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White wines to drink with Christmas dinner

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 8th December, 2018

In this country, the traditional white wine for Christmas dinner is Chablis or Mâcon, or maybe Chablis Premier Cru if we are feeling prosperous. These Chardonnays from Burgundy are a very good choice to accompany smoked salmon, prawns and a main course of turkey and ham for those who don’t drink red wine. If you are having oysters, Chablis is perfect as is a good Muscadet. Turkey by itself, like chicken, goes very nicely with virtually any wine, red or white. It is the trimmings that make finding a wine a little more complicated.

If you do want to stay with a Chablis Premier Cru, Whelehan’s have the excellent Domaine du Colombier Vaucoupin 2015 (€35) and Marks & Spencer the very stylish refreshing Côte de Lechet 2015 (€30). From elsewhere in Burgundy I was very taken with both the Domaine Olivier Santenay Clos des Champs (€29.95) and the St Véran, Château Fuissé (€20.45) both from O’Briens.

However, this year why not impress your family and guests with an alternative from outside of Burgundy? It doesn’t have to be a Chardonnay, but the Giant Steps below would make an excellent choice, or if you are on a budget, the Aldi Lot Series Lot XI Australian Chardonnay (€13.99) is a well-made, crisp, elegant wine.

There are plenty of options beyond Chardonnay. Most rich white wines will have the body to take on turkey and all of the accompanying sauces and stuffings too. Galicia in north-west Spain offers all sorts of great white wines, including Albariño from Rías Baixas, Treixadura from Ribeiro and (best of all with turkey), Godello from Valdeorras. These names may not trip off the tongue, but they really deliver plenty of flavour. Most have a richness of fruit that makes them ideal with a seafood starter and the turkey to follow.

Or you could cast your net a little wider and try a Grüner Veltliner from Austria (one of the great all-purpose wines). Marks & Spencer has the very well-priced Rabl Grüner Veltliner for a very reasonable €13.30, while O’Briens has the rich, luscious Käferberg for €24.95. Or you could treat yourself to the sublime Ott Fass 4 Grüner Veltliner (€27, independents).

A Riesling of any kind will go well with goose, the acidity cutting through the rich fatty meat. An off-dry German Riesling Spätlese or a drier Trocken would make a great match. Red wines provides the best match with roast duck and I will cover this next week, but a Austrian Grüner Veltliner would do nicely here too, as would a Gewürztraminer. Returning to turkey, other rich whites worth considering include Viognier (the best come from the northern Rhône) or a rich Chenin Blanc from South Africa. Whatever wine you choose, don’t over-chill it! It is a sure way to kill all of those wonderful flavours.

Four whites to try

Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2017, Stellenbosch, South Africa
12.5%, €13.30
A delightful harmonious wine balancing crisp acidity, elegant rich peach fruits and a tantalising hint of toasted almonds. With salmon, prawns or turkey.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Pazo Senorans

Pazo de Señorans Albariño 2017, Rías Baixas
13.5%, €22.95
Very fresh and lively with floral aromas, and intense lemon zest on nose and palate, balanced out by pear and apricot fruits. Perfect with shellfish or smoked salmon.
Stockists: O’Briens

Louro Godello 2017, Rafael Palacios, Valdeorras
13.5%, €27
One of my all-time favourite wines. Textured and creamy, with plump pears and peaches, a subtle nuttiness, shot through with a lively acidity. If you want to splurge, their As Sortes (€50) is even better. With your Christmas starter and turkey.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche, Greystones; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Clontarf Wines Clontarf; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Sweeney’s Wines, Glasnevin; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3; Grapevine, Dalkey; SIYPS.com.

Giant Steps Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2017, Australia
13%, €29.99,
Soft luscious stone fruits, peaches and nectarines, with subtle toasted nuts and a snappy crisp finish. Perfect all-purpose Christmas dinner wine to drink with prawns, smoked salmon, turkey and ham.
Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, and Avoca at Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne; Wineonline.ie

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

IMG_2405

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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Vineyard tours: Where to visit for beauty and taste

A shorter version of this article was first published in The Irish Times, Saturday 25th August, 2018book

Where to Drink Wine

Chris Losh, Quadrille

Three days after the article below appeared in The Irish Times,  I was given a copy of this very useful book by Chris Losh, who has clearly put in a huge amount of work, traveling, meeting and tasting. Not only is there a brief introduction to each area, the author also picks out a selection of the best wineries to visit, with a brief rundown of what to expect. Others have tried this before, but tend to take the easy option, suggesting the obvious large producers with big visitor-centres and bland guided tours. Losh includes some of the big boys, but also plenty of smaller estates where you can expect a more personal tour and tasting. This is a genuinely useful well-written book that will make you want to pack your bags and head off to the sun-soaked vineyards of the world.

