I think many people are unduly harsh about Valentine’s Day; where others see a day where they’re ‘forced’ to jump through hoops, I simply see another excuse to enjoy myself. Think about it: what are the clichéd components on Valentine’s Day? Posh chocolates, flowers, a nice meal and some good wine, all shared with your loved one … if you find cause to dislike any of the above then I think you’re missing out on one of life’s pleasures.
And yes, it’s been over-commercialised, but what hasn’t been nowadays? As Alfred Wainwright famously said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” So change your mind-set about Valentine’s Day: grab someone you love (whether romantically or platonically), pick up one of the delicious bottles of wine below, put together some gorgeous food, and enjoy the fact that you’ve been given another excuse to experience some of the finer things in life.
I’ll readily admit that, in my early years in the wine trade, I ensured that I volubly turned my nose up at Jacob’s Creek in order to reassert the fact that I was now a wine professional.
However, when I actually tasted the stuff I was surprised – then delighted – to find that it’s actually quite tasty stuff. Not complex, not life-changing, but very tasty and quite enjoyable indeed. It has simple strawberry and cranberry flavours, nice lively bubbles and a touch of sweetness to help it all slide down easily.
If you’re just looking for enjoyable pink fizz, then you can’t go wrong with this old reliable.
South African winery Graham Beck is famous for their sparkling wines, with the company’s efforts often being held up as the very definition of the Methode Cap Classique, South Africa’s version of the traditional Champagne method.
Their regular Graham Beck Sparkling Brut has been enjoyed by Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama, Prince Harry, and Bono, amongst many others and here they apply the same care and attention to a single-vintage rosé which has been lauded by critics worldwide.
This is basically rosé Champagne in everything but name: made with two of the traditional Champagne grapes – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – it’s produced via the traditional Champagne method and has the typically light yeasty aromas and creamy complexity with strawberry pastry all the way to the long finish. A very fine example of the style.
If you’d like to impress your loved one with a slightly more obscure Champagne, this rosé offering from a lesser-known Champagne House is a must, especially when it over-delivers on flavour given the price.
Expect strawberries and raspberries of course but I got lots of hazelnuts and white pepper from this very delicate wine too, a richness that belies Devaux’s location at the region’s sunnier southern location. A really fine treat and a rare find.
When all the stops are being pulled out, then really you need look no further than Bollinger Rosé. Like Devaux above, Bollinger are proud of and famous for their Pinot Noir, using a substantial proportion of it in all of their Champagnes which gives them that distinctive Bollinger body and character.
But it wasn’t until 2008 that Bollinger decided to create the Rosé to let their Pinot shine more brightly, and it’s a wonder why they waited so long. It has a distinctive, deep strawberries-and-cream flavour topped with cinnamon and spice. Really, this can’t but be enjoyed with the most decadent, fine foods, like oyster, scallops and even red meats delicately done, such as beef carpaccio.
How are those new year’s resolutions coming along? Mmm hmm, I thought so. Most people seem to go cold turkey come January 1st, which is precisely the wrong thing to do given this is perhaps the most important month to be kind to yourself, what with the come-down from the holidays and the greyness and all.
So a gentle easing back into a healthy routine punctuated by small treats will yield a far more successful outcome as far as a ‘new year new you’ is concerned, in my opinion. Below is a piece I have on TheTaste.ie at the moment giving a few low- and de-alcoholised drinks suggestions, plus some nice soft drink alternatives, that will help bridge the gap from the excesses of Christmas.
Ah yes, January, the month we must all atone for the gluttonous sins committed during the festive season. Going ‘cold turkey’ is exactly the wrong way to do things though, and you’re better off cutting back than cutting out. To help, below are some drinks options that have little or no alcohol to ease the transition back to a more moderate lifestyle.
Torres Natureo €7.99 and widely available
Yes, I featured the famous Natureo last year too, but I’ve no problem recommending it again as it is – in my opinion – the best de-alcoholised wine out there.
