Thursday 27 May 2010

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Dec 13, 2009

PROSECCO, once Italy’s cheap and cheerful bubbly, has had a makeover in recent years - and is proving a real hit with Irish wine lovers this Christmas.
Made with the grape of the same name, Prosecco comes from the Veneto region in Italy’s northeast, traditionally around the villages of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, in the hills north of Treviso.
Back in the swinging 1960s the drink was generally sweet - very sweet - and little was drunk outside the region where it has been made for hundreds of years.
However, with new production methods and a reduction of sugar levels, wine sales have dramatically increased annually as the export market grew.
We have taken to the wine because of its adaptability - and price. An exceptional bottle will cost you less than €29.

The wine has obvious charms. Light and fizzy, delicate and fruity are descriptions that I associate 
with the modern style. It adapts well to all sorts of foods. Indeed, it goes particularly well with spicy Asian dishes.
But its as an aperitif that Prosecco has truly made its name in recent years. Record numbers of  bottles will have their corks popped in Irish homes this Christmas day.
Search out bottles with either Valdobbiadene or Conegliano on the label. The wines from these two towns will be richer and more concentrated.
Wines from around Conegliano are generally softer and creamier. Those from Valdobbiadene drier and crisper.
And do remember to drink Prosecco young and never more than two years old. Salut!
La Pieve Prosecco
Veneto, Italy
On promotion at €13.99 in good wine shops 
Excellent value wine from a major distributor. A very easy going wine with creamy, peach and pear fruit flavours on the palate. With just 11 per cent alcohol, it has an easy going refreshing style. 
Ca’ Vive di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco
Veneto, Italy
Widely available at €14.99

Deliciously light and frothy on the palate with citrus and pear flavours. The nose has a characteristic green apple bouquet. With a crisp backbone, this Prosecco has good length in the mouth and a nice aftertaste.
Yellowtail Bubbles 
Southeast Australia
(On promotion at branches of Dunnes Stores at €14.49)

Excellent, persistent bubbles with a nice tropical fruit nose with hints of lemon and biscuit. Well rounded in the mouth with an engaging freshness and palate of citrus fruits and pineapple. Good length and soft finish. 

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Dec 06, 2009

WE have all heard the story. It’s the last night of a wonderful summer holiday and the happy couple head off to a little restaurant they discovered earlier for one last meal.
Everything is perfect. The table has been booked for 9pm and the weather is such that dining al fresco under the stars, with the gentle, hypnotic sound of the tide breaking on the beach, is a must.
The food is fresh and simple - vegetables, fish and breads. Then there is the wine. Local wine that proves to be a match made in heaven.
This perfect Kodak moment that will be remembered for a long time - especially after picking up a couple of bottles of those wines at a  supermarket (for little or nothing) on the way to the airport.
Then, on a wet late Autumn Sunday, one of those  bottles picked up in warmer times comes out of the cupboard to accompany lunch in an attempt to re-create that evening on a holiday island in the Med.
Disaster - and the wine gets most of the blame. But the bottle was there to accompany the meal and to enhance the enjoyment of the occasion.
The chemistry that made that Kodak moment so wonderful included location, the company, the weather, food and then the wine. It is hard to re-create on a wet and cold weekend in Ireland!
The synergy of local food and wines is a powerful one that has worked - locally - for generations. 
Cheap wines don’t travel well. They are normally made from indigenous grapes that produce a light, fragrant, refreshing glass that loses elegance and flavour quickly. Best enjoyed where they came from.
But wines that come from the hotter parts of the continent can help lift lunch on a wet and gloomy winter Sunday with their depth of flavours.
My two recommendations today will, I believe bring a little sunshine to your weekend table
Casa De La Ermita Crianza 2004
Jumilla, Spain
€14.99 at good independents
Did I say sunshine? I still remember standing among the vines that carry the Monastrel grapes that make up the best part of this super blend on a July mid-day back in 2006 as the thermometer touched 45 degrees Celsius!
A dark purple red colour in the glass with a nose of ripe red cherries and some cinnamon. Nice, soft tannins with hints of oak over ripe cherries and some spice on the palate. Enjoyed best  with roasted red meats. 
TerreRare Carignano Riserva 2003
Sulcis, Sardinia 
€18.99 at specialist wine shops 
From vineyards just outside Alghero in the northern part of the Mediterranean island come this warming 100 per cent Carignano (Carignan grape in France) wine that has had 12 months in oak and  the same in bottle before being released.
An intense ruby red colour with ripe raspberries accompanied by spicy notes on the nose. Rich and concentrated with strawberry flavours with a touch of vanilla. Great with a simple roasted chicken - and perfect with strong Irish red cheddar.

