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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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Wine that won’t wear out your wallet this January. Laurent Miquel and Jean Claude Mas

How do you tell a great winemaker? For me it is not by tasting their flagship wines, the top-of-the-range stuff that costs €50 or more. Given the finest grapes and a generous budget, even the average winemaker can come up with something drinkable. But many struggle to come up with good everyday wines at a reasonable price.

This week, two successful, innovative producers making attractive wines for every budget. Both are based in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, in southern France, the source of many inexpensive wines. Both make some seriously good wines, but, given that it’s January and we’re probably all feeling the post-Christmas pinch, we’ll concentrate on the less expensive.

Laurent Miquel

Laurent Miquel’s family has been in the business since 1790, but he wasn’t always sure if he wanted to follow the previous seven generations. Instead, he studied engineering in France and took a master’s in quality assurance at Leeds University before working with Nissan in Sunderland.

He finally caught the wine bug, returned to France to study oenology, and made his first wine in 1996. The business has been a huge success.

“It is much easier to sell Chablis, champagne or New Zealand Sauvignon,” says Miquel, “but in the Languedoc, we offer diversity, personality and real value for money. We make very fresh, very drinkable wines, and slowly we have built up a solid base of consumers. We are always driven by quality; 80 per cent of what we do is about the vines and the grapes.”

The wines have been stocked by SuperValu, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, and are currently sold by both Dunnes Stores and O’Briens.

The Mas family

The Mas family has been growing grapes and making wine since the late 19th century. In 1987 Jean-Claude Mas received 35 hectares of vines from which he built Domaines Paul Mas, a group of nine estates scattered around Languedoc-Roussillon. In addition, he makes eight signature ranges, including the Arrogant Frog wines, that will be familiar to many. (The wines are usually very good.)

His Château de Martinolles, in Limoux, has featured in this column several times, as have other of his wines, and you will find his bottles in Ireland’s best wine shops and restaurants.

As Mas owns about 650 hectares of vineyards and controls a further 1,312, he has been able to supply some of the biggest supermarkets in Ireland and Britain. He has also supplied a number of Aldi’s Exquisite labels, as well as the Limoux below.

Astélia Limoux 2016 13.5%, €10.99
It may look like as if it has come in a perfume bottle, but this wine (from Jean-Claude Mas) is a rich, full-bodied, buttery Chardonnay with ripe peach fruits and a dry finish. Perfect with salmon or chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce. Meursault for those on a budget? From Aldi

Claude Val Rouge 2016, Pays d’Oc, Organic 13.5%, €14, or two for €22
A blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Merlot, this medium- to full-bodied wine has rich dark fruits, a touch of spice and a nice, lightly tannic grip. Not one to sip on its own, but perfect with red or white meats on cold winter evenings. From Molloys Liquor Stores

Laurent Miquel, Père et Fils Chardonnay Viognier 2016 13%, €9.50
Medium-bodied with fresh lemon zest and succulent peach and apricot fruits. Perfect on its own, but this would go nicely with plaice, sole or sea bass. I had mine with fishcakes. From select Dunnes Stores

Laurent Miquel, Père et Fils Syrah Grenache 2016, IGP Pays d’Oc 13%, €9.50
The Syrah adds delicious, subtle pepper, liquorice and dark fruits, the Grenache a soft warmth. Together they make for a lovely smooth wine with juicy ripe fruits. On its own or with lighter red-meat dishes. From select Dunnes Stores

Posted in: Irish Times

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The best fine Christmas wines you can buy in supermarkets

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 9th December, 2017

Some are sedate, refined affairs with polite conversation. Others are huge, loud, clan gatherings, semi-organised chaos with a horde of noisy children and even noisier adults. If your Christmas dinner falls into the latter category, then it is quite likely that your wine selection will be based on quantity rather than quality. This is not the best time to roll out that expensive bottle you squirrelled away for a special occasion. If you do open it, chances are that cousin Ronan down the other end of the table will knock most of it back while you are carving the turkey or finishing off the sprouts.

However, this does not mean buying caseloads of the cheapest possible wine. Spend €1 or €2 more and your guests will notice the difference, and thank you for it. There are plenty of very drinkable wines at anything from €8-€15. Today I’m doing a round-up of the multiples. I generally go for a bottle of fizz to gets things going (with nibbles to provide soakage) followed by a medium-bodied white and  red wine. Remember to provide interesting adult soft drinks for those who don’t drink alcohol.

To start off, Prosecco is hugely popular and unlikely to offend. I have featured the SuperValu Grifón (€9) before, or alternatively the Aldi Cremant de Jura is an outstanding bargain for €11.99. I would also recommend their beautifully packaged rich Astelia Chardonnay (€10.99) and either the smooth, elegant Rioja Reserva (€10.99) or the uber-ripe, hearty Exquisite South Australian Shiraz (€8.79). SuperValu have a very attractive offer of a six-bottle case containing two organic Spanish red wines, both of which would go very well with turkey, for €40.

Tesco’s Finest Prosecco Valdobiadenne (€17.99) may stretch the budget but is worth the premium, while its Picpoul de Pinet (€12) will make a nice change to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. For a budget red, it is hard to look further than their Finest Limestone Coast Shiraz, mentioned here before but a bargain for €9.

From O’Briens the ever -popular Protocolo (€9.95) is hard to resist, but I was bowled over by the Garnacha featured below. For white wines the new Duffour Côtes de Gascogne (€9.99) is great value, or the Yalumba Organic Viognier (€13.95) will go nicely with starter and main course. For sparkling wine, the Rizzardi Prosecco Frizzante for €12.50 will certainly get the party started.

Shoppers at Dunnes Stores should head for the Viognier below, and for red wine, to the fruit-filled El Circulo Rioja Crianza(€10.50) or the warming, spicy Visan La Souco (€11.50). Spar, Eurospar and Londis all have the smart, richly textured, buttery Couveys Chardonnay (€10.99) and soft, ripe Eugenio Bustos Malbec below from Argentina.

Tesco finest Prosecco Valdobbiadene

Tesco Finest Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore NV

11.5%, €17.99
Frothy ripe pear fruits, balanced very nicely by crisp lemon zest. Great on its own, with nibbles, or even alongside fishy starters.
Stockists: Tesco

LM_SOLAS_VIOGNIER_BLC_DETOURELaurent Miquel Solas Viognier 2016
13%, €12.50
A very seductive wine bursting with exotic fruits, luscious peaches and subtle toasted almonds. This would go down a treat with lightly spicy prawns and other shellfish, as well as turkey.
Stockists: Dunnes Stores

EBustos MB sc

Eugenio Bustos Malbec 2016, Mendoza, Argentina
12.5%, €9.99
A lighter, juicier style of Malbec with ripe plum and loganberry fruits overlaid with vanilla and spice. With turkey, ham and spiced beef.
Stockists: Eurospar, Spar, Mace & Londis.

TANDEM IMNMUNE

Tandem Inmune Garnacha 2015, Velle de Yeri, Navarra
14%, €14.95
A very moreish ripe bouncy red wine with herby aromas and vivid, pure black fruits. A real crowd-pleaser to drink alongside turkey and ham.
Stockists: O’Briens

Posted in: Irish Times

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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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