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My Favourite Festive wines from O’Briens

O’Briens has some nice wines, as usual, this season, some very keenly priced, others quirky and interesting. These offers run throughout Christmas. These wines are from two tastings I attended recently. A shorter version of this article appeared in the online Irish Times on 16th November, 2018.

 

 

Júlia Florista Branco, Portugal, NV
€9.95, down to €7.95 for November and December
Decent, slightly sweetish plump fruits with good acidity. At €7.95, very good value.

Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2017, Romania
€13.95, down to €8.95 for November and December
Attractive, plump, ripe melon and green-apple fruits. Perfect party wine, or with lighter salads. At €8.95, a steal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Côtes de Gascogne 2017, Duffour Père & Fils

€9.95

The 2017 vintage of this wine is very good: subtle fresh zesty wine with lovely green apple fruits. Great value for money; the perfect party white?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellow’s Rock Chenin Blanc 2018, South Africa

€10.95

A very tasty crisp dry white with fresh peach and apple fruits.

 

Il Forte Gavi 2017
€15.95, down to €11.95 for November and December
I’m not a Gavi fan, but this has all the classic Gavi slightly bitter quince and green apples, at a very competitive price.

 

 

 

 

 

Pazo de Señorans Albariño 2017, Rías Baixas

€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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domaine Olivier Santenay Blanc Clos des Champs 2015

€29.95

Refined crisp dry white Burgundy with lightly smoky oak, lemon zest and subtle concentrated nectarine fruits.

 

 

 

Wildflower Pinot Noir 2017, Romania
€13.95, down to €8.95 for November and December
Light, with sweetish plum and red-cherry fruits and a tannin-free finish. You won’t mistake it for fine Burgundy, but this would make a great party wine.

Porta 6 2016, Portugal
€12.95, down to €9.95 for November and December
Understandably one of the most popular wines at O’Briens, this is an easy-drinker with a decent concentration of dark cherry fruits, a nice earthiness and just enough acidity to balance the ripeness. A great all-purpose wine, for wet-Wednesday dinners or large parties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellow’s Rock Syrah 2016, South Africa

€9.95

Rich powerful spicy dark fruits, with a nice seam of acidity running through. Great value at €9.95. With grilled or barbecued red meats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tandem Immune 2016, Navarra

€15.95

A pure unoaked Garnacha/Grenache that is one of my favourite wines; powerful (14.5%) with concentrated supple dark and red fruits with a lovely freshness.

 

 

St Hallett Gamekeeper’s Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2015
€19.95, down to €14.95 for November and December
Powerful, with rich, ripe red fruits and a touch of spice. At €14.95 a steal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domaine Olivier Santenay Rouge 1er cru Beaurepaire 2016

€39.95

Very fine dark cherry and damson fruits, with a subtle spiciness and a good long finish. Lovely elegant Burgundy. Christmas dinner?

 

 

 

Croser Rosé Sparkling NV, Adelaide Hills, Australia
€24.95, down to €21.95 for November and December
A very classy pure Pinot Noir, with crisp strawberry and red-cherry fruits, and subtle brioche. Good concentration and length.

Granzamy Brut NV Champagne
€34.95, down to €29.95 for November and December
A Blanc  de Noirs, made from Pinot Meunier. Stylish, lightly creamy, with subtle red fruits. This has real character and a snappy dry finish.

Château Mauvesin Barton Moulis-en-Médoc 2014
€28.95, down to €24.95 for November and December
Classic, elegant claret with a lovely fragrant nose, and smooth blackcurrant fruits that glide across the palate, finishing dry.

Disznoko Furmint Late Harvest 2016, Hungary
€16.95 per half-bottle
Most at an O’Briens tasting were wowed by the Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2005 below. So was I, but it costs €60. This late-harvest Furmint at €16.95 is deliciously fragrant and fresh, with notes of orange peel and good acidity; sweet but never cloying.

Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2005
€60 (500ml)
If you have the money and enjoy sweet wines, this is an amazingly good Tokaji, with a huge intensity of grilled nuts, marzipan and orange peel, perfectly balanced by the acidity and excellent length.

