Tag Archives: France

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush: A Rosé By Any Other Name…

We seem to have an unusual aversion to rosé wines here in Ireland. Only 3% of all the wine we drink is pink, which is some distance off the 10%-11% figure recorded by our neighbours in Britain; even the US is experiencing a boom in the style, with the hashtag “#Brosé” doing its best to undo old perceptions of rosé as being “just a girls’ drink”.

The lack of knowledge about rosé might be a factor. Many believe that it’s just red and white wine mixed together, whereas in fact that’s rarely the case (though I’ve one such rarity below) and in fact it’s illegal to do so in Europe (except Champagne, but that’s another story). Others apparently believe that rosé is just red wine that’s been ‘watered down’.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…

In fact, since red wine gets its colour and flavour from its skins, then the less time the grape juice spends in contact with them then the lighter the colour of the wine. So in theory rosé can be considered a really light red wine … simple really (well, it can get a little technical, but that’s for another day).

Either way, the inference of these popular misconceptions is that rosé is somewhat inferior, which couldn’t be further from the truth: instead of comparing them to reds and whites, rosé needs to be considered a style in itself rather than a pale (or dark) imitation of the others.

So if you’re looking for a nice rosé this Valentine’s Day, look no further than the list below. But before you do, I’ve a huge admission: I’m not such a big fan of rosé myself.

I do appreciate the style, but I don’t instinctively seek it out. If anything though, this should serve as a stronger commendation to the below wines – if they’ve managed to bowl me over, then they’re sure to turn even the most sceptical wine drinker.

And, of course, these would all work great around the world’s annual celebration of love. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…JN Sparkling Saumur Rosé

RSP €23.95 from JNwines.com

First, a pink bubbly: this is a special bottling for importer/retailer JN Wines made by Bouvet-Ladubay of the Loire region in France and made from the often-overlooked Cabernet Franc grape (and I’d really highly recommend their regular white sparkling too).

It has a lovely ripe strawberry-and-cream character, and the palate has a  deliciously creamy mousse also. Thankfully it manages to avoid the cloying sweetness than can befall sparkling rosés at this price point, and indeed it has a slight bitter edge at the finish, which sounds off-putting but is actually great asset to have when it comes to pairing with food: think poached salmon or charcuterie.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Miguel Torres Santa Digna Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Rosado

RSP €13.99 and widely available: e.g. Mitchell & Son, Dublin; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock, Co. Dublin; Sweeneys  of Glasnevin, Dublin; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Bradley’s, North Main Street, Cork; O’Driscoll’s of Ballinlough, Cork; Amber of Fermoy, Co. Cork

Though not necessarily unusual, a rosé (or Rosado in Spanish) made from Cabernet Sauvignon is nevertheless not common, at least here in Ireland. Which is a shame really, as the result can be spectacular, such as this one from the Chilean outpost of the famous Torres family.

Expect blackcurrant, of course, but also some cranberry and redcurrant that only Pacific Cabernet Sauvignon rosés can offer.  It is also somewhat weightier than most rosés that we’re familiar with – so much so you could say it’s not too far off a light red wine. Delicious with cured sausages, meat pies and many pasta dishes … and, remarkably, it’s even perfect with notoriously difficult sweet-and-sour Chinese dishes.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Kir-Yianni Akakies Rosé

RSP €16 from Grapevine, Dalkey

I recommended this rosé before, and I was so impressed I felt it beared repeating, especially given the pink theme for this time of year.

Similar to the Miguel Torres above, this 100% Xinomavro from Greece is more akin to a light red than a rosé, but it dials up the beefy, meatiness more than its Chilean counterpart above.

The Amyndeon appellation in north-western Greece, from which this wine is sourced, is the only Greek PDO for rosé wines. It has smoky, macerated strawberry and raspberry aromas with a balanced medium body. Again it would be great with some charcuterie and even lighter meat dishes such as pork.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Masi Rosa dei Masi

RSP €18.99 from Baggot Street Wines, Dublin; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Fine Wines, Limerick; Nolans of Clontarf, Dublin; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin

I’m a long-time fan of the family-owned Masi winery in Italy’s Veneto. They’re most famous for establishing the ‘ripasso’ tradition with Campofiorin as well as their beefy Amarone Costasera.

A couple of years ago they released an innovative rosé made 100% with the native Venetian Refosco grape, produced by semi-drying a portion of these grapes on traditional bamboo racks using the ‘appassimento’ technique. This process helped soften out the often harsh aspects of the Refosco grape and added some ripeness and complexity of the final blend.