IMG_2955The Douro Valley

Not all vineyards look great; some are simply vast fields of vines grown on arid flat plains. Thankfully many others take in some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Beautiful vineyards don’t always make beautiful wine, but it certainly makes a visit a much more appealing prospect.

Wine tourism is developing at a hectic rate to meet consumer demand for an authentic backstory. Clued-in wineries realise they are no longer simply selling wine; they are marketing a brand that includes their history, their winemaker, winery and region. Consumers can gain access to this through the winery website or through interacting with a multitude of other channels. Many producers not only offer tours but have turned them into a profitable sideline. So where should you visit?

 Possibly the most beautiful vineyard belonging to one producer is Rippon in Central Otago in New Zealand. The view out over the vineyards, the lake and islands, with spectacular mountains forming the backdrop, is stunning. Take a look online. The wines, sadly not cheap, are available in Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown. They are however very good, the Pinot is world-class.

Most visitors to San Francisco head northwards to the Napa Valley. Napa is great, but tourism is very well developed and often expensive. I would suggest driving westwards from Napa to Sonoma County. I am not sure how the area weathered the devastating fires last year, but the pretty town of Sonoma, the picturesque valleys filled with mature forests and mixed farms leading on to the spectacular coastline is as memorable as any wine country. The wine and food here are equally good.

I have visited Slovenia on several occasions. Most of the vineyards here (and in neighbouring Croatia) are picture-postcard beautiful. Think rolling verdant hillsides dotted with immaculately kept farmhouses each with a well-tended vegetable garden. The wines can be equally impressive.

We Irish are regular visitors to South Africa. My sole trip is now a distant memory, but I will never forget the breath-taking beauty of the vineyards. Many areas boast beautiful verdant landscapes peppered with dazzling white Cape Dutch homesteads. Best known is Stellenbosch, but nearby Franschhoek took first prize for me.

The Douro Valley in northern Portugal is a Unesco heritage site, and home to some of the most impressive, historic vineyards. But possibly my favourite vineyards of all are over the border in Spain, in Ribera Sacra in Galicia. There, the morning mists lying on the slow moving river slowly dissolve to reveal a series of narrow, impossibly steep crumbling terraces lined with ancient dry stone walls. At the top are verdant green forests. By happy coincidence, Ribera Sacra also makes some of the most compelling wines, from the Mencía grape, as well as others just being rediscovered.

Bottles of the Week

Bohoek Semillon 2016, Franschhoek, South Africa 12.5%, €15
A lovely mix of fresh, juicy, ripe peach fruits, with a touch of spice on the finish. Perfect with grilled (or barbecued) sea bass or other fish.
Stockist Marks & Spencer

S&R Douro Red 2016 13.5%, €16.95
Ample sweet/sour dark plum fruits, with a touch of spice and a good dry finish. Try it with a rare steak.
Stockist O’Briens Wines

Guímaro Joven Tinto 2016, Ribera Sacra 13%, €19
Pure unoaked Mencía from one of the best producers in Ribera Sacra. The more expensive single vineyard wines are stunning. This has clean savoury dark cherry fruits, a lifting acidity and a smooth finish. Serve cool with roast pork.
Stockists Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2, baggotstreetwines.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie

Pax Sonoma Hillsides Syrah 2014, Sonoma, California 13%, €66
Concentrated, vibrant, savoury yet ripe dark cherry and blackcurrant fruits with wood smoke and liquorice. Superb, sophisticated wine that can be drunk now but will improve for years. With roast lamb.
Stockists 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin, 64wine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie

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Vegan and vegetarian wine: does it really matter to the wine consumer?

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 24th March, 2018

 

Given the surge of interest in vegetarian and vegan food, it is surprising that there hasn’t been more interest in meat and dairy-free wines (and beers too). This could be for two reasons; either wine drinkers (incorrectly) assume that all wines are not only vegetarian but vegan too, or vegans don’t drink wine.