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny, Australia
€24.95, down to €21.95 for November and December
This is very good, warming tawny port, with ripe raspberries, raisins and toasted nuts, plus a sprinkle of spice. Christmas in a glass, if it’s not too early. Great value for money, too.

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Alcohol and wine: What’s in a number?

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 6th October, 2018.

For many wine drinkers, the most important part of a wine label is not the producer name nor the grape variety, but the percentage alcohol. A decade ago, big turbo-charged wines were all the rage; now we are all looking for something a bit less alcoholic. But do we think light and elegant but actually prefer something a little more full-bodied? Lynne Coyle MW, wine director at O’Briens, believes that while many wine drinkers ask for wines that are lighter in alcohol, in practice we prefer wines with a little more oomph.

“At tastings many consumers love the higher alcohol red wines, but feel they should be drinking something lighter. I am not sure if it is because of something they have read, or they want to drink less alcohol for health reasons, but it is not being driven by the flavour or style.”

Wine is all a matter of balance. You will barely notice the alcohol in a hearty 15 per cent red provided it has enough fruit, acidity and other components. If you feel an alcoholic burn, then something, usually the fruit, is missing.

The hottest wine-producing regions are responsible for the biggest wines, and the coolest tend to make the lightest, most refreshing wines. A producer in a warm region can harvest earlier to keep sugar (and therefore alcohol levels) down; in cooler areas, a winemaker can pick later, or even add sugar to boost alcohol by 1-2 per cent.

Low alcohol wines (typically 5-8 per cent alcohol) do not seem to have a market in Ireland, possibly because too often they are very sweet and just don’t taste like wine. In my book, a wine of 10-12.5 per cent qualifies as light, 13-14 per cent as medium, and anything over 14 per cent as full-bodied. All wine labels must state the percentage alcohol by volume. However, a wine producer is allowed a variation of 0.5 per cent either way, so a wine labelled 12.5 per cent could actually be 13 per cent (or 12 per cent). I sometimes wonder how strictly the law is applied.

A light red wine will taste fresher and more acidic; it has a very different structure to a more full-bodied wine and can be served cool or even chilled. But we really enjoy the richness, texture and warmth that is provided by a little more alcohol. As winter approaches, we start looking at the bigger reds, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Amarone, Bordeaux and Australian Shiraz. White wine is a very different market; the fashion is for zingy, fresh unoaked wines at 12.5–13 per cent all year round.

However, as Coyle points out: “Wine is not meant to be consumed on its own for hours on end. It should be drunk with food, and alongside water.” Then the level of alcohol matters far less.

This week, four perfectly balanced medium-bodied red wines.

Bons Ventos 2016, Casa Santos Lima, VR Lisboa
13%, €14
A big smiling mouthful of wine; layers of smooth ripe dark fruits with rounded tannins on the finish. This will go down nicely with most red or white meats, grilled lamb chops, or baked mushrooms.
From Bradley’s Off-Licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road and Malahide Road, mchughs.ie

Cuvée des Abeilles 2015, Château d’Auzanet, Bordeaux (organic)
13.5%, €14.95
This is an elegant, toothsome Bordeaux with spicy aromas and very agreeable balanced blackberry and red cherry fruits. Nice price too. Steak, served with a red wine and mushroom sauce, would be the local favourite.
From Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Myles Doyle, Gorey; Wilde & Green, Dublin 6; The Wine House, Trim

Bardolino 2016, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Veneto
12.5%, €14.95
Charming sweet/sour morello cherry fruits with a silky, almost lush, texture and a well-rounded finish. Recommended with prosciutto/salami and some crusty sourdough.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Pegos Claros Reserva, Palmela, Portugal
13.5%, €16.95
Very moreish sweet, soft, ripe jammy fruits with exotic spices that evolve and improve with every sip. A warming stew of beans, pork and chorizo.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; La Touche, Greystones, latouchewines4u.ie; Grape & Grain, Leopardstown; The Wine Shop, Perrystown; The Wine Well, Dunboyne; Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; O’Briens Wines, obrienswine.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, baggotstreetwines.com; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Fresh outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; D-Six, Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6; Matson’s, Grange, Bandon; Redmonds, Ranelagh, redmonds.ie; Morton’s, Ranelagh, mortons.ie; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, dundalkwines.com; Liston’s, Camden Street, listonsfoodstore.ie; Red Island Wine, Co Skerries; The Coach House, Ballinteer; Nectar Wines, Sandymount