It has fresh raspberries and wild cherries over a zippy palate, making it great with food such as antipasti, light pasta dishes, shellfish and seafood. It’s worth mentioning its elaborate rococo label too, perfectly romantic for this time of year.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Flaxbourne Sauvignon Blanc Rosé

€15.99 from Marks & Spencer

Here’s an unusual one for you. There’s no denying that we’re a nation of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc lovers, so why not go off-piste a little with a rosé version?

They’re cheating a little here in that it’s actually a blend of 97.5% regular Sauvignon Blanc that’s ‘tinted’ with 2.5% Merlot, but the result is a not-unpleasant strawberry-tinged version of the New Zealand ‘savvie’ that we’ve come to know and love.

So if you or a loved one are a die-hard Marlborough Sauvignon fan, add a twist and a bit of spice to Valentine’s Day this year with this approachable oddity.

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

There’s an Alp for That…

As I began to write this piece on wines from the Alps it struck me that, rather neatly, the topography of the region was as good an analogy as any for the wines it produces.

The Alps are difficult to get to. They’re not easily accessible, a little inconvenient you might say, and a visit there is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s not cheap either. But for many, the effort is so worth it. Once you taste the Alpine air you can never go back; once you experience the headiness of the snow-capped vistas then many other landscapes pale in comparison.

Likewise, wines from the Alps – be they French, Swiss, Italian or otherwise – share similar characteristics. They’re hard to find, made from varieties you’ve likely never heard of, and often taste like nothing you’ve had before. Whether that’s a good thing or not is – of course – down to personal preference. But to those with a keen curiosity and open mind, they’re a revelation.

I was lucky to be allowed to dip my toe into the world of Alpine wine thanks to a small informal tasting in Ely Wine bar recently, hosted by two fantastic wine importers, Nomad and Tyrrels, who plied their Alpine wares from France and Switzerland respectively.


SWITZERLAND: DOUZE POINTS

You may not have come across Swiss wines here in Ireland before, and likely for good reason. Wines imported into Switzerland were subject to stringent tariffs until the 1990s and finally abolished in 2006; that means that until 10 years ago it was easier and cheaper for the Swiss to buy their own wine rather than Chilean or Australian imports, leaving little left over for the rest of us to enjoy. There simply wasn’t really a need to export.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

Other factors conspire against Swiss wine. For one the ownership structure is highly fragmented: the Valais region for example, from where our wines below are sourced, counts 5,137 hectares of vines owned by 22,000 people in 80,000 parcels or plots. That sort of set-up requires a lot of time and effort to pull together commercially-viable quantities of wine, let alone enough to make exporting worthwhile.

Then there’s the geography: the slopes are so steep in places that elaborate monorail systems are needed to transport equipment and grapes. Sometimes they need helicopters. The gradient means that grape picking usually needs to be by hand. And to top it all off the Swiss authorities limit how many grapes each vine can yield. Cheap and easy it ‘aint.

But, like all good things in life, the effort is always worth it. Swiss wines – or at least the ones I tasted that day in Ely – can be electric, exciting and intriguing, not to mention cerebrally stimulating given their history, provenance and hyper-locality.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

FRANCE: SAVVY SAVOIE

Comparatively, Alpine France – in particular the Savoie region – has an easier time of it than Switzerland. Yes, their vineyards can be similarly steep and awkward to access, but the gentler run-in from the French side is somewhat easier to manage than the almost persistently elevated nature of the Swiss wine regions.

But oddly, wines were rarely exported from Savoie until recently, a situation similar to Switzerland, but for a very different reason: the dramatic countryside is such a popular, year-round attraction that the constant flow of tourists usually drink the stocks dry.

Savoie has an admirable roll call of local grape varieties rarely found elsewhere, which many attribute to the fact the region only actually became part of France in 1860. For whites they’ve the likes of Jacquère, Altesse, Malvoisie and Mondeuse Blanche; while for reds they’ve Persan and Mondeuse Noire. Nope, I hadn’t heard of any of them before either.

Given the slightly off-piste location and abundance of local varieties, Savoie is riddled with small, passionate, boutique wine producers with many practicing organic or biodynamic principals and old-school winemaking. Many may call them ‘artisan’ or even ‘hipster’ winemakers – in truth they’re just passionate and returning to a more honest and lo-fi way of making wine. Either way, the results are rarely uninteresting.

