suggest buying something decent to drink, this is not the time to be miserly. If you are married or in a long-term relationship, why not buy something special that you may have shared on holiday together, or on your first date?

Start with fizz

Start off with a glass of sparkling wine of some sort, then on to a glass of red wine with your food. However, a full bottle of fizz will have you both incapable of romance. My search for half bottles of anything sparkling only proved that they are not easy to find and often extortionately priced.

O’Briens have the very decent house Champagne, Beaumont des Crayères. If you really want to push the boat out, they also have ½ bottles of Bollinger for €32.45. A few outlets, including Tesco and O’Briens, have half-bottles of Moet & Chandon for around €30. If you are lucky enough to live near Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown in south Dublin they have ½ bottles of their excellent house Champagne for €19.95 or the Bouvet Cremant de Loire for a mere €12.95. Alternatively, on the northside, Jus de Vine in Portmarnock has the best selection, ranging from €8.99 for prosecco to €31.99 for the superb Charles Heidsieck.

When choosing a red wine, go for something smooth and seductive and certainly not too high in alcohol. This is not the time for a beefy Malbec or powerful Amarone. You can’t really go wrong with a silky sensuous Pinot Noir. Burgundy, is a possibility, but most New World countries now produce very affordable alternatives. Chile offers the best value, followed closely by New Zealand. You may want to finish your romantic meal with chocolate, but it kills most wine stone dead. A bowl of strawberries and cream with sparkling wine might be a better alternative.

My top picks

Rapaura Springs Pinot Noir 2016, Marlborough
13.5%, €17

A very stylish scented Pinot Noir with smooth elegant pure dark fruits. Light yet mouth-filling with a nicely rounded finish. Perfect with a seared breast of duck, chicken, but light enough to provide a great match for tuna and salmon steaks.

Stockists: Dunnes Stores

Beaumont des Crayères Grand Réserve N.V. Champagne
12%, €19.45 for a ½ bottle

Stylish creamy Champagne with light red fruits, and hints of brioche. Serve with a few nibbles (Champagne is great with cheese straws or biscuits) or with fish dishes.

Stockists: O’Briens

Jurançon Sec 2015 Clos Lapeyre
13.5%, €21

A heady mix of citrus peel, fresh mouth-watering pineapple and peaches with a subtle note of hazelnuts, finishing dry. I can see why Colette got so excited. A great partner for grilled salmon steaks with a buttery lemon sauce.

Stockists: World Wide Wines, Waterford; 64Wines, Glasthule; Martin’s, Fairview; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St

Burn Cottage Moonlight Race Pinot Noir 2011, Central Otago
13.5%, €48

A magnificent wine with refined, layered lush black cherry fruits that gently caress the palate. Sophisticated and satin smooth, this will surely thrill your Valentine. As with the Pinot above, drink alongside duck, chicken, tuna or salmon.

Stockists: Thomas Woodberry, Galway; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; wineonline.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock

Posted in: Irish Times

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Battle of the Pinots

We managed to make serious inroads into my Pinot collection last night. We had the Pike & Joyce first as it was the lightest, and a little too delicate for the roast shoulder of lamb that followed.
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Pike & Joyce 2013 Rapide Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, Australia
14%

Light easy and refreshing with good pure summer fruits – a very decent Pinot, probably best served cool when the temperature increases a little. A very tasty £12.75 or €18.95 from jnwine.

Ara Resolute Pinot Noir 2012, Marlkborough, New Zealand

Smokier with toasty oak flavours alongside layered rich spicy sweet plums. Powerful but silky fruit; I reckon this will improve still further. €29.99, imported by Grape Expectations.

Framingham F-series Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough

14.5%

Rich and deep, maturing nicely with a lovely mineral core, great intensity and very good length. Black cherries with a savoury herbal note; delicious now but no rush to drink up. From Le Caveau at a very reasonable €27.90.

Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago
14%

Felton Road is one of the leading producers of Pinot Noir in New Zealand. Nigel Greening and winemaker Blair Walter are responsible for a series of well-crafted ageworthy biodynamically produced wines. The 2014 Bannockburn was closed at first but opened out nicely. Violets and black cherries on the nose and palate with supple soft easy youthful fruits, good acidity and a nice finish. Lovely wine. €33 from jnwine.

