Posts Tagged O’Briens



O’Briens recently introduced some great wines from two exciting Sherry producers. Both are family-owned with a long and noble history. More importantly, both produce some great wines.

Bodegas Barón was founded in 1895 by Manuel Barón Fernández. His wife’s family had been involved in the sherry business for ten generations, so they could claim to be amongst the oldest producers in the region. Today the company is owned by José Rodriguez Jiménez and his two sons. Based in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, they specialise in Manzanilla.

Once a large successful Sherry producer, Bodega Cayetano del Pino & Cia, like many bodegas, went through a difficult period in the late 20th century, as world consumption fell, and the market became dominated by mass-produced poor quality wines. The family-owned bodega has recently re-emerged and developed a reputation as one of the leading producers of Palo Cortado Sherry.

VOS stands for Very Old Sherry and signifies that the wines are at least twenty years old. All of the wines below are bone dry. I am indebted to the excellent website for much of the background information above.

Hats off to O’Briens for sourcing these fascinating wines. If you enjoy Sherry, all are definitely worth a try.

Xixarito Manzanilla Pasada en Rama Bodegas Barón
€24.95 from O’Briens.

Yeasty aromas, fresh and saline with green apples, green olives (including the brine), and almonds. It has a lightly toasty note, with a delicious freshness and crisp dry finish. Enjoy this chilled with jamón ibérico, toasted almonds and other simple tapas.

Xixarito Oloroso Bodegas Barón
€29.95 from O’Briens.

This has light mahogany polish, toffee and caramel, toasted walnuts and a tangy freshness. It finishes bone dry. This is fine but doesn’t quite reach the heights of the other wines below, but then it is quite a bit cheaper.

Amontillado VOS Bodegas Cayetano del Pino & Cia
€39.95 for a 50cl bottle

A beautiful wine with real elegance and depth; there is a refreshing acidity alongside toasted almonds, wood polish and burnt orange peel. The finish lingers very nicely. The flavours are not quite as explosive as the Palo Cortado, but this is a very stylish refined Sherry.

Palo Cortado VOS Bodegas Cayetano del Pino & Cia
€49.95 for a 50cl. bottle

This is an incredible complex wine, packed with flavour and full of character. Intense aromas and flavours of toasted walnuts and hazelnuts, orange peel, dried fruits and citrus with a long tangy dry savoury mineral finish. I am a big fan of aged sherries with Comté cheese. By chance I stumbled across a brilliant match for this Palo Cortado; Ossau-Iraty, a sheep’s cheese from south-west France.

Posted in: The Wine on Wednesday, Top Drop

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Two Favourites from O’Briens

Two Favourites from O’Briens

I was in my local O’Briens last weekend and couldn’t resist buying two of my favourite wines for dinner that night. I have been enjoying both for five years, probably a lot longer.

Domaine Begude Étoile Chardonnay 2022, Limoux (Organic)

James Kinglake and his team produce a fine range of wines, mostly made from either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. The Étoile is fermented and aged in large French oak foudres and demi-muids using indigenous yeasts. It strikes the perfect balance between rich and fresh, with a beautifully textured palate and good acidity. Subtle toasted almonds ripe pears and apples with a crisp dry finish. Perfect with richer seafood or chicken dishes. Fantastic value for money, especially when compared with any white Burgundy. 13.5%abv.

€18.96 down from €22.95 from O’Briens.

Bardolino Classico Cuvée XV 2022, Guerrieri Rizzardi

I am a big fan of plain Bardolino and Valpolicella (as opposed to all the ripasso and appassimento wines) and the Cuvée XV is a perfect example of the style. The vineyards of Bardolino overlook the stunningly beautiful Lake Garda. The wines tend to be light and fruity. The Cuvée XV is more full-bodied than most but still retains a lovely freshness. Medium-bodied with gorgeous supple ripe blackcurrant and black cherry fruits and a tannin free finish. Perfect with most white meats. 13.5%abv

€15.95 from O’Briens.