Protocolo Tinto 2007
Castilla La Mancha, Spain
Reduced to €8.99 at O’Briens Wines 
Excellent 100 per cent Tempranillo making for juicy, fruity red that has a strawberry nose and palate.

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Nov 29, 2009

ONE of the things that I love about the wine business is the honesty of the winemakers.

Take the wonderfully named Antonio Bravo von Bischoffshausen, who makes wines for Vinedos Emiliana in Chile.

I mention Antonio - a great character and so passionate about what he does - because the Emiliana labels are probably the closest you will get to a truly organic or biodynamic bottle of wine.

But while visiting him at the winery’s flagship vineyard in Chile’s Colchagua Valley recently he said frankly that there is NO truly organic wine on the market.

And that won’t change, he said, until something else besides sulphur dioxide (SO2) is found that can do the job in the winemaking process and is approved for use by international organic organisations.

SO2 has been has been used as a preservative for 200 years. Freshly pressed grape juice has a tendency to oxidise and spoil due to contamination from bacteria wild yeasts present on grape skins.

Sulphur dioxide helps inhibit the growth of molds and bacteria, stops oxidation and preserves the wine’s natural flavour. Wines without it are very unstable.

So what passes for ‘organic wine’ is actually ‘wine made from organically grown grapes’. The sulfites are still there. A natural by-product of the fermentation process.

Most winemakers believe that to make, good, and stable, wines sulfites must be added.

Under present EU regulations, the words ‘contains sulfites’ must appear on a wine bottle label if there are more than 10 parts
per million of sulfites in the wine.

The World Health Organisation reckon about 0.4 per cent of the world population is considered ‘highly allergic’ to sulfites. The highest risk group are asthmatics - but only 5 per cent of that group are actually allergic.

For moderate wine drinkers, the average level of sulfites found wines can, at the most, cause a little heartburn.

Casa De La Ermita Crianza 2004
Jumilla, Spain
€14.99 at good independents

From the hilltop village of the same name comes this Sancerre made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes. A light straw hue in the glass with hints of pear on the nose. The palate has citrus and melon flavours. Very dry with well balanced acidity. Left field choice to match toasted marshmallows.

TerreRare Carignano Del Sulcis Riserva 2003
€17.99 at specialist wine shops

This Grigio (75 per cent) and Verduzzo blend has a light golden colour and a nose with hints of lime. Some minerality on the palate with lime, flint, peaches and a touch of bread yeast which adds to the wine’s depth and body. Screaming out for fish - but also a good accompaniment for cheese fondue.


Protocolo Tinto 2007

Marcos Eguren, is ranked in Spain's top 5 premium winemakers making some of the world's most famous wines. With Protocolo, Marcos turns his hand to making a really delightful juicy, fruity red with aromas and flavours of strawberries. Surprisingly round and enticing.
Price €8.99
Add to Basket
Country: Spain

Style: Juicy Fruity Reds

ABV: 13.0%

Vintage: 2007

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Nov 22, 2009

IT never fails to amaze me how some so-called professionals in restaurants continue to serve wine - white and red - at the wrong temperature.
On too many occasions the whites arrive at the table too cold while the reds shiver - or sweat - in their bottles.
As scarves and gloves come out of for the chilly months ahead our favourite whites tend to take a back seat. So serving those heart-warming reds at the right temperature becomes crucial. And sometimes they need to be even slightly chilled!
Serving a wine at the right temperature helps release its bouquet of aromas. It will evolve in the glass and all those characteristic flavours, depending on the grape variety, become more pronounced.
You have bought your favourite bottle of wine to taste all those wonderful flavours so why now mask them by serving it too hot or cold?
Uncorking a bottle of red and letting it sit for an hour does absolutely nothing for the wine. The narrow bottleneck sees to that. It prevents too little air getting at the wine to open it out. Swirling the wine in the glass after pouring it helps aeration. Don’t swirl for more than a minute or two.
Room temperature at this time of the year can mean up go 20 degrees Celsius or more. That’s too hot for even the heartiest of reds. So don’t be afraid to chill your reds slightly.
The best way to chill a wine is in a bucket of ice and water. Rich, intense and spicy reds are best served at 17-18 degrees Celsius, medium to light bodied reds at 15-16 degrees, and juicy and fruity reds at around 12 degrees.
My two wine selections today - which will go wonderfully well with Rachel’s egg-based dishes - should be chilled. The Sauvignon blanc down to 9 degrees and the Beaujolais at 12.