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THE EU CONVENTION AT ELY

That day in Ely, Irishman Simon Tyrrell held court behind four wines – two white and two red – from Domaine René Favre et Fils of Chamoson in the Valais region of Switzerland, nestled between the borders of France and Italy, run by brothers John & Mike Favre.

To his right was Frenchman Charles Derain of Nomad Wine Importers and in front of him were six wines from Domaine Des Ardoisières, a winery that sources its grapes entirely from only two single vineyard sites in the Vin des Allobroges designation of Savoie: Cevins and St. Pierre de Soucy.

Cevins is perhaps the more notable of the two sites, if not because of its history. The domaine encompasses a steep hill rising above the town which was planted with vines during Roman times, before passing through the hands of Tamié monks and eventually into private ownership. But the infamous phylloxera louse that devastated much of Europe’s vineyards in the mid nineteenth century took its toll here too, and shortly afterwards the two World Wars the country had to contend with spelled the end of winemaking on this awkwardly steep hill.

alp2

But in 1998 a group of enthusiasts began clearing the site and reinstated the old Roman terraces that helped put structured order on the slope. It was a huge effort to unite no less than 400 landowners for an area of less than 10 hectares, an unusual display of selflessness for a common good. They planted mostly the local grape varieties mentioned earlier and farmed using only biodynamic principals, with the first vintage harvested in 2003.

St. Pierre de Soucy, meanwhile, is 50 kms down the valley and a little lower in altitude. This area is farmed organically instead of biodynamically but still provides the clay (or “argile”) soil that so intrigues Domaine Des Ardoisières winemaker Brice Omont.

With the humour and generosity typical of both Charles and Simon, we got to taste through some amazing examples of the region from two fantastic producers; here are a few of my picks…


THREE TO TRY FROM THE SWISS ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine
€28.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Jancis Robinson calls this grape variety “the finest of the indigenous grape specialities of the Valais in Switzerland.” I haven’t tasted any other indigenous white varieties from Switzerland but I do have to say this was damn good. It has a beautiful texture that was almost creamy, despite being tank fermented (maybe some contact with the lees?), followed by a razor sharp, precise acidity and minerality.

A delicious wine and a fantastic experience.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine ‘Grande Année St. Pierre’
€42.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

And if the Petite Arvine wasn’t good enough, along came its ‘big brother’. Fermented and aged in oak, this was beautiful and Burgundian in style.

Think crisp green apple coated in butter. It was textural, fresh, rich and long, all at once. Transcendental.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Humagne Rouge
€29.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Humagne Rouge is a relatively rare variety from Valais which I found to be wild and rustic with its slight vegetal notes (think green pepper) diffusing into smoke and black pepper.

The palate was surprisingly soft and smooth and juicy with nice acidity at the end. Again another fantastic experience if you’re keen to try obscure grape varieties.

 

THREE TO TRY FROM THE FRENCH ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Blanc
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Chardonnay & 30% Mondeuse Blanche.

This is beautifully crisp and clean and pure, though for me there was also an interesting, slightly funky, earthy undertone – call it terroir if you will.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, Cevins, “Schiste” Blanc
€50 from select off-licences

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Roussanne & 30% Malvasia. A wilder wine with fennel, yellow apple and artichoke aromas. Again a feral note but much more noticeable this time.

Fresh and lively, its acidity is razor-sharp but it all softens to a slightly buttery finish from its time in barrel. A remarkable wine.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Rouge
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64Wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 80% Gamay (Beaujolais is just 50kms away after all) and 20% of the local Persan grape. A very characterful wine, light but complex, bursting with juicy fruit and a very distinct twist of black pepper.

Black forest fruit and black cherry abound, and it has a slightly bitter, dry twist at the end. Wonderful.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.

French Double-Whammy at Ely this September

In one of my earliest posts I waxed lyrical about an initiative that the ever-excellent ely wine bars were running whereby you could enjoy one of two incredible bottles of wine in ely’s cosy Ely Place home for close to the same price you could buy them in the shops.

But why not just buy it in the shop then? Well, throw in the service, excellent glassware and atmosphere of ely, along with the opportunity to grab a really delicious bite to eat there too, then you’re practically making money with the offer.

Well, I was delighted to see that ely are again offering two outstanding wines at silly prices: the sumptuous Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon ‘Milly Lamartine’ from Burgundy for €49 and La Reserve de Léoville Barton from St. Julien in Bordeaux for just €59.