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Does price matter when it comes to wine?

glass

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

As a wine writer, the question I am most often asked is “Do more expensive wines really taste any better?” The truth, as Oscar Wilde once observed, is rarely pure and never simple, so the answer is yes and no. Most of the time, we really don’t know how much money the importer and retailer are making; it can make a huge difference. But generally once you pay €10, wine does usually start to taste better; more fruit, more flavour and more interesting.

Pay €15-€25 and you should notice a massive jump in quality; give a good winemaker enough money and the good ones can work wonders. Splash out anything between €25 and €50 you can get some really serious, complex wines that should knock your socks off. Above that you start to hit the law of diminishing returns; well-known wine regions around the world know their wines are in huge demand and in limited supply.

But what about wines made with the same grape variety, and from the same region? I believe that if you spend an extra €5-€10, you will notice a difference. If you don’t, then I suggest that you stick to cheap wine. This week I give you two of the most popular white wine grape varieties at very different prices, so that you can conduct your own tasting.

Sauvignon Blanc has been widely planted in parts of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux for centuries. Many other parts of the wine world have tried growing it with varying degrees of success. Chile provides us with plenty of inexpensive Sauvignon (apparently our favourite wine is Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon), the best wines coming from the Casablanca and Leyda Valleys. South Africa produces some excellent upmarket wines but nobody can match the success of Marlborough in New Zealand. Marlborough produces almost 70 per cent of all New Zealand wine, and Sauvignon Blanc accounts for most of that.

Amazingly, the overall quality of wine has remained high, including those at €10-€12. I mentioned the Villa Maria a few weeks ago, and Dunnes Stores has the very tasty Rapaura Springs (€12.99, and Reserve €15.99). Older readers will remember a time when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon was the most-sought-after wine in the country. It is still there, producing good wine, although Dog Point, Greywacke and various single vineyard wines are probably better these days.

Sales of Pinot Grigio have also exploded in recent years. The less expensive versions, usually from the Veneto in northern Italy, are lightly aromatic, vaguely fruity, unoaked and low in alcohol. Every supermarket will have a range, usually under €10 and often cheaper. Other parts of Italy, California, Australia and New Zealand have all tried their hand at Pinot Grigio. Look out for the Romanian Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2017 from O’Briens, €13.95, but a mere €8.95 on promotion (starting on September 24th).

Lightly aromatic with soft, plump, ripe tropical fruits. Perfect party wine or with the classic combination of melon and prosciutto.
Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswines.ie

Pinot Grigio della Venezie 2017, Dissegna Francesco 12.5%, €14.99-15.99

Mouth-watering, fresh melon fruit with cleansing acidity and a bone-dry finish. What is Italian for vin de soif? Perfect with antipasti or spaghetti carbonara.
Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; Morton’s, Ranelagh, mortons.ie; The Hole in the Wall, Blackhorse Avenue, D7; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; Fresh Outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie

Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough 13.5%,€9.95 in O’Briens for September

wine

One of the original Marlborough Sauvignons and a classic of the style; lifted gooseberry aromas, fresh lime zest and ripe green fruits. Drink solo or with soft goat’s cheese salad.
Stockists: Widely available through the multiples, frequently on promotion.

Framingham Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough 12.5%, €23.99

This is streets ahead of most Marlborough Sauvignon. Lightly aromatic, flinty and mineral with a vivid purity and excellent length. Good solo, but better with shellfish – prawns, scallops, crab or mussels, preferably combined with zingy lime zest and herbs.
Stockists: The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork ; wineonline.ie; JJ O’Driscoll, Ballinlough, jjodriscoll.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie.

