How often have we heard the description ‘modest, quietly spoken and lets the wine do the talking’ only to meet a brash, overly confident winemaker? One of my very best trips ever was to Beaujolais with the late Tomás Clancy in 2016. We spent three or four wonderful days visiting many of the great producers of the region including Jean-Paul Brun. I had been enjoying the wines for years, so it was a pleasure to meet him, all the more so because he was genuinely modest and let us taste the wines in peace, only answering questions when asked, having given us a brief introduction to his domaine. Even the signage (see above) was modest. The wines then and now are wonderful, always light in alcohol, pure in fruit and full of character. At a recent Wines Direct tasting, I tasted five of his wines, each one a charmer. All are available exclusively from Winesdirect.ie and their shop in Mullingar.
Beaujolais Blanc 2021 Domaines des Terres Dorées, Jean-Paul Brun Delightful lively Chardonnay with lightly textured orange peel and green apples. €23.35
Roussanne Blanc Jean-Paul Brun Vin de France 2021 Made from vines planted in the Beaujolais region. Creamy, with a seductive rich texture and apricot fruits. Very moreish. Organic. €24.75
Côtes de Brouilly 2021 Domaine des Terres Dorées, Jean-Paul Brun Textbook Beaujolais; fresh slightly grippy zippy red cherry fruits, good acidity and a supple finish. It has a wonderful diaphanous quality. An unputdownable vine de soif. Organic. €26
Moulin-à-Vent Domaine des Terres Dorées 2021, Jean-Paul Brun Wow! An amazing concentration of slightly savoury refreshing juicy dark fruits. Seemingly light, but it has genuine structure that calls out for little ageing. Lovely wine. €29.25
Morgon Côte de Puy 2021 Domaine des Terres Dorées, Jean-Paul Brun
Another stunner. Restrained, elegant yet concentrated with a lovely mineral backbone and slightly chewy tannins. Gorgeous now but will certainly keep and improve. Organic. €32.70
First publised in The Irish Times, Saturday 13th July, 2019.
This week we celebrate the French National holiday with four of the best-known names in French wine. At their best, all offer excellent everyday drinking.
There are few things so quintessentially French as a glass of fresh, fruity Beaujolais accompanied by a crusty baguette, a hunk of cheese, a few slices of ham, rosette salami and a nice green salad. In many ways Beaujolais has it all. The region is picturesque, with rolling verdant hills and quaint old villages. The wine scores at most levels too; good basic Beaujolais is a delight. Beaujoalis Villages is even better; light in alcohol and filled with crunchy fresh fruits. It is summer in a glass. In the late 20th and early 21st century, the region lost its way a bit. Spurred on by one or two critics, a few large producers began ramping up the alcohol (largely by adding sugar) and created big, over-extracted monsters that bore little resemblance to the real thing. It is perhaps not surprising that the natural wine movement – small producers farming biodynamically, and making low-interventionist wines, started in Beaujolais. Today, quality at every level has never been higher.
Further south, the Southern Rhône valley produces massive quantities of decent glugging wine. Every supermarket offers one or more, usually at less than €10 and most are very drinkable. Spend a few euro more and you will find some great wines. Like Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône goes well with many foods, although more substantial recipes work better. I brought a bottle of the Côtes du Rhône on this page to an Indian BYOB restaurant (the lovely 3 Leaves in Blackrock) and it went perfectly with a wide variety of lightly spicy meat and vegetarian dishes. If you plan on firing up the barbecue this weekend, it will cover all of the meat options.
I cannot think about Muscadet without shellfish. I salivate at the thought of a large plate of oysters, a bowl of moules, or a pile of prawns to be picked through, with a glass of lightly chilled Muscadet on hand at all times. As with Beaujolais, the quality of Muscadet has shot up in recent years, and prices have not always kept pace. Dunnes Stores (€10.50), O’Briens (€14.95/€11.95) and SuperValu (€10) are all worth trying out too.
Our image of Bordeaux is of the beautiful large châteaux of the famous Médoc region. At the top end, Bordeaux produces some of the finest and most expensive wines in the world. But that represents a tiny part of total production. The rest is made up of small farmers producing lightly fruity wines, with good acidity and a dryness on the finish. They go perfectly with your Sunday roast, chicken, lamb or beef, as well as pork and lamb chops.
Château Roc de Villepreux 2016, Bordeaux Supérieur (Organic) 12.5%, €10.50
Light, smooth, easy red fruits with a nice herbaceous edge. This would be great with grilled lamb chops and roasted peppers.
Beaujolais ‘69’ 2015, Christophe Coquard 12%, €16
Arm yourself with a crusty baguette, some quality charcuterie and a hunk of cheese; sit out in the garden and enjoy with a cool glass of this lip-smacking light Beaujolais, with its bouncy summer fruits.