Given that the La Reserve de Léoville Barton is €50 retail, for example, then €59 in a wine bar – especially one like ely – is a downright bargain. What’s more, the glass price – €14.75 – is exactly a quarter of the full bottle price, another big thumbs up.

Very highly recommended. I mean, just look at them!

Credit: @elywinebars on Twitter
But Wait! There’s More!

ely is on the Léoville Barton buzz it seems: on Tuesday 13th September they’re hosting what can only be described as a decadently old-school Bordeaux dinner featuring Châteaux Léoville & Langoa Barton and Château Coutet.

I won’t get to go myself but it’s something I would have loved to attend, and it would unmissable for any wine lover. And at the time of writing there’s still a handful of seats available too, but they’re sure to disappear sharpish over the weekend.

The price seems hefty at €110, but some really incredible wines will be served along with ely’s always-outstanding food; put it this way: knowing ely, you won’t be found wanting by the end of it.

Credit: @IBrosnan on Twitter

Here’s the full blurb:

ely wine bar on Ely Place welcomes world-renowned wine producers to Dublin this September, with an exclusive wine dinner with Château Léoville Barton, Château Langoa Barton and Château Coutet on September 13th.

Join Lilian Barton-Sartorius of Château Langoa and Château Léoville-Barton, along with Aline Baly from Château Coutet, the outstanding Barsac estate, as they introduce a selection of their magnificent wines on the night. Beginning with an apéritif from Château Coutet, guests will then sample four reds from Château Léoville Barton and Château Langoa Barton throughout the meal, finishing with a spectacular 1997 Château Coutet.

Great wine calls for great food and ely wine bar executive head chef Ryan Stringer has created a menu which includes organic meats from the family farm in the Burren, designed to fully complement the wines being enjoyed at this celebratory dinner.

Representing some of the most highly regarded Irish ‘Wine Geese’, the Irish connections of Château Léoville Barton and Château Langoa Barton stretch right back into the Fermanagh of the 1700s, the birthplace of Thomas Barton. Initially establishing his wine broking business in Bordeaux, Thomas’ grandson Hugh began the development of the estate as it is today, beginning with the purchase of Château Langoa in 1826 and later adding the Léoville estate.

Current owner Antony Barton was born in Straffan in 1930 and inherited the estate in 1983. He continues to run Château Léoville Barton and Châteaux Langoa with his daughter Lilian, with worldwide recognition for making some of the most exciting and scintillating wines in the St. Julien appellation.

25 miles southeast of the city of Bordeaux on the left bank, Château Coutet is one of the oldest Sauternes producing vineyards, whose sensational elegant golden wines were also added to by a first-of-its kind dry white wine from Barsac in 2010, produced in limited quantities from the heart of this Premier Grand Cru.

Whether you know and love these wines already or want to expand your wine knowledge, the Châteaux Léoville & Langoa Barton and Château Coutet dinner at ely promises to be a relaxed and informative evening of outstanding wines and excellent food.

Tickets cost €110 per person with limited spaces available. For more information or to make a booking contact 01 6787867 or visit http://www.elywinebar.com.

Some Picks from the O’Brien’s September Wine Sale

So the O’Brien’s September wine sale started yesterday, timed to coincide with our newly-acquired, post-holiday, sure-it-might-as-well-be-winter mentality.

Thankfully they have a great batch of wines at keen offers to help us through the rut. I haven’t tasted all the wines on offer but below are some I tasted at the Spring Wine Fair that I’d highly recommend…

 

Domaine Duffour, Cos de la Roque
Was €12.95 now €9.00

I’ve waxed lyrical about Domaine Duffour’s Blanc Cotes de Gascogne before,  and now they’ve their newer cuvée on sale for the frankly ridiculous price of €9. I wonder how the Duffours survive at all at prices like this. Again this is a blend of the regional Colombard and Ugni Blanc varieties (the latter usually used for Cognac) – expect crunchy limey apple fruit flavours and plenty of easy drinking.

 

Jaspi Blanc
Was €16.45, now €9.00

I really love the characterful, simple, cheap wines expressive of their locality. The Duffour above is one example, and this Grenache Blanc and Macabeo blend from Catalunya is another. It’s not exactly complex and brooding, but then again that’s not the style you enjoy in the sunshine with friends, great food and a bit of music. Instead it’s fresh and expressive, easy-drinking yet structured, and just really nice to drink. For €9 you’re laughing.

 

Leyda Sauvignon Garuma
Was €16.95 now €11.95

Very vivacious green pea and asparagus, definitely a New World Savvie and not for lovers of the often more austere Sancerre style. This still has a lovely core of acidity though, so good marks all round.