“De-alcoholised” may be a mouthful but they can’t legally call it non-alcoholic wine as there’s technically still 0.5% alcohol remaining (which is impossible to remove) but that amount is so tiny that you would need to drink three full bottles in under an hour to reach the same alcohol as one regular glass of wine!
When served well chilled it’s flavoursome and refreshing, and the ideal alternative if you’re finding it hard to put away the wine glasses for a while. What’s more at only 41 calories per 187ml glass (a quarter bottle) it’s less than half that of full-alcohol wine. Result!
Stonewell Tobairín Cider €3.99-€4.69 in Baggot Street Wines, Ardkeen Waterford, and other good indies
The word ‘craft’ has been somewhat over-used at this point, but it’s always refreshing to come across a brand that so thoroughly deserves it.
Based in Kinsale, Co. Cork, Stonewell is run by husband-and-wife team Daniel & Geralding Emerson, who source their apples from orchards across Waterford, Kilkenny and Tipperary. Geraldine is from the Loire in France and comes from a winemaking family, which may go some way to explaining the use of naturally cultured Champagne yeast in the fermentation which gives Stonewell ciders their distinctive character.
Though their range is relatively small with just three ciders, you can feel the enormous thought and effort that has gone into the brand as soon as you pick up one of their bottles – truly a ‘craft’ outfit.
Tobairín (meaning ‘small well’) is their low alcohol cider made from fermented Elstar eating apples blended with fresh Jonagored juice, bringing the alcohol level to just 1.50%. Don’t just drink it as a low-alcohol alternative; why not try it as a drink in its own right paired with some pulled pork or quiche Lorraine.
Black Tower “B Secco” Rosé €5.00 in supermarkets
“B” is Black Tower’s low-alcohol range, with a red, white and rosé available at a reduced 5.5% ABV and with lower calories to boot. They’ve been so popular that last year Black Tower released two “B Secco” additions, essentially semi-sparkling (i.e. frizzante) versions of their white and rosé “B” wines.
The B Secco Rosé is very soft and easy-drinking with lots of sweet strawberry and raspberry fruit, giving a no-nonsense drink made for socialising that’s great value too.
Ikea Dryck Bubbel Päron (Sparkling Pear Drink) €2.49 in Ikea
Maybe a little left-field, but I had this recently and was pleasantly surprised. OK, it’s an Ikea drink so it’s not going to knock your socks off, but it was much less sweet than anticipated, a downside to most commercial sparkling juice options such as Shloer.
There’s 19% pear juice in it along with 10% apple juice (making it a “Sparkling Pear & Apple Drink” surely?) with the result being a very refreshingly simple sipper. Just don’t be tempted to add some of Ikea’s cinnamon buns to your shopping basket while you’re there.
Marks & Spencer Sparkling Normandy Apple Juice €3.49 from Marks & Spencer
I featured the Sparkling Normandy Apple & Pear Juice this time last year and would still highly rate it, but for a change there’s also Marks & Sparks’ straight Sparkling Normandy Apple drink that offers a more crisp and lively option.
It’s a bit more linear and subtle to the Sparkling Apple & Pear variant, as well as being more fresh and zingy, given the absence of the softening aspect of the pear juice. The result is something very refreshing and moreish and perfect for wetting your whistle this January; and nicely packaged it is too.
Some of you may know that I contribute to TheTaste.ie, easily the foremost food & drink website in Ireland. I’ve often thought I should re-post those articles here on TheMotleyCru.com, but for some reason I’ve never got around to it before now. So anyway, without further ado, here was my September article which you can also read on TheTaste.ie by clicking here.
As of Tuesday 1st September, we’ll officially be in Autumn. This may not come as a surprise to many, given that July was so wet and August left a lot to be desired – it’s almost as if we skipped summer altogether!
But there have been whispers of an Indian Summer potentially appearing this month, which may offer the chance of wheeling out those barbecues one last time before the evenings begin to darken.