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Gérard Bertrand Cigalus

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus

Cigalus Blanc 2022,
€39.95 from O’Briens

Youthful, with lots of lemon zest, rich apricot and peach. Just starting to develop. There is nice grip, subtle toasty oak, hazelnuts, and plenty of body. Nice citrus length. I would keep it 3-5 years when it will take on a rich creamy texture and opulent ripe stone fruits.

Cigalus Rouge 2021
€39.95 from O’Briens

Sumptuous ripe dark fruits with subtle mint, dried herbs, and dark chocolate. Complex with polished tannins, and a freshness throughout. Very drinkable now but it will certainly develop further in the next few years.

Every wine has a time and place. I wouldn’t drink the Cigalus Rouge every day, but when I am in the mood for a big rich voluptuous red wine, it certainly hits the spot. I suspect the new oak has been toned down a little in recent years, but it is still opulent, spicy and very well-made. I have tried it twice in recent days and really enjoyed it on both occasions.

I have always really enjoyed the Cigalus Blanc, especially when it has a few years age. I have a dwindling mini-collection going back ten years. When I had dinner with Bertrand some years ago, I was pleased to see he shared my taste, serving a ten year old Cigalus Blanc with some Mediterranean red prawns. A memorable combination.

Over a short period of time, former rugby player Gérard Bertrand has built up an impressive array of estates almost exclusively in his native Languedoc. He now owns sixteen domaines spread out over the region, as well as a recent acquisition in Cahors.

He bought the 75 hectare Domaine de Cigalus in 1995. It is a large single plot located close to Narbonne in the Corbières region. Farmed biodynamically (as are most of his estates) he has planted a wide range of grape varieties, including Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet France for the red wine, and Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for the red. Each variety is vinified separately, with a portion fermented and aged in new oak.

The Cigalus wines were originally sold as his flagship wines, although they may have been overtaken by Clos d’Ora, in Minervois and the Clos du Temple Rosé, marketed as the most expensive rosé wine in the world.

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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?)


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;

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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Where do Ireland’s favourite wines come from?

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 27th, 2018

Late last year the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, a Paris-based technical group, predicted that global wine production would fall by more than 8 per cent, or 22 million hectolitres, in 2017 from the previous year.

It estimated that the world would produce 246 million hectolitres of wine, almost 33 billion bottles. That may seem like a lot of wine, but it is the lowest level since 1961.

The drop in production is down to the weather; severe spring frosts in the France, Italy and Spain, the world’s three largest producers, followed by a long summer heatwave and drought in parts of Italy and Spain, all played a part.

It seems the best-known regions such as Bordeaux (but not Burgundy for once), Rioja, Chianti and Barolo were all affected. Apparently the fires in California had a negligible effect, as they occurred after the harvest.

The International Organisation of Vine and Wine also estimated that global consumption would be somewhere between 240.5 and 245.8 million hectolitres, so there should be enough to go around, but only just. Who drinks all of this wine? The producer countries mostly.

The United States is the world’s largest consumer, at 31.8 million hectolitres of  wine in  2016, followed by France (27.0 million hectolitres), Italy (22.5 million hectolitres), Germany (20.2 million hectolitres) and China (17.3 million hectolitres).

While China is expected to become the world’s second-largest market in the next five years market (current annual consumption is 1.34 litres per head, compared with our 18 litres per head), producers hoping for a bonanza may be disappointed. China is now the world’s seventh largest producer of wine, and this will certainly increase. But in the meantime, as an example of how the market is changing, China now accounts for 30 per cent of Australia’s wine exports, and is now by far their largest market. The same holds for Chile.

Consumption in Ireland is a tiny drop in this ocean at just over 80 million litres. Chile overperforms here, with 25.1 per cent of the market, although it is the world’s ninth largest producer, followed by Australia on just over 18 per cent. These are followed by the big three, France, Italy and Spain with a combined total of roughly 35 per cent of the market. These figures are based on volume and not value. We have always been keen on New World wines; combined they account for more than 60 per cent of wines sold.