Côtes du Rhône Saint-Esprit 2017, Delas 14%, €16.95
A rich, rounded, svelte Côtes du Rhône with smooth dark fruits; as well as the Indian food above, I enjoyed a bottle with rare fillet steak, freshly dug spuds and salad, followed by some Comté cheese.
Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine sur Lie, La Louvetrie 2018, Organic 12.5%, €17.15
What could be better than a plate of oysters or a handful of prawns with homemade garlic mayonnaise, accompanied by this delicious fresh, vibrant, fruit-filled Muscadet?
This is a delicious summer red, light and juicy with crunchy red fruits. Gouleyant as the French would say, or very gluggable in English I couldn’t find a vintage on the label; possibly it was on the cork, long since recycled. Great summer drinking and good value too.
€14.15 from Wines Direct, Mullingar, and Arnott’s, Dublin 1, winesdirect.ie
We drank ours with pan-fried hake, new potatoes and the very last of the season’s asparagus.
Loire Pinot has been improving steadily in recent years, possibly partly due to climate change, but also better viticulture and winemaking. It also helps that our tastes have shifted a little towards lighter wines.
First published in The Irish Times September 16th, 2017
We move from Bordeaux priced at €35-€120 last week to four wines each costing less than €16. The two seem worlds apart, yet the distance from Château Petrus (average price €2,400 a bottle) in Bordeaux, to the Château le Payral is less than 50km. Bergerac will be familiar to many from summer holidays but how many of us know the wines? This small region, seemingly permanently in the shadow of its better-known neighbour, Bordeaux, is responsible for some of the best value wines in France.
The two regions share the same grape varieties and the climate is broadly similar; Bergerac is a little more continental, warmer in summer and colder in winter. Grapes ripen a week to 10 days later than in Bordeaux. As is often the case, the French wine authorities don’t make life easy for wine lovers, with 13 appellations for the region. Today we will stick to Bergerac and Bergerac Sec for the white wines.
The red wines are made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. For the dry whites (as well as sweet wines, in which the area excels) there is Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. The use of a little Sémillon and/or Muscadelle can add an extra dimension to Sauvignon Blanc; lovers of Sauvignon from the Loire, Chile and New Zealand should certainly give these wines a try.
Many of the cheaper red wines are similar in style to their counterparts in Bordeaux, and not in a good way. Light, scrawny and a little green, these are not wines to set a wine-lover’s pulse racing, and could explain why few Irish wine companies import from Bergerac. Possibly the large number of less discerning tourists visiting the region allows average producers to survive. However, there is a small group of more ambitious producers who offer some outstanding wines at prices that are very reasonable.
Two properties stand out as being special: Clos des Verdots, once imported by Superquinn but sadly no longer available, and Château Tour des Gendres, whose wines have featured on these pages many times. Both entry-level wines, red and white – €15.15 from Le Caveau and independents – are outstanding. There are plenty of other small producers trying hard to make good wine.
Recently, two importers sent me samples from their Bergerac producers. All four wines were excellent and three come in at just over €15 a bottle. Not everyday wines, but they won’t break the bank either. The reds are easy, fruity and fluid, perfect with lighter meat dishes. The whites are textured and refreshing at the same time, great as an aperitif or with seafood salads and chicken.
Ch. Le Payral 2016, Bergerac Sec (Organic), 12%, €15.50
Floral and perfumed, filled with beautiful fresh, waxy green fruit with a crisp finish. Even better an hour later. A Sauvignon, Sémillon, Muscadelle blend. Stockists: Clontarf Wines; Green Man Wines; 64 Wines
Ch. Le Payral 2016, Bergerac (Organic), 13.5%, €15.50
Just-ripe dark crunchy blackcurrants, a nice seam of acidity, light tannins, decent length. I love it; great price, too. Stockists: Clontarf Wines; Green Man Wines; 64 Wines
Ch. des Eyssards 2014 Cuvée Prestige,Bergerac, 14%, €15.50
Medium to full-bodied with warm ripe dark fruits edged with a sprinkle of spice. Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar and Arnotts, Dublin
First published in The Irish Times, December 20th, 2016
If you still have room for Christmas pudding after the turkey, tawny or vintage character port compliment it very well; all of those spices and dried fruits work perfectly together. I will certainly crack open a bottle of vintage port on Christmas Day and, in the unlikely event that it is not finished, I will polish it off over the next few days. However, I am not a great fan of sweet foods, so I am happy to leave the pudding to others. Instead, I will also open a bottle or half-bottle of sweet wine and have a liquid dessert instead. A good dessert wine should never taste cloying; it is all about the fine balance of acidity and sweetness.
