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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
Organic practice in the vineyards is far more common than many may think; indeed, most wine brands of note practice it to a significant extent, if not completely. Why, then, do we not see more of those famous green logos on the bottles on our shelves?
Winemakers can be obsessive about their grapes and the environment in which they grow, and they universally acknowledge that careful treatment of the vineyard – free from excessive mechanisation or dousing in artificial sprays – results in a far more healthy and verdant crop, which of course translates into far better juice in the glass.
But as much as winemakers love to adhere to organic principles, the cold reality is that they only get one chance a year to get their product into the bottle successfully. So while an organic sulphur & copper mix can combat insects, or a seaweed preparation can fend off botrytis, organic farming simply cannot cover all bases and there will always be the potential for catastrophe in the vineyard.
So an infestation of pests or the uncontrollable spread of a destructive mould at a key critical moment can ruin the harvest for an organic winemaker who adheres exclusively to organic principles; and whereas a regular organic farmer of, say, vegetables might be able to fall back on other crops or other sources of income from their farm, if a harvest is ruined for a winemaker then it can be game over.
And so it is that many winemakers prefer to reserve the right to spray artificial chemicals as an option of last resort, and as such it seems that winemakers take the view that it’s better not to apply for official organic accreditation only to have it stripped as soon as a life-or-death spraying is essential.
What’s more, the organic principle must continue into the winery also, meaning that 30%-50% less added sulphur than conventional winemaking may be added, and a list of additives such as sorbic acid are forbidden. As worthy as the organic philosophy sounds, ticking all these boxes can be a step too far for many producers, regardless of the fact they may very well have most of the bases covered.
Organics: Getting the Balance Right
Spanish winemaking behemoth Torres, for example, have practiced organic viticulture in general for at least three decades now, and indeed one third of their 2,000 hectares of vineyards are organically managed today. But they’ve said (in passing to me, at least) that due to their size and geographical spread it’s mostly impossible to fully accredit their entire operations as organic, preferring instead to leave their options open where possible.
That said their smaller operations – namely their Chilean and Californian outposts, as well as the more boutique Jean Léon winery up the road – are all fully accredited and certified organic. Containment, it seems, is key: organics appears to be easier when you can own and maintain your own vineyards, and it helps if they’re not too large either (the above estates are 400, 40 & 63 hectares respectively).
So in the case of Torres – and, I suspect, many wineries with a conscience – organics is a means to an end, the end being quality juice and not organic viticulture for the sake of it. Where possible they’ll fly the green flag on the labels, but that’s treated more as a bonus than the objective.
Organic Wine from The Organic Supermarket, Purchased Organically
I’d be lying if I said that this is the first organic wine I’ve tasted, since I’ve sampled the organic wines from Torres, M. Chapoutier, Cono Sur and many others in the past. They tended to be on the fly, however, and usually I was confident enough in the producer that I didn’t think to examine their organic offering more closely than the rest of their portfolio.
This, however, was the first time I’ve very consciously bought an organic wine, and what’s more it was from The Organic Supermarket in Rathgar, so I was curious to see how a bottle from a shop that doesn’t specialise in wine would taste.
To be entirely honest, I wasn’t expecting much. I bought the bottle on a whim as it was on sale, and even then mostly out of curiosity than desire. I was suspicious that the wine would be more about principle over taste … organics as an end rather than a means in other words. As such I expected the wine to be a little weedy but quaffable, though I was willing to take such a hit out of academic interest as well as support a friendly and worthwhile local Irish business.
I’m glad to say, however, that I was wrong.
San Michele a Torri, Chianti Colli Fiorentini
Chianti Colli Fiorentini is one of the seven sub-zones of Chianti and is located just north of the core Chianti Classico area, touching up against the famous historical city of Florence. I could give you a run-down on this region, but Kyle Phillips of the (now defunct) Italian Wine Review has done a far better job than I ever could in his piece A Tasting Of Chianti Colli Fiorentini – click the link to have a read if you’re interested.
Fifty of the 200 hectares that make up the Fattoria di San Michele a Torri are vineyards, with 30 hectares under olive groves and the remainder given over to cereal crops and woodland (I’m assuming that the olives and cereals are the “hedges” against a bad harvest should it ever strike).
On first taste my worst expectations came through: namely, it was thin and uninteresting. But, alas, it was only a minute old, so to speak, and a few more minutes in the glass opened it up. It was delightfully fresh and lively, full of the cherries and vivacious acidity that you’d expect from a nice Chianti. I enjoyed it again and again over the following two days, and was delighted to experience it mellow out and evolve over that time, running the gamut of red berries (redcurrant especially) with some key lip-smacking savouriness.
It’s not a complex and deep wine, but it did offer enough of interest over the few days, and what’s more it offered that one element that’s vital to all good wine the world over: pleasure.
I got this on promotion (at €12.99 I think), but I’d happily pay the full €15.99 next time I’m back in The Organic Supermarket.