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The best wines to drink with fish and seafood

fish

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday, 1st September, 2018

I don’t think I have ever written a bucket list or settled on a deathbed meal. I like too many things, and in any case everything depends on the people around you. With wine, the greatest vintage from the finest estate will never match a modest glass in good company.

I do know that my deathbed meal would include fish and shellfish, and lots of it. I live a few hundred metres from the sea and find it incredibly frustrating that I have to travel long distances to find decent fresh seafood – the greatest of which requires little or no adornment. Herbs and lemon or lime, mayonnaise or melted butter usually suffice.

Some years ago the highlight of my small but perfectly formed stag weekend was dinner at Chez Youen in Baltimore, in Co Cork, where we devoured an enormous platter of plain shellfish, multiple bottles of Muscadet, and sparkling wine from Mas de Daumas Gassac.

So before we move on to autumnal reds, a final feast of everything good that comes from the sea and the wines to go with them. There is something wonderfully perfect about a piece of spanking fresh fish and a glass of chilled white wine. (You can, of course, drink chilled light red wines, but I usually crack open a white.)

Crab would definitely feature in my meal, preferably cold, in a salad with mayonnaise, and mounds of herbs and citrus. As a child I was tasked with shelling freshly cooked crab for dinner. A few shards of shell merely proved its authenticity. Sadly I was too young to enjoy one of life’s great matches: crab and Riesling.

The crab would not be pasteurised and tasteless, its richness countered by the zip and freshness of the Riesling. Austria, Germany and Alsace, in northeastern France, all produce great Riesling, but today I choose Australia, a country that produces a lime-scented version that is heavenly with crab.

Mussels and Muscadet (or the delicious vinho verde below) might come before the crab, then fresh Atlantic prawns with a home-made lemon-garlic mayonnaise. I would find room for scallops, too, probably seared in butter. The prawns and scallops have a sweetness that goes perfectly with a creamy, fruit-filled Chardonnay. Then on to hake, which to my mind is superior to cod, salmon and all the basses and breams. The only fish that compare are turbot, John Dory and black sole. Chardonnay would do nicely again, or an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, or maybe an Albariño from Spain.

For most people the ultimate luxury is lobster. I prefer crab but will happily eat both. Recently, at a friend’s 50th, we ate lobster and drank Champagne – an indulgence that works so well. And only then would we start on the meat, followed by the cheese.

Bottles of the Week

Chardonnay 2016, Antech, IGP pays d’Oc
13%, €13.95
A medium-bodied, oak-free Chardonnay with attractive ripe exotic fruits – melon, peach and pineapple. Perfect with scallops and prawns. Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, and Arnotts, Dublin, winesdirect.ie

Pequenos Rebentos Vinho Verde 2017
11.5%, €15.50
Delicious, fruit-filled, lip-smacking wine; fresh zingy lemon zest and green apples. Light enough to go perfectly with mussels and oysters, but also with hake or sea bass. StockistsListons Food Store, Dublin 2, listonsfoodstore.ie; the Wine Centre, Kilkenny, thewinecentre.ie; Kelly’s, Clontarf, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com

Vickery Watervale Riesling 2017, Clare Valley, Australia 13%, €19.50
Floral, with a very seductive, refreshing, creamy palate full of lime zest and mouth-watering green fruits, finishing bone dry. Drink with crab. Stockists: jnwine.com

Granzamy Brut NV, Champagne
12.5%, €34.95 (€29.95 for September)
A stylish, lightly creamy Champagne with subtle red cherries and strawberries. With lobster for a real splurge, but this would also go nicely with oysters, and most seafood. Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.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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de Martino Las Cruces Old Vine Malbec Carmenère 2014, Valle de Cachapoal

de Martino Las Cruces Old Vine Malbec Carmenère 2014, Valle de Cachapoal

Las Cruces 2014

 

 

Wonderful wine. An explosion of tight ripe savoury dark fruits with real concentration and backbone. Lovely balance and great length – 13.5% alcohol. A world away from most alcoholic, oaky luxury Chilean wines, this really is worth trying, despite the price tag.

