Friday 28 May 2010

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Jan 17, 2010

OXYGEN is probably wine’s biggest enemy.
For hundreds of years the cork stopper was wine’s saviour - keeping it in the bottle and the harmful gas out.
The introduction of the cork is down to the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon who saw the great qualities of cork as a closure and replaced the then standard wooden stoppers wrapped in hemp and soaked in olive oil and bunged tightly into the barrel’s opening.
And so for centuries cork was the closure of choice. But then scientists discovered the problem of corked wine where what comes out of the bottle tastes musty.
The problem was caused by a  tainted cork contaminated by the chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA to you and me.
A badly corked wine will have a characteristic damp, moldy cardboard box smell. Believe me, you will recognise it as soon as you smell it. It will be undrinkable but harmless if you do.
The realisation that their industry was in danger of sinking gave cork manufacturers a massive hygiene wake-up call and conditions, particularly in Portugal, have improved immeasurably.
While all this was going on the screwcap entered the market and the great cork versus screwcap debate began, and continues remorselessly.
Tainted corks are still around. At one stage as many as 10 per cent of bottles were affected. That figure has been cut to about 2-3 per cent in recent years. 
The number of screwcap bottles on the shelves has grown dramatically. But in recent times screwcaps have been found to have a problem - reduction. 
It happens when sulphur compounds build up in the neck of the bottle because of the lack of oxygen. In extreme cases the wine can smell and taste of sulphur.
So you choose your closure and take your chances - and the battle for the hearts and minds of the consumer is in full swing with the Portuguese Cork Association signing up no less a person than soccer coach José Mourinho to be their roving ambassador! 
Catena Malbec 2006
Mendoza, Argentina
€10.99 and widely available
The wine is a dark, violet colour with deep bluish black tones with dark fruit aromas with hints of vanilla and mocha. On the palate there is lush black cherry flavours, with spice, tobacco and leather. It has a soft finish with supple tannins.
Chilcas Piedra Felix Pinot Noir 2006
Maule Valley, Chile
Around €13.99 at good independents

Rich and smooth, this 100 per cent form the San Rafael in the Maule Valley is fermented and aged in first and second use French oak barrels for 13 months. Deep red with in colour with plum and cassis aromas. On the palate is all red cherry, spice and mint. Great, long finish.

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Jan 10, 2010

THE holiday period allowed me open some exceptional bottles of wine to share with friends and relatives.
Some were old-ish (1994), others mere babies (2009). Several were rather expensive - one set me back €140 - and some were less than €15. But they all had one thing in common - a high enjoyment quotient. 
They are gone now but I still get a tingling sensation when I remember the enjoyment they brought to me and those who shared them.
But one question kept popping up at these impromptu tastings: How long will this wine keep? 
The answer, in the case of over 90 per cent of wines, is they won’t - and they should have been drunk yesterday! They were made to be drunk fresh and young, certainly within two years of vintage.
I won’t be drinking any cheap and cheerful whites older than 2007 this year. The reds will be no older than 2006. 
For those who have invested their hard-earned cash in a bottle or two to ‘lay down’ the quandary is: Am I pulling the cork too early, or have I left it too late? 
The answer is - open the bottle. It’s all part of the excitement and enjoyment of drinking wine. I’m reminded of a saying I heard some years ago. Opening a bottle is like going on a blind date, you won’t know what it’s like until you do.
There are tickets still available for the New Zealand consumer tasting at the SAS Radisson Blu Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 8 on January 19).
Consumer tickets, at €15 each, are on sale at (credit card payment accepted), To pay by cheque or postal order contact: Jean Smullen at or by phone at 086 816 8468 for an application form.
With over 40 wineries showing their wines the event is thoroughly recommended.
Castelinho Lagar Dos Saraivas 2001
Douro, Portugal
€19.99 at good independent off-licences 
A must-try blend of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa grapes. Intense ruby red colour with notes of black cherries and blackcurrants on the nose. Then hints of coffee, vanilla and licorice hit you! A big and persistent palate with those cherries and soft black fruits shining through. Perfect winter warmer with braised, stewed or roasted meats.
Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2008, 
South Australia
€10.99 and widely available
A wonderful perfume of lemon, honeysuckle, melons, and herbs permeates from the glass. On the palate the tart acidity makes way for a full-bodied white with flavours of ripe apricots, citrus, and spices. Can match the heat and flavours of Mexican food and many curries.