Individual regions may be suffering, but we should not worry about an immediate shortage on our shelves. However, experts argue that we can expect more severe weather events in the future. Growing quality grapes is a complex business, and even a slight increase in temperatures will pose huge challenges for some of the world’s pre-eminent regions. On the other hand, maybe we will see more Irish wine in the future.

Four wines to try

Mas Buscados 2014, Tempranillo Petit Verdot VdT de Castilla
14%, €9.95 from January 29th, down from €13.95

A big, warm hug of a wine, filled with sweet supple jammy dark fruits. Perfect winter drinking with casseroles, roast red meats or hard cheeses. Stockist: O’Briens

Tesco’s Finest Ribera del Duero Reserva 2012
14.5%, €12 

A big, powerful red wine full of ripe dark fruits and spicy tannins. Locally they would drink it with roast lamb and pork, but this would go equally well with a juicy barbecued steak. If you usually drink Malbec from Argentina, this might be a good alternative. Stockist: Tesco

Cantina di Negrar Valpolicella Classico 2016
12.5%, €14.95 

Floral aromas with light juicy red cherries and a smooth, tannin-free finish. It slips down all too easily. Perfect with cold meats, mushroom risotto, a pork chop or lighter cheeses. Otherwise Margherita pizza sounds good. Stockists: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers (all branches);

El Castro de Valtuille 2016, Mencía Joven, Bierzo
14%, €15.50

An old favourite that has returned to form with the 2016 vintage. A lovely, elegantly fruity wine with a touch of liquorice and refreshing acidity. Ideal with grilled breast of duck or a confit leg, but this is a pretty good all-purpose red. Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; 64wine; La Touche; Martins; Clontarf Wines; Baggot Street Wines; Liston’s; Drink Store, Manor Street; Lilac Wines; Sweeneys.

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Go off the beaten track for your wines this Christmas

First published in The Irish Times, December 16th, 2017

We are creatures of habit. I know people who drink the same wine with the same Christmas dinner every year. It is part of a comforting ritual. Mine is to start the meal with a magnum of Champagne. This year, the magnum cupboard is looking distinctly bare, so I will have to change my ways.

Standing in a wine shop last year for an hour or two, signing copies of my book, I watched a steady stream of customers heading straight to large displays of Chablis Premier Cru and Mâcon, and then on to three huge piles of Rioja Reserva, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Saint–Émilion Grand Cru. There is nothing wrong with these choices, in fact there is a lot to recommend them. Both Mâcon and Chablis are 100 per cent Chardonnay, a variety that pairs very nicely with fish (including smoked salmon) or shellfish as a starter, and with turkey too. Softer-fruited reds such as Rioja Reserva, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a Merlot-based Bordeaux make a fine foil for turkey.

But this year, instead of staying with the usual favourites, why not be a bit more adventurous and go for an alternative Christmas, with wines a little (or a lot) off the beaten track? Christmas is not really the time to have a theme, but I think I might go Spanish, simply because I have been enjoyed so many of their wines over the last 12 months. This would allow me to include a reviving glass of chilled crisp fino sherry to sip while finishing off the preparations, followed by a glass of Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, and a few nibbles as an aperitif. With the meal, I could start off with a Godello from Valdeorras or Monterrei in Galicia, and then try a soft ripe Garnacha, a more powerful Ribera del Duero, or an elegant Mencía from Ribera Sacra or Bierzo with the turkey. You will find examples of all the above in most independent wine shops and O’Briens.

Alternatively, you could pick and choose from other countries. The Bellavista Grand Cuvée Brut (€47.99, independents) is a superb Italian sparkling wine, or there is the very tasty dry sparkling Sangiovese Spumante Rosé from Bollamatta (€30, independents). Or furthest off the beaten track, Marks & Spencer have the (delicious) sparkling red Lambrusco Reggiano Secco for €13.30.