Quando Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Robertson Valley, South Africa
Good Independent Off Licences at €14.99

This medium-bodied, well-structured wine has a wonderful flinty dimension on the palate with gooseberry and lemon flavours and hints of pineapple and peaches. A lingering finish to this award-winning wine makes it one of the best New World Sauvignons.

Joseph Drouhin Fleurie Beaujolais 2007
Burgundy, France
Good Independent Off Licences at around €17.99

A slightly chilled Beaujolais works perfectly with eggs. Made with the Gamay grape, this light to medium bodied top cru from the Fleurie region has good acidity and modest tannins. Nice cherry and raspberry flavours with earthy hints of spice.

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Nov 15, 2009

CHARDONNAY and Pinot Noir are regarded as loners in the world of wine.
They have what it takes to make exceptional wines without a partner. Most other grapes can do with a friend or two in the bottle.
The blending process can bring out the best in the art of the winemaker, but why do they do it in the first place?
The simpler answer is that they blend wine made from different grape varieties in order to add more complexity to the flavour and texture of a wine.

The exercise can also lower or raise acidity levels, adjust the sweetness of a wine, correct a wine with too much oak flavour and raise or lower levels of tannin.

Many of the world’s most famous wines are blends.

Champagne is largely made up of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Bordeaux normally sees Cabernet Sauvignon and or Merlot along with small amounts of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.

The rationale here is that Merlot softens the wine, Cabernet Sauvignon adds the necessary structure; Cabernet Franc deepens the colour and some complexity while Petite Verdot brings some aromatic characteristics to the table.

And then there is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, from France’s southern Rhone region, where up to 13 grape varieties can appear in the one bottle!

These blends are made from classic recipes handed down from generation to generation.

Vintners in Australia and Chile have created new blends - Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon springs to mind - in an attempt to produce a new and exciting wines.

The older wine producing nations - like our recommendations from Portugal and Italy today -
have also embraced blending international grapes with indigenous varieties with great success.

Like Ireland, these nations are currently in the midst of their hunting season with the best wildfowl and venison now available.

These wines are a perfect match for these seasonal treats - but will just as easily accompany a traditional Sunday roast.

Pieve de’ Pitti Appunto 2008
Tuscany, Italy
Good Independent Off Licences at €14.99

Sergio Gargari is fast becoming my favourite producer of affordable Tuscan wines. This blend of Sangiovese and Merlot grapes has wonderful jammy aromas with a soft, well-rounded palate of red cherries summer fruits.

Fiuza Premium 2007
Ribatejano, Portugal
Good Independent Off Licences at €14.99

Touriga Nacional is a criminally underrated grape. Here it adds colour along with spicy and chocolate notes on the palate to its Cabernet Sauvignon partner. Seductive blackberry nose making way for a beguiling and complex taste.

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Nov 08, 2009

THE story of the Carménère grape is worthy of the big screen.

It all but disappeared from its ancestral home in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France, wiped out by the phylloxera bug which devastated vines right across Europe in the mid 1800s.

Then it was re-discovered in Chile - but was called Chilean Merlot because the winemakers were unsure what variety it was. They were also a little unsure how to cultivate it.

So when they realised it was Carménère and launched it in Ireland in 1998 to much fanfare it wasn’t well received.

The wines were ‘green’ because the fruit had been picked too early and had not ripened enough. Now, a decade on, Chile has mastered the grape and is producing great wines from it.

Carménère is the most friendly of grapes. Indeed it is the kind of grape that wants to be friends with everyone.

It wraps itself around the winemaker and tells him he is a great mixer and so it makes great partners in a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

The grape is also capable of making the most approachable young wines and its friendly characteristics means it is set to seduce many new fans over the coming months.

Carménère has a deep red colour with fine aromas of soft red fruits and some spices and berries. Round in the mouth, it has light tannins which make it a wonderfully easy drinker with flavours of cherries and some earthy notes.

