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Lighter, fresher wines from cooler, greener France

Vines at Domaine de Martinolles, in Saint-Hilaire. Photograph: Domaines Paul Mas

Vines at Domaine de Martinolles, in Saint-Hilaire. Photograph: Domaines Paul Mas

First published in The Irish Times on Saturday, 12th August, 2017.

The delightful green valleys of southwest France, with their spectacular backdrop of the Pyrenees, are among my favourite parts of that country. Nestling in the Aude valley is the pleasant town of Limoux. It is actually part of Languedoc, a 20-minute drive from the citadel of Carcassonne, yet it seems a world apart. Higher, cooler and greener, the Limoux region produces wines that are lighter and fresher.

Limoux was originally known for its sparkling wine, which it claims is the oldest, predating champagne. Three styles are produced. Blanquette de Limoux, 90 per cent of which is made up of the local Mauzac grape, is a traditional, very distinctive sparkling wine. Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale is cidery, unfiltered, sweetish and lightly fizzy – an acquired taste but pleasant on a warm day. Crémant de Limoux has up to 80 per cent Chardonnay, plus Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc.

Plantings of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay have grown in recent years. White Limoux can include Mauzac, but many are 100% Chardonnay. The wine must be fermented in oak barrels. You have probably been drinking the Chardonnay without realising it. For years the bigger producers sourced grapes here to freshen their Vins de Pays d’Oc. Some, such as Gérard Bertrand and Domaines Paul Mas, have invested in properties there – Domaine de l’Aigle, and Château de Martinolles and Domaine Astruc, respectively. Production is still dominated by two local co-operatives, which produce large quantities of well-made, occasionally exciting wines. You will find all of these on the shelves of our supermarkets.

There are seven appellations in Limoux, and seven permitted red-grape varieties. Strangely, the authorities couldn’t find space for Pinot Noir, the rapidly emerging real star of the region. Already the Pinots from Domaine Begude, Domaine d’Antugnac and Domaine de l’Aigle are cracking value for money. I can only see them getting better. For the moment they all must go under the broad IGP Pays d’Oc designation. Chardonnay from here can be spectacularly good, with something of the richness and depth of a good white Burgundy but without the price tag.

The real interest in Limoux is provided by a small group of outsiders. I am a fan of Domaine Begude (stocked by O’Briens, along with those of Domaine de l’Aigle), run by the Englishman James Kinglake and his wife, Catherine. The Chardonnay-based wines are excellent, along with some great Pinot Noir, Grüner Veltliner and Gewürztraminer.

Just over the hill, the Anglo-Dutch Panman family run Château Rives Blanques, an estate that produces a range of very well-made still and sparkling wines. Domaine d’Antugnac, run by two families from Burgundy, offers very good Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other wines. My favourite (Swiss-owned) sparkling-wine producer, J Laurens, is, sadly, not currently available in Ireland, as far as I know.

Bottles of the Week

Pinot Noir 2015, Domaine d’Antugnac, IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude 13%, €16.15
Light, very engaging wine with slightly earthy red-cherry fruits. Drink cool with white meats and charcuterie. From Wines Direct in Mullingar and at Arnotts department store in Dublin

Chardonnay 2016, Terroir 1130, Domaine de Begude, IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude 13%, €17.95
Superb racy, succulent fresh pears with a solid backbone of acidity. It will change your mind about Chardonnay. From O’Briens

Limoux 2015, Château Rives-Blanques Odyssée 13%, €24.50
Fragrant with delicious textured peach fruits held together by a cleansing citrus acidity. Great wine. From Thomas’s, Foxrock, D18; Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown, D18

This Week’s Bargain

Limoux 2015 Château Martinolles 13.5%, €15
Medium bodied, with generous creamy pears and custard. Perfect with salmon or lighter chicken dishes. From Molloys Liquor Stores

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Domaine de la Renne Touraine Pinot Noir 2015

Domaine de la Renne Touraine Pinot Noir 2015

Image 25Domaine de la Renne Touraine Pinot Noir 2015

12.5%

Light with juicy dark cherry fruits and a savoury earthy touch on the finish.

Good with salmon or tuna, or lighter white meats. I would fancy it with a saucisson, a thick slice of pâté and some crusty sourdough bread.

Less expensive Pinot Noir from the Loire can be a bit too herbaceous at times. Taking advantage of the sunny 2015 vintage, this wines avoids any such pitfalls. Remarkable value for money under €14.

€13.75 from Wines Direct, Mullingar, winesdirect.ie

 

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Domaine Regnaudot Maranges 1er cru Fussieres 2013

Domaine Regnaudot Maranges 1er cru Fussieres 2013

Image 1

Domaine Regnaudot Maranges 1er cru ‘Fussières’ 2013
13%
€24.40 from Le Caveau; Baggot St. Wines; MacGuinness, Dundalk; Green Man Wines, Terenure; World Wide Wines Waterford; Redmond’s, Ranelagh.