So below are some autumnal wines to match the change in season. These straddle the divide between lighter summer styles and bigger, richer wines suited to winter. Perfect for when the sun finally shines… or not, as the case may be.
Penfolds Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling €20.99 from O’Briens and other good independent off-licences nationwide
The Penfolds Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling is a perennial favourite that I like to trot out at this time of year, for how many wines are there with a season in the title?!
Thankfully, the quality of the wine is more than capable of walking the walk. Easily-spotted thanks to its retro 70’s label – the decade the wine was first created by the famous Max Shubert – this is an Aussie take on this famous grape variety that has its spiritual home in Germany.
Expect a very definitive lime character to this wine, but also rose petal floral aromatics, pear, and exotic flowers. A small addition of another grape called Traminer adds a Turkish delight and spice twist too.
Deakin Estate Chardonnay €10.99 from Donnybrook Fair, Dublin; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Bradley’s of Cork; and other good independent off-licences
For me, Deakin is a bit of an anomaly. Without wanting to get into too much detail, most Australian wines around this price are usually sourced from a large generic area of of the country, oftentimes the dreaded 2,000km expanse called “South Eastern Australia”, meaning these wines are often blends of regions hundreds if not thousands of kilometres from each other.
For Deakin, though, not only do their grapes come entirely from their own vineyards, ensuring above average quality control from start to finish, but all of Deakin Estate’s wines are sourced and produced entirely within a small 350ha area of the Murray Darling region in North Victoria.
Sounds relatively straight-forward, and it is – but usually not at this price. The result is that Deakin Estate’s wines are lighter, balanced and more subtle, with this Chardonnay is a case in point – simple, medium-bodied, balanced and very refreshing. Most appealing of all, perhaps, is the price: this is one of the best-value Aussies around. San Michele a Torri, Chianti Colli Fiorentini €15.99 from The Organic Supermarket online and in-store in Blackrock, Rathgar and Malahide
This was a nice little surprise I discovered for myself recently. It’s a fully certified organic wine from that most famous of wine regions – Chianti – or more accurately a specific zone of the region called Colli Fiorentini, close to the famous renaissance city of Florence.
Made mostly with the traditional Tuscan grape Sangiovese, it also has a dollop of the equally local Canaiolo and Colorino thrown in for good measure. The result is – for my money – an excellent and approachable wine that’s a great value representation of what the region can offer.
Give it a few swirls in the glass to open up and you’ll be rewarded with a delightfully fresh and lively wine, full of the cherries and vivacious acidity that you’d expect from a nice Chianti. It mellows out and evolves over the course on an evening – or days – and runs the gamut of red berry flavours (redcurrant especially) with some nice lip-smacking savouriness.
Bagante Mencía Joven Bierzo €13.95 from Cases.ie
If you’d like to be seen as being on top of the game as far as up-and-coming wines are concerned, then you’d do worse than picking this wine: little-known Spanish region (Bierzo)? Check. Little-known Spanish grape (Mencía)? Check. Clean minimalist labelling? Check check check.
In all seriousness, I was really taken by this medium-bodied, fresh and easy, lively wine. Juicy and fruity, I could drone on about various berry flavours, but this is a wine to be drank and enjoyed, not laboured over too much. Enjoy it Spanish-style: in the sun, with nibbles and good friends.
Graham’s Fine White Port €21.95 from Mitchell & Son
What’s this? Port? Isn’t that a winter drink?
Well yes and no. The Port we’re used to – that heavy red stuff – is indeed a deliciously wintery drink. But make Port in the same way though with white grapes instead of red and you get, well, White Port, with flavours of honeyed almonds offset by some sweet citrus elements in the case of the Graham’s Fine White.
Throw away all preconceptions of Port when tackling the white version: for one, you should serve it chilled, then serve it as an aperitif rather than a dessert wine (though it will equally well serve that role too). If you’re feeling very adventurous, try mixing it with tonic to make a refreshing Port Tonic, just like the locals do, or even use it in place of Vermouth in other cocktails. Saúde!