 

This would go nicely with most grilled or roast red meats. Lightly spicy barbecued lamb or a gourmet burger.

 

Expensive, but this one is worth it. I tasted this as part of an article on wines from Itata, the first vineyards planted by the Spanish conquistadores. This is made from the granitic Las Cruces vineyard, planted in 1956 It is a field blend of 75% Malbec and 25% Carmenère.

€40 from O’Briens Wines.

 

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The best wines to drink with salads

STYRIAFirst published in The Irish Times, Saturday 7th July, 2018

As the good weather continues, this week we will look at wines to drink with summer salads. I may have been guilty of blithely suggesting to match a particular wine with salads in general. But what kind of salad? There is a huge difference between a delicate herb-scented dish of courgettes and fennel, and a plate of full-on chili-spiked Mexican beans. And what if you are serving a barbequed steak, lamb skewers or sweet chili chicken drumsticks alongside your salad?

As with most food and wine matching, it makes sense to serve light-bodied wines with delicately flavoured foods and richer wines with more powerful recipes. Sharp acidic salads go best with crisp refreshing white wines. Many books suggest only white wines, but if I often drink a Beaujolais or another light red with whatever is going.

Vinegar is wine that has gone sour, so a dressing made with vinegar doesn’t do any favours to wine. I generally add lemon juice to my vinaigrette instead. The wine of a region often provides a great match for local foods. Provence Rosé with a classic Salade Niçoise works really well, as does Beaujolais with ham and other charcuterie or an Assyrtiko with Greek salad.

Chardonnay

Salmon, with its rich, oily, meaty texture and flavour, needs something more substantial. With salmon tartar, smoked salmon or cold poached salmon with cucumber and salads, I would usually go for a Chardonnay. The de Martino below would be perfect, as would the Begude Chardonnays in O’Briens (€16.95-18.95), a Chablis or the Aldi Limestone Coast Chardonnay (€8.49).

Or why not experiment a little with a Godello from Spain, or a nicely textured Grüner Veltliner from Austria – Grüner being one of the all-time great food wines. If you are barbequing or grilling your salmon, then a rosé or Pinot Noir might be a better bet. Marks & Spencer have the fragrant juicy Albert Bichot Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune 2015 for a very reasonable €19.50, or the Couveys below offers good value. All of the above would go nicely with cold chicken-based dishes too, including Caesar salad.

Italian whites

With salads featuring prawns, scallops and crab, go for crisp aromatic whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Albariño. Riesling (and Grüner Veltliner) also goes well with Thai beef salads. Sauvignon Blanc partners nicely with milder goat’s cheese salads. Tomato and red pepper based salads are generally best with crisp whites. I tend to go for Italian whites, such as Soave or Verdicchio.

I suspect that at outdoor get-togethers, most of us probably serve a mix of different salads instead of a single dish. My go-to wines to cover all bases would include a dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, or an unoaked Chardonnay, but possibly best of all would be a medium-bodied rosé. It is summer after all.

Bottles of the Week

Couveys Pinot Noir Les Petits Greniers 2016, Pays d’Oc 13%, €10.99

Ripe smooth red cherry fruits with an earthy touch and a rounded finish. Good with barbequed salmon or chicken, and mixed salads.
Stockists Spar, Eurospar, Londis & Mace.

Grüner Veltliner Löss 201, Kamptal, Rabl 12%, €14.95 until 15th July (normally €18.95)

A light refreshing Grüner, with lovely elegant peach fruits and a touch of ginger spice. Great with cold seafood dishes, Thai food and summer salads.
Stockists O’Briens. Obrienswine.ie

Legado Chardonnay Reserva 2017, de Martino, Limarí Valley 13.5%,€7

An impressive medium-bodied Chardonnay, with very refreshing clean pear and apple fruits, a vein of crisp acidity and a long dry finish. With salmon, tuna and Cesar Salad.
Stockists The Malt House, Trim; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; Molloy’s Liquor Store, molloys.ie; Wineonline.ie

Ch. l’Ou Rosé, 2017, Côtes du Roussillon 13.5%, €20

Medium-bodied with lovely strawberry and raspberry fruits, finishing dry. A great all-rounder to serve with a range of summer salads.
Stockists Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown.