Elegant and nicely concentrated with delicious cool dark cherry fruits. It does have some light tannins, and so will probably keep for a year or two, but drinking beautifully now.

Ideal with white meats, chicken and charcuterie.

Maranges is the most southerly name of the Côte d’Or, right beside Santenay (see above). Jean-Claude Regnaudot produces great value wines from this appellation; his Bourgogne Rouge, which sells for around €18, is always worth buying, and this wine, from old vines in his best single vineyard, is a steal at less than €25.

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Midsummer Wines – the red wines of the Loire Valley

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First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 25th June, 2016

As I write, it is a beautiful bright morning, with sun streaming through the window. This being Ireland, all may have changed by the time you read this, but the last week has been dry and sunny most of the time. These days I tend to drink lighter, lower-alcohol red wines throughout the year. But once the sun comes out, I find it difficult to think about big, beefy red wines.

Once the temperature starts to rise, the red wines of the Loire valley come into their own. Usually low in alcohol, with a mouth-wateringly refreshing bite, they have a lightness and vibrancy that seems to epitomise summer. In fact, virtually all of the Loire wines, white and rosé too, fit the sunny category.

I serve the reds cool, or even lightly chilled, to big up the refreshing acidity. This week, three of four wines hail from the Loire, one from the obscure appellation of Cheverny in Touraine. Here pinot noir is blended with gamay (a Loire version of the rarely seen burgundian “passetoutgrains”) and sometimes cabernet franc too. Gamay and pinot noir from the Loire can be very good, and the region is also home to most of the world’s great cabernet franc, one of my favourite grapes. Even the best wines, from Chinon, Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil, are low in alcohol and perfect for summer. Touraine and other areas can also be good, and less expensive too. The key is to buy from a ripe vintage – 2014 was good and 2015 excellent.

Other names to look out for include all forms of Beaujolais, or Mencía-based wines from northwest Spain. From Italy, barbera, dolcetto and valpolicella can fit the bill, but check the alcohol levels before buying. Ideally you want a wine at 12-13 per cent. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is expensive but light and delicious.

Australian pinot noir fits into the same category, as does German spätburgunder. From Austria blaufränkisch and zweigelt are light and tasty. For value options, Chile is now producing some very good pinot noir. Some are a little high in alcohol but should be light in body.

The mere mention of the word lambrusco is enough to bring on a hangover with some wine drinkers. Memories linger. The good guys have always produced delicious wines, none more so than that featured today. Their website suggests you drink this delicious sparkling red at about 14-15 degrees with all manner of charcuterie as well as ravioli and risottos.

The other wines featured today would also be perfect with all forms of cold pork, from ham to salami to patés, chicken dishes, tarts and pies, as well as more full-flavoured fish such as tuna and salmon.

DSCF6528Domaine Bellier 2014, Cheverny
12.5%
£9.99/€14.99

A delicious delicate blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay with seductive light red cherry fruits.

Stockists: jnwine.com

ImageLes Granges 2014, Domaine Baudry, Chinon
12.5%
€19

Delicious lightly peppery crunchy redcurrants and cherries. Yum!

Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey (onthegrapevine.ie); Red Island, Skerries; Cabot and Co, Westport (cabotandco.com); No.1 Pery Square, Limerick; McCambridges, Galway.

DSCF6624Concerto 2014 Lambrusco Reggiano, Medici Ermete
11.5%
€24.50

Effervescent raspberries and other juicy red fruits. Summer in a glass.

Stockists: Sheridan’s; Mitchell & Son; Green Man Wines.

ImagePinot Noir La Roncière 2014, Val de Loire
12.5%
€14.95

Light, floral and refreshing, with earthy dark cherry fruits. Serve cool.

Stockists: Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown.

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Cheverny ‘Rouillon’ 2015 Clos de Tue-Boeuf

<strong>Cheverny ‘Rouillon’ 2015 Clos de Tue-Boeuf</strong>

ImageCheverny ‘Rouillon’ 2015 Clos de Tue-Boeuf
12%
€22.95 from Blackrock Cellars, 64wine, Glasthule & Le Caveau, Kilkenny.

Not many wine geeks will have heard of Cheverny. It is one of those very obscure appellations of the Loire Valley. The white wines are a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Arbois, Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc. The red is also a blend, of Gamay and Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc.

Thierry Puzelat is one of the leading exponents of natural winemaking in France. His wines are made with no added yeasts and little or no sulphur. When they work, I find them spectacularly good, although I have tasted a few very barnyardy examples in the past. This was delicious, a refreshing fruit-filled wine with redcurrants and raspberries and a fine elegant acidity and an earthy touch. Serve cool with all sorts of pork and chicken dishes.