 While your glass of wine is very unlikely to contain any animal parts, there are two fairly common non-vegan methods of clarifying wine. Traditionally, a great many wines were routinely fined with egg whites to remove unwanted tannins. (In areas such as Jerez, a number of delicious sweet delicacies are based on egg yolks, as a means of using up the leftovers). These days powdered dried egg white is more common. Isinglass, made from dried fish bladders, is also frequently used (it is used in beer as well).

Gelatin (animal parts) or casein (milk protein) are sometimes added for juice clarification prior to fermentation.

Producers argue that all of the fining agents are removed before bottling, but vegan website Peta suggests tiny amounts may remain. There are plenty of vegan options, usually products based on clay or charcoal, and these are being increasingly used. Natural and other non-interventionist wines are sometimes bottled unfiltered and unfined, and will therefore be vegan. However, an organic or biodynamic wine is not necessarily vegetarian or vegan. (I wonder are organic wine producers obliged to use organic eggs whites?)

Labeling

As far as I could see from my research, nowadays the majority of wines are vegan, but it can be very difficult to know by looking at the bottle, as very few give details on the label. Marks & Spencer is an exception; all of its wines have a back label noting whether the wine is vegetarian or vegan. Most are vegan. Both O’Briens and Wines Direct indicate it on their websites. Own label Tesco wines carry a vegetarian but not a vegan symbol on the back label.

Does it really matter to the wine consumer? Last year, SuperValu did some consumer research and vegan registered as being of less importance, with only 1 per cent of its wine customers showing interest (as opposed to 13 per cent for organic). However, wine buyer Kevin O’Callaghan suspects that the actual number could be higher, as many consumers may be unaware that wine is not always vegan-friendly.

Gerard Maguire of 64 Wine in Glasthule says, “Only a handful of customers seem bothered. We are asked about it less than 10 times a year.”

We will return to wine labels, additives and treatments again in a week or two. In future, as producers will be obliged by law to carry back labels with health warnings, maybe more will also include this information? This week, four wines, all 100 per cent vegetarian and vegan.

Mayne de Beauregard 2016, Bergerac Rouge

13.5%, €11.80

A Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that offers supple easy plum fruits and a soft finish. A good all-purpose wine to pair with most red or white meats – my bottle went down well with stir-fried chicken and red peppers.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

San Simone Rondover Rosso 2015, IGT della Venezie

13%, €14.50

Mouth-watering tangy, sweet-sour damsons and morello cherries with an earthy touch. Enjoy with charcuterie, or grilled pork chops with sage.

Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar; Arnott’s; winesdirect.ie

Leeuwenkuil Bushvine Cinsault 2017, Swartland

12.5%, €15

Light and refreshing with very moreish crunchy red cherry fruits, and a smooth finish. Roast Mediterranean vegetables or pasta with a fresh herby tomato sauce.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2016, South Australia

14%, €15.95

A more elegant style of Shiraz, wonderfully perfumed with medium-bodied dark forest fruits and a twist of spice. Try it with a gourmet burger and chips.

Stockists: O’Briens; Dunnes Stores; Joyce’s; No21 Off-licences.

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Marks & Spencer Loretto Sangiovese Rubicone IGT 2016.

Marks & Spencer Loretto Sangiovese Rubicone IGT 2016.

Marks & Spencer Loretto Sangiovese Rubicone IGT 2016.

875127 Loretto SangioveseA light fresh juicy easy-drinking wine with red cherry fruits and a twist of spice. No tannins, just light, supple, rounded fruits.

A good all-rounder to drink with lighter red meats, chicken and pork, as well as salmon or tuna.

You cannot ask too much of a wine selling for less than €10. I find most have a confected flavour from over-manipulation and usually a dose of residual sugar. You won’t mistake this wine for a top Chianti Classico, but it is a very gluggable fault-free wine and offers very good value for money.

 

€9.50 from Marks & Spencer

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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

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Best of the taste tests: the top wines from three Irish importers

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 3rd June, 2017

Four very different importers held press tastings over the last few weeks. O’Briens will be well-known to all; they now have 32 shops around the country, mainly concentrated in the Leinster region, and form a very useful bridge between the multiples and the independent retailer, borrowing a little from each. Certainly they make quality wines accessible to many parts of the country and always have a good range of inexpensive wines available. The staff are invariably well-trained with good wine knowledge. I have featured the Domaine Begude wines before: the 2015 Etoile, a Chardonnay fermented in large oak barrels, would cost twice as much if came from Burgundy. I love it.