And while best drunk young, grapes from older vines can make wines that are well structured with big tannins and flavours. When blended with other grapes its adds great colour and roundness and that softness in the mouth.

Chile won may plaudits at the recent Irish Wine Awards and my two wines this week won the medals in the New World Under €8 category.

They really would be crowd pleasers at a childrens’ party allowing stressed out parents and their adult guests enjoy good wines that won’t break the bank.

Gato Negro Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Central Valley, Chile
€7.99 and widely available.
An intense red in the glass with ripe blackberry and black currant aromas. Gentle tannins balance the soft fruit palate and surprisingly long finish. Perfect with those meaty party nibbles.

Antares Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Central Valley, Chile
€7.99 and widely available.
A nice pale lemon colour with hints of mint, melon and pineapple on the nose. The palate is soft and fruity with a medium body and a well balanced acidity. Perfect with fish, salads or chicken.

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Nov 01, 2009

Pinot Noir is the grape that winemakers love to hate.
It demands complete attention during the growing season, craving warm days and cool evenings.
The grapes are susceptible to almost every affliction known to attack vines, and can shrivel up and die in heavy Spring frosts.
And if not picked promptly when mature, the thin-skinned fruit can quickly dry out.
Pinot is also one of the most difficult grapes to ferment, and those thin skins means colour retention is always a worry.
Yet when all of these distractions are overcome, it can deliver the most sensuous, velvety wines.
One winemaker described Pinot as ‘the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic.’
The spiritual home of Pinot Noir is France’s Burgundy region where a well made wine can have aromas of soft summer fruits - raspberries, cherries and strawberries - along with damp earth, violets, mushrooms, clove and cinnamon.
Traditional Burgundy is also famous for its keynote, farmyard aromas and tends to be full-bodied and rich but not heavy or high in alcohol, with great flavour but without too much acidity or tannins, with a soft, velvety texture.
But being so temperamental, good Pinot from this region can be very expensive.
However, New Zealand, Chile and Australia are producing some excellent Pinots these days at much more affordable prices.
These tend to be lighter, more fruit forward style wines, which still manage to capture the essence and flavours of this noble grape.
These rich, fruity New World wines go perfectly well with poultry and cold meats and soft cheeses - but are a match made in heaven for the earthy, robust nature of game and the accompanying rich stocks.

Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2007
Central Valley, Chile
Widely available at €9.99 or under
Best value entry level Pinot available in Ireland. Rich fruit notes of cherry, raspberry, plum and strawberry on the nose. Soft, summer fruit flavours on the palate with subtle smoked hints. Soft tannins and texture with good length.

Westbrook Pinot Noir 2006
Marlborough, New Zealand
€14.99 in good independent off-licences
Bright and deep in colour. The nose has embellished with dark stone fruits aromas, with a vibrant floral lift. The palate is refined, with delicate layers of fruit and oak, leaving a lingering and elegant mineral finish.

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Oct 25, 2009

WHILE December 21 officially marks the start of Winter, for most of us the ritual of turning back the clock last night signals its arrival.

It has become something of a tradition in our house to use the ‘extra hour’ today to take most of the white wines off the rack until the Spring.

They will be replaced by big, beefy, heart-warming reds. The kind of wines that will sit nicely beside, and work wonderfully well, with casseroles and stews.

The colder months ahead also offers the opportunity to try something new, a chance to get away from those overly fruity, gluggable Summer wines.

Cabernets, Rhone reds, beefy Australian Shiraz and concentrated Pinots from Burgundy are all traditional classic winter warmers.

But there are alternatives out there, grape varieties and bottles that won’t break the bank and see you through the colder days ahead.

I’m thinking Malbecs from Argentina, Grenache from the south of France, and Spain’s Tempranillo. Now is the time to try them.

Malbec produces concentrated wines with lush, fat fruit flavours.
Grenache from the south of France can deliver a bagful of flavours - blackcurrants, cherries, pepper, coffee and spices – while a lush texture and soft fruit palate - blackberries, mulberries and raspberries - characterises Tempranillo.

They are also great wines to have around to have around next Saturday to celebrate Halloween. Perfect to keep out the cold around the bonfire.