From South Africa, I would be sorely tempted to indulge in the superb Lismore Reserve Chardonnay (€39.90, independents) one of the very best white wines I tasted in 2017. For a red, an Australian Grenache [I featured the excellent Willunga 100 (€17.99, independents) a few weeks ago], or the full rich d’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz (€20, independents, O’Briens and Supervalu) would both do very nicely.

Llopart Brut Reserva NV, Cava, Organic

11.5%, €29.95
Seductive and stimulating with distinctive soft ripe white fruits, hints of brioche and a lovely lingering dry finish. The perfect way to get festivities going.
Stockists: Corkscrew; Mitchell & Sons; Redmond’s.

Via Arxentea 2016, Monterrei

13%, €18.50
A Godello blend with plump melon and green apple fruits that fill the mouth, perfectly balanced by a refreshing crisp acidity. By itself, with your starter, or even the turkey.
Stockists: Kelly’s, Clontarf; Sweeney’s; The Coach House; 64 Wines; Liston’s; Baggot Street Wines.

 Tolo do Xisto 2015, Ribera Sacra
13.5%, €23.95

Ribeira Sacra

13.5%, €22
An enchanting mix of ripe red cherry fruits and savoury liquorice in a very stylish elegant wine. A perfect partner for turkey, goose or duck.
Stockists: O’Briens

 Pago de los Capellanes Joven 2016, Ribero del Duero

13.5%, €22
An utterly charming rich smooth wine with supple pure dark fruits and a rounded finish. This would go nicely with turkey, ham or any red meat.
Stockists: Mitchell & Sons, chq, Glasthule, Avoca Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne; Myles Doyles, Gorey.

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The best fine Christmas wines you can buy in supermarkets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesco finest Prosecco Valdobbiadene

Tesco Finest Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore NV

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

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

EBustos MB sc

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


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

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Wines to keep you warm this autumn


First published in The Irish Times, Saturday October 7th, 2017

I cling to the dying days of summer for as long as possible, hoping against hope that the days won’t get shorter and the temperature won’t drop. Sadly, inevitably, the weather has changed, the leaves are turning and autumn has arrived.

As the season changes we move on from the lighter wines of summer to something a little more warming, not necessarily to anything quite as big and powerful as the robust winter reds, but we certainly drink more red wine, or white wines with a little bit more body and texture. We still drink fresh, crisp whites and light reds from time to time, of course, but many of us instinctively drink seasonally. Sales of rosé plummet, and of red wines increase, once the sun disappears.

Choosing a wine is as much about mood as about the food you are serving. I often find myself returning to old favourites, such as the Protocolo below. Like a favourite old coat or jacket, or a cosy blanket returned to the sofa, they offer a certain comfort at this time of year.

My favourite autumnal wines include mellow Riojas, some of which can have a definite aroma of autumnal undergrowth, as does mature Pinot Noir. Both are perfect for all of those game dishes that become available for the next few months, or pork with roasted vegetables – onions, butternut squash and root vegetables. If you add a couple of apples the white Château Saint Auriol below would work well. If you add a little spice a fuller-bodied Grenache or Shiraz would be perfect.

For white wines with a little more richness and body, go for Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne or maybe a Godello, from Spain. All of these work really well with white meats and fuller-bodied fish dishes. I had a great fish pie this week that was perfect with a medium-bodied Chardonnay. Chenin Blanc from South Africa also has that comforting cushioned richness that seems just right on a colder evening. I have also enjoyed several warming curries in the past few weeks. My lamb bhuna worked a treat with the Grenache Noir below on a damp Thursday evening; the Château Saint Auriol went nicely with a creamy chicken curry.

Around this time of year all of those back-to-school expenses start to bite. If you are self-employed the taxman is waiting impatiently for his annual payment. So, this week, four budget wines, all widely available and all well under €15, to keep us warm in the cooler evenings.