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Jan 03, 2010

AS a new year begins to unfold, it’s time to make some predictions for 2010, and pray they don’t come back haunt me in the months to come! 
GRAPE EXPECTATIONS: There is a buzz about Portugal’s arinto, which manages to retain great freshness even in sweltering temperatures.  Zippy on the palate with a little edgy character and bundles green apple and citrus fruit flavours.
Across the border, in Spain’s Galicia region, the godello grape is causing a stir. The minerals in the hills that surround Bierzo is what makes for a great godello. The wines are delicate with lemon and wildflowers in the bouquet and a long, bracing finish. The best combine the minerality of Chablis with the acidity of sauvignon blanc.
On the red front this could well be the year that smoky, full-bodied malbec wines from Argentina move from being a good second division wine to a top first division title contender.
Chile has finally got it right with carménère, a grape that is currently a real favourite of mine. From entry level to super premium bottles it delivers with an enticing nose, great ripe red fruit flavours and wonderfully soft tannins.
COUNTRIES TO WATCH: This could be the year that the Old World kicks back against the New World - but Chile will continue to dominate the market in the good value category. 
That’s a pity, because the country has much, much more to offer. Wines in their premium (around €11) and super-premium (up to €20) categories knock spots off wines from the the rest of the world that are priced appreciably more.
Argentina could also make inroads in the market here but one feels that unless they get behind a major marketing campaign they will remain very much in the shadow of near neighbours Chile. They have the wines but we just don’t hear enough about them.
I see the market share for Portugal and Spain continuing to grow. A national programme of modernisation in Portuguese wineries is finally paying off while Spain has become the home of good value wines in Europe as well as making some of the continent’s iconic wines.
Torres Viña Sol 2007
Catalonia, Spain
(Widely on promotion at around €10)
Elegant, fresh, fruity aromas with fine spicy hints from this perfect aperitif made with the parellada grape. Smooth, rich and crisp on the palate, with plenty of fruity apple and pineapple flavours with a touch of spice.
Montes Classic Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Colchagua Valley, Chile
(Around €17 and widely available)

An intense ruby red colour,  the nose has caramel, cinnamon, candy and hints of mint, with plenty of fruit and some oak. A spicy, full-flavored wine, with good body, fruit and firm tannins with a lengthy finish.

Irish Mail On Sunday WIne Column - Dec 20, 2009

AS 2009 draws to a close, my wine tasting notes show I have ‘tasted’ - as opposed to ‘drunk’ - close to 2,500 wines this year.
A mixed bag of white, red, rosé, still, sparkling and fortified. From all over the world, including some unusual locations, like Jordan, Brazil, India, Luxembourg, Peru - and Ireland!
Surprisingly, compiling a top twenty list didn’t prove too ardous. Reducing that list to just three - the best of the year for this fledgling column proved a little harder.
But after much deliberation, here are my three Wines Of The Year for 2009. 
Prova Regia Arinto 2008 
Bucelas, Portugal
(€11.99 and now widely available)

Irish born Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley - later Duke of Wellington - helped to popularise this white wine after discovering it when staying in Bucelas, 35km north of Lisbon, during the Peninsular Wars of  1807-1814.
The micro-climate in this beautiful valley helps the grapes maintain a cool, dry crisp nature and produces a fresh and zippy wine with great acidity.  With shades of a light lemon colour in the glass, there are notes of pineapple, passion fruit, limes and lemons on the palate. Chilled, it is perfect with grilled, flat fish. Wonderful alternative to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Emiliana Coyam 2006
Colchagua Valley, Chile
(Currently €16.39 and exclusive to O’Briens Wines)

A powerhouse blend of six grapes - syrah, merlot, carmenere, cabernet sauvignon, mourvedre and malbec - this is a certified organic wine, from a biodynamic vineyard, made by one of the Chile’s great winemakers, Alvaro Espinoza.   
With minimal interference the wonderful terroir is allowed express itself through the hand-harvested and hand-selected grapes.
With due care during vinification, Espinoza has produced a ripe and muscular wine of exceptional quality with lush fruit - and subtle oak. It is supple in texture and persistent on the finish, tasting of blackcurrants, toast, cedar, cherry and spices. 
Perrier Jouet Millesime 1998
Epernay, France
(Good independent off licences at around €51)

My splash-out wine. Dominated by Chardonnay, this classy champagne also has large dollops of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. 
It has  a pale yellow colour and a  steady stream of bubbles. It has a nose of orange blossom, honey and brioche with hints of vanilla. The palate is rounded with yeasty and ripe citrus flavours. Lemon zest adds to a long, memorable finish.