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Cheap white wines for summer

vineyard

The sun is out and the holiday season has started in earnest; at this time of year we all yearn for a glass of crisp cool white wine to sip on a warm summer evening. I will always argue for spending a few euros more on a bottle of wine – you really will notice the difference – but there is something about sitting out with friends and family on the patio, at home or on holiday, that seems to make everything taste good.

So, this is one occasion where cheerful inexpensive white wines can really hit the mark. Don’t go too low though; be prepared to pay at least €9 and up to €15 for a decent bottle. For our summer drinking, we need something light in alcohol, preferably 12 per cent, but never more than 13.5 per cent, and definitely unoaked; we want to really enjoy those pure fresh fruits.

Lighter whites can be served well-chilled, anything from 7-9 °C. Ice buckets will over-chill your wine and mask any flavour, but in the heat it will warm up quickly in your glass.

Popularity

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is probably the most consistent white wine of all, which may help explain its popularity. For €10-€15, every supermarket will have several options, all of which can be guaranteed to deliver those signature lifted aromas, fresh lime zesty acidity and those mouth-watering lightly tropical  fruits. It may not please wine snobs, but it does deliver a reliable, fruit-filled glass of wine, perfect on sunny days, with or without food. Having tasted my way around most, I would recommend the Villa Maria or the Insight Sauvignon Blanc (O’Briens) for €12.95. Outside of New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile is also a good bet. Tesco currently has the Santa Rita 120 for €9.

Muscadet is one of my favourite summer whites, and these days, a fairly reliable option for light easy drinking; Tesco has an own label Muscadet for €10 and O’Briens the very enjoyable Domaine de la Chauvinière at €11.20 for the next few days. Pay a few euros more, and there are some seriously good Muscadets available at around €20. O’Briens also has the Bougrier Sauvignon Blanc, a previous bottle of the week, for €9.99.

Portuguese flavours

I featured Portuguese wines a month or so ago, and these offer amazing value for money and a unique set of flavours. You could also look to Rías Baixas from Spain (Mitchell & Son currently has the award-winning Baratín for €14.95), or to Rueda for both Sauvignon Blanc and wines made from the local Verdejo grape.

Riesling from Australia, Germany, Austria or Alsace also offers perfect summer drinking; from the south of France look out for Picpoul de Pinet or Marsanne from the south of France; Aldi currently has the very quaffable Exquisite Marsanne for €8.99.

Bottles of the Week

Exquisite Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur Lie 2017 12.5%, €8.99
Soft easy green fruits with a nice touch of lemon zest. Solo or with mussels.
Stockist Aldi

Alma de Blanco Godello 2017, Monterrei 13%, €11.20 (down from €14.95 until July 8th)
Succulent and ripe with fresh tropical pineapple and pear fruits. Nicely textured wine to drink before dinner or with  dishes.
Stockist O’Briens

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough 12.5%, €12 (€10 on promotion) 
Classic Marlborough Sauvignon with lifted floral aromas, fresh gooseberry, kiwi and passionfruit, with plenty of zingy lime juice. With seafood and summer salads.
Stockist Tesco

Badajo 2017, Rueda, Spain 12.5%, €13.50-€14.50
A great Spanish alternative to Sauvignon, Verdejo, blended here with Viura, is aromatic, with medium-bodied pear and peach fruits, brought to life by vibrant lemon zest. Perfect by itself or with chicken salads.
Stockists Morton’s, Ranelagh, mortons.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; Sweeney’s Wines, Glasnevin, sweneyswines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2, baggotstreetwines.com; Liston’s, Dublin 2, listonsfoodstore.ie; Wicklow Wine Co, Wicklow, wicklowwineco.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Fresh Outlets, Dublin, freshthegoodfoodoutlet.ie

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Is Chardonnay the world’s greatest white wine?