 

Chanson Mâcon-Villages
Was €16.95 now €12.95

If you like your Chardonnay on the more restrained end of the spectrum then this is great value from a notable region. Expect shy fruit and coy flavours, but with expressive clarity and focus.

 

Bethany Cabernet/Merlot
Was €20.95 now €11.95

I love the Bethany wines from Australia. I’m not sure of this wine’s merits at €20.95, but at €11.95 it’s an absolute steal. Expect leafy blackcurrant and blackberry flavours and general all-round goodness, a really fantastic wine for €12.

 

Torres Celeste Ribero del Duero
Was €21.95 now €16.95

Whenever this is on offer you’d be mad to miss it. Celeste is a family favourite in my house – originally we loved its lush glossy fruit, and as our tastes matured so did the winemaking style. Now you can still expect lots of rich fruit but a bit more toned down and now with a core of nervy energy and tannic grip. It’s just one of those wines: you can’t but love it, and it’s right for every occasion. Also the label is gorgeous and the price is keen. What’s not to love?

 

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Merlot
Was €27.95 now €22.95

Not for the faint of heart! This is a very decadent merlot, rich and ripe. Lots of menthol and chewy black fruit. But what amazed me was its balance: despite being a massive wine it still has nice grippy tannin and decent supporting acidity. So a blockbuster but in ballet flats, so to speak. I’m rambling. Grab a bottle and find out for yourself. I know I’ll be having “some fucking Merlot!”

Great French Wines on Sale this Weekend from O’Brien’s

I would have liked to post this earlier in the week to give you some time to pick up a few bottles, but there’s still time to grab a few for this (sometimes) sunny weekend.

O’Brien’s are currently running their French Wine Sale that ends on Tuesday 24th, and I can honestly say there’s plenty of great bargains to be had, so best stock up for the summer now.

Some of my picks are below…


Silly Value for Money

Domaine Duffour Blanc
Normally €11.45, now €9.16

This was new to me in every respect: I don’t think I’ve had a wine from Gascony before,nor do I recall tasting its local grapes Colombard or Gros Manseng at any point, both of which make up 80% and 20% of the blend respectively.

What I definitely didn’t expect is how interesting this wine is, and for a quite incredible price too, which has been made even more appealing with 20% off this weekend.

Expect tropical grapefruit and pear tinged with herbal grassiness; a fun and no-nonsense wine ideal for summer.

 

Bougrier Chenin Blanc

Was €13.95, now €11.16

Chenin Blanc is a very underestimated grape and virtually unknown to consumers, which though regretful means that it’s often great value.

Here’s one example, and from the grape’s historical home in the Loire too. What’s more it’s only 11%, so great for summer sipping. Ripe, round and flavoursome, and a great price even at full RSP.

 


Domaine Begude Etoile
Was €19.95, now €15.96

At just under €20 this was great value, and at just €15.96 it’s unmissable. An organic, barrel-fermented 100% Chardonnay, this is the best Burgundy look-alike I’ve ever come across, and it has so much more poise than the often bruising examples of oaked Chardonnay from the New World.

There’s lots that buttery creaminess of course, but still maintains a backbone of lemony, sprightly fruit. The finish is long, textured and gorgeous, the balance fantastic. A treat wine for any day of the week, if you will. One of my stand-outs of late.

 


Fresh & Crisp

Cave de Lugny, Mâcon-Lugny
Normally €17.95, now €13.95

Though I prefer the richer style of Burgundy (see the last wine as an example) this is a really good (and currently great value) example of crisp, refreshing, unoaked Chardonnay for those who like their wines on the zestier side. Pure, clean and lemony, it would be great with some summer salads.

 

 

 

Hugel RieslingHugel Riesling
Normally €19.95, now €15.96

No this is not sweet. Much has been written about the public’s unwillingness to take to Riesling due to its unfortunate historical association with sickly sweet, branded confections. The reality, as ever in wine, is far from the common perception but it’s unlikely that consumers’ negative view of this noble grape is unlikely to change. Which, for the rest of us, means that it will continue to be good value, at least.

Here’s a great example of the grape, and in an approachable style too – yes there’s the limey, stoney character typical of the style but it’s rounded out and more textured than others can be, while still retaining the trademark zingy acidity. A delicious drop.

