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My Top Ten Red Wines under €20 for 2016

This post came about as a result of a challenge set by a Twitter follower; to name my top five red wines for under €20. I have expanded it out here to ten wines. All have appeared in the Irish Times or on my blog before, and many in Wilson on Wine 2017, but I thought it might be good to see them all together. Doubtless they will change soon. In the meantime I have bought myself six bottles each of the Dâo, Geil Pinot, and Roka for drinking over the next few months.

 

 

DSCF7103Albizu Tempranilllo 2015, VdT de Castilla, Spain

 

I have a weakness for unoaked (or very lightly oaked) Rioja. I love the lively aroma, the pure cherry fruits and the refreshing acidity. Here they come together in an easy-drinking but sophisticated wine, great for sipping alone or for drinking with a variety or red and white meats. This example, made by a Rioja producer, from grapes grown within the region, doesn’t actually have the name Rioja on the label, but it certainly tastes like it. Worth buying in quantity for the season ahead.

 

€11.95-€12.95 from Mitchell & Son; Avoca Rathcoole; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Baggot St wines; Blackrock Cellar; Corkscrew; Fallon & Byrne; Listons; MacGuinness; Green Man; 64 Wines; World Wide Wines.

 

 

Sa de Baixo 2014Sa de Baixo 2014, Douro, Portugal       

 

This has been one of my go-to wines for a few years now, and I know I am not alone; many of our independent wine shops do a brisk trade with it. The label has changed recently, but the wine is just as good . Succulent ripe red fruits with a smooth tannin-free finish. Light harmonious and very quaffable. A good all-rounder to drink by itself or with white meats – creamy chicken with pasta sounds good.

 

€13.50 from Mortons, Ranelagh; McHughs; Blackrock Cellar; Gibneys, Malahide; Avoca Rathcoole; Wicklow Wine Co.; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Baggot St Wines; DrinkStore, D7; Martins, Fairview; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Red Island, Skerries; Probus, Fenian St; Sweeneys, Glasnevin; 64 Wine, Glasthule.

 

 

DSCF6516Borsao Garnacha Seleccíon, Campo de Borja, 2015, Spain

 

The label is fairly dazzling, and so is the wine. The Campo de Borja region produces large quantities of big ripe warming red wines, usually made from Garnacha. This is a warm hug of a wine. 14.5% alcohol, it is big, rounded and ripe with soft spicy strawberry fruits and a very decent supple finish. Fantastic value for money. Perfect for barbecues and other red meats.

 

 

€13.95 from Bradleys, Cork; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Next Door, Arklow; Searsons.com & Searsons Monkstown; Drinkstore, D7.

 

 

DSCF7060Acón Joven 2014, Ribera del Duero, Spain

 

A world away from the big tannic oaky monsters that once made up most of Ribera del Duero. This unoaked ‘young’ wine has forward floral aromas and delicious pure damson fruits. It packs a fair punch too, coming in at 14.5%, but you would hardly know it. Great value for money and perfect with roast lamb and beef.

 

€14.50 Red Island Wines; 64 Wine; Wicklow Wine Co; Clontarf Wines; Listons, Camden St.

 

 

 

Domaine des NuguesDomaine des Nugues, Beaujolais Villages 2014, France    

 

Beaujolais is finally coming back into fashion as we seek wines that are lighter in style. I spent a few lovely days in the region earlier this year, tasting the various crus. I also visited this estate. This wine is one of the best, and certainly superior to many of the cheap Fleurie you will come across in the shops. Wonderful aromas and pure sweet red cherry and blackcurrant fruits with a touch of liquorice. Patés, cheese and all things porcine, including belly of pork, ham and boiled bacon, as well as roast chicken.

 

€16.75 from Martin’s, Fairview; 64 Wine, Glasthule.

 

 

 

Roka BlaufränkischRoka Blaufränkisch 2015, Stajerska, Slovenia

 

Made by Irish couple Sinéad & Liam Cabot from their own grapes, both this and their equally delicious white Šipon are really good wines, and quite amazing for a first real effort after a few limited releases. The Blaufränkisch is a true vin de soif, with fresh supple cherry and damson fruits, but that really does it a disservice; this is a wine with plenty of depth and concentration. Well worth seeking out.

 

€16.99 from Cabot & Co;, Westport; No.1 Pery Square, Limerick; Grapevine, Dalkey; The Poppyseed, Clarinbridge; McCambridges, Galway.

 

 

 

DSCF6122Dâo Rótulo 2015, Niepoort, Portugal

 

If your tastes run to rich full-bodied reds, stay away from this wine. It is a delicious refreshing light red with a savoury edge to the clean damson fruits. Moreish, and with a mere 12.5% alcohol, you don’t have to deny yourself.