Marks & Spencer can claim to lead the multiples when to comes to quality. In general, you will pay a little more compared to the other supermarkets, but usually the wine will be that bit better. I like the way it is not afraid to offer quirky wines that you won’t see on the shelves of its rivals. At times, the M&S range approaches that of a good independent wine shop. In recent years, it has championed wines from all around the Mediterranean and eastern Europe. Among many interesting wines, including some great inexpensive summer whites that I will feature shortly, the Lirac below stood out as a very attractive medium- to full-bodied red wine.

Artisan wines

Le Caveau is a leading independent wine importer that concentrates on organic, biodynamic and “natural” wines. Set up by Burgundian and former sommelier Pascal Rossignol 18 years ago, they list a huge range of really interesting artisan wines, including a very fine selection of Burgundy. They have a small retail/mail-order shop (see lecaveau.ie) tucked away a car park in Kilkenny, and also distribute their wines widely through independent wine shops around the country. Proprietor Pascal Verhaeghe of Ch. du Cèdre was at the Le Caveau tasting, despite having lost his entire crop of grapes to frost the previous week. (“Everything!” he told me. “One hundred per cent.”) His Héritage below is a classic mix of traditional and modern. It is also very reasonably priced.

Quintessential Wines is run by Seamus Daly. Seamus worked in the restaurant business and for another wine importer before setting up his own business in 2006. He has a small retail shop in Drogheda and offers a nationwide online service, although most of his business is to hotels and restaurants. The range is full of interesting wines, of the kind that would not be of interest to many bigger importers. There are plenty of good well-made Albariño available between €10-15; the Zarate below is a real step up in quality, although if you have the money, the creamy rich single-vineyard Zarate Tras da Vina (€29.95) is even more delicious.

Lirac Les Closiers 2015, Ogier

14%, €15
Gently warming, with oodles of ripe dark fruits, and an attractive grippy quality.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Cahors 2014 Héritage du Cèdre

13%, €15.50
Light savoury blackcurrants and dark fruits with a clean, lightly tannic finish.
Stockists: Listons; Donnybrook Fair; McGuinness Wines; Green Man; Redmonds; 64 Wine; Avoca; Blackrock Cellar; Corkscrew; Fallon & Byrne; Le Caveau.

Domaine Begude Etoile Chardonnay 2015, Limoux

13.5%, €19.95
Impeccably balanced wine with lightly textured green apples and pears,

a hint of toasted brioche, all held together by a seam of refreshing acidity.
Stockists: O’Briens

Zarate Albariño 2015, Val do Salnes, Rías Baixas, Spain

12.5%, €21.15
A fine complex wine, with concentrated pure pear fruits and a wonderful mineral streak.
Stockists: Quintessential Wines, Drogheda; Clontarf Wines; Wicklow Wine; Hole in the Wall.

 

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Georgia on my mind: wine from the world’s oldest vineyards

From The Irish Times, May 6th, 2017

Every wine-producing country likes to boast about their long history but none can compare with that of Georgia, with the possible exception of its Caucasian neighbours. Claims vary, some suggesting 8,000 years, but certainly this is the genuine cradle of viticulture, with a culture going back millennia. The word wine may even be derived from the Georgian word “gvino”. It is argued that merchants travelling along the trade routes carried vine cuttings in their saddlebags to the eastern Mediterranean in order to have something to barter. The more romantic version has the vine being carried beneath the armour of every Georgian soldier, so that if he fell in battle, the vine would take root and grow. It was here that we humans discovered that grapes (from wild vines), stored in containers throughout the winter turned into wine. The Georgians began using qvevri (or kvevri), large clay vessels of various sizes, to ferment the grapes and then age the resulting wine. Uniquely, this form of winemaking remains a strong part of Georgian culture, despite the influence of the communist state. (Georgian wines were always the most highly prized in the Soviet Union, leading to rumours of counterfeit wines in recent years). Red wines made this way tend to be vaguely similar to our idea of wine, but white wines, made by fermenting and ageing juice, skins and pips together can be shockingly different, with a unique texture and tannic structure.