I really didn’t know what to expect when I saw the names Judeka and Sampietrana for the first time. Were they, as I alluded to in the title, small islands in the Pacific? Or somewhere in the Caribbean near Trinidad and Tobago perhaps?
But no, given that the Tweet in which I first saw the names was from The Wine Workshop then they had to be wine-related. A half a second research revealed them to be Italian, another half a second showed they were imported by the fantastically-named (and fantastically-talented) Enrico Fantasia of GrapeCircus, and the final half second showed that it was free. Sold!
I’m sure it’s probably looking a bit suspicious now, but I’m not in any way associated with or paid by The Wine Workshop. With that out of the way, let me wax lyrical about how well this tasting was set up. Despite being free to attend, there were generous bowls full of delicious olives and olive oils accompanies by platesful of doughy bread, the glasses used were proper Riedel ones, and there weren’t just a few wines but six of them in total. Though quite simple in execution it was obvious that real care and attention went into the evening, much like the shop itself.
So, on to the wines. First thing that struck me – apart from the odd names (to me at least) – was how young both companies were: Cantina Sampietrana was started in 1952 while Judeka is only a bábóg, having set up only in 2007. Bearing in mind that two Italians I have close associations with, Antinori and Masi, were established in 1180 and the late 18th century respectively, you can see the difficulty I have in getting my head around how youthful these guys are…!
The second thing that struck me is how consistently good the wines were, and as a result what great value they turned out to be when I checked their prices a few days later. Enrico must really be commended for sourcing such interesting wines at such good prices, and I’d really encourage anyone to grab a bottle of any of the below as soon as they spot them.
Increased interest in Sicilian wines has meant many producers there rushed to vinify their wines to appeal to an international (read, American) palate. That is to say, over-extracted and over-oaked. I was surprised to learn that Judeka, however, don’t use any oak at all. Reducing oak ageing significantly is fair enough, and indeed it’s the trend of the last few years, but to completely absolve from any oak at all is quite radical I think, at least in my (limited) experience. Judeka instead stick religiously to stainless steel and are trying out terracotta and some ceramic too. This allows the purity of fruit to show through, though also means that the wines aren’t built for ageing.
I asked if this young firm was established perhaps as a rebellion against the recent trend towards international grape varieties and global tastes, and I was assured it wasn’t. However Judeka’s apparently dogmatic approach to Sicilian wine seems to suggest otherwise. They grow almost exclusively Sicilian varieties such as Insolia, Nero d’Avola, Grillo, Frappato and Zibibbo, with Syrah the only outsider in their stable. They practice organic viticulture and, as mentioned, don’t use oak in their vinification and are experimenting with traditional terracotta and ceramic. Add in some very modern twists – photovoltaic cells, natural irrigation and more – and you have a very exciting young winery. One to watch.
Judeka Insolia ‘Angelica’ 2013 €14.99 from Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online) I started with this, the only white of the night. After a couple of sips and listening to the spiel, I asked what the grape variety it was. There was a brief pause and some polite hesitation before I was told it was insolia, which was printed in large on the label I was directly looking at. I had never heard of insolia before, but this is one of dozens, if not hundreds, of indigenous Italian grapes that don’t often see the light of day outside the country, so I could take some small solace in that fact. Didn’t make it any less embarrassing though.
This was a lovely, light, fresh, lemon-and-lime wine with some apricot. It was deliciously refreshing, and I couldn’t get over how light, both in colour and texture, it was, but without feeling insipid. Would be amazing on a warm spring or summer day.
Judeka Nero d’Avola ‘Orlando’ 2013 €14.99 from Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online) This is the accompanying red to the white above – indeed, this is the Orlando of Orlando Innamorato (Orlando in Love), an epic poem published in 1482 by the Italian Renaissance author Matteo Maria Boiardo. Angelica (above) was a princess and the love interest in the tale. These two characters are beautifully rendered on the labels and it’s always great to have a little story behind them too. Read more about the tale on Wikipedia here.