First puvblished in The Irish Times, Saturday 24th February, 2018

I have tasted a lot of Chardonnay over the last ten days; at an excellent masterclass on Margaret River, courtesy of Wine Australia, then an even better masterclass on Meursault from the Bourgogne, and best of all, an excellent bottle of Meursault shared with good friends alongside a dish of turbot.

Sadly neither Meursault nor Margaret River have anything to offer under €40, although both can offer reasonable value for money. But as Chardonnay, one of the greatest white grape varieties, is widely planted throughout the wine world, there is no shortage of alternatives. Chardonnay is essentially a white wine trying to be red. It certainly can be one of the richest, most textured white wines, although this depends on where it is grown and when it is picked. For maximum enjoyment, serve cool but not ice-cold.

And so to the question of oak. Many consumers still remember the buttery, oaky Chardonnays of the early 2000’s and are wary of ever trying a glass again. Rest assured that these wines are a thing of the past. The vast majority are now either completely unoaked, or oaked in such a subtle manner you won’t notice it. A Chardonnay made from grapes picked early or from a cool climate (such as Chablis) will be fresh, crisp and dry. To be technical, if the winemaker hasn’t put it through malo-lactic fermentation, aged it in oak barrels or stirred the lees, it will be lighter and fresher still. These days most wines are made from a blend of all of the above to give greater complexity and balance.

Accompanying dishes

The key to enjoying the more full-bodied style of Chardonnay is food. A wine that seems big and powerful on its own provides a perfect backdrop for all sorts of rich fish dishes – prawns, salmon, tuna, black sole or turbot, especially if it has a creamy or buttery sauce. It can also be paired with chicken, pork and cheeses (Comté and Chardonnay is one of my favourite matches).

At times, it can be difficult to work out what style of Chardonnay you are buying, although the back label often has information. This week; four Chardonnays from different parts of the globe, but none from Chardonnay’s hometown of Burgundy. If you want to try the Burgundian version, Jus de Vine in Portmarnock have the excellent Talmard Macon-Uchizy 2016 for a bargain price of €16.99. The Limestone Coast Chardonnay below is completely unoaked and shows fresh, pure Chardonnay fruit. The Begude Etoile and Lucky Lizard both offer a subtle delicious halfway house. The Jordan is the oakiest of the four, but it still never dominates the classic Chardonnay fruit.

Aldi Exquisite Limestone Coast Chardonnay, Australia 2014
14%, €8.49

A fresh, crisp style of unoaked Chardonnay with lime zest and red apple fruits. Nicely textured with a dry finish, this would go nicely with grilled prawns or scallops in a rich creamy sauce.
Stockists: Aldi

Jordan Barrel-fermented Chardonnay 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa
13.5%, €19.95

Subtle oak here, with notes of brioche and toasted hazelnuts, alongside some orange peel, red apple fruits and zesty refreshing lime. Try it with chicken or pork with a creamy pasta sauce.
Stockists: Widely available nationwide through independent off-licences including: O’Donovan’s, Cork; World Wide Wines, Waterford; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Salmon’s, Ballinasloe; 1601, Kinsale

Etoile Chardonnay 2015, Domaine Begude, Limoux, Organic
13.5%, €19.95

Very lightly oaked but you won’t taste it. Medium-bodied creamy apple, pear and orange fruits with a subtle note of baked bread. Perfect with chicken dishes, such as roast chicken with a herb stuffing.
Stockists: O’Briens

d’Arenberg Lucky Lizard Chardonnay 2015, Adelaide Hills, Australia
13.5%, €22

Very lightly oaked. Succulent, rounded, beautifully textured Chardonnay with seductive mango and peach fruits balanced perfectly by a refreshing acidity. Try it with lightly spiced prawn dishes or salmon fish cakes.
Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey; Donnybrook Fair; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Martins, Fairview; Londis, Malahide

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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

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