 

Fire Up the Barbie

Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône

Was €15.45, now €12.36

Côtes du Rhône ranks among Chablis, Chianti, Bordeaux and others as one of those regions that people call for by name, often without any reference for winemaker, brand or any other additional info. The unfortunate side effect of this popularity is that unscrupulous producers can exploit this and provide below-par wines for premium prices, something I’ve moaned about before.

Thankfully M. Chapoutier is not one of those companies, and at this price they definitely over-delivering. Expect juicy, brambly fruit with that distinctive black peppery characteristic typical of the region.

 

Pauillac de Lynch Bages 2011

Was €38.00, now €30.40

Yes, this could be in the “Splash Out” section below, but it’s also a super barbeque wine. If you’re a lover of Bordeaux, and particularly if you’re fond of your brands and/or Irish connection, then look no further. This is drinking fantastically well now: textured, juicy but balanced fruit with blackberry and blackcurrant loveliness on a deliciously dry, long finish. Definitely a special wine for that long-overdue get-together this summer, with a nice steak of course.

 


Splash Out

Domaine Olivier, Santenay Blanc, Clos des ChampsDomaine Olivier, Santenay Blanc, Clos des Champs
Normally €33.95, now €27.16

This was one of two whites on Burgundy übermensch Raymond Blake‘s table, and it just simply blew my mind. The world should taste wines like this and realise what it’s been missing in its race to de-oak chardonnay.

Gorgeously supple and textured, it offers up layers of undulatingly delicious flavours and a length that goes on forever. Very highly recommended.

Last-Minute Christmas Wine Help!

So it’s Christmas eve-eve, and you haven’t picked up wine for the coming days yet.

No worries, there’s still time, and to help I’ve picked out some favourites from a few importer/retailers around the country, so that hopefully some of my suggestions below shouldn’t be too far from where you live.

Please not though that for the sake of brevity I’ve picked out only a tiny selection of wines I’ve sampled recently from importers that have invited me to their tastings, so obviously this is by no means a definitive or exhaustive list.

As such the best default course of action – as I’ve always strongly recommended – is to go into your local independent off-licence (not supermarket) and tell someone there what you’re looking for; you’ll almost always end up with something exactly what you’re looking for and usually something better than expected, as well as supporting local businesses. Win win.

There are a couple of whites and a couple of reds from each supplier that I think will be pretty fail-safe for the coming days, covering both party wines and special bottles.

Good luck and merry Christmas!


NATIONWIDE: O’Brien’s

Wth outlets now in Cork, Limerick, Galway and lots of other places, you’re not too far from an O’Brien’s and their great range of wines.
Open Wednesday 23rd & Thursday 24th: until 8pm or 9pm (click here to check your local store)
Brocard Chablis – now €18.99
I covered this recently in my post about the recent O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale, and I’ve no problem recommending it again: simultaneously steely, mineral and generous, this is textbook Chablis at a great price.

Château Fuisse Saint Veran – now €19.99
Though I would normally choose the more expensive wines of the Château Fuisse range – such as the Pouilly Fuissé ‘Tête de Cru’ I reviewed in the O’Brine’s Fine Wine Sale post, for €20 this is a great introduction to the brand and a fantastic white Burgundy in general. Zingy and refreshing but with some of that creamy oak influence underneath, this is perfect for those recovering from the oak overload of old.

Bellow’s Rock Shiraz – now €9.99
A consistently very good wine that’s always excellent value, this has all you’d want from Shiraz but without the usual blowsy, over-cooked characters: weight, balance and drinkability. An above-par party wine.

Monte Real Rioja Reserva – now €13.99
I continue to be perplexed as to how O’Brien’s continue to source this wine at this price. Rioja Reservas usually start around the €20 mark, but Monte Real often appears well below €15, which shouldn’t be possible given the quality. Still, take advantage while you can and buy a case or two then this comes on sale: it has all the trademark Rioja characteristics of dark fruit with vanilla and leather over a silky supple palate. A real Christmas winner.

 

KILKENNY: Le Caveau
An award-winning Burgundy specialist, it would be remiss of me not to feature some of my (slightly) more affordable favourites from the iconic region
Open Wednesday 23rd until 10pm, and Thursday 24th from 10.30am – 4.30pm

Olivier Leflaive, Bourgogne Blanc – €20.40
And excellent basic Bourgogne from an iconic producer, this ticks all the boxes and comes in at barely a shade over €20. Really highly recommended.

Vincent Girardin, Savigny-Les-Beaune ‘Vermots Dessus’ – The 2011 I tasted is €28.70, but the last bottles of 2006 are currently on sale for the silly price of €15 Complex and creamy with excellent length, this is a really excellent, characterful Burgundy.