But, what about the juice? I’m delighted to say it was just as appealing as the labels (phew!). This differed so much from Nero d’Avolas I’ve had before which tended to be big, hot and spicy. This was deliciously fresh and light with bright juicy red fruits. It had nice integrated acidity: enough to be noticed, and to go really well with food, but not too much to be a major factor. A touch of dustiness and salinity underneath the juicy fruits added a distant allure to an otherwise delightfully appealing wine.
Apparently this is how Nero d’Avola used to taste before the oak brigade took over (see intro) and it makes me wonder why they ever diverged from the standard. The Judeka Orlando sees no oak at all which retains its purity of fruit and that delightful fresh characteristic. A pleasure to experience. I’m glad that we have the opportunity now to taste what Nero d’Avola was originally meant to be like.
This was another new one for me (a common theme that night). I was told that Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only D.O.C.G. in Sicily, which struck me as surprising. This is made of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, the latter being another unknown before that evening.
And again, the label: apparently the area in which Cerasuolo di Vittoria is produced is famous for its colourful ceramics, the style of which is produced beautifully on this label (and also the company’s website). Caltagirone, one of the major towns in the region, has a pretty epic staircase showcasing this local expertise.
This was a beautiful, fragrant and elegant wine, lovely and light but with depth too. Crunchy red fruits like cherry and raspberry were evident, but it was the intangibles that got me, its clean, fresh, ethereal elegance. A delight.
From Sicily to Puglia, the ‘heel’ in Italy’s ‘boot’, and from young bucks to someone a little more traditional you could say. Cantina Sampietrana doesn’t seem to have as much of a story as Judeka does, as far as I can see, which may be down to the fact that they’re a co-op (unionised grape-growers hardly gives rise to exciting backstories), so we’ll let the wines speak for themselves…
Primitivo is known as Zinfandel in the US. Yep, that quintessentially American grape was originally brought over by an Italian emigrant but unidentified until long after its new name was too established to be changed. Mind you, Primitivo itself is said to have descended from either Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski or Tribidrag, so who’s keeping check?
Spicy damson, prune and a touch of leather. Lighter than expected and a little bit short on the finish, but for the price it’s forgivable. A decent mid-week quaffer that comes in a disappointingly cheap, Lidl-like bottle.
Sampietrana Negroamaro ‘Principe Moro’ 2009 €15.99 from The Wine Workshop, Dublin; Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; The Blackrock Wine Cellar, Dublin; Listons Delicatessen, Dublin; Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Waterford Principe Moro = Dark Prince. That’s more like it. Negroamaro itself means something like “black bitter”, so it’s all dark and gloomy here, which showed in the wine too. Dark and brooding aromas of smoke, coffee, clove, cinnamon and black tea. Deep and intriguing.
The palate was grippy and mouthwatering, savoury and moreish. Delicious, “like Christmas cake in a glass” as someone said out loud, but the length could have been a little longer. Still, for this price it’s excellent value, and you could make up for the medium length by just buying another bottle.
Sampietrana Salice Salentino, Vigna delle Monache €18.99 from The Wine Workshop, Dublin; Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Waterford
This is another Negroamaro, but from the Salice Salentino D.O.C. and also a riserva, meaning it spent 12 months in barrel versus the 6-9 months of the IGT Negroamaro above (exact details are hard to find). To be honest it doesn’t warrant the €3 premium in my opinion, and I’d much rather the Principe Moro if both were offered to me. The nose on this was concentrated and a little overpowering, with a little violet giving some respite.
On the palate it’s more intensity but without focus, just all toast and vanilla from all that oak ageing, which itself is very evident in the flavour profile. Though it finishes a little lighter and crisper, this is precisely the sort of over-worked, big-boned wine that Judeka is judiciously avoiding. It will undoubtedly suit many tastes, but after the exercise in lightness and beauty beforehand this came across as very clunky.