Don David Malbec 2007
Mendoza, Argentina
€11.99 in good independent off-licences
Concentrated flavours of dark, spicy fruits, with aromas of raisins and vanilla notes. Well balanced, with an attractive aftertaste due to its round and full ripe tannins. Ideal with spicy foods and roasted, grilled or BBQ red meats.

Domaine Cristia VdeP Grenache 2007
Southern Rhone, France
€11.49 from Superquinn

There is a comforting sweetness to this wine. Nice herb and spice hints underpin a plummy richness. The wine is an ‘easy drinker’ with nicely rounded tannins with enough weight to accompany food or just for enjoying the festive bonfire.

Protocolo Tinto 2008
Catalyud, France
€8.99 from O’Brien’s Wines
Best value red wine for some years now. A 100 per cent Tempranillo with smoky, chocolate aromas and a ripe palate of cherry and spices. Amazing wine, amazing price.

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Oct 18, 2009

CHOOSING a wine to have with the Sunday dinner used to be so simple. There was one rule: white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat.
Most of us don’t just eat meat and two veg these days. We are more adventurous. The cuisines of India, China, Mexico, Italy and France have become a familiar part of our diets.
The same goes for the wines we drink. In just a decade or so we have consciously moved away from the reds and whites of France.
Now bottles from Australia, California and Chile - the New World - are more likely to be on the table next to the roast, or chow mein.
The choice is vast, as are the grape varieties and wine styles. It can be a little intimidating and brings some food and wine matching problems.
The easiest solution is to note whether each dish is  sweet, acidic or bitter and choose your wines accordingly.
The tannins in red wines can make them slightly bitter and they work well with roasts and steak.
Acidic food types? Think lemon juice sprinkled over your fish and you’ll get the idea. 
White wines have varying degrees of acidity depending on the grape variety, but most will have the ability to complement the taste of the food.
Desserts are simple. Serve a sweet wine.
Another rule of thumb would be drink the wines that match the cuisine - Italian wines with Italian food, French wines with French food and so on.
And that brings me to Spain and Rachel’s wonderful recipes today for Tapas.
In the south of Spain they tend to drink a glass of Fino or Manzanilla sherry with these tasty treats. An excellent choice. 
But up north, in San Sebastian, it is Rioja - red and white - and they are my ideal matches for these dishes.
Campo Viejo Crianza 2005/6,
Rioja, Spain
€10.99, widely available
Medium-bodied red made from Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo grapes. Intense ruby red colour with aromas of strawberries and vanilla and a fruit forward style with hints of oak. Perfect with Paella, that Sunday roast, casseroles, beef and farmhouse cheeses. Excellent with foods with tomato-based sauces.
Marques de Cacares Blanco 2008
Rioja, Spain
€12.99, widely available
Hints of pears, apples and citrus fruits on the nose from this white made entirely from Viura grapes. Clean and lively on the palate with nice, crisp acidity. Excellent aperitif. Goes well with shellfish, grilled white fish, light rice and pasta dishes.


FOUND this intriguing story through a link on my twitter page ( It was written by a Spanish wine enthusiast.

Setting the record straight May 25, 2010

Last Sunday night I organized a dinner with a group of visiting Canadians with María José López de Heredia from R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia. María José, ever the engaging speaker, treated the group to an enlightening lecture about the 133 year history of her company.

Everyone knows that after phylloxera attacked French vineyards towards the end of the 19th century, French winery owners came to Rioja in search of wine. If you read about this period of history in wine books, it was the Bordeaux wine trade that came here. María José, however, claimed that after extensive research into records in her winery and others in Rioja, it was discovered that most of the French wineries were from Alsace because Rioja wineries were producing white, rather than red wine.

Surprised? I certainly was. María José explained that in the 19th century, more white wine than red was made and consumed in Rioja, and consequently white was taxed at a higher rate.

Did you ever wonder why red wine in Spanish is called tinto (tinted) instead of rouge (red) as in French or negre (black) as in Catalán? According to María José, most red wines in Rioja in the 19th century were whites that were ‘tinted’ with red wine to pay lower taxes! While some reds were produced and exported to Bordeaux, according to historical records, most Rioja was white and shipped to Alsace.

In fact, in the 19th century, doctors recommended consumption of white wine for health reasons because the tannins in red were believed to be harmful.

I think it’s fascinating that María José hired an ethnographer to study the winery archives to set the record straight. I’m sure that because of this research, other interesting facts will come to light about the history of Rioja.