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New Zealand Pinot Noir

First published in The Irish Times 31st October, 2015

New Zealand is one of the very few countries that can claim to have conquered that difficult and quarrelsome grape, Pinot Noir. Two of the finest producers from that country visited Ireland in recent weeks.

The Ata Rangi vineyards were planted in 1980 by Clive Paton, his wife, Phyl, and sister Alison. At the age of 28, he sold his dairy herd and set about growing grapes. He had attended a meeting at which soil scientist Dr Derek Milne suggested that Martinborough, just down the road from his farm, had the potential for viticulture. He jokes that he knew the land was stony as he used to graze his knees every time he played rugby there (Paton scored a try against the touring 1977 Lions, and his grandfather was an All Black).

Martinborough is a small town, laid out in the shape of a Union Jack by its founder, Irishman John Martin, in the 19th century, on the North Island, an hour’s drive from the capital, Wellington. The deep gravel soils provide excellent drainage. Spring is cool, with an ever-present danger of frost, but the region benefits from strong winds (good for keeping disease away) dry autumn weather and very high diurnal fluctuation. The wider region, known as Wairarapa, now has more than 50 wineries.

Ata Rangi was the first to use the famous “gumboot” clone of Pinot Noir. The story goes that an anonymous New Zealand winemaker was travelling through Burgundy in the 1970s and took a cutting from the greatest Pinot Noir vineyard in the world, La Romanée Conti. He tried to smuggle it back into New Zealand in a gumboot. However it was confiscated by an alert customs official, Malcolm Abel, in Wellington airport. As Abel was interested in viticulture, he put it into quarantine and then planted it a few years later. He passed on some of its progeny to his friend Clive Paton; this clone now makes up most of the oldest vines in Ata Rangi, where it is said to produce wines with a fine silky tannins and dark brooding savoury fruits. Certainly this describes Ata Rangi Pinot to a tee. The wines, which can age brilliantly, are elegant and velvety.

Englishman Nigel Greening worked in the advertising business before falling in love with Pinot Noir. A self-confessed Pinot addict, he is one of the most articulate producers, thoughtful, knowledgeable about Pinot the world over, and Burgundy in particular. In 2000, he bought Felton Road in the far south of the South Island, and, with winemaker Blair Walter, has brought Felton Road to the very top of the Pinot tree. “It is probably one of the easiest places in the world to grow Pinot,” says Greening. They have aimed for a less muscular style in recent years. “We have moved to an earlier picking, just when the greenness goes; our wines are fresher and lighter.”

They now cultivate biodynamically, and are almost “closed gate”, producing enough food for 25 people and rarely going to the supermarket. “I have never been a fan of the Harry Potter end of biodynamics, burying cow horns and all that. Old-fashioned farming is my aim. I like the idea that our soil gets better every year and not worse,” he says.

Felton Road Pinots are completely different in style to Ata Rangi. They are vibrant and exuberant with good acidity and pure dark fruits whereas Ata Rangi is elegant and soft with subtle savoury flavours. Both rank amongst the best, not just in New Zealand, but in the world. Sadly these wines are not cheap, but then good Pinot Noir rarely is. I include one less expensive wine.

I would also recommend seeking out Dry River in Martinborough, Rippon in Central Otago, Bell Hill, Pyramid and Pegasus in Waipara, sadly unavailable here for the moment. You can find Two Paddocks, owned by actor Sam Neil, and Escarpment, made by “Mr Pinot”, Larry McKenna, both of which are excellent. Pinot Noir, by the way, goes very well with game, turkey and goose if you are looking for seasonal pairings.

Brancott-Estate-Marlborough-Pinot-Noir2Brancott Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough
13.5%
€15.50

Light red cherry fruits with green herbs and a pleasant meatiness.

Stockists: Widely available including Tesco and other multiples.

ImageFelton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014, Central Otago
14%
£32.95/€46.95

Violet aromas, fresh black cherries and damsons with lovely acidity. Supple, soft and ready to go.

Stockists: jnwine.com; The Vineyard Ormeau Rd; The Lighthouse, Whiteabbey; Grange, Co Down; Emersons Armagh.

DSCF6150Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2013, Martinborough
13.5% €63.99

A stunning wine with structure and power, combined with perfectly ripe dark cherry fruits. A keeper.

Stockists: The Corkscrew, Dublin 2; O’Briens; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; Thewineshop.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure.

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