Louis Boillot, Bourgogne Rouge – €26.50
Beautifully fragrant and smoky, with sweet red fruit and a herbal tinge. Soft and generous and surprisingly complex for a basic Bourgogne.

Maison Ambroise, Cotes de Nuits Villages – €28.90
My tasting notes say that this tastes of Christmas, so no better time to grab a bottle then! Clove and baking spices are overlaid by brambly red fruits and a lush expressiveness.

 

GALWAY: Cases Wine Warehouse
A great outlet run with passion, yet not lacking in some great-value finds
Open Wednesday 23rd until 7pm and Thursday 24th from10am to 3pm

Autoritas Reserva Viognier – now €9.95
I had this marked as “Very Good Value for Money” when it was €11.95, so now it’s Excellent Value for Money at the discounted price for Christmas. A surprising treat for the cost, it’s full and rich with peach and honey, though beware the 14% alcohol!

Lady Sauvignon – €11.95
Another bargain from Chile. Though it’s typically expressive and flavoursome in the New World style, I found the acidity to be a little less aggressive than we come to expect from the style. Everything else is in place, such as the grassy pea characteristics. One to buy in bulk.

Mister Shiraz – €13.95
Yes, you guessed it, Mister Shiraz is the partner to Lady Sauvignon above. But I’m not featuring it just to complete the pair: I found this to be much lighter than expected, which is a pleasant surprise as New World Shiraz at this price tends to be over-blown. Still, it’s deep and satisfying with blueberry and blackberry flavours.

Bagante Mencia – €13.95
One of my favourites from the Cases tasting a few months back, and again great value for money (a running theme from Cases it seems). I wrote about this for TheTaste.ie before, and I’d recommend it again: juicy, fresh, lively and all pleasure, it’s fun and sun in a glass.

 

BORDER COUNTIES: JN Wine
The famous JN Wine company has its wholesale business both north and south of the border and offer a mail-order service to match, but as it’s too late to avail of the latter then you’ll have to hop over to their store in Crossgar, Co. Down, to grab some of the bottles below.
(For more you can read a recent profile on James Nicholson – the JN of the company name – in the Irish Times here)

Sartarelli Verdicchio Classico – €14.99
I found this to be very good value for money: fresh and easy with approachable tropical fruit, but the palate still has some weight and seriousness to it. I’d say this would be a very versatile choice at the Christmas table.

Weingut Salwey, “Salwey RS” Weissburgunder – €21.99
Weissburgunder is the German name for Pinot Blanc, and this is a fine, rich example of the variety: it straddles the line between freshness and creaminess, giving sprightly citrus fruits over a lightly waxy palate. I’d recommend reading this post by Frankie Cook, where he gives a more detailed post on the background of this wine.

Bodegas Paco Garcia, Rioja Crianza – €18.99
Ah yes, where would Christmas be without Rioja? This is a younger Crianza style though, and as such is fresher and livelier than the Reservas we’re usually used to drinking. I thought the texture of this wine was excellent to, giving an all-round, crowd-pleasing quality drop.

Domaine Fournier, Bourgogne Rouge – €24.50
Yes, another Bourgogne Rouge, but when done well it really is excellent and the ideal Christmas wine in my opinion. Fournier produce another excellent example, with the texture of this wine the first thing to catch my attention, followed by some clove and Christmas spices. A really delicious wine.

TheTaste.ie: Sweet Wines for Christmas (and Beyond)

At the moment I’m sipping postprandially on a very nice glass of Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port, which reminded me to re-post my current piece on TheTaste.ie, which, incidentally, concerns sweet wines.

It’s the perfect time of year for this underestimated category of wine, of course, but sweet wines shouldn’t be confined to just this festive period, which is the current situation.

You can read the piece on TheTaste.ie here, or, of course, below:


I’m not sure why, but here in Ireland we seem to have a dislike for sweet wine, which is a great shame as I think we’re missing out on such a great style of drink.

The most common explanation seems to be that the wines are “too sweet” for many people; however if we examine the sugar content of some of our favourite soft drinks on the market, you’ll find that we actually like sweet drinks more than we realise.

For example, Innocent Smoothies have between 100-140 grams per litre (g/L) of sugar, depending on the flavour, while Tropicana Original Orange Juice also has 100 g/L. Coke, meanwhile, has 106 g/L, Red Bull has 110 g/L and Club Orange, amazingly, has a whopping 130 g/L of nothing but refined cane sugar.