Protocolo 2014, Castilla, Spain 13.5%, €10.95

An old favourite that is on song. Light, smooth cherry fruits with a hint of vanilla spice. Perfect all-purpose wine. From branches of O’Briens

Tesco Shiraz 2016, Limestone Coast, Australia 14.5%, €9

Instantly gluggable full-bodied red with generous blackcurrant fruits and a nice seam of acidity to balance it out. Serve with red meats. From branches of Tesco

Château Saint Auriol Chatelaine Blanc 2015, Corbières, France 13%, €12.99
Perfumed, medium-bodied, textured white wine with peaches and toasted nuts. Serve with creamy chicken or pork. From branches of SuperValu

Grenache Noir 2016, JC Mas, Sud de France 13.5% €8.49
Soft, seductive ripe strawberry and raspberry fruits. Another good all-purpose wine. Serve with red or white meats. From branches of Aldi

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Give Merlot and Chardonnay a second chance

Sideways (2004): “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving”

First puyblished in The Irish Times, Saturday September 23rd, 2017

Fashion is a fickle business. In the not-too-distant past, a wine producer wondering what grape varieties to plant in a new vineyard would have gone straight for Chardonnay and Merlot.

These were, after all, the most sought-after wines around the world. Given that a vine takes three years to produce grapes and a decade to make decent wine, predicting future trends can be a dangerous business.

Nowadays, I suspect Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Malbec would be at the top of the list for any prospective producer.

But a decade or so ago, Merlot was everybody’s darling. It is widely planted in North and South America, and elsewhere, too, is relatively easy to grow and produces decent yields.

The wines are very attractive, too, medium-bodied with velvety soft, rounded plummy fruits and none of those drying tannins associated with Cabernet Sauvignon. Even better, Merlot doesn’t require lengthy ageing. All of the wines, even the very best, are drinkable from the start.

How the mighty have fallen. Merlot became a dirty word largely thanks to the 2004 movie Sideways, where Myles, the main protagonist says ‘If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f***ing Merlot.’

Suddenly, everyone wanted Myles’s favourite, Pinot Noir, instead. Sales plummeted, particularly in the US. Yet we continued to drink Merlot, sometimes unwittingly, as most of the red wines of Bordeaux and the surrounding area will contain some Merlot in the blend. In areas such as Pomerol, it makes up 100 per cent of the wine, including the most famous pure Merlot of all, Petrus.

As for Chardonnay, it may have reached tipping point when Bridget Jones began drinking large glasses to console herself after her latest disaster. Much of the Chardonnay produced back then was heavily and clumsily oaked, and often high in alcohol, too, when the world began looking for something lighter and fresher. Enter Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.

This is unfair on Chardonnay, one of the greatest grapes of all, and these days made in a much more appealing style. In my experience, most consumers love Chardonnay – until they see the label. As with Merlot, the French have us drinking it unknowingly. Just about every bottle of white Burgundy, from Chablis to Meursault to Mâcon is 100 per cent Chardonnay.

These days most less expensive Chardonnays are unoaked and a degree or two lighter in alcohol. They make great food wines, but are also perfect on their own. A good Merlot is supple and fruity; a real crowd-pleaser, in other words.

So this weekend, spare a thought for two of fashion’s forgotten victims, and try out a bottle of Chardonnay or Merlot. You should be in for a pleasant surprise.

Aresti Bellavista Chardonnay Reserva 2016
13%, €12.99 (€10 on promotion)

A very well-made, medium-bodied wine bursting with peach fruits and fresh, zesty acidity. Perfect on its own or with salmon.
Stockists: SuperValu

Lettre d’Aloise Chardonnay 2014
Coteaux Bourguignons, 13%, €17.95

A delectable, elegant white Burgundy with floral aromas and free-flowing fresh green fruits.
Stockists: Le Caveau, Kilkenny: Fallon & Byrne; World Wide Wines; 64 Wines; Green Man Wines; Mitchell & Son; Bradley’s, Cork

Santa Rita Merlot 120 Reserva Especial
Central valley, Chile, 13.5%, €11.99

Mellow, rounded ripe plum fruits with a dusting of spice. With or without food.
Stockists: widely available including SuperValu, Centra, Tesco, Dunnes Stores.