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Glug and Grill – Barbecue Wines

Glug and Grill – Barbecue Wines

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday April 30th

I had my first barbecue of the year a month ago; a whole chicken stuffed with garlic and lemon. It was simple but delicious, the skin crisp and burnished. You can cook on the barbecue throughout the year (I know people who use it for the Christmas turkey) but once the sun comes out it becomes a much more attractive method of cooking. The Irish barbie is no longer a few sausages and burgers incinerated on a grill. Not only do we cook everything from fish to vegetables, many now have proper smokers or at least woodchips to add smoky flavours to a charcoal-powered covered cooker.

I divide my barbecue wines into three categories. There is no getting away from the idea of matching a big, powerful red with barbecued red meat. Smoked or heavily marinated and spicy meat probably demands the biggest wines of all. For inspiration, look to sunny countries and how they match their wine and food. Shiraz from Australia, malbec from Argentina and zinfandel from California are all classic partners.

With fish and chicken a rich white wine or a rosé is called for. I probably do not pay rosés enough attention in this column. I could blame the weather but I have to admit I am not a big fan generally. There are some very pricey pinks from Provence and elsewhere, but I am not convinced they are worth the money.

However, rosés can be great with grilled or barbecued shellfish, fish and chicken, especially if those with an Asian or Middle-Eastern marinade or rub. They also go very well with all sorts of salads, so they are a good catch-all summer wine. If you want to stick with white wine, a chardonnay (lightly oaked wines and smoke) or a rich viognier are probably the best options. You could serve a light, chilled red wine, such as a pinot noir, with grilled salmon or tuna.

My final barbecue wine does not go with any of the food; it is the aperitif! Charcoal always takes far longer to get ready than you think, and some foods, chicken in particular, must be thoroughly cooked (my best friend is a digital thermometer), so make sure you have something to drink while waiting for the food to be ready.

Avoid big, alcoholic wines, or you and your guests will be sprawling long before the food is ready. A light, well-chilled refreshing white wine is ideal; a Mosel riesling Kabinett, if you are having nibbles, or you could think about a lightly chilled beaujolais or Loire cabernet, or again a rosé, as they tend to be light in alcohol. This week’s wines are not expensive. I save my best wines for other occasions.

jwilson@irishtimes.com

DSCF6516Borsao Campo de Borja Selección 2014, Spain
14.5%
€13.95

A delicious fruit bomb of a wine; supple, juicy, ripe and very gluggable.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown

DSCF6499Exquisite Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand
€8.99

Light summery strawberry fruits with a dry finish. With fish and white meats.

Stockist: Aldi

DSCF6519Espigueiro Vinho Verde 2015, Portugal
10.5%
€12.99

Perfect summer sipping wine; light, crisp, and sprizty.

Stockists: Wilde & Green, Milltown; John Doyle, Gorey; Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove & Avoca Kilmacanogue.

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Pinot Noir La Roncière 2014, André Vatan, Vin de Loire

<strong>Pinot Noir La Roncière 2014, André Vatan, Vin de Loire</strong>

ImagePinot Noir La Roncière 2014, André Vatan, Vin de Loire
12.5%
€14.95 from Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown.

Light refreshing red fruits with an earthy edge. Serve cool with all sorts of summer salads, cold meats and chicken dishes.

For a long time, Sancerre was one of the few parts of France other than Burgundy attempting to make red wine from Pinot Noir. Red Sancerre has got a whole lot better, but is always quite pricey. This wine, made by one of the leading producers of Sancerre (white and red) is very moreish and offers pretty good value for money.

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AUSTRALIA DAY TASTING – DUBLIN

Australia was 228 years old earlier this month, or at least that is when the white settlers arrived, as Brian Walsh of Wine Australia observed. Vines arrived a little later. Wine Australia held Australia Day tastings in London, Dublin and Edinburgh. The Dublin one was well attended and had plenty of really interesting wines on show, and quite a few producers looking for homes for their wines. I spent most of the time tasting sub €20 Chardonnay and Shiraz, and found plenty to write about over the next few months.

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I also attended an excellent masterclass hosted by the erudite Brian Walsh, one of the most experienced Aussie wine hands, and John McDonnell who lent his own wisdom and a few good stories too. Great to see John back in the saddle, even if only for a day! We tasted twelve wines, six categorised as History and six Evolution. The stars for me were the first two white wines, along with a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir and a Shiraz/Syrah from the Evolution section.

McGuigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2004, Hunter Valley

A mere 11%abv but a stunning wine; yellow apples, lanolin and grilled nuts, with a touch of beeswax. Still fresh and vibrant. Classic Hunter Valley, one of the world’s great wine styles. An amazingly cheap €19.99, although no stockists were listed.

Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 1999, Eden Valley

It said 2010 on the tasting sheet but we were treated to a mature version, probably by the agents Cassidys Wines. This wine is an old favourite; I remember one glorious sunny morning a decade ago, sitting in the back of an old pick-up with Yalumba winemaker Jane Ferrari, eating bacon and cheese muffins and sipping mature Contours, while looking out over the vineyard itself. Yesterday the wine was wonderful, clean and bright with complex ever evolving flavours that can only be Riesling. Sadly I do not think this vintage is still available. We will have to age our own stocks (the 2010 is €25.99) for a decade or so. But it will be worth the wait.

Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River

Classic modern Aussie Chardonnay from one of the finest exponents. Fresh clean pure apple fruits, a lightly creamy texture and a subtle toasty touch. Good acidity and nice length. Very stylish, well-made wine. €24.90 a bottle.

Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2012, Piper’s River, Tasmania

Tasmanian Pinot Noir has improved massively over the last decade. There are now some serious wines (along with excellent sparkling wines and Chardonnay). A fresh nose with cool red cherries and raspberries and a touch of oak; the palate is surprisingly concentrated and muscular, almost trying too hard, with good just-ripe Pinot fruits. €43.99 Cassidys Wines.

De Bertoli Estate Grown Shiraz 2013, Yarra Valley

Made by Steve Webber, one of Australia’s best and most interesting winemakers, this is excellent cool climate Syrah/Shiraz with a lovely savoury elegance, some crunchy whole-stem fruit and tannins. Blanc cherries and damsons with impressive length.

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Three supermarket red wines for €10 or a lot less.

Three supermarket red wines for €10 or a lot less.

Three bargain red wines that I came across this week; the first featured in my weekly online piece (Take It Home) in the Irish Times on Wednesday. The other two I came across at the Lidl tasting earlier this week. I have tasted them before, but on this occasion they stood out amongst a sea of inexpensive wines. Spain is one of the few countries that continues to offer amazing value at less than €10.

luis-felile-edwards-gran-reserva-pinot-noirLuis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva Family Selection Pinot Noir 2013

Herewith my lightening guide to the world of Pinot Noir, fast becoming the wine everybody wants to drink. Burgundy produces the most complex wonderful Pinot of all. The best are hideously expensive, the cheapest are very variable. New Zealand probably comes next with excellent wines at the top end and lovely fruit-filled wines at the cheaper end. The problem is the cheaper end is generally around €15.

Germany, next door to Burgundy, produces some fantastic elegant wines too, but again they tend to start at €15. Sadly the best value (as opposed to cheapest) wines from the three above mentioned areas generally cost between €20 and €30, with nothing drinkable at €10. Only Chile can deliver here. The above wine, a mere €10 from SuperValu and O’Donovan’s in Cork, is a very gluggable light wine with earthy dark cherry fruits. Great value too.

Image 2Lidl DO Tarragona Reserva 2010
€6.99

Ever so cheap, this is a good soft sweet juicy crowd-pleasing red with no tannins and a decent amount of ripe red fruits.

Image 5Lidl DO Tarragona Gran Reserva 2009
€7.99

This is older, smoother and a little oakier than the basic Lidl Tarragona. Soft, easy-drinking wine at an amazingly cheap price. Not sure I would pay the extra euro for this one, but either wine would be great with a casserole or grilled red meat on a wet winter evening.

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Battle of the Pinots

We managed to make serious inroads into my Pinot collection last night. We had the Pike & Joyce first as it was the lightest, and a little too delicate for the roast shoulder of lamb that followed.
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Pike & Joyce 2013 Rapide Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, Australia
14%

Light easy and refreshing with good pure summer fruits – a very decent Pinot, probably best served cool when the temperature increases a little. A very tasty £12.75 or €18.95 from jnwine.

Ara Resolute Pinot Noir 2012, Marlkborough, New Zealand

Smokier with toasty oak flavours alongside layered rich spicy sweet plums. Powerful but silky fruit; I reckon this will improve still further. €29.99, imported by Grape Expectations.

Framingham F-series Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough

14.5%

Rich and deep, maturing nicely with a lovely mineral core, great intensity and very good length. Black cherries with a savoury herbal note; delicious now but no rush to drink up. From Le Caveau at a very reasonable €27.90.

Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago
14%

Felton Road is one of the leading producers of Pinot Noir in New Zealand. Nigel Greening and winemaker Blair Walter are responsible for a series of well-crafted ageworthy biodynamically produced wines. The 2014 Bannockburn was closed at first but opened out nicely. Violets and black cherries on the nose and palate with supple soft easy youthful fruits, good acidity and a nice finish. Lovely wine. €33 from jnwine.

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