Many producers vie to make wines with the highest levels of extraction and a hefty concentration of residual sugar. This may be impressive at the tasting table, but such wines can bully rather than charm. Lighter – and often cheaper – sweet wines can be much more refreshing. They go really well with fruit salads and fruit tarts, both lighter alternatives to Christmas puddings, and blue cheese too. Half-bottles are a very good idea, as one glass is usually enough, and if your partner (like mine) doesn’t like dessert wine, a bottle might linger too long in the fridge door. I bought a batch of mixed Sauternes many years ago, and occasionally dip into my stash for a treat. An open bottle or half-bottle will keep in the fridge for a week or more. Moscato d’Asti is a simple but delicious dessert wine. Low in alcohol, it is exuberant, refreshing and sweet, all at the same time. It is possibly a little too light for Christmas pudding but goes really well with fruit salads and tarts, as well as creamy desserts such as panna cotta and pavlova. It is heavenly with some very unseasonal strawberries and cream.
Ice wine is made by crushing still-frozen grapes, leaving behind the water content. Originally a German rarity, they are now routinely made in Canada. They have very high levels of residual sugar and acidity, but I find them overwhelming and enamel stripping. Aldi have a good example if you want to experiment. Sauternes, southwest France and Alsace are just three sources of good French dessert wines. You will also find some superb sweet Rieslings from Germany, Austria, Australia and South Africa.Vin Santo from Tuscany is delicious but very intense, and a 5 Putts Tokaji from Hungary one of the finest of all.
Mitchell & Son have a fine selection of dessert wines in all price brackets from €15 upwards, including a half-bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 2006 for €284.99 if you are feeling flush. I have also recently tried the delicious Castelnau de Suduiraut (€32.99, half-bottles €18.99) from Jus de Vine and Wines on the Green.
My bargain bottle this week is a bit if a cheat – it is a 1/2 bottle. It was too good to leave out and finding a good sweet wine for less than €15 proved beyond me on this occasion.
Petit Guiraud 2012, Sauternes
½ bottle €18, Full bottle €39.99
Very attractive medium-bodied wine with light barley sugar and peaches.
Before the health brigade get going, this included Thursday, there are two of us and, as you can see, not everything was finished! From right to left.
Domaine Begude Le Paradis Viognier 2015, IGP Pays d’Oc, Organic
I don’t think the agents (O’Briens) are importing this, but they should certainly think about it. Just what you would expect from a cool-climate Viognier; lovely clean peach fruits, good acidity and a crisp dry finish. It doesn’t have the richness of Viognier from warmer climes, nor the bitter fruit-stone finish, but this is a very well-made refreshing wine.
Le Mas 2014, Coteaux du Languedoc, Domaine Clavel, Organic
€14.70 from Wines Direct
Jean Clavel was one of the great personalities of the Languedoc. His son Pierre now produces the wine. This is a lovely easy-drinking fruity wine, warming, lightly spicy with plums and a tannin-free finish. Great value too.
Domaine des Nugues 2013, Beaujolais Villages
€16.75 from Martin’s, Fairview & 64wine,Glasthule.
A delicious Beaujolais, humming with elegant crunchy red fruits. A wine of the week in the Irish Times a few weeks back.
Vouvray Sec le Haut-Lieu 1990, Domaine Huet
Dug out from the cellar and should have been dug out years ago. Old, madeirised and past it, unless you are into very orange wine.
Stemmler Carneros Pinot Noir 2012, USA
A present from my sister, who lives in California, last year. Nice wine – meaty, even v slightly bretty?, with clean ripe juicy plum fruits. Quite substantial and concentrated. very enjoyable with my roast chicken.
Tio Pepe Fino En Rama, Jerez
I love fino and I love the en rama style, which tends to have a bit more character.This is lovely; fresh, tangy, bone dry with almonds and citrus peel.
Verus Furmint 2014, Ormoz, Slovenia
A mere 12% but a delicious fresh fruity light white wine – will appear in the Irish Times a few weeks hence.
Dveri Pax Sipon/Furmint Ilovci 2011
€20.99 from Wines on the Green
Don’t be put off by the vintage; this is lovely wine. Will also appear in the Irish Times shortly.
Les Collines 2013, Faugères, Domaine Ollier Taillefer
€14.85 from Wines Direct, Mullingar & Arnott’s, Dublin
Faugères is one of the lesser-known parts of the Languedoc in the south of France. The secret to the wines here lies in the ground. Parts of the region have deep schist soils that produce wines with a seductive perfumed savoury fruit, accompanied by a freshness that makes you want to take another sip. The wines are typically a blend of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache. The Les Collines is a very well-priced accessible wine. Ripe savoury red supple fruits with an appealing freshness. Try with barbecued lamb.
Superb wine; fragrant, forward aromas of strawberries with an earthiness; light on the palate with intense
I would drink this with a plate of really good charcuterie. Salami and Beaujolais make a great match. But a pâté en croute sounds perfect.
I had a memorable visit to the Bret Brothers a few years back. They make a range of excellent age worthy white wines from their vineyards in the Mâconnais. This is new to me however; a red wine from the Beaujolais region. As with many of their wines, it is made from biodynamically grown grapes. Morgon is one of the top ‘crus’ of the Beaujolais, producing wines that can taste very like Pinot Noir when aged; and it is worth ageing the wines of Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent. This wine is expensive, but well worth it.