Atalon Merlot 2011
Pauline’s Cuvée, Napa Valley, 14.5%, €27.45

Ripe, voluptuous dark fruits with roasted coffee and black olives. A big warm hug of a wine.
Stockists: O’Briens

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Two of the best from Bordeaux


First published in The Irish Times, September 9th, 2017

Two Bordelaises visited Dublin recently, and each provided welcome proof that it is still possible to find very good traditional Bordeaux. Many in the region have become obsessed with making ever bigger and more powerful wines. But for me true Bordeaux is graceful and elegant, refreshing and balanced – the polar opposite of full bodied. Good claret should invite you to take another sip, and slowly seduce as it reveals hidden depths. Bordeaux is not a wine to drink on its own. It needs food to show off its finest attributes. Traditionally, it is accompanied by a roast of lamb or beef, although roast chicken, duck or a steak are fine too. If you want to keep things simple a hunk of decent Parmesan also works well.

Château Phélan Ségur

Château Phélan Ségur has been popular in Ireland for many years. The Irish connection – the Phelan family – died out in 1917. The property has always outperformed its status as a Cru Bourgeois, producing classic Saint-Estèphe: meaty, four-square wines that repay ageing.

I tasted a series of vintages going back to 1990 with the chateau’s managing director, Véronique Dausse, in Dublin. All were in fine fettle. The 2008 and 2006 were fully mature, with tobacco leaf, cool, elegant blackcurrant fruits and firm, drying tannins. The 2009 was riper, the 2010 firm and unyielding. I would give it a few more years. All were classic Bordeaux. Château Phélan Ségur costs anything from €70 to €100 a bottle; the estate’s second wine, Frank Phélan, available in independents, can offer good value at €35-€40.

Château le Puy

Emeline Arbeau works for Château le Puy, a unique property located just beside the vineyards of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. The 100-hectare estate has 46 under vine; the rest is forest and lake. It has been in the hands of the Amoreau family since 1656, and has always been organic, if not biodynamic, although they are only now in the process of being certified. Uniquely, the chateau releases the wine only when it considers it ready to drink. It has a remarkable collection of older vintages stretching back to 1917. A selection of these is released each year.

The wines are wonderful: stimulating, refreshing and elegant, the epitome of traditional Bordeaux, with toothsome brambly red fruits and blackcurrants, developing mushrooms with age – “Bordeaux as it used to taste,” says Emeline, and I can only agree.

The wines of Château le Puy are not cheap: the Emilien is €40 and Barthélemy, the top cuvee, about €120. If this seems expensive, remember that wine from neighbouring properties are about the same price but don’t always deliver the same quality.

Bottles of the Week

Château le Puy Emilien 2014, Côtes de Bordeaux 13%, €40
Restrained blackcurrants and blackberries with a fine acidity and an elegant, lightly tannic finish. From Green Man Wines, Dublin 6; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin 6; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin

Frank Phélan 2012, Saint-Estèphe 13%, €34.95
Light, earthy tobacco and black fruits with a soft finish. Ready now. From branches of O’Briens, in Dublin, Carlow, Cork, Galway, Kildare, Limerick, Louth, Meath, Waterford, Westmeath and Wicklow; and other independents

Château Phélan Ségur 2009, Cru Bourgeois, Saint-Estèphe 13.5%, €95
Relatively full-bodied, with ripe blackcurrants and spice, and a long, dry finish. From O’Briens (as above) and other independents

This week’s bargain

Château Cilorn 2015, Bordeaux Supérieur 13.5%, €14.95, down from €19.95
Elegant cherry fruits underpinned by a fine acidity and light tannins on the finish. From O’Briens (as above)

Posted in: Irish Times

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