For comparison, the suggestions I’ve given below range between 82 g/L for the Banyuls to 166 g/L for the Tokaji, so they’re much in line with – or not far off – many of our everyday drinks. (I’m giving special exemption to the 400 g/L Pedro Ximenez however!)

Alcohol, admittedly, can also give the impression of sweetness, which may explain why some may find dessert wines to be more saccharine than they actually are. The better examples, however, should have everything in balance and the sweetness should never be too dominant and cloying.

Below are some delicious sweet wines in a variety of styles. I’ve given the alcohol and sugar contents too so you can compare between then, but also so you can see that many dessert wines aren’t much sweeter than our favourite soft drinks.

And remember, you’re not likely to drink 500ml of sweet wine, so the relative sugar intake will be much lower than a bottle of pop while the return on flavour will of course be exponentially greater.

Be sure to enjoy sweet wines slightly chilled, and unlike dry wines they’ll last a week or more in the fridge after opening.

Longview ‘Epitome’ Late Harvest Riesling

Alcohol: 11% | Sugar: 155g/L
€15.99 down from €16.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (375ml)

We’ve been seeing more and more ‘late harvest’ wines appear on Irish shelves in recent years, which can only be a good thing. ‘Late harvest’ simply means that the grapes are left on the vine long after they’d usually be picked for dry wines, meaning the grapes gradually start drying out. This natural reduction in water means that the sugars, flavours and acidity of the grapes are intensified, giving a lusciously decadent wine.

Longview, from Australia, has some excellent dry wines and this “sticky” (as the Aussies call sweet wines) is equally as impressive: it has delicious flavours of quince, preserved lemons & limes and acacia honey.

Château Dereszla Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos

Alcohol: 12.5% | Sugar: 166 g/L
€34.99 from Mitchell & Sons, Baggot Street Wines and The Corkscrew (500ml)

If you haven’t tried Tokaji yet then you really must. Tokaji (pronounced “toke-eye”) is one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, enjoyed for centuries by the great and good: Russian tsars, Polish kings, Austrian emperors and even Louis XIV of France are amongst its roll call of admirers.

It’s made by allowing a mould nicknamed ‘noble rot’ to infect the grapes, which – like the late harvest method above – desiccates them and again concentrates the sugar and flavours.

For this popular Tokaji, expect marmalade, dried apricots, caramel, butterscotch and honey, while its deliciously refreshing acidity prevents it being too cloying.

Gérard Bertrand Banyuls
Alcohol 16.5 % | Sugar 82 g/l
€19.99 down from €23.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (750ml)

This is a ‘vin doux naturel’, which means that alcohol is added to stop the fermentation before it’s finished, resulting in some sugar being left behind (a method made popular by Port producers, in fact).

Gérard Bertrand’s Banyuls is a lush, coffee-and-chocolate version with subtle Christmas cake spice flavours thrown in the mix, and great value in O’Brien’s this festive season.

(TheTaste.ie chatted to Gérard Bertrand himself recently – click here to see it)

Graham’s ‘Six Grapes’ Reserve Port
Alcohol: 20.0% | Sugar: 104 g/L
€21.99 down from €28.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (750ml)

They call this the “everyday Port for the vintage Port drinker”, though the thriftier among us can read into the subtext that this is a vintage Port for a quarter of the price!

It doesn’t lack in quality or complexity though: the grapes come from the same vineyards as the Graham family’s famous vintage Ports and it’s treated in much the same fashion.

Expect big, heady, ripe black fruit flavours and some serious depth. If you like serious Port then this is a bargain.

Valdespino ‘El Candado’ Pedro Ximénez

Alcohol: 18.0% | Sugar: 400 g/L
€15.99 from Donnybrook Fair and other good off-licences (375ml)

OK, so the sugar is getting a bit stratospheric here, but hear me out. This is a really unique sherry style made by laying out Pedro Ximénez grapes to dry in the sun, resulting in the wine being made, essentially, from raisins.

This gives a product that’s almost closer to treacle than wine, and in fact the Spanish often treat it as such: “PX”, as it’s commonly abbreviated, can often be found drizzled over ice cream for a decadent and adult treat.

Valdespino’s ‘El Candado’ PX is an excellent example of this style. It tastes – unsurprisingly – of raisins and figs, with some chocolate and coffee too. Enjoy with dessert, both on its own (in small amounts) and as a condiment for desserts.