 

€16.99 from Redmonds, Mortons, Martins,Jus de vine, Green Man, Donnybrook Fair, Clontarf Wines, Blackrock Cellar and Baggot Street Wines

 

 

 

DSCF7121Geil Pinot Noir 2015, Rheinhessen

 

Charming free-flowing light supple sweet cherry fruits with a nice kick of acidity. Try it with salmon, tuna or pork. I have tried this several times in wine bars recently, including La Touche and Grapevine in Dalkey. It seems to suit all tastes, and is light enough be drunk without food.

 

€16.95-17.95 from La Touche; Grapevine; Mortons; Sweeneys; Redmonds; Wicklow Wine Co; Mitchell & Son; Listons; Jus de Vine; Drinkstore; Corkscrew; Blackrock Cellar; 64Wine.

 

 

 

DSCF5905Ch. Pey-Bonhomme Les-Tours 2012, Blaye – Côtes de Bordeaux, France

This was a really enjoyable wine, classic Bordeaux, with clean blackcurrant fruits, a seam of acidity running through, and a light dry tannic bite on the finish. I had mine with a roast shoulder of pork (Tamworth, from ethicalpork.com, excellent) and it was very good. I suspect it would be even better with lamb. Affordable well-made Bordeaux.

€19 from Green Man Wines, Terenure; 64Wine, Glasthule; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street; Clontarf Wines; Mortons, Ranelagh.

 

 

 

 

 

Quite 2014 BierzoQuite 2014 Bierzo, Veronica Ortega

 

Medium-bodied and perfumed with fresh clean dark fruits; delicious, but if I was feeling flush I would go for Ortega’s Roc (at €30). I have been on a big Mencía kick for the last few years. I still love the Castro Valtuillé Joven, and the Brezo de Grégory Pérez, both widely available from independents, but I have really enjoyed this several times at home over the last eight months.

 

€19.50 from 64wine, Glasthule; World Wide Wines, Waterford; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Blackrock Cellars; Clontarf Wines; Drinkstore, D7;

 

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Port is not just for Christmas

IMG_1302
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday October 15th, 2016

When you think of port, do images of fusty old colonels, and posh Downton-style dinner parties come to mind? Or maybe mince pies and roaring fires? Not the kind of images that are likely to appeal to a generation of new wine drinkers. Yet port has been enjoying huge growth in the US over the past decade – but a very different kind of port and with a much younger audience.

This time it is aged tawny port, served chilled, and with a whole range of dishes; cheese of course, but also with many desserts and even with fish and meat main courses. Tawny port doesn’t require decanting and will keep for a few weeks once opened. One export manager I talked to had arranged for massive double magnums of 20-year-old tawny port to be plonked on the bar in restaurants and bistros and then challenged sommeliers to pour from it, creating a bit of fun and theatre. Another sales manager told me: “Tawny port has got barmen and sommeliers back to playing with port again.”

Tawny port is aged for long periods in barrels – sometimes up to 100 years or more – at International Port Day recently, I tasted a tawny dating back to the 1860s. It develops a burnished pale brown colour and flavours of toasted nuts, figs and caramel. Ten-year-old is good (all ages are average) but 20-, 30- and even 40- year-old tawny can be sublime.

Also in fashion is white port, this time mixed with tonic water. Mix two parts tonic to one part port, add plenty of ice, and a slice or two of orange or lime or a sprig of mint. A very refreshing cocktail, the sweetness of the port working perfectly with the dry tonic.

Many port companies have started making red and white table wines in the Douro Valley (the birthplace of port) too, something unheard of in the past; already this accounts for 30 per cent of production.

Can they take all this innovation too far? Well, I found it difficult to like the Croft Pink Port (yes, rosé port) but apparently it is going down a bomb in SuperValu at the moment, so who am I to disagree?

I still have a great love of bottle-aged ports, with their dark damson fruits. A late bottled vintage is less expensive and requires no decanting, but possibly the best value lies in single quinta ports, made in years not quite good enough for a vintage declaration. Taylos Quinta de Vargellas (€64.95, the Corkscrew) is one of the best, but there is plenty of choice.

Whatever port you decide to drink, serve it in a decent wine glass; those tiny little schooners do no favours to any wine, port included.

ImageNiepoort Dry White Port
20%
€20

Toasted nuts and herbs with a rich finish. Serve with tonic water.

64 Wine; Red Island; McHugh’s; Redmond’s; Corkscrew; Jus de Vine; Martin’s; Clontarf Wines; Liston’s; Grapevine; Blackrock Cellar; Morton’s Ranelagh

DSCF6993Taylors LBV Port 2011
20%
€25.95

Rich, sweet plum fruits, dark chocolate, some Christmas cake spice, liquorice and a finish that is attractively savoury and long.

Stockists: Widely available including Corkscrew; Le Caveau; Bradley’s, Cork.

Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port
20%
€57.95

Graham's 20yo TawnyFigs, raisins and caramel with a twist of orange peel.