Conventional winemaking

There is conventional winemaking as well, usually still using Georgian grape varieties – the country has over 500 unique varieties. The vine and wine was and is a central part of Georgian religion and culture. and history. Apparently a lengthy multi-course meal, called a supra, is a traditional feast lasting many hours, led by a Tamada (a sort of toastmaster) who introduces topics, toasts and possibly even songs to accompany the food. Look out for Mixed Melodies, the Irish Georgian Youth Choir, for an introduction to the musical side.

Georgian wines have become hugely fashionable in London, New York and elsewhere, particularly those made in qvevri, largely thanks to the alternative “natural” wine movement. It is worth noting that some argue that the Georgians, with a couple of thousand years’ extra experience, tend to produce the finest orange (or as they say amber) wines. Our own choice so far is limited, although that may change following a large tasting held by the Georgian embassy in Dublin late last year. Anyone fortunate enough to travel to Georgia for a holiday should take a look at gwa.ge for information on wine tourism. If you want to remember two Georgian varieties, Rkatsiteli is one of the most common white grapes, and Saperavi a favourite red grape. Or simply enjoy a piece of history drinking any of the wines below.

Best buy: Tbilvino Rkatsiteli Qvevris JSC Tibilvino 2014, €15 from M&S
Best buy: Tbilvino Rkatsiteli Qvevris JSC Tibilvino 2014, €15 from M&S

Bargain wine: Tbilvino Rkatsiteli Qvevris JSC Tibilvino 2014, Kakheti Region, 12%, €15

 An intriguing and very attractive wine: lightly nutty and spicy with orange peel and yellow fruits, medium-colour and racy acidity.

 Stockists: Marks & Spencer.

Tbilvino Saperavi 2014, Khaketi Region, 13%, €19.50

 A mainstream wine with smooth elegant, slightly earthy ripe red fruits. Enjoy with lamb.

 Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook.

Shavkapito 2014, Pheasant’s Tears, Karteli, 13%, €25

 Earthy tobacco and leather mingle with fresh damsons, ending with substantial tannins. Decant and enjoy with red meats.

 Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Green Man Wines, Le Caveau.

Tsitska 2014, Nikoladzeebis Marani, Nakhshirgele, 11%, €28.95

 Lip-smacking savoury ginger spice and green apples. For the thrill seeker.

 Stockists: Le Caveau, Green Man Wines.

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Breaking Booze – its wine o’clock but there is a shortage!

Dire predictions of future wine shortages make for good copy. The media needs a constant stream of stories and tales of hailstorms, late frosts, flooding and other random acts of nature help fill pages, online and off. A year or so ago, it was northeast Italy. I certainly haven’t noticed a great Prosecco shortage in our wine bars, or any massive price increases. If anything the opposite seems the case. As well as providing news, such scaremongering may help producers push their prices up a little. Generally I ignore these tales of alarm. If there is a genuine shortage of one wine, we are lucky to have plenty of alternatives from other regions, although when the stories are genuine, naturally I do feel sorry for the unfortunate producers who may have lost an entire year’s income in a few short hours.

 However, it does now seem possible that we are facing into a worldwide shortage of wine. World consumption has been increasing steadily over the past decade or more, particularly in the US and China, two of the largest markets. At the same time, production has declined, mainly in Europe, where growers have been paid to grub up vines. To make matters worse, France and Italy, the two largest producers, have suffered a series of small harvests. Further afield, Argentina, Chile and South Africa are all looking at a reduced harvest in 2016. Australia and New Zealand both saw increases, and are reporting high quality too, but this is unlikely to make up for the shortfall elsewhere. As it takes several years for a vine to become productive, and a decade or more to yield high quality grapes, it could take time to address the shortage.

In 2016, well-known names such as Sancerre and Chablis suffered from late frosts in April and early May, and parts of Beaujolais from hail. We will probably see shortages of these over next year. The harvest in Burgundy overall is 20 per cent down on 2015 with some areas suffering far more. The finest region of Burgundy, the Côte d’Or, has experienced a series of smaller and smaller vintages, affected by frost, hailstorms and floods. Prices for the top wines have rocketed as demand has increased dramatically in the same period.

