O’Briens Christmas Value Crackers


With Christmas only a week away, many of us will be suffering from significantly lightened wallets and stretched credit cards.  So, with the presents wrapped and the Turkey picked, it’s time to look for some good value wines to lighten the financial burden of the festive season.  This weekend I will conduct a Supermarket Sweep to bring you some of the best affordable wines available across the country.

After bringing you some of O’Briens’ offerings from their Fine Wine Sale last week, today I pick a selection of their best value wines to help toast the festivities on a budget.

La Rosca CavaCatalunya, €14.99 (down from €17.99)/ Craigies Dalliance 2013 (37.5cl), €4.75 (included in 6 for 5 Craft Drinks promotion)

Many of us like to start our Christmas dinner with a drop of bubbly and there are some fabulous offers on Champagne in O’Briens, such as the excellent Lanson Black Label NV (€34.99).  But to stick to a budget I recommend La Rosca Cava.  Produced in the heart of Catalunya by one of the great Cava houses, Cordoniu, it is made in the same laborious method as Champagne, so shares some characteristics with its better-known French counter-part; at a fraction of the price.  This wine is fresh, fruity, with a little bit of bready complexity.  Easy-drinking and a lovely round mouth feel from the soft mousse of bubbles, this is a great alternative to Champagne or Prosecco.

Alternatively, why not try a quality sparkling cider and support a local industry.  Craigies Dalliance 2013 is a lovely dry Irish cider, whose refreshing zest and creamy texture resembles a sparkling wine more than a traditional cider.  Made from bitter cooking apples it offers a lovely medium-light body and great complexity from 15 months ageing on the lees.  Terrific and complex, it’s time to take a good look at quality Irish ciders again.

Bellow’s Rock Chenin Blanc, South Africa, 2014, €10.99 (down from €15.99)/Bougrier Sauvignon Blanc, Loire Valley, 2014, €9.99 (down from €15.49)

O’Briens are offering a terrific range of styles across their value white wines this year and this list could have taken a full post by itself, but I managed to limit myself to the two wines above on the basis of greatest quality for money.

The Bellow’s Rock Chenin Blanc is my go-to everyday white wine at the moment and would still be good value at the original €15.99.  The grapes for this wine come from the cooler southern coastal region of South Africa, which keeps the natural acidity and balance in the wine.  Fresh citrus and tropical fruits give a wonderful food-friendly wine, with great balance and a long, satisfying finish.  If you are entertaining a crowd this Christmas, this wine is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

If you prefer something more classic, the family-produced Bougrier Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley is a lovely, easy-drinking wine with all the hallmark flavours of a cool-climate Sauvignon.  Produced in stainless steel to retain freshness, it offers lemon, lime and grassy notes, along with some pear and enticing minerality.  A solid, good value wine.

If it was difficult to limit this post to two whites, the reds picked themselves.  This is not because O’Briens don’t have a great selection at the value end: they do.  And an honourable mention must go to Marcus Eguren’s Protocolo from Spain and Bellow’s Rock Shiraz from South Africa, but the two wines below offer unbeatable value for money.

Réserve De Bonpas, Côtes du Rhône, 2013, €10.99 (down from €14.99)/Luna Argenta, Puglia, 2013, €12.99 (down from €18.49)

The Réserve De Bonpas is a classic Southern Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  The Grenache is dominant and offers up delicious crunchy red berries to complement the black fruit, spicy pepper and cinnamon from the Syrah.  There is very little oak and the soft, accessible tannins means this wine is dangerously easy to drink.  There are many Southern Rhône Crus selling at twice this price that couldn’t hold a candle to this wine.  Superb value.

The second red is an interesting offering from Puglia, in the far south of Italy. Luna Argenta is made from Negroammaro and Primitivo grapes, some of which are left on the vine long enough to begin to raisin. This loss of water concentrates the flavours (and alcohol) in a similar way to the Amarone I recommended last week, but at €12.99 offers superb value.  Full bodied, but silky smooth this wine is full of rich black fruits, cherries and vanilla; a delicious and very moreish wine.