Stockists: Mitchells; Clontarf Wines; The Parting Glass, Enniskerry.

Posted in: Irish Times

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Bairrada 2012, Lagar de Baixo, Niepoort

<strong>Bairrada 2012, Lagar de Baixo, Niepoort</strong>

IMG_4467Bairrada 2012, Lagar de Baixo, Niepoort
12.5%
€23.95 from Baggot Street Wines; Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown; Corkscrew; Chatham St; Hole in the Wall, D7; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Martin’s, Fairview.

Lovely cool wild dark fruits, all damsons and brambles, with a fine mineral acidity and firm tannins on the finish. Perfect with a fatty roast of pork.

Winemakers have been trying to tame Baga & Bairrada’s fierce tannins for years now with some success. Having worked there for several years, Douro producer Dirk Niepoort took over this estate in 2012. Here he believes the limestone soils and cool Atlantic climate make for more refined and elegant wines.

Posted in: Top Drop

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Caught in a web: the changing world of the wine critic

Caught in a web: the changing world of the wine critic

First published in The Irish Times, Sat, Oct 3, 2015, 03:00

Wine writer Jancis Robinson had a thought- provoking article in the Financial Times a few weeks ago on the changing fortunes of the wine journalist. Her points could probably be applied to critics in all genres, but she was fairly blunt about the rise and fall of the wine critic. As wine grew in popularity around the world throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, new consumers sought out information and advice on what wines to drink. Prior to the internet a handful of top wine writers from a few countries were omnipotent, with the power to make or break a producer, a region or a vintage. These would have included Robinson herself. Their pronouncements were awaited with hope and trepidation by sections of the wine trade, who knew a positive review would make their jobs lot easier. Robert Parker, the high priest of wine critics, went a step further, giving each wine marks out of 100. Not only was this far easier to understand, it also allowed consumers to make direct comparisons between wines.

We now live in a much more democratic age in which everyone can voice their opinions. I can remember a time when most consumers were unwilling to give a view on any wine for fear of being ridiculed. These days the internet is coming down with multiple tasting notes on every wine as well as accounts of visits to various wine regions. Wine Searcher and Cellartracker give you access to thousands of professional and amateur tasting notes, scores and prices. Sitting in a restaurant with an intimidating wine list, you can look up apps such as Vivino on your smartphone and get multiple ratings written by consumers. In this era of social media, everybody has the opportunity to be heard.

Is the opinion of someone who has been tasting and drinking wine for the best part of 30 years any more valid than that of someone who is just discovering wine for the very first time? We all taste wine differently, and we all have personal preferences, even if professional writers try to hide these. As a reader, it is useful to know the foibles of the critic. I usually avoid wines Parker acclaims. It is not that he doesn’t have a phenomenal palate – he does – but he tends to prefer big, rich, powerful wines with lots of new oak, and I don’t.

Some online reviews are obviously well written by genuine wine lovers, many of whom have a very high level of knowledge. Others, you suspect, are being manipulated by outside interests. Apparently restaurateurs are approached by bloggers offering a positive review in return for free meals and drinks. I have been offered a reward for writing a positive review only once; the producer said he regularly paid a number of UK bloggers sums of money, or free trips for a positive write-up. I turned it down, naturally, but I am the recipient of free sample bottles of wine, as well as trips abroad. I suspect many online writers would be delighted to accept these in lieu of payment.

Although I don’t always agree with her I know I would pay a lot more attention to what an expert such as Robinson has to say about a wine than someone who enjoyed a glass in a crowded restaurant. It is the difference between reading TripAdvisor and Paul Theroux. That said, if thousands of consumers give a wine a positive evaluation, obviously it has something going for it. And who am I to say they are wrong?

The fourth edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine, edited by Robinson, has just been published by Oxford University Press.

This week: three outstanding wines that this wine critic enjoyed recently.

Five of Ireland’s leading specialist wine importers will come together to hold a consumers’ wine tasting featuring more than 150 wines. Spit Festival will take place on 29th October in Smock Alley Theatre from 6.30pm. Tickets are €25.

DSCF6122Dao Rótulo 2012, Niepoort, Portugal
12.5%
€16.95

Delicious cool piquant blueberry and damson fruits with a lovely sour streak.

Stockists: Leading specialist wine shops.

Padras RupestrisCeller Pardas Rupestris 2013, Penedes
13%
€17.60

Fascinating organic wine with baked gooseberries, peaches and honeycomb, finishing bone dry.

Stockists: 64Wine; Clontarf Wines; Green Man Wines; Baggot Street Wines; Michaels, Deerpark; La Touche, Greystones.

DSCF6030La Petite Ourse 2013, Côtes du Rhône, Pascal Chalon
14%
€17.99

No ordinary Côtes du Rhône but a superb rich wine with warming concentrated dark fruits sprinkled spice.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock

Posted in: Irish Times

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