More worrying in the long-term is the increased demand worldwide for the finest wines. Consumers in China, Hong Kong and elsewhere are happy to pay large sums for the very best labels. In the most sought-after areas, the scope for increased production is very limited. It is likely that the great wines of the world will continue to increase in price, and we will have to look elsewhere for our wine.  I will return to this subject again in the near future.

ImageViré-Clessé Vieilles Vignes 2014, Florent Rouve

13%

€20

Sophisticated textured green fruits, underpinned by subtle hazelnuts, with real depth.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

 

 

 

DSCF7121Johann Geil Pinot Noir 2015, Rheinhessen

13%

€17.95

Charming free-flowing light supple cherry fruits. By itself, with salmon, tuna or pork.

Stockists: Mortons, Sweeneys, Redmonds, Wicklow Wine: Mitchells, Listons, Jus de Vine, Drinkstore, Corkscrew, Blackrock Cellar, 64Wine; Grapevine.

 

 

 

 

Image 2Langhe Nebbiolo 2014 G.D. Vajra

13%

€27.99

The friendly face of Nebbiolo? Floral and elegant with very approachable red fruits.

Stockists: Baggot St. Wines; Clontarf Wines; Fallon & Byrne; Green Man; Jus de Vine; Searsons; The Corkscrew; World Wide Wines.

Posted in: Irish Times

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Wines to go with Vegetarian Food

First published in the Irish Times Saturday 10th September 2016

I am not vegetarian but would be quite happy to forget about meat three or four days a week. Possibly I live too close to the Happy Pear. However, when children depart the coop and diet fads cease (if only) I look forward to changing my own regime. This is the high season for many fruits and vegetables, so this week we look at how to pair vegetarian foods with wine.

There is still a tendency to categorise all vegetarian food as light and salady or very heavy and worthy. It is of course much more complex than that. All meat dishes are based around protein, and wine-drinkers usually try to match this to a particular style of wine. In fact, often it is the spices and flavourings, as well as the accompanying sauce, that should determine what wine to drink. Matching vegetarian food to wine follows similar principles and should not lead to any loss of pleasure. To start off, match lighter foods with lighter wines, and more acidic dishes with crisp white wines.

Rich white wines often partner best with sweeter vegetables, such as peppers, butternut squash, sweet potato and carrots, especially if they have been roasted, as well as beans, bean purées, and creamy dishes. Lighter whites go well with fresh cheeses – goat’s cheese and Sauvignon Blanc being just one example, but also Labneh, Mozzarella and Ricotta, as well as fresh herbs. Leafy salads and raw tomatoes also go well with lower alcohol, fruity whites.

One of my favourite comfort foods is mushroom risotto; a lovely big rich warming plate of happiness. I know many vegetarian friends are sick and tired of it, as it seems to be the standard veggie option in just about every restaurant – whatever happened to the once ubiquitous nut roast? However mushrooms in general are very wine friendly, usually red wine, and around this time of year, we even have wild mushrooms to consider. If you do like a nut roast, those rich caramelised flavours go best with red wines – a robust Languedoc, Côtes du Rhône, or a New World Cabernet would all do nicely. A few other pointers; beans are generally really wine friendly, happily providing the richness of meat as a background to the other flavours. With stir fries, soy sauce and fish sauce generally it is better to go with red wine.

I am a dab hand at knocking up a frittata/tortilla, invariably vegetarian, from whatever is in the fridge or garden. With this and other egg dishes, I enjoy a glass of light, inexpensive red. My most recent lesson came with a tomato tarte tatin (from last week’s Guardian); those intense, lightly caramelised flavours were great with both a rich white wine and a young Cabernet Sauvignon.

DSCF6871Terras do Cigarrón 2013, Monterrei
13%
€12.99

A pleasant light wine with plump pear fruits to pair with salads and fresh cheese.

Stockists: La Touche, Greystones; Jus de Vine; Whelehan’s.


DSCF6955Les Deux Cols Cuvée Zephyr 2015, Côtes du Rhône

14%
€22.50

A lovely rich Roussanne, filled with honey and peaches. With roast root vegetables.

Stockists; Searsons, Monkstown.


Image 8Palataia Pinot Noir 2014, Pfalz, Germany

13.5%
€14.79

Light perfumed red cherry and plum fruits, to partner mushrooms.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer.

Posted in: Irish Times

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