Longview Epitome

Longview Epitome

Longview Epitome, South Australia, 2013 (37.5cl), €15.99 (down from €16.99)

Dessert wines are some of the best value, not to mention underappreciated, wines in Ireland. Labour intensive and expensive to produce, sweet wines are the perfect accompaniment to desserts and cheese boards. The sweet wine above hails from the Adelaide Hills in South Australia and is only produced in favourable years from low-yielding Riesling vines, whose fruit is left hanging on the vine long in to the growing season. This extended ripening period allows the fruit build up sugars, whilst retaining the natural acidity of the Riesling grape. Rich and sweet, this terrific value wine offers honey and candied orange, overripe citrus fruits and floral notes. The luscious sweetness is balanced by a lovely acidity to ensure the wine does not feel cloying; a perfect way to round off your Christmas dinner.

Aussie Highlight

This is a great time of the year to be a wine writer.  Following the madness of Christmas, the wine industry refocuses on expanding and presenting their new and popular wines at trade tastings.  Luckily I often blag my way in to these events and get to taste wine on a Thursday at midday.  It’s not a problem, it’s research!  Besides, unfortunately there are always spit buckets provided and use is encouraged!

Last month saw successive Thursdays host the New Zealand and Australian wine fairs.  Although we think of them as near neighbours, truth is the two countries are seperated by over 1,500km of ocean.  And the gulf in their respective wine industries is just as great.  New Zealand’s wine industry is tiny on a global scale, but from Sauvignon Blanc to Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Bordeaux blends- it seems they can do no wrong at the moment.  Meanwhile Australia is trying to regain some of its lost dignity in an unforgiving industry fuelled by fickle consumer trends.  The world couldn’t get enough of the bold, oaked Aussie Chardonnay for years, until very quickly it fell out of fashion.

In hindsight it is very easy to become snobbish and deride that style of Australian wine, but we must remember that those wines are not stacked in a sandy warehouse somewhere in the Outback.  They were sold.  They were drunk.  And for years they were enjoyed.  Luckily for us, the Australians seem to have learned something from the experience.

Where once Chardonnay was planted anywhere a vine could fit, the Aussies went back to the drawing board to see what varieties best suit which terroirs.  Now the Australians are experimenting with new regions and varieties.  For me Australian Riesling will stand along Shiraz as the premium wine vanguard that will recover the fortunes of this vast country’s wine industry.

And what of the Chardonnay leftover?  Well, some of it is still stuck in the 1980s- plodding away producing bulk wines with little character.  However, much of it that suited the land upon which it was grown is still there and producing good quality fruit.  Modern winemakers are looking for these better sites and rescuing them from the ignominious fate of producing Aussie bulk wines.

One such winemaker is Lisa McGuigan, who was over in Europe during January to launch her new range of wines.  I met up with her at the Australian Wine Fair in Dublin last month.

Lisa comes from one of the Hunter Valley’s most distinguished winemaking families and her father was Chief Executive of McGuigan wines.  And although they are probably better known  for bulk production, McGuigan also produces top end wines.  Lisa helped create and launch their premium Tempus Two wine in the late 90s.  However, despite its success, she felt that marketing obligations meant she was moving away from her first passion- winemaking.  So, in 2011 she set up Lisa McGuigan wines, a small bespoke winery with the intention “to make the best wine… from great little parcels of fruit.”

Having her father as a consultant undoubtedly helped, but it was Lisa’s drive and passion for a wine that she could proudly stand by that drove her to produce the range she currently has.  Alongside the beautiful top-end Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir in the Platinum Collection, she also has every day wines under her Wilde Thing label.  Just like their creator, these wines have a quirky, fun look.  There’s nothing stuffy or snobby about the bottles- looking more like craft beer labels than traditional wine labels.

The Silver Collection Chardonnay was lovely and fresh, with tropical fruit, lemon and flowers wafting out of the glass.  Although not stocked here in Ireland yet, this is a fantastic alternative to other Aussie Chardonnays at only €9.  Very good value considering the tax man is taking half of that here in Ireland.

Wilde Thing Cabernet-Shiraz. Promo Price €8.

Wilde Thing Cabernet-Shiraz. Promo Price €8.

However, for me the pick of the range was the Wilde Thing Cabernet Sauvignon- Shiraz blend.  If this really can be sold at the quoted promotional price of €8, this is the best value wine I have tried so far this year.  A lovely vibrant ruby colour, this is an easy-drinking wine with fresh blackberry and plum fruits and a little touch of spice on the finish.  The alcohol is quite high, but doesn’t dominate the wine.  Excellent value and a great alternative to similar New World wines.  Hopefully we’ll see it on our shelves in Ireland before too long.